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I'm toying with magically binding contracts existing. For now I'm trying to figure out if such can exist without being either leaving loopholes, being easily abused, or otherwise resulting in a very uncomfortable situation. My question is basically if I introduced contracts as described below to a story will a reader say "Wait, what if I do X with them?" that ruins the contract.

I don't like making magic able to 'think' and make decisions, such as whether or not I actually fulfilled a stated contract. To get around that my binding contracts don't work on some magical third party making decisions; it instead is based off of the mind and interpretations of the people signing the contract. The contract must be entered into at the same time by two (or more) signers. The basic rules are:

Interpretation of a contract

  • The contract is binding based off of the signers' interpretation of the contract. You can't sneak in loop holes or abuse of language to trick me into signing something I didn't think I was agreeing to since I'm only bound to what I honestly believed I agreed to.
  • When all signators are entering the contract, their subconscious minds are temporarily connected. During this time they get a vague sense of whether or not everyone agreeing to the contract understands it. If two people have very different subconscious understanding of what they are agreeing to then they will know there is a conflict and the contract will not take until they both feel they have come to an agreement on whatever they originally didn't agree on.
  • Similarly, if one party intends to not abide by the contract, to abuse a loophole in it, or otherwise has intent to subvert the stated intent of the contract in some way, the other will sense this and as such won't sign.
  • While they do get a subconscious sense that there are disagreements or malicious intent when a contract fails to take, they only get a very vague idea of what the issue is -- this isn't indirect mind reading. They still need to sit down and talk to figure out what the actual problem was and find a proper agreement that will take.
  • This might still leave room for smaller disagreements that weren't severe enough to prevent the contract from taking, or that neither side had thought enough about to realize they weren't in agreement about it at the time of signing. If this happens they can discuss this and will both be compelled to try to find a fair and amicable agreement to fix such a disagreement. I stress though that this is about what they honestly see as fair and amicable which may be different then what the other one believes is fair. They can go to arbitration if necessary to sort this out.
  • After signing it's possible to modify, or cancel, a contract but only if both sides consent to it and they likewise agree as to what the modification is.

Compulsions

  • The contract can force something like a very targeted version of OCD on someone to compel them to follow through with the content of the contract. If I promise to give someone an item I'll feel strongly compelled to do it. I can ignore the compulsion, but it will tend to grow stronger, more invasive, and potentially even debilitating until I cave in and do what I agreed to do.
  • The severity of a compulsion is based off of what the signer believes is reasonable given their actual agreement and circumstances. So if I promise to give you something and simply refuse I'll feel a strong and escalating compulsion until I give it to you. If I promised to sell you my house only to find out it was struck by lightning and burned down while I was signing the contract I'll feel a lingering, not escalating, discomfort since I didn't follow through with the contract but it's largely not my fault. If instead I promised to give you something and then lost it through sheer incompetence I'd feel a much larger and lingering discomfort since I'm largely at fault for why I can't do what I promised, but it won't be as strong or building as if I was actively resisting doing something I otherwise could do.
  • If I can't follow through with contracts, I'll still be compelled to try to make arrangements to compensate you appropriately for my failure -- such as by returning the money you payed me for the house that unknowingly had burned down before I signed the contract -- much in the same way as how I mentioned smaller disagreements may come up in the last section

Consent

  • Contracts must be entered into willingly and knowingly. If a signer feels too forced a contract will not take -- both parties will know whether the contract took or not.
  • Consent is not always a boolean operator. There can be situations where someone feels mildly forced by circumstances to sign, but not as if the force is so strong as to prevent a contract taking at all. This may weaken the later compulsion the contract can cause. Both parties will know how strongly a contract will bind someone, a party may refuse to accept a contract if they feel a party won't be strongly enough compelled by it due to feeling forced to sign.

Arbitration

A third party can serve as an arbitrator. This usually happens by the arbitrator signing a contract with the two saying they promise to be fair and unbiased as they can be if they promise to accept their decision. I haven't yet decided a good way to decide who gets to be an arbitrator or what to do if both sides can't even agree on that details; especially in the case when one side may be suffering a potentially stronger compulsion then the other putting them at a disadvantage on needing to pick an arbitrator quickly. Worst case A's compulsion to find an arbitrator fast may put them in such duress that they couldn't sign a contract agreeing to arbitration because they felt compelled to sign it?

Potential problems

Mostly I see problems being when two people disagree on what constitutes a 'fair' resolution of a contract in more complicated situations. While the contract signing should prevent blatant misinterpretation, it still leaves room for later ambiguity, especially if one side becomes incapable of doing something they agreed to when they signed a contract.

I also worry that it may make put someone without a conscious, a sound sense of right and wrong, or even a firm understanding of reality in a position where they can violate the contract freely because they honestly feel it shouldn't apply to them. For instance what happens if someone's paranoid schizophrenia kicks in after they enter a contract convincing them that the other signer was part of the illuminati, had forced them to sign with some mind control device, and thus the contract was signed without consent and shouldn't bind them?

Of course you have the opposite problem of someone perhaps feeling they didn't do enough to abide by the intent of a contract even when most honest third parties would say they had, causing them to feel forced to continue making ever more convoluted steps towards 'fixing' their perceived failings.

So, given my attempt to create a 'safe' magical contract which doesn't depend on magic being sentient to act as an interpreter, how badly can it be abused or go wrong, and what steps can be taken to make it a viable and safe option to use?

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    $\begingroup$ The trouble with magic is that you can always just magically compel or trick someone to feel they've consented. $\endgroup$
    – biziclop
    Apr 7, 2023 at 22:09
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    $\begingroup$ As long as contracts are made by humans there will always be ways to exploit them. technically all this is true of real world contracts and you still have a multitude to exploitative contracts. people will sign very bad contracts just because they have no better alternative. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Apr 8, 2023 at 0:50
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    $\begingroup$ Have you read the Wheel of Time series of books by Robert Jordan? The Aes Sedai are supposed to be unable to lie and have, through artifacts, the ability to create compelled covenants and contracts. Jordan did a great job of working out how the Aes Sedai could get around those imposed limitations. The basic reality is this: unless there is an active and intelligent outside force compelling the contracts, there will always be a creative way to circumvent them - but that's a story-based problem to solve. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Apr 8, 2023 at 2:23
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    $\begingroup$ I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that it's just impossible to create any system completely free of abuse-potential for intelligent bad actors. Even if you strengthen some of the protections, I can still see a way how, using contracts, you could eventually weasel someone into signing a contract that basically results in the feeling consensual about everything all the time, and at that point, it's game over. $\endgroup$
    – Dragongeek
    Apr 9, 2023 at 9:43
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    $\begingroup$ Before releasing such a "big magic" system on your world, I would go back and reevaluate what drove you into wanting to include it in the first place and why you want it to be "safe". What problem do you want it to solve, or what story do you want to tell that you believe requires magical contracts? $\endgroup$
    – Dragongeek
    Apr 9, 2023 at 9:50

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Narrative-wise, you can do what you like and make relatively token nods to the characters reading things over carefully or not.

But, from a worldbuilding perspective, preventing contracts from being abusable is hard. Contracts are similar enough to computer programs that the concept of "abusable" carries over, I think, and empirically speaking, computer programs are definitely still abusable despite everything we've come up with - "decide whether a program is malware or not" is, strictly speaking, mathematically impossible to get 100% correct for all possible programs, and "decide whether a magical contract is abusive or not" would have an analogous issue.

That's not to say you can't get good approximations, which is what the various antivirus software programs out there do - "100% correct on all programs people have used at least once in public in the past thirty years" isn't trivial, but it's also not impossible.

So, allow some potential for abusive (or otherwise regrettable) contracts to exist. If they were impossible to abuse, they would be ubiquitous and unremarkable to anyone within the context of the story, which sort of defeats the point of including them in the first place. Contracts worthy of the name should not be taken lightly, roughly for the same reasons oaths should not be taken lightly.

One might even argue that such compulsions exist in the real world already, no magic required - they just don't apply equally to everyone, and we call the people they do apply to "honorable".

At a tangent - taking your "house struck by lightning" example, does it require the owner to actually notice the burned house in order for the discomfort to start? If so, well, ignorance is somewhat more literally bliss than here, and you'll have characters backing out of contracts (or forced out of them) by any setting-compatible amnesia methods you have. If not, well, your contract may also be an almost arbitrarily-powerful scrying tool. "I promise to keep Priceless Artifact X out of the hands of Evil Despot Y", and use the resulting discomfort to tell just how far apart X and Y are, and whether you should send the protagonist after X first, or Z instead.

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This is impossible

You're trying to invent a magical version of contract law that ensures not only that the parties are truly in agreement, but also that every agreement is just, and that second goal is going to trip you up.

The mechanisms you've described directly target the rule-following problem by using magic and "the subconscious" to eliminate the possibility of misunderstanding. As others have pointed out, that guarantee is only as good as the knowledge and understanding of the world that both parties bring, so unless both parties have knowledge about the world that is not merely equivalent but actually excellent, the door is wide-open for abuse. People with power and knowledge will deliberately target people who are less well-informed.

But there are other big problems beyond the dry philosophical concerns about "meetings of the minds."

It's a huge problem that a contract can only be terminated if both parties agree to do so. The same situation exists in the real world in jurisdictions where marriage can only be annulled if both parties consent, and that inevitably results in battered women who are unable to escape their abusive husbands because the courts refuse to grant a divorce without the consent of the abuser. This magic system will create 31 nightmare flavors of that dynamic.

The magic compulsion will be very harmful. It will interfere with a person's daily activities, and that will have effects that are not merely minor inconveniences. I understand that, seen through the lens of Business and Contracts, a person's only legitimate functions are economic in nature, but that worldview is brutally myopic, and magic contracts will necessarily magnify the harm that flows from that blinkered outlook. A person whose attention constantly wanders is a danger on the road, in the workplace, and in the kitchen. Even minor kinds of distraction, if persistent, can interfere with a person's ability to fulfill their role as a parent or romantic partner, and that stuff is supposed to exist apart from the world of business. I absolutely expect this invasive regime of magically-enforced contract law to lead directly to many broken hearts and ruined lives through neglect of important social relationships.

I would expect very few people to ever be willing to enter into any agreement that has the power to interfere with their psychology in any way. They will stick with regular handshakes and paper contracts.

Fundamentally, contract law is antithetical to human thriving. A contract is, by definition, a tool of compulsion. A just world has very little room for compulsion of any kind, and no room whatsoever for anything invasive, and this regime of magic contracts welds both of those things together. This fact guarantees not only that the system can be abused while following all of its rules, but that lots of people inevitably will be harmed.

And what is there to be gained? What scenario do you have in mind whose bad outcome would be remedied by this system?

It's silly to make such a fetish out of rational choice theory.


Here are some examples of legal agreements that would lead to bad outcomes when combined with magical enforcement:

  • murder for hire
  • marriage
  • adoption
  • organ donation
  • safety waivers
  • any employment contract
  • mortgages and loans
  • rental agreements
  • non-disclosure agreements
  • class-action waivers
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    $\begingroup$ For the marriage example, it's not even necessary to invoke physical or other abuse, which in a just system would hopefully be illegal for other reasons (of course this isn't always the case). Just the existence of the marriage itself has continued implications for property ownership and inability to marry another person that can cause harm if one person is stubborn about the contract. $\endgroup$ Apr 10, 2023 at 21:35
  • $\begingroup$ agree with this. e.g. compare the history of bankruptcy & debtors prisons in real life. if your magic home mortgage says 'and if you default on this loan the wizard bank gets to send you to the acid mines', that's something people might still sign without coercion and with an understanding of the consequences (having a home is nice). but also, sending people to the acid mines feels to me like 'abuse of contract' under any reasonable definition $\endgroup$
    – Kaia
    Apr 11, 2023 at 0:32
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Just make the contract an intelligent entity. Basically, a living AI.

That way, the contract is a third party that can arbitrate.

The contract is a living being, and its soul is non-local. This means they do not even need blockchain.

The contract can obviously mind read and has telepathy.

It can judge based on a neural network to identify objects and properties, then, using a judging application which uses the conditions of a person's psyche, determine guilt.

This would likely encourage the contract to be in an AI friendly manner, with tabularisation, checkboxes, and anything else that encourages modularity.

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  • $\begingroup$ I was going to comment something incredibly similar in that to invoke the magic of a contract that the contract god with an infinitely split conscious (neurons on a neural network) will essentially debate back and forth if the contract is good or not. but basically it's an infinite senate that can do the work of scrutinizing the contract at godspeed. It will do the 99.99% of the bad contracts like the hand sanitizer does 99.99% of germs on your hand, so it can't kill what stumps it but it might just outright refuse to acknowledge what it can't figure out until it finally understands. $\endgroup$
    – Harry Mu
    Apr 9, 2023 at 1:28
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More than you bargained for

Suppose two parties enter a contract, we'll call them Rumpelstiltskin and Hurley. Rumpelstiltskin is a very clever bad actor who wants to abuse the contract system for his own gain, and also maybe just to spread misery. Hurley is a good actor, but maybe a little naive.

By some unknown, but probably, definitely, evil means Rumpelstiltskin acquired a winning lottery ticket worth $10M. He strolls into the McTacoHut where Hurley works and proposes a very clear and simple contract: ticket for free lunch. Hurley agrees, because it's obviously a good deal, right?

It is, until the rich and kinda famous lifestyle goes into a tailspin, and Hurley is ruined.

Can the contract deal with the parties having different levels of understanding of the repercussions of some initial action that fulfills the contract? Does the contract get fulfilled after the initial action, or can the repercussions void the contract later somehow?

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    $\begingroup$ The contract is only for the ticket 🎫 though, not what Hurley does with the money. He is definitely getting that ticket. $\endgroup$
    – Aseku Vena
    Apr 8, 2023 at 20:51
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    $\begingroup$ I don't necessarily think this is important. suppose a totally nonmagical rumpelstiltskin goes into the McTacoHut, pays $5 for his lunch, and out of the kindness/wickedness of his heart gives Hurley the winning lottery ticket. No contract has been made, but the same thing presumably happens. The contract is totally unneeded $\endgroup$
    – Kaia
    Apr 11, 2023 at 0:35
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All contracts, are reviewed by a third party, which is the hivemind of all other magic contract users, and it defines what is actually "law" by the contract.That can go either way, as this swarm mind can have prejudices too.

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  • $\begingroup$ Maybe it's not a hivemind but a few (3-5?) co-signers of the contract, who do not participate in it but whose mental models are used to resolve any issues. $\endgroup$
    – alamar
    Apr 9, 2023 at 19:22
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Before I answer, I'm going to give two examples of a contract where there is no malice or deception, but you could argue that someone got an unfair deal:

Example 1:

An Art Patron sells a custom piece of art from an up-and-coming Artist with a new style. 15 minutes before completing the sale, the Artist dies in the sort of Tragic circumstances that drastically increase the remaining pieces' value.

Once the new owner is aware after the sale, the new valuation is doubled.

Example 2:

Someone goes to a secondhand shop, sees something that they think is 'cool', the price is reasonable and the owner has it as an unknown item - they purchase the item.

Later on, they realize it's an incredibly rare item (hence why it was unknown) and is worth significantly more than the purchase price.

In both instances, there was no deception, no malice and yet the trade could be argued as 'unfair'.

The latter example being more common than you'd think.

The point is, that external factors that cannot be known by the participants can effect the parameters of a Contract and whether or not a Contract is fair.

Without being able to control for all those factors, Contracts can and will be unfair.

All of that said...

A Magic Trust Account

When a Magical Contract is signed, the goods, money etc. are held in a magic Trust account, which is outside of regular time/space.

This Trust Account has the ability to refund, pay out or even pro-rate payments to all parties based on a magical sense of fairness.

Whilst this means that any contracts can still be affected by external factors, the Trust Account provides a guarantee that keeps it fair.

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    $\begingroup$ If I agree to pay you X for item Y, and you later change your mind on the value of Y, that's not my problem. If it turns out that Y was actually worth much, much more than you thought at the time then that's a failure on your part to correctly assess the item, not mine for agreeing to your price. Am I a bad person if I knew that the $10 mystery item was worth millions and not telling you? Yes. But if I didn't know, and you didn't know, then it's on you for not doing the work. And how many people have been in the reverse position of thinking they were ripping you off when they weren't? $\endgroup$
    – Corey
    Apr 9, 2023 at 22:38
  • $\begingroup$ @Corey - I actually agree, the point was to show that absent malice and intent to deceive it's still very possible that 2 honest people could engage in an 'unfair' trade/contract. $\endgroup$ Apr 9, 2023 at 23:01
  • $\begingroup$ My point was more that such a trade isn't actually unfair. What's fair is that I pay (or choose not to pay) what you ask, not that I pay what it's worth, or what you could potentially get for it. $\endgroup$
    – Corey
    Apr 10, 2023 at 1:02
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At this point, isn't it just like the real wolrd law system? I mean, since you have a third-party arbiter system, why not a magic state that evaluates the validity of contracts, its terms of contract and its implications?

You know, like in the real world, but with more magic thrown in the system.

After all, if both disagree on said subject, then hire your lawyers and solve the problem in the court room. With their lawyers and so on.

The third party arbiter system doesn't even have to be an actual court room, it could be anything of your choosing that could complement your worldbuilding. Fighters, wizards, you name it.

I remember seeing a long time ago a meme about D&D saying something among the lines of: "A lawyer, bends the laws to its will and knowledge, why a wizard/mage wouldn't do the same to the laws of this world?".

Besides the third party arbiter system could be an underground system where the signers would put their lifes/souls on the line of said contracts. But at this point it could be easily abused if both parties are equally powerful.

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The God Of Contracts

People here no longer make contracts, or better say, they no longer write them...

Says the seller, one of the partys explaining to the confuse stranger soon to be buyer which whom he is about to sign a magical contract, contract refered to the purchase a new steampunk ship from the part of the buyer, after his last one was destroyed in that incident with the gigant T-Rex than nobody wants to really rememeber or talks about.

After the weird comment from the part of the seller, the buyer ask:

Then, how did you people use contracts?

Ask the stranger, wondering the weird comment and still waiting for an explanation.

We use magical contracts

Answer the seller, and then he adds:

Written and done by the God of Contracts itself in his perfect languaje.

Says the seller, and before the stranger is able to say what we wants, the seller take a piece of paper, a papirus of some sort with a strange simbol and says.

Hold it a little bit

Without ever removing the hands of it itself.

When the strange take the piece of paper, before he can move an inch more, he seems himself transporte to a strange cave, where he is with the seller, both of them in special podiums one next to the other one, and closing the positioning of the top of a triangle, there is a third podium, a podium where a shadow do not allow to see who is there, the only visible thing is an empty piece of papirus clean of all image very similar to the one both partys take before entering here

Before anyone can say anything, suddenly, the third figure scribe and explore the very minds of both, seller and buyer with an incredible and painful speed, questions seems to sound in the ears of the stranger, question about the purchase and other things but he cannot make anything of it, it is as if the questions come to his mind, and he can also hear himself answering them, although he cannot make anything really from the conversation.

As this is happening for both, seller and buyer, the white papirus is writing themself and growing in side as much as needed, writing and rewriting itself over an over again in never before seen and impossible to understand gliphs, faster and faster, longer and longer, louder and louder every time, suddenly the seller screams, and then the stranger also screams, the pain is unbearable, the scribe done to the minds is powerfull, but soon after, it ends.

Both, seller and buyer have a vision where the strange buyer gives a note with gliphs to the seller, and the seller give the ship back, when this vision end, both are back in the sellers office, the buyer, the only one on foot, fall on the chair to be perfectly sitting suddenly, and the seller fall back on his chair, adding with a little touch of frustration.

I will never get use to this

After that he notice he have in his hand the note with the gliph given in the vision and he look to the buyer who look at it somewhat in awe, the buyer open the coffers he brings with the gold just to confirm what he feels and suspect happend, and it is as such, the gold is no longer there, all of them are completly empty except for some remaining coins which are the exact difference between the price and the money he was bringing to pay for the ship.

After this the buyer is scared thinking he has been scam by the seller, but before he can say anything the seller smile, says "give me a second", take a bag from under his desk and put it over the same, put his hand on the bag and retrieve some keys linked to a document and a letter, he throw that to the buyer, which receive it and after reading the documents understand than..

  • The keys are the keys of "the interlooper".

  • The letter shows where the ship "the interlooper" is stationed and is an explicit permition reffered to the dock crew allowing for retrieval of the ship to the owner of the keys.

  • The other document is the property ownership document of the ship.

After this both partys can feel a painful cut in his very own wrists, together, and at the same time both have the sensation of somebody saying, "it is done", a wound appear in the wrist of the buyer and the seller exposing blood, after that some signs with the names of the seller and the buyer appeard in the misterious and undeciphrable document.

The transaction has been done.

The seller take his hat and says to the buyer

Enjoy your new ship

The buyer then ask

Where are you going

The seller answer

To leave the money in the bank, have a nice day.

And as such, he procede to leave with his hat, the paper obtained in the vision and a new but rapidly healing light cut in his wrist.

By his part the buyer take the letter, the document, the keys and also a new but rapidly healing light cut in his wrist and leave to the address writted in the letter.

TL/DR

Languaje is imperfect and because of that such loopholes can be done, however if the contract is done in a superior perfect-languaje than make impossible loopholes, and also have the backing of a superior entity able to read the minds and see things from an universal truthfull perspective, maybie you have a chance to have all what you are asking for.

After all the contract is magic and misterious, with this solution you can have wherever you want from the contract because the reality is, it's written on his memorys artificially, beyond what the letter say or not, they do know what they need to do or not and they can be arcanely forced to do it as you see fit, so no party is able to understand the wording of the contract, but all partys are able to know what they need to do/avoid etc.

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We do not need to define magical contracts based on our understanding of the world.

What are Contracts?

Contracts are incredibly precise. The runes perfectly describe the intention of a contract so as to be absolute. We don't exactly know how to read the runes, but that has never really mattered. By feeling the flow of the mana one can gain an understanding of its intent. Thanks to this natural intuition, we humans are not the only ones who regularly create contracts. We have witnessed many such magic sensitive creatures creating contracts of their own accord amongst themselves or even with humans on the rare occasion. However, it is rare to see a contract more complex than those created by kings and merchants.

Runes are created when one party projects a portion of their mana from their body into the shape their intention. Using the runes to describe an object means to imbed your entire understanding of what that object is. For a contract to be formed, both parties must project runes which perfectly align. Once this happens, the projected mana from the two parties will begin to mix before being reabsorbed by the signers. At which point, the mana you contributed maintains the shape of the contract within the other party.

While it may sound straightforward, the process of getting two sets of runes to perfectly align is no simple matter. It is not uncommon to see lengthy debates regarding even the simplest of terms. There are records of fierce debates among scholars on everything from the definition of what constitutes a coin to what it means to define a border.

As a consequence of how runes must align to begin merging, it is not possible to enter a contract you do not understand as you would not be able to produce runes matching the other party's intent. A side effect of this is that it is very difficult to enter into a contract with a child without first stripping away much of the nuance involved to meet their level of understanding.

Considerations

  • We prevent loopholes caused by differences in interpretation by creating a world unlike our own with a way to perfectly describe the author's intent.
  • Contracts are only as powerful as the mana you put into them. Perhaps an entity with sufficient mana would even be able to influence or forcibly remove the contracts placed on others.
  • You can terminate your half of the contract at any time by physically visiting and retrieving your mana from the other party. While, this frees them of their obligation to the contract, you would still be bound by the terms of the contract until they do the same thing.
  • The contract forming could be done a second time to apply amendments to an existing contract.
  • Compliance and punishments for not adhering to the contract are performed by the mana you leave in the other person. Once set in motion, the rules that mana works under can not be changed by either signer until the mana is withdrawn into the original host. Using runes to create a contract is like designing a circuit board. It only works exactly it was defined and can only work on quantifiable factors.
  • Behavior of the mana when the contract ends is also up to the contract. Without its original host to exert their will on the mana, it must follow the contract on what it should do next. Maybe it leaves to find its original host when the contract is completed.
  • This approach does not perfectly prevent all loopholes. Say I make a contract at the market to be given 10 apples the next day. If our common understanding of an apple is a sweet red fruit that grows on a tree and satisfies my hunger, then a pomegranate would technically count as an apple under this contract. A smart con-artist may be able to leave enough ambiguity for multiple things to satisfy the definitions. However if it satisfies the signer's understanding of what an object is, can we really say they are being conned? In practice though, a contract would include far more information than could practically be described using written language. This is to the extent that the parties involved would still genuinely believe that the pomegranate is an apple. Since a contract includes everything involved in our common understanding of an apple, the contract would also include all of the little details we use subconsciously to determine what is what. So the full contract would also include that an apple has thin skin, is crisp when bitten into, yellowish white inside, usually has medium black seeds near the center, has a thin woody stem, it can float, the rough shape of an apple, the feel of the fruit's skin in our hand, and every other bit of information you can think of. The much bigger risk using this method is that contracts could be over-exclusive regarding the definitions of various things. As such, participants would have to be careful to strategically remove conditions from their contracts.
  • Runes are a great way to teach new information to others. However, since they are such a dense information format, regular language is usually preferable.
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Forced or not?

There is a witcher walking through a wild forest to reach a wealthy city to offer his skills for gold. He sees some marks on trees and footprints on the ground, suggesting that a Monster is living nearby.

He could hunt the Monster down and probably kill it, but he would need to drink a lot of potions (which are hard to make and could damage his body and mind) and there still would be a risk of the Monster hurting or killing him during the fight. Additionally, the Monster would almost certainly damage his equipment (such as his shield and armor). Furthermore, no one has ordered his services, so he would not be paid.

Alternatively, he could just walk away quickly to get out of the Monster's territory before nightfall, when the Monster usually hunts, and leave nature to take its course.

Then he comes across a wounded villager. He does not know the villager and is not obligated to help him (they may even be of different religions and neither of them Christian). If he walks away, the monster will probably come at night and eat the villager (as it would have done if the witcher had chosen a different path earlier). If he only fixes the villager's wounds, it will not change the outcome. If he helps him walk, they will go slowly and end up in the center of the monster's territory at sunset. The villager is visibly poor but begs him for help. He is also aware of the monster's presence.

The witcher knows that the villager has no gold and certainly not enough to pay for the potions and gear repair he would need, not to mention the witcher's own work and risks. However, there is an old custom (well, just a custom, not a law) in the witcher clan to offer a classical deal in such cases: "I will kill the monster and help you get home, but then you must give me what you have at home but does know about."

He feels charitable, so he offers this deal to the villager (without forcing him), even though he knows that he will most likely get something insignificant in return, like a flower from a table, a cabbage from the local market, a button lost by some random person, or something like that. But there is also a slight chance that he will get something truly valuable, like a newborn firstborn with magical talent. It is just a bet for him.

The villager knows that the monster will most likely kill him at night if he rejects the offer, just as it would have done if the witcher had never arrived. He also does not know what he does not know but hopes that it will be nothing valuable. In any case, if he survives, he can possibly even rebuild his full house in a few years.

To replenish the cost of binding magic for this contract would only cost the witcher some time and effort, which he is willing to invest for the slight possibility that it will not be a total loss for him.

The question is, could the villager even sign the contract (as he wants), or not? He would die if he does not sign it, so there is really big mental pressure.

And if it turned out that there was really a newborn or that the villager is still unmarried but his secret love moved into his house while he was away, would the contract still stand?

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A contract can be "abused" if its meaning as written is different from its meaning as intended. Conversely, a contract is inexploitable if its meaning as written exactly matches its meaning as intended.

Of course, in the real world we have no way of transcribing thoughts into words in a way which exactly and wholly records what we intend for them to mean. But if you have magic then all you need is this:

  • The contract is an exact and complete record, in some magical form, of what the person who drafted it intended for it to mean and what they intended for its effect to be. (Perhaps some sort of recordable telepathy.)
  • You "sign" a contract by creating a verifiable record that you have "read" it and agreed to it.
  • In the hypothetical event of a dispute over the terms of the contract, the arbiter or judge simply "reads" the contract to determine what it means, and verifies that the person who claims it actually means something else has "read" it and therefore knows that it does not mean something else (because its meaning is whole and exact).

For example: Alice agrees to buy an apple from Bob, and the apple is to be delivered on the 1st of June. If Alice complains that she actually expected an Apple Macintosh computer rather than a fruit, or Bob complains that the delivery date should be the 1st of June next year instead of this year, the judge can simply read the contract and verify that both parties read and understood that the agreement was for a fruit, this year.

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Just to easy to abuse by third parties outside the contract.

Sent someone to with imperfect knowledge about the topic to make the deal in your place.

A decent art forger has a naive friend. He gives his naive friend one of his mona lisa copies and tells him it is the original and that he should go sell it so they can split the money. Maybe they even make a "contract" for that and decide that the naive friend as broker keeps 10% of the sell price. The naive friend then goes selling that picture as original and since nobody would buy something so valuable and rare outside a "contract" they make a contract that the naive friend sells the original mona lisa for "1 gazillion $" to a rich dude assured by the "contract". In both deals no one is deceptive but a deceit happend nonetheless.

And if the rich dude finds out that it wasn't the original it gets really bad for the naive friend. One one hand he wants to give the 1 gazillion back to the rich guy, on the other hand he had to give 90% of that to his art forger friend. Unknowingly he made two contradictory contracts and will life the rest of his life in misery with permanent compulsion after being caught trying to steal the original from the louvre.

the principle works in many ways with a third party outside of the contract that in effect tricked both parties in the contract.

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