Town Marshal
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Basic Information

A Town Marshal is Law Enforcement position in the US. In modern usage, a Marshal is often a civil officer or court officer, such as a bailiff.

Sheriff, Marshal, or US Marshal?

In The Wild West, the position of Town Marshal was more commonly tasked with Criminal Law Enforcement than in the modern era. This has caused all sorts of confusion in The Western, where the terms Sheriff and Marshal are often thrown around incorrectly. This entry attempts to clarify law enforcement positions in the Old West:

  • The Sheriff is a county-level position. He is tasked with keeping the peace and enforcing the law in the entire County. His jurisdiction includes all the towns in the County, as well as the space between. He's generally an elected official, and so must play the political game and will likely have some measure of charisma or political acumen. His office is likely to be at the County Seat. For more information, see The Sheriff.
  • The Town Marshal (or City Marshal) is a local or municipal position. It may be elected, or appointed, depending on local law or custom. In larger communities, the position is similar to modern Chief of Police, in smaller communities he might be the only policeman. Since the position may be appointed by the Mayor, there's some chance of the Town Marshal being politically inept, or being a tool of the Mayor's office. His jurisdiction is the town, but he probably has some latitude in pursuing an Outlaw outside the city limits. Should the criminal take shelter in another town, however, the situation may grow complicated. Decorum, at least, would require him to check in with the local authorities.
  • The Federal Marshal (or US Marshal) is Federal position. In the Wild West, he had a great deal of power, and a Jurisdiction that overlapped a large number of other Jurisdictions. Should some prisoner need to be brought to the Circuit Judge, it'll be the Federal Marshal who escorts them across The County Line. For further information, see US Marshal

Since he polices just a single community, the Town Marshal might be a part time job, and (for quieter towns, anyway) rarely dangerous. The Sheriff, however, has duties all over the County, and is more likely to have seen some action. The US Marshal, on the other hand, is pretty much guaranteed to be a real Badass. Popular Culture tends to confuse and/or conflate the roles of Sheriff and Town Marshal - this may, to an extent be excused by the fact that in a poorly developed region (as favoured by the Western Genre) the county town may well be the only town (or settlement of any size that isn't privately owned).


Game and Story Use

  • Multiple competing levels of law enforcement, with overlapping jurisdiction, makes for an exciting game!
    • The various NPCs law officers might enforce crimes differently.
      • Could be the local Marshal turns a blind eye to nonviolent crimes, but if the victim travels to the county seat and gets the Sheriff involved, then things get ugly.
        • The Sheriff might even try to close the Marshal's favorite whore house!
      • One might let you loose with a slap on the wrist, a stern talking to, or a bribe. The other sends for the Hanging Judge.
    • The different levels might actually be enemies.
      • One tier might be corrupt.
      • They might all be corrupt, and having competing interests.
      • Local Law Enforcement might just not like it when the Feds come bossing them around.
  • Trouble might work it's way up the ladder. Could be the Town Marshal calls in The Sheriff, who then passes the buck up to the Federal Marshal.
    • Which one in that list is the PC?
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