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Basic Information

Bail, as a concept of law, is a bond lodged with a court in order for a prisoner to be released from custody between arrest and trial. Depending on the circumstances, the bond may have to actually be paid into the court, or merely pledged against the prisoner's return1. If the prisoner does not present themselves for trial, the bond is forfeit, otherwise it is repaid.
In some contexts, a prisoner may be bailed "on cognisance" (that is, on the basis of a promise to report for trial) rather than for a bond - the promise may be theirs, or that of someone else who could reasonably be expected to deliver them for trial2.
Predictably the size of the bond, and its nature, tend to depend on the reputation of the prisoner (and/or their sponsor), the depth of their local roots, their crime and any other factors the judge feels make them more or less likely to appear for their trial - a rootless wanderer would be lucky to be bailed in the first place and would need to pay a substantial bond, probably in cash, whilst a local farmer with a crop in the field and a large family might well be released on cognisance.

In some jurisdictions, bail may of course be a thinly veiled bribe to the judge to allow the prisoner to disappear. This could be entirely normal in a medieval context - faced with the trouble and expense of jailing an offender until the next circuit court sessions, a local magistrate might well accept a "bail payment" to allow them to escape. How much of the forfeit bail ends up in the judge's pocket depends on a great many factors.


1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • PCs are likely to have trouble making bail in many cultures - unless they have invested time and effort into creating roots in the local territory, they are prone to be considered a flight risk.
    • They may also find themselves bailed out of prison by someone they are not happy to see at all…
  • People who have pledged bail may well hire PCs to retrieve a fugitive in order not to lose the bond.
  • A court may pay a portion of a fugitive's bail to anyone who returns them to custody.
  • It's not uncommon for na├»ve parents to be seriously discommoded by placing bail for a child who then absconds - life savings, heirlooms and significant items of movable or real property, up to and including the family home, may be lost or placed at risk in a reflexive attempt to help delinquent offspring. This provides various intros for PCs - friends of theirs can be put in this situation, PCs own parents can end up like this due to criminal siblings, a patron may require them to assist another of his clients … this could even be part of a sufficiently prodigal PCs backstory.
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