If you don’t understand the title of this post, please read the entry immediately prior.
Law and Justice
How does a society’s perspective on justice change when magic items or spells can detect lies or compel someone to tell the truth? If a god of civilization makes this technology available, does a god of deceit introduce countermeasures? Is there a fantasy version of the 5th amendment’s protection against self-incrimination? I believe that this sort of thing can quickly become ham-fisted and overbearing if used improperly… and that they’re darned hard to use properly.
Incarceration can be another tricky issue. You do realize that Eladrin prisons can’t have any windows, right? That’s not even taking into account the nightmare of keeping a voidsoul Genasi penned up. Of course, I do get a little chuckle imagining the local magistrate sentencing anyone who can teleport without gear to a day in the stocks (by the way, do yourself a favor and never Google “wooden stocks.” Apparently, Rule 34 has hit them in a big way.)
Back when I was playing 2nd edition, I thought that Sepia Snake Sigil had interesting potential for uses other than combat, so long as you removed the part where the victim is unaware of their surroundings. There have always been ways to extend the duration of spells and it’s easy for me to imagine a community park filled with “statues” of prisoners doing time.
If cells and prisons don’t work, how about alternative sentences? “Sorry, Ed, you get to live as a horse for a year. Maybe you’ll stop stealing them.” You might see some interesting magical compulsions and restrictions.
Does a society that has access to Remove Disease discover viruses and bacteria? Is it possible to develop a ritual or magic item that confers immunity to disease? Which races are so similar that they can pass diseases between them? Is the infectious quality of disease mundane or magical? If diseases can’t cross species, does this increase the incidence of biological warfare? Is the use of biological warfare a reason for the preeminence or diminishment of a species?
Why is it that certain humanoid species can interbreed, but others cannot? Is it possible to develop magic that only affects (or fails to affect) certain species? Is magical transformation only cosmetic? If it isn’t, I can imagine someone trying to recover a dying race by (forcibly?) polymorphing people. Unfortunately, Lucas’ midi-chlorians seem to have pretty much poisoned the idea of mystic genetics. The theme of “demon parts grafted onto people” seems similarly overdone.
While I can’t see “linked portal getaway” being feasible, magic would definitely find its way into entertainment. Lord knows, my players have done the “we’ll put on a magic show for our room and board” so often that it has become a cliche. Circuses and carnivals would definitely have a different feel.
While I don’t think it’s particularly feasible or interesting by itself, quiddich shows how people respond to sports with a magical spin. You might even have leagues and stadiums (think early days of baseball). It’s not unreasonable to expect that there would be limitations on who can participate in specific contests. No one wants to wrestle a Goliath or try to out run an Elf.
Speaking of rules enforcement, both cheating and detecting cheating take on a new meaning in a fantasy world. How about a pair of magical dice that only roll well for the owner? Or cards that are marked only to certain types of sight? How about a stone that screams when someone cheats?
Death and Dying
There’s something to be said for being able to travel to the afterlife to confirm what the recently deceased intended with their will. Is it still murder if you pay for your victim to be resurrected?
HERO System has the interesting philosophy that things that are not useful in combat don’t cost many points (In a way, this is a precursor to 4e’s “hands off” approach to mechanics for roleplaying). They mention how a ring that makes you unaging is easily affordable, but from a roleplaying standpoint would be something that empires would squabble over. I don’t have a hard time imagining royalty having access to these types of items and being resurrected until their body was too decrepit to withstand the process.
Eberron already looks at some of the concepts surrounding the undead, having a nation with a large undead workforce/standing army. There are also settings where cities and nations are run by liches. It might be interesting to have a society with a lich upper class where the transformation is expensive, but also seen as a rite of passage into the controlling elite.
Perhaps this should have been mentioned under “Law and Justice”, but isn’t it reasonable to expect that rituals would be developed to prevent or delay resurrection? “Didn’t we just hang you for murder last week, Bob?” seems somewhat ridiculous.