Imperial law is extensive and complicated. This chapter gives DMs an idea of what is and isn’t legal, how the authorities deal with crimes, and the various punishments handed down by the courts.

Crime poses probably the greatest problem in Ptolus today. Crime has worsened over the last two decades, most noticeably in the last five years. Many blame the lawlessness encouraged by “delver culture.” Others blame the rising power of the city’s criminal organizations. The ranks of the Watch increase each year, but the Commissar believes it is better to suffer some controlled amount of crime than risk open warfare with such formidable forces as the Balacazar family and the Killraven Crime League— or worse yet, both at the same time.

THE LAW

Ptolus operates under Imperial law, which places the Commissar, as the Emperor’s representative, as the ultimate judge in all legal affairs. However, the Commissar almost never exercises this privilege, instead allowing the courts to dispense justice in his name. The Commissar’s position also makes him the ultimate authority in enforcing the law, which is something he does do, through his administration of the City Watch and his own personal military force known as the Commissar’s Men, not to mention the covert Imperial Eyes. In times of serious public disorder, such as a riot, or other emergency (a particularly serious fire raging through dozens of buildings, for example), the Commissar takes direct control of the city’s forces to deal with it. In fact, he often goes right to the site of the trouble and leads his people “in the field,” as it were, just like he did when he was a military general years ago.

DM Tips

Typically, a recidivist thief has his forehead branded to warn potential victims. Sometimes a pickpocket has a finger removed, and castration as punishment for serial rapists is actually standard in the city.

Bounties on well-known criminals are commonplace. Usually the Empire puts up the reward money, but sometimes the victim or the victim’s family will do so. Earning a bounty involves actually bringing a criminal to justice—physically. Telling the authorities where the criminal can be found usually earns one a tenth of the posted bounty.

It’s dangerous to try to equate the City Watch with a modern police force. They are closer to an occupying military force and are more interested in order than justice, and more interested in the well-being of the city as a whole than in the needs of a particular citizen.

IMPERIAL LAW

Imperial law is codified within the Vast Codex, a series of twenty-three volumes totaling more than twelve thousand pages—over ten thousand discrete laws, regulations, edicts, and codes. This complex system of rules covers specific cases rather than providing general guidelines. Imperial law affords greater rights and freedoms to Imperial citizens than to noncitizens, and greater rights and freedoms to Imperial officials (including priests of Lothian) than to Imperial citizens.

PTOLUS LAW

Thanks to a Commissar who understands the importance of tradition (and its value in keeping the people happy), Ptolus observes some modicum of traditional Palastani law. This means, for example, that members of the nobility are afforded the same privileges under the law as Imperial officials. So are members of the City Council. It also means that occasionally criminals are branded or even mutilated as part of their punishment, even though such sentences are not part of the Vast Codex.

THE PROCESS OF LAW

From crime to punishment, the process of law typically follows four steps.

1. A crime is observed, reported, or investigated.

2. The criminal is hunted down and apprehended. He is placed in a jail at one of the Watchhouses. If the appropriate punishment for his crime is a fine, he can pay it at any time to secure his release.

3. The criminal is brought to trial, typically within one to two weeks.

4. The criminal is fined, sent to the Prison, or executed.

Watchhouses

A typical Watchhouse; for details, see page 151. You can find the Watchhouse for each district on the poster map of the city and the district maps in Part III by looking for this icon:

OBSERVING CRIMES

A City Watch guard observing a crime has the authority to apprehend and detain the criminal immediately. If the criminal resists, the guard can use lethal force to deal with him, if necessary. Brutality to criminals and even suspected criminals is expected.

The Sisterhood of Silence has the same authority as the City Watch when it comes to apprehending criminals observed committing a crime. The Sisterhood does not detain criminals, however, but turns them over to the custody of the City Watch.

REPORTING CRIMES

If a citizen goes to a Watchhouse or finds a guard on the street, he can report a crime he has seen. (Noncitizens can report crimes, but the city guards are under no compunction to act.) The City Watch takes the person’s statement. If the chance to apprehend the accused is high (which is to say, the crime is occurring at the time), the members of the Watch act immediately. Otherwise, they take the report and thank the person but make no assurances that anything will be done. If the citizen reporting the crime is the victim of the crime, he is usually given more attention than someone who is just a witness.

Watchhouses

A typical Watchhouse; for details, see page 151. You can find the Watchhouse for each district on the poster map of the city and the district maps in Part III by looking for this icon:

The Reality of the Situation

The wheels of justice turn slowly. The City Watch exists first and foremost to preserve order—stopping crime, let alone investigating crime, is a secondary concern. Reporting a crime or providing information about a criminal does not automatically get results. Other factors include the current manpower level of the local Watchhouse and the personalities involved. Ptolus is an unabashedly classist society. The Watch will almost certainly ignore a noncitizen accusing a wealthy citizen of a crime. A wealthy citizen reporting a crime gets better results than someone without wealth or prestige to back her up.

Say the player characters learn of the Ennin slaver base in the Docks and report that location to the City Watch. The Watch members will use the information as they see fit, but they will not necessarily storm the place. In fact, almost assuredly they will not.

This is not to say that the Watch is entirely corrupt, and certainly not that it is incompetent. Its priorities, however, may not always be the same as those of a victim of or witness to a crime.

Watchhouses

A typical Watchhouse; for details, see page 151. You can find the Watchhouse for each district on the poster map of the city and the district maps in Part III by looking for this icon:

The Sisterhood of Silence

The Sisterhood of Silence does not take statements or listen to reports of a crime, unless that crime is occurring at that very moment. Those who come to the Priory of Introspection to make a report are turned away unheard. Approaching a Sister and telling her that you saw a man steal an apple from an applecart twenty minutes ago obtains no results, but if you tell her that there’s a woman setting fire to the pub around the corner right this moment, she’s likely to run off to find her. The Sisterhood cannot allow itself to become entangled in disputes and potentially false accusations. Mainly, they apprehend criminals whom they observe breaking the law, and nothing more. That’s why they focus so much on patrols.

CRIMINAL INVESTIGATIONS

It can’t be stressed enough: The members of the City Watch don’t really investigate crimes, at least not in the modern sense. They might question witnesses, but they don’t look for clues. Mostly, they just care about stopping crimes as—or before—they happen.

One could say, as many have, that justice under Imperial law is extremely precarious. It is, in fact, frightfully easy for a person to be blamed for a crime unjustly, particularly if the person belongs to the lower classes or is a noncitizen.

Take the example of a high-stakes game of Dragonscales. During the game, one player drops dead, the victim of poison (revealed through a Heal check or a detect poison spell). The other player immediately becomes a suspect for the murder. If the suspect has a criminal history known to the City Watch, he’ll likely be arrested and detained. If not, he might still be arrested and detained if he is not a citizen with a respectable job or a family. And it would just take one person claiming to have seen the suspect put something in the victim’s drink for even an upstanding citizen to be arrested. Arresting an upper-class citizen, or an official (including a priest of the Church) would require more substantial evidence, however.

The point is that, either way, there is little in the way of an investigation. The person who seems most likely to be guilty (if anyone) is assumed to be just that; the word of one eyewitness is sometimes all it takes to send a person to prison for decades.

Once detained, a suspect might be questioned or interrogated. The Watch may beat or torture a lower-class suspect, particularly if he is thought to have committed a particularly heinous crime. Some suspects are questioned under the effects of a zone of truth or discern lies spell cast by a cleric of Lothian—usually an itinerant priest on retainer of the City Courts, but in truth any cleric will do. This process is expensive (the courts must pay the cleric), and thus not undertaken lightly. No one requests magical assistance in cases involving minor crimes unless the suspect is prominent in some way. And even so, if the divination reveals the suspect’s innocence, the interrogators ask him further questions about other possible crimes he may have committed, based on some digging they did ahead of time. The City Courts want to get their money’s worth—if they pay for a spell to be cast, they want a conviction. This is why even innocent people rarely demand a divination to reveal their innocence.

A cleric can volunteer to cast the divinations necessary to ascertain truth, even if it is not requested. In such a case, however, the authorities also scrutinize the caster closely. If she is a friend of the suspect, the results of the spell may be called into question. This goes double if the cleric is not a Lothianite—or if the caster is not a cleric at all, but a wizard casting detect thoughts, for example.

And in the end, even the word of a cleric of Lothian is not beyond reproach. The courts are well aware that every kind of spell has its counter, and that the cleric herself might be controlled or charmed to say something she otherwise would not. Though most clerics called to perform these duties check for such counters, the system is not foolproof.

Since real criminal investigations are rare, this means that the player characters can break into a crime lord’s safe house, kill all the thugs and cutthroats inside, and—as long as they make good on their escape before the Watch shows up—they can get away without fear of punishment.

It is possible for an individual to hire a freelance investigator (often a spellcaster with access to divinatory magic) to look into a crime. Most charge 10 gp to 50 gp per day, plus the cost of spells, so this is a service available only to the wealthy. The findings of such an investigator do carry weight in a trial, though, so it may be money well spent.

APPREHENDING CRIMINALS

As previously stated, the City Watch (and the Sisterhood of Silence) can use any amount of force deemed necessary to apprehend and detain a criminal. The law affords them great leeway in committing any act in the name of doing their duty.

The Watch guards have considerable discretion at this stage of the process to arrest whom they choose. This means that if a person holding a bloody sword is found standing over the body of some half-fiend sorcerer who was about make a human sacrifice to one of the Demon Gods, they’re unlikely to arrest the murderer. In other words, if player characters are careful, kill mainly evil foes, and don’t cause too much destruction, they will rarely have to worry about being arrested (see the “Vigilante Justice” sidebar as well).

The City Watch usually puts captured prisoners in manacles, with a black hood over their heads to help disorient (and therefore control) them. Then they march them to the nearest Watchhouse and put them in a small and ill-kept jail cell. For some offenses, a criminal can immediately pay a fine and leave, but in the case of a drunk apprehended in a brawl or similar misconduct, the Watch captain may order a mandatory night in a cell on top of the fine.

Jailers frequently commit acts of brutality against prisoners, often in the name of justice, retribution on behalf of a victim, or even rehabilitation.

Vigilante Justice

The concept of citizens “taking the law into their own hands” is not considered a bad thing in Ptolus. Local authorities, from the lowest-ranking guard to the Commissar himself, are quite practical in this regard. In an effort to maintain order, they do what’s best for the city rather than strictly uphold all the laws of the Vast Codex. If an angry mob finds and lynches a kidnapper of children, the authorities not only don’t intervene, they don’t make arrests. They go out of their way not to get involved.

This means an adventuring group can slay a Vai assassin or a human-sacrificing cultist without fear of the law. In most cases, the City Watch would rather not even know about it, to avoid the bureaucratic paperwork. The guards are happy to look the other way in such instances.