Tabletop: A Chaotic Evil Legal System

In gaming systems which use the 3×3 alignment system, examples of chaotic evil societies are generally limited to rule by bandits/warlords or a demon, with limited legal structure if any. It’s rare that you see dense, urban centers which are described as having a chaotic evil government. This is a little frustrating and unrealistic, as how many societies would really survive if the population conceived of them as being either “chaotic” or “evil”? The most realistically and frighteningly evil societies, as dystopian writers like George Orwell and Margaret Atwood have shown, are those which claim on the surface to be both good and orderly.

For one of our campaigns (Season 7, which was actually a two-day adventure during our winter vacation this year; we left it open for continuation) my spouse developed a very dense urban center whose governance and social structure was created generations ago by a demon, and which still retained a chaotic evil philosophy and functioning, but which claimed on its face to be a principled, nigh-utopian society. Since the PC was an attorney, and the primary plot line dealt with a terrorism case the attorney had been assigned, we anticipated the legal system would play a significant role in the game.

The legal system she devised included a few, core Principles which formed the basis of the legal structure:

  • Each citizen must attempt to perform at all times to the best of zir ability.
  • The security of the city is paramount.
  • Resources are to be shared fairly.
  • The shield [a device surrounding the city and protecting it from a magical, deadly, tropical rainforest] will not be disrupted.
  • Honesty and trust are necessary to a well-functioning society.

Each of these Principles had to be followed at all times. Of course, the phrasing of these Principles is (deliberately) ambiguous, and subject to a wide range of interpretation; sometimes the letter of the Principle may be followed in a way that contradicts the apparent the sentiment.

The secondary basis of the law was a series of Rules, essentially precedential case law. Each case or controversy was supposed to be decided by relying on one or more Rules to interpret the Principles, and in deciding a case the adjudicating panel would usually articulate at least one more Rule of interpretation. These Rules were not kept in a particularly organized fashion, and some were (seemingly) contradictory. It would not be unheard of for an attorney to cite to a Rule from “an obscure case” which did not even exist, as it would be unlikely that anyone would bother actually looking up the citation.

In this society, attorneys were all employed by the city, and were the individuals in charge of arguing cases on all sides as well as deciding cases; each attorney would periodically serve on the adjudicative panel deciding a case, a la jury duty. Rather than decisions being made by a jury of an accused’s peers, the decisions would be made by a panel of the attorney’s co-workers. In the meantime, the stakes for parties were high – the default punishment for any criminal act was death (or the more serious punishment of exile into the forest), and criminal allegations could be raised against any party, accuser or accused, at any time (so there was no line between “civil” and “criminal” proceedings). Additionally, if an individual was accused of a crime, the assumption was that the investigative arm had done a thorough job and guilt was therefore presumed; it was the job of the attorney appointed to the defendant to sway the deciding panel to dismiss the charge.

All of this ensured that there was a great potential for backroom deals (“If I decide in your favor on this case, I want your help when my case comes up for a hearing next week”), manipulation and misuse by influential members of society, and fright and disbelief for any citizens who unexpectedly found themselves swept up in the legal system.

So as noted above, the adventure centered on an attorney PC who had been assigned a defendant in an incident of alleged terrorism – an old friend, no less. My spouse, who is herself an attorney, created a perfect CE legal system and made it come alive. The campaign was part legal drama and part gumshoe noir since attorneys in the society in question also served as criminal detectives. My character had to try to wrangle the law in his friend’s favor, but of course it wouldn’t be a Rasherochernon’s Folly campaign without global-tier wrinkles making matters more complicated and opening up deeper layers to the investigation. In an Orwellian society where “counselors” watch every move everyone makes, that meant that my character had to look over his shoulder the whole time lest his pursuit of the truth of the matter lead to his own death at the hands of the government.

Having been briefed as a player on the structure of the legal system, every interview I conducted with an NPC became a multi-front affair: not only did I want to get the truth as the NPC perceived it, but I also needed to determine how to spin it, in some cases finding the right questions to lead an NPC’s deposition where I wanted it to go, a tactic less frowned upon in a CE system than in the LN / LE system of American justice. On top of all that, I was also planning out which Rules I would propose as the foundation of the case. My spouse did a fantastic job of keeping the pressure up – the trial was set for a mere three days after the incident occurred – and I really felt like someone scrambling for answers and coming in just under the wire. The charges wound up being dropped because of externalities. It was kind of a shame, because even though my character felt like he was out of his depth and unprepared for the coming argument, I was kind of eager to go for it. Then again, maybe it’s a good thing I didn’t embarrass myself in front of my wife with my nonexistent trial technique.

4 thoughts on “Tabletop: A Chaotic Evil Legal System

  1. wrote this big long thing in response to this, and then i thought maybe it was too preachy and then yeah. I deleted it and wrote this. i like your idea of this, but I think a CE government is impossible. But that’s just my two cents and I talk too much anyway so yeah. awkward. reading next post…….

    • I can take preachy! 😀 I’m really interested in your take on CE government. I like talking about the alignments in general, because after dismissing them completely for a long time, I can now see a lot of nuance in them that I missed before.

      • Ha. Well. Let’s hope I make my case then, eh?

        The way I see it, Chaotic Evil governments don’t have laws other than Bow to My Will or Die. Government and legal structure is the opposite of a chaotic mindset who does not organize, because it does not want to. I think those who follow chaos are the rarest of all alignments. They are ADHD poster kids of the Alignment Gang. Brash and overbearing snobs(the lawful end), loud-mouthed egomaniacs (neutrals) and raving psychopaths (at the evil end of chaos)

        Order breeds rules and guidelines and due process. And paranoia, lots of that. Lawful Evil thrives in those conditions. Chaotic though. Nah. It likes to smash and burn and bleed those kinds of things.

        I mean I dig what you guys tried to do, and I’m not bashing your gaming chops, clearly they are well-honed, and it sounds like it was a blast. Sorry I missed it 🙂
        Interpretation is my issue on this. To me, CE “government” is the rule over a terrifyingly brief collection of slaves, food or about-to-be. Its meant to be scary, because it is so rare in nature.

      • See, it sounds like you’re operating from a Poul Anderson view of Law and Chaos as natural forces. I like that view. It’s the one that allows D&D to have alignment as a real thing, one that gives us spells like Protection from Evil or items like the alignment tomes.

        For me, the nuance in alignment comes when it’s less like a magic property or natural force independent of consciousness and more of a model of behavioral inclinations on a scalable gradient from individual to society. It then becomes useful primarily as a lens which alters the angle of intent as it passes from motivation to action.

        The Law / Chaos axis must be informed by the Good / Evil axis. CE government makes sense to me because it works on an individual level – those in power seek to control others (Evil), which automatically implies a hierarchy, no matter how ad hoc. They use a mercurial hierarchy which is unreliable or broadly interpretable or which is otherwise mutable by factors such as cronyism or the threat of violence (Chaos).

        I’m happy with alignments being absolutes – it simply depends on how the absolutes being referenced are defined. 🙂

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