Today we have part two of our five part series from legendary WFRP writer Graeme Davis – this post is packed to the brim with information and new adventure hooks – perfect for any WFRP fan! If you missed it – you can find part I – Inn Adventure Hooks here.
If you don’t already have it – you can order Rough Nights and Hard Days here and receive the PDF that’s included straight away!
Courthouse Adventure Hooks
Hi All, continuing the series, here are some ideas for adventure plots set in the courthouse of a medium-sized town – like the one in Kemperbad in Rough Nights and Hard Days.
Helping Justice Along
The adventurers find themselves in the same position as Baron von Dammenblatz in “A Day at the Trials.” They are involved in some legal case, and their opponent has claimed and been granted trial by combat – which, given the strength and expertise of his champion, means that the case is practically unwinnable.
Honest and devout characters might make offerings at the temple of Verena and pray for justice to be done. Others, more worldly and enterprising, might try to influence the outcome without being caught.
The principle of trial by combat is ancient. Down countless centuries, laws have been created and refined to ensure that it is impossible to interfere with the outcome. The previous section gives a summary of the most common precautions, but there may be more – and having given an oath before Verena that they will not try to cheat, participants also risk the wrath of the goddess.
Even so, this challenge may appeal to ingenious players. One approach, which will appeal mostly to lawyers and other academic characters is to search the laws for loopholes and contradictions; another, more appealing to rogues, is to find ways to avoid being caught.
Prisoners in the Dock
Like the drifters and gunslingers of the Old West, adventures draw sideling glances from more respectable folk, and there are few folk so respectable – in their own opinions, at least – as the urban middle classes. By some means or another, the adventurers find themselves under arrest. Perhaps they have run afoul of the town watch; perhaps they have found no admissible evidence against a prominent burgher who is now suing them; or perhaps they were hired to carry out some illegal task and their patron has abandoned them. However the adventurers have ended up in the cells, they must face the full majesty of Imperial law alone.
Regardless of the charges, a court case goes through a number of distinct stages. First, the prisoners are arrested by the town watch and transferred to the cells while the case against them is prepared. Depending on its complexity, this may take several days, and wealthy or noble characters may be released on bail in the interim. Those who can afford to do so will normally be permitted to hire a lawyer to represent them, and may spend this time preparing their defence. In some localities, though, there are some crimes that the law classifies as “indefensible” – which means that only the prosecution is heard before judgement is rendered.
The second phase is the trial itself. The prisoners are brought into the court, the charges are read, and they may plead guilty or not guilty. A guilty plea usually ends the case and may result in a more lenient punishment; if the prisoners maintain their innocence, the case is on. Prosecution and defence present their cases, calling any witnesses and presenting any physical or documentary evidence, and then a jury – or in some places, a panel of magistrates or a single judge – decides which side has proved its case.
Finally, the sentence, if any, is decided. In the Empire, the wealth and social status of the accused carries as much weight in this determination as the nature of the crime itself. A poor person can be hanged for stealing a loaf of bread, while a noble can often survive a murder conviction with nothing more than a heavy fine.
Town and country are different worlds, and adventurers who are used to being able to get away with anything in the wilds may find the laws of a town or city come as a shock. They can certainly limit a party’s freedom of action in pursuit of a prominent and wealthy townsperson.
A Friend in Trouble
A party of adventurers may sometimes need to break a suspect out of jail. They may be hired to do so, or the prisoner may be a friend or even one of their own. In a village or small town, this might be fairly straightforward: a little magic, a bribe, and the prisoner is free. In a larger town or a city, though, arranging a jailbreak can be as complicated and dangerous as any dungeon.
Many GMs underestimate the abilities of watchmen and jailers, especially when dealing with exceptional prisoners like adventurers. In fact, the forces of crime and punishment are engaged in a never-ending arms race, and well-funded courthouses will have some precautions in place to ensure that a single magic-wielding prisoner cannot humiliate the city’s finest.
There will be at least one cell set aside for “special prisoners.” It will probably be smaller than most, and covered by protective spells that make its walls, floor, and ceiling impenetrable to any kind of magic. Prisoners are normally stripped of all equipment before being locked in a cell, but special prisoners will also be stripped of all their clothing, and given a light robe for the sake of decency. They will also be shackled so they cannot make the kind of wide hand gestures required for spellcasting: more powerful spellcasters may also be forced into iron gloves that immobilize the hands completely.
Specialist watchmen are employed to guard special prisoners. These individuals will have some magical abilities in addition to their watch training: their skills will focus on detection, and their duty will be to raise the alarm at the first sign of trouble, and delay any breakout until reinforcements can arrive. Higher-level spellcasters and other specialists will be on call from the local magicians’ guild and temples.
The doors and locks of special cells are as strong and complex as the city’s resources allow. They may be fitted with traps, and some may be nothing more than traps. Only the jailers know which lock is the real one, and how to turn the key.
An imaginative GM will be able to devise many other protections and complications. A dungeon used to hold prisoners can be every bit as challenging as the kind of dungeon normally associated with fantasy role-playing games.
Justice is Power
The judiciary of smaller towns operates with far less accountability than that of a large town or city, and corrupt magistrates and watch officers can be a formidable foe for a group of strangers passing through. Starting with trumped-up charges, the adventures may find themselves stripped of all their possessions and sentenced to slavery in a nearby mine or quarry; they may be shipped off into slavery elsewhere, or they may find themselves facing a Chaos cult embedded in every corner of the town’s administration, which uses passing travelers as sacrificial victims.
The search for a missing friend can take an unexpected turn if the adventurers arrive in a town to find a magistrate or other official wearing a distinctive piece of jewellery or some other item that belonged to the person they are tracking. Outnumbered by the town watch and trying to prove the guilt of a powerful and respected member of the local community, the party must engage in a game of cat and mouse if they hope to succeed. If their quarry becomes suspicious, the trail goes cold immediately –they are immediately arrested on some trumped-up charge while all evidence of the person they seek is systematically erased.
Part 3 – Graeme’s Opera House Adventure Hooks coming soon!
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