Saturday, April 20, 2019

The Sanction Scenario

This is a scenario I've thrust upon my home campaign group. Is it a reactive module - something to introduce to the campaign when the right people have been sufficiently pissed off. In this case, they managed to piss off a major House, and aggrieved House's chosen recourse is to drag them to the Crooked Court.

I figure I'd share it here as a potential case study for player agency - it's an open scenario with factional play and about a thousand ways things could go, and opportunities for shenanigans abound. This will also serve as a reference for my players, if they're clever enough to read this blog.


The first vote is old. She cares for tradition and protocol.
The second vote is young. She cares for money and power.
The third vote is decadent. She cares for pleasure and vice.
The fourth vote is mad, and he serves a mad god.
The last vote is fate. It is left to the gods and to luck, to do as they may.

A simply majority decides your fate. There are no abstentions. No loopholes. This is a political trial. It is a religious trial. There are no tricks in religion. There are no tricks in religion. Refrain, and do what you must.

Given straight, this is a political trial with four judges and five votes. Three judges are matriarchs of the three most powerful Houses. One judge is a servant of the mad god. The last vote is completely up to chance, to be adjudicated by a die roll from the DM. There are ways to influence any and all of these judges. Everything and anything is fair.

A summary diagram.

The Judges

Laetha, of the House of Parchment and Marble

Statecraft has been the domain of her House for millennia. A political trial is precisely her element.
A disciplined matriarch, in body and mind. Her every word has purpose.

What She Wants: 
For tradition to be respected.
For the trial to be "fair" (i.e. a true political trial, a vote of popularity).
For Miz'ra to be crushed and her House subjugated as Ghilaera's was.
More slaves.
For her House to be seen as equal to the past great Houses of old.

What She Has:
A vast slave population.
Direct ties to legendary historical figures.
The most experience of any current politician.
The largest Senate voting bloc.
Statecraft Clerics
An elaborate web of connections spanning nearly every House
A robust trade network

Laetha doesn't have time for your shit.
(From Disney's Cinderella)
How She Views The Other Judges:
  • Miz'ra - An upstart and a cutthroat. Her most dangerous rival. If she is quick to the defense of the accused, then it means she cut a deal, and must be opposed.
  • Ghilaera - A dangerous fool. Her faction holds the swing vote in the Senate. She cannot afford to make her cross. She also cannot afford to cede leadership.
  • Amom - Worthy of a grudging respect, provided he remains independent. If it seems like he's taking sides, then he gets no mercy.
  • Fate - She will want it to be determined in the old way. Blood ritual.

Divide and conquer. Erode the base of support for the opposition then kick them over when the foundation is weak.

If Pressured: 
1. False flag operations.
2. Spread rumors.
3. Swamp opposition in legal challenges.
4. Bribes of slaves and lucrative political offices.

Miz'ra, of the House of Bone and Silver

The new money, the new power. She has everything to prove and everything to lose.
A multi-widow fat from her conquests.

What She Wants: 
To use this trial to get ahead.
To show up Laetha and usurp her position of authority.
To acquire more wealth.
To acquire more bodies for necromancy.
To acquire more land.
To acquire influential allies through marriage.

What She Has:
The most land suitable for agriculture.
A large, loyal family
An undead army
Influence among the Wizards.
Money. Lots of it.

She sneezes more than your net worth.
(From Disney's The Little Mermaid)
How She Views The Other Judges:
  • Laetha - An old bag that would do better to get out of the way. Will fight her on every issue that doesn't directly benefit herself.
  • Ghilaera - A feeble weakling, undeserving of her station. An ideal tool, if the right levers can be pulled. Miz'ra wants to find her price and her weakest point. Is it bribery? Threat? Spite?
  • Amom - Outdated, irrelevant, idiotic. She despises the mad god and his servants. She would have him killed in an instant, if she thought the price of his martyrdom wasn't too high.
  • Fate - She wants a coin flip. If it's the deciding vote, she'll have a puppet-minion try to influence the outcome. To maintain deniability, she'll give this task then wipe her memory of it.Whether it's discovered or not, she'll kill this puppet-minion and ensure that they can never testify.
Identify then strike at the weakest links in the chain and work up from there. Maintain deniability.

If Pressured: 
1. Bribes of money - coinage laced with surveillance bugs.
2. Kidnapping + Modify Memory
3. Offer political marriage
4. Brutal but deniable assassination on important minions

Ghilaera, of the House of Poppies and Whips

The swing vote in nearly all things. It has made her an exemplar of opportunism.
She's definitely on drugs. It makes her notice things others don't.

What She Wants: 
To pit Laetha and Miz'ra against each other. To watch them do battle.
To be an equal to Laetha and Miz'ra.
To be entertained.
To experience new highs and insights.

What She Has:
The swing voting bloc in the Senate
A menagerie of exotic mounts and monsters
Criminal network

Ghilaera lives on the edge of a blade.
(From Disney's 101 Dalamations)
How She Views The Other Judges:
  • Laetha - A horrid wet blanket and a crone. A more reliable ally, though, than Miz'ra.
  • Miz'ra - A potential powerful ally, but far too accepting of change to the status quo for comfort. She knows Miz'ra will stab her in the back the minute she doesn't need her.
  • Amom - The most fun, second to Fate. She wants him, lustfully. She thinks it will grant her special powers and favors from the Mad God. She knows how dangerous this is but wants it anyways.
  • Fate - She wants champions to have bloody fight to the death.
Go to either Laetha or Miz'ra for support. Use either of them as a shield against the other.

If Pressured: 
1. Offer Miz'ra or Laetha her voting bloc in exchange for support and protection.
2. Arson
3. Enlist monster. Preferably one that eats brains.
4. Make promises to all sides, uphold none of them.

Amom, Rememberer for the Mad God

He has a subtle madness in the way of his god - the kind that slowly dawns into wretched light.
A mask for the mad god, and a mask for himself. Take care which he wears, and give proper address.

What He Wants: 
For the Mad God to be satisfied.
For his religious authority to be respected, or those who forsake it to be punished.
A slow descent into madness. So slow that nobody notices, and everybody simply takes it for granted.

What He Has:
Servants of the Mad God. They are legally allowed powers of inquisition.
Religious immunities. Cannot be charged with assaults or murders.

What kingdoms the Mad God forgets, Amom remembers.
How He Views The Other Judges:
  • Laetha - Her influence contributed to his rise in power. But the Mad God does not play favorites. Laetha cannot undo this decision. He needs to prove to the others that he's not biased.
  • Miz'ra - She does not pay the proper respects. Her House stands on a knife's edge with the Mad God. He is looking for an excuse to punish her.
  • Ghilaera - Absolutely certain she wants to have him murdered. Will never willingly speak or meet with her, or anybody in her service, outside of safe public spaces.
  • Fate - He wants the most esoteric and evenly random option.
Tactics suggest rationality. The Mad God is not rational.
(Recommend: Alternating between the highest conniving politics, and a dog chasing a car.)

If Pressured: 
1. Put on the mask of the Mad God, and let madness reign. For this:
  • Laetha will get dangerously paranoid.
  • Miz'ra will become more gluttonous and bold in her actions.
  • Ghilaera will excessively use drugs, devastatingly so. Will certainly try to murder someone.
  • For all else, whatever slight madness they have is amplified.
2. Choose a method of Fate that is least likely to work in opponent's favor.
3. Threaten everyone. Everyone.
4. Cave in to all influences at once, even if they conflict with themselves.


It has no bias. It has no wants. It's method is determined by the other four, with Amom having final say. It is a single instance. There are no repeats, no do-overs.

If anybody is discovered to have interfered with Fate (for instance, by rigging the coin flip, or creating an illusion), then all four of the Judges are obligated to slay the perpetrator on the spot, and they will almost certainly do so. They are all powerful sorcerers, and crushing a single opponent would be trivial with their combined might. For this reason, none of the Judges will interfere with Fate. An interloper's pitiful life isn't worth the wrath of the gods, nor the sanctity of this trial.

Important: even if the scenario occurs that Fate's vote doesn't matter, it will still be performed to ascertain whether the verdict sits good with the gods, and whether the judges should be worried with their choices or not.

Here are d12 potential methods, but by all means make it weirder.
Determined By...
Chance of Guilty Verdict (%)
Coin Flip
Guilty/Innocent Sides
Decapitation, chicken.
Witness where it lands. Inside the Seal of the Senate, or no? Inside = Innocent.
Decapitation, criminal.
What does the criminal whisper? Guilty or Innocent?
D20 Die Roll
Evens = Innocent
Odds = Guilty
Cockatrice Liver
Stone infiltration. Yes = Guilty
Basilisk Spleen
Amount of Blood. Does it fill the Chalice of Judgement? If overflowing, Guilty.
45, +/- 20 varying on size/health of basilisk.
Champion Fight, Unfair.
First champion to die loses. No rules, bounds, or time limits.
Champion Fight, Strange.

Each allowed nothing but one magic weapon which does not obviously cause harm.
Whose champion is victorious.
1. Pillow 2. Tea Cup 3. Candle 4. Warm Coal 5. Bloody Eyeball 6. Quill 7. Chalice 8. Braid of Hair 9. Doll 10. Egg
1. Hidden Edge 2. Cursed 3. Exploding 4. Poisonous 5. Dancing 6. Mimic 7. Magic Jar 8. Hypnotic 9. Possessed 10. Plague-ridden
Champion Fight, Insult Contest.
Magnitude of crowd noise. An audience of 1000 jesters, slaves, and thieves serve as judges.
Moon Augury
The Image the next visible Moon shows.
Blood = Guilty
Anything Else = Innocent
Draw from the Deck
The Deck of Many Things. Negative result = Guilty. Positive = Innocent. If neither, draw again.
41 on each try
Arrow Shower
Accused tied to post at range 1200ft. Three trained archers of the city guard attempt to shoot her three times. Any hit indicates guilt.

If Found Innocent...

There are no ill effects, and perhaps most importantly you have achieved a symbolic and real political victory. You are now firmly a part of the "Us" of the city.

If Found Guilty...

Citizenship stripped. Property rights stripped. Face exile, or worse if you stay.

How This All Plays Out

You, the accused, need 3 votes to be found innocent. There are a few ways this is likely to go down.

Innocent : 2 Guilty split vote. Fate becomes tiebreaker. This is likely if the party puts most of their effort into getting either Laetha or Miz'ra, and either Ghilaera or Amom. Laetha and Miz'ra will almost definitely vote in opposite directions, and whoever is voting against you will try to get Ghilaera and Amom on their side. In this situation, Amom's support is crucial so that you can get Fate's odds in your favor.

Laetha and Miz'ra teaming up their votes against Ghilaera and Amom would be bizarre, but possible, if both powerful matriarchs think they can win the party to their side.

3 Innocent : 1 Guilty. Automatic victory without Fate. This is most likely to happen with Ghilaera, Amom, and one of the other matriarchs. The best way to go about this, methinks, is making one of the two powerful Matriarchs an enemy of everyone else. The difficulty with this outcome is having a better offer for Ghilaera than Miz'ra or Laetha can put forward.

1 Innocent : 3 Guilty. Automatic loss without Fate. What happens when you fail to court Ghilaera and Amom. You cannot win on the support of one powerful Matriarch alone.

0 Innocent : 4 Guilty. Fate doesn't matter. So, you've managed to piss off everyone? Good job! Enjoy your exile.

4 Innocent : 0 Guilty. Fate doesn't matter. Super unlikely. Potentially unwise. Can't please everyone in the long run.


  1. Very slick, and easy to modify to fit other setting contexts.

    1. Deciding on pictures for this post, I had the stupid and awesome idea that this would also work really well for a Kingdom Hearts game, if you literally just had the disney villainesses as themselves.

  2. I have a draft in my blog of "OSR social situations", and this blows everything out of the water. Oh well!

    1. 'Oh Well'? That's not the DIY mentality! If you see something you like, eat it and incorporate it into your cool gelatinous body! Be the gel cube!