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Fantasy World Law: Prohibition Against Summoning Dangerous Entities Within City Limits


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This is for a fantasy setting in which magic is demonstrably real and potent and it's possible to perform spells and rituals to summon specific entities (monsters, demons, lesser deities, etc.). In many cities in the setting, there's a strict prohibition against summoning potentially dangerous entities within city limits. Breaking this law typically has a minimum penalty of either a year confined to the dungeon at the local lord's castle or a fine of 100 gold coins. Naturally, you'd also be on the hook for any property damage, injuries, or deaths the aforementioned entity causes if it goes on a rampage. The local lord reserves the right to grant onetime emergency exemptions in situations where summoning such an entity was necessary to prevent a greater catastrophe.

 

For our legal eagles on the site, how reasonable would such a law be in your professional opinion?

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I'm not a lawyer as such but I'll give a shot at it.

 

1) I think first you need to consider how harsh the proposed punishment is when compared to the punishment for breaking other laws.

 

Like in the real world, hunting large game like deer (as opposed to rabbit and squirrel) would give you a death sentence in most organized kingdoms. Out in the wilds in unclaimed land, sure hunt what you can get. But if there's a king and a lord, you'd be executed if you had deer meat in your larder or cookpot, a deer hide, or they found deer bones buried anywhere close enough to your home where they could possibly pin the crime on you.

 

And they generally weren't very picky about who they pinned poaching crimes to. It was more important to preserve the good hunting on the lord's land by intimidating the peasants into not poaching than it was to find exactly the right person to execute for poaching.

 

If you compared a year in prison for summoning a potentially deadly demon right into the middle of town vs dead for poaching a deer, a year in prison doesn't sound too intimidating (even if the prison conditions are dreadful and the scarce amount of food given to prisoners is almost inedible).

 

So is that the impression you're wanting to give to the summoners who might want to try their hand at demon-summoning? Or are you wanting the punishment to be really, really intimidating?

 

2) How much control do the magic-users have over themselves? In some fantasy literature magic systems, doing magic is like taking a drug. It's addictive and the more you do, the more you want to do.

 

If that's the case, then even a reasonable level of punishment might not be sufficient to deter people from attempting to summon demons.

 

3) How much benefit does the magic-user get from summoning a demon? If the demon can grant wishes, people would be more tempted than if a demon could just answer questions (my first wish is that I don't get prosecuted for summoning a demon). A demon who could go out and do something rather mundane like "slay your enemy" would fall somewhere between the extremes.

 

4) How much gold in your economic system is 100 gold pieces? I've seen campaign worlds where 100 gp could buy you half of a small village. And I've seen campaign worlds where 100 gp would pay your entry fee into the city, your first night of drinking, and your first night at the um...inn...but nothing else.

 

====

 

To sum it up, most feudal legal systems are very oppressive compared to what we're used to. My gut feeling is that a year isn't enough if you're accurately characterizing the magic as being demonstrably real and potent. Any half-way competent magician could set up some fall guy in advance so any investigations of catastrophic failures would find some patsy with a shed full of casting supplies and a mystic circle, inexpertly erased, sitting in the middle of his back yard.

 

And any half-way competent magician could probably elude the city guard long enough to make his escape even if the crime was traced back to him. And particularly if there's some demon rampaging through the city to distract local law enforcement.

 

So I'd guess that if you're wanting the limiting factor on magicians to be only the fact that they're intimidated by the laws of the local lord, you're going to have to have laws which are more intimidating.

 

If the city has other things going for it, maybe not. The city rests on ley lines which gives a magician who lives there extra power, that's enough for them to not want to leave town and to abide by the rules. The city has a brisk trade in magical artifacts from far and wide which aren't easily available elsewhere: avoiding risky summons in order to get access to that is entirely reasonable. The city's mage guild doesn't want the local lord upset so anyone who flees town a step ahead of the law is going to find himself hunted down by more competent mages than himself, sure.

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   This may sound like just a joke but seriously...

 Option 1)  The mage summons a creature from beyond and it obeys him.  Anybody trying to give him a ticket or take any other kind of legal action gets mind controlled, eaten or worse.  Any heroes defeating the creature are probably going to have to kill the mage as well.

Option 2)  The mage summons said creature and can’t control it.  What are you gonna do, arrest that greasy burnt up pile of half chewed on bones next to the pentagram?

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I'm,kind,of with Tjack.

 

I understand that you are saying "minimum penalty," but who do you restrain someone who has demonstrated his ability to summon kaiju from the stranger realms?

 

Though that could be something intrinsic to your magic system: if shackled hands prevents the use of magic, then that part is easier, and you only have to worry about the part where you arrest him.

 

On a lighter note, it's been my experi2nce that there are very few things worse for the safety of a walled city than a party of Player Characters.   :lol:

 

 

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In a civilization in which people have access to guns, the authorities typically also have guns. If someone gets their hands on a really big gun, the authorities have recourse to a bunch of really big guns. So, unless magic in this setting is very rare, and/or the offending wizard is exceptionally powerful, law enforcement should have the means to counter and punish them. Local authorities may not be able to bring it to bear immediately, but sooner or later someone will be called on to put the law breaker in their place.

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57 minutes ago, Duke Bushido said:

I'm,kind,of with Tjack.

 

I understand that you are saying "minimum penalty," but who do you restrain someone who has demonstrated his ability to summon kaiju from the stranger realms?

 

Though that could be something intrinsic to your magic system: if shackled hands prevents the use of magic, then that part is easier, and you only have to worry about the part where you arrest him.

 

On a lighter note, it's been my experi2nce that there are very few things worse for the safety of a walled city than a party of Player Characters.   :lol:

 

 

 

Looking at the list of possible limitations on magic spells in the HERO system, several of the more popular ones for summoning rituals would be severely restrictive if you were incarcerated and being watched to make sure you weren't doing magic: Concentration, Extra Time, Focus, Gestures, Incantations, Requires Multiple Users.

 

And the dreaded Not Enough Room in My Cell to Physically Manifest a Kaiju Without Squashing Myself. 

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20 minutes ago, archer said:

 

Looking at the list of possible limitations on magic spells in the HERO system, several of the more popular ones for summoning rituals would be severely restrictive if you were incarcerated and being watched to make sure you weren't doing magic: Concentration, Extra Time, Focus, Gestures, Incantations, Requires Multiple Users.

 

And the dreaded Not Enough Room in My Cell to Physically Manifest a Kaiju Without Squashing Myself. 


      Spells taking away the evil mages powers and cells that keep him from casting are all well and good, along with my personal favorite....cutting off his hands, removing his tongue and preforming an ice-pick lobotomy. 
    But my original point still stands.  If he screws up the spell there’s nothing left to arrest and if he gets it right he’s probably going to get killed by the PC’s during or immediately after the final battle.

  Either way he’s dead, so what does it matter what you charge him with?

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1 hour ago, Tjack said:


      Spells taking away the evil mages powers and cells that keep him from casting are all well and good, along with my personal favorite....cutting off his hands, removing his tongue and preforming an ice-pick lobotomy. 
    But my original point still stands.  If he screws up the spell there’s nothing left to arrest and if he gets it right he’s probably going to get killed by the PC’s during or immediately after the final battle.

  Either way he’s dead, so what does it matter what you charge him with?

 

Only part of the function of law is punishment for wrongdoing. Another major component is deterrent to someone from ever trying to commit a crime. Society wants to prevent something harmful from occurring at all. "Probably going to get killed by the PCs" isn't a guarantee, especially if something like this happens when there aren't any powerful PCs around.

 

Scenario-wise you may be right that it won't matter in the end, IF the summons goes off. Setting-logic-wise it does make a difference.

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7 minutes ago, Lord Liaden said:

 

Only part of the function of law is punishment for wrongdoing. Another major component is deterrent to someone from ever trying to commit a crime. Society wants to prevent something harmful from occurring at all. "Probably going to get killed by the PCs" isn't a guarantee, especially if something like this happens when there aren't any powerful PCs around.

 

Scenario-wise you may be right that it won't matter in the end, IF the summons goes off. Setting-logic-wise it does make a difference.


    My Good Lord Liaden, you miss my point.  
    If there are no heroes to stop/slay the evil mage then who is going to bell the cat and arrest, charge and put him in a cell?  And as far as a deterrent for others, putting the bastards head on a spike at the town gates does send a message.

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1 hour ago, Tjack said:


    My Good Lord Liaden, you miss my point.  
    If there are no heroes to stop/slay the evil mage then who is going to bell the cat and arrest, charge and put him in a cell? 

 

I think perhaps you're missing his point.

 

The NPC's aren't aware that they're in a roleplaying game so they are going to behave as if they are in real life.

 

If there's no heroes around to immediately track down the bad guy and apprehend him, the lord will lean on the mage's guild to rein in their member and/or just straight up put a bounty on the guy.

 

The point of the law isn't that the bad guy is going to be any more than a greasy spot on the ground when everything is said and done.

 

The point is that the law is there to make the potential bad guy think twice before he ever starts and to choose to not start. He's supposed to think, "Gee, even if I manage to summon the demon correctly and it doesn't immediately eat me, someone is going to notice when it goes across town to steal the Hopeless Diamond for me. They'll track the demon back to me and then I'm screwed anyway. Maybe I need to come up with a different plan than summoning a demon to steal the diamond. I wonder if I can figure out how to do a long-distance diamond teleporting spell...."

 

Theft is an annoyance which a city isn't ever going to abolish. Demons, djinn, monsters, and minor deities running loose in the city, on the other hand, is something a city can probably get a handle on and intimidate people into not trying.

 

1 hour ago, Tjack said:

 And as far as a deterrent for others, putting the bastards head on a spike at the town gates does send a message.

 

You're exactly right on that one. "A year in jail and a 100 gp fine" being the minimum sentence for summoning a freaking minor deity to do your bidding doesn't exactly strike fear into the heart of evil-doers. 

 

Sure, the magistrate could choose to go higher on that punishment. But there are ways to bribe or intimidate your way into a lighter sentence rather than a heavier one, especially if you can summon minor deities to do your bidding.

 

But that old guaranteed your-head-on-a-pike is another thing entirely.

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I think I would be in the "punishment is too light" category. Simply as a deterrent I would think something more along the lines of:

 

Removal of titles

Branding or loss of a limb

Forfeiture of at least half of possessions

 

Optionally, just brand them and cast them out of the city

 

Anyone already branded for the crime the punishment might be something more along the lines of being sent to where things are summoned from.

 

- E

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2 hours ago, Lord Liaden said:

And pursuant to that last point, you want a law on the books that says you're going to take said bastard's head to put on a pike. ;)


   A law would be a good and righteous thing, but back in the Middle Ages it really only took the King or local lord saying “Do it.” and it got done.

  I’m just saying that we’re talking about three different things here.   First a set of laws that make sense to 20-21  century people.  Second, a discussion of the history of law during the Middle Ages. And third, an imagining of what legalities might exist in a Fantasy environment.

 This conversation keeps moving the goalposts.  Asking what the law would be if there were no PC’s there to enforce it is like asking who stopped the bandits from robbing the bank before John Wayne showed up.  The answer is...nobody. 
And if there are no PC’s to hear a tree fall in the forest does it really matter if it makes a sound?

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1 minute ago, Tjack said:


   A law would be a good and righteous thing, but back in the Middle Ages it really only took the King or local lord saying “Do it.” and it got done.

  I’m just saying that we’re talking about three different things here.   First a set of laws that make sense to 20-21  century people.  Second, a discussion of the history of law during the Middle Ages. And third, an imagining of what legalities might exist in a Fantasy environment.

 This conversation keeps moving the goalposts.  Asking what the law would be if there were no PC’s there to enforce it is like asking who stopped the bandits from robbing the bank before John Wayne showed up.  The answer is...nobody. 
And if there are no PC’s to hear a tree fall in the forest does it really matter if it makes a sound?

I don't see the Middle Ages as a measuring stick, at least not in the original post. Others have applied that logic. Some fantasy is loosely (in many cases VERY loosely) based on the Middle Ages but adding magic and other fantasy elements makes it diverge pretty quickly.

 

And I completely disagree that there is no law without PC's. Let's take one of the larger fantasy RPG settings, Faerun. In Cormyr, the law is enforced by the Purple Dragons, an elite cavalry force backed up by a college of War Wizards. They handle routine and even very not routine problems on the daily, without PC's to intervene. That also goes to your third question, legalities in fantasy RPG's. 

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17 minutes ago, Christopher R Taylor said:

The tough part is enforcing the laws against someone who can bend the laws of space and time, violate physics, and summon horrors from the depths.

 

Came here to say this.  Anyone who can summon otherworldly entities is an adventurer-class threat and needs adventurer-class opposition.  

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It really depends what you mean by "summoning dangerous entities".  What exactly are we talking about here?

 

If a pre-teen girl is found playing around with a Ouiji board, are you going to execute her?  Dangerous beings might be able to possess someone if you do that.  Of course, lots of times people play around with those and nothing happens at all.  What if a group of high school kids draw a pentagram on the floor and play around at witchcraft?  If they're trying to give a mean teacher at school a wart on her nose, does that count?  If the description is that a vengeful spirit crosses over and curses Ms. Johnson the math teacher with a big yucky wart, is that enough to count?

 

Or are we talking about summoning a big heavy hitter, a high-powered Balrog or something like that?

 

The bigger the danger, the more severe the punishment needs to be.  If you're worried about some lunatic summoning a 500 point monstrosity that can destroy half the city, then you don't wait until he's summoned it.  You execute people who even have those spells in their possession.  Even asking around for certain sorcerous tomes will get your hands chopped off.  You want to stop that stuff before it happens.  On the other hand, if the city guard are a bunch of high-level paladins who routinely kick Cthulhu in the nads before breakfast, then such punishments are probably an overreaction.

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2 hours ago, massey said:

If a pre-teen girl is found playing around with a Ouiji board, are you going to execute her? 

 

If you're doing the medieval europe thing, then of course you are.

 

 

2 hours ago, massey said:

Dangerous beings might be able to possess someone if you do that.  Of course, lots of times people play around with those and nothing happens at all.  What if a group of high school kids draw a pentagram on the floor and play around at witchcraft?

 

Like over at the JR Trippe school?  Today?  Probably not.  In a fantasy world where drawing pentagrams and saying goofy things results in horrors from beyond the pale, in a world where they have been taught their whole lives not to do this?

 

Yessiree, Bob; execute.

 

 

 

2 hours ago, massey said:

If they're trying to give a mean teacher at school a wart on her nose, does that count?  If the description is that a vengeful spirit crosses over and curses Ms. Johnson the math teacher with a big yucky wart, is that enough to count?

 

Depends on if the actual question-- the dangerous to the city part-- is being considered.  Warty noses are probably not too terribly dangerous to the city.

 

 

 

2 hours ago, massey said:

 

Or are we talking about summoning a big heavy hitter, a high-powered Balrog or something like that?

 

The bigger the danger, the more severe the punishment needs to be.  If you're worried about some lunatic summoning a 500 point monstrosity that can destroy half the city, then you don't wait until he's summoned it. 

 

 

Well if you already knew the answers, why all the questions?

 

 

:rofl:

 

 

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It really depends on how the campaign is setup.    Historically there were two major authorities when it came to laws.  First were the secular authorities usually the King and nobles.  Second were the religious authorities.  While there is some overlap considering that the authority of the king was supposed to come from divine right, each of the authorities often focused on different things.  In a fantasy setting were magic has a strong influence it is quite possible that there is a separate authority dealing with magic.  This could be some sort of mage’s guild or order of wizards like in the dragon lance novels.  

 

If there is an organization that regulates magic they should obviously have enough power to enforce their laws.   They would also be better able to figure out if someone is not following the rules.  Do your really expect the local lord to be able to figure out what spell was cast?  

 

If there is not any kind of organization regulating magic then the easiest way to keep the people safe is going to simply forbid the wizard from even living in the city.  I could see a law that forbids a wizard from living in a city or town.  Of course there would probably be an exception for the wizard employed by the crown or the local noble.  

 

Some races may have different laws regarding magic.  Elves would probably have access to more magic so be more likely to organize and regulate it.  
 

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20 hours ago, Tjack said:

   But my original point still stands.  If he screws up the spell there’s nothing left to arrest and if he gets it right he’s probably going to get killed by the PC’s during or immediately after the final battle.

  Either way he’s dead, so what does it matter what you charge him with?

Depends. In some tyrant kingdoms, the entire family of the mage, including the wife, children, and the parents can be also have the same punishment, and will.

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Depends. In some tyrant kingdoms, the entire family of the mage, including the wife, children, and the parents can be also have the same punishment, and will.

 

And in some that are considered more civilized and democratic, such as Rome.  Plus, it would affect how their property is handled, does the land revert to the king (who usually technically owned all land but would grant it to others), does the church get it, do heirs get it or is it picked up by some local power, etc

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Historically, imprisonment wasn't a penalty in most societies. You would stick someone in a tower (donjon) or underground only for the duration it took to judge them.

Then you would kill, mutilate, flog or enslave them according to your laws. If you couldn't punish them that way, you might, perhaps, just leave them imprisoned for an indefinite period.

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