Some quest/reason for the hero and friends to go to this foriegn country. Maybe the mentor person in the team escaped from that country.
This small country had a decadent past. The ruler, an Emir, was all about pleasure. The country was corrupted. There was a lot of crime, and it was in financial difficulties, although the ruler denied it. There was a revolution, because the rich kept getting richer and the poor getting poorer. One fellow rose up, from somewhere – some say the military, some say a foriegn nation – and took over. He cleaned house. He became the Administrator. Below him, instead of familial princes/princesses, he had unrelated supervisors, below them were the workers. Everyone should have a job of some sort. To become a supervisor, once would work one’s way up through the ranks – usually from the military. The military was made up of employees (the largest employer in the country), and “volunteers” who were convicted criminals – but not of violent crimes. There was a zero tolerance policy for violent crimes. Violent crimes were torture, murder, rape. Stealing, although a prevalent crime, was not generally violent, so the punishment for that was loosing an apendage. Those convicted of violent crimes (and the government made very sure that it had the correct offender – so there developed a very compitent police detective force) were all put into an arena with a pile of weapons in the middle. A the mark, the criminals would rush to the pile to get a weapon and then fight to the death. The last man standing (or men, depending on how the Administrator was feeling and others’ needs) would win the prize of life – but life as a human test subject for the country’s new industry – magic enhancement items. The vivosectionists/mages created human replacement parts – for warriors wounded in battle – or flesh golems as not quite human servants (for those jobs just too nasty for anyone to do, like cleaning out the sewers). They also created potions, creams, and the like, that transformed appearances. These potions were tested on “willing” human subjects.
— Rising up through the ranks. So, a criminal of a non-capital offense, could rise up through the military and become a supervisor. Criminals would also go out and fight battles, and frequently dessert the army when they reached foreign soil. If they ever returned to the country or were caught by the awesome detective force, they were thrown in the pit to fight it out with the true violent criminals – with a chance to become a human guinea pig or die.
The populace of the country has mixed feelings about the new Administration. Most are pleased, because the economy is better and crime is down. Some feel guilty because criminals have no rights, and there was no privacy from the detectives/government. A thin layer of underlying fear lies over the populace. But most seem happy – or at least act happy. The Administrator’s advisors (supervisors) seem to come up with new ideas for criminal offenses all the time. One suggested that spitting on the street should be punished by 30 lashes. Captial punishment is frequently used for crimes, and it is often “the punishment fits the crime” so if one were to poke someone’s eye out, one’s eye could then be poked out (or removed and given to the vivosectionists). People in the cities were very polite, with people out in the countryside slightly less so. As the country was small, there wasn’t much countryside, and only the capital and two other major cities, and four minor cities, and 20 some villages. The country has a port (east), where the capital is. Most trade goes through that port, but some trade comes through a mountain pass to the west.