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Basic Information

Compurgation1 (also known as wager of (or at) law) was - for want of a better term - a form of trial, which consisted of both the accused and the accuser gathering as many people as possible prepared to swear an oath that they were in the right. The judge would then weigh the number and quality of each parties compurgators and award the case to whoever came out on top.

Quantification of the oaths on each side often relied on the concept of an oath-price - a theoretical sum of money that the oath in question was equal to. A man's2 oath price was based on a combination of his social status and reputation: even a magnate might not be that valuable an ally if he was publicly acknowledged to be dishonest, whilst someone of low status with a great reputation for integrity might have an unexpectedly high oath price. Adjudication of a final value might be a job for the judge or possibly for some kind of jury. In some systems, a compurgator was obliged to pay over his oath price if the case went against him, so a party was challenged to find people prepared to put a significant amount of money on the line in defence of their trust in him. In any case, someone on the losing side of such a case was effectively foresworn and would lose significant face - conversely, the oath-price of those on the winning side might increase as their judgement is effectively vindicated.


1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • An interesting legal system for your dark-ages campaign (although some clerical courts continued to use a form of compurgation into the C17) - probably quite dissonant to most players.
    • But very useful to those that have bought the right advantages, kept up a good reputation or generally not used Charisma as a dump-stat.
    • By default, murderhobo PCs should have a low oath-price, even if wealthy and apparently of good character (most pre-modern societies measured you by your role in the community) … PCs who have accepted social rewards, built relationships with NPCs and bought property and invested in business will be much better off. This can be very important if they are prosecuted by a well-connected villain.
  • Also useful for far-future societies where a highly consensus based society (think Ian M. Banks' Culture) might decide issues based on the amount of "kudos" or "notability" on each side of a dispute.
  • Conceivably you could track oath price as a tertiary stat - with suitable modifiers for distance from home etc.
  • There may also be space for mud-slinging and other blackwash (or promotional) tactics during a trial in order to alter the oath-value of a given group. This can alway backfire.
  • Persuading a key ally to join your oath-group might require a favour in return - or the cashing of an existing favour.
  • Where losing compurgators are required to pay over their oath-price, praising someone whose side seems likely to lose can be a (risky) form of financial attack.
  • If being on the right side has some larger benefit, people might join oath-groups just to claim it. Keynes thought capital investment being the side product of a casino was bad enough…
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