Legal System (3.5e Variant Rule)

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Law in Secular Society[edit]

If you don’t like to take chances, a few ranks of Knowledge (law) and Knowledge (local) may help you avoid a major mistake.

Criminal Law[edit]

If you’re allowed to speak in a legislative court, your goal is to sway the justice to leniency. In general, the facts of the case and your status within the community will determine the attitude of the judge. If you are accused of murder, there is some evidence supporting the claim, and you are a stranger in the community, the judge will undoubtedly have a hostile attitude towards you. If you have some status in the community or if the evidence is flimsy, the judge may only be unfriendly; if you are a renowned hero, the judge may even be indifferent. If you or your advocate make a plea, you can make a single Diplomacy check to adjust the judge’s attitude; the GM may modify this roll if you manage to produce strong (or flimsy) evidence of your innocence. This uses the standard D20 System table for modifying NPC attitudes, which is provided at the end of this section for reference. If you don’t have the Diplomacy skill, you should use a Charisma check for this purpose.

A judge with a final attitude of helpful may choose to dismiss the case; otherwise, it is largely a question of how severe the punishment will be. This varies by alignment. A chaotic justice will be much more likely to dismiss the case because he has a good feeling about you (or a friendly attitude); a lawful judge may cling to prior precedents no matter what his personal opinion. Of course, a lawful evil judge may even be happy to find a loophole for you — for the right price.

Speaking of bribery, there are a few tricks to passing a bribe successfully. If you don’t know, you may want to make a successful Knowledge (law) check (DC 15) to determine whether attempted bribery is a crime in the nation; if you are in your homeland, you may make this check untrained and you get a +5 to your roll. Next, a Sense Motive check (DC 20) will provide you with a general sense of your target and whether she would be receptive to a bribe. If the target will take a bribe, a Gather Information check can be used to determine the lowest amount that you would need to pay your target in order to sway her opinion; this is a directed conversation action, as described in New Uses For Old Skills|Chapter Two, Knowledge (local) or a similar skill would also give you a general sense of the range of bribes used for certain activities; the GM may also rule that this knowledge is commonplace for any sort of rogue, merchant, or character in a position to bribe or be bribed.

Under normal circumstances, pleading your case will be an instance of contested Diplomacy (or Charisma) checks. Whoever wins the contested check should then make a second Diplomacy (or Charisma) check to influence the attitude of the judge, as described earlier. Social standing can play a critical role in this contested check; a character who is a respected and prominent member of the local community has a considerable edge over the suspicious stranger, and this can modify your Diplomacy roll. Possible modifiers are provided on the following table.

Status Diplomacy Modifier
Stranger to the region –3
Distrusted race –2
Distrusted class –2
Follower of a distrusted religion –2
From a hostile nation –2
History of previous offenses –2
Long-time resident, no history of trouble +2
Valuable member of the community +2
Community leader +4

These modifiers are cumulative. A long-time resident who provides a valuable service to the community receives a +4 bonus, while a stranger from a hostile nation receives a –5 penalty. Distrusted class and religion penalties would only apply if these traits are known to the justice; while few people will trust a rogue, it’s rarely obvious that you are a rogue. On the other hand, if you’re a wizard and were seen casting a spell in a culture that fears and hates magic, you’ll take the penalty.

These penalties and bonuses are merely guidelines; the GM should add additional modifiers as appropriate to the local culture. Perhaps your gender will work for or against you. Maybe membership in a particular guild or devotion to the local god will work in your favor. Ultimately, it’s up to the GM to decide the factors that shape the society!

Court Rules[edit]

A plea in a court of common law will also involve a Diplomacy roll to shift the opinion of the judge. If you have at least five ranks in Knowledge (law) you get a +2 synergy bonus to this check. The drawback is that no matter how friendly a judge is, she cannot completely ignore the dictates of the law. Of course, in a lawful evil society there may be a wide variety of precedents that a justice could choose to use or to ignore — depending on whether you make it worth her while.


This practice is especially common in lawful societies. In a lawful evil society, this is another way to extort money from the downtrodden. In a lawful good society, it’s simply a way to encourage citizens to work together — to look out for their neighbors and be aware of any crimes that occur in their borough. Of course, this can lead to a disturbing “spy on your neighbor” mentality.

Juries are also most common in lawful societies. In a lawful evil society, the members of an inquest jury may use the position to extort money from other members of the community. However, inquest juries can also be found in neutral good nations, where the citizens do what they can to take the burden of justice off of the government. Of course, in a neutral good nation, the criminals identified by an inquest jury may also be dealt with by the citizen militia instead of being reported to an official justice.

Hue and Cry[edit]

This practice is generally found in goodaligned societies, where it’s expected that citizens will volunteer to help one another. It’s also common in lawful neutral societies, where all citizens are expected to act in strict compliance with the law. It’s virtually unknown in evil societies.

The Use of Magic[edit]

High Magic[edit]

There are a number of spells that can be useful in determining the veracity of a statement, including detect thoughts, direct conversation, discern lies, light of truth, painful truth, read the guilty face, and zone of truth. However, the effects of these spells are either known only to the caster (like discern lies) or can be mimicked with illusion spells (such as light of truth). In some nations, these spells are not used in open court. However, in most mystically advanced nations, this has created the position of truthreader — an individual who must go through intense tests to prove her honesty and loyalty, but who is then trusted to provide honest mystical testimony to the court. An itinerant justice will usually have a truthreader in his retinue, or else he will be a truthreader himself. If the legal system is secular in nature, truthreaders will generally be arcane spellcasters or inquisitors from mundane backgrounds; clerics may be considered to have conflicting loyalties that may influence their ability to provide unbiased testimony. However, if church and state are intertwined or if the cleric represents an impartial god of knowledge or justice, this concern may be waived.

While truthreaders can determine the truth of testimony, this doesn’t mean that a truthreader will be used for every case. A justice may choose to rely on her own sense of human nature. Perhaps the justice believes that the jury has provided her with false information — but that their decision is the right one for the good of the community. In such a case, she would choose not to call in a truthreader.

In suspicious or important cases, a truthreader may be tasked to monitor the courtroom with detect magic, to ensure that no one attempts to influence the justice or anyone else through magical means — so no charming the judge or using mass suggestion on the jury. In the case of a particularly dangerous criminal, a spellbane or magehunter might be called in to provide additional protection against mystical influences; an inquisitor or other spellcaster would also be prepared to use mystical means to restrain the prisoners or maintain order. If possible, dispel magic will be cast on the defendant at the start of the trial, to remove misdirection or any similar effect that could block divinatory spells.

Typical Magic[edit]

An itinerant justice may have inquisitor levels himself, or if there are close ties between church and state he may be accompanied by a truthreader, but this would be a rarity. In addition, the common people might mistrust evidence gathered through use of magic. In short, it would be something that an individual justice might make use of, but it would be unlikely to be the policy of the state — and the justice would want to be careful not to rely on magic, lest he draw suspicion upon his abilities and his rulings.

While sorcery might not be common in the realm, if people are aware of magic they’re going to be extremely alert for any use of magic to manipulate the process of justice. Even if he doesn’t have a truthreader, an itinerant justice may at least have a low-level wizard, sorcerer, or adept who has the ability to cast detect magic, to monitor proceedings and watch for mystical manipulation. If this isn’t possible, the guards will keep an extremely close eye on the accused and his friends — especially if he’s one of those suspicious adventurer types. Any attempt to use magic to modify the outcome of a trial will be severely punished.

Any sort of use of magic against an unwilling victim might be designated under the crime of witchcraft; there would be no distinction between using charm person on a guard or blasting him with magic missile. On the other hand, the society would probably be enlightened enough to realize that if magic is not used aggressively it presents no danger — so there’s no harm in the use of floating disk.

Low Magic[edit]

An extremely important question is whether a culture draws a distinction between arcane magic and divine magic. Quite often, a nation that will hunt and persecute the wizard for consorting with demons will revere the paladin or priest, and accept his powers as gifts from the gods. This knowledge can be quite valuable if you happen to be a wizard passing through hostile territory.

Theocratic Courts[edit]

At the GM’s discretion, a justice who intentionally violates the precepts of his god may be stripped of the ability to cast divine spells, or he may suffer the effects of one of the curses described in Chapter Eight. The punishment will remain in effect until the justice has performed an act of atonement, either through the spell or as dictated by his faith.

Of course, the actions that will call for divine punishment will vary considerably based on the nature of the god. A goddess of Evil and Trickery may actually encourage her justices to take bribes, while a god of Law and Good would be sure to punish such an act. A god of Death and Destruction might punish his justice for taking mercy on someone who should by rights be sent to the gallows.

If you are allowed to speak, you may make a Diplomacy (or Charisma) check to try to influence the justice, as described in Chapter Four. If you have at least five ranks in Knowledge (religion), you get a +2 synergy bonus to your roll. Social standing is less important in the theocratic court than in secular society, but the GM may choose to apply any of the following bonuses or penalties to your roll.

Status Diplomacy Check Modifier
Follower of a condemned religion –10
Convicted heretic –8
Follower of a foreign religion –2
Stranger to the region –2
From a hostile nation –2
Distrusted race –2
Distrusted class –1
Follower of the national religion +2
Priest of the national religion +4
Respected religious leader +8

The religious penalties do not stack — you’re only considered a heretic if you follow the same religion as the justice. In addition, if you are a heretic, you do not receive any of the usual bonuses for sharing the same religion as the judge. The religious bonuses do not stack, either; if you are a priest of the national religion, it is already assumed that you are a follower of it. During testimony, the justice will use Sense Motive to gauge the truth of the statements. He, or an attending truthreader, will likely use one or more of the following spells: detect thoughts, discern lies, light of truth, painful truth, read the guilty face, or zone of truth. At the GM’s discretion, a judge who finds that you honestly believe that you are innocent may have his attitude improved by one category prior to your Diplomacy check. Of course, if you’re found to be lying, this will almost certainly cause the judge’s attitude to shift to hostile or unfriendly.

In this style of court, defendants are rarely allowed to use advocates; the justice will wish to judge the truth of your words, and an advocate could evade the effects of truth-telling spells by simply being unaware of the facts of the case — as far as your advocate is concerned, she isn’t lying if she says you’re innocent.

At the end of these statements, you may make an opposed Diplomacy (or Charisma) check to influence the attitude of the justice, with the same modifiers given in “The Voice of God.” Of course, the judge’s attitude may not matter, if divine law is clear on how your case should be resolved.

The GM will decide if you are offered this opportunity. If so, you must first make up a myth that you feel supports your actions. You don’t have to go into detail, and you don’t have to worry about matching your story to historical names — but you need a simple fable, moral, or myth that you feel justifies your actions (whether you are innocent or guilty) and fits within the basic precepts of the religion. Once you’ve done this, you and your accuser must make opposed Knowledge (religion) checks; the GM will modify your roll based on the strength and plausibility of your myth. This acts just like a Diplomacy (or Charisma) check, and is used to influence the attitude of the justice.

You can have an advocate stand in for you to make the rolls — but you still need to come up with the story.

Once the justice has heard these pleas, she will reflect on the matter. Ultimately, she must choose a religious text that applies to the situation and provides a punishment or a reason to release the defendant. The judge has a limited set of options; unlike the justice in “The Voice of God,” her decisions can be questioned by the church, and she may lose her position if she makes questionable rulings, not to mention risk divine displeasure. Ultimately it’s up to the GM to decide what options the religion would present and how the judge can interpret the scripture. You cannot question the decisions of the justice — but if there is sufficient time before you suffer the consequences of judgment, a higher ranking member of the church could question the application of scripture — assuming, of course, she had some reason to intervene on your behalf.


The level of punishment would depend on the nature of the crime. Here are a few possibilities, ranging from minor to severe. These can be considered the result of a scourge spell with a caster level of 26.

  • Warts, boils, or discolored skin on the face. This results in a general –1 penalty to Charisma. However, people belonging to the local religion will recognize it as a sign of the divine punishment; this results in a –4 to any Charisma-based skill checks and a basic attitude of unfriendly when dealing with religious NPCs.
  • A –2 penalty to any one ability score, representing weakness, general confusion, or a repellent aura.
  • Nightmares give you a 50% chance each that you will suffer effects identical to the nightmare spell every time you try to sleep.
  • Any sort of disease. Such an affliction would not be contagious, even if the disease normally is.
  • A 50% chance that any spell you cast will backfire, having the reverse effect or striking you instead of your target.
  • Loss of voice is a fitting punishment for a con artist or someone who used magic to commit a crime.
  • Loss of sight or hearing, as the blindness/deafness spell.
  • Any of the effects of bestow curse.
  • A repellent aura causes all creatures — both animals and sentient beings — to have a hostile attitude towards you. This also lowers your effective Charisma by 6 points.
  • Any of the curse effects provided in Chapter Eight. See scourge and malediction for ideas.

Getting a divine punishment removed is no simple matter. You can have it removed using the standard techniques for breaking a scourge, but the high caster level makes this extremely difficult. However, a priest of the same religion as the god who laid the punishment upon you can absolve you of your guilt by setting a mundane form of punishment. Once you complete your sentence, the gods will be satisfied and the curse will be removed. However, the punishment does have to be appropriate to the crime; if you just happen to have a priest of Khesh in your party, she can’t let you off the hook every time Khesh gets mad at you.

In addition to these techniques, a cleric can use atonement to intercede with the gods. But in the case of a major transgression a god may not be willing to interfere with the actions of another deity, especially if the afflicted individual is not a follower of the god providing the atonement. This may result in an increased XP cost to the priest, or an outright failure of the ritual. And while atonement, wish, or miracle can remove the scourge, if you have not truly atoned for your sin there is nothing to prevent the god from revisiting his anger upon you the next time you enter his earthly domain.

Trial By Ordeal[edit]

Theocratic courts will often turn to trial by ordeal. The concept of the ordeal is that the fate of the accused is placed in the hands of the gods themselves — either literally, as in the case of a combat to the death, or figuratively, if the accused is asked to perform a miracle. The idea is that the gods will protect the innocent from harm, and ensure that the guilty are punished.

In some societies — especially chaotic ones — trial by ordeal could be the only form of law. A chaotic evil nation dedicated to a god of War and Strength could easily make trial by combat the basis for any sort of dispute. In lawful societies, it’s more likely to be a supplemental form of trial. Under the voice of god system, a justice could choose to set an ordeal instead of making a ruling himself. Under a system of divine interpretation, the scriptures could insist on ordeals for specific types of crimes.

Trial By Combat[edit]

Trial by combat is one of the most common forms of ordeal. While it’s especially appropriate for gods of War or Strength, many domains can fit within this form of trial. With Luck or Protection, will the god shield you from your enemy or grant you the luck you need? With Death or Destruction, can you prove yourself to be the vessel of the god’s power? The principle is that if the deity is on your side, you can’t possibly lose.

At the GM’s discretion, you may gain a sacred (or profane) bonus of +1 to +5 to AC, saves, and attack and damage rolls. On the other hand, if the god is not on your side, your opponent could receive this bonus.

The GM always has the final say in this matter; more often than not, the gods will leave the matter to your skill, wits, and the luck of your dice.

Trial by Element[edit]

Assuming that you’re dealing with still water and just have to keep afloat, this only requires a Swim check with a DC of 5. If your modified Swim score (combining Strength modifier, encumbrance or armor penalties, and ranks in the skill) is at least +4, you shouldn’t have to make regular per-round rolls. However, for every hour you need to stay afloat you must make a Swim check (DC 20) or suffer 1d6 points of nonlethal damage and become fatigued. In addition, if you’re af loat in salt water or otherwise tainted liquid, after a day has passed you will begin to suffer from dehydration. This requires you to make a Constitution check (DC 10, +1 for each previous check) once per hour, suffering 1d6 nonlethal damage for each failed check.

This requires you to make a Fortitude save (DC 15, +1 for each previous check) every 10 minutes; failure results in 1d4 points of nonlethal damage. If you become unconscious, you suffer 1d4 points of normal damage every 10 minutes, with no saving throw.

These are just a few examples. As with trial by combat, the GM may decide to give you a sacred bonus to checks or saves if the gods truly are on your side.

Trial by Skill[edit]

Using opposed Diplomacy checks, can you convince the jury of your innocence? In many ways, this is not unlike a traditional modern trial.

A god of Trickery or Luck could use a game like poker; a goddess of Knowledge would be more likely to use Chess, or a similar game of strategy and skill.

Tug-of-war could be resolved as an extended grapple. Holding weights could require a Strength check (DC 10, +1 per previous check) every minute, with the first to drop the weights being the loser.

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