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One of the trickiest things I had to do when coming up with my urban fantasy story full of superpowers was finding a consistent set of rules to justify why people can use powers like invisibility, wall-phasing, shapeshifting or teleportation and not have to be/become naked to do it. Eventually I managed to come up with one, but I just want to run it past the people here to make sure it actually makes sense and there's nothing I've missed.

Here's how it works:

The body of every person with powers emits an invisible aura that extends 2-3 inches away from the body in all directions. If any solid object, whether that be an individual strand of thread in a shirt or the steel of a blade, spends 5 solid minutes completely and totally within that aura without a single molecule being connected to a molecule that isn't, then that object becomes "synced" with the person in question and can be affected by any powers that are "syncable" as long as the person's aura is touching at least part of said object.

In short, as long as it's small enough that you can encase it within your aura in some way for five minutes, you can take it with you when you teleport, make it turn invisible or intangible with you, or any other of the myriad ways powers can and do extend to possessions. If it's got too many distinct and separate parts and isn't one solid piece (like, say, woven fabric), you can still make your powers affect it as long as all individual solid components are encased in the aura.

There are some exceptions: for balancing reasons some powers will only affect the parts of synced items that are actually encased by your aura at the time, and some detrimental effects that would otherwise be too easy to cheat with this system will treat all solid nonliving matter within your aura as synced for the purposes of what it does.

Can anyone see any problems with this? Any way the logic is flawed, or any unpleasant loopholes in this system that spring to mind? Or does this sound like it's good to go?

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – Tim B May 3 '18 at 11:57
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This is really an extended comment, but it seemed like a useful general purpose answer for people making magic within a science framework, so I've written it as an answer.

First off, in the comments I argued that there really isn't a "thing" which is a "bonded set of molecules." That's because nature doesn't have discrete states like that. There isn't "bonded" and "non-bonded." It's more accurate to look at it as a range between fully bonded and completely independent. However, there's a rather sharp transition region which we observe few molecules to be in. If we simply assume molecules never spend enough time in that state to matter, we can treat it as if there were two clear states: bonded and non-bonded. It isn't that those states exist in reality, its that it's effective to model things as though they did exist.

Which leads to the most important rule for magic systems like this: Sanderson's First Law of Magics:

An author’s ability to solve conflict with magic is DIRECTLY PROPORTIONAL to how well the reader understands said magic.

To this end, who cares if physics says that bonded vs. non-bonded is a non-real simplification of reality. Most readers have some fundamental concept of what it means to be bonded. As long as they understand it, that's all that matters.

Now if you never push the corner cases, you're set. However, let's say you do want to push the corner cases. You want to see whether you can "sync" with something that is in the process of sublimation. Now, your reader may not have enough of a fundamental understanding. Now you might need to dig deeper into the physics to analyze how "sync" should occur. Don't want to push it? Then you're golden! Sanderson's law is the key.

Now, if I may offer a suggestion which makes a lot of the rules-lawyery stuff go away: let magic operate on the "self." "Self" is a noun which does not have a precise physical meaning, but every human being out there has some concept of themselves. If you admit a concept of "self" into your magic, you gain access to a whole slew of natural easy to understand concepts which make these sorts of games easy.

For example, you primary concern is teleportation of clothing. Make the teleportation spell work upon what the individual sees as "themselves." Make it work on their mental image of who they are. Most people don't visualize themselves naked on a regular basis, so that means most people's sense of self extends to their clothes as well. Now there's no issue at all with syncing. You naturally will sync with your clothes, and that's a concept readers understand, so you don't have to dig the physics any further than that.

In theory one could abuse this by successfully visualizing something else as part of themselves (you can visualize anything). However, if you really truly feel that it is part of yourself, there are serious consequences. For example, you must protect that thing as part of your self, just like you would protect a finger or a leg. You must feel mental anguish if it is damaged. People can manipulate you simply by threatening to damage the object. If you don't have traits like these, then you didn't really treat it as part of yourself, and you wont sync it.

If you wanted to, you could also blur the line of what is "synced" and instead have degrees of being synced. You and your clothes may be highly synced. The pin you just picked up may be very low on this scale (but increasing continuously because it's within 2-3 inches of your self). Now make the rule that you can teleport anything, but it takes more energy/mana to teleport things if they aren't well synced. Teleporting with that pin might take great effort.

Now you have a very rich system. A normal person does not think of a gun as part of themselves, so they could not teleport with a gun with ease. However, a gunslinger whose life has depended on that firearm may think of it as an extension of themselves, in which case teleportation with that gun is easy peasy.

You can even bend the rules with this. Consider a Japanese warrior-monk whose family has safeguarded an heirloom katana for generations. That monk may be so synced with this heirloom that they can maintain the sync, even beyond the 2-3 inch range. They could teleport that katana right to their hand from across the room. And it won't seem overpowered because this monk has literally devoted their life to this cause.

All of this is easy because the concept of magic was allowed to operate on our mental image of ourself. There's no easy physical description of what that means, but every reader intuitively understands it.

Oh, and if you want to use it, you could consider taking advantage of the concept of Evanescent Waves/fields. This is a real life phenomena which occurs over very short distances (fractions of a wavelength) where energy which is totally reflected "leaks" out of an object. It occurs because of the same issue we started with. We think of light reflecting off the edge of a prism as reflecting off a border, but the physics of light waves doesn't recognize borders like that. When you model the full wave behavior of light, you find there must be a fuzzy region "outside" of the prism where light acts funny, just like the 2-3inch region around the self where sync occurs.

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    $\begingroup$ "In theory one could abuse this by successfully visualizing something else as part of themselves (you can visualize anything)." It does solve the question of teleporting Professor X's wheelchair or Prof. Hawking's speech synthesizer. Those would both be part of "self". Likewise, it'd be a frustrating story if an elderly Nightcrawler teleports and arrives without his cane. $\endgroup$ – SRM May 2 '18 at 19:43
  • $\begingroup$ what happens if their concept of 'themselves' has them wearing clothes they aren't currently wearing? $\endgroup$ – BKlassen May 2 '18 at 22:30
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    $\begingroup$ @BKlassen I would consider that similar to the monk case. If you're not really in tune with those clothes, but just tricked yourself into thinking of them as part of yourself, then they would not be all that synced with you, and it would take enormous effort to teleport at all. On the other hand, in the warrior-monk case, I would argue that that monk spent so much time attuning himself to that heirloom sword that he doesn't fall out of sync with it nearly as quickly as a normal individual might, so he may teleport in ways others might not be able to manage. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon May 2 '18 at 23:07
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    $\begingroup$ I think of it similar to dancing blindfolded. You can typically remain in sync if you remain touching. If you separate, you can't really maintain a sense of where they are (you're desynced). However, if you watch trained dancers who have danced together for years, they can reach out for eachother perfectly, like they knew the other was there. They somehow remained in sync, despite being separated and blindfolded. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon May 2 '18 at 23:09
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/a consistent set of rules to justify why people can use powers like invisibility, wall-phasing, shapeshifting or teleportation and not have to be/become naked to do it. /

You have correctly pointed out that nakedness is the only pure way to accomplish this magic. Any other method will be poked full of holes by the hard core critical nerds - for being totally arbitrary if for nothing else. You know its true and you struggle with it, and rightly so.

Nakedness is the only pure way to accomplish your ends. Nakedness and also hairlessness because hair is not alive either. I will point out that with the shining exception of Terminator (and those 2 kept their head hair if not body hair) just about every other SF has hand waved its way past what you astutely observe is an issue. OK, the Invisible Man had to go around in the buff but the invisibility sort of solves the issues that nakedness would otherwise present. Otherwise everyone keeps clothes and hair and it just does not hold water.

Go with your gut - keep it naked and hairless! I mean the magic, not your gut. Although that too if you want.

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    $\begingroup$ If you start ruling out hair, you’ll have problems with fingernails and toenails. $\endgroup$ – SRM May 3 '18 at 2:59
  • $\begingroup$ @SRM - that is good. You could make the reader aware this was the case by having the character flinch as her margarita spilled on her bare nail bed. $\endgroup$ – Willk May 4 '18 at 13:10
  • $\begingroup$ What's the point of magic if it has to follow sensible rules? Magic is the semisentient universe paying attention to your request and doing what you expect it to do, not what logic says it should given consistency with earlier or later scenarios. $\endgroup$ – SRM May 4 '18 at 19:56
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Rather than have an aura, why not have the magic caster be able to channel magic into objects they are in contact with, which will them allow them to apply the same power to it?

To explain in detail, a magic user can channel magic into all objects they are in contact with. The magic will spread along the object allowing the magic casters power to be applied to it. The magic caster can also purposely exclude objects, so things like a coin in your wallet will be included as they are in physical contact with other objects that have been your magical power in it, while things like the ground won't be because the user will choose to not include it.

This way your casters will still have clothes, they can use their power instantly, which won't bring their clothes along, it takes them sometime to channel their magic into their clothes which allows you to set a delay before they can move away. You can also bring long things like a sword or maybe a rifle with you (since they could be further than 2-3 inches from you). You can exclude obvious objects, like maybe someone holding onto you, but things you aren't aware of, like a tracking device will still follow you through.

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