Posts Tagged ‘law’

Law of the Land, Part 3 – Suspicious Spellcasting

October 23, 2011

Two of the most major aspects of “fantasy” as a genre are the presence of monsters, and the existence of magic. As far as laws go, monsters aren’t protected by it, nor do they typically recognize or abide by it; that’s part of what makes them monsters. Magic, however, is something altogether different. In Pathfinder, magic is a tool that can be used for good or for ill or even for other things altogether, by virtually anyone. Hence, some laws need to be devoted to magic.

"Look, that rabbit's got a vicious streak a mile wide! It's a killer!"

In this article, we examine the use of magic in upholding the laws and investigating their misuse, as well as look at what constitutes criminal uses of magic.

(I must confess, this article is the main reason for this entire series. I originally wanted to examine laws governing spellcasting, but quickly realized that this would be exceptionally difficult without a backdrop regarding the basic structure of laws in a Pathfinder campaign. Hence the first two parts to this series.)

Supernatural Sleuths

In order for criminal laws to have any real effect, you need to be able to investigate violations of them; otherwise you had better hope that law enforcement is present when a crime occurs. Given that, how can uses of magic be invested?

One of the first ways is to examine the magical auras left behind after magic has been used, as per the description in detect magic. That’s not very helpful though, as the auras don’t last very long and only reveal the school of magic used, rather than the actual spell. For that, I suggest making a correction to the spell’s functionality. In general, this should be enough that the rest can be solved by good old-fashioned detective work (e.g. working out who had the ability to use such a spell, why they would have cast it, where they were when the crime occurred, etc.).

For those looking for magic to provide results near-instantly, higher-level divination spells can also gather information about something that’s already happened, but it usually requires quite a bit more magical ability. The earliest available such spell in the Core Rulebook is contact other plane, with spells like legend lore and vision offering even greater answers as levels are gained.

Divine spellcasters make, pound for pound, better detectives than their arcane counterparts. With a bevy of low-level spells like speak with dead, zone of truth, discern lies, a cleric, paladin, or inquisitor can likely whittle down a list of suspects very quickly.

And that’s not even getting into what can be done with magic items and a good Use Magic Device skill bonus.

Even beyond these, there are plenty of sourcebooks out there that can offer great new spells and abilities where magical detectives are concerned. For a particularly useful one, check out the 3.5 supplement Crime and Punishment (available for free over on the Grand OGL Wiki).

Intervening in the Divine

The above notation that divine spellcasters make some of the best magical-crime investigators may seem somewhat odd (if not outrightly hypocritical), given that the first part of this series made note that most of what’s here was going to be independent of the game world’s religions. We’ve gone this far without presuming much of anything on that front, so why start now?

The answer is that while this series takes a hands-off approach to in-game religions, that’s due solely to practicality – there’s no reason not to have them be more active as it suits your game. If there are Lawful Good divine spellcasters who want to take part in enforcing the laws, then (presuming it makes sense for a given country to allow them to do so) let them do so. Likewise, having paladins or inquisitors in the city guards may be normal in a state religion. Some religions may even have religious dispensations in regards to some of the laws listed below. Like any other part of this article, change what’s necessary to make the divine spellcasting aspects work better in your game.

Magic Is As Magic Does

It should be clear, both to the players and their characters, that the law won’t make fine distinctions between “types” of magic. Whether it’s by arcane or divine magic, a spell-like ability or a supernatural one, a magic item or an inherent magical ability, it all falls under the laws listed here. Using magic to commit a crime is enough for those in charge of enforcing the law – the type of magic doesn’t matter except as it relates to bringing the perpetrator to justice.

Criminal Thaumaturgy

The list below presents criminal actions that can be performed using magic (as examining specific spells is impractical in the extreme). The category of the crime refers to the degree of punishment it commands, as laid down in part one of this series. Some magical crimes refer to non-magical criminal activities from part two.

Attack Spells: As a general rule, spells which cause hit point damage are treated as crimes equal to non-magical attacks which deal damage. So killing someone with magic is murder (this includes death effects that don’t necessarily deal hit point damage, unless those attack the soul, in which case they’re necromancy (q.v.)), damaging things with magic is destruction of property, starting a fire with magic is arson, etc. Note that area-effect spells can quickly rack up multiple counts of such crimes.

Conjured Creatures: Depending on the type of creature summoned (or called) this can constitute devilry (q.v.; see part two). Further, creatures brought forth via magic are subject to the Principle of Transferred Guilt (see enchantments, below).

Enchantment: Mind-affecting spells, particularly charms and compulsions, are governed via two distinct legal principles. The first is the Principle of Non-Consent. This states that someone under the effect of an enchantment (which, to be clear, means any magic that affects their mind) is automatically presumed to be unwilling in everything they do while so enchanted. Hence, someone under an enchantment who then signs a contract is not legally bound by it. Someone who is charmed to offer a discount on an item has been subjected to theft (the amount stolen being equal to the discount given). Someone who is enchanted to have sex with the caster has been raped, etc.

The second principle governing the use of enchantments is the Principle of Transferred Guilt. This holds that someone who performs an illegal action while under an enchantment is not responsible for their actions, and the blame for them is instead placed at the feet of the one who enchanted them. So someone dominated and made to kill someone isn’t guilty of murder; the person who cast the spell on them is.

By themselves, enchantment spells don’t constitute any sort of crime, save for usually being an impermissible use of magic (q.v.). However, these two principles usually mean that whatever you want the charmed person to do will usually be a crime.

Impermissible Use of Magic: This is the most basic law governing magic – that people have the right not to be affected by magic without their consent; this also extends to the things they own. In other words, this makes it a crime to cast a spell of any sort on someone, or on something of theirs, without receiving their permission first. However, given the ubiquitous nature of magic, this is an infraction-category crime – if its discovered, it’s usually sufficient for a law-enforcement official to make the perpetrator stop…if it doesn’t break any other laws.

Necromancy: Criminal necromancy is any magic that raises or otherwise aids the undead, or damages or otherwise harms the soul. So using enervation would constitute necromancy, whereas vampiric touch would not. Note that magic to bring the dead back to life is not considered necromancy, since the soul must be willing for such magic to function. Likewise, spells that deal negative energy damage may aid the undead – since they heal them – but generally aren’t considered necromancy unless actually used to heal an undead creature. Necromancy is a felony-category crime.

Scrying: By itself, using magic to spy on someone (e.g. via clairvaudience/clairvoyance) is an impermissible use of magic (q.v.). However, when used against a ruler, this can instead be charged as treason, unless there is highly-convincing proof that the spellcaster wasn’t attempting to spy for purposes of bringing harm to the ruler or the realm.

Unauthorized Transformation: Changing someone into something else, or changing their possessions into something else, is a misdemeanor-category crime (and, of course, always includes immediately changing them back to normal). Likewise, using magic that creates or alters things in a way that disrupts economic conditions (e.g. using a lyre of building to construct a building, rather than allowing the carpenters’ guild to do so) is considered to be a form of enterprising (see part two), unless the spellcaster has permission from the government or relevant guild.

In Conclusion

Hopefully, this series has given you some ideas on how to flesh out your game world using the laws of various communities. The legalities of a community can offer great new avenues of play in your Pathfinder game, whether the PCs are the breaking the laws, writing the laws, or laying down the laws.

(Four wheels of fury are optional.)

Law of the Land, Part 2 – Compendium of Crime

October 16, 2011

In the previous article, we laid down a framework for presenting criminal laws in a Pathfinder game world. This time around, we’re going to cover some of the specific crimes that a society would recognize. While a large number of these are obvious (“Everyone thinks murder is bad, duh.”), some aren’t the sort of thing that would immediately come to mind. So with that in mind, let’s go over some of the finer points of crime in a standard campaign world, followed by a list of crimes.

Nobility and Tiered Crime

One aspect of crimes in society that wasn’t discussed in the previous article was how the laws apply to people of different social classes. While a fantasy medieval world often has an egalitarian presentation, it often still includes people of different social standing – specifically, it usually has people as belonging to one of three groups: commoners (the ordinary people who need to work for a living), nobles (members of the aristocracy, usually with hereditary privileges, who tended to follow pursuits not related to manual labor or producing/selling goods), and rulers (people in charge of the regional/national government).

The difference in rights and privileges between peoples of different social classes is beyond the scope of this article; for the purposes of crime and punishment in a fantasy world, the difference we’re going to focus on is something called “tiered crime.” Tiered crime is the concept that the same crime is more heinous, and thus deserves a harsher punishment, if done to someone of a higher rank.

This guy has more rights under the law than your PC. How's that for a crime?

All of the crimes listed below are written under the premise that these are committed by one commoner against another. If committed by a commoner against a noble, the severity of the punishment is usually raised by one category (as laid out in the previous article). A commoner who commits a crime against a ruler will find the punishment increased by two categories.

A commoner who steals from another commoner, for example, is likely to be whipped or spend some time in a stockade. If that same commoner steals from a noble, however, he might have his hand chopped off, or spend the next twenty years in prison. If he stole from the king, it would be punishable by death.

Note that, in the case of a noble committing a crime against another noble, the degree of punishment remains unchanged, but rather than being judged by a magistrate, nobles may usually be tried before a jury of their peers (other nobles), or even (if the crime is severe enough, or the noble is of particularly high standing) before the ruler of the land. Note that in either case the actual question of guilt or innocence may be secondary to the politics between nobles and rulers.

In the event that a noble commits a crime against a ruler, the category of punishment is increased by one. Rulers, however, have two types of special punishments that they can bring to bear against nobles (in addition to the usual ones):

Ignominy is a punishment of the larceny category which results in the noble no long being a noble; they’re reduced to the status of a commoner. Typically, the duration of the sentence (which can include life) is pronounced at the time the sentence if rendered, though the ruler may change their mind at a later date and reinstate the disgraced noble. Note that many nobles punished this way tend to flee to other realms, trading promises of favors (usually of information to use against their former ruler) for being formally recognized as a noble in that realm, thus maintaining their status.

Withering of the Blood is a felony category punishment which has not only a given noble losing his nobility, but all of his children as well. In essence, a noble against whom this punishment is levied has their entire branch of the family tree removed from their noble house. If levied against the head of a noble family, it essentially means the destruction of that noble house altogether.

It’s important to note that the converse of tiered crime holds true as well: crimes committed by those of a higher stature against those of a lower one are typically punished less harshly. However, the degree by which the punishment is lessened is stacked in favor of those of higher social strata. Typically, the punishment for a noble who commits a crime against a commoner is decreased by two categories (meaning that a noble murdering a commoner typically has to pay a fine, usually to the victim’s family). By contrast, rulers usually never face punishment for a crime committed against anyone, as they are able to implicitly (or even explicitly) pardon themselves, and so are not held accountable to their lessers.

Having said that, nobles and rulers typically didn’t commit crimes against the people below them willy-nilly, since repeatedly taking advantage of being favored by the law was a good way to incite a revolution against them.

Repeat Offenders

The listed punishments presume that the guilty party is a first-time offender. If a person keeps committing crimes, then eventually the people in charge of dispensing justice will realize that greater punishments are called for, since the existing ones have failed as a deterrent. Given that, at some point committing a crime with the same category of punishment will result in a harsher punishment than is typical.

A good shorthand for this is that if a person commits a misdemeanor-category crime three times, the fourth time will result in a larceny-category punishment. If they commit a larceny-category crime twice, the third time will result in a felony-category punishment. Typically, infractions are too small to pile up in this manner.

Criminal Activity

The following is a list of the most common crimes in a given region. Each has a listing of what their punishment usually is, along with a brief explanation of the crime and some additional notes.

Apostasy – Apostasy, in this context, is practicing a religion that has been outlawed (by secular law, rather than religious). This is predicated on the idea that the state has declared certain religions (typically those that worship evil deities or outsiders) illegal. Apostasy is a felony crime, and death tends to be more common than non-capital felony punishments (since otherwise the criminal can continue worshiping an evil entity).

Arson – This larceny-category crime is when someone starts a fire that is large-scale enough to potentially cause serious damage and loss of life. The reason for such a harsh punishment (as opposed to destruction of property; below) is that a fire can quickly get out of control and spread to a wide area. Note that this crime doesn’t require criminal intent; if you cause the fire, even accidentally, you can be held accountable.

Assaulting an Official – “Official” here means anyone who works on the state’s behalf, and usually means law enforcement officials (e.g. the sheriff, soldiers, etc.). Worse than mere brawling, which is disturbing the peace (q.v.), assaulting an official is a misdemeanor-category crime.

Attempted Murder – Attempted murder is a larceny-category crime; this crime is committed when someone deals hit point damage to another person (as opposed to nonlethal damage).

Brandishing – Brandishing is an infraction involving handling a weapon in a threatening manner. This is usually resolved by having the weapon confiscated, but can also include peace-binding it; that is, tying it so as to make it difficult to draw (conversely, not having your weapon peace-bound can also count as brandishing). Note that societies with this law may have exceptions for nobles and/or rulers.

Defamy – Defamy is publicly slandering someone else in such a manner that is likely to start rumors or wide-spread gossip. Because this is an infraction-category crime, and because doing this about rulers is considered treason (q.v.), this crime tends to only result in punishment when a commoner commits defamy against a noble.

Destruction of Property – Destroying that which belongs to someone else is a misdemeanor-category crime, and virtually always includes making amends in addition to the punishment. Note that in societies where slavery is legal, this is the crime of killing/crippling a slave that someone else owns.

Devilry – Devilry is the catch-all term for dealing with evil monsters intent on harm to people. This includes not only things like demons and devils, but also things like evil dragons, drow, aberrations, etc. This is a felony-category crime.

Disturbing the Peace – This infraction-category crime is anything from brawling to public drunkenness.

Enterprising – Enterprising is the term for conducting guild-regulated activities when you’re not a member of a guild. Doing so is a misdemeanor-category crime. Note that a state may have both guilds and free-practitioners in certain areas, but some states may require that the latter register their status with the government.

Extortion – This misdemeanor-category crime includes all forms of trying to coerce money, or other actions or activities favorable to the criminal, by threat. This includes threats of violence as well as blackmail.

Kidnapping – The act of abducting someone is a larceny-category crime. Note that this doesn’t always depend on the non-consent of the being kidnapped – a common man and a noble’s daughter who run away together to elope may find that the commoner has been charged with kidnapping, despite the girl’s wishes.

Murder – Killing someone is a felony crime. In societies that have this as a less-severe crime, the perpetrator will usually have to pay the costs of resurrecting the victim, with not having the funds putting them into prison (as a debtor); all of this alongside the penalty of having killed someone to begin with.

Rioting – Rioting is engaging in mob violence of any sort, and is a larceny-category crime. This includes attempting to incite a riot, and is often charged in addition with crimes committed while in the act of rioting.

Sexual Impropriety – This larceny-category crime typically covers rape and other forms of sexual assault, but may be applied more broadly to ban certain sexual acts or practices.

Theft – Stealing is a misdemeanor-category criminal act. Typically, the thief will have to make restitution by returning the stolen item(s) or making appropriate compensation, in addition to the standard punishment. Note that persons who take part in trafficking of stolen property are also engaged in theft.

Treason – Treason is a felony offense that involves anything done against the nation or its ruler(s). This includes everything from assassination plots against the rulers to colluding with enemies of the state to publicly defaming the government (or other subversive activities).

A Quick Reminder

It bears another mention that these crimes are designed as a framework – modifying them for a given region is expected, and indeed will probably be necessary for your game. Moreover, different countries will recognize different crimes, and have different punishments. Even a few small tweaks can make one place seem very different from another.

Next Time: How does a society where spellcasting is common regulate magic? In our next article, we cover criminal magical activity!

Law of the Land, Part 1 – Lexicon of Legal Loquacity

October 9, 2011

One of the background elements that is all too often ignored in most Pathfinder games is the nature of the law in various cities, towns, and other areas where the PCs frequently spend their time. For the most part, there’s little actual need for any sort of codified laws, since the PCs rarely run afoul of them. When they do, it tends to be simply part of a larger plot-hook, and is forgotten about once it’s served its purpose.

That’s something of a shame, because the laws of a given society are one of the best ways to demonstrate just what makes that society different from others. The extent of what the laws are and what punishments they mete out to those who break them can communicate a great deal about a given region of the game world. At the very least, it makes the Knowledge (local) checks more flavorful.

The source of all rules lawyers.

However, this bit of game theory tends to run headfirst into a problem of practicality. Laws – even the implicitly simple laws of a (fantasy) medieval world – are vast and complex. Coming up with a body of them can be quite a bit of work, and so tends to exist as little more than an interesting idea that never gets actualized.

It’s that problem that this series of articles aims to correct. We’re going to present a set of basic laws for a typical region in a Pathfinder game, complete with descriptions and punishments. These laws can then be tweaked, altered, and otherwise used however is most beneficial in your game. So let’s lay down the law!

A Legal Disclaimer

While it was heavily implied above, it’s worthwhile to come right out and say it: these laws aren’t intended to be anything other than a thorough framework for use in your Pathfinder game. They aren’t meant to represent or even approximate the laws as they actually were in medieval Europe or any other real-world society.

Likewise, the descriptions here are focused solely on criminal laws. No discussion is given to any sort of civil or tort law; these are the laws that govern the people, and if you break them, you’re subject to the punishment that doing so entails.

Laws for the Lawful

It’s inevitable that any discussion of a society’s laws will necessitate some discussion about alignment. In general, there isn’t as much overlap between the two as you might think. The Law-Chaos axis of alignment in Pathfinder, viewed in terms of the laws that tend to govern a society, can perhaps best be summarized as follows:

I am the Lawful!

A lawful society will see their laws as ideals to be followed for their own sake, with an implicit trust (almost to a degree of faith) in that they promote and protect what’s valuable in their society. Thus, breaking the law is an affront to these ideals and, through that, an affront to the society in which the people live. The nature of the laws and the punishments for breaking them will be fairly standardized, with relatively little flexibility based on the specific circumstances of the incident committed.

A chaotic society will, somewhat surprisingly, still have laws. However, these laws will function largely as guidelines outlining a series of general prohibitions (e.g. things that are crimes if you do them) and what to do to an offender. The actual facts of a particular incident will have a strong determining factor in whether or not a crime actually occurred, and how to punish the offender if so. The practical circumstances of what’s best for the people involved, and the community as a whole, will reliably take precedence over any particular body of legal conduct.

A neutral society is, of course, a blend of these two views. Laws will likely be codified, but with an understanding (whether formal or not) that the laws which are enumerated cover unspecified crimes and circumstances that may arise in the future (e.g. a law against murder can be understood to apply to someone who orders a mercenary to commit murder). Likewise, there’ll often be a range of specified punishments, with the circumstances of the crime determining which are applied.

Inquisitors Need Not Apply

One area that this series of articles will not cover is the impact of religion on the law. That is, none of the laws and punishments listed here will deal with any sort of crime against a religion, nor apply any particular religious punishment to a given crime. The default assumption is that the law is secular, in terms of specifying crimes and denoting punishments.

Thou shalt not suffer the witch class to live.

The reason for this is two-fold. First, there are too many in-game religions, each with a different view of what is and is not virtuous, to possibly try and develop any sort of standard beyond the most bare-bones approach…so bare-bones that there’s little point to making the attempt at all. Secondly, the degree to which church and state mingle is likely to vary widely even within the course of a single game world. Keeping the two separate allows a given GM to add religious laws (usually for a state religion) as he or she sees fit.

Of course, for all of the above disclaimers, there are a few places where religion and the law intersect in this series, but these are relatively few and fairly universal in scope when they do happen.

In the Criminal Justice System…

Before going any further, let’s look at how crimes are investigated and judged in the context of the game world.

Most localities will have people whose occupation is to represent and enforce peace and justice within that area. Typically, this tends to fall on the sheriff, town guards, local watchmen, or even soldiers. These people are responsible for stopping crimes that they see/know are occurring, as well as investigating crimes that have previously occurred. They have the power to question suspects, collect evidence, and make arrests. While small towns might choose who functions as the head of local law enforcement, larger areas will have their chief lawman (or law-woman) appointed by the head of the (local) government, with that person then hiring others to work under them.

Once a suspect is brought in, they’re typically brought before a magistrate; a person chosen by the local government to hear cases and render judgment. Typically, one who investigated the case (and made the arrest) argues for the suspect’s prosecution, though in some cases the wronged party might also be active in asking for punishment to be delivered. The suspect is usually on their own to argue their defense. Once both sides have been heard, the magistrate makes their decision (if there are multiple magistrates sitting in on a case, then it’s the majority opinion that carries), and that’s usually final – unless a member of the governing authority cares to step in (which is likely quite rare).

The Executioner's Perform (song)

Once the sentence is rendered, it’s usually up to the local law enforcement to carry it out, particularly if the sentence is something impermanent (e.g. a fine or a relatively short stay in jail). For more severe punishments, the criminal is usually turned over to a warden who runs a prison (notice the difference between a prison and a jail – the latter is meant to hold people for short durations and is usually a small establishment or even just part of another building, whereas the former is always a sturdy edifice and is meant to hold people for much longer stays), or even sentenced to die. In this case, the executioner – who’s identity is usually kept secret so as to foil retribution – carries out the sentence (often in public, both as a spectacle and to present confirmation of death).

Categories of Crime

One of the easiest ways to discuss the nature of a crime is by measuring how serious a crime it is; that is, measuring its degree of criminality. This, in turn, allows for the severity of the punishment to be more easily gauged. Below are several degrees of criminality, along with the typical punishment that they carry.

Co-opted from actual criminal terms, these are divorced from their real-world implications, and presented as broad categories from most-severe to least-severe. Note that these are not the actual crimes themselves (which will be dealt with next time) – these are just what sort of crimes they are.

Felony – The worst sort of crime that can be committed, this is typically punished with death, but banishment is also possible. In the event that death is the punishment, the body will typically not be allowed to be subjected to resurrection magic (perhaps by destroying the body, by using magic such as trap the soul, or by placing a mark on it indicating that they were executed for criminal conduct). Likewise, someone banished will typically have their banishment made known, whether by general proclamation, a brand forced onto a conspicuous spot on their body, or a mark of justice.

Larceny – This is a terrible crime, and commands a commensurate punishment. It typically involves long periods of imprisonment (possibly for life), being taken into slavery for a certain duration (also possibly for life), or mutilation of the offender (e.g. losing an finger, hand, eye, etc). As with a felony, pains will be taken to prevent the punishment from being circumvented (e.g. a tattoo so that people will know the criminal is not to be given the aid of regeneration magic).

Misdemeanor – Comparatively moderate crimes, misdemeanors are usually punished by inflicting pain/damage on the criminal (e.g. whipping or flogging), public humiliation (e.g. kept in the stocks), fines, or short-term incarceration. Additionally (or as an alternative punishment) the criminal might be sentenced to make some sort of restitution to the wronged party.

Infraction – Infractions are criminal acts so small that they typically don’t require a formal punishment, instead being disruptions that are fixable by the direct action of a local official. This typically involves sending people away from a particular person or situation (e.g. to let people involved in a fight cool off), settling a small dispute, or very brief incarceration (e.g. spending the night in jail).

Next Time: We go over specific crimes, discussing them in greater detail!