Making the Lore (Law) Skill Interestingly Useful

This is the third post in what has apparently become a series on how to make skills interesting and useful. This discussion is something I wrote up a long time ago, back in the days of 2e. I thought the three-tiered approach to skill progression introduced there, and now continued by Zweihänder, was interesting because it reflected the medieval guild levels of apprentice, journeyman and master. I felt that some more use could be made of those levels, which I called Mastery, other than just +10% success.

I also felt that in an unjust society like the Empire, skill at Law would not determine the outcome so much as who was doing the judging. I therefore concentrated on the usefulness of the skill in getting a favourable jurisdiction or set of laws. The actual outcome of the trial would be determined by charm, connections, bribes and the like.

I’ve updated the discussion somewhat for 4e, but the basic assumption of three Mastery levels remains. In the case of Lore (Law), this could in the new system be reflected in levels in the Savant (Law) Talent.

The Empire is a patchwork of legal jurisdictions. The law in one village might be different from the law in the next and neither apply on a temple’s lands or in cases of high crimes which are reserved to the emperor’s courts. In addition, the results of cases are more often decided according to the social status of accuser, accused and the judge than any strictly legal criteria. Precisely that jurisdictional confusion which makes the Empire’s law so confusing, though, gives opportunities for it to work by creating many conflicts between powerful groups and individuals about who exactly has jurisdiction in any given case.

There are broadly four fields of law: customary, imperial, canon and civil. Customary law covers the vast majority of the Empire and its subjects. It’s based on tradition, precedent and proverb and varies wildly from place to place. It regulates land ownership and petty crimes and is administered by lords in their courts and by elders in village assemblies. Imperial law is the written law of imperial statute, declarations and secular law courts. It most notably covers the armies, highways and watercourses of the Empire, coinage, as well as the high crimes of murder, robbery, arson and rape. Canon law is the law of the temples and varies from cult to cult. It applies discipline to the clergy and their lands according to the strictures of the cult while also claiming to exempt them from others’ jurisdiction. Universities have often been granted similar legal rights for their members and students. The Colleges of Magic are under the jurisdiction of the Cult of Sigmar, on the rare occasion that a criminal wizard survives being caught long enough to stand trial. Civil law is a relatively recent invention, governing the cities and administered by the burghers and guilds. It predominantly regulates trade disputes, as well as issues of municipal safety and sanitation. Witchcraft, mutation and trafficking with Chaos are persecuted by all authorities equally fiercely.

Mastery is gained in each field individually and does not apply generally. The first level represents practical knowledge of the letter of the law: roadwardens, watch sergeants, notaries, bailiffs, deans responsible for clerical discipline, military provosts and adolescent criminals are all likely to have this much knowledge. A second level of Mastery represents knowledge of the spirit of the law, as well as the ability to use inconsistencies and vagueness to bolster a legal argument: lawyers, village elders, seneschals, guildsmen, regimental commanders and hardened criminals demonstrate this kind of ability. The last level of Mastery represents the ‘sword’ of the law: the ability to cut through legal complexity and pass sharp judgment. Judges, secular and clerical lords, privy councillors and legal scholars attain this level.

A character’s field is predominantly determined by his career. A Roadwarden learns imperial law, for example. Professional lawyers can, however, choose which fields of law to study and can mix and match levels of Mastery. For every separate field the lawyer is able to apply to a case (e.g. when trying a townsman for a crime against a student who can claim clerical status), he gets an additional +10% situational bonus to his skill to represent his ability to exploit the contradictions between the different systems.

When an alleged crime is committed, it’s first necessary to determine who has jurisdiction. That’s usually a matter of the field of law it falls under, but where there is doubt about that, a conflict might arise between authorities. A cleric who commits a crime in a city against a noble could theoretically be tried under canon, civil or imperial law, with different judges and very different chances of acquittal in each. Such conflicts are resolved through an opposed Lore (Law) roll between the advocates of the interested parties, assuming those advocates are knowledgable in at least one of the arguably relevant fields of law. A narrow victory, where both succeed or fail the roll, means the victor takes the trial, but must make concessions, for example judging according to one set of laws or promising a minimum punishment. A truly miserable failure might see the advocate barred from further proceedings in the case.

At least one level of Law Mastery in the relevant field is necessary for the advocate to take part in the proceedings, but the actual result is not determined by a Law roll alone, but by a Combined Test with Lore and an interpersonal Skill like Charm (with the Public Speaker Talent if the accused is being tried by a jury of his peers), Entertain (Acting or Storytelling) or Intimidate. In addition, at any point in the legal proceedings, both during the determination of jurisdiction and the trial itself, a lawyer with the Blather Talent can roll to drag the case out longer and buy time for further investigations, politicking and bribery, or just to keep the accused in gaol a bit longer.

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