onsdag 13 januari 2021

Read Magic, No Wait, Law

Wizards, we are told, are quite jealous when it comes to guarding their secrets. Legal knowledge, on the other hand, is generally thought of in terms of transparency: laws, to be functional and fair, should be available to anyone who is subject to them. This is of course more of an ideal conception than a material truth: Legal texts are not known for being easily deciphered by the layman. It is also a very modern conception. In Njàls Saga. A Critical Introduction, Lars Lönnroth sketches an altogether different approach to the law, as it was practiced on Iceland before the country became subjected to the Norwegian crown. It is an oral, secretive practicing of juridical formulae that a player of d&d might be tempted to call a 'vancian' system of law -- complete with an emphasis on memorization*: 

"As we have seen, every legal case [pre-Járnsíða] was handled as a case of civil litigation, in which neither plaintiff nor defendant could base his arguments on written documents but had to rely on oral tradition merely in order to find out what the law said. No wonder, then, that legal knowledge was often as jealously guarded as a family secret or that genealogies -- on which inheritance claims could be based -- were carefully memorized." (Lönnroth, Njáls Saga. A Critical Introduction, p. 213)
In some ways, the secrecy and the fragile balance is similar to how I envision natural law on the Red Planet: Remnants of a juridical caste, guarding and collecting potent formulations to force their own (or, more likely, their employer's) will on man and nature. It begs the question -- how many legal mysteries can a lvl 3 itinerant jurist memorize?

Here's a magic item with some bearing on the above discussion:

Footsteps, yes, but where is the feet that made them?


A small silver box.

Covered in flowing jugendesque etchings. Filled with talc powder. An invisible force creates and erases geometrical doodles in the powder. On the inside of the lid, a risque etching of a nude wind bound to an allegorical rack, the four cardinal winds pulling in different directions. The inner bottom of the box details the terms of the contract for the aerial servant bound to the box: Every week it can be employed as a porter (for six days) OR as a spy/scout (for an hour) OR as a courier (Max distance: 6 miles, double the speed of a racing horse). The contract stipulates that the owner must provide the elemental with one day of rest and one melody it has never heard before every week. 

About the elemental: 1 HP, reforms after 1d4 days if destroyed. Doesn't like the experience. It cannot fly, but is very fast and nimble. The spirit is mute, but can communicate via writing in the talc powder. It is invisible, but blowing powder or sand at it will temporarily reveal its contours.

...and its attitude: The elemental is addicted to music, and has gone without for ages. On a positive reaction roll it will make itself known when the box is opened, on a neutral or negative roll it will only make itself known if someone unearths the contract. It wants (from highest to lowest priority): 

  • The box destroyed & to be freed
  • To have a song written for it
  • To hear new melodies (any new song mesmerizes it for the duration of the performance)
  • To be addressed politely

If it is slighted, or an initial reaction roll goes poorly it will:

  • Drop or hide items of sentimental importance to the owner of the box
  • Make noise in the hopes of drawing hostile attention to the owner
  • Word its reports to maximize the potential of misinterpretation

* The guarantee of the law on Iceland was, of course, very different from the material power it carries along the canals. It rested on a complex network of always competing, often feuding families. In many ways simply a method of giving forms to the blood feud that ensured it didn't develop into a full-scale civil war.

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