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Playing Lawyer


Undead Gunslinger
I have a question about how highly procedural things are played out in your game. In specific (but not limited to) court settings. The example below is from game play, and is from the American Court system POV (but the question is more about playing something rather than asking for American Law legal advice, so everyone please comment!) :) .

My character was being tried for murder. The Prosecuting Attorney said things several times that should not have been said in front of a jury. My defense attorney (played by me in the courtroom, and the DM outside when I would need to talk to the lawyer) objected, and twice called for mistrials based on the DM wording questioning poorly.

Now, the DM is not a lawyer. Both of us got our law educations from TV and Movies which is fine, cause really the RP we were playing was more like movies than RL anyway. However, I also sat in on the trial where the DA royally #$#%ed up and let the guy who killed my father go free. (many years ago now, but I watched all the evil tricks Defense Attorney's use). Anyway... after considering things, and realizing he had screwed up the DA's questioning, the GM decided the judge had no choice but to declare a mistrial.

Here then, is the question. The GM said he had some surprise witnesses lined up, and really wanted the trial to set precedent in his universe. My character wanted to go free :). Do you think the GM should have used GM authority to retcon the DA's questioning? Do you think we should have realized none of us were really lawyers, and let some of the ticky tac details slide? Or do you think I should have used what I knew to force a mistrial so my character could go free (he was innocent... or, actually he was possessed, and the possessing entity was guilty of the crimes).

How are such highly procedural situations in your games in which none of the participants are professionals? Or worse... if you are a lawyer player in a non-lawyer's game, or a GM with a lawyer in your game (replace lawyer with doctor, politician, scientist, etc for more general discussion), and a law situation arises in your game. Do you cut the GM slack? As GM do you go out and get a degree just so the player doesn't destroy your plot... or at least beg for suspension of disbelief? What about the reverse. As GM do you use your specialized knowledge to screw with your players who might not have that knowledge?



Retired User
I'd say it should be judged on a case by case basis.

I mean, the GM agreed with you that the judge had to let the mistrial be declared. Therefor he should have been more careful in his questioning, since he realized he played it overboard. If he was planning on having such an important trial, he should have done more research fbefore the game with trial lawyers. :)

I do know how hard it is though to have someone in the game with specialized knowledge, I have a degree in ancient history, and for some reason everyone seems to love sumerian demons. It took me a long time to get over it and realize that in the GM's world, history can be however he wants it o be, and in my worlds, no one else knows what I am talking about. (Which can be a bonus, I have so many games based on the stories and artifacts I've studied)

In any case, like so much with our hobby, I don't think there is a hard and fast rule to answer your question. I'm glad for you that he agreed with you though, otherwise you may have had a whopping argument when he shipped you off to prison. I think the best thing can can be done is to just play with a open mind and judge events based on what is best for the story, not what the player has learned through psecial degrees, on the job experience or whatever.

David Goodner

Validated User
Assuming a - your PC was really not guilty, and b - the GM agreed that you'd be found Not Guilty and all charges would be dismissed, and c - the precidents set in the case would really be important to the game then I'd be willing to rewrite history a little.

That means the trial was, from a game standpoint, just a sham. Within the game's framework it was real, but to the players the outcome was foreordained.

If the trial was a real contest between you and the GM and your character's fate really hung in the ballance, then I'd say you won, and that decision should stand.

David G.


Mistrial doesn't mean the Defendant goes free. It means that they just start a new trial wth a new jury.

Exception: if the Defendant can prove the DA torpedoed the trial on purpose because he thought he was losing or had some other bad faith motive for the torpedo, that's a due process violation which would bar retrial.


Repairer of Reputations
Both my wife (who is in my group) and I are lawyers, so basically we avoid legal themes like the plague as a group.

Why? Firstly we both find it very dull, it is after all what we do when we're not gaming.

Also, if someone else is running a game and puts in legal stuff that you know is complete nonsense it is hard to turn off that knowledge. The thing is, a lot of stuff about how things work in practice is fact, like gravity or something. If a gm has a legal plotline which is supposed to be in the real world but is simply and flatly wrong, ignoring it is a bit like ignoring it when the GM says that you survive a 200ft fall onto concrete. Your basic knowledge of the way things work in the real world just prevents you from believing that.

It's made even worse by not being American, as even here in Britain most people's idea of how law works is based on American tv. Standing up and shouting "objection" in an English court would get you laughed at and possibly removed by security. Cross-examination (which I have done) is nothing like it is on television and virtually everything on the US shows would get you chucked out of the court here.

Finally, real legal procedure is not that interesting to portray. Far more paperwork is involved than people ever realise, there is a tremendous amount of donkey work which the public does not perceive.

I have only ever used law in my games in fantasy settings where I have made up the legal system. Then I can have something which feels real but where I am not constrained by reality. Overall though playing legal stuff in a game for me is just dull, I game after work, it would be just like continuing my working day.

Does that help?

NPC Whymme

If you want to you can make the whole thing exciting and suspenseful.

Divide the process in several sub-processes. For instance:
- The proscecution makes its case, defense counters
- Defense makes its case, procecution counters
- Final statements of proscecution and defense.

During round 1, the proscecution tries to gather as many points as possible by bringing up all the evidence he can find. It's the task of the defense to counter the evidence. You can invent a simple dice game for that or you can roleplay it. You, as GM, can give the resulting scores in the open, or hide (part of) them behind your GM screan, having the players guess how well they are doing.

During round 2 the situation is reversed.

Round three, finally, is where both parties can score. Maybe a multiplier to their previous results in rounds 1 and 2? Anyway, round 3 should be important but not so important that the results of round 1 and 2 are insignificant. Again, you can roleplay this or you can roll a die. The most preferrable thing would be a combination of the two; hold your speech and let that be a modifier to your roll.

As for claims for procedural mistakes, it would be one of the tactics you can use to have some points of the other party negated. But by using a structure like the one I proposed above it would not lead to a complete stop of the process.



Ensign 9th Class
Validated User
What Whymme said

Except that you should keep in mind character knowledge vs. player knowledge.

If a player makes a procedural or technical goof that any first year law student would know not to do, I would say hand-wave that away - the PC's lawyer certainly would NOT have done/said that.

For instance, in your example, a real DA would (probalby) have known not to say the things that blew the case for your GM. So, if the GM goofs and says them, well, he's not a prosecutor - but the NPC is. The only way to make the NPC an effective prosecutor is to ignore unrealistic procedural or technical errors that the real life GM makes.

Or, perhaps, whenever the player or GM makes such an error, roll against the character's "Knowledge: Law" skill (or the equivalent): success means he catches the goof before he makes it.

Or just hire a judicial champion, have trial by combat, and be done with it. (grin)

Atom Man

Man of Many Atoms
Validated User
Villains & Vigilantes had a random chart for the justice system.

Once the bad guy got dragged into court, you just rolled for the result, modified by things like lawyer skill, bribes, the judge's disposition, the number of living witnesses and so forth. Repeat for sentence, if any. The results tended to be outrageously arbitrary and, as such, were the most accurate reflection of the American Justice System ever produced in an RPG.

I ran this system for awhile and the PCs always looked forward to the "justice roll" which was inevitably followed by chuckles of glee or groans of frustration.

Of course, one day, they found themselves on the docket. Suddenly the system wasn't so appealing.


Registered User
Validated User
An American Lawyers reply

Balbinus said:
It's made even worse by not being American, as even here in Britain most people's idea of how law works is based on American tv. Standing up and shouting "objection" in an English court would get you laughed at and possibly removed by security. Cross-examination (which I have done) is nothing like it is on television and virtually everything on the US shows would get you chucked out of the court here.
As a soon to be American Lawyer I wanted to let you know that most of that stuff would get you thrown out of our courts as well or get the attorney in question a hefty Contempt fine or jail time. I have a lot of friends who love to watch a show here called "The Practice" for the laughable courtroom scenes. To be fair, though, they do seem to bring up a lot of relevant issues to the law here and its practice that leads to lots of debate as to what we would do given the same situations.

Now, as for the rp question - I would ask how close did the game play out to the genre conventions you were shooting for? If you were looking for a feel like the Practice or A Few Good Men, then having your attorney moralisticly object to the injustice of the Prosecution's witch hunt against your character and attempt to destroy the Constitution . . . yadda, yadda, yadda, then it was perfect and I would not retcon it. :)

As someone who hopes to be a Prosecutor - You got lucky, Punk! ;)


Retired User
I was already a lawyer when introduced to D&D and its progeny. Never affected how we've played out legal scenarios. Particularly so when "justice" in a fantasy world may be at the whim of powerful NPCS (Lord Mayor, Intergalactic Cartel's CEO, Cardinal Richelieu). Just as court situations in TV shows bear no more resemblance to reality than TV fight scenes do to real fights, don't worry about being technically accurate in an rpg. After all, the legal system in the game world may not be identical to the real world. You can use tables and charts such as the V&V "justice roll" (one of the early Judges Guild supplements for D&D had the same thing - factoring in level of your "litigation trickster" and amount of bribe and such to get a dice roll determining if the accused beats the rap, gets a fine, gets executed, etc.), or you can role-play it. Don't worry about technical errors, or inadmissible evidence. Act it out with passion and conviction, just as you'd role-play, say, an attempt to get information from a streetwalker or participate in a fancy-dress ball among society's upper-crust. Actually, some of the errors might simulate reality. Whether the Referee is judge or judge but the other players are jury, they'll be in the position of having to disregard evidence to which an objection was sustained. Which they may or may not do, just as in the real world.
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