The Law of the Land
The laws of your world are going to shape how your society functions on a social and political level. We all know the basic laws like no stealing and no murdering, and other laws like paying taxes and keeping oaths/contracts. Yet, there are laws far more complicated and more involved than those and even simple laws with complicated implications; and sometimes with even more severe punishments. You don’t need to be a master of law to create a set of them.
Laws come in many shapes and forms and exist for many reasons. Some perform a function to help and maintain society, like taxes. Some to keep peace and order, like only peaceful protest is acceptable. Some have a religious background, like heeding the holy calendar. Some have been formed with little explanation and are clearly corrupt, like allowing monopolies. There are many reasons why laws exist.
Law And Order
Much of your laws that you are creating will probably be based on need for the plot. Developing a particular scene, you may realise you want a particular law to create conflict or that this law was already decided from the creation of the story. This is all very well, but what about laws that will shape the people and how that place functions? A nation may have laws.
- Will there be one to keep the people off the streets at night, a curfew?
- Will there be a sector of the city that foreigners are only allowed to be present int?
- Are certain goods not allowed in the city? Why?
- Foreigners may not be permitted to bare any sign of their religion within the borders of the country.
So on and so forth. These laws will impact morality and ethics. Think about it, a curfew in our current world has instilled what? That children should not be out because of school the next morning. Then what is the perceived idea of those kids who are out late?
- Their parents must not care about them to let them out this late.
- Those kids are trouble makers, and should be kept an eye on.
Interesting how a curfew setup for minors has instilled these morals into us, right? Now think about how much of an impact a law such as not letting foreigners into certain areas might have. Lets say a new neighbour moved in. What do you think is going to happen?
- Current residents might be highly suspicious of a new neighbour, and may even find local authorities to confirm their birth origins. Then they might like them.
- Foreigners traveling through the area to reach their “designated” area may be ignored or ridiculed before reaching this area. Is it common to see people spit on travelers as they walk by?
- What if someone has moved out of the country as a child and then moved back as an adult with an accent from another country? Neighbours are going to be highly suspicious and try to figure out if they truly are natively born. Neighbours may even attack them in their xenophobia.
This law came into existence to keep the nation’s culture pure, but it has created extreme xenophobia. Laws can impact greatly on a people, even if they were never truly meant to have this sort of impact. Did the law signers truly imagine a world where you would spit on travelers, who were obeying the law? I highly doubt it. Did they imagine that returning citizens would be suspected as sleeper agents? No, definitely not. Think about laws meant to do a good thing and see how much it can be twisted.
Avatar: the Last Airbender played with a similar law set, where Avatar Kyoshi had intended to keep Ba Sing Se’s culture alive. The interpretation of the law by the enforces morphed over time and corrupted them. But we will speak on corrupted law in a moment. The people grew afraid of the enforcers and now it is common to see the people following the cultural law strictly to avoid being arrested. What do you think that would do to your people if that were the case?
Laws made to reflect religious beliefs are based on one of two fundamentals when created in our own world: The word of a deity or the myth of the religion. The first is self explanatory. One of the most famous of examples is Moses and the Ten Commandments. It was a set of laws believed to be God’s word on how the people should live their lives and treat these Commandments as law. The second has examples that exist in many religions, the idea of taking more than one wife. More often this is derived from the myths and legends of the religion.
“So-And-So took Her-So and She-So as his wives.”
People of the religion may do the same, seeing as it was O.K. for the legends to do so by their deity, then the sentiment is extended to all followers. And thus they are able to live similar lives to the figures of the religions they follow.
A third method that allows religion to exist in law comes from what is perceived as divine intervention (which in fantasy may be the case). Phenomenon, whether perceived or actual divine intervention, will often find it’s way with scripture or myth as sub-categories to this third idea of religious law. Here is an example of a law created by religion, we will then analyse it in all the aspects that may exist.
None shall behold the sky on a moonless night and gaze upon the nude god, lest they seek judgment and death.
If this is based on scripture, what does it mean? Was it to meant to inspire the people to take the day of the new moon and look inward at themselves in isolation. Therefor, others whom look upon you or for you to look upon others is to look upon their nude vulnerable selves; and if you were not invited into this intimate moment, then you have violated them. Just as one would violate the god of the night sky. Or was this based off observing a divine intervention?When one looks upon the new moon sky, one is smote by a white flash of light and the beholder falls to the ground dead. This is fantasy, so we must ask these questions:
- Is this a god who has created this? If so, would this be an act on their part or would there be beings summoned to slay the beholder?
- Is this a magically created phenomena? If so, is it engineered, and by whom? If not, then how does it work?
- Is this a natural phenomenon of that area?
Lets work with those and come up with different scenarios.
The god of the earth, in a jealous rage, cursed the night sky when the new moon first occurred. The god of the sky had laid themselves bare for all to see and now none may gaze upon the earth god’s lover without judgement and death.
That was both a magical phenomenon and an act of a god.Or is this just a natural phenomenon believed to be from a god?
Starlight is harmless, however, due to the composition of the mountains, that make up the basin of which this community sits in, the light becomes dangerous for any who look upward. On other nights, due to the moon’s reflected light, the harmful light is “diluted” into “safe levels” for any to look upward.
Also, a bonus feature comes from this. Those who are on the mountain tops during the new moon are also killed, due to actually being on the source of the “killer” light.
So what comes of this, other than more myth?
During the new moon, the god of the earth does not even allow mortals to climb up the mountains and be so close to their nude lover.
What kind of cultural impact would that have? Would their belief stem to having an aversion to nudity? Would it be illegal to not only be nude on a new moon, but to bathe?
The rich and the powerful often have a hand in the creation of law. In one hand, the rich and powerful may hold tightly onto resources, and the control of them. Resources are anything from people to material to money. The laws can protect their isolating of the resource, even hiding it from the public. It can also restrict the use and manner of use of the resource.
Laws may also restrict upper class positions and rankings. Laws could be created to ensure that no lower class citizen has the power or opportunity to replace, usurper, or privileged position. This fear can stem from the idea that these people may steer power and resources away from them permanently.
Here are a few examples
- The people can try and overthrow their unjust government (if they just so happen to be unjust, even if they were not, this would still be a fear.)
- Anyone can become as powerful as they need to be, thus making power an ever shifting point, the system could become too chaotic for the rich and powerful to control at their whim.
A law and warning are created as a preventive act.
This mineral is dangerous and deadly to possess. No one is allowed to own this mineral. Any one caught will be arrested and the mineral confiscated.
The government can make this resource illegal and give false reasons as to why this is the case. This also creates a cultural impact. People’s ideas about the mineral will become taboo and many will avoid it at all costs. Some may even become suspicious of those who have the mineral and look down on them as the scum of the earth.
Lets look at a case where the government has created laws to keep the people in check and off the throne or seats of power. There actually may be a couple of reasons for why this is the case, and some not so impure as the others.
- They wish to keep the royal bloodlines as pure as possible (the least corrupt of the reasons).
- The people will favour a once commoner and the commoner will favour the people.
- The people may change the very face of the government into a whole new system that could run them out of power or even with a way to get back into power.
A few laws can be created to do this:
- No commoner, no matter how much wealth they amass, may come into a privileged position. Unless they obtain and sustain a certain amount of wealth, and then defend a cause (more than likely something that will benefit them) before being granted a nobel title.
- When marrying into a family, only children of the opposing gender may become the heir to their nobel, royal, or regent rank. If the High Lady is married to a merchant man, then her son will inherit the High Seat of her House. But her daughters will be among the merchant class. If the King marries a Lady, then his daughter will be heir to the throne, and his sons will be lords.
- If one marries outside of their class, they are demoted to the class they marry, no matter the grandeur of the position. If a King marries a commoner, then the king is now a commoner. If the High Lady marries a simple lord, then she is demoted to lady.
In a cultural lens, these laws will have an interesting impact on the people. If this law does or does not permeate through all the classes, the people will still see higher classes functioning this way. Farmers will remain farmers, and their Knightly lover will now be a farmer. Or the farmers children of opposing gender will grow up to become knights. It will be how their children are raised, and how the people view the laws and behaviour of the upper class.
With laws made under their various reasons – resources, religious beliefs, maintaining purity – can cause a collection of moral impacts, but what does this have to with your characters? A lot actually. What if one of your characters were from any place above that has laws such as those? Would they not follow them, even outside of their own country? And maybe not strictly, but their morals and ethics would surround them, and thus they would act accordingly when out in the world.
Your character may come from the nation where foreigners are permitted in only certain areas, and now they are traveling in another nation.
- Do they keep their head bowed the entire time they travel through this area?
- Is your character now over polite and bends to every rule and regulation?
- Does your character drop everything on a dime where confronted by officials?
Is your character from the basin of the new moon?
Your characters may not believe that their soul will be sucked out of their body if they so choose to look up at the moonless sky, but they are weary about it, and may even still stay indoors.
Is your character from a nation where the boosting mineral is not for commoners?
- Would this character freak out outside in a foreign country where the mineral was liberally used?
- Would they avoid this place at all costs?
- Would they, discovering that the mineral is safe, even think of using it? Or would they stay away from it anyway?
Throughout history and society, people accept the law, challenge and change are slow, and morals settle into an older generation. These adults then have children and try to raise them the same. It’s going to happen in your world and to your characters.
Remember, antagonists are people too, so maybe when they form their absolute rule they frown harshly upon the blackmarket, because it can kill the economy of the empire. Just because they are a tyrant doesn’t mean they don’t have their own set of morals. What laws are you looking to enforce on your world?