Laws and Order

Traveller’s Law Level only shows one aspect of the law to  player characters. It only answers the question, “Can I take my assault rifle off the starport?”

Law level has a very American feel to it, in that it says what weapons you are allowed to carry. In Europe you’d hardly ever see a person with a firearm in the street, unless they were members of the  police or the military. Recent news video  showed protesters in the USA with rifles in front of a government building, yet the USA has well developed laws, so how would you resolve this?

If the US was a Traveller nation,  population is 328 million (2019), so that would be 8. The government type is 3 or 4, the law is … a problem. Lots of lawyers, a very well-developed legal system, but you can carry a rifle in the street? Law level 4 (no light assault weapons or sub-machine guns) seems right, but that makes the general law too low.

In the UK we have about 68 million people, (7),  The government type is again probably 3 or 4, the law is 8 or 9. This seems to fit better, but it’s still not accurate. The UK has different laws to the USA, but not different enough to have one as Law Level 4 and the other as 8.

Let’s imagine a TL 5 world. It’s actually the same level as the USA in the 1930’s, in that it has fairly well developed laws and culture. It has accepted a D Class starport not too far from the centre of government. The first traders start arriving and a group of adventurers wanders down the street with weapons and armour much better than the local police department (who only have Thompson SMGs and shotguns available).

The first law they write is “you can’t import higher tech weapons than we have ourselves”. There’s an element of protectionism in this too. If the Thompson SMG costs $225 (in 1930), you don’t want the same or better weapons imported at lower prices. If they are going to import better weapons, your government wants exclusive rights.

Inspection – Copyright Neil Lucock

Lets look at a different scenario.

Our travellers  buy something in 1930’s USA that is “guaranteed to remove rust.” They buy a bottle and take it back to the starship. It doesn’t work so the next day they try to get their money back. The shopkeeper refuses, he says he only stocks the product, he doesn’t write the adverts.

They explain their situation to a local lawyer (which costs $10). Your characters need to roll under the local law level (4) for there to be a law on that world that covers that issue.  They roll 2D6 and get 5+3. The lawyers says they have no recourse in law, it’s strictly “buyer beware”.

Even if our travellers make their roll, enforcement is patchy. There is no process to get the $1.35c back from the shopkeeper, unless they want to take it to court? Probably more expense than it’s worth.

Even winning in court might be difficult. The judge might decide it’s not a good use of court time, the lawyer might advise that it’s going to cost more than it’s worth. They might tell you that “everyone knows that stuff doesn’t work on rust, but you don’t buy it for that, do you?”

If you take it to court, a jury might side with the local shopkeeper and against the off-worlders,  no matter what the law says.

Success on the 2D6 roll does not always mean that you can get justice.

Sometimes different groups have the protection of the law, but others do not. 1930s USA had various laws for white people but black Americans and other minority groups had very little protection.  The very rich could get away with all sorts of illegal acts. In this case we’d express it as “roll under local law (4) on 2D6. DM of -Social Standing if you are  a member of the ruling racial or social group, add Social Standing if you are not.”

You’d get a positive or negative modifier for the seriousness of the crime. A poor labourer might be arrested for drunkenly singing in the street, a rich socialite might have the police drive him home. Even serious crimes might have different punishments. Poor people might be hanged, rich people might be only fined or jailed.

Of course, the laws are  different 20 kilometres to the west, as a different nation (or culture) is in control. Look at the differences between Nazi-occupied France and Britain during WW2 for an example. You might decide that a law restricting what you can do does not apply over the border. Crimes committed in one area might not be prosecuted if you can get into another culture’s area of control.

Some forms of oppression are religious in nature. Some faiths decide that all who are not members of their belief are mistaken. If you then wear a visible symbol of your faith, you are treated worse both in society and in law. In some cases the majority decide that you have no protection in law and the authorities do nothing. It’s often expressed as “we don’t want your sort in this neighbourhood”.

If you make a brief list of the things that matter to the people in power in society, if you don’t have those qualities, you are less likely to get justice. Taking our 1930s USA example, the rulers were mainly:

  • White
  • Male
  • Rich
  • Christian
  • Well-educated
  • Belong to the right social clubs
  • Know the right people

If you have all of these qualities, you are more likely to get off with a smaller punishment. Conversely, a poor native American woman who follows her tribal religion and has no formal education or connection to mainstream society is unlikely to get a fair hearing.

This can work the other way too. Your adventurers have no reputations as warriors with the  barbarians. They can’t represent themselves in the legal process as they can’t swear an oath to their storm god. Another warrior could represent someone who is unable to fight due to injury or illness, but  no warrior would represent someone they don’t know.

We started off with our basic rule on imported weapons:

Roll higher than Tech Level+Law level to bring your weapons on planet.

Of course, if you fail the roll you can do it anyway, but wandering around with your  assault rifle is going to attract attention in an urban environment. It will give you a negative modifier on business encounters. People don’t want you to bring firearms to their company offices. Perhaps the receptionist calls the police and you never get to meet your contact because the place is evacuated as “there’s a strangely dressed man with a rifle in the neighbourhood”.

The local authorities (or crime boss) might decide that they want it. Make a Streetwise roll to realise that there is a good reward for the person who brings in your assault rifle.

Make the Law Level roll not only the roll for legal weapons, but a roll to see whether the law covers what you are doing, as in the rust remover example above.

Every law can be divided into rights and duties.

Rights allow you to do something. If people stop you from doing that, the law will support you. In the case of our rust remover, a  law might say that “goods have to be fit for their advertised purpose and of merchantable quality”. If it doesn’t do what it claims, or it’s badly made, the law supports you. You can take the bottle of rust remover back to the shop. That is your right.

The trader who sold you the rust remover has a duty under that law. It says they must  give the customer their money back.

Every right implies a duty. If you have a right to walk down the street, other people have a duty to permit this. If they prevent you from walking down the street, the law gives you a remedy.

Of course, this is not always the same in practice as it is in theory. Sometimes the law enforcement officials decide that you don’t have that right, no matter what the law says. Conversely, they might decide that a law doesn’t really apply.

I visited Bulgaria 20+ years ago. There was a problem with imports of illegal drugs. It was against the law, but the customs officials were  very badly paid. Having a job gave them  an opportunity to extract bribes. If you want to import something legal, the paperwork will be done faster if you pay them. It costs more to import illegal drugs, but only a stupid person would ever refuse to pay.   Prosecution costs you more than any bribe. The player who tells you that they are going to buy and read a culture guide to this world during the trip from the last planet gets skill level 0 to understand the local culture (if they make a skill roll on INT to recall the details), otherwise they get a -3 DM for unskilled use.

If you want to make your world really feel different, the past is quite a useful model to use. Anglo-Saxon law was not based on evidence or witness testimonies. Every village had people who knew each other. If your  chicken was missing, you might accuse your neighbour Eadwulf of stealing it. He will swear he didn’t steal it and gather his friends to also support his oath (called oath-helpers). If enough people say he doesn’t steal chickens, he is innocent. On the other hand, if he has irritated other members of the village by stealing their chickens, no one will come forward to support his oath. They judge the character of the man, his actions serve to bring about a decision. The problem is that outsiders and visitors have no one to support their oaths. Anything that is stolen was obviously taken by the strangers. Who will support their oath that they did not take it?

Later on we had “trial by ordeal”. If you could plunge your hand into boiling water to retrieve a stone and it was OK after three days, God clearly knew you were not guilty. The witch trials involved throwing the accused into water. If they drowned, they were innocent, if they floated, they were guilty.

In Viking culture, women owned the house and were responsible for managing the slaves and the production of food and clothing. Men could be divorced for various offences. In one instance (in Laxdaela Saga) Thorvaldr Halldórsson’s wife wants rid of him. She makes him a shirt with a wide neckline, then divorces him for “wearing women’s clothes” when he puts it on.

Sometimes it’s a better idea to have the assault rifle with you than rely on the local laws.

Suggested modifier to law enforcement. These are cumulative.

Modifier Example Suggested DM
Racial group Prejudice against Aliens/foreigners etc. 1 to 3
Religion Wrong or no religion. 1 to 3
Local law Not a crime 10 KM away, run for the state line. Varies
Culture Do you know how  local laws work? -3 unskilled use
Money, impressive appearance You are clearly someone important, benefit of the doubt. 1 to 3
Social connections Do you know my friends the chief of police and  the judge? Allies, 1 to 3

So, what’s the problem with our rust remover? Imagine our 1930s USA world has a native animal like a fox. It is a pest that kills and eats your chickens, but it’s illegal to kill it as the ruling class hunt it and value the fur.

The rust remover you bought is really a poison, the animal is attracted to it, licks the tool treated with it and dies. Your chickens are safe and you might be able to recover the pelt. It’s legal to sell something to try and prevent rust, but not legal to poison the creature. Everyone knows this, but the law recognises that poorer people need to keep their chickens safe. You lose your court case against the shopkeeper and everyone who knows about it now thinks you’re an idiot.

2 thoughts on “Laws and Order”

  1. Good observations. I’d propose that the activity that the player is engaged in should also be considered. For instance, carrying a shotgun while hunting (or if dressed and equipped for such in a wilderness area) probably would get little negative attention. Bringing one into a grocery store might cause alarm (except in Wisconsin where it’s socially expected).

  2. I agree, but that’s a situational modifier the referee would impose. I think reading (and remembering) the Culture guide would tell you when it was OK to carry a weapon and when it would attract attention.

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