This is a site for discussing roleplaying games. Have fun doing so, but there is one major rule: do not discuss political issues that aren't directly and uniquely related to the subject of the thread and about gaming. While this site is dedicated to free speech, the following will not be tolerated: devolving a thread into unrelated political discussion, sockpuppeting (using multiple and/or bogus accounts), disrupting topics without contributing to them, and posting images that could get someone fired in the workplace (an external link is OK, but clearly mark it as Not Safe For Work, or NSFW). If you receive a warning, please take it seriously and either move on to another topic or steer the discussion back to its original RPG-related theme.
NOTICE: Some online security services are reporting that information for a limited number of users from this site is for sale on the "dark web." As of right now, there is no direct evidence of this, but change your password just to be safe.

Author Topic: Courtroom Drama  (Read 722 times)


  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 3578
Courtroom Drama
« on: January 06, 2020, 09:16:57 PM »
I have just completed the first book of the Age of Ashes campaign and am looking to do a little Downtime roleplaying before throwing the Party through Alseta's Ring **cough**Stargate**cough** into the Mwangi Jungle.

Now one of the Players has an Escaped Slave background and another has the Bounty Hunter background so I was thinking of maybe throwing a little oil in the waters by having a bounty turn up for the escaped slave.  Given that it is a Pathfinder game there is a better then even chance that it will devolve to a fight but there also is a possibility that they pursue a legal option and end up in Court.

Has anyone any good Court room drama examples and/or tips for making a fun session?
There will be poor always,
pathetically struggling,
look at the good things you've got! -  Jesus


  • Smarter than Arduin
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 4117
Courtroom Drama
« Reply #1 on: January 06, 2020, 09:43:46 PM »
There was a somewhat obscure but pretty solid d20 3e-era third party book on this topic called Crime and Punishment by Keith Baker  (Penumbra D20). It has a section on running a courtroom drama.


  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • O
  • Posts: 15360
Courtroom Drama
« Reply #2 on: January 07, 2020, 12:10:50 AM »
Bemusingly. Before D&D was made. A courtroom drama was exactly what played out in a school "Social Sim". Essentially a proto-LARP. Some farmers goods were missing and someone was accused of having taken the produce. Me and some other kids were part of the jury. Some heavy stuff to put pre-teens through.

David Johansen

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • D
  • Posts: 5543
Courtroom Drama
« Reply #3 on: January 07, 2020, 12:18:17 AM »
I wrote a few pages on it for Galaxies in Shadow.

   One an Investigation is complete and an arrest made, comes the trial.  The following rules are intended to represent rational tribunals but other methods can be required in other societies.  Trial by combat, trial by ordeal, and trial by religious means all might exist in some societies.  A particularly fatalistic or indifferent society might even resolve such things with a roll of the dice or similarly random method.  Such things aren’t covered here.
   The method of playing out a trial is a series of success rolls beginning with the case for both parties being presented, then the evidence, and finally the facts and factors involved being summed up.  While it is common for both sides to have their say in each stage particularly biased or unbalanced systems may well restrict one or more stages from one side or the other.  For instance, a society that wants to speed things along might have the prosecution present the case and the evidence and only allow the defendant to make a closing plea.
   In any case, the objective of a trial is to shift the opinion of the judge, jury, council, or automated executioner.  Normally these arbitrators are assumed to begin with an unbiased opinion but the situation could easily be less fair than that.  In a rational, democratic society the worst one is likely to encounter is a biased arbitrator but in a corrupt, totalitarian regime they may even be strongly convinced for one side or the other from the very beginning.   Societal Factors
      Paternalistic   Imprisonment Time doubled but comfortable
      Idealistic   No sentences of torture, death rare
      Sentimental   Emotional Appeals at + 20
      Pacifistic   No sentences or torture or death
      Brutal      All Sentances are torture or death
      Callous   Emotional Appeals at -20
      Efficient   Sentence times halved but no chance of appeal
      Irrational   Punishments are bizarre and symbolic
      Ironic      Punishments fit the crime in amusing ways
      Sadistic   All death sentences and torture are public spectacles
      Practical   No appeals permitted

Determining Bias
   The following guidelines may help.  A corrupt arbitrator that has been bribed is shifted one step  in favour of the highest bidder.  A cowardly arbitrator that has been coerced is shifted one step in favour of the most credible threat.  An arbitrator in an authoritarian regime is automatically shifted one step in favour of the interests of the state.  An arbitrator who knows and dislikes the defendant or either solicitor is shifted on step against that person’s case.  Likewise if they like them their state is shifted favourably.  An arbitrator may also shift for personal reasons like racism or experience with the crime in question.  

Time Frame
   The time given to court proceedings can depend a great deal on the situation. As a general rule, the more obsessed with justice and ethics a society becomes, the less efficient their judicial system gets and the longer the backlog becomes.  It can even reach the point where the time a defendant spends in prison waiting for trial is longer than the sentence.

Time Frame
   Stage         Scheduling
   Pre-Trial Hearing   3d10 hours
   Opening Arguments   1d10 days
   Presenting Evidence   1d10 weeks
   Closing Arguments   1d10 days
   Sentencing      1d10 days

   Efficient System   / 2   
   Inefficient System   x 2

Pre-Trial Hearing
   In some societies a trial is preceded by a short hearing to determine if the case merits the time and resources of a full trial.  If the investigators have gone to court with evidence the arbitrator deems insufficient the case may be dismissed.  This should be handled as a simple contest of skills modified for the quality of the evidence without any consideration for the reliability of witnesses, forensics, and visual recordings, with the prosecution as the aggressor.

Pretrial Hearing
Base Time: 30 minutes
Skill: Appropriate Law Skill verses Appropriate Law Skill
-10 per unreliable witness
-10 per inconclusive piece of data
Exceptional Failure: Censured for wasting the court’s time.
Failure: case thrown out
Marginal Success: case proceeds but Arbitrator biased by one step against.
Success: case proceeds
Exceptional success: case proceeds and Arbitrator biased in favour by one step

Running the Trial
   Each stage of the trial is a contest between the two sides with a victory shifting the State of Arbitration by one step.  If the arbitrator is absolutely in favour of the defendant, there is backlash and public disgust with the prosecuting and investigating parties and other long term repercussions.  If the arbitrator is convinced in favour of the defendant they are acquitted, though a sensational public trial will likely result in lasting doubts and distrust.  The final state of arbitration and the nature, scope, and severity of the crime provide a number of points that are totaled to find the sentence.

Opening Statements
   At the start of the trial the prosecution presents the charges to the court and the defense responds.  In some systems the arbitrator presents the charges and only the defense responds.  This is an excellent opportunity for both sides to set the tone of the following trial.

Opening Statement
Base Time 30 minutes
Oration Skill
Exceptional Failure: Well, the good news is you’ve offended the court.  Case thrown out.
Failure: You need to talk less.  State of arbitration declines one step.
Marginal Success: They get it, time to sit down and shut up.
Success: Even from the outset they can see your point.  State of arbitration improves one step.
Exceptional Success: Brilliant work. State of arbitration improves two steps.
Present Witness
   Memory is a tricky thing and witnesses are less reliable than recordings or hard data.  Even so, a witness can colour and shade the events and give them the appeal of a story as well as putting a human face on the events.  Once the witness is presented the other side gets to cross examine so this is treated as a contest.

Presenting Witnesses
Base Time: 1 hour
Appropriate Law verses Appropriate Law
+40 Confession of Defendant
+20 Confession of Accomplice
+ 20 Reliable Witness
-20 Unreliable Witness
Exceptional Failure: The witness and the lawyer look like idiots, State of Arbitration declines two steps.
Failure: The witness seems dishonest or confused, State of Arbitration declines a step.
Marginal Success: The witness is uninspiring.
Success: The witness is on the ball.  State of Arbitration improves a step.
Exceptional Success: The witness is clear and compelling.  State of Arbitration improves two steps.

Presenting Evidence
   Evidence is presented by an expert in the field with the lawyers asking questions particular to the case.  The skill used depends on the field.  History, Accounting, Criminology and Forensics are all common but more esoteric evidence is not unheard of.  The other side then gets to try and discredit the evidence.

Present Evidence
Base Time: 1 hour
Appropriate Skill verses Logic
+20 Conclusive Evidence
+20 Reliable Visual Recording
+10 Unreliable Visual Recording
- 10 Circumstantial Evidence
- 10 Unreliable Evidence
Exceptional Failure: Nonsense and gibberish! State of Arbitration declines two steps.
Failure: That doesn’t sound right.  State of Arbitration declines one step.
Marginal Success: From their blank stares, that was too much for the jury.
Success: Excellent!  They see reason.  State of Arbitration advances one step.
Exceptional success: True clarity is attained.  State of Arbitration advances two steps.

Closing Statements
   At the end of the trial both sides sum up their cases before the arbitration determines the outcome and sentence if any.  Each lawyer can decide whether to attempt an emotional, legal, or evidence based approach to the closing statement.

Closing Statement
Base Time: 30 minutes
Emotional Appeal: Oration Skill
Legal Argument: Appropriate Law Skill
Evidence Based: Criminology or Forensics Skill
+ 10 per Step Arbitrator is in your favour
-10 per Step Arbitrator is against you
Exceptional Failure: That wasn’t what you meant to say! State of Arbitration declines two steps.
Failure: Choke at the end.  State of Arbitration declines one step.
Marginal Success: There’s that dead stare again.  You need a vacation.
Success: The look in their eyes lets you sit down with confidence.  State of Arbitration improves one step.
Exceptional success: Not a dry eye in the place.  Some day they’ll make movies about this.  State of Arbitration improves two steps.

   To find the final sentence total the points provided on the following list, starting with the final State of Arbitration, the nature and severity of the crime, and the breadth of its impact.

   Final State of Arbitration
      na   Absolutely  In Favour of  Defendant
      na   Convinced In Favour of  Defendant
      0   Biased In Favour of Defendant
      1   Unbiased
      2   Biased In Favour of Prosecution
      3   Convinced In Favour of Prosecution
      4   Absolutely In Favour of Prosecution
      1   Disturbance      
      2   Theft
      3   Property Damage
      4   Harm
      1   Petty      Noise, Day’s Salary, Littering, Abuse
      2   Minor       Libel, Week’s Salary, Personal Property, Assault
      3   Major      Perjury, Year’s Salary, Group Property, Attempted Murder
      4   Extreme   Treason, National Treasure, State Property, Murder
      1   Individual
      2   Small Group
      3   Large Group
      4   Region
   Degree of Punishment / Resolution
      1 - 2      Therapy   
      3 - 4      Fine or Restitution
      5 - 6      Fine or Restitution + Expenses   
      7 - 8      1 -5 years Imprisonment + Therapy
      9 -10      1 - 5 years Imprisonment
      11 - 12   6 - 10 years Imprisonment + Torture
      13 - 14   11 - 20 years Imprisonment + Torture
      15 - 16   Life Imprisonment or Death
      17 -18      Life Imprisonment with no parole or Death + Torture

   If either side can show proof of bias or error in an appeal hearing they can go to trial again.  Not all societies allow appeals as they are an expensive and time consuming activity.  An appeal is much the same as a pre-trial hearing.

Appropriate Law
+ 10 per inconclusive piece of evidence
+10 per unreliable witness:
+10 per step of judicial bias
Exceptional Failure: Well, that was ham fisted.  Appeal denied and the entire judicial system is biased against you by one step for life.
Failure: appeal denied
Marginal Success: Appeal approved but arbitration biased against you by one step.
Success: Appeal approved
Exceptional Success: Appeal approved and Arbitration biased in your favour by one step.
« Last Edit: January 07, 2020, 12:23:41 AM by David Johansen »
Fantasy Adventure Comic, games, and more


  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 3578
Courtroom Drama
« Reply #4 on: January 07, 2020, 12:52:31 AM »
That is a comprehensive procedure David  :eek:
There will be poor always,
pathetically struggling,
look at the good things you've got! -  Jesus

David Johansen

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • D
  • Posts: 5543
Courtroom Drama
« Reply #5 on: January 07, 2020, 09:12:55 AM »
Thanks, there's also stuff for running capers and investigations.  Really the idea of covering more than combat and character creation has made the game a real slog to write.
Fantasy Adventure Comic, games, and more


  • Administrator - The Final Boss of Internet Shitlords
  • Administrator
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 47403
Courtroom Drama
« Reply #6 on: January 11, 2020, 07:22:26 AM »
Well, I assume you were looking for modern stuff. But Lion & Dragon has a full set of mechanics for resolving a medieval court-case.
LION & DRAGON: Medieval-Authentic OSR Roleplaying is available now! You only THINK you've played 'medieval fantasy' until you play L&D.

My Blog:
The most famous uruguayan gaming blog on the planet!

Check out my short OSR supplements series; The RPGPundit Presents!

Dark Albion: The Rose War! The OSR fantasy setting of the history that inspired Shakespeare and Martin alike.
Also available in Variant Cover form!
Also, now with the CULTS OF CHAOS cult-generation sourcebook

Arrows of Indra: The Old-School Epic Indian RPG!
NOW AVAILABLE: AoI in print form

The new Diceless RPG of multiversal power, adventure and intrigue, now available.


  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • O
  • Posts: 15360
Courtroom Drama
« Reply #7 on: January 11, 2020, 01:33:38 PM »
Mechanics make you a court cripple!


  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 3578
Courtroom Drama
« Reply #8 on: January 12, 2020, 06:27:10 PM »
Quote from: Omega;1118816
Mechanics make you a court cripple!

Ha, true.

Well in the end it turns out that he was an Emancipated Slave rather then an Escaped Slave so I will keep that Court Drama in my pocket until a later date.

Court Adjourned.
There will be poor always,
pathetically struggling,
look at the good things you've got! -  Jesus


  • RPG Evangelist
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 623
Courtroom Drama
« Reply #9 on: January 14, 2020, 12:26:34 PM »
I ran a sort of courtroom drama adventure in a small village, where the village's chief adviser to the village leader was actually an evil Drow in disguise. The PCs could easily see through the illusion, but had to convince the villagers somehow, by collecting evidence to support their case. The villagers were all otherwise peaceful and good and stuff, but were being led to perform evil acts unbeknownst to themselves.

One of the keys for me was to avoid a violent solution where the players simply slay the adviser and laugh off the villagers' feeble response. So while the villagers were mostly harmless individually, I gave them a mild telekinetic power that could be used in concert to multiply its effect. Together they were more than strong enough to take out the PCs.

The PCs managed to find the physical clues they needed, convinced the village of the Drow's nefariousness, and won the hearts of the village (who much later in the campaign showed up to rescue the PCs from a perilous situation nearby).
Old School? Back in my day we just called it "School."