OGC:Legal System (3.5e Variant Rule)
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|This material is published under the OGL 1.0a.|
Law in a Secular Society
The Laws of the Lord
Pleading Your Case
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 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.
|Stranger to the region||–3|
|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|
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!
Influencing NPC Attitudes
Most of the legal systems presented in this book use the standard system for influencing NPC attitudes. The following table determines the DC for using the Diplomacy skill (or a Charisma check) to influence the attitude of a nonplayer character. Note that you don’t have to specify the final result that you hope to achieve. For example, if a justice has an initial attitude of hostile, you must get a check result of at least 20 to improve his attitude to 20. But if the result of the check is 25 to 34, his attitude improves to indifferent. And if you manage to get a result of 50 or higher, he goes all the way from hostile to helpful!
See also SRD:Diplomacy Skill.
The Rules of the Realm
The Court of Common Law
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.
The Role of the Jury
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.
The Hue and Cry
This practice is generally found in good-aligned 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.
One of the first things to do upon entering a new nation is to try to identify the general outlook of its systems — or, at least, its government. How strong is the power of law? Is the law used to protect the citizens, or it is used to oppress them?
The alignment of a power center should have a considerable impact on the laws of the land and how they are enforced. The alignment of the majority of the citizens will also play a role; many nations rely on the population to help the guard enforce the laws. Most power centers with strong systems of law will be lawful, but this isn’t always the case. This section assumes that the society has some level of laws and structures; for ideas on life in a truly chaotic power center, see Chapter Six.
In a typical lawful good society, the laws are designed to protect the citizenry from crime and treachery. When possible, a justice will seek a wise solution as opposed to a simple one; will executing a murderer actually heal the damage he has caused in the community?
If the citizens of a lawful good society share the alignment of their community, they will do their best to abide by the rule of law, trusting in the government to protect them and look out for their best interests. At its best, this results in citizens helping one another, cooperating to prevent crime, and working together to strengthen the community. Of course, while the citizens may protect one another, this does not necessarily extend to outsiders; if anything, the community will unite to keep an eye on suspicious travelers — including most adventurers. Likewise, extreme lawful good societies are the sorts of places where a citizen might turn in a friend or relative for a seemingly harmless crime — because the informer believes that he’s acting in the best interests of the community and, potentially, even the "criminal."
In a lawful neutral nation, justice truly is blind. The law is an impartial force, and justices and nobles follow the precise letter of the law. Lawful neutral states are especially well-suited to common law. If the nation uses a legislative system, it is likely to build up a similar mass of precedents, collecting the writs of kings back to the founding of the nation and following each one as closely as possible.
In some cases this can go to ridiculous extremes, with bizarre outdated laws that have long outlived their intended purpose coming to the fore. Most of the time the laws will make sense, but they may or may not have been designed with the best interests of the community in mind — and justices will always choose the law over the people. In some cases, the people of a lawful neutral society may be extremely litigious — constantly debating slights based on violations of obscure laws. In other societies, the citizens do their best to stay out of the way of the lawkeepers, so as not to interfere with the process of justice.
A lawful neutral citizenry will obey the law not because they believe that it has their best interests at heart, but because it is the law. Traditions are very important to such a society, and people are more likely to unquestioningly cling to the ways of the past than to try to change the future.
In a lawful evil country, the law is a tool the rulers use to maintain their power. Graft and corruption are extremely common in lawful evil cultures. Law may provide a basic structure for a society, but it is something to be manipulated and used for the benefit of the powerful, the wealthy, and the clever; the laws oppress the masses, as opposed to protecting them. A lawful evil society is far more likely to use a legislative system than common law, since those in power will want to be in control of the law, not the other way around. In general, the citizens of a lawful evil nation do their best to avoid the agents of the law; the city guards are more likely to extort gold from you than to protect you. The penalties for breaking the law will be extremely harsh — unless, of course, you can afford to pay off the so-called justice.
Most nations that have lawful evil power centers do not have a primarily lawful evil population. More often than not, the evil forces in power use the law to oppress the more neutrally-aligned masses. In a culture that is itself lawful evil, the citizens fully accept the idea that law is just a tool to be used. These nations are extremely Machiavellian; virtually all interactions and relationships are based around self-interest and greed (whether a desire for gold or power). Lawful evil citizens will betray one another at a moment’s notice — in accord with the proper forms, of course. In comparison to a chaotic evil society, lawful evil citizens are careful planners; they form highly structured guilds with their own laws and bylaws.
Murder on the streets is frowned upon, but subtle assassination, blackmail, a carefully arranged fall from grace — these are all expected risks. And if you think it’s dangerous to live in a lawful evil nation — well, it’s much worse if you’re a stranger and don’t know the lay of the land!
In a neutral good nation, the law is a relatively passive force. Whether it’s based on the traditions of common law or the legislative decrees of a wise ruler, the law is there to resolve conflicts and maintain order. However, the forces of the law are less powerful than in a lawful society. The laws are simple and designed with the best interests of the people in mind. As a result, most citizens will solve their own problems in accordance with the law, without actually calling upon the official representatives of justice.
The people are not afraid to use the forces of the law; they just rarely see the need, and the government prefers not to interfere unless it has to. Members of a neutral good population will work together to create strong communities. Neutral good villages are likely to form citizen militias and other informal groups — organizations that serve the laws of the land, but that have no official connection to the government itself.
A true neutral realm is a watered-down version of a lawful neutral society. The laws are functional and sufficient to keep the nation running. The government is not extremely strict about enforcing the laws; when they are enforced, it is typically without regard to the circumstances of a situation. A true neutral government may have no interest in interfering with the daily lives of its citizens, or it may not have the power to enforce the law. A lawful neutral power center that loses the support of its citizens may slowly drift toward true neutral, as it loses its resources and control over the population. In such a situation there may still be justices who are devoted to the law — they just don’t have the influence to make much of an impact on their nation.
While a true neutral citizen may be roused to action by a charismatic local or national leader, left to his own devices he will mind his own business and take care of his own property.
A neutral evil nation is similar to a lawful evil society, but worse. While a lawful evil nation may use the law to oppress its citizens, at least the law is a respected power. In a neutral evil society the rulers hold absolute power, and there is rarely any pretense that the citizens have any rights. Slavery is extremely common in neutral evil societies; members of the ruling class may have certain privileges and a legal code, but the teeming masses have no rights whatsoever, and no recourse to the law. In a nation where the majority of the population is neutral evil, opportunism is the name of the game. If there’s any way the lower classes can move up in the world, they will do anything to do so. If not, they will stoop to any depths to gain a modicum of long-term security and comfort.
Chaotic good countries can have laws. However, a chaotic country will tend to have a very simple legal system, with as few laws as possible. A chaotic good kingdom may use common law or legislative law, following ancient traditions or the guidance of a wise king. The critical thing about a chaotic society is that an individual justice is much more likely to ignore or reinterpret the law in order to do what she considers to be the right thing. The laws are seen as guidelines for proper behavior, not immutable rules that must be obeyed.
A chaotic good population follows the same path as a chaotic good justice. As a rule, the citizens will obey the laws, because the laws serve the common good. However, if an individual feels that the law does not apply to his particular situation, he will break it without a second thought. Where a lawful good citizen may place the law above friendship, a chaotic good citizen will almost always shield an ally from persecution.
Of course, this isn’t necessarily good for you; if the only way to save a local boy is to blame his crime on a suspicious stranger — which is to say you, the wandering adventurer — a group of chaotic good villagers may do just that.
Chaotic neutral nations vary tremendously. A chaotic neutral society may be pure anarchy, with no central government or legal system whatsoever. Alternately, it may have a legislative system that shifts on a daily basis. In any case, life in a chaotic neutral society will be unpredictable at best. See Chapter Six for more details on chaotic societies.
A chaotic evil realm may resemble a chaotic good or chaotic neutral nation. It could have a basic structure that holds society together, or it may be complete anarchy. Power is what matters in a chaotic evil society; the strong rule the weak, and any rules created by the strong will generally disappear as soon as someone stronger comes along.
The Nature of Crime
You can learn what substances are illegal in the area you’re in with a successful check on any of the following skills: Knowledge (law) (DC 15), Knowledge (local) (DC 10), Profession (merchant) (DC 18). If you’re in your homeland, you’re allowed to make an untrained Knowledge (local) roll.
The best way to avoid committing an act of treason is to be familiar with local politics. At least then, if you commit treason it will be because you’re choosing to do so. Any of the following skill or ability checks should help in this regard: Bardic Lore (DC 23), Knowledge (history) (DC 22), Knowledge (local), Knowledge (nobility) DC (17), or Knowledge (religion) (DC 17). History, nobility, and religion will only provide you with information about treason relating to that subject; for example, Knowledge (religion) will tell you what would be considered an act of treason against the church.
The Role of Magic
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.
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.
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.
The effect of alignment on the shape of society has already been discussed. Most of these ideas carry over into theocratic societies — with the exception that theocracies have a tendency to be more zealous in their beliefs.
The citizens of a theocracy are more likely to share the alignment of their power center than those of a secular society — at least, assuming that the religion is a popular one, as opposed to being the church of an oppressive minority. This can have a few specific effects:
Good and Evil — Good and evil are serious concepts in a theocratic society, and their influence is usually far more visible than in a purely secular nation. On a small scale, good citizens may believe that they have a duty to help their neighbors, to be generous to those in need, and so on. A good theocracy can be a very pleasant place to live, if the citizens truly live up to these ideals. The down side is that theocracies can easily fall into crusader zeal. A good theocracy may feel obliged to spread the benevolent rule of its gods across the land (regardless of the wishes of those to be ruled), while an evil nation might believe that it has a divine right to take all that it can seize.
Lawful — Lawful citizens are more likely to follow the rules of society than their secular counterparts. After all, this is the will of the gods, not some king’s crazy idea! Break the law and you could be looking at eternal damnation. A lawful evil theocracy may still be riddled with graft and corruption, or it may be an extremely organized society dedicated to the evil goals of its patron gods.
Chaotic — A citizen of a chaotic theocracy will be dedicated to the traditions of her gods, but she may feel that she is just as well suited to interpret the laws of the gods as any ordained priest. A chaotic theocracy is likely to be more stable than a secular chaotic society; at the very least, the people are bound together by shared beliefs. But that won’t necessarily result in a stable government. In a society dedicated to chaotic evil gods, the citizens may actually be encouraged to fight amongst themselves and assassinate their superiors; this sort of behavior is the way of determining who the gods wish to rule.
Monotheism vs Polytheism
Needless to say, an omnipotent god is difficult to reflect in game terms; you could choose to give the priests of such a god access to all domains (as their god is all things) or you could limit domains to the most abstract concepts, like Good and Law for a benevolent divine overlord.
A nation dedicated to the god of Strength and War would be an aggressive and militaristic nation. Justice would most likely involve trial by combat, and duels would be a common method of resolving disputes. Any theocracy dedicated to a War god is likely to try to spread its influence through conquest and crusade, to better display the power of the god.
The goddess of Water and Travel would inspire a nation to focus on trade and naval power. The people of such a nation might spend much of their lives on giant houseboats, or even create floating cities.
A realm devoted to the goddess of Knowledge and Magic would place a tremendous emphasis on education and learning. Physical violence would be abhorred, and any sort of aggressive behavior would be punished. Magic would be an integral part of law, both for determining guilt and enacting punishments.
In a nation that revered the god of Luck and Trickery, the only crime would be getting caught! A court of justice might literally involve the roll of a die or spinning of a wheel to determine the fate of the victim; alternately, the defendant might play a game with his accuser, or get to engage in a bluffing contest.
The Nature of Crime
In a nation dedicated to a goddess of War, murder may not be considered a crime as long as the target has a chance to defend himself. If the goddess is of good alignment, this rule may only apply to combat between equals; however, an evil goddess may see the weak as being unfit to live. In either nation, assassination would be considered a truly vile crime as it denies the warrior the chance to die in battle.
On the other had, in the nation of a god of Trickery and Evil, assassination may be perfectly acceptable; it could be that if no one sees the crime, the guard won’t even investigate. But outright street violence goes against the teachings of the god and must be punished. Likewise, in the realm of a god of Trickery, crimes like fraud and theft are unlikely to be investigated; however, a criminal caught in the act will be punished for her incompetence.
The Role of Magic
In a high magic setting, most representatives of the church will be clerics or paladins. An acolyte may only have one or two levels, but nonetheless, the representatives of the gods have the ability to use magic. If arcane magic is uncommon in the society, the spellcasting power of the church may be one reason that it’s a theocratic society in the first place; the mystical power of the clerics may give them a stranglehold on society.
In a typical setting, only high officials will be paladins or clerics. Divine magic is accepted and recognized as the power of the gods, but it’s something that must be gained through years of pious devotion. Other religious officials will simply be dedicated experts with levels in Knowledge (religion).
In a low magic setting, actual spellcasters are an anomaly — saints, avatars, or others who have been touched by the gods in some way. Church officials are skilled orators and dedicated to the teachings of their gods, but cannot call on magical powers. An actual divine spellcaster would be seen as a miracle-worker — or a heretical witch, depending on the circumstances.
Your GM will need to decide how a society views arcane magic. As a general rule, you should be able to obtain this information with a successful check with any of the following skills or abilities: Bardic Lore (DC 10), Gather Information (DC 15), Knowledge (geography) (DC 20) Knowledge (local) (DC 10), Knowledge (religion) (DC 15). If the nation in question is your homeland or if you are a follower of the god of the land, you should be able to obtain this information without making a die roll.
A justice may still have a few levels of cleric or inquisitor, and he only needs to be 3rd level to gain access to zone of truth or painful truth. In a typical theocratic court, the justice will reserve the more powerful spells of verification for difficult cases; in most situations she will rely on her own instincts, possibly using read the guilty face to enhance her natural talents. With that said, if she has any doubts, she will use truth-telling magic or call for a truthreader to be brought in.
In a lawful evil society, an inquisitor may use his powers and determine that a victim is innocent — and lie about his findings in favour of his own personal agenda. A chaotic good priest may choose to suppress the truth in order to protect a community from emotional trauma.
The Theocratic Court
The Voice of God
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|
|Follower of a foreign religion||–2|
|Stranger to the region||–2|
|From a hostile nation||–2|
|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
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
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
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 afloat 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
Using opposed Diplomacy checks, can you convince the jury of your innocence? In many ways, this is not unlike a traditional modern trial.
Law in a Lawless World
The Warlord State
The vast majority of warlord states are chaotic in nature. A nation ruled purely by military power is inherently unstable; if a powerful leader manages to establish a successful dynasty, the society will shift towards a lawful alignment. Warlords rarely have any interest in managing the daily affairs of a nation; the common folk are usually left to produce crops and keep the society afloat. Depending on the alignment of the lord, his warriors may be revered or feared as they are either the protectors of the people or a scourge on the land.
Chaotic Evil — In a chaotic evil society, the common folk live in constant fear of the lords who rule the land. Warbands take whatever they want, pillaging and killing those who interfere. A warlord rules through fear, and typically holds power only as long as he can hold a blade.
Chaotic Good — Chaotic good warlords are more likely to have the support of the people; the warlord may not have any sort of traditional claim to the land, but she’s seen as a protector of the realm. The warlord typically has no patience for complex systems of law, but she will try to do what’s best for her people and see that justice is done. In a chaotic good society, a warlord is unlikely to be assassinated by her allies. But the loyalty of her subjects does not extend to her children, and her death may trigger a vicious war of succession.
Neutral — Neutral and chaotic neutral warlords stand between these two extremes. A neutral warlord will expect tribute from the commoners who share his territory. If he doesn’t receive his due, he’ll take it by force, but he will not be as wantonly cruel as his evil counterpart. Chaotic neutral warlords are often driven by impulse and the thirst for glory, and are given to extravagant gestures of generosity or rage.
Typically, this sort of society appears when a formerly lawful society slips into chaos. The power center itself is chaotic, but the populace is largely lawful or neutral; thus they continue to obey the laws of the land even as those laws become increasingly more erratic and illogical. Alternately, the society itself could be lawful, but simply burdened with bizarre laws due to the decrees of past emperors. By tradition, a law cannot be removed or changed once it has been made, so the insane laws have remained even though leveler heads now prevail.
A chaotic good leader may actually be trying to do what’s best for his people — he’s just having trouble determining the proper course of action. Perhaps he’s trying to create the perfect civilization, one law at a time; he has a vision in his mind, and the trip there is just a very strange one. Such a ruler probably won’t condemn people to death for failing to cut their hair or follow the daily dress code, but failure to conform to the current laws could certainly result in fines or public humiliation.
A chaotic evil ruler could be insane, or she could simply be drunk with power; she has no long-term goals, and is simply playing with the laws of her ancient kingdom like a child with blocks. She might sentence people to death for wearing white or speaking elven. Once she tires of playing with her citizens, such a ruler could easily start a war or take other dangerous actions.
The Power of Tradition
A society that’s held together by traditions will lean towards lawful or neutral alignments. Chaotic nations are more likely to fall back to the rule of warlords or into total anarchy; a chaotic population lacks the respect for the law that a traditional society needs to survive. Likewise, evil nations rarely hold onto this style of government for long; an evil family will generally desire more power and control, and attempt to seize it through force or guile. With that said, it is possible that you will encounter a realm in the midst of this process. An evil clan may be searching for a way to seize power, but at the moment it lacks the strength to challenge the other families in the region.
In a lawful nation, respect for tradition means everything; the citizens consider the laws to be what holds their society together. In a neutral nation, the traditions are seen more as guidelines; they provide a framework, but it is up to the citizens to use wisdom to fill in the gaps, and to create new traditions in situations where the old laws no longer apply.
Typically, you will be allowed to speak in your own defense in a system of traditional justice. Advocates, however, are rarely allowed. A Diplomacy roll can be used to influence the opinion of your judges, as outlined in previous chapters. However, in the less-structured traditional system, Bluff can also play a roll. A successful Bluff check — opposed by your judges’ Sense Motive rolls and modified based on the strength of the evidence against you — will shift the judges’ attitudes towards you up by one category.
Life Among the Ruins
A ruined nation has no organized leadership. It could best be called chaotic neutral, as each different band of refugees will have a different attitude. Good survivors may hope to recreate the former civilization, and are more likely to provide shelter to the weak or helpless. Evil refugees may seek to build a tyrannical powerbase in order to become warlords. Or they may simply be driven by fear and selfish greed, taking whatever they need to survive with no thought for the needs of others. There’s no way to predict what you’ll run into. And in many ruined civilizations the refugees will need to keep moving in order to survive, constantly fleeing from the force that devastated the realm. As a result, even if you find trustworthy allies, you may not be able to locate them the next time you pass through the region.
If a refuge community does call for a trial, it will typically use some simple form of trial by ordeal, or the leader of the community will hear pleas. As with a traditional society, both Diplomacy and Bluff can be employed in this situation; the leader has ultimate authority, and if you manage to shift his attitude to helpful, odds are that he’ll let you go regardless of evidence.
A Society of Sorcerers
If the talent for sorcery passes through the blood, then each clan could have certain specialties; one village might have a knack for necromancy, another talent for enchantment or divination. These specialties might form the basis for arranged marriages, as the elders try to bring new talents into their community. Certain clans might consider marriage to foreigners — or even members of other clans — to be a serious crime, potentially weakening the divine blood.
If a village does have a range of talents, then an individual’s magical abilities could determine his role within the community, as well. A villager who can cast mount might serve as a farrier; magic missile and acid arrow would be the tools of hunters and soldiers, while illusionists could serve as spies or entertainers.
A society of sorcerers does not have an inherent bent to any particular alignment. An evil society might lean more towards the attitude of a warlord state; instead of ruling by the sword, a sorcerer-warlord could dominate a region with her band of mystical warriors. An alliance of peaceful clans would have more in common with a traditional society; as such, the inhabitants would lean more towards lawful and neutral alignments.
While it would be a very different sort of society, it’s easy to imagine a neutral evil monarchy in which the sorcerer elite maintain a tyrannical rule over a population of powerless slaves. Or a theocracy dedicated to a goddess of magic might see sorcerers as the blessed children of the goddess. Or perhaps a ruined society collapsed due to a magical catastrophe; now horrible aberrations roam the blighted landscape, but those refugees who survived the disaster have begun to develop mystical powers.
One critical difference is that whatever its system of law, a sorcerous society will use magic in its trials. Detect thoughts, charm person, read the guilty face, detect magical residue, and agony will all be brought into play as the elders search for the truth.
Sever from the source would be a common punishment for members of the sorcerous community; the duration of this magical “imprisonment” would vary based on the nature of the crime. The loss of her mystical powers would be a terrible blow to any sorcerer.
Against the Law
Ignorance of the Law
As a general rule, you can pick up the basic taboos of a society with any of the following checks: Bardic Lore (DC 20), Knowledge (geography) (DC 20), Knowledge (local) (DC 10), Knowledge (law) (DC 15). If you are in your homeland, you receive a +5 to all of these checks except for Knowledge (local). Knowledge (law) will give you the most specific information about the legal ramifications of an action, possible punishments, systems of trial, and the like; the other skills simply help you to determine "Is this a crime?"
You can also use Gather Information to pick up the general customs. The DC of the check is only 10, but it takes the standard amount of time (a few hours) to perform the check. In addition, if you’re in a backwater village, the local inhabitants may not know all the laws of the land. Of course, if they don’t know their own laws, hopefully you won’t get in trouble for breaking them.
In addition to these skills, augury or divination can both help you determine whether an action is a bad idea. With augury, you may not be able to tell if fighting those orcs is unwise because it’s against the law or because your group is hopelessly outnumbered — but in either case, a bad idea is a bad idea.
Witchcraft and Blasphemy
Another question is the role played by magical items. If a nation fears arcane magic, its people probably won’t see much of a difference between using a wand of fire or casting a spell yourself. On the other hand, magic items with subtle effects may go unnoticed. You probably won’t have customs agents checking every sack to see if you’ve got a bag of holding. But dramatic items — like a brilliant energy weapon — may draw unwanted attention. And in extreme cases, the locals may use magehounds to sniff out any object or individual bearing the taint of supernatural forces.
The Evil Empire
Lawful evil tyrants tax the lifesblood from the citizens. Neutral evil sorcerer-princes rule over an oppressed mass of powerless slaves. Chaotic evil warlords pillage the farmers who are merely trying to survive. Against these powerful forces, the people have only one hope — you.
Methods of Punishment
Action and Inaction
Other options depend on the level of magic that’s available to the court. Lesser geas and geas/quest are both highly effective short-term solutions, but the effects may not last long enough to handle a pilgrimage or an extended quest. Mark of justice, greater mark of justice, and sentinel stones can all enforce a particular type of behavior for an extended period of time.
When dealing with geas/quest, Mark of justice, and sentinel stones, be aware that the caster can either demand a course of action ("Return with the Crown of Gol within six days’ time"), command that you refrain from a specific action (“Cause no harm to any human being”), or both at once ("You will leave this land as quickly as possible, and then never return"). Taboo — from Dynasties and Demagogues — only allows you to forbid a course of action, but it has more powerful short-term effects than geas. While geas and taboo spells have a limited duration, part of a geas could involve returning on a regular basis to have the spell refreshed; in a sense, this would be a form of mystical probation.
Finally, if magic is available the judge could use Mark of justice, greater mark of justice, sentinel stone, or greater sentinel stone to enforce the exile; at the very least, he could use indelible mark in place of a brand.
As a general rule, you must make a Fortitude save (DC 10) for every week that you spend in a hostile prison. Failure — and a roll of 1 is always a failure — results in the loss of one point of Constitution. This is temporary ability score damage, but you cannot recover the lost points while you remain in the same conditions. If you are released or receive medical attention and better nutrition, you can recover the lost points at the usual rate of one point per day.
The Simple Dungeon
Unless a community is especially wealthy, the town dungeon will be a single room with a wooden door (Hardness 5, 15 hit points, break DC 18, Open Lock DC 25). The wall chains are average manacles (Hardness 10, 10 hit points, break DC 26, Escape Artist DC 30, Open Lock DC 20). The walls themselves are thin stone (Hardness 8, 60 hit points, break DC 30) or wood (Hardness 5, 40 hit points, break DC 25).
While wall manacles are loose wrist restraints, they are set into the wall at a height designed hold your arms pinned above your head. While you’re held in wall restraints you movement rate is — surprise — reduced to zero. You lose your Dexterity bonus to your AC and take an additional –8 penalty to your AC. You cannot cast spells requiring somatic components or take any action that requires the use of your arms. If you’re a monk and your legs are free, you can still kick anyone who gets close to you; otherwise your options are limited to using skills that don’t require movement, spells that only have verbal components, or making a Strength or Escape Artist check to burst or slip free of your chains. If your legs are also restrained, your AC drops to zero and you’re considered to be a helpless opponent.
In a castle dungeon, you should expect to find a higher level of restraint. The doors will be stronger (Hardness 5, 20 hit points, break DC 23, Open Lock DC 30) and you’ll be held in place with masterwork manacles (Hardness 10, 10 hit points, break DC 28, Escape Artist DC 35, Open Lock DC 20). The walls will be typically be thick stone (Hardness 8, 180 hit points, break DC 40).
The quality of guards will vary a great deal based on the size of the community. A prison in a rustic hamlet might be maintained by a few 1st-level warriors, while the local lord may have 3rd-level warriors to watch his dungeon.
The Dedicated Prison
In a dedicated prison, prisoners are kept in cells sealed with iron doors and the best locks gold can buy (Hardness 10, 60 hit points, break DC 28, Open Lock DC 40). Usually the door will be considered sufficient to hold you in and you won’t be restrained. However, if you are a known spellcaster or escape risk, you may be placed in masterwork manacles (Hardness 10, 10 hit points, break DC 28, Escape Artist DC 35, Open Lock DC 30) or an iron pillory (Hardness 10, 60 hit points, break DC 30, Escape Artist DC 35, Open Lock DC 30); a spellcaster will also be gagged. Note that while hung in manacles or placed in a pillory you don’t have sufficient range of movement to try to pick the locks on your restraints. Monks or other characters who are considered to be escape risks or dangerous unarmed combatants may be placed in loose wrist manacles and bar ankle manacles — these aren’t hung from the wall, but are merely encumbering enough to limit the chance of escape or attack. Such manacles will probably be of average quality (Hardness 10, 10 hit points, break DC 26, Escape Artist DC 30, Open Lock DC 20). If two prisoners are forced to share a cell, they may be chained together at the ankles; this can make for rather comical escape attempts. The interior walls will be typically be thick stone (Hardness 8, 180 hit points, break DC 40).
In any dedicated prison — whether it’s a city jail or a full-fledged prison tower — the guards will take care to strip you of any useful equipment. If you’re considered a serious escape risk, a guard may take 20 on a Search check in an attempt to find thieves tools, spell components, or anything else that could help you in an escape. It’s possible to use Open Lock or Disable Device without proper tools; if you can create makeshift tools, you only take a –2 circumstance penalty to your check. However, a watchful guard will try to keep a cell clear of any materials that could be used to create picks. You’ll have to use your imagination to see what you can come up with; if you can filch a writing quill off the sheriff’s desk, that might do the trick. Otherwise, the GM can impose up to a –5 circumstance penalty for having to use completely inadequate materials.
In a tower, you will probably have a barred window in your cell. Bending iron bars requires a Strength check (DC 24). A Small creature could slip through a window after the bars had been bent — but the frame of the window is generally too small for any Medium creature to try this. The walls themselves are made of thick stone (Hardness 8, 360 hit points, break DC 42). A prison will always contain a few windowless cells for dangerous criminals — so if you squeeze out the window and are later recaptured, don’t expect another room with a view.
As for the guards themselves, like the simple dungeon the levels of the guards will vary based on the size of the community. A metropolis will have more capable troops than a small town. However, the guards of a dedicated prison will generally be well trained. A typical prison could be managed by a 6th-level fighter, with four 4th-level fighters as lieutenants, and 25 3rd-level warriors to round out the staff. In a major metropolis, these levels might be doubled, and the guard itself increased by a factor of five.
Fortress of Justice
The dedicated prison is a solid and secure building, but it is the product of a mundane society. In a nation that deals with spellcasters on a regular basis — where magic is commonplace and demons, dark elves, and doppelgangers may need to be held alongside human prisoners — a jail is designed with a much higher level of security. Such an institution would be designed to be impenetrable.
All of the restraints and techniques used in dedicated prison would apply here as well, but based on the nature of the society and the level of magic available, any of the following options could be implemented:
Adamantine — Exceptionally powerful prisoners are restrained in +5 enchanted manacles forged from adamantine and fitted with amazing locks (Hardness 25, 25 hit points, break DC 40, Escape Artist DC 45, Open Lock DC 50). The enchanted manacles can only be damaged by weapons with a +5 enhancement bonus, and can only be broken by creatures whose natural attacks are considered to be magical weapons. Doors to high-security cells and restricted wards are also be made of adamantine (Hardness 20, 80 hit points, break DC 30, Open Lock DC 40).
Arcane Locks — The doors of the prison fortress are sealed with arcane lock. Typically, this would be accomplished through the use of wands of arcane lock. Each ward of the prison is locked using a different wand. Guards wear key talismans allowing them to open the doors on their ward; the warden has talismans for the entire prison. Even within a particular ward, high-security cells could be locked with a separate spell — that way, if a guard was to be captured and his key talisman stolen, the high-security cell could not be opened.
Collars of Pain — Prisoners who are considered to be escape risks may be equipped with collars of pain; the watch commander on the ward will hold the associated control ring.
Forbiddance — The high-security areas of a theocratic church could be shielded by the effects of the forbiddance spell, preventing creatures of opposing alignments from moving through the areas. The watch commanders would know the passwords for deactivating the various zones of forbiddance, which would have to be done in order to transport prisoners between different areas of the fortress.
Glyphs of Warding — The hallways of a prison fortress are often filled with glyphs of warding. The standard trigger is based on an object carried by the guards; if you aren’t within ten feet of someone carrying the security object, you set off the ward. The security object is generally not a key talisman; it’s intentionally nondescript, making it difficult for an escaping prisoner to quickly take the object from a fallen guard. Possible objects could include a coin or a lock of hair, either of which could be sewn into one of the guard’s boots. Blindness, bestow curse, hold person, and invisibility purge are all commonly used glyphs. A rogue can locate and remove a glyph by making a successful Search check (DC 28) followed by a Disable Device check DC 28); if he is using makeshift tools, he takes a circumstance penalty of –2 to –5.
Guards — A prison fortress is staffed with the finest soldiers the nation has to offer. The warden may be a fighter, paladin, or lawkeeper of up to 15th level. The precise number of guards depends on the size of the fortress. 5 percent will be 8th-level fighters, 10 percent 6th-level fighters, and 20 percent 4th-level fighters; the remainder will be 4th-level warriors. In addition, the fortress will have a small corps of spellcasters to maintain the mystical wards and to manage magical prisoners. The classes of these casters will vary based on the national bias between arcane and divine magic. But a fortress will generally include at least 1 spellcaster of 10th level, 2 casters of 7th level, and 4 casters of 5th level. A fortress will also include 5 to 10 specialists of other classes. A theocracy might have a few paladins to supplement the soldiers. A fortress geared to hold mystical prisoners could also have spellbanes or magehunters. It’s up to the GM to decide what best fits the culture.
Needless to say, this is a fairly impressive force; a 15th-level fighter may be a hero of the realm. However, few nations will have the resources or the need to build a fortress of justice. If you intend to hold demons and devas, you want your best people on the job!
Hell Cells — Different wards of the prison are designed to hold different types of prisoners. A section designed to imprison extraplanar beings like demons or celestials would include an orb of dimensional stability extending over the relevant cells. Demons will typically be shackled hand and foot in +5 enchanted manacles forged from adamantine, and contained within a magic circle created using a rod of containment.
Indelible Marks — Most prisoners, especially those who can shapeshift, will be branded with an indelible mark in a prominent location upon admission to the prison. The mark indicates the security risk posed by the prisoner, including whether she is a known spellcaster.
Paladins and Lawkeepers — In a lawful good theocracy, a prison fortress will have at least one low-level paladin on duty at all times; this paladin will man the gate and continuously use detect evil. In other lawful theocracies this role may be assumed by a lawkeeper, who will use detect heretic. Most of the prisoners in a theocratic fortress are marked with ban; this will allow a high-level lawkeeper to keep track of the location of the prisoners using his mystical senses.
Silent Cells — Silent cells are a slightly more humane way to contain spellcasters without having to keep them bound and gagged. An orb of silence is embedded into the floor, so that its effects cover a few small cells. Within a silent cell, no one can speak, and no sound can be heard. The guard has access to a lead sheath that can be lowered over the orb, in case speech is necessary.
The walls of the fortress are hewn stone (Hardness 8, 540 hit points), at it is designed to resist a siege. Like the dedicated prison, a fortress may be built on an island or mountain peak to take advantage of natural defenses; if not, it will certainly have a moat and outer walls.
The Survival skill can be used to provide food and water, or to help to find shelter against the weather and the elements; refer to the skill description for full details. If the island is especially desolate, the GM may increase the DC of these checks by 5 points; if it’s a sheet of bare rock or ice, the DC may be increased by 10.
If you fail these checks, you’ll start to take damage due to starvation, dehydration, and exposure. If you don’t have any skilled woodsmen, hopefully you have a cleric on hand to cast create water or create food and water.
If your island is home to hostile animals, beasts, or humanoids, weapons may be the first order of business. If there is wood on the island, it is a fairly simple matter to make clubs, halfspears, or quarterstaffs. You can also gather rocks to throw (1d4, x2 crit, 7-foot range increment, 1 pound, bludgeoning). If you have a party member with Craft (leatherworking) and access to animal hides, she may be able to craft slings (DC 15), leather armor (DC 18) or hide armor (DC 22). All of this equipment will be crude, and liable to need constant maintenance or replacement — but it may be enough to keep you alive.
In an ideal world, one of you will have polymorph, alter self, fly, lesser planar ally, teleport, sending, or some similar spell. These allow you to simply go for help or contact an ally. On the other hand, if your enemy knows you’re a spellcaster, he’ll almost certainly have deprived you of your spellbook and any spell components, focuses, or divine focuses; he may even remove a few fingers or your tongue to be safe (see Chapter Eight for the effects of such mutilation). Even if you can cast without any of these, there’s still the matter of distance and direction — it’s not good to be over deep water when your fly spell wears off!
If magic isn’t an option, you can build signal fires and hope that a nearby ship comes to investigate (and that a nearby dragon doesn’t). If you come up with some sort of cutting tools you can attempt to build a raft; this requires a successful check with one of the following skills: Craft (carpentry) (DC 20), Craft (shipmaking) (DC 15), or Survival (DC 20); you may make a check once per day. However, unless you have Profession (sailor) — not to mention some way to acquire food and water — you could easily drift at sea until you starve to death. And that’s not even addressing the possibility of hungry sea creatures looking for snacks!
What’s worse than being stranded on a desert island? How about being stranded in a pocket dimension the size of a large walk-in closet? A mystically advanced society could use plane shift to store dangerous prisoners in small inter-dimensional spaces, similar to those used in portable holes or bags of holding. This is the principle behind the portable cell. While these items are useful for bounty hunters looking to transport troublesome captives, there’s no reason that an entire portable prison couldn’t be built using these items; you could have a hundred portable cells folded up in a footlocker.
So, if you’re trapped in a portable cell, what are your options? The first problem you may need to deal with is food and water. Needless to say, Survival won’t help. If you can cast create food and water you’re all set. Otherwise, unless your captor provides you with supplies, you’ll begin to suffer from dehydration and starvation.
With that said, this may actually be your best chance of escape. A smart bounty hunter will simply throw rations in when he first drops you in the cell. If your captors instead open the cell on a regular basis, you may be able to make a break for it during one of these interludes.
If you can fly, or if you can cast dimension door, teleport, or any similar spell, you can use this ability to escape as soon as the door is opened. You cannot use dimension door or any other form of teleportation while the cell is closed.
A Medium creature standing on the shoulders of another Medium creature will be able to reach the top of the cell. This can allow you to try to attack the person who opens the cell, or to simply climb out as quick as you can. To make an attack, you must first make a Balance check (DC 14) — if you fail, you fall off of your friend’s shoulders. Otherwise, the attack proceeds as normal. If you want to climb out, make a Climb check (DC 15).
If you’re on your own, you can try to climb up the side of the portable cell. However, the walls are extremely slick and hard to keep hold of; this requires a Climb check (DC 30), and you must repeat the check every ten minutes that you stay braced near the top of the cell.
If you can’t cast gate or plane shift and your captor doesn’t plan on opening the cell, things are fairly grim. The only other option is to try to cut your way out. The walls of a portable cell have a Hardness value of 8; it takes 30 points of damage to create a hole large enough for a Small creature, and 60 points of damage to open a gap wide enough for a Medium creature. The cell repairs itself at a rate of 5 hit points per round. In addition, the walls of a portable cell have an inherent Spell Resistance rating of 20 — and don’t forget, casting a fireball in an enclosed space is not a good idea. Even if you can open a gap, the fun is just beginning — the hole will open into a random spot on one of the planes, but who knows which one?
A cautious captor may put you in some form of restraints before placing you in the portable cell; this can make life even more difficult for you. In addition, while the cell is closed there is no light inside; unless you have Darkvision you will be at a considerable disadvantage. In other words, don’t get stuck in a portable cell!
Unusual Forms of Imprisonment
The fortress of justice is an example of how magic could be merged with mundane defenses to create a heavily secured dungeon. But a theocracy, church court, or land ruled by wizards or sorcerers could create magical jails that are far more imaginative and effective than simple arcane locks. Here are a few ideas based around the judicial applications of particular spells. Any of these concepts could also be combined with a prison fortress; perhaps the most dangerous prisoners are kept in the reliquary ward located beneath the warden’s chambers.
Provided that he possesses the required level of mystical power, a tyrannical lich or sorcerer-king can simply imprison his enemies, using freedom to release them should the need arise. Imagine a central chamber with six cells. The lich can use one of the cells when he wants to interrogate a prisoner, and then he simply banishes her beneath the earth. If his memory is good and the cells are distinctive, he can just remember which victims have been bound beneath each cell; as a result, there are no markers to guide would-be rescuers — who would, in any case, have to be able to cast freedom themselves. Meanwhile, the prisoner herself can’t escape on her own, can’t cause any sort of trouble, and can’t be contacted by sending or located with scrying. As prisons go, it’s hard to beat.
To all appearances, a menagerie is a traditional zoo or aviary; a plethora of colorful birds or other exotic creatures are kept in gilded cages. In point of fact, these are prisoners who have been transformed into animal shape with baleful polymorph. The exotic appearance of the animals makes it easier for the jailer to remember the true identity of each creature (“The princess is the peacock, and the bandit king is the gold-furred fox”), and may help to locate any prisoner who somehow manages to escape. A menagerie can pose a real problem for would-be rescuers unless they can reverse the spell; after all, should the animals realize that you’re going to rescue someone from the prison, many will try to trick you into rescuing them instead of your friend.
At its core, a menagerie is a lower-level alternative to the empty prison. It’s not as secure, but it’s still difficult for the prisoners to cause trouble or escape on their own. However, some societies may use it as a means of rehabilitation, trying to select a form that will teach the prisoner a moral lesson about the crime that he committed. So you poisoned your brother? Well, why don’t you spend the next ten years as a snake, and see how it really feels!
The reliquary ward is a bizarre prison sometimes used by churches that have access to resurrection. In these societies, a prisoner may be killed and cremated, after which his ashes are stored in a heavily secured vault — along with the remains of dozens or hundreds of other prisoners. In principle, this is very similar to the empty prison; you don’t have to care for the physical needs of the prisoners, you don’t have to worry about riots or escape attempts, and the ward takes up very little space. This is especially useful for hostages or prisoners or war; they’re kept safely out of the way until it’s time to make an exchange, and then resurrection and returned to their people.
A reliquary ward could also be used as an unusual form of exile. Instead of being banished from a particular nation, the prisoner is banished from a particular time — reduced to ashes and kept in storage for years or decades, and then eventually restored. The criminal suffers the loss of her friends and family; meanwhile, the community has time to heal and forget the harm that she has caused. Needless to say, this is just as applicable to an empty prison, soul vault, or stone garden.
If the sorcerer-king can’t cast imprison, he may compromise with trap the soul. Instead of a dank dungeon, he will have a fabulous vault of gems — many of which contain the minds and bodies of criminals or enemies of the realm. The soul vault has the advantage that prisoners can be easily transported in gem form; anyone can release the trapped soul by shattering the gem. The ash prisoners in a reliquary ward are also easy to transport, but you still need resurrection when you want to restore the prisoner.
The stone garden is a lower-level arcane alternative to the soul vault and the empty prison. Instead of baleful polymorph, flesh to stone is used to preserve prisoners and prevent escapes. This takes up a little more space than the other alternatives, but it is at least decorative. And if you want to rescue a friend and don’t have a flesh to stone spell available — well, it can be quite a challenge to break out of a royal palace while lugging around a life-sized statue!
Judicial beating does not translate well into a “damage per stroke” system. Consider it to be a form of coup de grace; when you’re being beaten you are typically restrained and helpless, so it’s really a question of the level of damage your tormenter wants to inflict.
Being beaten has two effects. The first is loss of hit points; the second is temporary ability damage to your Dexterity score. A successful Fortitude save can reduce or negate these effects. The damage and DC of the saving throw is based on the level of the beating, as indicated below:
This assumes that you’re being beaten with a cane, scourge, or similar weapon. If your tormentor is unarmed you suffer nonlethal damage instead of normal damage, and the DC of the save against loss of Dexterity is reduced by 3.
The standard form of disfigurement is branding. A hot iron is used to sear a mark onto your flesh; this inflicts 3 points of damage and leaves a distinctive scar. A brand is usually put in on a prominent location — the face, a hand, the neck, etc. — so that it will be seen by others. A brand is rarely disturbing enough to affect your Charisma score, but depending on the nature of the crime of which it accuses you, it may affect the attitudes of NPCs you interact with. If the crime is serious, the attitude of most honest NPCs will be reduced by at least one category (indifferent to unfriendly, for example). On the other hand, a fellow criminal might actually respond to you more favorably; this could result in an attitude shift in your favor.
In addition to any attitude shift, depending on the situation and nature of your brand you may suffer a circumstance penalty of –1 to –3 on any Bluff, Diplomacy, or Sleight of Hand checks that you make; the exact level of the penalty should be determined by the GM based on your audience. It’s harder to fast-talk someone when you’ve got “Con Artist” stamped on your forehead, after all.
You can remove a brand using heal, lesser wish, miracle, regeneration, or wish. You can also sim- ply burn the skin around the brand or cut it away; doing this to yourself requires a Will save (DC 15), so you may need a friend to help you out. This causes you to take 1d6+2 points of damage, but you’re free of the brand — though without regeneration or heal you’ll still end up with an unsightly scar. Because a brand can be removed in this manner, mystically advanced societies prefer to use the spell indelible mark.
Mutilation as a form of punishment is almost unheard of in good-aligned societies, but can be quite common in evil nations; the tyrant appreciates its value as a deterrent, while the warlord simply enjoys causing pain. In neutral-aligned societies specific types of mutilation may be viewed as a form of just revenge — taking the “an eye for an eye” approach.
You can get a prosthetic (such as the traditional pirate’s hook), but unless it’s magically animated you’ll take a -4 circumstance penalty on any action involving the hand.
Fingers — Sometimes fingers or finger joints are removed in place of an entire hand. In this case you only have a 25% chance of miscasting a spell with somatic components, and you take a -2 circumstance penalty to any action involving use of the hand.
Genitals — A common punishment for rape, this has no quantifiable game effects, but it’s really not a lot of fun. Some societies also use this as a penalty for treason, ensuring that you will not propagate your traitorous blood.
Nose — Gives -3 drain to Charisma score.
Tongue — You cannot speak or cast spells with verbal components.
In a good-aligned society, execution will be saved for the most serious crimes — premeditated murder or serious acts of treason — and will generally be as quick and painless as possible. As you slide down the scale of alignment, execution becomes increasingly more common; in a chaotic evil nation, it may be the standard form of punishment for challenging the warlord. In addition, the methods of execution will become increasingly more horrific — instead of being hanged or beheaded, you may find that you are scheduled to be drawn and quartered, stoned to death by the public, burned or buried alive, slowly crushed, have your flesh eaten away by slow-acting acid, or condemned to some other charming way passing into the next world. Such executions will generally be public spectacles, emphasizing both the power of the state and the price of challenging the laws of the land. As always, neutral nations tend to stand between the two, although there are always strange extremes. A lawful neutral nation might impose the death sentence for every crime, in an attempt to create a utopian society where no one dares to break the law.
Most of the time, if you’re going to be executed you’re completely helpless and it’s considered a coup de grace. In the case of being burned alive, you might be able to forestall death by using a spell like protection from energy; but assuming that you’re chained, the executioners will probably notice that you aren’t burning and try an alternate tactic (say, shooting you with arrows). If you’re being stoned to death — that is, a crowd is pummeling you with rocks until you die — you will take 3d4 points of damage per round; it’s possible your friends will be able to rescue you before the mob finishes its work. But as a general rule, the best way to survive an execution is to not be the one with your head on the chopping block.
In a nation where magic is common, the victim’s remains may be stored in a reliquary ward to prevent resurrection. Even if the executioners don’t have the means or desire to ever resurrect the victim, they’ll want to make sure that no one else can dig him up and bring him back (although true resurrection will still work). In truly vile nations, the corpse of a criminal may be animated as a zombie and set to work in the community as a guard or laborer — a sinister reminder that the state holds the power of life and death over its subjects.
In a society where magic is part of everyday life, it’s only natural to assume that spells will be used to punish criminals. Earlier sections have already discussed the value of geas/quest, taboo or mark of justice in enforcing punishments. Here are a few more examples of mystical retribution:
Blindness/deafness would be a more humane way to punish an offender than physical mutilation — not to mention being easier to reverse.
Plane shift allows a nation to exile a condemned criminal from the world itself; in a theocracy that uses the voice of god system, the justice may believe that it is his divine right to banish the guilty to the abyss.
Baleful polymorph is a highly effective punishment; the form that the victim is given may be determined by the crime that he has committed. For example, a bandit judged to be a wolf in human form might be given the body of a hart and released into the wild, so he might suffer at the jaws of the wolves. Baleful polymorph, flesh to stone, trap the soul, and imprison can also all be used to create magical prisons; this is discussed in more detail in the following chapter.
The Role of the Community
Healing an Injured Community
For more extreme situations — crimes where there is no way to punish the criminal without causing more death, or horrors have been committed that shock a community to its core — there is always the potential for magic to solve the problem. The spell steal the painful memory allows a priest to wipe the knowledge of an event from the minds of an entire community. This may mean that a criminal actually escapes justice. But sometimes being able to set aside the past and move forward with the future is more important than the need for vengeance.