[This is the next portion of this series on managing the complexity of different world elements.]
This concerns the amount of differentiated culture and society surrounds the fantasy elements listed above. Think of history, government, religion, language, clothing, and relationships as the primary elements in determining difference from our society. Different time periods don’t count unless they are also differentiated from the “Earth” time period that it is mirroring (so just being Victorian is not a high complexity society even while different from the contemporary, but a Victorian-esque society skewed by different conventions would be different from the expected Victorian society, so it would be higher complexity).
Low complexity society is nearly indistinguishable from normal/realistic society except for the immediate details of the “magic” element. Language, relationships, and daily life are the same, again except for where it intersects with the unusual element. This is almost always the case in a situation with a unique element, since there is nothing and no one else to create a different “society” around it. Specifics around the element may differ, such as unique histories, lifestyles, etc., but not enough to require too much exposition or too much separation from the normal world.
Medium complexity society has slightly more details and difference from our world, yet not so much that it is unrecognizable. The most common instance is where numerous small, relatively insignificant details are altered in the world, but the larger details of daily life and relationships are not. So new games may be invented, but the way they’re played and treated by society is familiar. Or different food is eaten, but the times and ways and culture surrounding eating is mostly the same. As stated before, a historical-esque society, even with numerous unusual details, can still be medium if a greater majority of the details and fundamental organization is familiar from that time period.
High complexity society has a great wealth of details and a lot of fundamental shifts from recognizable society. From the way families are formed and perceived, to the structure of government, to forms of address and clothing customs, nearly everything is unusual. Sometimes, this is a society within our own world, meaning that within the spaces of that secondary world, this different society reigns and operates in very unusual ways. Most details in a high complexity society must be explained, because they are so unusual or unfamiliar. The presence of some familiar details, such as specifics in professions, families, religions, etc., can help ease the unusual nature of a high complexity society, but if enough of the society is different from ours or any recognizable period in history, then it counts as “high.” The key is to ask “how much of this society needs explanation because it’s different?”