Bi-Weekly Design Blog #20: Running A Courtroom Encounter

Our 20th issue is a bumper issue, so strap on your clockwork katana and let’s dive in.

First up, a huge congratulations to Fat Goblin’s own Kim Frandsen, who won the Here Be Monsters 4 monster design contest. His gravestone dryad would make a spooky encounter in any game, including Steampunk Musha.

Humble Bundle is currently offering a massive deal on books from Paizo publishing and Dynamite comics. I’m a big fan of the Pathfinder Goblins series, which alone makes this bundle worthwhile, but it’s also an excellent opportunity to get your friends hooked on this amazing game. It’s all for a good cause.

Paizo & Dynamite Humble Bundle

Shattered Vows continues again (yay). Today’s flash fiction continues from here.

A dozen workers, mostly keshou in leather aprons, fled from the barn. All around the courtyard, castle guards fought and died, trying to bring the monster down.
“Grim, but effective.” Said the man in the midnight blue
“They have their monster, I have mine.” The cat replied.
Together, they crossed the courtyard and entered into the barn.

The town garrison charged up the road to the keep, their lanterns bobbing furiously as they ran. There were about twenty soldier, followed by another thirty or so villagers, armed with crude weapons and farming tools. At the head of them rode an iron man—a clockwork ronin—its iron armor indistinguishable from its metal body.

“Take the gate, if it falls to the enemy then we’ll never take the keep.” The clockwork ronin said.

The defenders seemed to know this, too. The last of the defenders had taken up positions in and around the main gatehouse, fighting both against the gruesome abomination that had slaughtered so many of their comrades and against an unseen foe.

“There, in the shadows.” Someone shouted.

Whatever it was, it was gone before anyone could spot it. A split second later a man screamed, shadows writhing around his neck and arms, pinning him tight in a deathly embrace.
“The shadows! It is the darkness. Quick, torches!” A watchman shouted.
The men scrambled for light, but whatever the monster was—if it was a monster—was too fast. It was everywhere and, when they tried to hit it, nowhere at all.

Just then shouts rose up from the men crossing the moat; a great battle cry. With that the shadow creature stopped its attack, though the only clue to its disappearance was the two men left standing, unassailed and back to back, in the gate house.The battle cry of the newcomers quickly died down to silence. Even the frogs were silent now, as the men looked over the carnage strewn across the courtyard. Dozens had died, yet no enemies lay among the fallen.

“Who is attacking us?” Shouted the clockwork ronin.
Tetsukaze-sama, it was a monster and the darkness.” Relied one of the survivors.
“Foolishness. The darkness can’t…”
Just then a loud report, like a gun shot, echoed from the barn. The sound of clanking iron pistons and whirring gears grew to a cacophony.
“To arms!” Shouted Tetsukaze, as he drew his katana. “Charge!”

Clockwork Ronin


Running A Courtroom Drama

First up, a disclaimer, I haven’t run a courtroom encounter yet, or managed to find solid rules for running one, but I have done as much research as I could manage. Ultimate Intrigue might have some useful rules worth checking out, particularly regarding social encounters, but I haven’t had a chance to confirm that.

Like any encounter, a courtroom scene needs an antagonist, namely the opposition. The PCs need to rely on the strength of their arguments, rather than their martial prowess, to defeat the opposition's arguments and prove their innocence. The right skill checks should provide clues to help them along.

Start by listing three or four arguments for the opposition. Each argument should have some basis in fact and possibly a link to some hard evidence.

Assuming the PCs are not actually guilty, you’ll want to fill those arguments with small cracks. Perhaps the opposition knows too much, and will give this away with a slip of the tongue. Maybe some witnesses have been bribed, and asking the right questions could reveal this fact.

Regarding the PCs, ensure that they begin the courtroom scene with only half of the information they need to form strong arguments. The rest they should figure out from the opposition's statements, from witnesses, and from the evidence provided. Is the murder weapon coated with a ninja’s poison? Let the PCs use their skills to figure this out during the scene. This makes the encounter more relevant to the campaign as a whole, as the PCs slowly uncover the true facts about the murder, giving them something to work with when they try to track down the real killer.

And, like any encounter, the outcome of the court case could go any number of ways. Magic, especially divination magic, could and should impact on the final verdict, but without magical components, the PCs will have limited access to it. A violent end is also possible. Consider a few of the options when planning the encounter, then go with the flow and let the players have a good time of it.

Have you ever run a courtroom scene? How did you plan for it and how did it go? Let us know in the comments below.

Rodney Sloan, is the line developer for Steampunk Musha at Fat Goblin Games. You can find him on Twitter.

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