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Basic Information

Murder is the unlawful killing of one human by another with intent (or malice aforethought), and generally this state of mind distinguishes murder from other forms of unlawful homicide. [1] Most jurisdictions consider intent to do harm sufficient to convict - the murder need not necessarily have intended to kill, but if death results directly from the harm inflicted (and, under English Law, within 366 days of the harm being inflicted), murder can be demonstrated.

The killer normally must also be proven to be in his right mind at the time of the offence - jurisdictions vary by time and place as to what conditions will prevent this and deliberate self-intoxication normally provides no defence.

For those campaigns in which there is more than one sapient species murder may - or may not - extend to the killing of any sapient. Historically non-sapients have occasionally been held to be culpable of murdering humans as well (or at least animals have been tried, convicted and executed for murdering humans in the past) - unsurprisingly without much in the way of reciprocity.

In most legal systems murder is regarded as (one of) the most heinous of crimes and will (normally) attract some of the most severe sentences available.

Lawful authority to kill, obviating any charge of murder, can be hard to come by - although some jurisdictions will excuse or downgrade a charge of murder for a variety of reasons, some of them leading to significant values dissonance for outsiders. Just cause - such as self defence or the defence of others - is a typical example of the type and probably the most universally excepted (although in some cultures even these rights may be waived for some groups).

Where a concept of private war - or some similar doctrine - exists then the whole issue of murder becomes substantially murkier. Duelling is another complicating factor in the matter of murder - which is amongst the reasons that it became generally prohibited.



Game and Story Use

  • The starting point of a good many detective stories.
    • Or the thing a criminal or villain engages when their plots start to unravel.
  • Note that most kills PCs make could be regarded as murders unless they have some kind of lethal sanction.
    • Though the PCs' home country might not recognize extradition requests coming from a dungeon. Still, there is some potential for lawfare, especially if peace suddenly breaks out.
  • Great for values dissonance plots - especially if the PCs come from a culture where there is quite a broad right to kill into one where that right is extremely limited. An obvious example might be a Norseman or Saxon finding himself in a region where it isn't acceptable to go at someone with a sword just because he insulted you but even in the modern world nations vary as to what they regard as justifiable by way of self defence or the defence of others.
  • Adding the "year and a day" clause to murder statutes in your campaign could lead to interesting plot.
    • Note that medieval English judges would occasionally consign victims of violence to the care of their attackers - if the victim died of their wounds within the specified period, the attacker would hang so it was in his interests that the victim recovered.
    • Proving that someone's death was not related to an earlier attack could be an interesting plot point, especially given the state of pre-modern medical theory.
  • Combine this with the concept of maleficium - real or imagined - and all hell can break loose.
  • In many legal systems - especially those with a concept of Double Jeopardy - making sure you try someone for the right kind of homicide is vital: a murder trial in a case which would have been better tried as manslaughter might well lead to accquital of someone who is actually guilty.
  • (Adventure hook: murder trial is interrupted by another killing, apparently with the same methods as the one in question. Obviously the defendant can't have been responsible because he is in custody - is he really innocent or has someone arranged a copycat offence to provide a form of cado alteram defence1? Can the PCs prove it either way?)
  • What about an undead victim? In some settings it might be genuinely difficult to prove that a murder has taken place, even with the testimony of the deceased: "He killed me!" "It … appears you, uh, recovered quite well" - likewise if the victim was resurrected, a murder charge may become much murkier.
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