Campaign of the Month: March 2016
Ptolus, City by the Spire
|The Law||The Process of Law||Observing Crimes||Reporting Crimes||Criminal Investigations|
|Apprehending Criminals||Vigilante Justice||Licenses and Permits||Trials||Punishments|
Crime poses probably the greatest problem in Ptolus today. Crime has worsened over the last two decades, most noticeably in the last five years. Many blame the lawlessness encouraged by “delver culture.” Others blame the rising power of the city’s criminal organizations. The ranks of the Watch increase each year, but the Commissar believes it is better to suffer some controlled amount of crime than risk open warfare with such formidable forces as the Balacazar family, the Killraven Crime League, and the Longfingers Guild—or worse yet, all three at the same time.
Ptolus operates under Imperial law, which places the Commissar, as the Emperor’s representative, as the ultimate judge in all legal affairs. However, the Commissar almost never exercises this privilege, instead allowing the courts to dispense justice in his name. The Commissar’s position also makes him the ultimate authority in enforcing the law, which is something he does do, through his administration of the City Watch and his own personal military force known as the Commissar’s Men, not to mention the covert Imperial Eyes. In times of serious public disorder, such as a riot, or other emergency (a particularly serious fire raging through dozens of buildings, for example), the Commissar takes direct control of the city’s forces to deal with it. In fact, he often goes right to the site of the trouble and leads his people “in the field,” as it were, just like he did when he was a military general years ago.
Imperial law is codified within the Vast Codex, a series of twenty-three volumes totaling more than twelve thousand pages—over ten thousand discrete laws, regulations, edicts, and codes. This complex system of rules covers specific cases rather than providing general guidelines. Imperial law affords greater rights and freedoms to Imperial citizens than to noncitizens, and greater rights and freedoms to Imperial officials (including priests of Lothian) than to Imperial citizens.
Thanks to a Commissar who understands the importance of tradition (and its value in keeping the people happy), Ptolus observes some modicum of traditional Palastani law. This means, for example, that members of the nobility are afforded the same privileges under the law as Imperial officials. So are members of the City Council. It also means that occasionally criminals are branded or even mutilated as part of their punishment, even though such sentences are not part of the Vast Codex.
|Subjective Law Enforcement: There are crimes so serious that, although they may not carry the penalty of death, if someone killed the perpetrators while attempting to stop them, the authorities would not bat an eye. For example, say you come upon two Pale Dogs beating a sister of the Order of Dayra within an inch of her life. For this crime of assaulting an official, they should receive up to twenty years imprisonment. However, no judge in Ptolus would say a word against a band of adventurers who came upon the scene and slew the assailants.|
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THE PROCESS OF LAW
From crime to punishment, the process of law typically follows four steps.
1. A crime is observed, reported, or investigated.
2. The criminal is hunted down and apprehended. He is placed in a jail at one of the Watchhouses. If the appropriate punishment for his crime is a fine, he can pay it at any time to secure his release.
3. The criminal is brought to trial, typically within one to two weeks.
4. The criminal is fined, sent to the Prison, or executed.
A City Watch guard observing a crime has the authority to apprehend and detain the criminal immediately. If the criminal resists, the guard can use lethal force to deal with him, if necessary. Brutality to criminals and even suspected criminals is expected.
The Sisterhood of Silence has the same authority as the City Watch when it comes to apprehending criminals observed committing a crime. The Sisterhood does not detain criminals, however, but turns them over to the custody of the City Watch.
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If a citizen goes to a Watchhouse or finds a guard on the street, he can report a crime he has seen. (Noncitizens can report crimes, but the city guards are under no compunction to act.) The City Watch takes the person’s statement. If the chance to apprehend the accused is high (which is to say, the crime is occurring at the time), the members of the Watch act immediately. Otherwise, they take the report and thank the person but make no assurances that anything will be done. If the citizen reporting the crime is the victim of the crime, he is usually given more attention than someone who is just a witness.
The Sisterhood of Silence
The Sisterhood of Silence does not take statements or listen to reports of a crime, unless that crime is occurring at that very moment. Those who come to the Priory of Introspection to make a report are turned away unheard. Approaching a Sister and telling her that you saw a man steal an apple from an apple cart twenty minutes ago obtains no results, but if you tell her that there’s a woman setting fire to the pub around the corner right this moment, she’s likely to run off to find her. The Sisterhood cannot allow itself to become entangled in disputes and potentially false accusations. Mainly, they apprehend criminals whom they observe breaking the law, and nothing more. That’s why they focus so much on patrols.
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It can’t be stressed enough: The members of the City Watch don’t really investigate crimes, at least not in the modern sense. They might question witnesses, but they don’t look for clues. Mostly, they just care about stopping crimes as—or before—they happen.
One could say, as many have, that justice under Imperial law is extremely precarious. It is, in fact, frightfully easy for a person to be blamed for a crime unjustly, particularly if the person belongs to the lower classes or is a noncitizen. Take the example of a high-stakes game of Dragonscales. During the game, one player drops dead, the victim of poison (revealed through a Heal check or a detect poison spell). The other player immediately becomes a suspect for the murder. If the suspect has a criminal history known to the City Watch, he’ll likely be arrested and detained. If not, he might still be arrested and detained if he is not a citizen with a respectable job or a family. And it would just take one person claiming to have seen the suspect put something in the victim’s drink for even an upstanding citizen to be arrested. Arresting an upper-class citizen, or an official (including a priest of the Church) would require more substantial evidence, however.
The point is that, either way, there is little in the way of an investigation. The person who seems most likely to be guilty (if anyone) is assumed to be just that; the word of one eyewitness is sometimes all it takes to send a person to prison for decades. Once detained, a suspect might be questioned or interrogated. The Watch may beat or torture a lower-class suspect, particularly if he is thought to have committed a particularly heinous crime. Some suspects are questioned under the effects of a zone of truth spell cast by a cleric of Lothian—usually an itinerant priest on retainer of the City Courts, but in truth any cleric will do.
This process is expensive (the courts must pay the cleric), and thus not undertaken lightly. No one requests magical assistance in cases involving minor crimes unless the suspect is prominent in some way. And even so, if the divination reveals the suspect’s innocence, the interrogators ask him further questions about other possible crimes he may have committed, based on some digging they did ahead of time. The City Courts want to get their money’s worth—if they pay for a spell to be cast, they want a conviction. This is why even innocent people rarely demand a divination to reveal their innocence.
A cleric can volunteer to cast the divinations necessary to ascertain truth, even if it is not requested. In such a case, however, the authorities also scrutinize the caster closely. If she is a friend of the suspect, the results of the spell may be called into question. This goes double if the cleric is not a Lothianite—or if the caster is not a cleric at all, but a wizard casting detect thoughts, for example. And in the end, even the word of a cleric of Lothian is not beyond reproach. The courts are well aware that every kind of spell has its counter, and that the cleric herself might be controlled or charmed to say something she otherwise would not. Though most clerics called to perform these duties check for such counters, the system is not foolproof.
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As previously stated, the City Watch (and the Sisterhood of Silence) can use any amount of force deemed necessary to apprehend and detain a criminal. The law affords them great leeway in committing any act in the name of doing their duty. The Watch guards have considerable discretion at this stage of the process to arrest whom they choose. This means that if a person holding a bloody sword is found standing over the body of some half-fiend sorcerer who was about make a human sacrifice to one of the Demon Gods, they’re unlikely to arrest the murderer. In other words, if player characters are careful, kill mainly evil foes, and don’t cause too much destruction, they will rarely have to worry about being arrested (see the “Vigilante Justice” sidebar as well).
The City Watch usually puts captured prisoners in manacles, with a black hood over their heads to help disorient (and therefore control) them. Then they march them to the nearest Watchhouse and put them in a small and ill-kept jail cell. For some offenses, a criminal can immediately pay a fine and leave, but in the case of a drunk apprehended in a brawl or similar misconduct, the Watch captain may order a mandatory night in a cell on top of the fine.
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The concept of citizens “taking the law into their own hands” is not considered a bad thing in Ptolus. Local authorities, from the lowest-ranking guard to the Commissar himself, are quite practical in this regard. In an effort to maintain order, they do what’s best for the city rather than strictly uphold all the laws of the Vast Codex. If an angry mob finds and lynches a kidnapper of children, the authorities not only don’t intervene, they don’t make arrests. They go out of their way not to get involved.
This means an adventuring group can slay a Vai assassin or a human-sacrificing cultist without fear of the law. In most cases, the City Watch would rather not even know about it, to avoid the bureaucratic paperwork. The guards are happy to look the other way in such instances.
Bounties on well-known criminals are commonplace. Usually the Empire puts up the reward money, but sometimes the victim or the victim’s family will do so. Earning a bounty involves actually bringing a criminal to justice—physically. Telling the authorities where the criminal can be found usually earns one a tenth of the posted bounty.
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LICENSES AND PERMITS
|Owning a firearm||10 gp|
|Operating a tavern or restaurant1||25 gp|
|Operating a shop1 (permanent structure)||50 gp|
|Operating a shop1 (nonpermanent structure)||10 gp|
|Operating a service1||50 gp|
|Operating a gambling establishment1||100 gp|
|Bottling liquor or alcohol||4 cp/gallon|
|Working as a prostitute1||50 gp|
|Building within the city walls||25 gp|
|Modifying a structure significantly||10 gp|
|Holding a public gathering||10 gp|
|Keeping a creature||5 gp /creature|
|Printing books||1 gp/book|
|Distributing broadsheets||1 cp per 50 copies|
1 Must be renewed each year.
Imperial bureaucracy is extensive and difficult to navigate. Licenses and permits are required for many activities, and obtaining them is usually an expensive and time-consuming process. Forms must be filed, and often bribes must be paid. Ptolus residents apply for licenses and permits at the Administration Building in Oldtown.
Permits and licenses create revenue for the government and, more importantly, they register the applicant for appropriate taxes, which bring in even more revenue. They also allow the Imperial government to monitor activities they consider worth monitoring, such as firearm ownership and book printing.
Sometimes the city will issue a special permit to allow a spellcaster to cast potentially destructive spells (like fireball) in the city. There are even so-called “death licenses” that enable the license-holder to commit murder with no fear of punishment. These are granted only in special circumstances, and only by the Commissar or someone of higher rank (which is to say, one of the Emperors).
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TRIALS IN PTOLUS
Trials are brief and weighted heavily against the defendant, with the idea that if things have progressed this far, the suspect is probably guilty. A single judge presides over a case, with an advocate and an Imperial prosecutor to present evidence and argue applicable passages in the Vast Codex. Imperial law is not one of generalities or extrapolation, but of specifics, with different laws and codes for every particular situation. Advocates and prosecutors focus far more on knowledge of the law than on persuasion. Arguments come into play regarding which statute specifically applies.
Trials can be public or private, at the discretion of the judge. In fact, everything that occurs during the course of the trial is at the discretion of the judge, although a higher-ranking judge or other official can overrule these decisions.
There are three ranks of judge in the city: judges, high judges, and grand judges. The higher a judge’s rank, the more important the cases he hears. Promotions come from the Commissar’s office. Today, Ptolus has about fifty judges. Advocates usually charge anywhere from 10 gp to 1,000 gp per case, depending on the case, the client, and the advocate. More skilled and well-known advocates get paid more.
Of course, not everyone arrested for a crime goes to trial. If the City Watch apprehends a criminal in the act of committing a very serious crime, a Watch captain has the authority to mete out justice immediately. Because officials can challenge this authority after the fact and even reverse a decision, guard captains use this privilege sparingly and limit their summary sentences to fines and/or imprisonment—almost never death. (Captains found to have handed out an unwarranted sentence of death can be stripped of their rank.)
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Punishments in Ptolus are swift and harsh. Only aristocrats, Imperial officials, and the very rich can contest a verdict—an appeal requires the order of a powerful official, so only highly influential folks can attempt one. Some crimes are punishable by death. Executions, usually hangings, are public events held in a square in Oldtown appropriately called Gallows Square. A criminal who cannot pay a fine typically stays in Prison until he or his family can pay, up to one year for every 100 gp of the original fine.
The punishment for falsely reporting a crime can be as severe as the punishment for the crime in question.
Sometimes a criminal is sentenced to labor rather than imprisonment—usually for one-quarter to one-half the length a sentence of imprisonment would carry. Labor means hard labor during the day and imprisonment at night. Construction projects are the most common sources for labor, although clearing clogged sewers remains a favorite among some judges. Usually sentences of labor have more to do with the current need for laborers than with anything having to do with the case.
The system deals harshly with recidivists. A criminal up on charges who is found to have committed similar (or worse) crimes in the past is typically given double the normal punishment. Typically, a recidivist thief has his forehead branded to warn potential victims. Sometimes a pickpocket has a finger removed, and castration as punishment for serial rapists is actually standard in the city.
Crime and Punishment
|Murder of an official||Death|
|Murder of a citizen||20 years imprisonment|
|Murder of a noncitizen||5 years imprisonment|
|Assault2 upon an official||5–20 years imprisonment or death|
|Assault2 upon a citizen||6 months – 20 years imprisonment|
|Assault2 upon a noncitizen||1 month – 10 years imprisonment|
|Kidnapping an official||10 years imprisonment|
|Kidnapping a citizen||1 year imprisonment|
|Kidnapping a noncitizen||6 months imprisonment|
|Threatening the Holy Emperor/Prince of the Church||Death|
|Theft/destruction of the property of an official||Petty: 1 month imprisonment + 10 gp fine; Lesser: 1 year imprisonment + 200 gp fine; (or of city property)3 Major: 10 years imprisonment + 500 gp fine|
|Theft/destruction of the property of a citizen3||Petty: 10 gp fine; Lesser: 6 months imprisonment + 200 gp fine; Major: 5 years imprisonment + 500 gp fine|
|Theft/destruction of the property of a noncitizen3||Petty: 3 gp fine; Lesser: 100 gp fine; Major: 1 year imprisonment + 500 gp fine|
|Trafficking in illegal goods4||1 year imprisonment + 500 gp fine (magic-related goods: 5 years + 800 gp)|
|Possession of illegal goods4||250 gp fine|
|Coercion of another||Of an official: 1 year imprisonment; a citizen: 500 gp fine; a noncitizen: 100 gp fine|
|Using magic to influence the mind of another||Of an official: 1 year imprisonment + 500 gp fine; a citizen: 6 months imprisonment + 100 gp fine; a noncitizen: 100 gp fine|
|Casting spells of mass destruction in the city5||1 year imprisonment + 200 gp fine|
|Intentionally using evil magic (evil descriptor)||1 year imprisonment + 500 gp fine|
|Creating an undead creature/bringing one into the city||10 years imprisonment|
|Calling a demon||Death|
|Intentionally spreading plague||Death|
|Inappropriate disposal of waste/trash||10–1,000 gp fine (inappropriate disposal of a corpse: 250 gp fine)|
|Disturbing the peace||5–50 gp fine|
|Inciting a riot||1 year imprisonment|
|Arson (in addition to destruction of property charge)||5 years imprisonment|
|Falsifying Imperial documents||1 year imprisonment + 200 gp fine (other documents: 200 gp fine)|
|Perjury in court||6 months imprisonment|
|Defaming the character of an official||6 months imprisonment|
|Bribing an official||250 gp fine|
|Tax evasion||Imprisonment until taxes are paid (plus 10% interest)|
|Failure to produce a license/permit when required6||100–500 gp fine|
|Being a dark elf within city limits||Death|
|Harboring a dark elf within city limits||2 years imprisonment|
|Sacrilege against Lothian||Blaspheming: 50 gp fine; defiling a sacred site: 1–20 years imprisonment|
|Worshipping an illegal god (e.g. Destor)||1–20 years imprisonment|
An “official” is someone with a role of leadership and/or enforcement in local or Imperial government. This honorific applies to those in positions of responsibility (managers, administrators, etc.) and to all members of the City Watch and clerics and paladins of Lothian. Anyone who works for the government isn’t necessarily an official; low-ranking employees (clerks, street sweepers) can only aspire to such a rank.
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1 Punishments are cumulative. Thus, murdering two citizens is punishable by 40 years imprisonment. Typically for humans, a sentence of more than 50 years imprisonment is altered to death.
2 “Assault” covers a broad range of crimes, from a physical strike to rape to draining ability scores or blasting with magical fire. Thus, the range of punishments is broad as well. Typically, assault implies the intent to maim or kill. Barroom brawlers, for example, are usually charged with disturbing the peace, not assault.
3 Petty = property worth less than 1 gp; Lesser = property worth 1–100 gp; Major = property worth 101 gp or more.
4 Smuggling otherwise legal goods into the city to avoid the tariff is considered trafficking in illegal goods.
5 Spells of mass destruction include fireball, lightning bolt, and similar magic that threatens life and property. Spellcasters can obtain special permits for limited use of such spells for specific sanctioned purposes.