Friday, September 7, 2018

Urban Adventures: The Trial

I have talked in the past about my fondness for Urban and City base adventures.  Back alleys all the way up to court intrigue have been something of a rare-privilege of mine in my games.

With WotC coming out with their new D&D Waterdeep Dragon Heist adventure (which looks awesome by the way, "D&D meets Ocean's 11") I got to thinking about something I have never successfully fun.

The Courtroom Drama.

I REALLY want to do a courtroom drama in a game.  Especially a D&D game.

You know as well as I that Players and Characters will do something that will end them up on the wrong side of the law and they are going to need lawyers and a trial.

I briefly covered this in a post WAY back when in Lawyers, Guns, and Money. But that was for a modern age and a quirky bunch of characters/lawyers.

What I am looking for is a great court-room drama. Life and death stakes;  bribe, graft, witness tampering, surprise witnesses, hostile opposing counsel, mysterious deaths.  All of that.

I have yet to figure out HOW to do it.

The great thing is once I do figure it out I can drop it into any campaign.
Because like I said back then "sooner or later, your characters are going to get into trouble and they are going to need a lawyer".

Anyone ever try this? I am even willing to try the old trope of a "celestial court".

Love to hear what have all done.

Oh. You better believe that there will be someone in the whole deal that's a stand-in for Warren Zevon.  Cause that is just the way my games work.


Darth Jodoc said...

Some ideas, in a D&D context:

Make the area one not comfortable for the PCs: a theocracy that forbids arcane magic, and lo and behold a murder using magic was committed; or a nation at war with a neighbor, and any outsiders (PCs included) are looked at with suspicion.

Doppelgänger villain: either a witness who “flips” testimony; a key witness; an official; etc. Makes the whole intrigue bit go up due to infiltration/suspicion.

Side-game: either the core PCs are on trial, and secondary PCs/hirelings/followers are working to save them, or a super-valuable NPC is on trial and the PCs are working to save them. It has to be critical enough that the “eh, let’s skip town” choice is totally off the table.

There has to be a sense of severity, urgency, and doom to this. A bust-them-outta jail/cut-them-free-from-the-noose option makes it more like a Western. Have the death sentence (or eternal imprisonment, which isn’t that different) be irrevocable: killed, cremated, and scattered; sent into a void demiplane; etc. Something so severe that it can’t be reversed by the PCs, and the charge so infamous that no NPC would dare bring them back.

Darnizhaan said...

If you want to inject paranoia, read Kafka's work on the subject.

Mark A. Hart said...

I've done a couple of D&D trial sessions in which one of the party was on trial for a crime. I had players volunteer for different parts--judge, witnesses, barristers, etc. (players would typically take on multiple roles). I gave each player a brief few note cards of info for their role but otherwise let them improvise somewhat. We played out the prosecution making their case, the cross-examinations, and then the defense giving their case, and then the judge made a ruling. For these sessions, we moved around more and had some props (a gavel, the judge's bench, the witness chair, a holy book upon which witnesses swore to be truthful, etc.). The sessions are always a lot of fun and very different from a standard RPG session, with no dice rolling at all, only role-playing.