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Help with drawbacks of magic system

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Bluemoon, Sep 8, 2019.

  1. Bluemoon

    Bluemoon Acolyte

    I'm in need of some help with creating drawbacks for my "magic" system. Here is a general idea of what I have so far...

    There are a few people who are born in my world with an innate gift. It's not "true" magic, but both are deemed socially unacceptable. Each gift is unique to the person, and can be strengthened like any muscle. I want to create a set of drawbacks to discourage developing the gift. I have five types...

    Telekinesis: I like the idea of tying this one to strong emotions. Someone gets angry, and things go flying, get broken, and people get hurt. The stronger they become, the higher the risk they accidentally kill someone. But it creates a problem for me in and of itself as I feel the stronger they work this "muscle" wouldn't an increase of control come with it?

    Pyrokinesis: I have no good idea for this one, other than the same as telekinesis.But I want it to have its own drawback(s).

    Telepathy: After crawling around in someone's head, they take on their personality for a limited time. Depending on how deep they go effects how many mannerisms, or personality traits they take on.

    Clairvoyance: I'm not real sure about this one. Purposely looking at the future too much makes it hard to know what version of the world they're in. Too much time spent in what "might" be makes it hard to know reality from vision?

    Necromancy: This does not operate in a "traditional" sense of the word. They can't raise the dead. They more or less see the dead, and can converse with them. They can also drain the life out of someone. (I'm still deciding if they can do something with it, once they have it.) This one I'm leaning towards the allure of power. The more they practice it, the harder it is to stop. But it seems to fall short, and I feel it needs something else.

    Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thank you in advance!
  2. Futhark

    Futhark Inkling

    Hi Bluemoon and welcome.

    I love world building so I thought I’d take a run at this. Usually with magic, authors will have limits and dangers to ensure magic users have weaknesses. However, you seem to be saying that there are factors that actively discourage people from developing this potential in the first place. I tend toward realism, and my own magic system is like a subset of physics, so this is the angle I’m going to take.

    Telekinesis - Assuming this is some type of psychic muscle, then the more developed the muscle the more power they have. However, there are always compromises. Think of the difference between a weight lifter and a marathon runner. Both athletes, but that’s about all they have in common. So my thought is that the more strength a telekinetic has, the less mental acuity they possess. Basically, problem solving and memory go out the window, impulse control is negligible, and emotional regulation is virtually impossible.

    Pyrokinesis - Fire is energy. Is must come from somewhere (unless they are just manipulating it?). An alternate dimension, a pocket nuclear reactor, a magic belly button. Wherever it comes from, this energy could have channels, or outlets. These veins in a person could become scarred, burnt from the inside, horribly disfiguring them over time.

    Telepathy - Well, there’s the “radio in your head that never gets turned off” analogy. Your idea is good, but you could take it further. I read a book by Larry Niven where a telepath thought he was an alien telepath after trying to read its mind. Most of the novel was from the POV of this alien trapped in a squishy human body, even though the alien was long since dead, and there was no transference of consciousness. Just memories and sensations.

    Clairvoyance - Yeah, I too get the feeling that these people would be pretty out of it a lot of the time. Answering questions before they’ve been asked would make for a confusing conversation. Want to be a scatter brain, become clairvoyant. Sign up yesterday.

    Necromancy - suffix: -mancy (divination by a specified means.). In this case, the dead. Perhaps they become a lodestone once they start. Very attractive to any lost soul, until the necromancer is inundated by them. They are a rockstar and the undead are the paparazzi.

    Ok, maybe not the best ideas, but hopefully I’ve helped a little. Personally, I would have a think about what others perceive, or hear about, when referring to people with these gifts. What physical deformities are associated with them? What mental problems do they have? Just how mad and/or useless and/or dangerous are they?
  3. Welcome Bluemoon!

    These all offer interesting possibilities to explore. Here's my take on a few.

    For clairvoyance, I wonder what could be done with a power where a clairvoyant, once they have opened a window to the future, cannot close it. They become, not just a witness to the future but a potential part of the future scene and they may be recognized (experienced as deja vu) by the people whose future they were interrupting. In a sense, they may change/affect the potential future just by looking into it. Perhaps the more they hone the power, the more they can affect the future and exert control over it but at the cost of losing their own memories (the cost being the trade future glimpses for past memories).

    Pyrokenesis _ I like Futhark's idea for this one and Telekenesis, but I'm always tending towards a subtler shade of ability. :) So, what if the working of the Pyrokenesis creates an actual fever in the user. Use this too much and you might fry your brain (like a fever with a 105 temp can do to humans.)

    Necromancy - If they can drain the life from someone they should be able to use that in some way. But for a detrimental effect, what if doing so brings with it any and all of the mental and physical ailments of the person they drain (similar to your own take on Telepathy I suppose.)

    Telepathy - For me, I think this would be interesting if its use affected the vocal chords of the telepath. The more one speaks with the mind, the more they risk losing their ability to speak with their voice. This may evolve as a cancer-like affliction. Or the loss of speaking with the voice might be especially problematic in a world where those who have no ability to speak are outcasts. Or the character who wields telepathy relies on public speaking for their job/position/status in the society.

    That's the other thing I wanted to suggest. To consider tying the use of some of these abilities to a few characters who stand to lose something from even the early stages of the negative effects.
    Futhark and Bluemoon like this.
  4. Bluemoon

    Bluemoon Acolyte

    Thank you for your detailed response. I have a very basic idea of a generalized limitation. These are muscles, and like any muscle it gets tired. I'm a big fan of the phrase "everything has a price." I'm hoping to utilize drawbacks to satisfy the price, and discourage overuse and development. Weaknesses, I'm still fleshing out.

    Telekinesis: I absolutely love the idea! This works perfect for my character with this gift. I wanted him to have limited emotional ability as a direct result of using his gift.. (My prior solution that I hated was an emotionally numbing tonic.)

    Pyrokinesis: I can do a lot with this. The character with this gift is a bit of a problem child for me. He wants to run willy-nilly, and your idea will definitely rein him in.

    Clairvoyance: You've given my vague idea some substance.

    Necromancy: Interesting. The potential for nasty side effects sounds fun.

    I'm seriously kicking myself right now. I haven't stopped to really ask myself what others think of them other than they're socially unacceptable because of views on magic. It's painfully and embarrassingly flat. Thank you so much for bringing that to my attention. You've really got me thinking differently about this.
    Futhark likes this.
  5. Bluemoon

    Bluemoon Acolyte

    Thank you for sharing. Your take on clairvoyance is interesting. I like the idea of sudden and very real consequences. If someone knows they're being watched, do they make the same decisions? I could really have some fun with that!

    Pyrokenisis: I like the idea of combining both your idea, and Futhark's. Starts with a fever, and leads to scarring. Like any disease, the symptoms worsen over time.

    Necromancy: I fear you're right. It doesn't make much sense to have that kind of energy, and not be able to do something with it...I think what was holding me back is the "godlike" implications it can have. I need to sit down, and really think of limitations for this one.

    Telepathy: That definitely sounds like a deterrent.

    You have an interesting thought. What would someone lose even at the early stage?

    Thank you again for your input.
  6. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

    Your magic system bears a strong resemblance to mine, though my consequences are simpler: exhaustion. In my case, I spent a *lot* of time playing around with magical systems derived from AD&D and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (original versions). Eventually I discovered that game magic systems, like so much else, don't translate easily into storytelling. So, I rethought things almost from scratch, and dug into the literature. I wanted something fantastical, yet with at least a quasi-plausible base in the real world. Hence, I focused on parapsychology (though I tacked a few other things in as well.)

    First, general observation which you applied to Telekinesis, but also applies to all these abilities - increased practice brings increased control.

    Second, the majority of wizards of this sort are going to possess ability in more than one discipline: Telepathy and Clairvoyance, for example.

    Third, exercise of these disciplines involves work. Which means exhaustion and hunger. (Which is why I chose that particular limitation.)

    As to specifics...

    'Telekinesis,' properly learned will include 'Levitation.' It's the most physically intensive of the lot.

    Pyrokinesis - in my system this comes from agitation at the molecular level, in essence rubbing two sticks together to start a fire. An advanced form of telekinesis. No need for an external energy source, though some things ignite much easier than others.

    'Telepathy' in my system is mostly wizard to wizard communication, and the art of 'influence,' practiced mostly by priests. Persuading people, individually and in large numbers of things they might not normally accept. I came across a sort of 'thought experiment' put forth by researchers many years ago: 'if a drug existed that granted permanent mind reading abilities that could not be 'shut off', would you take it? Those polled said 'No.' Over time, though I imagine this would become a background effect.

    'Clairvoyance,' called 'Remote Viewing' these days, with a interesting, confusing, and frustrating history. Concerned not so much with 'time' (though that is a factor) as with observing distant places. One must be wary of the 'Observer Effect,' seeing what you want to see.

    'Necromancy,' as you've defined it, is pretty close to 'medium-ship,' - speaking with the dead. Again, a subject with a long, fascinating, and frustrating history of real world investigations.
  7. Vaporo

    Vaporo Inkling

    My concern with this magic system just how, for lack of a better word, forcibly balanced it seems.

    I mean, you have this array of powers covering all manner of physical and mental effects, yet all of them can fit into a convenient table:

    Power: Pyrokinesis
    Upside: Can summon flame
    Downside: Causes the user to run a high fever

    Do you see where I'm coming from? Unless there's some in-universe explanation such as some supernatural power-giver who goes around deciding exactly what effects the power has, it feels a little bit contrived.

    I'd try to come up with some unifying downside shared by all powers. For example: All powers can be triggered on the slightest whim, so the gifted person must keep a careful hold on their power. Pyromancers who fail in this go around randomly lighting small fires. Necromancers accidentally resurrect whatever roadkill they pass on the street. Telekinetics absentmindedly snap branches off of trees, etc. If you want to discourage people from developing their power, then perhaps the power starts out difficult to trigger, but as they become more powerful it becomes easier and easier to the point where they have to keep total control of their emotions at all times and can never let their mind wander lest they risk burning down their house.

    Of course, this doesn't necessarily preclude power-specific downsides either. However, I'd try to make them logical consequences of the power, rather than just a narratively convenient effect. Pyromancers running a fever when they use their power seems a bit tacked on. However if the pyromancer were not immune to their own flame and had to take precautions against getting burned, it seems like a natural issue that they have to deal with.

    Also, why are people with these powers considered socially unacceptable? I ask because a lot of authors will include a "magic is illegal" subplot without ever considering why it is illegal or how it could be enforced.
    Last edited: Sep 9, 2019
    Futhark likes this.
  8. Futhark

    Futhark Inkling

    Great idea, especially this one.

  9. Miles Lacey

    Miles Lacey Sage

    Okay, here goes...

    Telekinesis - Because any strong emotions can trigger it the person studying this school of magic has to learn to keep their emotions in check. The result is they come across as cold or callous. This negatively impacts upon relationships, both professional and private.

    Pyrokinesis - Pretty much the same as telekinesis except that it can kill both the person using it and anyone within range, especially if they do it in the wrong place. Pyrokinesis uses a lot of energy so collapsing or even dying from exhaustion is a risk.

    Telepathy - The thing that makes it great also makes it really bad: those who use it become privy to all the thoughts and emotions of the people whose minds they enter and manipulate. It can also be triggered accidentally, which can lead to some very awkward or dangerous situations. (Think of using telepathy on a person high on crystal meth for example.)

    Clairvoyance - The problem here is that clairvoyants are able to see a diverse range of futures based on whatever actions are undertaken by certain individuals. For this reason they're often sought out by people who force the clairvoyants to tell them what actions need to be undertaken to ensure a certain future comes about.

    Necromancy - It requires part of a necromancer's own life force to resurrect the dead. The more complex the creature being resurrected, the more life force that is needed. Often that leads to death.

    Overall the biggest deterrents are:

    1. The risks are often greater than the benefits.
    2. It takes many years to master these schools of magic.
    3. Many people die - often horribly - while learning to master magic.
    4. It's expensive. Unless a person is rich or has a rich benefactor or relative who can pay the tuition costs and other costs associated with learning these schools of magic they will either end up in a debtor's prison or relying on crime to pay the bills.
  10. DarthDobber

    DarthDobber New Member

    Here is my take,

    Telekinesis: Young sorcerers or wizards with this ability that don't know they have it could tragically kill their parents or other loved ones during an emotional outburst making it incredibly important to find these people early to train them. Their training is a crap ton of meditation teaching them to pull up various emotions on command, while not letting the emotions control them. You could paint emotions in a way that after a certain point the person experiencing the emotions is no longer in control. Maybe after a certain point, the magic-user comes under the control of demonic influence. Or it could be something akin to the hulk.

    Pyrokinesis: Fire requires a large amount of energy and that energy has to come from somewhere. Other's have pointed out that the energy could cause the magic-user to heat up, but how about the use of the magic actually draws energy from the user causing them to cool down. After using it too much their body heat could drop causing their reflexes to slow and if they use it excessively send them into a hypothermic seizure.

    Telepathy: A drawback here is that the door opens both ways. The person they are mucking around with could get a look into the magic-user. I wouldn't suggest allowing the target to actively dig through the magic-users head, but rather have a recent strong memory or two transferred to the target. Then later in the story, the target gets a flashback to that memory or a dream that highlights the memory. Something like that.

    Clairvoyance: The ability itself should be the drawback. Think about it this way, in a chess game just a few moves ahead introduce literally thousands of possibilities. Ten moves ahead and you are looking at millions of possibilities. This is in a closed system with a specific set of rules. To do it in the real world any further out than a few minutes would be mindboggling. If anyone looks too far into the future they could literally go mad due to the sheer number of possibilities.

    Necromancy: Maybe the more someone practices necromancy they actually take years off their lives. The necrotic energy they play around with literally sucks the lifeforce out of them. You could counterbalance this with some form of life force recharge if you wanted. Maybe there are potions they can take to recharge their lifeforce, but the potions themselves are toxic so they can only take so many of them.

    I like your ideas, Hope this helps.

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