A world where most people know a few cantrips and even non-magical people can help to cast spells. Which is just as well because the big spells can only be cast with the help of large numbers of people.Most large spells tend to protect borders and stop earthquakes as they can be done legally, but there are those willing to cast bad large spells s well.A major part of law enforcement in this world is preventing evil magic.
When was the last time a character caught a cold or flu? Real people get them every now and again even with solid heating and dry interiors. Your characters are out in the cold and wet, and even inside is not always dry and warm. Imagine having to stop your dungeon crawl, sitting in a tight defensive position, while you all are feverish.
There are crimes for which a man is not killed, but chased into the wilds, away from his home and country, to not return or be killed on the spot. In one culture is the condemned mutilated, and even his vocal cords are damaged so that the voice is unrecognizable to his friends and family. This is the punishment for people too obsessed with their own prestige.
If a fighter has a +1 sword that only gives that plus one if he does an exhausting practice routine in the morning, he's liable to ditch the magic sword and just use an old fashioned chunk of steel. Rather than being wore out and need to rest a couple hours before he gets started just in case he needs that plus one, he could just strap on a blade and ride off without having to deal with all the issues. (From Something Agar said)
What about a 'criminal' society with distinct laws - for stealing, the larger the value of something stolen, the less punishment the courageous thief recieves (but must return it of course). For this pirates(?) caught petty thieves deserve to be punished harshly. If you take, you better take a lot.
A world based not on light and dark in conflict, but light and dark in balance. A world governed by a giver and a taker, rather than a creator and a destroyer. A world where evil is as much a corruption of light as it is darkness. Conflict arises out of a will to upset the balance.
I was in a game with a GM that had a Masters in History, who made is a point to mention that the local peasants didn't have wheelbarrows. The rest of the players just shrugged that off but I knew that the GM was trying to tell us the peasants were on the knife edge of starvation.
All that from wheelbarrows? Yes, because before the invention of the wheelbarrow it took two men to carry that load. In it's time the wheelbarrow was the most explosive production multiplier that the peasantry could get their hands on.
This is worth two tips: One about the power of the Wheelbarrow and the other is the moral of the story...that people need to know the point you are trying to make.
"The Cetemi have a most curious custom that in their celebrations must all men don the garb of women and women... the garb of men, to the aim that none shall... know another." -An Account of Barbarian Lands, Lord Shakthur
One day a year is the Day of Turning where those on the bottom of the heap for the rest of the year get to live like Kings. Privates question Generals, the people get a say in running things and there is great merriment and gift giving.
A civilization which constructs of irregular shapes constructed of a light metal, heaped together so that they stand on each other; these structures rattle and bend in the wind or at a push, but ultimately hang together except under heavy force (such as cannonballs, falling stones, floods)
The Omen Star: In the West, in what appears to be an eccentric orbit, appears the Omen Star. The appearance of the Omen Star in the first house of the sky bodes "great things" for good or ill are about to happen. It is the rest of the stars that determine if it is for good and ill. Thus people are always looking for things to happen during the time of the Omen Star.
"It is said that among those people they have a loathsome custom- that they keep a spotted dog always waiting beside the gate of the yard where they bury the dead, and that in every funeral they allow this spotted dog to feast upon the dead, so that it grows fat and wise with the knowledge of the dead... Many necromancers do seek out these spotted dogs, and ask of them sciomantic knowledge, or take them as familiars." -Author unknown, "The Ways of the Necromancers"
A terrible teleportation incident makes inter-demihuman chimaera of all the PCs. Quoth Master Adams: 'I teleported home one night / with Ron and Sid and Meg / Ron stole Meg's heart away / and I got Sidney's leg.'
All spell casters gain their abilities through a form of demon possession. So in order to gain magical abilites, PCs must track down and trap demons. Of course there are some pretty powerful demons, if the demon is stronger than the PC, the PC could find themselves subjugated to the Demon's will.