The Circus Of Law

English: Water-ordeal. Miniature from the chro...

Trial By Water

A lot of games have trouble with legal systems. There are a few articles up on that sort of problem here on the blog – but there is an alternative to being reasonable when you’re in a hurry, want to be less than serious, or want to represent a capricious and arbitrary regime.

Legal systems – especially when it comes to exceptional, high-powered, individuals – don’t really HAVE to make any sense. They may feature trial by ordeal, just try to make all the powerful people involved happy (regardless of guilt or innocence), try to content the gods, simply punish everyone, send those involved on a quest-competition to see who’s in the “right”, call for trial by combat, presume that anyone brought up for trial is guilty, or call on the accused to use some random system to determine their guilt (and punishment if guilty). There may or may not be any pretense of a trial, or consideration of evidence, or attempt at “fairness”. Punishments may be utterly arbitrary and/or quite horrendous. The local nobility may be simply assumed to be in the right, or priests may invariably be turned over to their superiors regardless of what they’re accused of, or admitting to having red blood may be punishable by death.

If it helps maintain some sort of social order – if only by being so arbitrary that the citizenry will do anything at all to avoid getting involved with it – it’s working.

If worst comes to worst, consider…

Quaffian Law: Before judging or arguing a case, the advocates and magistrates of Quaffa are required to drink a glass of fine red wine in honor of the King and the royal family, a glass of fine white wine in honor of the nobility, a glass of sweet wine in honor of the children who are its future, a large corn whiskey in honor of the farmers who feed the city, a large rum in honor of the sailors who bring it wealth, a large port in honor of the soldiers and guards who defend it, and three large beers in honor of the working men, the guilds, and the working women who support the city… For the laws of Quaffa are silly laws, and badly written* but they are not to be mocked by being considered while sober.

*Always while drunk or while using hallucinogens. While the hallucinogenic alternative is a subject of much grumbling among traditionalists, for that there can be only one answer in Quaffa… “Have a drink!”.