Law in Secular Society

Crime and Punishment
Author Keith Baker
Series Campaign Style
Publisher Atlas Games
Publish date 2003

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

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.

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!


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!

Initial Attitude New Attitude (DC to Achieve)
HostileLess than 2020253550
UnfriendlyLess than 55152540
IndifferentLess than 111530
FriendlyLess than 1120
HelpfulLess than 11
Attitude Means Possible Actions
HostileWill take risks to hurt youAttack, interfere, berate, flee
UnfriendlyWishes you illMislead, avoid, gossip, insult, watch suspiciously
IndifferentDoesn’t much careSocially expected interaction
FriendlyWishes you wellChat, advise, offer limited help
HelpfulWill take risks to help youProtect, back up, heal, aid

Court Rules

Francisco Goya (1746–1828): The Inquisition Tribunal
Francisco Goya (1746–1828): The Inquisition Tribunal

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

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.

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