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Ain’t No Justice Like Mob Justice or: The Execution of Squee

November 6, 2012

Part of a continuing series I’ve dubbed, “To Be A Young Necromancer In Love,” updating Tuesdays and whenever the hell I feel like it.

My current campaign has been going on now for quite some time, and it is a game I refer to as the, “Fantasy Pirate Game.” This is because at the heart of the game rested the idea that the player characters would be pirates on the open sea. Of course, one of ongoing jokes that has come up in the game is that they’re more like the Pirates of Penzance than they are actual pirates.

The game takes place in large collection of tropical islands that span a large swath of ocean. This massive island chain is the midway point between two vast continents that are home to two large super-states. To the northwest lies the Union, a Dwarf-founded collection of states and races (Human, Elf, Halfling, and of course Dwarf) that believes in individual rights and the voice of the people in governance. The Union is largely peaceful and with the exception of orcs on the southern Elven borders, largely secure. To the southeast is the Hobgoblin Imperium which rules over both Hobgoblins and Goblins, and has enslaved the race of Bugbears. The Imperium is ruled over by a God-Emperor and run by a series of ministers whose power is backed by the military and secret police. The Union and Imperium avoided a war of expansion with each other by ceding the massive swath of islands they had independently discovered as neutral territory.

This neutral territory quickly became a haven for shady business practices, political dissidents, and criminals. This has resulted in a large number of island-states and two major powers within the islands themselves. Namely, the Kingdom of New Canaan which broke off from the Human nation of Canaan (a Union member), and the City of Freven (formerly a Republic with very very loose laws, and now a Magical Dictatorship thanks in part to the PCs). The Union and Imperium still own some islands themselves (those closest to their home continents) and of course have various catspaws at play in the politics of the islands themselves.

The PCs were prisoners of the Union heading to a penal colony to cut sugar cane when they revolted and took control of their ship. Now the de facto leaders of the vessel, they along with those who were willing to remain aboard under their leadership, set out for a life of adventure amidst the high seas. The main characters were Vyalatan (an Elven man-about-town who got into one too many duels to the death), Bill the Doctor (a former medical professional who got into debt with a criminal organization, after failing to save a patient, they framed him for the murder of said patient as payback, his title also changes from session-to-session), Squee the Goblin (a shadowy Goblin assassin who was highly distrustful and highly distrusted), and Bug (a Bugbear of prodigious strength and below average intelligence).

Early on in their careers as, “exceptionally well-armed traders,” their ship (the awkwardly named Raider) was hired to carry a number of enslaved gladiators to a tournament being held at the private residence of a rich Freven Senator. During this event, the party got many chances to hob-knob with some very well off members of Freven’s high society. During their time at this event there was a lot of trickery, and at least one instance of murder in a locked room, but that’s not important to this story. What does matter is that Squee made contact with a known and powerful Hobgoblin gangster by the name of Nasser.

After returning to Freven some time later, Squee once again made contact with Nasser in the hopes of proving himself worthy of working for the Hobgoblin and his organization. Impressed with the Goblin’s persistence, knowledge of Nasser’s illicit activities, and of course Nasser’s knowledge that Squee actually was an assassin, he decided to give him a trial run. Nasser requested that Squee steal a prized painting from the home of his former employer (the man who owned the gladiators the PCs had just ferried about).

For some reason, Squee only enlisted the aid of Bug in this mission and the pair of them set off into the night in an attempt to steal a prized painting. Squee was able to sneak into the building invisibly while Bug claimed to wish to become a gladiator with their former employer, Putnam, as his agent. Squee’s immediate plan to steal the painting was disrupted by the fact that it was on display in the same second floor parlor that Putnam used to conduct business.

So Squee did what any normal person would do… he set fire to the first floor of the building.

Now with everyone terrified and trapped on the second floor, Squee quickly realized that there was little chance he had to steal the painting outright. Squee suddenly dropped his spell of invisibility in an attempt to gain people’s trust, whilst also trying to knock out the butler (and any other witnesses to his theft). Needless to say, Putnam did not instantly trust the known Goblin assassin and questioned what he was doing in his house.

At this point, with fire beginning to consume the first floor of the house and spreading to other homes, Squee said screw it, and fled. Flying and bleeding through the streets, he caught the attention of the mob whose homes were being destroyed by the fire (which was eventually put out by magical and mundane firefighters). The angry mob followed at a slightly slower pace, giving Squee the chance to return to the party’s vessel where he immediately demanded they set off without Bug and anyone who might be on shore leave.

Despite the confusion, the party was able to set off just as the angry mob made it to the docks. Vyalatan and Bill the Doctor could gain nothing of the situation from Squee, who seemed insistent that they fire all of their ballista at the mob. While nearly no one agreed to this course of action, Squee got a drunken crewman to help him fire a ballista bolt into the crowd as they departed, resulting in a number of deaths and injuries.

Their ship was then attacked by the personal warship of a prominent Freven adventurer known as the White Wizard. Vyalatan and Bill, appalled by what their crewmate had done, assisted in his capture by the White Wizard.

Squee was tried and found guilty of arson, inciting panic, several counts of murder, and assault. The penalty was death by hanging, and when his head popped off, it was used by children to play soccer.

We’ve talked a lot about the concept of justice, and what it precisely is.

In this case, it’s easy to say that Squee was the victim of, “mob justice,” which we try to differentiate from actual justice. Of course, Squee did face trial and was put to death by the state not by the mob itself. Yet, it was quite clear that the mob would have killed him if the state didn’t, so who really killed Squee? Was it the state or was it the mob?

The reason why we differentiate the two is that the justice of a mob is believed to be unjust because it is driven the passions and emotions of people in a mob. In addition, we know that mobs allow for the diffusion of responsibility and thus no one feels that their actions will have consequences. This lack of consequences, some may argue, leads to a breakdown of morality because without consequence our actions are not real, if our actions are not real than they have no moral dimension.

However, this once again leads to the question of whether or not non-mob justice, as in that delivered by a court and jury of one’s peers, is actually as fair and impartial as we believe it to be. As shown in this case, Squee was being tried by the very city that he committed crimes against. He fired siege weapons into a crowd, and set fire to a neighborhood. Could any judge from that city look at him fairly, let alone a jury?

We’ve seen this sort of question arise in our history of trial law. From the Boston Massacre to the Rodney King beating to the Death of Trayvon Martin, we often will change the venue of a trial to ensure that said trial is fair. Yet, much like the actions that lead to these trials, they do not occur in a vacuum. Trials like this continue to have repercussions across society because of the mob, and their thirst for their own brand of “justice.”

We once again run into this issue that justice is merely the punishment, and the idea that the punishment will fit the crime. In this interpretation, justice need not be moral.

This is in some ways how people argue for the death penalty. If you kill a person, or rape a person, then it is only logical that you should be treated in kind. Let the punishment fit the crime, as it were. You should not merely be removed from society to be rehabilitated but you should be removed entirely. Yet, as is often argued, the whole concept of the death penalty becomes undermined if just one of those people put to death is innocent. It means that the state can murder whoever it chooses, not as punishment but because it has the power to.

Just like a mob.

Our jurors and justices are not logical and uncaring, part of what drives their decisions are their own personal morals and experiences. More importantly, are the emotions that come with those experiences, and those morals. It’s exceedingly difficult to detach ourselves from the emotions that make us who we are, and it’s even harder to not judge a man based on our own personal morals.

Yet, does it come down to the fact that within a smaller group our sense of responsibility is not diffused?

The mob loses its sense of reality because there are no consequences to their actions because they are a group too large to be held accountable individually. Without accountability, there are no consequences, and without consequences there actions have no affect, and thus are not real. Still, there actions do have an affect, the mob member just doesn’t process it.

When we’re in a smaller group though, we’re able to process that accountability, and thus our actions are real. If our actions are real, than they have a moral dimension to them, and we have a responsibility (at least to ourselves) to have our personal ethics and morals guide our actions, even if that action is the judging of others.

Perhaps that is what makes justice, just, is the idea that it is constrained by the personal ethics of another being. A being who has a duty as a member of our society to ensure that we all get our fair deal, as it were.

Still, can we not find things so offensive, so reprehensible to our personal sense of ethics, and society’s rules, that that impartiality, that duty to give someone a fair shake, is compromised? In that sense, can justice truly ever be blind or truly be ever separated from the rule of a mob?

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