The Rule Of Law

You know the drill, the players' characters stumble into town and procedure to interact with people in any sort of manner they see fit. They destroy property. They vanquish evil doers (and not so evil doers) without too much issue. They let lose all manner of mighty magics without even a second thought. While such actions can be accomplished out in the wild without any real issue, shouldn't a place of civilization be different? Are your towns nothing more than wild lands with more people in them, where the players can get a hot meal, get healed, and sell their treasure? Does your town even have laws?

In all my years of Role-Playing, few in game place seem to have any laws or restrictions that have any real meaning. Do not get me wrong, I think most players operate under the assumption that there are some basic laws in place. Although, most players seem to operate above them or without regard for them in any case.

Right now, some of you may be asking so what and that's OK. The truth is that generally speaking, it's not a big deal in most games. Still, I think we lose but not having some sort of reminder that there are laws in the land. In many ways, the games that many of us play in is sort of like the Hollywood version of the Wild West. A place were there are laws, but very little enforcement. Now there are some games where that makes a lot of sense. Even with just a few select laws that affect the players' characters in some way, creates a more dynamic environment for play. Let's take an example.

In a fantasy game, the players enter a fortified town. They encounter an evil assassin and defeat him. In most games, the players would just loot the body and move on to the next thing. I'm sorry but that's a bit boring. What if rather the fight was seen and the town guard is arriving to take over. What do the players do? Do they run and hide? Do they hide the body? Hell, do they wait for the town guard to arrive and try to explain things? Do they need to bribe the town guard to prevent the town guard from taking them to the local magistrate? Do they fight the town guard? By even making the killing something that the town guard would have to investigate, you have just made the players' lives more interesting. I not say that they players are in any real trouble, but they will have to deal with the law and that may influence their actions.

Of course one could also use laws to influence a certain setting feel as well. Maybe you want to have a setting where the common people are fearful of magic. Have laws that ban magic or require that arcane magic users to have licenses to practice could help reinforce that to the players. Actually this concept was quite common in some of the earlier settings. I know of at least two old settings that have mention the idea of requiring a permit to use magic within a cities walls. I can just see a player talking to the town guard saying, “Yes, I killed blood beetle with my Magic Missile and no, I don't have a permit”. “What do you mean, I'm going to have to go with you? You should be thanking me!”

So, does your game have any Legal laws that affect the players? Are they used to help enforce a setting concept or they just there for your own local amusement? Please let me know. I'm always interested in finding out what other people are doing.

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