|Gark the Goblin|
I'm looking to run a sort of skill challenge where my PCs have to prove their organization is operating within the law in a court hearing. However, I've never seen rules for this kind of thing, so I'm hoping for some feedback on a homebrew.
The situation is this:
The 5-6 2nd-level PCs are adventurers in Eleder (in Sargava, in the PFCS). Eleder is renowned for its harsh and baroque legal system, where whether you are hanged or awarded damages is largely determined by the legal finesse of your legal team. The biggest power player in the city, called Lady Daugustana, is also very anti-adventurer, and the PCs have been on her radar (and have been warned against adventuring by the city guard) for some time now. Nevertheless, the PCs decided to try and found an "Explorer's" Guild on a ship they came into possession of. Last session they met with a bureaucrat pawn of Daugustana, and while they tried to allay her suspicion, she still gave them an order to appear for a hearing. There are a bunch of issues that this bureaucrat wants to address, including threats against some of Daugustana's cronies, an issue of the ship's ownership, and whether the Guild is really an adventurer's guild (which is illegal).
Fortunately, the party is friends with a skilled defense attorney (who they liberated from some slavers) and has a trio of real estate barristers on retainer (the Explorer's Guild is basically squatting on the ship, so they anticipated legal troubles). Obviously, I don't want to make the hearing just some NPC lawyers arguing with each other for three hours, so the PCs will also be contributing.
How should the PCs contribute? Sort of inspired by the PFS scenario "Library of the Lion," I'm thinking they'll be able to use any skill, as long as they can explain how it's useful. However, lawyerly skills like Bluff, Diplomacy, Knowledge (local), and Sense Motive will be more useful than the others. Any check the players make may receive a circumstantial bonus for a good argument.
How will the hearing be structured? I'm thinking the three points mentioned above - threats, ownership, and adventuring* - will be the core of the trial. For each point, four checks constitutes a side's argument, and each side is allowed a rebuttal to the other's argument (another check - so 5 checks total, for free). Each check is made against the judge's Diplomacy DC, but again, any skill can be used (with legalistic skills* getting a +5 bonus). Every success is tallied, representing strength of that side's arguments. An objection check can be made at any time with the opposing team's most recent check as a DC, which gives you an opportunity to negate their check (if you succeed), but carries the risk of reducing your argument strength by one success if you fail.
*In addition to Bluff, Diplomacy, Knowledge (local), and Sense Motive, each point has a specific additional skill that counts as "lawyerly": threats is Linguistics because these were threats encoded into the Guild charter for some reason, ownership is Appraise because maybe the ship isn't worth anything anyways, and adventuring is Disguise as the adventurers attempt to hide their nature. Profession (barrister) gets a +5 bonus as well but none of the PCs have it.
(I'm having trouble figuring out how to make sure everyone gets involved - I know some folks will look at their best skill rank and say "yeah I'll just aid." But if I say that everyone has to contribute an argument, it'll strain credibility and make it hard for the Daugustana side to keep up - that side will probably only have the bureaucrat and a couple lawyers on the team. What about something like, everyone in the party rolls a check for each point, and only the best roll is used - and then has to be explained by the roller?)
At the end of each point, the success tallies for that point are compared for each team. If the PCs have a lower tally for any point (aka charge), they lose that point. Losing the threats charge means the Explorer's Guild is ordered to suspend all activities for one year. Losing the ownership charge means their ship is confiscated and placed in the government's hands. Losing the adventuring charge means the guild leader goes to jail (150 gp bail) and everyone associated with the adventuring aspect of the guild (aka all PCs) is charged with at least one count of adventuring-related offense, with a full trial later.
(Are these penalties too harsh? The guild and ship are only a couple sessions old so logically it wouldn't hurt too much to lose them, but the players have high expectations for them. I think I'd make appeals an option, but there would be fees (or bribes).)
How does this look as a system? Too complicated? Too unrealistic? I know a little about the American justice system but 85% of it is just from movies and TV.