Rokugani law is an interesting beast. But before I get into the bulk of this conversation I think we should watch this video.
There is a lot about Rokugan we can walk away from watching that scene. And not just Scorpion players, or Crab players or even Lion players, Jack speaks to several elements that are thematic to L5R in a matter of a few minutes. But what we are going to walk away with today is the point that Rokugani don’t want the truth.
Now this is partially true. They do after all value Honesty, but the tenet of Honesty is not the same thing as being truthful and a guileful person can uphold Honesty without being 100% truthful. That’s why Rokugani worry so much about their On, they desire in some regards to hide the truth.
Thus Rokugani law isn’t about the truth. Well not in a straightforward Perry Mason, Law and Order or CSI kind of way. That’s not to say that games run on the idea of getting to the bottom of it all and finding out who really did it and thus punish them is wrong. I love a good mystery, and that kind of adventure has its place in a game. It’s the Kitsuki’s strong point and it makes them the king in a magistrate game.
However that’s just a tiny fraction of how Rokugani law works. After all the Kitsuki method is considered a joke by most clans.
Ultimately what Rokugani want from their law is accountability. A crime was committed and someone has to pay. Honor demands it. Because Rokugan is a land where honor is stronger than steel it is assumed that the guilty party will be found out. Because the honorable thing to do once confronted with the fact that you committed a crime is to admit it and to ask for seppuku. Honor is the reason why someone can’t be punished for a crime till they confess to it. The honorable mans guilt will eventually weigh him down enough that he will give in and seek redemption. That or he gives into the torture.
In either case because honor is such a central key to how law is prosecuted in Rokugan, things like Investigation skills or techniques become secondary to the individuals with in the setting. Good magistrates get the job done because honor will guide them to the right person and honor will cause said person to admit his guilt.
Now the reality is far far worse and more bleak than that. People lie and cheat and abuse the system all the time. Innocent samurai get accused and are convicted of crimes. But even the possibility of a wrongfully prosecuted case has hope. Rokugani believe in karma after all and if a magistrate knowingly convicts the wrong person then he’ll get his in the end. There is also the possibility that the wronged samurai’s spirit will find a way to get revenge from beyond the grave. After all spirits and ancestors influence Rokugani life and getting ones family to clear your name is right up the alley for their beliefs.
The wonderful thing about this though is that it opens up more avenues for rp. Being a magistrate after all is as much a matter of political ties as it is a matter of skill. And because it’s not an evidentiary based system it gives both players and GM’s wiggle room on how to be a good magistrate.
You’re not required to have more ranks in Investigation than the Kitsuki to be good at being a magistrate. You can approach the magistrate game in your own unique way based on how you see law in Rokugan.
Do you want to trade favors to catch the “right” crook? Do you want to blackmail the guilty or the innocent? Or someone close to an innocent or guilty person? Do you see it as a means to more power and prestige? Do you want to right the wrongs of society? Avenge a family slight?
For the GM you can test a player’s resolve. Is he going to back down to political pressure? Is he going to accuse people regardless of whether or not they actually did it? How long can someone with high status protect themselves from the law? Are the PC’s going to build a group of allies to help take down a well placed criminal? Is an ugly truth that does more damage to one’s family, clan the Empire worth punishing the guilty?
It’s a rich field that opens up the more and more one considers that Rokugani law ultimately cares about accountability than it does truth. That it makes a very large assumption that honor will win out in the end. And it gives characters who aren’t Kitsuki more to do than being back up dancers :)