The following is a brief discussion about law, justice and criminal justice systems and trying to incorporate them into a game to serve as a guide of sorts and to help inspire.
The purpose of this is to help educate our A/SH crew on these systems work in order to help them get a better idea on how to incorporate them into their sessions or to be able to rule scenes where such knowledge would be helpful. This is also to help give our player base as a whole an idea on how these things developed in our own world in order to help give them ideas for when they go to create such content or update it as the times change for our games.
Punishment is a large part of a criminal justice system and has its own discussion page, where players can learn what to expect from punishment roleplay IC and to provide a guide for the A/SH staff: Punishment Guidelines and Explanations
There is a lot of reading, but there is much to consider when developing these kinds of systems, especially in a game. Just take your time, take it in bites, and at any time a discussion can always be brought up in the Setting Forums
What to consider when developing a criminal justice system
One of the first things we must stress that while a criminal justice system is to reflect the social agreements and flavors of our settings we must endeavor to keep it interesting while not screwing over the players. This is about having another facet of play, while it may be kind of unpleasant and gritty, it should not be so miserable that it would drive off the players or be completely unreasonable to the point of abuse. This especially holds true when assigning a punishment when a character has been caught. Even still everyone must keep in mind is that at the heart of it - criminal justice systems are about consequences. Though when part of a game system, it should still be about consequences, but we must scale this as such to afford opportunities for the characters to grow from such roleplay and ensure the player base is fully informed of the consequences their character's actions may face when caught so they know what to expect.
When building a criminal justice system it is important to know what the region's (to note region will be used to mean country,nation,region,tribe,clan,etc.) culture and government is. These are two of the largest factors that determine what kind of system this region will have, and especially what kind of punishments and laws the region will have. Therefore before a criminal justice system can be fully developed for a region, the government of the region must be solidified first. This will allow us to clearly define what the players can expect when they are roleplaying their characters in an area, especially if they should engage in questionable activities for that region.
In regards to Sirian we can easily base much of the systems we can expect in the setting off of our own modern day ones with some possible twists to reflect the differences in the cultures as well as the growth of technology. However if we were to in-cooperate every detail of a modern day court system the play can become overwhelming and miserable for everyone so some parts will be excluded for the sake of trying to keep things interesting and manageable.
Vaxia poses some challenge. While Vaxia is not based on any of our historical past, we often look to certain time periods in order to get an idea or be able to compare what was there in order to help better establish the flavor and narrative of the setting. The problem is that when it comes to criminal justice and punishments the our past was extremely harsh. Portions of those systems however can lead to some interesting play as well help establish the feeling of the severity of the consequences, but some modern day concepts must be mixed in with the past concepts in order to try and balance such systems to keep it from going to the extreme one way or another. The consequences should be more then just a "time out", but they also should not be boring misery.
For both settings it is also important that whatever system is built for a region that there is ways to kind of introduce the characters and their players to the region's systems. Here documentation will be key especially in regards to the more severe violations and punishments. When a new region is opened up make sure that any and all documentation is clear and established and provided to the players. The most severe punishments should be reserved for repetition of an offense or multiple severe offenses. However certain violations, such as treason, may go straight to one of the more severe punishments (such as exile or death pending on the culture and government flavor). If such a situation should arise, the player should be well informed of the possible situation the character is getting into, and there should have already been well established documentation to help inform the character of what to expect in that situation in that region.
The classification of crimes and actual legislature (aka written law) should be simple and not confuse the players. The goal is to make sure everyone can be clearly informed on what to expect when role playing in a region, but also try to cover as much as possible. It is also important to try and leave room for adjustments and additions as things may change over time.
The law of a region should reflect the tone and flavor of the culture and government of that region without being too oppressive for characters. While misunderstandings could lead to some interesting punishment roleplay - we must make sure we allow for misunderstandings to be overcome and worked through.
A brief discussion of why we have Crime and Punishment as the concepts they are today:
What is justice is an age old question that even the great Greek philosophers touched upon. Most of it had to do about how we basically make sure everyone in a society gets along peacefully. In other words how to keep civilization civil. There are many theories surrounding the ideas of law and justice but it can all bed boiled down to one key concept: the social contract. This is basically an idea that for whatever reasons we form our societies (in the form of countries, nations, empires etc), when we do the people form a kind of contract with each other. The details vary but in this contract are what gives the rulers the power, and set of agreements (aka laws) that help keep people from just doing whatever they want and maintaining a form of peace and stability in the society. When someone breaks that contract (be it ruler or subject) then the results can be quite bad. Therefore a society has sought ways to deter its inhabitants from breaking that contract, usually by public shaming or death.
This is why in many early societies had public displays of punishment (from the stocks where people could jeer and throw rotting food at a person, watch someone get lashed, or even the the good ol’ fashion public execution). Dungeons for the most part were temporary holding areas where it was convenient to hold the person charged with a crime for ‘questioning (this was more often torture) and other punishments like the iron maiden, the rack, etc. Those were not only kinds of punishments but also ways of interrogation of certain prisoners. The state of those prisons and dungeons were horrible and poorly maintained (which became a deterrent unto itself almost), many prisoners would contract diseases or be severely abused by other prisoners or guards. Even the stay was not very long as imprisonment was not seen as much of a punishment (some notable exceptions, but really it was not), but rather a holding place until the real punishment could be dealt, or until the interrogation occurred.
It wasn't until about the 18th century that we begin to see the concept of modern prisons being developed. As during the enlightenment it was seen where depriving someone of their freedoms is considered as a means of the punishment fitting the crime with just variations on the time spent imprisoned pending on the severity of the crime. In fact the term of penitentiary comes from the first forms of US prisons where the idea of prisoners serving time for their ‘sins’ (it didn't hurt the Quakers helped make some of the first kinds of prisons as a means to try and encourage a more humane alternative to criminal punishment). However prisons soon fell into a worse state than previous dungeons as overcrowding became a huge issue.
Prisons and jails are expensive, hence why in history work camps were popular as a method for criminals to earn their place back in society. Certain jails were a worse punishment than anything else as the conditions were unsanitary and the prisoners often forgotten about (especially if they had no one that knew them that was wealthy.) In modern times one of an area’s largest budgets is spent on their correctional system and that is mostly on jails and prison (for example California spends like 10 billion dollars a –year- to maintain its correctional system). So while we would consider our current system a bit more humane in comparison to the majority of the past forms of criminal punishment, it just doesn’t work in many ways for the game, would make things a little on the boring side in a game setting, and we would risk some players just developing oh it is just a ‘time out in the corner’ and would not encourage them to think of the consequences of their character’s actions.
Court Systems Discussion
This is just a discussion about court systems in general, for more specific details of a court system of a region please visit the following:
Court Systems of Vaxia
Court Systems of Sirian
Much of this discussion was written with Vaxia in mind, as mentioned in a section above Sirian will largely follow a more modern day set up in its criminal justice system, which means most of the regions will likely have set ups more similar to modern day courts. However as time goes on some of what is discussed here may still prove to be helpful in Sirian.
To note: Court system is a phrase assigned to be a generic label if the part of a criminal justice system that largely handles determining if someone committed a crime and the punishment for a crime. It is possible for a region to not have what most people would consider a court - but do have something that performs a similar function, for simplicity sake that is still referred to as a court system.
For the most part the concept of the modern court system is not that old in the grand scheme of history. In general much of went on in dealing with law and punishment was handled at a local level. There are a few varieties on how that was handled some having designed a more formal court system which had a process and a staff etc, or maybe just a single authority (aka a lord) that had a small process but was all the staff in the court, then others may just deal swift ‘justice’ and have no process at all (aka no formal court system with trials etc). This is just a brief overlook in some of the set ups to try and get an idea on which may fit a region/culture better.
In certain regions/cultures the lord or whom ever is the central authority of a region is the one in charge of making sure their people behave. When those people get out of line the lord becomes judge, jury and punisher. How they handle the case brought before them can vary widely for they can go off of the word of the guards and give punishment off of that alone, or they actually may hear the person that had been brought before them out. One common thing though is that the lord makes the punishing of those people a big public spectacle, for no matter which law philosophy that region goes with the violation of the social contract is a spit in the face of that lord and they wants to make sure that their authority is felt. Lords may or may not have other personnel that work with them in handling such things - this would be something that to be left up to figure on a region by region basis.
Juries are nothing new in the history of law and courts, but they were nothing like what we know today. In some regions would employ a counsel version of judgement which would be a group of people that decide things in regards to the crime. How they are picked/chosen/or volunteered will be left up to decided on a region on region basis to best fit the culture of the region. In this method there is no single judge, what happens is this group which can be as little as 3 people and up to 6 people on average. These people are notified when a crime has happened or if someone accuses someone else of a crime or wrong doing. The group then meet and then either can investigate the situation themselves or have the evidence and arguments brought before them from other sources. In general though this group of people tend to be very interactive in the entire process unlike more modern juries. Some systems that use a central authority to decide may even have a jury, however that kind of jury is people that were employed to act more like special advisers or a kind of witness.
Roles like lawyers (most often referred to as advocates) do exist, but people had to pay for their own out of pocket. Even then most kinds of advocates were there to just help advise a person during their trial. Most formal courts prefer the defendant make their own arguments, but they can be convinced to let their advocate argue for them. The requirements for being an advocate can vary from region to region, some may require a little law training, others won’t care what kind of background as they tend to focus more on how well one can argue. Though no matter what having some idea on the law will be a benefit. It should also vary by region on if someone can act as a ‘public defender’ - meaning someone willing to advocate for free for someone, or even if they desire to have such services provided if able bodies were around.
Though much like prisons, a court trial can costs a lot of money, a judge/magistrate has to be paid, someone to record the session has to be paid, the advocates have to be paid, as well as any other consultants and the such. Thus actual court trials were usually reserved for the nobility/upperclass that could afford to pay all the fees to have a trial. Very rarely there was cases heard without the defendant covering the bill. Even rare was to hold a trial to try and figure out how to handle a case, that due to the current law code did not have a clear answer as to what to do with the charged. Which helps provide additional flavor to consider for a region.