The King is Dead: Trials and Punishments

So... Player's Guide information or GM Guide?  I'm leaning toward GM Guide, but I'd like players to know how risky the life of a revolutionary can be...

The people of Malleus have been cowed into submission by centuries of brutal oppression by a corrupt and malignant State and Church.  While the system breeds resentment like a festering corpse breeds flies, it takes the truly brave to openly defy it.  Most who fly in the face of it are swatted down.

Trials and Judgment
The depraved legal system of Greater Malleus is essentially divided into the common law enforced by the king’s magistrates and the canon law enforced by the Holy Panoptic Church of Sathaniel.  Emperor Etzel cunningly balanced devotion to the Church with cultivating his own power, resulting in a “separate but equal” doctrine of Church and State that has been copied by his client kings (like King Wilhelm) and which persists to this day.  Crimes of the body are punished by the State while crimes of the soul are punished by the Church – and crimes of body and soul are punished by both. 

Mallean courtrooms feature a judge’s bench against the north wall (symbolic of the long night of winter) and a predicant’s [priest’s] pulpit against the east wall (symbolic of Sathanielism’s rise from the east); there is no jury (though the judge may entertain suggestions for punishment from the audience in an atavistic leftover of the Gothic tradition of trial by peers).  The proceedings begin with a prayer from the predicant, followed by presentation of evidence by the accuser and defendant, examination of witnesses, and pronouncement by the judge.  Professional lawyers can be hired to represent both accusers and defendants, but are provided by the state for neither side (leading to abundant bribery throughout the process).  If the crime incorporates violation of canon law, the predicant will also make a judgment; if not, then the predicant will simply close with a prayer.

Capital punishment is relatively rare in Greater Malleus; a dead human, after all, pumps no blood.  It is usually only practiced in cases of vampiricide. Depending on the enormity of the crime, a convicted vampire killer may be publicly devoured by the vampire’s kin, hanged, or burned alive.  Fatal exsanguination is the most common judgment, as it allows the vampire’s kin to enjoy their vengeance personally.  Hanging is sometimes pronounced when the vampiricide’s blood is “not worth drinking;” such humiliation can result in the killer’s family being ostracized (as per the Outsider Hindrance).  Burning is usually pronounced when the vampire is also clergy; it is equally a ritual of excommunication as well as execution.
Other forms of punishment are more common because they do not waste blood:

  • Confinement is rare, as it could potentially be costly to the state; it is usually only applied to the wealthy as a way of siphoning off their assets.  Prisoners are expected to pay for their own food and amenities, quickly draining the coffers of all but the wealthiest.         
  • Enslavement is usually euphemized as “bonded labor” with sentences being set until a certain amount is repaid or until the end of a certain span of years; it is very common for bond owners to pay the bound so little that they spend the rest of their lives enslaved, or to work them so hard they do not live out their sentence.  Enslavement is often combined with transportation to the Colonies to work their under-manned plantations.     
  • Exsanguination is usually performed when a crime is committed directly against a blood-drinker, usually by the vampire or dhampyre offended; they rarely stop until the criminal is Incapacitated.  Exsanguinations are usually conducted privately to preserve the blood-drinker’s dignity; in practice, this means that they often involve greater indignities being heaped on criminal than mere blood-letting.  Mortal and undead sadists often pay for the pleasure of viewing exsanguinations.
  • Fines are very common and are often charged in conjunction with other sentences.  There is no uniform code for fines, but they are rarely less than a month’s wages.  It is often more economical to bribe a guardsman to avoid arrest than to pay a fine.
  • Humiliation is more often applied in cases of spiritual offenses than physical ones.  Stocks and pillories stand in every village common and town square, and humans of both sexes might be sentenced to them for adultery, drunkenness, shirking work, and other moral lapses. [Etc.]


  1. Player's Guide. That's all general world info. I don't see why it needs to be kept secret. A GM's job is much easier without having to explain things "your character already knows".

    Also, under Exsanguination, I'm not sure why you would say 'Incapacitated' rather than simply dead. There doesn't seem to be a need to interject game terminology in this passage. If you have setting rules for what happens to a human being fed on by a vampire (including how they might break free), that should probably be saved for the GM section.

    Good stuff you've written above.

  2. I think I'll break it up into three columns: Punishment Name; Description, and Game Effects. With exsanguination, for example, it is important to point out that characters are left to die -- drained to the very edge of fatal blood loss and then left to Sathaniel's mercy (or a doctor's skill) as to whether they live or die -- not killed outright. At the same time, I agree that mixing flavor text and game mechanics feels kind of "off."


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