Criminal Justice in a Fantasy Campaign

Copyright Chris Adams © 2006

Edited by Nicholas HM Caldwell for The Guild Companion

"They are the frontline soldiers fighting against crime and lawlessness"

About the Author

The author has a Bachelor's Degree in Criminal Justice, Master's in Business Administration, and is currently working on a Ph.D. in Criminal Justice. He has over 13 years experience in law enforcement and is also a state certified law enforcement instructor. Currently he works as a Deputy Marshal and Training Specialist for the Supreme Court of Missouri and as a police officer in the City of Tipton.

Law Enforcement and Investigation

The criminal justice system consists of three components. These components are all equally important and must work together to ensure success. This success is crucial for a society to continue to exist. Where the military protects a society from enemies outside its borders, the criminal justice system protects society from within.

The first component of the criminal justice system is law enforcement. They are the doorway into this system. They monitor and bring to justice thieves, muggers, murderers, and predators. They are the frontline soldiers fighting against crime and lawlessness. They execute the will of the society and its government. Often they have authority not granted to any other entity within the governmental structure. In the modern mundane world, they are the only agency with the power to temporarily suspend certain aspects of the Constitution (i.e. when placing you under arrest, they temporarily removed your freedom of movement).

Every civilized society, at some point, has a need for law enforcement. Every society is based on laws and regardless of the complexity or number of laws, they need to be enforced for that society to expand and grow. In Anglo-Saxon England, a reeve was an officer who was appointed by the king to be responsible for the public business of the locality. A high-ranking official, the shire-reeve was the representative of the royal authority in a shire or county. They enforced their lord's will and were responsible for carrying out whatever edicts might be handed down from the crown. The office of sheriff was continued after the Norman Conquest, although the name was changed to "viscount." The office eventually returned to the title "Sheriff", and "Viscount" became an inherited title of nobility. For the most part, this office remained unchanged for centuries until in September, 1829, Sir Robert Peel founded the London Metropolitan police force. This new organization was considered a radical new approach to dealing with criminals.

Since most fantasy worlds and campaigns will have timelines spanning several thousands of years, it seems reasonable to assume that they too would eventually have the need for a sophisticated law enforcement system.


A HARP campaign will have no need for a new profession to handle NPCs or even player characters who will operate as law enforcement officers. While modern day universities offer degrees in criminal justice, a majority of officers come from very diverse backgrounds. These backgrounds include: military, business administration, social services, and even the clergy. This would no doubt be duplicated in a fantasy campaign. Almost any profession would provide the necessary skills to perform as a law enforcement officer or investigator. A brief review of each profession and how it would be applied is explained below.

Cleric: Very appropriate for investigation into the violations of a church's code of conduct, heresy, or even looking into reports of the supernatural. Very common for a church to "police their own."

Fighter: Probably the most common profession in law enforcement. The ability to handle the use of weapons and armor is extremely crucial to keeping the public safe and putting a rest to disorder.

Harper: Probably the least common profession you will seen in law enforcement, but perhaps they were never a very good musician or actor to begin with and needed a career change.

Mage: Very efficient investigator with spells that would assist in the solving of many crimes. The ability to detect the use of magic and obtain other information through sorcerous means would be a very effective tool for an detective.

Monk: Similar to the Fighter in that the experience in the martial arts would be a very useful skill for law enforcement.

Ranger: The ultimate conservation agent. Able to track and retrieve wanted criminals and enforce laws that apply to the outdoors.

Rogue: Similar to the Fighter and the Thief. The use of weapons, armor, and covert skills can be very useful.

Thief: Sometimes the ability to think like a criminal is the best way to catch a criminal. Sometimes a youthful delinquent can be reformed and see the error of their ways. They could cross the line and use their experiences for the greater good.

Warrior Mage: Similar to the Mage and Fighter.


The need for new skills is really not necessary, but a review of using existing skills is warranted. Combat skills represent an obvious use in law enforcement, as officers are often put in harm's way, so that will not be discussed below.

Acting: Useful for undercover officers.

Animal Handling/Beastmastery: If you are a canine officer, this skill is a must. In a fantasy world, however, other monsters or creatures could be utilized in this capacity.

Arcane Lore: Useful when investigating crimes that involve magic.

Combat Styles/ Martial Arts Styles/ Martial Arts Sweeps: Styles involving the non-lethal methods of disabling fleeing suspects would be very important.

Disguise: Useful for undercover work and surveillance.

Duping: One of the most useful skills for officers, especially investigators who interview suspects and witnesses. The confession will often make a trial unnecessary.

Foraging/Survival: This skill could be interpreted to also allow it to locate hard to find clues or even process crime scenes.

Linguistics: Necessary when interviewing suspects or witnesses who don't speak a common language.

Locks & Traps: Sometimes entry into structures is necessary to apprehend suspects or retrieve evidence. Very useful for serving arrest warrants.

Mimicry: Possible use for undercover agents.

Poisoning: Very good skill for crime scene investigation.

Perception: Probably the most important skill for a law enforcement officer. The best investigators in the world are also the most perceptive.

Public Speaking: Good skill for public relations officers or crime prevention specialists.

Storytelling: Good skill for criminals, not cops.

Stalking & Hiding: When conducting surveillance or following individuals, a very important skill.

Streetwise: Having contacts and getting information is vital.

Tracking: Very useful for tracking down suspects or even witnesses to a crime.

Trading: Useful skill if applied towards the gathering of information. The "purchase" of valuable tips and information from informants is a common activity among law enforcement.


Everyone loves a good mystery. Since the appearance of Edgar Allan Poe's short story "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" in 1841, readers have tried to solve mysteries. Poe set the basic structure with his sleuth Auguste Dupin, a gifted amateur who used logic to solve mysteries. Sherlock Holmes, who appeared in a short story during 1887, solved many mysteries and assisted law enforcement with cases that had confounded them. Simply watching television or a movie will present all kinds of ideas for scenarios involving "crime."