The villages around the capital have a strange new disease cropping up. Spread by a fungus (much like ergot poisoning), it causes its victims to be very sensitive to sunlight. Hundreds of peasants are hiding from the sun, only coming out in the darkness to labor in the fields. Unfortunately, rumor makes their behavior sound more sinister and secretive than it really is.
On some of the islands off the coast, the rites of the local fertility god revolve around ceremonial death and rebirth. The religion's priests have overcome this cycle, however: Each of them is actually undead, ceremonially slain and "reborn"! Their religion is otherwise unremarkable, being an odd offshoot of the mainland's religions. The priests vow to resist their undead cravings, seeing these as the "cycle of life" attempting to reclaim their spirits.
If a ghost possesses someone that had a different personality to them in life, the possessed body will slowly rot.
According to the Journals of Lord Goidol, the people of the Southern Cities wear heavy coats all the year round, despite the stifling tropical heat. They claim that to do otherwise angers the gods, and it is true that visitors who refuse to don the local garb are often struck down with a paralytic fever.
A girl living in an isolated hamlet is cursed: So beautiful and sweet-natured that no man can resist loving her, but she has never met the man she could love in return.
Imagine that all the humanoid and demi-human laguages are actually the same, but pronounced with outrageous accents and bizarre idiom. All the elves have a French accent, all the Dwarves have Swedish, Dragons have a Pakistani accent...
is a lovely golden necklace that gradually transforms its wearer's skin into gold. Given enough time, this will prove fatal, but the wearer cannot remove the deadly jewelry without assistance. Some might be cruel and greedy enough to leave it on its victim...
A known immortal traveling with the PCs kills an attacker, and is arrested and charged with murder, since immortals cannot kill in self defense, being immortal.
Held in a lead sheath the blade of this sword is tipped with uranium and any wound from it, even a tiny one, will go cancerous, although the effects may not show up for months or even years.
Along the sluggish Vanne River, the banks are lined with thick stands of tall bulrushes. These areas of wetland are considered ill-omened by the locals, for they hide the skeletal remains of thousands of grazing animals, washed downriver in a terrible flood decades before.
Adding to the uncanny reputation of the place is the occasional undead cow or goat that lurks there. The product of a necromancer's experiments some years before, these relatively harmless undead wander the area at night, startling livestock as they attempt to graze with them.
Jemas Lorne, the most celebrated poet of the age, was found dead, clutching a fragment of verse torn from his journal. The tantalizing fragment spoke of wealth:
Golden sands, empty and cold,
Treasure's crypt, forgotten gold.
Under stone, ancestor's doom,
Noble's prize, troubadour's tomb.
Rumours claim that the poet's father, an eccentric nobleman, had hidden much of his wealth before his death. Perhaps the missing journal has more clues?
Societies of beings who in some way reflect the dogmatic, superstitious, religious, idiotic, political, etc. views of large (or small) groups of people in real life.
The ancient prophet Oijas Bek uttered a cryptic prediction:
In the time of the Floating Ships,
In the Capitol of the Shattered Empire,
The False God will draw the people to his banner,
The Blasphemer shall don robes of righteousness.
No one is sure what he meant, but the various sects each have their theories, which they often fight over.
Thrown enchanted skulls make great necromantic 'grenades' releasing blasts of negative energy, incorporeal undead, swarms of flesh-eating worms, etc.
A land is reigned by a circle of powerful men who control every aspect of the citizen's life. This cabal changes members often. In reality, the spectres of a small necromantic covent possess and control the people in power. Since they simply possess the bodies, they can leave when old age overcomes their shells and possess a new up-and-coming noble.
A rich southern landowner once imported hundreds of thousands of spiders and distributed them along his long, tree-lined road. After a couple of days, when the spiders had make an incredible number of webs amongst the rows of trees, he spread fine gold and silver dust on them to create a spectacular shimmering view. (true story) It was for his daughter's wedding day.
There is a land where every person wears spectacles. Those without eyeglasses are considered to be the lowest stratum of society, so adventurers without glasses are treated like outcastes. It certainly would explain those heroes wearing sunglasses for no apparent reason...
The player characters, experienced and somewhat well known, hear rumors and travelers' tales about a distant area being overrun by dragons (or other terrifying monstrosities). The locals have sent them a message, begging for heroic aid.
When they investigate, they discover that nothing of the sort is going on. It turns out that a group of thieves wanted them out of the way so that they could rob them (or someone who would normally receive their protection).
The PCs encounter an elaborate trap room, designed to fill with water, drowning those inside. Clever and resourceful, they disable the trap and move on.
Only later do they discover that this room is part of the elaborate cooling system that prevents beasts of elemental fire from overrunning the complex. While the fiery beasts run rampant, they begin setting fires, which causes the complex to become increasingly hot and smoke-filled. Additionally, the PCs now have to fight their way out past aggressive fire creatures...
An alchemist enchanted his equipment to produce even more powerful alchemical compounds, potions and the like. Unfortunately, it is not well-known that he had different sets of equipment for different processes: If the wrong set of gear is used, the result will invariably fail to function. It's not a cursed item, just something that's hard to figure out.
Believable magic, like ordinary physicis, operates according to some invariable laws that always result in some kind of cost or "bounce back". The grater the magic, the more it should cost the character physically, emotionally, and spiritually.