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DM Tips:Justice

[top]Aspects of Justice

Justice is an important concept in all lands and is one of the cornerstones of any culture. While what is considered 'just' varies considerably, and certainly what is 'law' may diverge from what is 'just' to a wide degree, the basics of any human society will, ultimately be similar.
  • The Blood of the Gods. A bloodline, even more so than nobility or wealth, proves that the bearer is better than those about them, more glorious, more godly. Bloodlines also however have another huge impact on justice - the effect of the existence of awnsheghlien. Those scions of foul heart undergo the Curse of Azrai, their bodies shift and warp to fit their base natures, the ugliness within being reflected by ugliness without. This transformation is visible tangible proof that the gods themselves have decreed that wrongdoing is punished by ugliness and deformity. Conversely the most pure and godly of scions may become transcendent ehrsheghlien. These transformations have a simple effect on the way that justice is carried out - beauty indicates truthfulness and honesty, ugliness indicates treachery, corruption, and all manner of foulness. Also fear of Azrai's curse is only right and proper - those who act like awnsheghlien must be stopped before the Shadow corrupts them into a champion of havok in his service - as such those who are found guilty of the foulest heresies, terrible murder, the torture of innocents, etc will probably have at best a posthumous trial to state the innocence of the 'awnshegh's slayer'.

  • Compassion. Although it can be trained/brutalized from them, most humans are compassionate by nature, for the simple reason that those without compassion rarely form effective communities, and without a strong cohesive community survival is difficult. Compassion is reflected in justice systems by the acceptance of repentance, the granting of mercy, the avoidance of torture and so on.

  • Fairness. A basic human feeling shared even with many primates. Fairness includes positive aspects such as punishing mistakes more lightly than deliberate wrong doing, not levying excessive punishments, punishing the making of false accusations etc. It also includes 'unfair' elements such as recognizing the social strata in the terms of fairness (as a noble is better than a peasant, it is not fair for the word of a peasant to be valued as highly as that of a noble).

  • Honor. Wrong doing is not limited to damage to property or person, but also to more nebulous concepts such as pride and honor. In general it is far easier for a person of lower social standing to offend one of higher social standing, and the converse may in fact not be a crime.

  • Social wrongs and crimes. A distinction between something socially unappealing (rudeness, idleness, coarseness) and something criminal (damage to person or property) is more or less apparent depending on the area. In general social crimes are punished with lesser offenses, the bulk of the communal censure being social, it is however quite possible that being rude to someone of high rank is legally punishable by a beating or worse.

  • Practicality. While courts are swift and often popular spectacles, they cost money and take time. As such most courts levy fines liberally, not only does this bring in wealth, but it encourages the wrong-doer to work hard to pay the fines, and avoids the loss of key skills in the local authority. Courts also strive to maintain peace between factions or to minimize the scope of any conflict - war is welcomed by most nobles as it brings the chance for advancement, for those nobles above them however the conflict will simply sap the strength of their vassals. One aspect of practicality strange to modern western courts is the concept of collective punishments - punishing the entire village if one peasant is found poaching is both much easier than proving which peasant was responsible, but also effectively delegates the investigation and punishment of the peasant to their neighbors, ensuring that hard feelings towards the court are minimized (so long as the collective punishment is not excessive) - no court wants murderous peasants seeking revenge for a brother/etc killed on a nobles whim!

  • Vengeance. Most human cultures, at least in their early days, consider that is is natural that if someone is harmed, that they have the right to return that injury to their assailant. As communities grow and become more complex this right is generally transferred to the community and enacted on behalf of the wronged. This shift marks a move from brutish 'might makes right' to the concept of rulership where a central figure defines/embodies what is right and ensures Vengeance is reflected in justice systems by fitting the punishment to the crime, striving to ensure that the wronged party is satisfied by the punishment, involvement of the wronged party/their community in the court and judgment, etc.


Crimes come in many shapes and sizes, some are recognized by some cultures and not others. Here are some examples.

[top]Crimes against the community

  • Disturbing the peace. Noisiness, brandishing weapons, shouting that the goblins are coming, a wide range of anti-social behavior that begs to be fined comes under this catch-all heading. Adventurers should note that brandishing weapons or stomping around in heavy armor are both considering disturbing the peace in some civilized areas.

  • Drunkenness. Public drunkenness is not acceptable in more civilized areas (the Khinasi in particular frown upon it). Merriness is fine, but anti-social behavior will typically be punished by incarceration until the offender sobers up and then either a fine or some other minor punishment.

  • Embezzlement. Stealing from the community is generally punished harshly, weaker communities may impose social punishments or demand forced labor or fines as compensation, more powerful communities may impose harsher penalties.

  • Gossiping / scolding. Social punishments and fines are often levied on those who gossip overmuch, chastise others, are nosy, or otherwise make themselves poor neighbors.

  • Littering. While is may permissable in some areas to throw slops out into the streets, or simply dump unwanted items, in others waste must be discarded properly. In such areas littering laws likely levy fines on those who cause mess.

  • Mishandling. Whether failing to control a mount, wagon or ship, any time that others are forced to take evasive action or fear harm due to the mishandling of the mount may demand satisfaction.

  • Sloth. Most religions preach strongly against (peasants) being slothful, in poorer areas sloth is an active threat to the community as during times of plenty the people must build stores, repair damage, etc rather than idle. Penalties will generally involve labor.

  • Manslaughter. The justified killing of another (i.e. to satisfy vengeance, in self defense - the issue being the cost to the community of losing the slain person, not the harm done to the person themselves). Penalties tend to be fines or labor (in particular labor to replace the deprivation of the slain persons labor).

  • Passing off / infraction. Only a master craftsman approved by a guild may proclaim themselves as such and many other tasks can only be performed by an approved person. Similarly it may be an offense to pretend to be someone of a higher social caste, or a priest, etc. Generally the greater the difference in social caste, and the stronger the power of the persons impersonated, the harsher the penalties.

  • Vagrancy. Begging is frequently a crime, as is being destitute. In general the punishment is designed to either drive the person away from the community where they would be a burden, or labor in exchange for subsistence. Most villages have a simpleton, beggar, or the like who are supported by the village, this is a crime generally when committed by strangers.

[top]Crimes against the person

  • Assault. Any attempt to cause injury (successful or not). Asault tends to be punished with steep fines, forced labor, or beatings.

  • Blackmail. Trying to force someone to do something / pay money / etc in exchange for not disclosing some embarsaing fact or evidence of criminality.

  • Bribery. Trying to bribe someone to do something illegal - common in some areas - is generally a crime. In practice in corrupt areas the crime is punished only when the target was offended by the minimal nature of the bribe. Generally bribery can only be carried out on official persons.
  • Fraud. Fraud involves lying with a view to obtaining gain, typically by forging an official document, convincing someone that goods for sale are of higher quality / different nature to their true worth, etc.
  • Impersonation. Impersonating somebody is generally a criminal act, whether the intent it to abuse any powers they might have, gain access to a restricted area, cause them embarrassment, etc. Punishments will depend heavy on the social status of the person involved.

  • Murder. Killing someone deliberately and unlawfully. Murder tends to be punishable by hanging for a non-noble, and beheading for a noble. Killing someone of lower social rank may however result in merely a fine if the rank difference is great enough.

  • Rape. Having sex with someone without their permission / the permission of their guardian / etc. Rape tends to be heavily punished if the victim is reputable, while it may be ignored by the courts (if not outraged family members) if the victim is of low standing relative to the rapist.

  • Slander / libel. Saying/writing untruths about someone to damage their reputation is heavily frowned upon, although generally relevant only to those of modest to high social rank. It should be noted that saying true things that cannot be proved, or are not accepted, is equally punished.

  • Slavery. Forcing someone to work for you, generally without payment. Slavery is heavily frowned upon in some areas, and openly applauded in others (i.e. Vosgaard).

[top]Crimes against property

  • Arson. Setting fires, generally to damage a building. Given the threat to the entire community this is far more serious than vandalism.

  • Injury. Damage to livestock, or other animals belonging to another. This is often ermed poaching wth reference to wild animals harmed/killed on a lords land.

  • Theft. Taking someone else's property without paying for it. Usury, the charging of illigally high interest rates (or possibly any interest rates) may also be considered theft in some areas.

  • Trespass. Generally entering someone's land without permission, but in its widest making any use/enjoyment of another's asset without their permission (i.e. riding a noble's horse').

  • Vandalism. Damaging someone else's property.

[top]Crimes against the gods

  • Blasphemy. Speaking against the church or in the support of atheism or the following of the Shadow.

  • Defiling a sacred place. Taking unclean materials into a holy place, damaging a holy place, etc.

  • Disturbing the dead. Trespassing on a graveyard, damaging the graveyard, magically or otherwise interacting with dead spirits.

  • Heresy. Preaching or even simply speaking against church doctrine.

  • Failure to attend services. Failing to attend church services, or even to answer questions from a priest, can be crimes with punishments typically set to ensure that others in the community are not tempted to ignore the church henceforth.

  • Failure to tithe. The gods provide the bounty of the land, accordingly most churches demand payment for such bounty - often 10% of all land-related income.

  • Tomb robbing. Stealing from graves, in rare cases this might extend to battlefields.

  • Witchcraft. Although this would appear to be a crime against a person, given that all witches are empowered by the corrupt spawn of Azrai to bring ruin to mankind, clearly witchcraft is a crime not merely against the person, but also the community and indeed the gods themselves.

[top]Crimes against the State

  • Assault on an agent of the state, or the regent themselves. Any attack on an agenet of the state causes two crimes - the assault itself, and the implicit attack on the state, with the second being treated far more severely by the courts.

  • Incitement to riot. Anyone inciting a riot against the state or merely trying to get a fight going in public is liable to be charged and punished by the local courts who prefer the quiet life.

  • Insult to the honor of the state. Any failure to show proper respect, recognize the rights of the state, disparaging statement made, etc, etc. As the state decides the scope of the law in question (often on an ad hoc basis)
  • Perjury. The bearing of false witness to a court, agent of the court, or deception levied on the regent.

  • Smuggling. This involves bring in banned goods (contraband), trying to avoid import/export duties, etc.

  • Spying. Gathering information on the regent, local area, military forces, etc, etc for someone other than the regent.

  • Tax evasion. This crime involves not paying sufficient tax.

[top]Courts and Trials

Most cultures have some for of 'court proceeding' although these are usually fairly brief (a few hours at most, although serious crimes involving nobles may have more time for the gathering of evidence/witnesses). A person of high social standing (noble, priest, etc) will oversee the court, possibly with the aid of a jury of some form (often lesser nobles or clergy). In less formal areas the court may simply be a gathering of local worthies. The court gains credibility socially from either the presiding worthy or the use of a number of members of the community. In most areas the right to hold a court is jealously guarded by the nobility, although clergy may have rights to hold courts over certain kinds of crime.

[top]Trial by combat

In more militant areas persons of rank may have the right to demand trial by combat, this right may extend not merely to their accuser, but also to any witnesses, judges, etc. Depending on social rank one, other, or both parties may have the right to use champions or be aided by vassals. In general rules exist to prevent those deemed weak by nature (commonly the aged, children,and potentially women) from being slaughtered under such trials, although this may mean preventing them from giving evidence or bringing the case in the first place.

[top]Trial by ordeal

If the gods favor you, then you will not be harmed / heal cleanly / etc. Trial by ordeal involves undergoing some harsh test (the ordeal) and either surviving it, being proved 'pure' by it, or recovering well from it. Trial by ordeal is generally designed to encourage people to confess to wrong doing and ask forgiveness rather than be subjected to it.

[top]Rights of accusation

Generally someone can only accuse someone of similar or lower social rank. A peasant may appeal to their lord regarding a wrong done to them by someone higher, this often, in practice, means the lord demanding that the wrong to them (the harm done to a peasant under their protection) be subject to trial. In many areas little distinction is given to the accuser and the accused until the completion of the trial - both may be incarcerated, or both allowed to travel freely. Fleeing from a court is generally seen as proof of guilt. To prevent idle accusations the accuser is often subject to some hardship if the accusation is proved false, the hardship often being the punishment that the accused would have faced if they were found guilty. In this latter case if the accusation was clearly made in good faith, or the accused forgives the accuser, then punishment may be lessened.


So what happens when someone does wrong? Punishments come in many shapes and sizes, but in general most wrong-doings are punished by some social punishment (for any minor crime), a fine (often the main source of income for the court), banishment or hanging.

[top]Physical punishments

  • Amputation. Often threatened, if rarely carried out, amputation of a foot might be used on a slave to stop them trying to escape, or a thief's hand to stop them stealing. As medical knowledge was poor amputation was often fatal. The key deterrent to using the punishment however was the likelihood that the victim would then become a burden on society as they could not effectively support themselves. Castration is a specialized type of amputation, involving the removal of some/all of a male's genitals. In general castration is used on a boy to prevent maturation and create a eunuch rather than being done to punish a crime such as rape ? hanging is seen in the latter case as a better deterrent.

  • Banishment. Most people never travel beyond their immediate community, as such banishment is seen as a terrible punishment by some ? and as a practical yet merciful solution to the problem by others. Victims commonly join organizations such as the church, merchants, mercenary groups or bandits which can protect them whilst they learn the cultures of new areas. In many areas banishment is used for the third successive offense.

  • Beating. Beating is designed to cause pain, bruises and embarrassment but not cause significant damage (as opposed to flagellation which is designed to damage and at least cause long term scarring). Beatings are routine punishments in places where labor is scarce due to the minimal long term damage and the ease of carrying out the sentence.

  • Execution. Reserved for the most serious crimes (murder, treason, arson) execution is generally carried out by hanging. Most courts will strive to find a lesser punishment in case they are wrong, to prevent feuds, to avoid losing valuable labor, and to discourage others from viewing life cheaply.

  • Forced labor. Not necessarily slavery, forced labor can be as minimal as an order to spend an afternoon every week aiding someone chosen by the local mayor. This punishment is often used to compensate someone wronged by the victim. Some rulers have legions of quasi-slaves sentenced to serve as labor for years in mines or fields.

  • Incarceration. A common punishment for wrong-doing is short-term incarceration. The need to house, clothe and feed prisoners prevents long term incarceration in the main, although some rulers have dungeons full of slowly-starving wretches who do not remember when they last saw the sun. Most places use incarceration to deal with issues such, as drunkenness, the incarceration lasting until the victim sobers up, their enemies leave town or their crimes cease to be news, etc.

  • Slavery. The victim may be sold by the community with the proceeds going to the 'wronged party', the community or the local lord depending on local custom. The slave then ceases to be a person and becomes property with little if any rights. The treatment of slaves varies from place to place but is rarely pleasant. Many areas ban slavery as an affront to social morals / the gods.

[top]Social punishments

  • Branding. In rare cases a wrong-doer may be permanently marked (by branding, tatooing, scarring, etc) to indicate their crime and cause them to be socially outcast.

  • Brank. The wrong-doer must wear a metal cage (the Brank) over their head, often covered in imagery. Used to punish women who gossip, spread slander, or annoy a man of stature.

  • Ostracism. A mild sort of banishment, the wrong-doer could be banned from gatherings, specific areas, ignored for a set period, etc.

  • Restitution. Fines or the order to provide another with a share of profits from some venture. In many cases were a noble is affronted by a peasant the noble will demand restitution from the entire village (say an ox and 12 geese for his table) ? the punishment of the individual is then left to the villagers. Fines form much of the income of many nobles, who have the right of administering justice over their manors (subject in some cases to appeals to a higher noble or the local church). As a note many things that merited fines (losing ones virginity, marrying without permission, entering a nobles lands without paying court) would not be considered criminal today.

  • Pillory. A type of stocks, typically designed more to aid flagellation. The wrong-doer is shackled by the wrists to the top of the post and thus restrained to a degree.

  • Shaming. The most common punishment ? even beyond fines ? is some form of public shaming. The idea is that all should see that the person did wrong and is now humbled. The degree of shaming is typically set at the level that avoids provoking a feud either by the 'criminal' (if too severe) or the 'victim (if too light).

  • Stocks. A wooden yoke supported by a post that restrains the neck and hands, allowing passer's by to freely molest or mock the restrained. Overnight use may be banned for female wrongdoers, in general people are sentenced to the stocks for only a few hours.


Torture is the deliberate infliction of pain on another for one's own pleasure. At its best the torture makes the victim confess, or takes the victim to the brink of death where the confession reflex causes them to honestly answer questions. As a general rule however torture merely makes the victim say what the torturer wants to hear.
Torture is considered abhorrent by most people, and requires certain conditions to become common.
Those conditions are:

1) significant power differentials amongst the populace ? unless one party is much stronger than another, torture is practically impossible due to vengeance, feuds, etc.

2) the stronger party must believe that they are morally superior to overcome any feelings of compassion (or they must lack any such feelings in the first place) and

3) the stronger party must have the patience to design the various devices or otherwise prolong the suffering and be interested in doing so.

As torture involves inflicting pain and suffering upon another, and in particular enjoying the causing of that suffering, it is inherently evil.

[top]Cause pain / suffering

  • Caging ? the victim was placed in a cage shaped like a person, often the cage is too small (the cage bars thus pressing into the body) or too big (therefore not supporting the body well), or shaped to cause distress.

  • Dunking ? needing merely some rope and some weights, the victim is tied and repeatedly dunked in water until either they confess or they drown.

  • The Pendulum ? The pendulum requires a rope, pulley, and a high point from which to dangle the victim. Used to dislocate the victim's shoulders, the pendulum was not a lethal torture, but rather a psychological one used to extract confessions before permanently impairing the victim.

  • Rape - the victim is repeatedly raped by other prisoners, the torturers, or animals.

  • Toe Wedging ? This requires some thin slivers of wood or metal which are inserted under the toenails or fingernails causing extreme pain.

  • Foot Roasting ? the foot is burned. As a less permanent measure the foot could be beaten.

  • Flagellation ? whipping. Whipping kills perhaps half of its victims through infection and blood-loss as the whipping removes first skin, then muscle from the bones.

[top]Cause slow death

  • Boiling alive ? the victim is placed in a cauldron full of water above a fire.

  • Burning at the stake ? a large pyre leads to death by asphyxia, a small fire kills slowly via burns. The punishment is often used where the victim is impure so that the fire will avoid them contaminating the community or purify their soul prior to death.

  • Caged rats ? This victim is pinned, a cage of rats is placed on their torso and heated ? the rats dig their way away from the heat by tunneling through the victim.

  • Exposure ? the victim is pinned down and left exposed to the elements. In very hot or cold areas simply tying someone to a stake is enough. In many areas the victim is tied down or partially buried where insects or wild animals can feed on them. A specialized form of exposure is crucifixion.

  • Flaying ? the person is skinned alive, generally from the head down, typically dying before the waist is reached.

  • Freezing ? the person is stripped and cold water poured over them slowly eventually encasing them in ice. This is a particular favorite of priestesses of Kriesha.

  • Garrote ? a vise is used to close a clamp around the throat killing in a quick controlled manner.

  • Impaling ? the victim is impaled on a stake, or (if the death is to be slower or controlled) a pyramid/cone (in the latter case with ropes alternately suspending and pressing the body to permit the torturers to vary the amount of suffering).

  • Saw ? the victim is hung upside down and a saw then used to cut them 'in half' (generally only down to the abdomen after which they will bleed to death).

  • The Wheel ? the victim was bound to the spokes of a wheel, hammers were then used to break their bones.

[top]Specially designed torture devices

The ownership of these devices is likely to be restricted to those in power or banned outright. In general only the most evil organizations will put their resources to creating such abhorrent devices.
  • Brazen Bull ? the victim is placed in the bull (a metal box shaped to amuse the locals i.e. into the form of a bull) and roasted alive.
  • Breast Ripper ? Claws that dig into the breast and, when pulled on, damage or destroy it.
  • Cat's Paw ? Meal claws that fit to the hand, or on to a pole and allow the torturer to tear the skin of their prey.
  • Chair of nails ? Similar to an iron maiden but without the sensory deprivation. The chair is covered in spikes which impale the victim but do not cause significant harm. The victim suffers with every movement and (very) slowly bleeds to death.
  • Copper Boot ? A boot made of copper, and either a hammer, or water and a fire.
  • Crocodile Shears ? A clamp (like a crocodiles mouth) designed to maim protuberances such as fingers or male genitals either through a vise action or by beating heated in a fire prior to application.
  • Crocodile Tube ? A whole-body restraint that left the face and feet free to be molested.
  • Iron Maiden ? The victim is restrained in the coffin-like Iron Maiden, and the spike covered lid then shut on them.
  • Knee Splitter ? A vise designed to shatter joints such as the knees, elbows, etc.
  • Lead Sprinkler ? This device is used to drip droplets of molten lead over a victims body ? enough to burn and cause pain, but not to kill swiftly.
  • Head Crusher ? a vise used to crush the head, sometimes with cups attached to catch the eyes when the pressure causes them to pop out.
  • Heretics Fork - This device is a thin rod with a fork at each end, attached to a collar. The fork digs into the chin and throat preventing the victim from speaking or easily moving their head.
  • Pear of Anguish ? this device is inserted into a body orifice. When the ratchet on the device is cranked the bulbous head of the device expands within the victim causing first internal pressure, then bruising, then ripping the victim's flesh apart from the inside out.
  • Rack ? the victim is bound at the ankles and wrists, the rack them extends dislocating them dismembering the wretch.
  • Thumbscrew ? A vise designed to crush finger bones or hands.

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