The legal system in our setting is very different from the legal structure of the real-life modern world. This page is intended to help set player expectations for what is the current “norm” in the setting; for that reason, it sometimes provides comparisons to modern American legal structures, to highlight differences. Of course, your character may have their own views, positive or negative, on this legal structure. This structure has no direct system mechanics; it is maintained and perpetuated through the actions of characters, both PC and NPC.
Law and Authority
There are three sources of legal authority in Luisant: rulership, religion, and community. These are intertwined due to centuries of tradition. None is explicitly and universally more important – though individual characters usually have an opinion on which is “most important”. A priest might claim that all authority ultimately comes from God, or a noble might claim that they have the final say on any disagreement in the village.
The law of rulership is simply the orders of the Noble house that commands the territory. The head of the house has supreme authority, and lesser members of the house have authority delegated from that head. Any order or edict by the Nobles has the full force of this law. It usually applies to fulfilling the Noble’s desires, to the large-scale and long-term operation of the town, to resource management, and to dealing with external threats.
The law of religion comes from the religion’s beliefs of what the Divine commands. For Benalians, this is the law of God, as expressed through the words of Benalus, the Testimonium, and the Church. For Vecatrans, this is the law of Vecatra, as expressed through the world and interpreted by the Mothers. Priests of a given religion wield this authority. It usually applies to spiritual matters and interactions with spiritual entities.
The law of the community is the set of the agreements, understandings, and traditions established in the village over centuries. Authority is derived from respect and trust earned over the course of years. This authority is wielded by elders, widely-respected figures, and sometimes whole gatherings of villagers who come together to solve a problem. It usually applies to day-to-day life and to common causes of disputes, such as whose turn it is to use a shared tool, or how to properly arrange a marriage.
The Law in Practice
From the perspective of common folk, “law” rarely comes up as an explicit concept. Everyone understands the basic rules that the village lives by. Do what the noble says; do what your priest (or Mother) says; don’t cause a problem for the community.
Most ordinary peasants do not think of the law in the detailed, structured way laid out in “Law and Authority”, and don’t explicitly differentiate between different kinds of authority; they just know who they’re supposed to listen to. More educated or philosophically-minded people might recognize some of these structures.
There are some people who are tasked with judging and/or enforcing law. These jobs are often fluid. In quiet times, there might be no “judge” at all; conflicts are brought directly to town elders, or to a noble. In more turbulent times, the noble might appoint a judge – or several judges. Or perhaps the town might come together and select a person who is considered to have good judgement, or someone might volunteer to resolve disputes and be generally approved by the community.
Most “legal cases” are either resolution of a dispute, or investigation and punishment of a misdeed (sometimes both).
The Law is Not a Book
Most law is not written down; there are few legal codes, and there is almost none of the orderly legal procedure that a modern person would be accustomed to. Detailed legal codes and procedures do exist in the wider world – but they are the purview of larger, denser, more civilized cities.
What constitutes a crime, what punishments are appropriate, and how to “fairly” resolve a conflict – these are all decided on a case-by-case basis. That said, there are traditions that guide the boundaries of what might be reasonable for each. This forms what might be called “common law”. These traditions are not inviolate, but breaking them would cause a stir.
To the extent that there are “rules”, they are either broad statements based in tradition & religious practice, or temporary orders by a specific person of authority. Examples of the former: murder, theft, disrespect of the dead; examples of the latter: a noble’s command that “due to a harsh winter and few animals, no one hunter may kill more than one deer a week”.
Conflicts of Authority
The sources of authority do not always agree. The most obvious conflict is between Vecatran and Benalian religious authority – but other conflicts can arise. A noble might order a punishment that a priest thinks is excessive, or insufficient. The members of the community might decide that an appointed judge is making decisions well outside the traditions of common law.
Unlike a modern legal system, there is no clear “path of appeal”. There is no Supreme Court. Instead, each conflict must be navigated by the people involved. The actions and choices of the characters – both PC and NPC – will decide the outcome in each individual case.
Some societies use an adversarial justice system – where each case is structured as “X vs Y”, where there is a distinction between prosecutors and defenders. This approach is not used in Luisant, although it is known in the larger nation of Cappacione. The justice system is inquisitorial – whoever is the judge has the authority and responsibility to find out the truth of the matter, rather than just being a neutral party between two opposing sides. The concept of a neutral arbitrator is present – this is a role sometimes taken by Mithrihim priests, for instance – but is not the common or “default” way to resolve disputes, and rarely applies to “misdeeds” such as murder.
In practice, this means the judge (or group of judges, as the case may be) will do some investigation on their own, will order investigation by others (often a knight or members of the town militia), and will hear testimony from anyone who claims to know something about the case.
Most cases are decided based simply on testimony. When testimony conflicts, a judge typically relies on reputation to decide whom to believe. Therefore, those who have established a reputation for honor and honesty will guard that reputation carefully.
Physical evidence is much less common, and when it is used, it is typically second-hand via testimony. Examples: a guard saying “I saw footprints leading from the broken window to Old Man Marten’s house”, or a healer saying “I examined the body and determined it had been poisoned”.
Punishments for rule-breaking, such as violating a religion’s prohibition, usually impose some burden or suffering upon the rule-breaker. Punishments for harming another usually involve some kind of restitution, when possible. These are frequently combined. Punishments are almost always public – shaming the offender is an implicit part of the punishment, and the visible punishment serves to reinforce the ways of the culture by showing what happens when one goes against it.
Explicit fines are quite rare, as most peasants have little physical coin. Restitution in the form of goods or services, by comparison, is quite common. This is typically based on the offense (steal a keg of ale, give back two kegs of ale) or on the profession of the offender (a blacksmith who is found to have wronged someone may be required to do custom work for them.)
There is no concept of jail or prison as a punishment; the village does not have any sort of facility for long-term imprisonment. There is a dungeon in the Noble manor, but it is intended as a temporary holding facility and/or for the interrogation of hypothetical prisoners of war. It is also almost entirely unused, typically going years without any “guests”.
Spiritual offenses typically have punishments oriented toward the spirit. Benalian priests give atonements meant to help align the offender to God’s will; Vecatran communities have their own ways of dealing with offenders, generally designed to serve the community and the will of Vecatra.
More serious crimes may result in physical punishments – beatings, whippings, or even maiming. The most grave crimes can be punished by death or exile.
Some punishments are long-standing traditions, often with roots in older ways. Others are influenced by newer ideas in the last century or so.