Originally posted on Roleplaying Tips Weekly E-Zine Issue #71 on Aug. 10, 2006.
Customs: A long list of unspoken taboos and unique criminal offenses should keep the PCs on their toes. Something mundane – eating in public, talking to a person outside one’s caste, accidentally wearing the “royal” color – can quickly put the party in trouble with the conservative and unforgiving locals.
Disease and toxins: From minor allergies to killer viruses, travelers have to be careful of invisible hazards that the locals built up immunity to long ago. The issue cuts both ways – the cliche of a traveler’s “common cold” triggering a global plague is always a real fear to port authority officials. Note that in “reality”, radiation is lethal to everything and no normal being builds up “resistance.”
Animals: Locals know that the Great Ravinoxarus comes out of hibernation to mate at this time each decade. Too bad nobody mentioned the Great Ravinoxarus to the visiting off-worlders who just left camp for some sightseeing.
Language: Imagine the problems which arise when an off-world trader’s phrase “Please adopt our Imperial standards” gets mistranslated to the locals as “Please become the parental guardian of our Imperial representatives” – and what happens when the kind-hearted locals agree?
Gravity: Off-worlders in a heavier gravity find themselves awkward, tired and distracted while their bodies adjust to the higher-G. Likewise, a weaker gravity world seems “bouncy” and can cause light-headedness until acclimated.
Climate: An exceptionally cold, hot, dry or humid world may seem “comfortable” to the locals, while off-worlders shiver, cough or sweat their way across the landscape.
Taxes: Entry tax, exit tax, road tax, guild fees, ministry dues, carrier service fees, national tariffs, holiday tax, baronial duties… Regional rulers may have redundant taxes on top of local rulers, and then the “shadow” rulers, criminal gangs, and merchant guilds all seek their due. Some could be bribed or ignored, while others might be fanatical misers willing to pursue tax dodgers to the realm’s farthest borders. PCs might find smuggling an easy way to go, though such a tact has its risks.
Government Surveillance & Intervention: What if a planet’s medical records system is watched carefully by the government, which holds the rights to specific genetic mutations. One character trips one of these tests, and government agents insist on detaining the character indefinitely as cellular property of the state. (“Our study only takes a few years until a stable clone is made.”)