IFAQ: Breaking The Law

I’m busy working on my next Eberron product for the DM’s Guild, and I’ll share more information about that when it’s further along. I’ve also just released a new short product— Magic Sword: An Eberron Story Seed — on the DM’s Guild. You can find more information about it in this article or watch my last session with Magic Sword in Eberron. But as time allows, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Today’s questions deal with breaking the law in Upper Sharn and the relationship between the Church of the Silver Flame and the Daughters of Sora Kell.

Inquisitives and the Law

How would you handle players doing overtly illegal things like physically roughing someone up in a place like Upper Menthis? To what extent would the law try to apprehend them?

As a general rule, Upper Sharn is a dangerous place to break the law. Even if the Watch doesn’t care about justice, they are well paid to protect the people of the district… and the sort of people you find in Upper Sharn can afford to hire Medani, Tharashk, Deneith, or even Thuranni. Keep in mind that wealthy people may have a wide range of defenses that aren’t automatically obvious. The coward’s pearl was a consumable item in 3.5 that allowed a quick escape; in fifth edition, a similar item might combine the effects of misty step and invisibility, allowing the user to disappear and flee. Another simple object would be an amulet that can trigger an alarm, alerting a security team or the watch. This latter approach would work like a silent alarm in a bank; the victim would trigger it at the first sign of trouble, and then try to delay and get the criminals talking long enough for assistance to respond. Looking to other types of crime, homes and businesses in Upper Sharn may well be equipped with arcane locks, glyphs of warding, alarms, and other magical defenses; here’s an article I wrote on that topic.

Now, it’s POSSIBLE to get away with crimes in Upper Sharn. It’s just not EASY. The Watch WILL actually do their job, and even if you get away initially, Medani, Tharashk, and the Blackened Book could all be deployed to track you down. Part of the question is who was targeted. Robbing a minor merchant might not have major consequences, but if you steal from the ir’Tains, they will spare no expense to track you down—and that means Medani, Tharashk, Sentinel Marshals. Again, I’m not saying it’s impossible to get away with it, but it should be EXTREMELY DIFFICULT: this is the stuff of heist movies, not random smash and grab.

But the key is that your players need to understand that. If they’re used to solving their problems with random violence, they need to know that they’ve moved into new territory—that you’re in Ocean’s Eleven now, and Danny can’t get what he wants by walking into the casino and beating people up. Personally, if the players have never been to Upper Sharn before, I’d start the session with something like this.

Before you begin, there’s something you need to know. Up to this point, you’ve been able to do a lot of bad and frankly stupid things and get away with them. That’s all about to change. Upper Sharn is the domain of some of the richest and most powerful people in Khorvaire. They aren’t powerful in the same way you are; you could easily beat them in a fight. But if you annoy them—worse yet, if you kill them—you won’t get away with it, not unless you have done some VERY careful planning. Gold buys services. Medani will find out who you are. The Sentinel Marshals will track you down. You might evade them for a while, but they WILL find a way to bring you to justice. I don’t want to waste the next three sessions dealing with you being fugitives, so if you commit a stupid, obvious crime in this adventure, I’m going to let each of you tell me one cool thing you do while you’re on the run and one thing that leads to your capture, and then we’ll cut straight to your trial and punishment. So. Unless you WANT to be branded as outlaws—literally—don’t do something stupid while you’re in Upper Sharn. You’re in deep waters now and you’d better learn to swim.

Then, when someone DOES suggest a really stupid course of action, I’ll say “Remember that conversation we had earlier? This is you doing that stupid thing. Do you really want to do this? Because I’ve told you what happens next.”

The important thing is that this should never be the DM against the players. You’re working together to create a story you’ll all enjoy. The players just need to understand the rules of the scene: that this is not a place where you can get away with that. If you make this clear ahead of time—if you establish that this is Ocean’s Eleven, not Reservoir Dogs—you can hopefully avoid problems. Alternately, you can let the players do their stupid thing, and have them NOT suffer any consequences… and then have the powerful person who pulled strings on their behalf show up and explain why they aren’t standing on an Eye of Aureon and what they need to do now to repay the favor. Again, at the end of the day, we’re all supposed to be creating a story we enjoy. If people aren’t going to enjoy being exiled or imprisoned (because hey, this COULD be your chance to switch to an escape-from-Dreadhold campaign arc!) then either warn them away from foolish courses of action or make their getting away with it a compelling part of the story.

Do inquisitives and agents of House Medani and House Tharashk have any ability to enforce the law? Or are they just gathering information for the forces of the law to act upon?

House Medani and House Tharashk don’t have any special dispensation to enforce the law. They are, essentially, licensed private investigators and bounty hunters. Agents of the law understand the role that they play, and may either welcome their help or dismiss it. But Medani and Tharashk inquisitives have no legal authority of their own. The Sentinel Marshals of House Deneith are authorized to enforce the law, but this is very closely monitored and a marshal who abuses this authority will be stripped of rank.

I’m running a campaign where the players are using the Inquisitive Agency group patron. It seems anticlimactic if they can’t actually enforce the law, and have to rely on the Watch to resolve things.

If you look to the genre, there’s a vast array of stories about private investigators. Sherlock Holmes is a “consulting detective” with no legal authority; he works with Scotland Yard, not for them. The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, Stumptown, HBO’s new Perry Mason… part of the point of these stories is that these people are PRIVATE detectives, working on the edge of the law. Sometimes they have a good relationship with the law, as with Sherlock Holmes. In other cases, the forces of the law are corrupt and part of the problem; it’s because the detective is on the outside that they can get things done. Because they’re not officers of the law, detectives aren’t always as bound by rules and regulations, and they can deal with people who might not interact with an agent of the law. In developing the campaign, a crucial question is whether the adventurers are close allies of the law—in which case you could even choose to make them deputies with limited powers of their own—or if the local watch is part of the problem, with only a few people they can truly trust.

Looking to the question of whether the story will be anticlimactic if the adventurers turn it over to the forces of the law… just because the job of the detective is to gather information as opposed to catch the villain doesn’t mean that YOUR ADVENTURE should involve them gathering information, reporting it to the authorities, and then going home while the law deals with it. The adventurers solve a mystery and identify the villain. Yes, they SHOULD let the Watch handle it. But perhaps they don’t because…

  • … There’s no time! The villain is about to flee, and if the adventurers don’t act immediately they’ll get away with it.
  • … The adventurers have caught the villain red-handed, but now they have to deal with them immediately.
  • … The villain trusts the adventurers, or they’ve got an inside ally—they can get close enough to the villain to strike, while the city watch never could.
  • … The adventurers know that the watch will bungle the capture. If they want the job done right, they’ll have to do it themselves.
  • … The city watch won’t take the adventurers seriously. Or perhaps the villain has an agent or allies within the watch; they’ll either warn the villain or keep the watch from acting altogether.
  • … The villain hasn’t actually committed a crime. They’ve done something terrible, but somehow, legally, they are going to get away with it. Will the adventurers allow it?

There’s nothing stopping the adventurers from defeating the villain themselves and delivering them to the forces of the law. They just shouldn’t MURDER them in the process. Yes, they may have to break a law or to themselves in the process, but if they’ve exposed a terrible crime the watch might not ask too many questions about their breaking and entering to pull it off. So it’s not that the adventurers need to let the law do the takedown of the villain; it’s that they should deliver the villain to justice, not execute them. And yes, this means that there’s a chance the villain WILL evade justice and return to threaten them again. Which is, after all, the plot of every Batman story ever (movies aside): Vigilante detective unravels crime, beats up criminal and turns them over to the law, villain eventually escapes to cause more trouble, rinse and repeat.

So Medani and Tharashk can’t enforce the law, but what about House Deneith?

There is inconsistent canon regarding the role of House Deneith. Notably, Dragonmarked contradicts Sharn: City of Towers. I wrote the section in Sharn, and it’s what *I* do. Here’s the critical piece.

During the reign of King Galifar III, House Deneith was granted the right to enforce the laws of the kingdom, bringing fugitives to justice and enforcing punishments in exchange for gold. Originally, this was a largely honorary role that allowed House Deneith to assist the Galifar Guard in an official capacity. With the Last War and the formation of the Five Kingdoms, these Sentinel Marshals have become far more important. The Sharn Watch, the Blackened Book, and the King’s Citadel are all agents of the Brelish crown, and they cannot pursue fugitives into Aundair or Thrane. The Sentinel Marshals of House Deneith can. These elite agents are authorized to enforce the law in all five kingdoms—although they are not authorized to break the law in pursuit of justice! Sentinel Marshals are usually employed as auxiliaries by regional authorities, but they are occasionally hired by private individuals when the local justices lack the resources to pursue a case.
A Sentinel Marshal holds the honor of House Deneith in his hand, and only the most trusted members of the house are granted this authority. A Sentinel Marshal must possess exceptional skills and knowledge of the laws of all of the kingdoms of Khorvaire, and it is rare for an heir to even be considered for this honor unless he has served with both the Blademark and the Defender’s Guild. It is possible that a player character would be granted the title of Sentinel Marshal after performing an exceptional service for the house, but a DM should always remember that this position does not place the character above the law—and should he ever abuse his authority, it will be stripped from him and he will in all likelihood be expelled from the house.

So, Sentinel Marshals enforce the law for gold. They are freelancers hired as auxiliaries by local authorities, not champions of justice expected to be fightin’ crime pro bono. Their most valuable attribute is the fact that they are recognized as neutral and extranational, able to enforce the laws across the Thronehold nations and pursue fugitives across borders.

Just to give a sense of how rare and special Sentinel Marshals are, according the Sharn: City of Towers there are NINE of them in Sharn… And Sharn is the largest city in Khorvaire! Sentinel Marshals aren’t supposed to take the place of the Watch; they are elite specialists called in for jobs that require their skills and ability to cross borders. With that said, the watch can also just hire standard Deneith mercenaries to help out with a rough situation; but that doesn’t grant the Blademarks the authority of Sentinel Marshals.

Are the brands used to mark criminals in Sharn recognizable in most of the Five (Four) Nations? Are the brands simply physical brands? If not, what kind(s) of enchantment are involved?

The brands are standardized under the Galifar Code of Justice and would be recognized in all of the Five Nations. There would be a few new nation-specific ones (“Exiled from Nation X”) but any agent of the law will recognize them. These details are discussed in Sharn: City of Towers:

Repeat offenders are often marked with a symbol that warns others about their criminal tendencies. In the past, these marks were made with branding irons. In this more civilized age, a House Sivis heir inscribes the mark using a pen of the living parchment (see page 169). Marks are either placed on the forehead or on the back of the right hand, and guards often demand that suspicious strangers remove their gloves and show the backs of their hands.

The section on the pen of the living parchment adds the following information.

A character who possesses the arcane mark ability of the Least Mark of Scribing can use the pen to inscribe permanent arcane marks onto the flesh of living creatures. These are commonly used by the courts of Khorvaire to mark criminals and exiles, warning all observers about the nature of the character’s offense… Removing such a mark is extremely difficult, and requires the use of break enchantment, limited wish, miracle, or wish; the DC for a break enchantment check is 18. Removing a criminal’s mark is a crime under the Galifar Code of Justice, so it may be difficult to find someone to break the enchantment. The character who inscribed the mark can also remove it, using the same pen they used to create it in the first place… Placing a criminal’s mark upon an innocent victim is a serious crime under Galifar law, and the Blackened Book is assigned to track down anyone believed to be performing this form of forgery.

The Silver Flame and Droaam

What would Jaela Daran’s official position, as Keeper of the Flame, be concerning the tier of evil that the Daughters of Sora Kell are classified under?

In the past, the Church of the Silver Flame cast most “monsters” under the umbrella of Innate Evil. This is called out clearly in Exploring Eberron:

Entities of innate evil. This is the most contentious category on the list, and it is the idea of monsters—that there are creatures native to Eberron who are evil by nature. In the past, the church has placed medusas, harpies, trolls, and similar creatures into this category, asserting that through no fault of their own, these creatures are vessels for supernatural evil and pose a threat to the innocent.

It’s this principle that justified the actions of templars raiding the Barrens in the past, protecting the innocent people of the Five Nations by killing these monsters. Of course, that’s what’s been done in the past. Jaela Daran embodies the compassionate principles of the faith, and in my Eberron I could easily see her asserting that the denizens of Droaam—from the Daughters to the harpy to the gnoll—are no different than any human, and pose a threat only if they choose evil. However, in doing this, she would be fighting against tradition; the Pure Flame in particular might rebel against the idea of treating MONSTERS as innocents instead of threats to the innocent. But in MY Eberron, I’d have her make that pronouncement NOW—so the player characters are actively caught in the middle of it and could play a role in what happens next—as opposed to it just being something that happened a few years ago and has largely been settled.

But aren’t the Daughters of Sora Kell half-fiends?

Maybe, but what does that even mean? Normally, immortal entities don’t reproduce. We don’t even know with certainty HOW the Daughters were born. While they are long-lived, in my opinion they are mortal and can be killed. They are capable of CHOICE… just like tieflings, and consider that the Church of the Silver Flame established Rellekor as a place for tieflings to reproduce. The Daughters of Sora Kell are evil beings of great power, but are they FORCED to do evil or do they choose it? The critical point here is that this defines the interpretation of Droaam itself. If you classify the Daughters of Sora Kell as immortal evils they must be opposed and are seen as incapable of doing anything good; thus, Droaam MUST serve an evil purpose. On the other hand, if the Daughters are capable of choice, they are capable of change; while they’ve done evil things in the past, Droaam COULD be a good thing. I prefer to have Jaela open to the concept that Droaam may actually serve a noble purpose as opposed to definitively condemning it.

How willing is Jaela Daran to accept monsters as “peers”?

While it doesn’t have close ties to them, the church has known about the Ghaash’kala for ages. The modern church accepts orcs, goblins, changelings, and shifters (despite the troubles around the Purge) as equals in the eyes of the Flame. What makes an ogre so different from an orc? The question is solely does this creature have the capacity to choose to do good? Can they touch the Flame? Or, like lycanthropes, are they compelled to harm innocents by a power beyond their control? I think that many “monsters” suffered by virtue of being UNKNOWN; no one had SEEN an ogre in any context other than “This is a monster that will try to kill my friends,” whereas now it’s a laborer working in Sharn for an honest wage. I think the VOICE of the Silver Flame would encourage compassion in this case; the question is whether mortals will listen to the Voice of the Flame, or whether the Shadow in the Flame can play on their fears.

Are the generally traditionalist Thranes willing to entertain such equivalence or would Jaela esposing such beliefs be a possible weak point for Cardinal Krozen or Blood Regent Diani to capitalize on? Or that would inflame tensions with Solgar Dariznu of Thaliost?

The Silver Flame is based on principles of compassion: on the idea that those who can choose the light should be guided toward it, and only those who are irredeemably evil need to be destroyed for the greater good. In my opinion, the people of Thrane are the people who hew most clearly to those core principles of the faith. In Aundair, the Silver Crusade created the Pure Flame, whose adherents see the Flame as a weapon; in Breland, it suffers from the general cynicism and pragmatism of the Brelish character. But if there’s a place where people will TRY to follow the core tenets of the faith, it’s Thrane. So, PERSONALLY, I believe that there are many who would follow her, or who have already come to such conclusions on their own. In my novel The Queen of Stone, Minister Luala of Thrane is diplomatic in her interactions with the creatures of Droaam, notably discussing her regrets with the Silver Crusade and the ‘madness of the zealots’ that it spawned. As I said, I think the adherents of the Pure Flame would disagree, and say that the medusa and the harpy are clearly twisted creatures of innate evil that should be destroyed; so such a ruling by Jaela would surely reate a rift with Dariznu. With Diani or Krozen? It’s a plot you could certainly explore if you want to. But I’ll call out Rellekor; where many fear tieflings, Thrane has created a haven for them. I think if you WANTED to make it an issue, the key thing would be to have a major tragedy instigated by Droaamites—a pack of war trolls slaughtering people in Flamekeep—that Diani or Krozen could use as a rallying point for fear. But again, in my opinion Thrane is the nation whose faithful are MOST likely to embrace compassion, because that is the core of the faith.

That’s all for now! I draw IFAQ topics from my Patreon supporters, as well as polling them to determine the subject of the major article for the month. There’s four days left in the current poll, and it’s currently a tight race between The Library of Korranberg and The Fey of Aundair—but there’s still time for another topic to pull ahead!