Thursday, April 30, 2015

Stop! In the Name of the Law! - Legal encounters in Traveller

I AM the Law!
I got to thinking a while back about bringing the forces of Law and Order into my Path of the Lioness campaign. Not because my boys are playing lawless characters, far from it, but because they've already been involved in a few situations where the Law should properly have appeared, and I left them in the background.  There are mysterious forces dogging the steps of my PCs, and sooner or later their going to need some official help. 

The Traveller Book, in the Encounters section, specifies that the referee roll once weekly for a Legal Encounter. Other than that, the play of the encounter is left to the referee to work out.

It is important that legal encounters, like any encounter in a game, have a reason for being there. It's going to take time so it should serve a purpose. Things like:
  • developing the world to make it more 'alive'
  • giving the Pcs a tip towards an adventure possibility (rumors)
  • reminding them that their actions have consequences
  • siphoning off excess cash to keep them hungry for adventure (use sparingly)

The basic roll is Law Level or less per week to avoid trouble. If the roll is not made, the PC s experience some kind of interaction with law enforcement. What kind of encounter? This should be common sense – what are the PC s doing and where are they going?

There may be checkpoints on travel routes, metal or weapon detectors in buildings, or other events that make it necessary to display 'your papers' at odd moments. There can be parts of the world that PCs aren’t allowed to visit; there can be times of day or week that PCs aren’t supposed to be out and about. There can be different categories of citizens & their rights, and even a special category for non-residents.

Be ready for the players to ask “why?” about these restrictions. A good reason builds the world around them, a poor one just sounds like the referee is picking on you.

Have PCs ever had to get a license to operate a vehicle or possess a weapon? There's a reason to have Admin skill, or Liaison. Plus police stations and government buildings are great locations for Random encounters, for PCs to ask questions, as well as find Rumors and Patrons.

The modern state runs on paperwork: documentation, forms, licenses, and permits. PC with an abundance of cash can be hit up with taxes, duties, fees & penalties to keep them in a position of needing adventure to provide revenue. Cash-poor PCs may find the office dweller will give them the paperwork they need, in return for help with a problem they've been having . . .

The encounter may end well, or badly, depending on roleplaying (first of all) and use of social skills (role not roll) to resolve the legal issue. A good encounter with police may turn into a positive DM on their next Legal Encounter. If it goes well, you've had a fun and colorful roleplaying event. If it goes badly . . .

What if the PCs get in trouble with the Law?

Stop or I'll shoot!

Legal harassment does not and should not mean just arrest. Depending on what they have done, the PCs may be assigned watchers, either overt or covert, to monitor their activities. Any weapons they are carrying can be confiscated, even if “the Law Level doesn’t say we can’t have that!” because the PCs don’t have the right permits.

Arrest doesn’t have to mean automatic twenty-year sentences. The law might insist they be locked up overnight and released – just enough to be annoying. A longer stay in the pokie may cause trouble with their travel plans, but increases the potential to pick up useful Rumors. Streetwise PCs should work their connections. Fines can be trivial or ruinous – but don't be heavy-handed with this. Players resent referees who steal their hard-earned cash by means of rules mechanics.
Remember that just because Law Level says its legal, that may not make it okay to open carry. Social custom may still make it out of bounds. Social custom may allow or deny any kind of behavior. Streetwise or Education rolls are necessary to determine if the PC knows about the permissible or unacceptable behavior. You might even ask the player with the best EDU roll to come up with a reason why – let the players co-create with you.

Shared wisdom on Legal Encounters

I took a little poll on Google Plus' CT community, and as of the date of this posting, the results were as follows:

Q: How do you incorporate Legal Encounters into your game?

  • Never Use Them – 0%
  • Police are plot devices only – 30%
  • At random, to keep the PCs on their toes – 48%
  • Mandatory check each week – 17%
  • My PCs are the Law! - 4%

with 23 votes recorded.

I also asked this question on Facebook. Some highlight comments from the FB Traveller-RPG group (names omitted to protect the innocent) were:

I have the police/law make a reaction roll to see how they were disposed towards the group”

If the PCs commit a crime, use the LL roll to determine if anyone notices right away
even on a low LL world, If you go around town looking for trouble, 'the marshal will want to have a word with you'.”

I treat every world differently, the police might be honest cops doing their duty or you might get pinched by someone looking for a bribe.”

the next time PCs engage in ultraviolence that leads to some killing (even if legal on that world), I'm going to have them hit with a wrongful death lawsuit filed on behalf of the NPCs surviving wife and children.”

The players' actions have as much to do with the authorities becoming involved with them as any law level.”

Divide the crimes into two categories, civic and religious.” This poster then went on to list in detail what actions fell into which category.

I use it for road blocks, stop and searches and "papers please" to represent how visible the local security services are. It is usually no trouble unless the PCs have their name on a list or carrying something they should not . . .”

One poster also referenced the Mongoose Traveller SRD for inspiration (or tables) on how to conduct Legal Encounters.

In conclusion, PCs will eventually come into contact with Law Enforcement. The referee should take advantage of these encounters to build the game world, encourage thoughtful role-playing and introduce challenges & opportunities into the PCs' path.

How else could Law Enforcement NPCs be used to liven up the game?

Bonus video, for my kids. In case you didn't think Legal encounters could be exciting. 


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