No society has ever existed without some form of legal system to govern its operation. Even the most barbaric cultures had laws, taboos, customs, and traditions to set out prescribed and accepted behaviours, complete with a range of persuasions and punishments to bring wrong-thinking individuals into line. Some players chafe at the idea that there should be any restraints on their behaviour in a 'fantasy' world. Consider, however, that a Thievish Character has no meaning in a world without law. Fart of the fun of being a Thief is experiencing the adrenalin surges that come with the chance of being caught. When one considers the punishments prescribed in feudal law for thievery, a Thief has full justification for being a bit nervous. But laws apply to all Characters. The fact that Someone Else is in charge acts as a brake on the Player who thinks he can bully his way through. Put in feudal terms, a nobleman reserved the right to shear his sheep to himself. He resented poachers, in his demesne. Did anyone ever wonder why rough and tough barbarians like Conan the Conqueror were always on the move in fantasy fiction? The answer is that they offended against local law and order. Notice also how devoted to maintaining the laws such lawless characters become the moment they succeed to the position of Overlord! If one desires to take on all of society, fine. But the law represents the prevailing views of what is right and wrong in society.
High Justice is a right reserved to the nobility and favoured Knights. In some realms, it is reserved to the King alone and his appointed just ices. High Crimes carry the death penalty.
Because of the high station of the nobility, the only crimes they can be accused of under this form of justice are treason, rebellion, or conspiracy against a liege lord. The accused can elect for Trial by Combat a 1'Outrance or trial by court. Penalties are:
1 Temporary loss of Honour. Dishonour could last for 1 month to 1 year.
2 Disgrace Permanent loss of Honour), subject to performance of some great deed to restore that Honour.
3 Disgrace and loss of lands.
4 Disgrace, loss of lands, and banishment.
If a noble vassal is treated unfairly, he could stage an honourable rebellion against his suzerain. The ultimate rule, however, is that he win his fight. Losing is dangerous to one's health in such cases. At the same time, an Overlord must be able to prove charges levelled against a vassal. The feudal bonds are based on mutual trust and good faith. Vassals take wilful charges against one of their fellows as cause to examine their own loyalty.
Low Justice or Common Justice was largely reserved to the commoners and is administered by the King's Justices or by Barons in their own private courts. There are four distinct groups of crimes in this area:
1. HIGH CRIMES All crimes in this section carry the death penalty:
TREASON, REBELLION, CONSPIRACY, & ESPIONAGE are punishable by hanging, drawing and quartering.
MURDER is punishable by hanging by the neck until dead.
POISONING is punishable by burning at the stake.
CANNIBALISM & SKINNING BODIES is punishable by being thrown to wild dogs or burning at the stake.
PERJURY is punishable by hanging by the neck until dead.
DESECRATION OF A TEMPLE OR HOLY PLACE is punishable by burning at the stake.
ARSON is punishable by death by hanging or burning at the stake.
SMUGGLING is punishable by a fine no less than 1 silver piece, and no more than 100SP (plus confiscation of all goods), 36 lashes, or death by hanging, depending on the severity of the offence and the number of convictions. [A 'lash' requires a CON Roll at -3 or a point of Body damage is suffered.]
RIDING A HORSE is punishable by 10 lashes. Repeated offences are seen as lese majeste and are punishable by death by hanging. However. Petit Sergeants and wealthy commoners may be granted special rights in this regard. Of course, Knights and members of the military are exempt.
STRIKING A FOOL is punishable by 5 lashes and a day in the stocks. Feeble-minded folk are protected from abuse. Unusually brutal treatment may merit the death penalty (hanging).
DRAWING WEAPON ON GENTILITY is punishable by death by hanging, drawing and quartering for rebellion- if the offender survives the wrath of the Knight or Noble so insulted.
ASSAULT carries a penalty of 20 lashes. If blood is shed or if there is a maiming or serious wounding, the penalty may be death by hanging.
2. THEFT carries a variety of punishments, depending upon the offence:
PIRACY carries the punishment of death by hanging or by 1000 lashes
HORSE THEFT is punishable by death by hanging.
THEFT OF PEPPER OR SILK is punishable by cutting of the throat
ROBBERY ON THE KING'S HIGHROAD is punishable by death by hanging.
POACHING IN THE ROYAL FOREST is punishable by loss of a hand. The same is true of poaching in a forest belonging to a noble.
SLAYING OF A KING'S DEER is punishable by death by flaying.
THEFT OF A BEAST OF BURDEN is punishable by 24 lashes.
CATTLE LIFTING is punishable by 24 lashes.
MUGGING is punishable by 24 lashes. A second offence brings loss of a hand and branding. A third offence carries the penalty of death by hanging. If blood is shed, 'Assault with intent to wound' is charged.
CUTPURSE is punishable by 24 lashes. A second offence brings loss of a hand and branding. A third offence carries the penalty of death by hanging. The offense includes all forms of non-violent theft from the owner's person.
BURGLARY is punishable by 36 lashes. A second offence brings loss of hand and branding. A third offence carries the penalty of death by hanging. All forms of breaking and illegal entry are included, and actual theft need not be proved, only the entry itself.
STEALING is punishable by 12 lashes. The offence includes theft of items under the value of 5SP [C&S] from shop stalls, yards, etc.
3. TORTS or injury to person or property include both intentional and negligent damage. Nobles may bring actions against each other for torts and may also do so on behalf of vassals or common rank.
DESTRUCTION OF PROPERTY brings full restitution or compensation if unintentional and double or triple damages (punitive) if intentional. Commoners may also receive up to 24 lashes for intentions' damage.
INJURY TO PERSON brings compensation. A commoner receives 10SP + 1d6 SP per body point lost [C&S]. A noble receives 1 GP + d10 GP per body point lost (tripled for titled nobles) [C&S]. if the offence was deliberate. a commoner may also be charged with Assault. A deliberate offence by a commoner against a noble is Rebellion. Nobles charged with the offence will always insist on Trial by Combat, as such matters are affairs of honour.
REPLEVIN is an action to recover property in the possession of another. Nobles are forced to resort to it if they are not prepared to go to private war against another noble. If the property cannot be restored to the owner in fit condition, damages will be awarded.
4. BUSINESS LAW governs most transactions:
FRAUD is any false representation of goods or making false promises which lead to financial loss to the victim. Penalties tend to be 1-3 times the profit made on the deal plus restitution or full compensation to the victim.
DEBT is failure to pay what one owes in the agreed time period. The aggrieved party may sue for payment. This may result in the seizure of money, lands, cattle, or other goods to secure the repayment. Nobles secure their debts with sealed deeds (promises) which even a commoner can enforce in a Royal Court. Impoverished commoners can be forced into service to repay debts. Refusal to make enforced payment by service is punishable by death if the debtor runs away.
BREACH OF CONTRACT is failure to live up to one's word, which need not be written down, only witnessed to be an oral contract. The Court will enforce the recovery of financial losses or order the terms of the agreement to be carried out in full.
In addition certain Lordships enforce local bye-laws in their own area. For example, the following apply in the demesne of Lord Faradin's Hold:
ENEMIES OF DWARVENKIND are outlaw and may be legally slain on sight (as Escheat). This includes goblins, evil giants and any named individual who commits heinous crimes.
SUMMONING OUTER ENTITIES OR DARK SPIRITS is punishable by burning at the stake (as Desecration).
ANIMATING THE DEAD is punishable by drowning in holy water (c.f. Cannibalism).
RACIALLY AGGRAVATED ASSAULT against dwarves or humans is punishable by death by hanging or outlawry (as Serious Assault).
MAGICALLY CURSING or TRANSFORMING THE BODY or ENTHRALLING THE MIND of a person without their or their Lord's permission are punishable by 20 lashes or a fine of 20GP or, in cases where serious detriment results, death by hanging (c.f. Assault).
MIND-READING or SCRYING without permission are punishable by 36 lashes, or loss of hand and branding for a 2nd offence, or death by hanging for a 3rd offence (as Burglary).
RACIAL ABUSE against dwarves or humans is punishable by 8 lashes or a fine of 8GP (c.f. Striking a Fool). Repetition leads to greater punishments (though previous offences may be stricken from the record by performing great service for the fief). A 2nd offence brings both the lashing and the fine (or a year's bonded labour). A 3rd offence results in the offender being named an Enemy of Dwarvenkind (i.e. outlaw).
In return for a grant of land, a vassal assumed obligations to his Lord, These obligations were attached to his title to the holding and failure to discharge them could result in dishonour and loss of the fief. The Overlord was also obligated to guarantee the right of his vassal to hold and enjoy the lands granted to him.
Players should note that many of the rules governing the behaviour of Chivalric Characters are based in the actual customs and laws of feudal society. Characters who do not conduct themselves as proper Knights are a travesty of Chivalry and, at best, appear silly and ignorant representations of a real way of life and thinking,
A vassal is obliged to provide fighting men for 4060 days when his lord goes to war. (In C&S, this means 1/3 of the basic forces possessed, excluding Serfs). All costs are at the vassal's expense for the period, after which everyone goes on mercenary pay provided by the Overlord or else returns home.
Instead of military service, a Knight can pay the cost of hiring mercenaries for the number of troops owed.
When an Overlord or his vassal is attacked, each is under a strict obligation to come to the aid of the other. No time limit is set on this form of military service. The duty does not require suicidal measures, but it does demand an honest effort. Failure in this duty by a vassal is considered treachery, Failure by an Overlord is abandonment, which frees a vassal to negotiate his own terms, and in flagrant cases to declare independence and freedom to seek another Overlord.
ESCHEAT PROPTER DELICTUM TENENTIS
If a vassal commits a felony, the land escheats to the Overlord upon his conviction. Treason and breaches of faith between overlord and vassal are the most common causes of reversion of holdings. A trial may be conducted in a Court, but the accused has in the Early and High Chivalry periods the right of Trial by Combat a l'Outrance (to the death), Deliberate refusal to answer the charges is admission of guilt, and the land reverts through trial in absentia. The convicted vassal is declared outlaw and may be legally slain on sight.
Again in the Early and High Chivalry periods, a Knight or Lord had the right to go to war to settle grievances. Generally, the Overlords do not extend such a right to their vassals, but they do resort to battle to settle differences between themselves. A Knight could resort to private war if he regards himself falsely accused by his Overlord - but he had better win or else acquire powerful allies if he wants to avoid the consequences of treason and rebellion. The same is true of great Lords at war with their suzerain, the King.
When a new tenant succeeds to land (as by inheritance), the Overlord is entitled to 6D10% of the yearly income of the fief or baronial holding in the first year, Also, proof of title has to be shown if the lands are held directly from the King, costing D10% of the annual income in addition to relief.
AID FOR RANSOM
When an Overlord is captured, he can require his vassals to pay 3/4 of the amount, divided amongst them according to their net incomes. Ransoms are only subject to Aid in war, and can be required only once in any given year.
AID FOR KNIGHTHOOD
The knighting of an Overlord's eldest (surviving) son is an expensive business because honour demands a lavish ceremony and tournament, To help defray the costs, a once in a lifetime Aid of 1 month's net income can be demanded of each vassal. (Lifetime = Lord's lifetime, not the vassals').
AID FOR MARRIAGE
An Overlord usually married off his eldest daughter to cement an important political/military alliance. A considerable dowry was necessary. Thus a once in a lifetime aid of 1 month's net income can be demanded of each vassal.
When an existing tenant dies, leaving a male heir under 21 or a female under 25, the Overlord has the right to control the estate and en joy all of the revenues until the ward comes of age, The Overlord does not have to account for his use of the money, which is rightfully his, but he cannot mortgage or sell the lands and buildings. He also can choose a marriage partner for the ward. If the ward refuses, he is entitled to a full year's income once the ward assumes control of the lands. If the ward marries without his consent, he is entitled to two year's income from the estates. Finally, upon coming of age, the ward must sue for livery to enforce delivery of the lands to his/her control. For this the Overlord is paid 5D10% of the net yearly income of the lands. Wardship is also assignable and can be given to a faithful follower as a reward for good service, It should be noted, in closing, that wardship was incredibly valuable to the guardian, but not all guardians gouged their wards to the limit permitted by the law, A 50% cut of the revenues during wardship was considered to be quite reasonable, with the remainder used for the ward's best interests. A larger proportion would tend to create bad feelings between the ward and guardian - promising rebelliousness later.
A vassal was expected to wait upon the pleasure of his Overlord whenever his suzerain required a great retinue to give him prestige in his baronial court, at tournaments, etc. At such times, a large retinue reminds other lords that a noble has ample military power at his disposal. Also, a vassal might be called upon to sit in judgement in the Overlord's legal court - a matter of great responsibility and honour. A vassal failing to pay due court tended to earn his Overlord's displeasure and disfavour.
A vassal was expected to render his Overlord proper hospitality when honoured by a visit. For his part, the Overlord will avoid taxing a vassal's resources to the limit by bringing a great entourage which will despoil the castle larder for months thereafter. Needless to say, such visitations are regarded with mixed feelings by many vassals.
Any Lord, including even lesser Knights with small fiefs, is expected to give largesse, This includes honours and gifts given to trusted vassals for services rendered, and alms to the poor and needy,
Both Overlord and vassal are always expected to render due respect and support to the other. Vassals must never betray secrets to which they are privy nor go over to the enemies of the Overlord. To do so is treason most foul, Nor may an Overlord abuse the rights of a vassal, To do so gives good cause to renounce feudal vows of homage and fealty (although a vassal had better be ready to fight hard, for his Overlord will then accuse him of treason even when he himself forced the whole situation).
HOMAGE AND FEALTY
The bond between vassal and Overlord can be best understood by examining the ceremonies of homage and fealty which seal the relationship between suzerain and vassal. The homage of the vassal and the Overlord's response are as follows:
'Sire, I enter into your homage and faith and become your man, by mouth and hands, and I swear and promise to keep faith and loyalty to you against all others, saving only the just rights of those from whom I hold other fiefs and rights and I swear to guard your rights with all my strength and my life',
'We do guarantee you, our faithful vassal, that we and our heirs will guarantee to you the lands held of us, to you and your heirs against every creature with all our power, to hold these lands and enjoy their use in peace and in quiet',
The oath of homage is the vow to serve the Overlord faithfully and is utterly tied to title in the lands received, To break the oath is to renounce title, and the Overlord can repossess them, The vow of the Overlord is a vow to personally protect all of the rights of his vassal.
The oath of fealty is sworn by the vassal upon holy relics:
'In the name of the Gods and in reverence for these sacred relics, I swear that I will truly keep the vow which I have taken and will always remain faithful to my liege lord'.
Upon swearing fealty, the vassal receives a lance, glove, baton, or other symbol from his Overlord, indicating that he has been invested in the possession of his fief.