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Monday, January 28, 2019

Time to Go to Jail!

So, what I was planning for Monday went way off the rails and won’t be ready for a while. Instead, here’s some commentary on a problem someone raised elsewhere: How do you handle sending a player character to jail?

A player picks a lot of fights with NPCs or otherwise does things that would trigger punishment normally. We’ll ignore hypothetical cases where this is due to interpersonal issues at the table and only deal with the case where the player knows there’s a consequence and is willing to take the risk. But how do you handle it?

I see jail in the game being like any other downtime activity, like training or enchanting items. The PC is inactive until the sentence is served, but other characters can attempt a rescue, and the player can suggest plans for escape, like winning over one of the guards or sneaking a message out to a retainer. Some scenarios can be played out to see if the plan works, but for the most part, that character is considered unavailable, and the player switches to a backup character.

It doesn’t actually have to be traumatic, or mean the end of the player’s participation. If the player is traumatized, though… well, that’s probably one of those interpersonal issues, then.

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  1. My understanding is that prison time wasn't really used as a punishment in medieval times, in England at the very least. Although you might be in gaol for years awaiting trial...

    Punishments were more usually fines, public humiliation, or death.

    1. There's nothing about re-creating medieval times in the post, though. It's general advice on what to do if a PC goes to jail.

    2. Well, most D&D games are at least pseudo-medieval, so I reckon a little history is relevant. Also, I suppose implicit in my comment was, "consider solving the problem of characters going to jail by not using jail as a punishment".

      Our modern world-view sees jail as the main punishment available to the state, but it has not always been so. As I was saying, in 14th century England, it was really not even on the table. While people might spend time in jail waiting for trial, the sentence would not be jail time.

      The issue of what to do with the jailed character is neatly solved in a manner which also includes some interesting historical flavour by instead fining them a few shillings.

  2. With a little more context, the solution may become clearer. What were the players suspecting? Do you want this to become an adventure, or a cost? Would you allow a player to say "and my character spends years rotting in the goal. I bequeath all my possessions to my allies. 3d6 down the line, was it?"