Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Law in Denethix and Beyond - A Table

Lawyers, in urban fantasy as in real life, are necessary.  Ideally lawyers fix problems, mediate disputes, act as trustworthy agents and provide advice untainted by emotion. For a real life example (that may actually be useful to you if you live in the US) see the following article on traffic stops - it lays the way bureaucracy works bare and gives easy to use advice for all sides of a dispute .
The ASE party's elven lawyer

Bad lawyers of course exist as well, most bad lawyers are simply overconfident, fail to explain risks well, are desperate for fees or can't keep up with the tortuous pace of legal action. Some are truly bad, con artists, the public face of criminal organizations, bullies, or creeps of various stripes using the respect society gives them and the law as cover for their appetites. Luckily these villains are rare.

In a fantasy metropolis all this is equally true, and adventurers seem likely to fall afoul of the law more than most. Not simply criminal trials because they are amoral killers, but civil actions when would be owners of adventurers' recovered loot step forward or greedy bureaucrats attempt to get a cut. As a civil attorney myself I can foresee numerous ways that fantasy scenarios could become entangled with law and order. In these cases the players will need lawyers to give them legal authority for their acts or simply provide them time to liquidate the gold and make a decent escape.

In my own home campaign, the mostly corrupt (but baroque and procedure riddled) law of Denethix has provided a way for interested powers to get the party to do its dirty work, and try to trap it in a web of threats, debts and duties so that the characters are compelled to do things they don't want (go into that megadungeon they are afraid of, kill defenseless hobos and turn over valuable to crooked policemen and sinister city councilmen). In order to prevent this from being an unpleasant railroad the characters need a way out. Lawyers provide that. They also drain the character's coffers and give a sense of the difference between PC wealth and real wealth and power. Forcing the characters to pay 500 or 1,000 GP to back away from a role-playing mistake seems reasonable and for my players legal fees provide a reasonable way of doing so.  I think entanglements with the law provide a reasonable and fun mini-game – courtroom dramas are popular for a reason.

Now the sad truth is that law is boring, mostly involving paperwork and arguing over accounting. Point is most players don't want to or shouldn't want to actually get involved in the minutia of legal tussles, much like real life. Thus the lawyer system!

Now this system will only work where law is bureaucratic to some degree – decadent, crumbling societies of the science fantasy variety, or advanced and stable high fantasy. Even in places where a king or noble decides the law, a law existed (one need codified or known law for any kind of contractual system – even if it's just a network of blood feuds it will have normalizing rules) and hiring a specialist can help (maybe it's just the nobles 4th cousin – but its the same idea.)

Hiring a lawyer: Players may hire lawyers easily enough, walking into a law office with a giant pile of gold coins tends to get representation fairly quickly. The system I am using is based on modern US law, but makes logical sense and has four stage:

Initial Consultation: (Fee is 10-25GP x FEE RATE) The party comes into the law office and presents their problem. Lawyer gives them basic advice and tells them what they are facing legally. May give suggestions and advice of various levels of usefulness.

Retainer :(Fee is 100 – 500 GP x FEE RATE) In order to work on the case the lawyer will take a retainer, this can be negotiated but generally this is to get the lawyer started and will include an initial round or two of Motions and a deeper understanding of the situation).

Law and Motion: (Fee per round of Motions is 10GPx1D6 FEE RATE) As detailed below lawyers may attempt to get a case dismissed prior to trial, I use a combat system for this. Each combat round is a round of motions and has a cost associated with it.

Trial: (Fee is 100GP x HP of case remaining x FEE RATE) Trials are no fun, consume time and cost a lot. My thought is that trials will be conducted in game and lawyers simply give bonuses or re-rolls on things like what on the Vornheim trial table the players have to deal with.

Law and Motion System: Much of bureaucratic legal practice is the filing of motions about what sort of facts and laws are going to be used at trial. To replicate the legal process of motion, discovery, depositions, preliminary hearings and such I am using a simplification of the OD&D/ LL fighting system.

Lawyer: Each lawyer has a competence rating that determines their attack, HP and AC. All lawyers “attack” as fighters of the level of their competence. Hiring multiple lawyers allows for multiple attacks per round fro each lawyer beyond the number of attorneys defending, but each lawyer after the first attacks at a cumulative -2 to hit.

If the PC's act as their own attorney assume that the will save money (only 1D6x10GP per round in court fees), but will attack as a zero level fighter with 1HD an AC of 9 and doing 1D6 damage. Feeling generous? Maybe give a bonus of +1 (as competency) per INT bonus point (+1 13-15, +2 16-17, +3 18) – though they still attack as Lvl 0 fighters. Needless to say, going in propria persona is not the best idea unless the case is easy. Just like in real life.

Case: Upon filing a case gets a number of HD indicating how large, strong and tricky it is. I'd say 1-5HD for a small civil matter under $2,000 GP in damages and 2-8HD for larger civil cases. Criminal cases are tricky and have 1-10HD. The prosecutor/plaintiff/petitioner uses the Case HP in place of the lawyer HP.

If a case reaches trial it's remaining HP determine it's strength. A case that has been reduced to ½ its HP will only win ½ the GP associated with the claim if civil when it wins and the penalties in a criminal case will be reduced considerably. This is the difference between proving murder most foul and simply manslaughter in the nth degree.

Law and Motion: Each round (consisting of 1D4 days or weeks depending on legal system) of motions allows the filing party (Defendant always has initiative) to make an attack against the HP of the case or Defending lawyer. A case that is reduced to 0HP is dismissed at summary judgment or dropped for lack of evidence. If the Defendant's lawyer is reduced to zero HP the case proceeds to trial (You may want to try to settle when you're almost defeated...) with its remaining HP determining the strength of the remaining charges.

Note: I know I am using the phrase Law and Motion in a somewhat over inclusive manner, but I have no desire to make multiple subsystems for each variety of legal task.

Lawyers – A Random Table

Fee: Base fee for attorney.
Name/Race: Name is self-evident. Race is as follows for Denethix: Dominant = Human, Respected Minority = Elf or Dwarf, Strange =Demon, Android or Insect-man and Least Respected = Northern Elf, Halfling or Moktar

Last Name: Last name of the attorney

Firm Name: Larger Organization lawyer works for

Area of Expertise: An attorney practicing in their area of expertise gets an additional +1 to hit/damage

Competence: Used to determine success. Competence may be deceptive, those that are incompetent tend to know and conceal it behind a wall of impressive babble and/or advertise themselves, while some who are competent may seem eccentric or unsure of themselves. Competence should be concealed from the client unless special efforts are made to determine it.

Special Notes: I would note that these traits are in no way meant to represent actual lawyers practicing in the United States, 95% of the lawyers I have know are fairly innocuous folk who simply work too much. 


Fee Race/
Last Name Firm Area of Expertise Competence
LVL, AC, Damage Bonus
1 Domiant/
Ligato (NONE) Criminal Incompetent
Lvl 1, AC 8, -1
Con Artist: Not a real lawyer, or simply a really shady one – this con artist talks a good game, and will take the PC's money up to the trial stage before disappearing - as long as they keep paying. 50% each round attacks as a 0-Lvl.
2 Least Respected/
(NONE) Vagabond's Legal Aid Society Wills/Estates Incompetent
Lvl 1, AC 7, -1
Drunkard: Attorney is a Drunk. When drunk performs normally, when hungover performs at -1 to Hit/Damage.
3 Dominant/
Nunc Nunc, Pharrow & Tunc Criminal Poor
Lvl 1, AC 6, 0
Inexperienced: Attorney is new to practice and desperate for clients. May be willing to reduce fees and/or work for promised future payment.
4 Minortity/
Lucius Quintus
Cincinnatus Lamar (NAME), A Professional Cabal (A.P.C) Real Estate Competent
Lvl 1, AC 5, 0
Politically Connected: for 1000GP x FEE attorney may use political connections to bribe authorities with a 50% success rate. Success means case is dismissed or succeeds, failure means Case's/Opposing Counsel's HP is restored to full.
5 Dominant/
Habeus Guild of Scriveners Divorce/
Lvl 2, AC 5, +1
Eccentric: Has harmless eccentricities, that may effect billing rate (may be willing to work of strange collectables) and lead clients/opposing parties to question competence.
6 Strange/
Black Low, Ball & Sleigh Maratime/ Property Competent
Lvl 2, AC 5, +1
Large Firm: Attorney is part of large firm, costs are at x3, but attorney may make 2 attacks per round due to increased resources.
7 Minority/
The Babbler Ancient and Respected Brotherhood of Litigators Criminal Skilled
Lvl 3, AC 4 , +1
Elderly/Insane: Attorney is not entirely present. They must save vs. poison each round to attack with any chance of success, but will occasionally do something brilliant and unexpected and will hit for x3 damage on a 18,19 or 20.
8 Dominant/
(NONE) Bloodeye and Sons Taxation Adept
Lvl 3, AC 3, +2
Criminal/Diabolist: Has sinister connections to either criminal enterprises or otherworldy monsters. May be willing to trade legal services for completion of dubious missions.
9 Dominant/
Barzoon (NAME), Reputable Canonist International/
Lvl 4, AC 3, +3
Pervert: Lawyer is a creep and will be unpleasant to work with for attractive clients. Likely to accept (or encourage) sexual favors (real or promised) in lieu of fees.
10 Dominant/
Hand The Consortium of Independent Jurists.

Lvl 5, AC 2, +4
Crusader: If the players are seeking help on a matter the lawyer cares about he will perform for ½ cost, and if close to winning will finish the case for free. If approached on an unrelated matter attorney will act as if competence is one category lower.


  1. Great post. Very thorough. It's like you have some specialized knowledge on the topic. ;)

    1. Thanks - I think I got a little carried away, I just wonder if it's too much a series of bad litigator in jokes. Does it make sense? Does it seem like it would be interesting/useful?

  2. I dig. Domo aregato, Mr. Ligato.