The Law of Dungeons and Dragons

Earlier this year, I wrote about a Seventh Circuit decision that denied inmates the right to play Dungeons and Dragons. In addition to being regulated by the law of the state, D&D also has an elaborate legal system of its own. For some thirty years, Dragon magazine ran a “Sage Advice” column where readers could write in with questions about the meaning of the rules and their application to various situations.

Sadly, the column recently shut down (superseded by the internet). But there is a searchable online archive of all the questions and responses. The Comics Alliance blog reprints a few of the most interesting ones, including some that are clearly relevant to constitutional law.

Like the US Supreme Court, the Sage was reluctant to give a definition of marriage:

Q: My male paladin wants to marry a chaotic-evil lady magic-user. Is this OK? [note by IS: the rules require paladins to be lawful good].

A: This question is actually very complex. To answer it, we would have to defined marriage itself. [which the Sage then conspiciously fails to do].

Evidently, the issue of interalignment marriage was such a divisive one in the D&D community that the Sage was unwilling to risk its political capital by addressing the issue. Similarly, the US Supreme Court ducked the question of interracial marriage bans for many years, and more recently has tried to duck the issue of same-sex marriage. And of course the Court has never yet defined marriage in any comprehensive way.

On the other hand, Sage did take a position on a question related to the Second Amendment right to bear arms:

Q: In Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, how much damage do bows do?

A: None. Bows do not do damage, arrows do….

The full answer does explain that bows can do damage after all if the archer hits an opponent with the bow.

Sage’s position is nearly the opposite of the well-known NRA slogan “guns don’t kill people, people do,” though perhaps he would fault the bullets rather than the guns as such. A ban on missile weapons (or at least on their ammunition) would seem to be constitutional within the D&D legal system.

The Comics Alliance post also includes a variety of questions relevant to family law, especially regarding what to do if characters want to have children or become pregnant. Sage also emphasized the limits on the Dungeon Master’s power to address such matters, much as the Supreme Court has occasionally emphasized limits to the enumerated powers of Congress, including over family law:

Q: One of my players wants to have a baby; what should I do?

A: Your question had me momentarily confused. If one of your players wanted to have a baby, you, the Dungeon Master, should be the last person she should talk to.

The Sage archive contains answers to many other legal questions that have come up in the real world, such as whether or not good characters can use torture (paladins are categorically forbidden to use torture, but chaotic good characters may torture enemies “if the end result is good and it cannot be achieved any other way”), and how to get a divorce.