Creating laws is relatively easy if we view them as having two sources: an enforcement or prohibition on values, beliefs, and morals, or to inhibit repetition of a past action, which is viewed negatively. I refer to these as moral and incident laws. While people break laws, the laws exist to inhibit or control behavior. We should keep this in mind and use it to invent ones we can use, and which our characters can break, intentionally or not. It’s a good way to get them into trouble, especially in foreign lands. Sometimes a law is both moral and incidental in origin, as we’ll see by some examples being reflected in both lists in this section.
What does the ruling authority want to influence? Always consider the form of government, discussed in Creating Places (The Art of World Building, #2) because this will impact how much control government is asserting through its legal system.
Whether the system is religious or not, religion often influences laws as values, morals, and beliefs are promoted through restrictions on permissible behavior. Examples would be abortion or whether capital punishment is considered humane. Laws that discriminate are likely to originate in beliefs and values if not morality, as people characterize those who are different poorly. This includes gay, racial, and women’s groups. We can extend this to professions such as wizardry or specific types, like witchcraft and necromancy. If we’ve invented species and worked out their relationships with humans and others, we can envision laws resulting from conflict with or disapproval of another race’s values (or perceived values).
In chapter one, we looked at cultural ideas and vision and should leverage this while inventing laws of a moral nature. A society is a sum of its ideas, promoted in part by law, and those of the majority can inversely impact minorities through them. The simplest pronouncement of a law will not include explanation, but the reason for the law can often be inferred, at least by those living within the community. In parenthesis below, a short reason has been added, with an indication of whether it’s a value, belief, or moral leading to the law.
Examples of laws based on morals, values, and beliefs:
- Black magic is forbidden (moral: it requires dealing with unholy forces)
- Goblins are not allowed near a treasury (belief: they’re thieves)
- Fire wizards must assist with extinguishing public fires (value: they should help)
- Communication with alien species is prohibited without a permit and government monitoring (morals: solidarity with your species should take precedence over befriending a potential enemy of the state).
- Wizards may not perform magic on the Holy Day (values/morals: it is reserved for godly shows of such power, as a sign of respect)
- Ogres may not eat in public places (belief: they’re believed to spread disease)
- Children may not perform magic (belief/morals: it teaches them to rely on this)
- Capital punishment by being drawn and quartered is forbidden (morals: too barbaric)
- All residents must pass a biannual swimming test, especially dwarves (value: too many dwarves must be rescued during periodic flooding, hampering efforts to rescue others)
- Those sentenced to death shall be devoured by dragon (morals/values: it’s a quick death and waste not, want not)
- A knight who flees shall be executed (value/morals: without courage, the knighthood will suffer loss of faith in it)