With the passage of the Lightbringer Edicts, several of Lord Lightbringer’s former associates met in secret. They decided, despite what the edicts declared, that the world would always need adventurers. To help keep the profession alive and to protect their friends from persecution, these men and women established the Black Council and the first Codes of Conduct.
The Black Council began as a simple tribunal of three independent judges. Whenever adventurers or groups came into conflict, they could meet before the Council to settle their differences. In addition, whenever an adventurer broke the Codes, they might stand before the Council in judgment (sometimes referred to as The Tribunal).
From the beginning, the Council operated with quick and ruthless efficiency. The Black Council heard cases and cast their decisions with minimal debate. Adventurers pleaded their case before the Tribunal without benefit of barrister or orator. The Council’s judgments were usually swift, harsh, and without appeal. Punishments, when handed down, tended to be immediate and physical in nature.
Over time, the Council evolved and changed as adventuring became increasingly outlawed. At present, five individuals serve at a time for four-year terms. Every four years, adventurers gather in large numbers in the city of Highport and elect new members to the Council. No individual may serve two consecutive terms on Council, and an individual may serve no more than twice in his lifetime. No adventurer under investigation by the Council may serve as a member until his name has been cleared.
Adventurers appearing before the Council must still plead their case without any kind of professional legal representation (although an incapacitated person may select someone to represent them). The Council delivers decisions the same day they hear the case. In most cases, decisions and punishments include fines (including penalties, weregild, and reparations) and confiscation, although corporeal punishments are also used in extreme situations.
Given the vast size of the continent and the sheer number of adventurers in business at any time, only a handful of cases ever go before the Council. In the majority of disagreements, participants work out their argument amicably, hire an objective mediator, pursue a formal challenge, or request mediation from a Black Council representative (known as a Judiciar). Less than one serious dispute out of a hundred appears in front of the full Council.
A formal challenge made by an aggrieved party towards the perpetrator remains a time-honored and accepted method of settling major disputes. Amongst the society of adventurers, a formal challenge allows both parties to seek resolution of a disagreement while protecting reputations from backlash or later recriminations. As long as both parties observed the Code of Challenge, the Black Council considers the matter settled and the case closed.
A formal challenge begins with the allegedly wronged individual or group, and must involve a serous issue such as theft, serious injury, or murder. The wronged party makes their challenge to the perpetrator, usually while on neutral ground and with other adventurers as witnesses. The aggrieved party declares their reasons for making the challenge, when they anticipate the contest taking place, the rules of the contest, and the results for each party should they win. Finally, the challenged party must accept or decline the challenge once all details are finalized.
Accepting a challenge means both parties meet at the appointed time for the suggested contest. In essence, agreement to the challenge means agreement of all stated terms. A challenged party may raise a protest to one or more elements of the challenge, such as the rules of the contest or the time frame involved.
In most situations, a challenge’s contest involves combat to first blood or a certain number of “touches” (minor wounds). In rare cases, a challenge contest involves combat to the death or dismemberment. The contest might instead involve athletic competition, feats of strength, feats of endurance, or just about anything the parties may agree upon. Combat to the death, once common and popular, has become rare and only used when the competing parties would just as soon kill each other anyhow.
Common disagreements about an issued challenge include a time frame that is too immediate, a contest obviously weighted against the challenged party, stakes too high for the perceived insult, or extenuating circumstances (such as a challenge issued in the midst of a siege). The two parties hammer out the details of the challenge and agree to the terms. In most instances, the challenger and the challenged are honor-bound to agree to terms quickly with a minimum of gimmicks; a challenge seen as improper risks the wrath of the Black Council, even harsher judgments, and censure for all.
If the two parties fail to agree on terms of the challenge, no challenge may take place. At this point, either group may either call for a Judiciar to hear the case, or either party may request the case appear before the entire Black Council.
The Black Council, with rare exception, holds court in the city of Balnoth. Adventurers with cases to appear before the Council must travel to Balnoth; adventurers charged with breaking the Code are dragged to the city by force, if necessary. The Council almost never holds session outside this city. At times, however, the Council dispatches a representative – known as a Judiciar – to settle disputes in other cities and kingdoms.
A Judiciar arrives on the scene bearing the full authority of the Black Council. When he (or she) speaks, he does so with that body’s voice. When the Judiciar passes judgment, his word is final and without appeal unless absolute proof demonstrates the official somehow betrayed or circumvented the Council.
A wronged party may request the Black Council send a Judiciar to settle a dispute or hear a case. For several reasons, most people remain reluctant to take this step. First, the Judiciar may take days, weeks, and even months to arrive. Second, the requesting party must pay all the Judiciar’s travel expenses (for the entire trip), a stipend, and any incident expenses incurred. Finally, a Judiciar need not consult with anyone before making his judgment; he plays the part of both jury and judge. This is different compared to a case heard before the Black Council; in such situations, a majority vote decides the case.
A Judiciar hold no true authority of any sort. The individual carries the blessings of the Black Council, but no authority granted by a legitimate organization. If either party refuses to accept the Judiciar’s authority, such is their choice. Doing so, however, carries great risk. Such a flagrant disregard for the Council almost guarantees a harsh response in future.
When a Judiciar arrives, he sets up a place to hear the case. He sometimes brings with him assistants and investigators to assist in the situation. He listens to both sides, takes statements from all interested parties, and then issues his judgment shortly thereafter. Some Judiciars take mere minutes to decide even the most complicated cases, while others require days or weeks. The Judiciar may boast an impressive education and past legal experience, or he may never have served in such a capacity in his life. The Council selects and appoints Judiciars as they wish, often granting the positions to friends and allies as rewards or favors.
On rare occasion, a Judiciar refuses to pass judgment or issue a ruling. In some unusual or complicated cases, the Judiciar sends the parties to appear formally before the Black Council.
Standing Before The Black Council
The full Black Council meets three times a year. If necessary, they hold emergency sessions, but only in extreme cases. The Council spends an entire week in session, hearing every case possible. Any remaining cases at week’s end are postponed to the next quarterly meeting.
As with Judiciars, the Black Council holds no earthly authority, no secular power, no religious blessing. Their power comes strictly through the will of the adventuring community. The five Council members all recognize where their “authority” comes from, and they act accordingly. On the plus side, this reality keeps the Council responsive to the their constituents. On the down side, however, the Council is sometimes swayed more by popular opinion than by justice or fact. Most adventurers, even if they detest the Black Council or distrust its members, accept that body’s authority. The majority of adventuring companies accept the reality that they collectively need the Council to keep the peace and solve disputes.
No matter where their authority originates, the Council meetings are solemn affairs, although sometimes punctuated with raucous shouting, vivid curses, and occasional brief violence. The Council wields considerable power within the adventuring community, and they use their power to enforce their decisions and maintain control.
In disputes between individuals or groups, the Black Council often assigns a portion of culpability to both sides, and apportions punishment along those same lines. Few cases involve a blameless victim and a villainous perpetrator. Typically, the party with the greater grievance pays the smaller fines and suffers the lesser punishments.
In cases where the Council must decide punishment for someone who breaks the Code, most judgments lean towards monetary recompense. Heavy fines, confiscation of property, “special fees,” and weregild are levied against the guilty party. In rare instances, punishments include physical pain, imprisonment, public excoriation, banishment, and even execution. The Council takes great care in administering such harsh punishments, knowing how easily they could overstep their power and spark riots amongst the society of adventurers. When the Council executes an adventurer, such an individual is already reviled and feared by adventurers and civilians alike.
As individuals, members of the Black Council are often (but not always) former adventurers. Individually, they wield considerable influence, wealth, and power they can bring to bear for the Council. At times, however, they must call upon other resources and tools to conduct business. One of the most feared such tools are the Blackguards.