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Mana is the life energy present in all humans. It allows the body to sustain itself and perform its necessary functions to keep us alive. It also gives us the ability to use magical spells and rituals.

Mana content increases as we get older, and determines the strength of our magical abilities. This leads to the strange fact that the demographic with the highest amount of mana are the old and decrepit.

Despite having more life energy than others, their bodies become weaker and frail with age. This is a contradiction because the more life energy you have, the stronger and more youthful your body should be. How can it be the case?

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – James Jun 29 '18 at 16:02
  • $\begingroup$ I put this question on hold. It is very clearly opinion based and I would remind users that they should vote a question on hold rather than answer when it is clearly opinion based. There are no constraints on this question nor explanations of how the system works that allow for one answer to be considered better or worse than any other answer. $\endgroup$ – James Jun 29 '18 at 16:03

33 Answers 33

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Mana is your life force.

People in this world don't age naturally (or, at least, that's not the principle process). What actually happens is that as time goes by, their youth/vitality/health gets leeched away by their spirit-self, bolstering their mana.

Mana is a symbiotic spiritual parasite that slowly drains you of life while bolstering your magical ability.

If you want, you can complete the circle with a full lifecycle for mana. Upon the death of a powerful mage there's an explosion of mana (doesn't have to be an actual explosion, could look like a burst of light or invisible spiritual energy, or even a conscious entity) which then goes on to infect others around them. That opens up a whole boatload of neat narrative hooks. Perhaps you have some people who want to be mages so wind up hunting mages down to steal their power. Perhaps another set of people are so fearful of an accelerated death that they treat it like a disease. Perhaps you could even wind up with conflict within a mage itself between their physical and spiritual selves vying for control (either consciously or sub-consciously). Perhaps up to a certain level of power your body can heal as fast as its vitality is drained so you're faced with a choice: live long in mediocrity or go out in a blaze of magical glory.

So much potential!

Additional thoughts/consequences from the comments:

  • Engineering short-lived uber-mages as a last-ditch defence by getting a number of living mages to sacrifice themselves in the presence of one other person.
  • Death curses: funnelling all your remaining life-force into a curse at the moment of your death.
  • Are mages who intentionally purge themselves of mana immortal? Could be a neat ideological difference between groups
  • Human sacrifice to power colossal magical works
  • What happens if a mage manages to bind their spirit-self to an object/suit of armour on their death? Do they become immortal/undead, but with no way to replenish mana other than killing for it?
  • What happens to mages during warfare/seiges? Does the death of your mages risk gifting mages to the enemy? If you kill a mage in a confined area (seige), could that create a dozen lesser mages who then start building power as their life leeches away?
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    $\begingroup$ Mages are at their most powerfull when terminally ill, gives neat urgency to your story. $\endgroup$ – Borgh Jun 26 '18 at 14:40
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    $\begingroup$ Absolutely ;) another neat narrative hook I just thought of from that. One tribe, long slaves to a brutal regime, have finally reached breaking point after the torture and murder of their chief's daughter. In a last-ditch effort, an ancient half-forgotten ritual is carried out. A circle of the 8 most powerful remaining magi commit suicide in a sealed room with a teenage sacrificial victim, imbuing him with unimaginable power for the rest of his shortened life, unleashing him upon their oppressors. Spirit of Vengeance, they call him. And for good reason... $\endgroup$ – Ynneadwraith Jun 26 '18 at 14:48
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    $\begingroup$ +1. I love this idea. This is the best (only good one?) implementation of "midi-chlorians" I've ever read :P $\endgroup$ – xDaizu Jun 26 '18 at 16:09
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    $\begingroup$ This also explains death curses. Intentionally sacrifice your remaining life force to supercharge one last spell. $\endgroup$ – jaxad0127 Jun 26 '18 at 16:21
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    $\begingroup$ Does this mean someone who found a way to purge themselves of Mana would become a non-aging squib? Might be cool $\endgroup$ – Gramatik Jun 26 '18 at 21:08
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A Glutton's Game

As it turns out, the similarity between the words 'manna' and 'mana' is no coincidence. The amount of mana a person's body can produce is directly related to the amount of food said person has consumed in their lifetime. Those who haven't lived as long simply have had fewer opportunities to stuff their mouths full of whatever. If you're a biblical literalist or a killjoy you could have the mages all be gorging on a specific magical ambrosia or literal manna; or just the sugary plant syrup we use to symbolically represent it in real life. If not, they could cram fried chicken or pies, or whatever food pleases them down their throat

In short, no manna no mana.

PS: For a darker bent, you could have the process of building up mana function like a form of bioaccumulation, much like mercury in fish. So more you eat, the more mana you take in, and the more poisoned you become, which also explains their poor health later on.

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    $\begingroup$ so magical ability would be linked to Cholesterol level? i would be INVINCIBLE!!!! $\endgroup$ – Blade Wraith Jun 26 '18 at 11:19
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    $\begingroup$ I'm going to McDonalds to become a wizard! $\endgroup$ – Neil Jun 26 '18 at 12:18
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    $\begingroup$ I was thinking a much darker route, and make mana a form of bioaccumulation, much like mercury in fish. So more you eat, the more mana you take in, and the more poisoned you become. $\endgroup$ – Anketam Jun 26 '18 at 15:48
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    $\begingroup$ All the more reason to eat your defeated enemies... the stronger the better. $\endgroup$ – TemporalWolf Jun 26 '18 at 22:57
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    $\begingroup$ What if instead of simply the amount of food consumed, food contained some kind of substance from the environment, similar to a contaminate like mercury or radioactive isotope. A lifetime of eating would build up your stores, similar to how mercury accumulates. $\endgroup$ – Mason240 Jun 27 '18 at 18:29
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They gather mana for longer time. Just switch mana with radon. The longer you are radiated by it the more Radioactive contaminated you become.
Same thing with mana, everything in the world emits it. The longer you live the more you gather and your body became used to store it. So even is you spend it on some spell you can easily recharge to previous level and your body can withstand such surge.
Young bodies react to extra doses just like you react to shot of vodka when you're 10. You throw up and get sick for a week.

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  • $\begingroup$ compare and contrast old stone buildings in the UK which are actually mildly radioactive $\endgroup$ – Ruadhan Jun 26 '18 at 14:51
  • $\begingroup$ You don't become radioactive when you are irradiated by something else. Ever. $\endgroup$ – Korthalion Jun 26 '18 at 15:10
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    $\begingroup$ @Korthalom that's not true: neutron radiation (alpha ray), electron radiation and even photons (gamma rays) can react with stable nuclei to form radioactive ones. $\endgroup$ – Neinstein Jun 26 '18 at 15:26
  • $\begingroup$ @Korthalion You're right, I had in mind something like irradiation. When exposed to constant amount of "mana" you accumulate it in body even when the amount stored is higher that the amount your exposed to. $\endgroup$ – SZCZERZO KŁY Jun 26 '18 at 15:35
  • $\begingroup$ I was going to suggest lead poisoning as a metaphor, but this works just as well. $\endgroup$ – Arcanist Lupus Jun 26 '18 at 16:50
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Older practitioners have learned skills to collect it more efficiently and use it more sparingly. A practiced expert can get the job done with maybe 20% the mana used by a less experienced user. A gradual transition from showy, spectacular effects to subtle or subliminal approaches also helps.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 This is the kind of clever, outside-the-box answer that I love seeing on WorldBuilding. $\endgroup$ – F1Krazy Jun 26 '18 at 14:53
  • $\begingroup$ Really clever idea. Maybe you learn extra skills that reduce the preparation needed to do a spell, so instead of using up 10 mana (arbitary number), you can actually reduce it to 3 or 4 mana if you do X and Y first. $\endgroup$ – Algy Taylor Jun 28 '18 at 10:49
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The body is like a shelf of books.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sPScqP3mFKQ Professor Martyn Poliakoff of Periodic Videos

Depicted: Professor Martyn Poliakoff of the excellent Periodic Videos series. Note his book shelves. They have accumulated a lot of stuff. Some of those shelves look kind of tenuous. They are overflowing. The Professor is asking a lot of them.

So too the body. It accumulates mana. Mana is good stuff but it is not always easy to hold. Just as the Professor's shelves are full of good stuff but straining to do it, mana strains and wears the body even as it brings beneficial energy.

There is balance: the wear and strain with beneficial life force, humility with wisdom, impetuosity with youth and strength, the yin with the yang.

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The so called Mana is a bacterium

In real life, we've got lot of bacteria inside us, essential for life. Your world is not so different, except one bactery give the ability to use magical spells.

As it's a slow-growing bacterium, old people tend to have more mana than young people.
This bacterium has however some cons, and reacts poorly with other bacteria, so too much mana is not that good for health.

Making mana a bacterium can also produce an interesting disease: lack of mana. In the case of real-world bacteria, some diseases can change our intestinal flora, changing the balance of bacteria. Therefore, sometimes powerful wizards may become mana-ill, and will be unable to perform any spells for a certain period of time.

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    $\begingroup$ This reminds me uncomfortably of midi-chlorians. $\endgroup$ – F1Krazy Jun 26 '18 at 10:15
  • $\begingroup$ @F1Krazy didn't think about that but it's true. However, aren't the midi-chlorians quite stable, unlike real-life bacteria that can grow or decreased quite quickly? $\endgroup$ – Kepotx Jun 26 '18 at 14:14
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, midi-chlorian counts don't increase with age AFAIK. Just thought the basic concept was startlingly similar. $\endgroup$ – F1Krazy Jun 26 '18 at 14:17
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Casting Spells ages you

It's not commonly known, but using mana is actually what ages you. However it is so inherent in everyone that many low levels spells are cast by your body autonomously (much like we breathe without needing to think about it). Some few monks have achieved near immortality by training themselves to not use magic, but few if any have managed to keep from doing so in their sleep.

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The mana organ never stops growing.

Mana comes from a mana-gland. It secretes the mana as needed. Like the human ears for instance the organ never stops growing. Old people have big ears and a big mana glands. Fortunately it's in a part of the body that can deal with it. Or is it?

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They have saved for the future

Mana is actually a currency you can use to pay the universe for magical effects, besides trading with other people. Wizards are more savvy into the economics of it and have been investing and saving for a real long time.

This also explains how they can pay for their richly embroided nightgowns robes, their towers, magic labs with all those expensive glasses and scroll paper, gems and chemicals of all kinds etc. It does take a lodestone to cast disintegrate and those don't come cheap, you know.

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    $\begingroup$ Basically what I wanted to answer with. Perhaps even store some mana away with a banking daemon and retrieve even more decades later thanks to the most powerful force in the universe: compounding interest! $\endgroup$ – Tophandour Jun 26 '18 at 13:39
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It's not that old people have more capacity to hold mana. Humans have much the same mana capacity all through their adult lives, but the mana is kept away by a field of life force - a bit like magnetic fields repelling particles of the same polarity. (Recent research results indicate this field of life force is generated by Telomeres)

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  • $\begingroup$ Your link is to "Telomere)" on wikipedia. $\endgroup$ – JustinCB Jun 27 '18 at 14:54
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The body can either produce body energy (in the youth) or mana (in the elderly), not both. Add to this that mana production requires an adult body (more or less like growing a beard or breast feeding).

The main concern of the body is therefore first to grow, develop and reproduce. Once this has been taken care of (or at least we can suppose it is), the body can devote itself to mana production.

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Mana is your soul.

As you live, your soul grows. When you die, it breaks free, to the next world. We live to make a soul.

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Despite having more life energy than others, their bodies become more weak and frail with age. This is a contradiction because the more life enregy you have, the stronger and youthful your body should be.

This is a common misconception among outsiders.

As you spend more time around our people, you'll notice we're generally quite lively to begin with, and our elders are considerably more mobile and independent than non-magical elders. This is because of the levels of mana we cultivate during our lives.

Unfortunately, we're not immortal, and while the body is the instrument of our will, it has limits and age does prevent our elders from enjoying the full physical use of the vigor which naturally accompanies the higher levels of mana they've achieved.

Because of this, they often turn those prodigious energies to scholarship, philosophy, and the deep magics.

Oh, that guy? Yes, he is quite frail. The deluded fellow thought he could extend his life by hoarding his mana. Our elders have as much mana as they do because the years spent using and cultivating their mana has grown their capacity. He didn't do that and his mana atrophied, leaving him in that pitiful state.

Hmm? I think he's around 50. Quite the tragedy, self-inflicted of course, but he had so much potential!

What!? No, the rumors that our bodies have become dependent on mana for basic survival are a pernicious heresy.

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Hope I am not just repeating other people, I don't think I am. mana is linked to your metabolism, as you get old your metabolism slows meaning you use less energy just by living, instead of this energy turning to fat (middle aged spread) it turns to mana.

This does mean that certain people would be very powerful their entire life as they were born with slow metabolisms.

And like health you have the choice of power or long life, or to be one of the lucky people able to have both.

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Usable Mana is wasted life force

Your body is filled with life-force pathways that allow your essence to circulate and keep your body functioning. When you are young, these paths are stable and efficient, keeping the majority of the energy contained and sustaining you. As you grow older, the barriers along the streams weaken, and more life-force leaks out and pools in the surrounding flesh. This leakage is what they call mana. The more that is leaking out, the more is available to you to use but the less is making it to your body to sustain it.

Possible Ramifications

  • Accelerated Leaking: Its possible that drawing on mana often or heavily could add strain to the body and increase the rate of leaking. Thus, intense magic usage will bolster your mana reserves more quickly, but also cause faster aging.
  • Pooled Mana: On the flip side, if mana remains pooled in the body for too long it may cause issues. It could self-react at high concentrations, or stagnate and become useless, or even rot and turn "evil" or corrupt.
  • Relation to health: This allows for differing baseline levels of health/mana. Healthier people will have more life energy, and so may in fact have more mana and be in better shape compared to somebody else the same age.
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    $\begingroup$ this answer is simple, elegant, and conforms tightly to the stated parameters. It is also the only answer so far that allows for the facsimile of normal life and aging. It is also allows for variability in the same way real life operates. Some people mitochondria are leakier and this less efficient (so called better metabolisms) some people will convert more or less energy into mana naturally. $\endgroup$ – John Jun 27 '18 at 0:33
  • $\begingroup$ Accelerated Leaking makes the fact that dark magicians tend to look more decrepit make more sense: dark magic requires you to pull extra life energy into mana. $\endgroup$ – JustinCB Jun 27 '18 at 14:57
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Mana usage with age is similar (in outline) to Type 2 diabetes. The production rate of mana remains constant over a lifetime, but aging interferes with the body's ability to use that mana. So the levels of unused mana, available for use in practicing magic, increases with age.

Just because mana is available doesn't mean that your body can use it.

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Ghosts

Ghosts are the next stage in a persons life cycle, and as they age more and more of the mana they've accumulated sequesters into their ethereal body, and less into their physical one. Eventually the imbalance is too great, their physical body can no longer anchor their ethereal body at which point the person dies, and moves on to their "afterlife" as a ghost. However this process is fraught with risk, and most people don't successfully make the transition (which is why there are so few ghosts). Of course you can change the risk to best fit your story depending on how likely you want ghosts to be.

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Mana is proportional to a body experience

Mana is a life energy that increases when you learn new things, both physical like learning new sport disciples/martial arts/etc and intellectual like learning sciences/languages/etc.

So older people posses more mana because they simply learned more things through their lives.

Dependency on age is not linear

As I suppose, your main goal is to deal with the contradiction that old, weak and fragile people can have more mana. To solve it, lets assume that mentioned dependency is not linear: it grows slowly since childhood through adulthood and drops rapidly after very old age.

Dependency between mana and lifetime

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Mana is toxic

Mana is like radiation, it progressively accumulates in our body and we aren't able to get rid of its damages. I mean, you can spend mana on a spell, but the damages that it has provoked in your body aren't healable.

And if you try to use mana on spells it won't reduce your damages, it'll do the opposite. Think about bleach, I have read one time that if you accidentally drank bleach you have not to vomit it because it will damage twice your esophagus and throat (damage when in, and damage when out). If you spent mana, it'll burn inside you twice.

Mana is a subproduct of life

Each second we live, we breathe or move, a particle of life force is burned from our soul in order to produce that "energy" we need to breathe, move o even think. But like the second law of thermodynamics say, any process can have a 100% of efficiency, even flames produces heat and light.

That is your mana. Your life is coal, when you burn coal it produces the light of your everyday life (which you spent to move, talk, play, work, etc) but also it produces heat an ashes which actually they are your mana.

Basically, that heat represents your mana energy used to cast a spell (when more you burn warmer you are), while your ashes may (if you want) represent the accumulated damage of your old body.

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Mana is the force of the next realm bleeding into our own

The creator, in an attempt to shield us from the horrors of the 4th dimension/afterlife/truth, chained us to reality with when writing us into creation. (DNA, Telomeres specifically, if the civilization is advanced enough).

or

Alternatively, evolution has favored resistance to this unbridled power, which naturally selected those who don't spontaneously combust.


As we age, those chains degrade and it's influence grows. The grip of the next world becomes a constant burden. Modern medical science is capable of preventing this shortening and increasing longevity, but this decreases your access to the primal source and, realistically, just delays it's inevitable embrace.

Using the power also strains those chains, increasing their degradation. When they break, you are pulled into the next world, becoming a mana ghost. This means when you're at your strongest in mana, you're also closest to passing/death.

Cancer can then be described as a partial "breach", allowing in the influence that is so harmful to our existence on this plane.

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Mana is accrued at a rate dependent on physical health and maturity. Perhaps mana isn't exactly accrued, but rather is drawn on from every prior living moment, but for practical purposes it is accrued over time. The maximum mana accrual rate is in the mid 20s. If not used, it is a mathematical integral of the person's health over the previous part of their lifespan, plus additional mana gathered from other living things via consumption. When something dies, the mana rapidly drains away. People who have been resuscitated after being clinically dead have permanently depleted mana and make lousy magicians. Small quantities of mana can be gained from eating living or recently living things. This is why magicians are often part time farmers or have a more or less symbiotic relationship with the farm - so that they can get their food as fresh as possible (missing reference :P). Some magicians have given up on this and prefer their food live, eg mealworms, locusts, small octopus, etc... In any case, an old magician would rather live off their fearsome reputation than do real magic.

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As you say, Mana is Life Force. It is stored in every cell in your body.

In a newborn baby, that Mana is locked up tight, and almost impossible to access. As you age, your cells become more porous to Mana, making it easier to access. (This is why, contrary to popular belief, sacrificing children generates almost no power for your ritual)

So, even if an elderly mage and a young mage had the same amount of Mana stored up, the elderly mage could unleash that force in a shorter period of time - and Power is Force delivered divided by Time taken.

On the other hand, this means that when a mage gets too old, they have trouble "holding on" to their mana - it tries to leak out. As a result, their bodies take longer to heal, and they start to take on a more wizened appearance.

To the uninitiated, the resulting nimbus of magic seems an awe-inspiring example of thaumic power - but to other mages it shows that the person in question is approaching the end of their life. Of course, the ability to instantly throw their entire Life Force into one very Final spell just makes them all the more dangerous to oppose...

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Mana and body energy are related. Your body can produce a certain amount of the two added together, but young people produce a higher amount of body energy, & less mana. The production of the resource they are made from is close to constant, but the ratio is not. A teenager can carry a heavy burthen a long ways, but can barely cast basic spells, and an old person can't carry but a little weight a little ways, but can cast the most difficult spells with ease because of the difference in the mana:body energy ratio. The resource they are made from might increase production under duress or in response to trauma/adrenaline, which could be why you suddenly have a burst of energy in response to those things.

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Mana is a spiritual alternative to physical health

Quite simply, old, fragile bodies would quickly disintegrate if it wasn't for all the spiritual energy and pure will holding them together, and maintaining the individual's firm grip on life.

This explains why the elderly quickly pass away if they feel they are of no use to the community.

Mana is directly proportional to wisdom and spiritual awakening, thus, individuals with a lot of mana are seldom interested in physical attractiveness or physical strength. They generally prefer to deepen their spiritual knowledge and orchestrate complex movements in society or reality itself. Perhaps exceptions exist; certain individuals who expend a lot of energy on prolonging their youth because it gives them more tools for seduction, deception, anonymity or "going among the people".

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first, everything is relative. you might be old and decrepit, but if not for your mana levels, you would already be dead. relatively non-magical folk live less than 100 years, while the most powerful (and decrepit) wizards are thousands of years old.

secondly, your body is a conduit for channeling mana into the world. when you are young, most of your mana is used up just living and growing, but as you stop growing, the excess mana starts to damage your body. in the short term, casting powerful spells can cause injury or death. in the long term, minor damage from hundreds of smaller spells adds up to what we call "aging". people who exercise their magical talents regularly with 30 minutes of light sorcery daily live the longest and healthiest lives. on the other hand, people who never perform any magic frequently end up injuring themselves by emitting sudden uncontrolled flares of mana when they are ill or upset. getting more powerful as we age simply compounds the problem since it is harder to burn off all that mana without hurting ourselves.

lastly, nothing can escape the force of evolution. it's in your genes' best interest that you die after reproducing so as not to compete with your offspring for resources. somehow your genes will find a way to kill you off, magic or no magic. it's true that every few thousand years, someone creates a spell to stop aging, and they become biologically immortal. for a few generations no one dies of old age, and so everyone becomes very cautious not to die from an accident, illness or injury. people become isolated to avoid illness. they stop travelling by sea to avoid drowning. they stop having children to avoid death in childbirth. innovation and exploration grinds to a halt, and the birth rate plummets to almost zero. typically however, there are a few people for whom the immortality spell doesn't work. those unlucky folks and their decedents don't have time to play it safe, so they take more risks in the hopes of striking it rich or finding true love before the reaper comes for them. they also tend to have children as a sort of vicarious immortality. after a few hundred years, the mortals will multiply exponentially, while the immortals slowly die off from accidents, injury, disease and famine. eventually a plague sweeps over the land killing the last few immortals (and 90% of the mortals). and so the cycle repeats....

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Oxytocin

Oxytocin is a circulating hormone that is necessary for muscle maintenance and regeneration, and is also prevalent in the human Brain, however as the body ages the amount of Oxytocin that is produced decreases, this leads to the aged appearance and longer recovery times after injury, if you linked Mana inversely with a chemical such as Oxytocin, that would mean the higher amount of Oxytocin in the body the weaker the Mana, making the natural aging effect still make sense as well as older members being more capable of using that mana.

Dopamine

in a much similar way as oxytocin, Dopamine levels decrease with age. so could be used in the same way, the amount of Mana ability would be being inversely proportional to the amount of your chosen naturally occurring chemical.

This could be done simple by either of these chemicals hampering a persons ability to use it or diminishing its effectiveness

Edit: another thought... Chronic stress or depression is also linked to lower neurotransmitter levels such as sertonin and dopamine, so that could be a link to when someone is really angry/depressed they could be more powerful.

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You dont get more mana, you just become more efficiënt with using it in spells.

Also, the state of the body does not have to correlate to your mana capacity directly. Say you are a healthy man who breaks his leg in a fall and starts bleeding heavily. His mana capacity can be anything depending on how much he used and stored before the injury, but now that he's bleeding he suddenly needs more mana to stay alive. And if he stops the bleeding and heals it doesnt matter to hos maximum capacity if he heals up completely or is lame for the rest of his life.

Now an older body could contain more mana than any young body, but also require more upkeep as the body has changed. As the body ages at some point you start using more than you can recuperate and you'll die. Also means that older people need more care when using spells as they get it back slower and need to refill a larger capacity. But you could have tools that can counter that partially allowing a regeneration within a day or something.

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  • $\begingroup$ I'd love to be more efficiënt! $\endgroup$ – Artelius Jun 28 '18 at 0:07
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Your life force may be strong, but the human body still ages. Ever know an old man with pep in his step? Strong life force, weak body. Or collagen still wears out and we wrinkle, or bones still age. But your life force (or maybe connection to it) doesn't necessarily follow suit.

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The amount doesn't increase

You could make it function in such a way that instead of them accumulating vast amounts of mana that they simply become much more proficient in using it sparingly from years and years of practice. A young man might use 100 Arbitrary Unit of Mana to cast a Firebolt while a wizened man who has cast millions of spells could cast the same level Firebolt for only 35 Arbitrary Units of Mana. This could make it seem like they have a much more vast pool of it.

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As humans get older, their immune system weakens, allowing microscopic Mana-chlorians to proliferate inside the body, like any other germ. Since Mana-chlorians generate mana, older people have more mana.

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