Taboos are actions, words, or objects that are generally avoided or banned as a function of social custom. There may be specific laws in a world against tabooed subjects, or they may simply be enforced via the social hierarchy. Historically, worldbuilders have used taboos in their own fictional worlds to explore aspects of cultures (both fictional and our own, real world). Taboos in fictional societies have included demonstrating emotion, the use of certain magics (necromancy in fantasy worlds has been a historically frowned upon study of magic), touch, relationships between members of different groups, and more. Taboos are a cultural universal and their inclusion can be used to both deepen your world and as a narrative device.
Taboos often appear in fictional worlds involving diplomacy between different cultures new to one another (such as first contact with an alien species or trade agreements between elves and dwarves).
- Grave Desecration
- Religious Desecration
- Public Nudity
- Public Intoxication
- Public Urination
- Violence Against Children
- Picking Your Nose in Public
- Prostitution Certain Religious Beliefs
When designing taboos for your fictional world, consider how these elements became shunned from a historical perspective and what occurs when someone breaks a taboo.
Taboos can exist on a sliding scale of severity. There may be rigorously enforced penalties for breaking certain taboos while others may only result in social exclusion or mere embarrassment.