I have a world I'm working on designed to be the setting for an eastern-style RPG. In the past, magic was used until the mana fueling it ran out and everything people depend on failed. At about the same time, a sort of 'magic pollution' was discovered. It was a side effect of trying to keep spells going despite the fading mana. The idea is that everyone faced a near catastrophe where humanity numbers dropped drastically, but the 'pollution' faded rapidly once magic was no longer used and in only a few generations, society came back.
A few things I know about this pollution:
- It has a mutating effect. Most of the monsters of this world are mutated animals caused by the magic pollution. The more powerful monsters only exist due to high presence of pollution 'feeding' their power. Humans are also effected, in particular newborns. For humans, the mutations can vary. Many are debilitating but some are just unusual or even beneficial, but these 'mutations' are not inherited by their children and these mutated people are far less common in 'present' day.
- The pollution was the main cause of the societal collapse in a short period of time, and it's fading is what allowed the 'present' day to rebuild back to proper levels quickly
- The magic pollution would dissipate faster near humans, as human life (and death) is the source of the mana and the faster mana builds up the more the pollution fades. Thus monsters near human settlements would tend to be less dangerous/common.
I had originally imagined difficulty fighting newly formed monsters combined with high mutation and still births in infants would be the cause of the collapse. However, I realized that taken to the logical extreme this would likely result in a world where women were treated as brood-mares. The focus would be in getting pregnant as often as possible, to compensate for all the still births, and women wouldn't be allowed to do anything else because they were too precious a commodity. This would lead to a society that I don't want in present day, I want women to be treated closer to present day norms.
How can I modify the effects of this magical 'pollution' to stick to cause a major societal collapse for a brief period of time while still developing a culture with women on equal footing to men?
I've toyed with plants being most effected by the pollution and dieing out, making feeding of humanity be the biggest challenge during the Collapse, and with a larger focus on monsters. However, I don't want monsters to be the sole/primary cause of the catastrophe, I would prefer there to be an emphasis on other factors which quickly disappear as the pollution fades, while the monsters mostly 'sticks around'. How can I justify the culture not treating women as brood-mares.