In the absence of any sort of centralized national/global government, “law” in Resolution is a strange beast. Laws are set by governments and enforced by social institutions in order to protect the rights and freedoms of the populace. Where there are no people, there is no government. Where there is no government (or at least some sort of legislative organization) there is no law. Where there are no social institutions, there is no law enforcement. Where there is no law enforcement, there is chaos. Chaos is of no benefit to honest and decent folks. It ruins business and it ruins lives. Wherever there is chaos, there are people wishing it would end.
To recap: the existence of “law” depends on three things:
- People who want to live a basically harmonious life.
- Cooperation amongst the people to decide on what is Right/acceptable and Wrong/unacceptable.
- Someone who is appointed/hired or volunteers to enforce the laws decided upon by the people, and is able to do so!
Simple, right? Well, not so much. In reality, one or more of the above factors is frequently missing or… less-than-perfect. Following is an overview of what can – and often does – go wrong with Law in Resolution.
Resolution is sparsely populated. As described in more detail elsewhere in the Codex, people will basically gather where there is some advantageous combination of resources, trade, and transportation. The more advantageous the combination is, the more people will gather there. However, there are many places where the settlement is just not very large, or there is no settlement at all. No people means no law. Not many people means weak law (more on that in the next section).
Occasionally a settlement is founded by people precisely because those people found the laws too oppressive elsewhere; they deliberately pick up stakes and move to new land with the express intention of living without the heavy hand of the law (or at least a lighter one). That doesn’t mean everyone in that settlement benefits from or enjoys the mayhem inherent in a legal vacuum; perhaps they moved to such a wild settlement because the money was just too good to pass up, but now they are being terrorized by the prevailing lawless attitude of the populace.
Out in the wilderness, there is usually no one to say what is right and wrong, and rarely anyone to enforce social order. Bandits often prey on trains and stage coaches, pirates often raid seacraft, and unless a large city-state has declared jurisdiction over the area, technically no one has the right to tell them they’ve committed any crime. Large business interests or sizeable parties of settlers will often bring hired guns along for protection, but smaller, less-organized groups of travellers are easy targets.
Even if a group of people have gathered at a location and decided to stay there, it doesn’t automatically follow that anyone will have put up their hands to organize the place. Maybe the settlement isn’t big enough that the lack of formalized law is an issue yet. Maybe the people like not being hemmed in by laws, and prefer to settle their differences more informally. Or maybe the people just don’t like each other enough to get together and agree on what’s acceptable and what’s not. Often, the rapid growth of mining/ranching towns will outpace the development of law and order. For whatever reason, there may be a lack of solid laws in a given settlement, and that makes crime and punishment dubious business.
Often worse than a lack of organization is the despotism of one or more powerful individuals. A settlement with insufficient legal organization and inadequate protection/enforcement (more on that below) is attractive clay to be molded by the hands of powerful groups and individuals. Such despotic entities rarely have the interests of the general populace in mind, but will nevertheless set and enforce “laws”. Does might make right?
Whoever decides what the laws are, someone needs to enforce them or the will have little effect. Law enforcement takes several forms depending on who makes the laws, who does the enforcing, and why. There are three broad categories of law enforcement: Elected, Self-Appointed, and Commissioned.
Elected: Sheriffs, Deputy Sheriffs, and Watchmen
Some towns or regions will elect a Sheriff to maintain order. While the exact process of electing a Sheriff may vary from place to place, the common thread is that the Sheriff is selected by the people (or representatives thereof), and ostensibly represents and enforces laws laid out by those people. Of course not all Sheriffs are perfect. Sometimes a settlement is so small that one individual draws the short straw and is pressured into the position of Sheriff. Other times a powerful or influential person tricks, bribes, and intimidates her way into the position. In any case, the authority of the Sheriff is at least theoretically derived from the people she represents explicitly stating “we appoint this person to be the personification of the Law around here.” The Sheriff is usually paid a salary or honorarium of some kind out of public funds or an informal collection from the populace. While the Sheriff is perfectly within her rights to call the shots on some minor matters (eg. “I don’t tolerate people carrying firearms in my town; check your piece at my office and you’ll get it back when you leave”), all such rules and decisions are subject to the formal written laws, and can be overturned by decree of the legislators.
Depending on the size/needs of the settlement/region a Sheriff represents, she may need one or more Deputy Sheriffs (Deputies). Deputies perform more-or-less the same duties as a Sheriff, but receive their orders from and are accountable to the Sheriff. The Sheriff may deputize anyone she sees fit for short periods of time, and can pay such deputies out of petty funds, but any long-term Deputies must be approved by the legislators. Once formally approved, Deputies will receive a similar – though typically lesser – salary as the Sheriff receives.
Nearly all settlements also have Watchmen, often in addition to a Sheriff and any Deputies. Watchmen vary in duties and compensation; some are paid salary, some are volunteers, and in cases of very small settlements, some or all adult residents may be responsible to take turns as Watchmen. As settlements need someone to keep watch (for dangers within as well as outside the settlement) around the clock and from all directions, Watchmen serve as additional eyes, ears, and hands. Watchmen are authorized to break up minor brawls, make temporary arrests, and participate in emergency defense against attackers, but are not permitted to assess fines, jail offenders long-term, or make any decisions about legality without consulting a Sheriff, Deputy, or the legislature. In towns with a Sheriff, the Watchmen will report to the Sheriff or Deputies. In towns without a Sheriff, or where the Sheriff and any Deputies are dead/incapacitated, Watchmen report directly to the legislative council.
Self-Appointed: Judges and Constables
Judges are individuals who have decided they have the inalienable right to single-handedly lay down the law, and who have the power and/or influence to enforce the law as they see fit. Judges are convinced that they know better than anyone else what is right and what is wrong, and that it is not only their entitlement but their obligation to make sure their version of the law is followed to the letter. If any Judge believes he is anything other than a divine manifestation of morality and proper consequence, he’s not telling anyone. It is not unheard-of for a Judge to roll into town, round up all the evildoers, and in one way or another, just… make them go away. However, this is rarely the case. A typical visit from a Judge will go more like this:
A Judge will arrive in a mid-sized town – not to small as to be a waste of time, but not so large as to put up a decent fight – and head to the most lavish accomodations available. This may be the local hotel, the town hall, the stately home of a local business baron, etc. If the owners/operators of the chosen establishment know what’s good for them, they will quickly volunteer and donate all available space and materials for use by the Judge and any Constables for the duration of their stay and the inevitable legal proceedings. Any townsfolk who see the Judge arrive and have half a brain will typically either rush to ingratiate themselves to the Judge, or hastily gather any posessions they can before heading for the hills.
Nearly all Judges keep a varying number of Constables around. Constables are appointed by and responsible to Judges, and amount to little more than well-dressed thugs. A small number of Constables will be kept around the Judge as bodyguards, and the rest will be sent out into the town and surrounding area to round up just about anyone they can. Those who cooperate may receive invitations to watch the legal proceedings, or in rare cases, to be part of a “jury”. Anyone who resists, attempts to flee, or has already flown from their home is charged with “resisting arrest.” Constables do not get paid salary, but do receive a percentage for writs served and warrants executed, so they are eager to round up as many “law-breakers” as possible.
Once court is in session, a travesty of a “trial” will take place. The Judge will read out the charges, and the defendant will get to argue their innocence. Such trials are rarely anything other than a circus for the amusement of the Judge and his Constables, and rarely concludes with anything other than a guilty verdict. Punishment will range from severe fines (typically far more money than the defendant has available, resulting in confiscation of property or worse depending on the Judge’s mood), to bloody executions on the spot in front of all spectators. Anyone who protests is charged with contempt of court. Before leaving town, judges will usually issue warrants and large bounties on anyone who has fled prior to the trials, so runners rarely risk returning to their homes.
Not all Judges are like this. Some hand out more-or-less fair judgements to actual evildoers, and leave a town better off than it was before. But it’s far from the norm, and even the most well-intentioned Judges are mercurial, vain, prideful, half-mad and dangerous. No one in their right mind looks forward to the arrival of a Judge in their town.
Most Judges are Circuit Judges and move from town to town in a rough region they have decided is their territory. This allows them both to maximize area/populace covered as well as minimize danger to themselves from individuals and groups who wish to retaliate. Some Judges grow powerful enough that they feel secure settling in to one town, and become District Judges who send out Constables to neighbouring areas to collect fines and round up “lawbreakers”.
Commissioned: Marshals and Deputy Marshals, Detectives, Expressmen, Vigilantes, and Mercenaries
Marshals are the great hope of Resolution. Children go to sleep to dream of Marshals, and the thought of Marshals keeps ne’er-do-wells up at night. Wherever there wrongs that need righting, and some brave soul stands up to fight on behalf of the downtrodden, a Marshal is born. When the common people are being ground into the mud, the situation seems hopeless, and no one seems willing to help his fellow man, it’s time to send for the Marshals. Some Marshals enforce order and and peace because it’s the right thing to do. Some Marshals do it because they’ve been wronged in the past, and have something to prove. Some Marshals do it simply for the money. But whatever her reasons, a Marshal is only as good as her reputation, and her reputation is based on her deeds. Marshals usually get compensated for their time and effort, but what sets them apart from mercenaries, assasins, or other hired muscle is that Marshals are known far and wide for doing the Right Thing. There is no central governing body for Marshals, and each Marshal is technically a free agent. However, across Resolution, the Marshals have an unofficial fraternity which acts to the mutual benefit of all recognized agents. Anyone who stands up for Right, carries out good deeds, and gains a reputation among the people for doing so, has as much right as anyone to call herself a Marshal. Once word of the good deeds spreads to other Marshals, the unofficial council headquartered in Sandstone will vote to hand out their endorsement of the new Marshal, make contact with them, and provide them with a special badge. Should a Marshal begin making a lot of mistakes, or worse, performing less-than-noble acts, the council will send someone to strongly suggest that the individual no longer sully the Marshals’ good name. Occasionally the council will organize, without any particular request or contract, to deal with rogue Marshals or particularly troublesome evildoers. There is no chain of command and no obligation for any Marshal to cooperate, but most Marshals know the right thing to do when they see it. The council will also post bulletins on available contracts, or settlements that for whatever reason have been unable to coordinate their own Sherrif’s department and are requesting aid.
Detectives and expressmen are employees of private commercial agencies that accept contracts for pay – and lots of it. Typically only sizable businesses or very wealthy individuals can afford the services of one or more detectives or expressmen. Detectives, as one might imagine, are experts at unlocking the answers to puzzles such as “who broke into the vault”, “who killed that guy”, and “where did this fugitive go?” Expressmen are highly-trained combatant guards who are hired to protect shipments, typically on trains or stage coaches. Both are top-notch experts in their field, easily as skilled as the typical Marshal and most likely far more skilled than the local elected law enforcement in any given settlement. Given the high cost attached to such expert skill, detectives and expressmen may not always be hired for the most noble of motives.
Vigilantes are common wherever tempers flare and time is of the essence. Vigilante justice occurs most often in the absence of more formal legal enforcement, and while some vigilantes serve the public good, more often vigilantism is motivated by bigotry and base emotion at social “inferiors.” Sadly, posses of vigilanties are as likely to be assembled as a result of ethnic scapegoating and race riots as they are for the intention of protecting the area from bandits.
Mercenaries are the bottom of the barrel. Typically unskilled, uneducated, indiscriminate and untrustworty, a mercenary is any unscrupulous person who is willing to shoot a gun for money. Although not strictly “law enforcement” per se, mercenaries are often hired to right some perceived wrong, particularly by “victims” who can scrape together neither the sympathy to inspire vigilantes nor the cash to hire detectives/expressmen.