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Legal Codes

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A guide on creating legal codes for games, history, examples, and why bother?

Creating Legal codes for game worlds.

  When in game, players often traverse multiple countries.
This is true for nearly all kinds of game, gameworld, etc.
By creating peculiar laws for nations and cities in game, you add a sense of realism that some may appreciate, but more importantly provide a break from monotony, and a sense of territorial distinction.

  In Ancient (earth) history, legal codes generally and generically speaking came from one of two sources: Either religious dictate, which was often orally transmitted, and by way of a monarchs. These are both ideal models for the origin of a code, as they show a realistic influence on content. When a king decides to write out his laws, they often outlive his dynasty, even civilization. When laws are religious in origin, they are often known and accepted by the populous as being lived, not obeyed, and are NEVER broken.

  The fact is, it is unreasonable to attempt a completely unique, comprehensive, and working legal code or system for each individual place. Influences from a fallen (or current) empire could keep common themes in the various codes. Also, many ancient codes were simple, relatively small compared to the massive size of the current american system. That is what brings me to the next point.

  Some issues are bigger than others. While nearly all nations will punish murder, some may treat some people (locals, elves, nobles, slaves, etc.) as better or worse, and it may be more criminal to kill one person than the next. In early roman law, the right of “pater familis” allowed the father of a house to do whatever he wanted, including murder, to his family and wife under his roof without penalty as they were seen as his property. Most nations will penalize theft, but only highly modern societies are likely to have several social benefit programs in place. Rape may not even be criminal, being seen as a interpersonal conflict, or a right of one gender, social class, and so on. The “age of consent” may vary by region, or may not exist. Alternately, it could be that sex is one age, drinking another, gambling another, etc. The concept of a “legal drinking age”, mind you, is relatively new here on earth, and in colonial america children drank rum on a regular basis.

  When creating a set of laws for your game there are a few ways to make the process easier and more realistic.

- consider basing it on an old earth culture. I admit, I use a over-simplified form of the old irish “brehon laws” as a template for in game laws when short on time and inventing a new nation. It isn’t original whatsoever, but most of my players don’t care, or notice. In fact, some of my players depend on the concept of “honor value” payed to a clan of the murdered, as it prevents jail or death for them.
      When being original (the ideal situation)
- Focus on the big things first. Is murder murder, or is some murder more murder? Is it punished by death, or not?
Is rape punished? how important are property issues?
Does intent affect consequence? what is the age of consent?
does it vary with gender? Are there slaves, peasants, serfs, etc. ? Is the law different regarding them?

- what is the common form of punishment? Is it flogging, fines, exile, imprisonment, death, torture, public shame, or something else maybe?

- Is bribery expected, or is it taboo?

- which is worse, treason against family(aka clan, tribe), or treason against country? Does the law distinguish between government and country, or are they seen as the same?

- Does the law make unusual distinction between locals and foreigners?

- are certain groups untouchable?

- does the law see people as citizens (having rights) or as subjects?

- Are there documents (similar to constitution) protecting the people and limiting government, and if so, are they well known, penetrating the nations culture?

Once you have written the laws regarding the big issues, you can then work on things less urgent (e.g., copyright permanence, permits, social programs, etc.)
It is Important to realize that the laws of most nations are rooted in the beliefs and needs thereof. A history of your nation should be considered an extremely important resource and influence on it’s legal subtleties.

  It is equally important to determine the nature of legal enforcement. Are the police civilian, or military? Are there local PDs, or is it all centralized? Are there safeguards in such agencies to prevent and punish brutality, excessive force, and corruption? Are bounty hunters considered a bonified form of enforcement?

  Some players may attempt coups in a nation whose laws they see as injust and/or inconvenient. It is important that there be measures in place to prevent and punish treachery of this sort. Any player who is so arrogant to arbitrarily change, or attempt to change, the culture or laws of an established realm, is not a rebel, but rather a munchkin. (Conversely, a morally motivated rebellion, or unjust laws, could be a decent plot. It just should be used
sparingly and cautiously.)

  I hope that this article is not a waste of time. I hope that the laws of my own campaigns will pale in comparison to those of the other citadel brehons. I may or may not publish Sample codes, but if so, that will be a different article.



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Comments ( 6 )
Commenters gain extra XP from Author votes.

Druid_Wiking
February 15, 2006, 15:38
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Updated: still finishing writing.
Druid_Wiking
February 17, 2006, 15:40
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Updated: made viewable
Druid_Wiking
February 22, 2006, 15:30
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Updated: finishing text.
Voted Scrasamax
February 22, 2006, 16:28
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This is a valid point Druid, many countries have radically different laws from one another. Another thing to consider is the allowance of weapons from one country to the next, and things like the sumptuary laws that allowed only people of certain station to wear certain fabrics or colors and people of lower station attempting to wear or display these were punished for their transgression.

Another thing to consider is that long term incarceration for 'mundane' crimes is a rather new innovation. In ye olden times, rehabilitation was non-existant. Exile or execution were prime punishments for major crimes and the rest were handled with public beatings, shaming, and other things, or acts of penance by teh criminal. Other countries marked criminals, branding or cutting off the hands of a thief.

Rape, however, is a touchy matter. it should only be brought up in a game context if the playing group is mature enough to handle it with the severity it deserves. Careless handling of this topic can quickly alienate many people, especially those of the female persuasion.
Druid_Wiking
February 23, 2006, 14:50
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Updated: self censored
Voted valadaar
May 25, 2013, 21:11
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This is a good idea, though for brevity i would only detail those interesting bits, which differ from the established norm, which could potentially enter play.

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