Hanging Judge
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Basic Information

A Hanging Judge is a ruthless judge who rules his courtroom as his own personal fiefdom. He will hand out brutal sentences for the most minor infractions. He may be a Corrupt Hick using his power to dominate the local community, a Knight Templar who believes his punishments are justified, or just get off on abusing his power. Any hero who ends up in front of him can expect no mercy and precious little justice.

Typically presides over a Kangaroo Court. The hanging judge is a very common Western Character Trope. In The Wild West, the Hanging Judge is probably a Circuit Judge.

In a sufficiently crapsack world, the hanging judge may be a reasonable response to a setting with an excess of people in need of hanging and/or cardboard prisons. When PCs round the same serial killer up for the fourth time, the hanging judge may suddenly seem like an angel of justice.

Sources

TV Tropes Wiki

Real life Hanging Judges in the The American West include Roy Bean and Isaac Parker, according to Wikipedia.

Game and Story Use

  • Could be used as an excuse or setting conceit for the way Anti Hero PCs dispose of threats to the community. They might even have an understanding with the Hanging Judge, that he won't hold them accountable for any murders of folks he was just gonna hang anyway. They'd be saving the Judge some paperwork.
  • Or, more likely, the Hanging Judge could be a form of socially-protected villain.
    • If someone is Wrongly Accused or there's mitigating circumstances, the PCs might have to take a stand against the Hanging Judge.
      • Where do the PCs stand in conflicts between the letter and spirit of the law? Or, between the spirit of the law and the intentions of the judge.
    • The Judge could be the Deus Ex Machina or Sword of Damocles that keeps the PCs from getting over zealous. You'd hate to have the US Marshal or Pinkertons Agent haul you in front of the Hanging Judge, wouldn't ya boys? Guess you'd better just lock up that bad guy, not burn down his ranch and shoot him in the back.
  • Bear in mind that, at some points in history, you could be hanged for a great many things - into the 19th century English courts could and would hang a convict for theft of goods worth more than a shilling (which had been a significant amount of money when the law was introduced, but had not been adjusted for inflation for centuries) and until reforms in 1823 there were approximately 220 capital offences on the books. Hanging might be an entirely reasonable part of a judge's daily business.
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