Punishment
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Basic Information

Punishment is something unpleasant done to curtail lawlessness or disobedience. See also Crimes, Criminal, and Crime and Punishment Tropes. Usually a punishment presumes that an offense has been committed and seeks to either exact retribution against the offender, to reform him or to provide a deterrent example to him or to others.
To be rightfully called punishment, the act should also be committed by or at the behest of a lawful authority (within a given definition of "lawful"), otherwise it's just an assault (or suchlike). Who has the right to punish who for what has long been a cause of fallings out between the ruled and their rulers.

Modern punishments

Despite common misapplication, Parole is not a punishment. It's actually a reward for good behaviour and rehabilitation, or a way to ease Prison Over-Crowding. Since Paroled criminals are often put on probation or assigned a Parole Officer, this sometimes is seen as a punishment, but it's generally far superior to the alternative.

Archaic Punishments (though, admittedly, some of these still happen today)

The following, whilst officially forms of trial rather than punishments, were also common form in previous years and were often quite capable of serving as corporal and/or capital punishments in their own right:

Disturbing Futuristic Punishments

Disturbing Fantasy Punishments

Sources

Bibliography
2. non-fiction book: Curious Punishments of Bygone Days by Alice Morse Earle
3. non-fiction book: The Pirate Primer by George Choundas

Game and Story Use

  • The extremes of punishment a society will go to says a lot about that culture or government.
    • Lawful Evil will have harsh and brutal punishments.
    • Lawful Good might have more humane punishments, but is likely to go the public humiliation or punitive measures route.
    • Chaotic Good will focus more on rehabilitation and reform, seeking to deter rather than punish. On the other hand, such a society might be inclined to tolerate vigilante justice, even while preaching forgiveness.
    • Chaotic Evil likely has no laws, and relies on lynch mobs or private vendetta.
    • Likewise, due to any number of cultural, historical, or societal factors, it's entirely possible that a given legal system might use one or more punishments that seem entirely out of character (and either brutal or laughable) from our modern western perspective. The Colonial Era relied on whipping and bilboes pretty extensively, but you'd hesitate to characterize the Founding Fathers as Lawful Evil for that.
    • A society with a high focus on personal liberty and autonomy may well regard imprisonment as less humane than corporal punishment … and possibly even capital punishment. Other societies may be quite happy to award fines for very serious offences (see weregild above) or punish for things that outsiders see as trivial. Places where public funds are at a premium may be reluctant to imprison (and/or have very nasty prisons) and either substitute other penalties (see the Colonial Era thing above) or outsource imprisonment … for example as bonded labour.
      • Medieval English judges would occasionally consign victims of violence to the care of their attacker - with the understanding that the attacker's punishment would depend on the end state of the victim … a full recovery would mean a relatively lenient sentence, whereas death within a year and a day mean the attacker would be punished as a murderer (typically with death). Obviously this tended to create a strong incentive for the best care possible1.
  • Sometimes, the Players have screwed up really bad, and you just have to punish the characters. May be you feel that all suspension of disbelief would be lost if the local authorities did nothing. You may be motivated by concern that you'll "lose control" of the campaign if you let them get away with that. Whatever the reason, it's always good to know what your options are, so you're not forced to escalate straight to Wanted Dead Or Alive.
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