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How often do you enforce laws in your games?


Obviously every group has their own taste for such mundane and boring things, but I am wondering how many groups actually enforce laws in their games, as far as it is appropriate, and how many simply ignore laws or let it slide to keep the game going.
Most RPGs are after all power fantasies (at least thats my impression) and PCs often end up in the role of vigilantes or judge, jury, executioner which is not quite compatible with being a law abiding citizen, no matter what your alignment says (In D&D, but I wanted to keep it a bit more open, thus I post in the general forum).

So, do you enforce laws in your games? And which ones? Only the big ones like murder or do you have bridge tolls, taxes, sumptuary laws, etc.?

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Small God of the Dozens
Whenever the player actions and attendant consequences suggest that I should. Not enforcing consequences is lazy DMing. That said, the minutae of things like tolls and taxes need to be used sparingly. Like many other things they are annoying in great quantities. So murder, theft, and destruction of property are laws almost everywhere. Things like taxes and sumptuary laws are things I would introduce an evocative detail for a particular culture, at which point it gets enforced fully.


I think the culture of the world would answer this question. Most quasi-fantasy medieval cultures are not the culture we have today. There are not advanced police forces that know sophisticated investigation techniques.

So when you interact with the "enemies" of civilization (think the caves of chaos), no one is arresting you for murdering orcs and goblins. They have no rights and are generally viewed as enemy combatants. If you murder some citizen who is not very important and you aren't caught in the act, you will likely get away with it. Most of those types of governments don't care about people on the bottom of the spectrum all that much. If you are the neighbor of a victim and you have a running feud with said person, you are likely accused and perhaps convicted without sufficient evidence. There is no innocent until proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

If you are rich and powerful, you likely get away with it. If a rich and powerful person is killed then a more serious investigation happens. This may involve bringing in people who can use magic to assist them. So taking a run at the king is likely to get you killed. People at the top of society, have powerful friends. Being careful not to be caught is far more important in these sorts of situations.


Mod Squad
Staff member
I enforce laws, but the parties in my worlds are usually playing "white hats" and so don't run afoul of them much.

Mind you, I don't typically apply the modern framework upon my pseudo-medieval worlds, either. Police as we think of them today don't generally exist, and the court system is more about putting you in the court of the applicable noble, not in front of a judge.


I enforce laws on my PC when it makes sense to do so. Generally this means when the PCs get caught doing something they shouldn't have done.

Now, most PCs get up to the sort of things in-game that would lead to Law Enforcement Officers recognising them on sight. Often an adventure will pretty much require these actions. Some sort of compromise is needed.

How I do things is- I won't have hyper-competent law enforcement suddenly tracking down the PCs because they did something that offended me, the GM, out of character and I'm looking to punish them. I'll let crimes slide as long as there's an In Character reason to let them slide. I also make it clear that I will never provide them with such a reason- the burden of doing so is on their shoulders.

For example- if I describe a busy market scene... A PC walks up to a merchant, punches him in the face, grabs some of his merchandise and walks away? That PC is getting tracked down by the town watch and if he resists, escalation ensues. If one PC creates a disturbance while another sneaks up to snatch that same merchandise? Barring the wrath of the Dice Gods they get away with it.

The short version is that in my games PCs run off one simple rule- Thou Shalt Not Get Caught. Break that rules and consequences ensue. (I tend to go easier with those consequences if a PC meant well and was just unlucky. A Murder Hobo who's caught doing Murder Hobo stuff will be executed and the player handed a new character sheet.)


As with many things, it really depends on the setting - a near-future dystopia would see much more law enforcement than the typical D&D world, for example.

There are two things I think are worth mentioning, though:

One of the things I frequently find my players have real difficulties wrapping their heads around is that, very often in my D&D settings, "the law" is actually "whatever the local lord says it is" - they generally expect to see a mostly-fair and mostly-impartial set of law enforcement and judicial systems, and when that doesn't happen, even though I've told them up-front that that will be the case, it causes problems.

In an almost exact opposite of @Umbran, most of my campaigns cast the PCs as rogues of one sort of another - they're the hired gunslinger who goes beyond the law to achieve justice, or they're Batman, or whatever else. Despite this, and despite the fact that the local law enforcement is often depicted as incompetent, or corrupt, or just overwhelmed (and that the "legitimate" authority is often the cause of the injustices they're fighting), they still hesitate to go against them.

I always find both those things a little odd.

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
So, do you enforce laws in your games? And which ones? Only the big ones like murder or do you have bridge tolls, taxes, sumptuary laws, etc.?

I'm a big fan of having the party deal with fantasy ERISA.

Nothing livens up the cockles of a jaded heart like dealing with fantasy pension and beneficiary law in a world that has resurrection and reincarnation.

Right now, in my one group the PCs are part of the city watch, so enforcing the laws is on them! But in general, I try to be guided by a balance of consequences and fun. If the PCs get caught stealing or outright just murder a high-ranking NPC, they're going to have to deal with the consequences. It might be hard labor, fleeing, or being conscripted into undertaking a specific task - whatever it is, it has to lead to more adventure. I'm not likely to enforce a death penalty, as that doesn't generally lead to more adventure. If the laws indicate you lose a hand for thievery, well you can bet there's going to be an adventure to get a cool prosthetic.

Now, if it's a problem player going out of their way to get into trouble, or a PC that persists in disruptive behavior, the law will come down hard on them and only them. That won't lead to more adventure, only a quick cut scene of "you've been arrested, you have to pay this fine (GP or a magic item), and okay, now we're back in the main narrative." They will also get an out-of-game warning.

Like @Umbran my players, for quite a while now, have been playing white hats. They're typically motivated to better the environment around them and understand that their actions have consequences. So they don't murder, steal, burn down inns and orphanages.

The last time taxes came up for me was in Shackled City because 1) the party was in one location for the entire campaign and 2) the taxes was a way to show the growing corruption in the city. Now two of my players were associated with the Church of St. Cuthbert and convinced the tax collectors that they were tax exempt. The third player argued that his previous gambling losses offset any taxable income or gains for this year. He rolled an insane bluff check and the tax collector left bamboozled and confused.


Large cities have more cops and rules that the PCs can get caught up in. Villages and such may have a constable that shows up and might act, or take a bribe. A local guy shows up and and an adventuring party is staring him down. He likely backs down and sends message to neighboring towns. Eventually it catches up to the PCs. Cities have a forcs there that can escalate things.

I usually have PCs forced to do a mission on behalf of the lord to get out of crime- to an extent. I even once trumped up charged from the lord to get an adventuring party to go on a mission.


A suffusion of yellow
Most of the time the PCs are part of Mercenary Guilds, Church Templars etc that are commissioned to investigate a situation, that means their actions are generally sanctioned by the legal authorities. |
PCs will also meet guards at the gates who might require them to check their weapons and state their business, but otherwise if PCs behave, they'll not fall afoul of the Law.

Of course if the PCs start a bar fight or are playing Thieves or such, then being harrassed by the Coppers is part of the game.


I use laws as a way to characterize a setting and as a plot device when it makes sense. I certainly don’t want to bog the game down with legal minutia. If the PCs flagrantly abuse laws, I would have an OOC conversation with the players to make sure we were all on the same page about the style of game we were going for.

I use he threat of laws that could be enforced pretty often, but they are often "enforced" by extremely corrupt law enforcement types beholden to some other politically or economically powerful possibly corrupt person who is not the PCs. Actually needing to "enforce" laws is rare unless doing so is something that adds interesting elements to the plot. If the players do something that goes far enough beyond the pale, wanted posters & NPCs reacting to having seen said posters is often better than some kind of heavy handed response. If the players just do something stupid like try to rob a store in a well off part of town after being warned it's easier to just skip ahead to the sentencing

edit: Ironically I find that lilly white "lawful/neutral/chaotic good" players & parties are much more likely to be subjected to this kinda stuff than the sadistic evil ones with the good sense to roll out the plastic in a remote location before crossing the line civilized people would shake their heads and gasp at


As a stick to discourage crazy murder hobo antics? I have in the past. Nowadays I'd just have a discussion with the players about game styles and expectations.

As a plot point or a bit of window dressing? Yes. Pretty regularly. In one of the games I run just last session I mentioned the gate guards of a city being extra strict when the PCs returned there. This was to give the sense that things in the city had gotten tense since they'd last been there.


It comes up in a few games I've run. In Nights Black Agents, there's a mechanic called Heat wherein the actions of the PCs can attract unwanted attention from authorities. In the majority of games I run the PCs don't have to worry too much about law enforcement. It happens on occasion, in Deadlands a shootout involving the PCs attracted the attention of a deputy. And in my TMNT game the PCs ran into the NYPD and proceeded to murder a few of them (that pretty much ended the campaign for me).


In my Classic Traveller game, law (and associated phenomena like officals, paperwork etc) come up a fair bit. The game has an Admin skill (there is also a Legal skill in one of the supplements, but we don't use that) and every world has a Law Level. One of the PCs has been arrested and tried twice: the first time she was convicted and banished; the second time she blew up the proceedings with her hitherto-concealed grenade before a verdict could be reached.

In my Prince Valiant game, we use feudal tropes/motifs from time-to-time but law isn't a big part of things.

In my 4e D&D game it didn't come up much, but at mid-paragon the PCs ran a court case to claim possession of a particular abandoned building.

In one of my long-running Rolemaster games one of the PCs was an expert lawyer as well as a powerful sorcerer. He ended up being appointed a magistrate of his home city (but only after he conspired with invaders and helped them take it over - the magistracy was his reward).

So I would say it is something that comes up from time to time.

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