When someone befriends an animal, s/he obtains the ability to unite their souls together and take on the form of that animal as well as its abilities. S/he also gain some properties of that animal even when they are no keener t transformed, such as resistence to cold or senses. If s/he really wants to s/he can half transforms taking on characteristics of the animal and their normal form
Orcish currency is derived from glass beads. The art of glassworking is well beyond them, but perhaps the orcs have something of value to the civilized races, such as animal pelts, and well made axes, and bows. The humans trade beads for the goods, and the orcs will trade the beads amongst themselves as a form of their own currency. Perhaps they value blood red beads above all others, or animistic orcs favor beads in the colors of their gods.
Inspired by Indian trade beads, some of which could be quite ornate and beautiful. Most North American Indian beads were made in Italy. Surprise!
What if potions and tonics had negative side effects? Potions of increased strength cause violent tempers, or damage joints. What if potions of dexterity caused tremors, or palsy?
What if they were addictive, and had withdrawal symptoms?
Could someone make a bad batch? No one use the brown strength potion!
If mana recovered slowly enough, and mages could pass it on freely between them, the ephemeral force would become a valuable trading commodity on its own.
What if a mage passes his powers on to his firstborn son, and a female mage to her first daughter, leaving the parent POWERLESS? A plain mortal, a sorcerer no longer, all wizardly might gone?
Or: what if a female wizard recieves the power of a mage who sires a child with her? Could lead to promiscuous witches and overly careful mages.
What if cancer is not an ailment if one has a will powerful enough, and knows what do do. What if one using the right techniques could control it and use it to become immortal, or to grow into something else?
Pick up a pathology/microbiology book, and add the diseases/syndroms to your game. Your players will freak out.
Coughed at? Diphteria. or tuberculosis?
Drunk from a muddy stream? Or just walked through? Well, let us introduce you to schistosomiasis...
Hit by a stream of energy? Too moch mana is ust like too much radioactivity - perhaps all mages could develop cancer early if too powerful...
The desert is a curse from the Water God upon the wicked people who live in the South.
Said people offended the Water God in some way, and so the Water God placed water-trappers, bizarre, water-sucking beings, in the soil, and within years, the wilderness became a desert.
Thus, the desert folk shamans have special powers that allow them to find water-trappers so that they can be dug up and their water harvested.
A dark necromancer has discovered a way of making the magical energy cost of resurrection less than the energy he can gain by draining their life force. Given a sufficient supply of mind-drained minions, ultimate power beckons.
A long time ago. Final fantasy III came out with a new approach to learing magic. The characters would be equipped with espers(magical beings) and as they fought more battles, they would learn spells from the espers. What if a similar approach to learning magic was applied to a P&P rpg?
Shadows, Mirrors and Flames. Three things we have all seen and not given much thought to. What if in each of these things you could find entire alternate planes of existance? Shadows move but what they are shadowing does not. Mirrors show us what others can easily see. Flames dance and twirl inviting you to dance only to scorch you when you get close. These three things hold much mystery. What if you could harness their powers? Heh...
In the middle of the sky over the land of Dankij there is a door. The door is fixed in an upright position and appears to be fastened to the very sky itself. Worldwide rumors say it has been there since The Creation. What could be behind this door?
For those familiar with cantrips, you know they are minor acts of magic that have hardly any noticable effect on the world. For example a cantrip to make your food taste better won't heal you any more, or be any more nourishing, just won't make it so hard to get it down. A light cantrip certainly won't be able to blind or even distract anybody, but you might be able flash it to signal someone looking at the right spot.
What if children's nusery ryhmes were a form of cantrip? Like the "Rain, Rain, go away, come again another day." One child singing it wouldn't do more than spare her house a couple raindrops, but what if the whole village got together and was chanting in unison? Each one doing just a bit might actually be able to divert a whole storm...
One thing you must realise is that there is no such thing as pure iron/steel these days. Iron/steel isn't nearly as strong now as it was in medieval times. However, with that said, iron in early medieval times was so soft you could hack right through a helm with a sword and leave a nice lil mark on the skull (depending on the grade of iron used on the sword and the helm, ofcaurse). After many hundreds of years of fine tuning, however, the only use the sword had was to puncture the plate. That was very difficult, however, since the grade of steel was so hard... only blunt instruments and weighted axes had any use against plate armor in later medieval times. Makes me wonder why rapiers were so popular then and why less people wore plate (Other than it's obsene costs... a nice suit of armor would cost as much as a nice lexus does now... and a kings suit would be as much as a rols royce).
"Binding the Life Coil" is an ancient quasi-mystical technique rediscovered to prolong one's life at the expense of one reproductive ability. It is a simple magikal technique that anyone can learn (a skill or feat). The promise of near immortality or a lifespan of a thousand years or more makes everyone want to learn it.
This technique has a price though, the amount of immortality is in direct response to the strength of ones reproductive spirit. Those that have never breed will live longer than those that have. The use of the technique makes conception difficult, if not impossible. So you trade the future of your society for the chance for you to see much of that future.
Perhaps those that practice elemental magic begin to take on characteristics associated with their chosen element. For instance, an earth elementalist might be prone to agoraphobia, while air and possibly fire elementalists might have problems with claustrophobia. Water elementalists might always seek the path of least resistance. A fire elementalist might have a cat's opinion of water. This could also apply to physical differences. Fire elementalists might have a freakishly high metabolism and a permanently high body temperature. Water elementalists would probably never get dehydrated, but might slow down a lot when it's cold. Etc, etc.
Magic is the lifeforce of all living creatures, and it is from it that all life is made - in areas with lots of undead, magic might actually be missing or weak, which puts a whole new spin on how dangerous the undead are. Even simple zombies can be troublesome if you're relying on mages and you hit a pocket of undead making a low-magic zone...
In cases where a person has accused another of a crime, but there are no other supporters of the accusation or defenders of the accused, and there is not enough evidence to support one party or the other, the two people involved, or their champions in some cases, must duel in the presence of the local ruler or leader. The loser is assumed to be lying and punished accordingly.
Perhaps divinations, if strong enough, can actually change the future, instead of predicting it.
A possible answer to what happens to spells when a mage dies. If the spell is strong enough, say and enchantment or other permenant effect, part of the mages spirit may become lodged in the magic. It may be a way for items to gain some kind of intelligence, but a mage who has knowledge of this fact would be very hesitant about enchanting anyone or thing. He might have other plans for his afterlife than counting the change in your bag of holding.
Preists, I think, would have this sort of thing covered.
A legend tells of a people living deep in the desert, they appear at first as ordinary human beings, sometimes impersonating someone familiar to the PCs, before causing their features to disappear, leaving a blank, smooth sheet of skin where their face should be.