Vicious Venues
Courthouse
By Skip and Penny Williams

Courthouse contains an encounter of level 2-10 and is suitable for use with any D&D campaign.

This stately white marble building features both a broad portico filled with grand pillars and a flight of wide steps leading up to it. A low dome rises behind the portico. The building certainly seems noble and worthy, but what goes on behind its doors? Are the armed guards standing at the entrance merely a prudent measure, or a grim necessity?

Background for the DM

For more information on courts and integrating them into your campaign, you might also consult Power of Faerūn, Chapter One: Order in the Court. Included is a map of the Court of the High Tower, which can be used for Vicious Venues' courthouse.

The ruler who governs the area where the courthouse stands had the edifice built to house all the machinery of justice: a jail, constable's headquarters, law library, archives for legal records of all types, courtrooms for trying cases, and a few other facilities (see Visiting the Courthouse, below).

Though the courthouse provides a strictly secular function, the clergy of Heironeous (or some other deity suitable for your campaign) is deeply involved in its day-to-day operations. The ruler who had the place built realized that divine magic would prove invaluable for separating the innocent from the guilty and reasoned that people dedicated to a god of justice could be expected to dispense justice better than anyone else. This has generated some resentment among citizens of other faiths.

The staff at the courthouse does its work well and no one has any legitimate complaints about how the place is run. The courthouse is the center of a long-running effort to fight crime and corruption at all levels of society. As such the people who work there are heroes to some and hated enemies to others.

The Setup

The courthouse is best located in a fairly large city; perhaps one where some vast criminal enterprise (such as a thieves guild) holds sway or once held sway. The building stands not far from the city's commercial center.

Player characters might visit the courthouse in the course of their own activities, especially if they attempt to purchase real estate or write a legal will. Characters with a taste for mysteries will find the courthouse archives invaluable. Of course, characters who run afoul of the law might view the courthouse from a different angle.

Player characters also might become involved in courthouse business in other ways:

  • The authorities offer a considerable reward for capturing a notorious criminal or breaking up a criminal cartel.

The PCs might simply hear about the reward, or someone might offer them the job directly.

  • A player character is mistaken for an infamous criminal and is either arrested or becomes a fugitive from the law.

The mistake could arise simply because the unfortunate PC resembles the criminal, or perhaps the criminal's true identity is a mystery and the PC is misidentified because of a piece of gear or treasure he or she has acquired.

  • A player character receives counterfeit coins (or a phony piece of gear). This ensnares the character in the search for the counterfeiter.

The character might be arrested for passing a counterfeit coin, or another victim might approach the character and propose finding the culprit.

  • A fire, earthquake, or other calamity leaves the legal ownership of several buildings or other properties in doubt. The legitimate owners become locked in arguments over property lines and plans for rebuilding. At least one con artist complicates matters by pressing a false claim of ownership.

Unraveling the mess would require at least one visit to the archives in the courthouse and one trip to the ruins to sift through the wreckage for clues.

Visiting the Courthouse (EL 2-6)

The courthouse was built to look solid and imposing, and it does. The text below depicts the courthouse in daylight. At night, lamps with continual flame spells light the main entry and the square below. The flickering light gives the place a brooding, fortresslike appearance. The text also assumes that clerics of Heironeous administer the courthouse. Adjust things accordingly if another deity is more suitable for your campaign.

A massive stone building looms above a small plaza where a statue of the god Heironeous stands. The god wears a blindfold and holds a sword and a pair of scales. The figure shows Heironeous in his role as justice bringer.

A wide flight of white marble steps leads up from the plaza to a pillared hall with a soaring pediment above. A medallion with the symbol of Heironeous (a hand holding a lightning bolt) adorns the pediment. A low dome studded with small, round windows rises behind the pediment. Two rambling wings, each at least three stories high, extend left and right from the dome. Arched windows protected by wrought iron grilles run in orderly rows along the wings.

Creatures: At least one constable always stands guard at the head of the stairs. The constables not only protect the courthouse, they also direct visitors to the correct area in the courthouse. The constables are fighters or paladins dedicated to Heironeous.

Courthouse guards (1-4): 2nd-level fighters and paladins, hp 19 or 17 each; see pages 117 and 120 in the Dungeon Master's Guide.

Tactics: The constables try to remain friendly but they act quickly if they perceive any threat to them or to the courthouse. In battle, they attempt to block the entrance to the courthouse. They try to identify the biggest troublemaker in any opposing group and eliminate that character first.

Development: A fight on the steps could bring out every fighting character in the courthouse; see the entries in the next section.

Courtrooms (EL 10)

There are several chambers where magistrates hear civil and criminal cases. Each has a raised platform where the magistrate sits and smaller platforms for witnesses and defendants. Additional seating is provided for witnesses waiting to give testimony, and for folks who wish to watch the proceedings.

Creatures: When court is in session, a courtroom's staff includes at least one magistrate (sometimes as many as three), a bailiff, and a recorder. Once such trio includes Gavra, a cleric of Heironeous (magistrate); Adair, a paladin of Heironeous (recorder); and Arthur, a werebear (bailiff).

Gavra: hp 53; see the Personalities section.

Adair: hp 18; see the Personalities section.

Arthur: hp 62 (MM 170).

Tactics: When hearing most cases, Gavra and her staff don't take too many special precautions beyond a zone of truth spell from Gavra if she feels the need. For important cases or cases where the staff fears outside interference, the staff arranges for protective spells such as dimensional lock or forbiddance; these spells are usually cast by characters specifically hired for the purpose.

If violence erupts in her courtroom, Gavra usually tries to quell the outburst with a greater command spell (she commands subjects to halt or flee). After Gavra casts her spell, Arthur and Adair move in to capture the villains. If her initial spell fails, Gavra uses flame strike, then holy smite. If the fight goes longer than that, Gavra casts divine power and divine favor, then joins the fray herself.

While Gavra casts her spells, Arthur and Adair try to protect her. Arthur assumes hybrid form to improve his attack capability. Adair attempts to use his smite evil power against a likely looking foe.

Elsewhere in the Courthouse

The courthouse contains several distinct areas, some open to the public, some not.

Rotunda: The chamber directly under the dome serves as a common area for the courthouse. At least one constable is always on duty in here (same statistics as the guards on the steps). During the day, a handful of townsfolk are taking a break from business in the courthouse or taking advantage of the public space to conduct business or meet friends.

Shrine to Heironeous: A small worship space is provided behind the rotunda for folk who feel the need to pray for justice. One or two clerics and paladins of Heironeous (levels 1-4) are always on hand to attend supplicants. Use the statistics from pages 115 and 120 in the Dungeon Master's Guide.

Archives: Two vast archives fill the top floors in both of the courthouse's wings. One contains books and scrolls dealing with laws in general and also with various court proceedings; the other holds legal records, such as contracts and deeds for properties.

Constable Barracks and Armory: This area is home to around fifty constables and watch members, about half of whom are present at any given time (the remainder are off doing their rounds). The constables also keep about a dozen guard dogs and riding dogs to assist with their work. Constables are 1st- or 2nd-level paladins, fighters, or rangers. Watch members are 1st- or 2nd-level warriors.

Jail: The courthouse basement includes a secure area for holding prisoners awaiting trial or serving very short penal sentences. Two cells have permanent antimagic fields; prisoners with magical abilities (or who might attempt escape with magical aid) are kept there. There also is as small, secret chamber used (fortunately not often) for executions. This, too, has an antimagic field.

Personalities

The two leading members of the courthouse staff are Gavra, senior magistrate, Adair, her recorder, and Arthur, her bailiff.

Gavra

Gavra spent several years as an adventurer and itinerant proselytizer for her deity, Heironeous. She realized, however, that the roaming life just wasn't for her. Never particularly adroit, she feared that her life would end ignominiously when she tumbled into some bottomless pit, or -- worse -- when she failed to react quickly enough to save her companions from an ambush. She also felt that plenty of stalwart souls were ready and willing to go far afield and face evil wherever it hides, but very few were willing to stay at home and root out hidden evils. So, she retired from adventuring and joined the city watch. Her superiors quickly realized she was wasted walking a beat (though she proved an excellent detective) and quickly secured a judicial appointment.

As a magistrate, Gavra is empowered to dispense what is commonly called low justice. She hears both civil and criminal cases and can hand down some severe punishments, but not the death penalty (a limitation for which Gavra is grateful). She makes her judgments without the benefit of a jury, though she is free to consult with the courthouse staff and with other magistrates if she feels the need.

Gavra isn't a big believer in imprisonment for criminals, or in maiming, flogging, or other excruciating punishments. She feels that imprisonment is just a waste of resources and that brutality, even judicial brutality, is just another evil. Instead, Gavra prefers to make convicted criminals pay some kind of restitution to their victims, usually in the form of a cash payment or some form of labor or both. A thief who is forced to do several honest days' work might be less inclined to steal thereafter.

She is legally entitled to keep any fines she levies, but she always makes sure money she collects goes to the victim of the crime, to the community, or to the church of Heironeous. She survives on a small stipend from the church and another from the secular ruler she serves.

Gavra CR 9
Female human cleric of Heironeous 9
LG Medium humanoid
Init +3; Senses Listen +3, Spot +3
Languages Celestial, Common

AC 22, touch 10, flat-footed 22
hp 53 (9 HD)
Fort +8, Ref +5, Will +10

Speed 20 ft. (4 squares)
Melee mwk longsword +9/+4 (1d8+1/19-20) or
Ranged heavy crossbow +6 (1d10/19-20)
Base Atk +6; Grp +7
Special Actions turn undead (+3, 2d6+10, 9th),
Combat Gear scrollof cure light wounds, scrollof cure serious wounds, scrollof mark of justice, silver holy symbol
Cleric Spells Prepared (CL 9th, 10th for good spells):
5th -- flame strike[D] (DC 18), greater command (DC 18)
4th -- discern lies (DC 17),divine power (+9 base attack, Str 19, +9 hp), holy smite (DC 17)[D]
3rd -- bestow curse (DC 16), dispel magic, invisibility purge,magic circle against evil[D], prayer
2nd -- augury, hold person (DC 15), silence (DC 15), spiritual weapon[D] (+9/+4 melee), zone of truth (2) (DC 15)
1st -- command (2) (DC 14), comprehend languages, divine favor (+3 attack, +3 damage), magic weapon[D], shield of faith
0 -- detect magic (2), guidance (2), light (2)
D: Domain spell. Domains: Good, War

Abilities Str 13, Dex 8, Con 13, Int 12, Wis 17, Cha 12
Feats Improved Initiative, Lightning Reflexes, Martial Weapon Proficiency (longsword)[B], Negotiator[B], Scribe Scroll, Skill Focus (Sense Motive), Weapon Focus (longsword)[B]
Skills Concentration +7, Diplomacy +17, Heal +9, Knowledge (religion) +7, Sense Motive +14, Spellcraft +7
Possessions combat gear plus masterwork longsword, masterwork heavy crossbow, 10 bolts, +1 full plate of light fortification, +1 heavy steel shield, cloak of resistance +1, ring of protection +1, gold and jade comb (65 gp), 10 gp

Hook Discerning and fair minded.

Adair

The third son of a minor noble family, Adair was groomed for the priesthood from childhood. Adair writes with a lovely, flowing hand, and he was headed for the cloister and a life copying and illustrating manuscripts when he was sent with a group of monks to carry a load of rare tomes to a distant monastery. The trip proved hazardous, and wolves, dire wolves, and even a minor demon assailed the group. By the time he returned home, it became clear that Adair's faith was strong, but so was his heart and his right arm. After a heart-to-heart with his abbot, Adair underwent training as a paladin. After completing several missions for his church, Gavra invited him to become her personal scribe and sometime bodyguard. Adair accepted the post, hoping to learn something about justice and criminal investigation.

Adair CR 2
Male human paladin 2
LG Medium humanoid
Init +4; Senses Listen +1, Spot +1
Languages Common

AC 19, touch 10, flat-footed 19
hp 18 (2 HD)
Fort +6, Ref +2, Will +3

Speed 20 ft. (4 squares)
Melee mwk longsword +5 (1d8+2/19-20)
Ranged mwk composite longbow +3 (1d8+2/x3)
Base Atk +2; Grp +4
Atk Options smite evil 1/day, Power Attack

Abilities Str 14, Dex 10, Con 12, Int 13, Wis 12, Cha 15
Special Actions lay on hands 4 points/day
Combat Gearpotion of shield of faith (+2), oil ofmagic weapon, potion of cure light wounds, potion ofbear's endurance
Spell-Like Abilities (CL 2nd):
At will -- detect evil
SQ aura of good, divine grace
Feats Improved Initiative, Power Attack
Skills Diplomacy +7, Handle Animal +7, Heal +6, Profession (scribe) +6, Ride +2
Possessions combat gear plus half plate armor, heavy steel shield, masterwork longsword, masterwork composite longbow (+2), 20 arrows, silver and lapis lazi signet ring (10 gp), 4 gp.

Smite Evil (Su): One time per day, Adair may attempt to smite evil with one normal melee attack. He adds +2 on his attack roll and deals an extra 2 points of damage.

Arthur

Arthur is a natural lycanthrope who has spent much of his life watching over and protecting weaker creatures. After a chance meeting with Gavra during her adventuring days, Arthur became allied with the church of Heironeous. When Gavra became a magistrate, Arthur agreed to serve as her bailiff, at least for a time. For the moment, Arthur is content to enjoy the comforts of a civilized life while protecting the court and seeing that accused criminals behave while receiving justice.

Arthur: hp 62 (MM 170).

About the Authors

Skip Williams keeps busy with freelance projects for several different game companies and was the Sage of Dragon Magazine for 18 years. Skip is a co-designer of the D&D 3rd Edition game and the chief architect of the Monster Manual. When not devising swift and cruel deaths for player characters, Skip putters in his kitchen or garden (rabbits and deer are not Skip's friends) or works on repairing and improving the century-old farmhouse that he shares with his wife, Penny, and a growing menagerie of pets.

Penny Williams joined the roleplaying game industry as Game Questions Expert for TSR, Inc. in the 1980s. Since then, she has served as RPGA Network Coordinator, PolyhedronNewszine editor, and Senior Editor and Coordinating Editor for the RPG R&D Department at Wizards of the Coast, Inc. Now a busy freelancer, Penny edits for several game companies and runs the online playtesting program for Wizards products. When not enhancing the cruelty of the deaths PCs will suffer at the hands of designers, Penny puts up jam, works jigsaw puzzles, and tutors students in math and science.


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