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So, in my setting, there are magical weapons, armor, tools, and jewelry. They are quite the standard fare, ranging from swords that can cut better to amulets that let you breath underwater and the like. The more mundane magical items are quite cheap to buy and produce, while the fancier ones will tend to be more expensive, out of reach from simple peasants and the like. However, there will inevitably be highly successful knights, kings, and protagonists that will be able to have a large number of these magical items.

Aside from the standard logistical limitation of making such magical items rarer and more expansive, I would like other reasons for why a person is unable to wear so many different magical items.

Notes:

  • These magical items are created by taking an item and making it magical by applying runes and stuff onto it. This should not be needed to answer the question, but it is here nonetheless
  • It would be best if the answer could be general, and not need the specifics of how the magic works, but for those who wish to provide a more specific answer to this question, here it goes.
  • Everything in the World has, and is made of Mana at the basest level, as such, when you manipulate Mana, you manipulate the things which the Mana was tied to, which is done by magic. Pretty rudimentary stuff.
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  • $\begingroup$ Feel free to ask me to clarify anything that needs clarfication $\endgroup$ – grimmsdottir Mar 12 '15 at 8:38
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    $\begingroup$ @Abulafia If it was for an RPG, I'll be sure to head over to the rpg se to see how to implement this $\endgroup$ – grimmsdottir Mar 12 '15 at 13:53
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    $\begingroup$ Seems from the answers you can turn the problem of too many magic items into both nice background stories and plot devices. Great question! $\endgroup$ – Abulafia Mar 12 '15 at 14:00
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    $\begingroup$ The classic Death Gate Cycle series by Weis and Hickman uses magic in a way very similar to this. One race of magic users traces runes on their body, which takes energy/mana, and they can only cast spells for which they've traced a rune on their body. $\endgroup$ – TylerH Mar 12 '15 at 14:28
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    $\begingroup$ Just a suggestion, but why not go the other way--there are no real limits--and explore the story that arises out of that? The main antagonist in The Final Empire, the first Mistborn book by Brandon Sanderson, could be described as someone who's found (and thoroughly abused, in true munchkin fashion!) an exploit in the rules of magic, and instead of saying "no, let's make this impossible," the author embraced the concept and built a heck of a story around trying to bring him down. (And then two more about dealing with the aftermath, which just get better...) $\endgroup$ – Mason Wheeler Mar 13 '15 at 16:00

14 Answers 14

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Some basic ideas on how to limit it, requiring more or less adaption of the magic system:

Bodybatteries

The magic item itself is incomplete; it's only the effect but has no internal power source. Instead, the items work by tapping into the body's natural energy/mana and powering themselves from it. Wearing too many magic items will introduce fatigue, sleepiness, and could even drain so much energy you go into a coma or die.

Interference

Magic has a profound effect on the world around it, and while the world is quite capable of handling some craziness, there is a limit. If you combine too many magic items in a small area, they start going over the world's crazy-limit and start interfering with each other, with all kinds of unpredictable (but mostly fatal) effects.

Jealousy

All magical matter has some limited, primitive sentience. They will try to force their own will on the world by connecting to the mind controlling them. While this is usually not an issue at all as a human mind can easily overpower it, collecting too many items together will both overwhelm the wearer with the constant feeling of conflicting interests and will make the magic items start fighting amongst each other for dominance, causing the weaker ones to start failing as they are suppressed by the stronger ones.

Focus point attachment

Everybody only has so many points where the natural magic of a person can interface with the magical energy of an item. A magical ring simply doesn't work unless it's worn at a specific height on a specific finger, and few item casters know how to make a ring that can work at another place than the 1/2/3 well-known places where rings can be worn.

Attunement

It takes mental energy to control and guide a magic item. It's like each of them has an instruction manual with all sorts of rules and quirks that you must get used to. At some point, you'll simply start confusing the subtle mental guidance you give these items and run the risk of accidentally deactivating your magic sword instead of pushing some extra power into it. The better you are at coördinating your thoughts, the more items you can operate at once, but there's a limit to what you can remember and use without error.

Conduit

Like gravity, magic exerts a force on other magic. The more magic you have in one place, the more it starts to pull other magic in closer. At some point, you will simply be drawing any magical spells onto you, even if it's targeted at someone else, and you'll be pulling magical items closer to you, making you even easier to hit with a magic sword, as if you're a giant magnet.

Drawing attention

Humans are not the biggest fish. There are things that love magic, feast on it, and do unspeakable things to the local area when they come looking. The more magic you collect, the more you stand out to these beings and the more risk you run of receiving a visit by an unspeakable horror who will devour your sanity at the same time he gulps up all the magic emanating from your body.

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    $\begingroup$ I added more. Although looking over the list, there is a chance this question will eventually be locked as 'Idea generation'. But at least you have stuff to work with :) $\endgroup$ – Erik Mar 12 '15 at 8:59
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    $\begingroup$ You could also have the opposite effect of conduit - magic repels other magic physically, similar to electric charges. Wearing two magical rings might make it hard to clap your hands, putting on a ring while you're wearing magic armor would need a few people to help pulling - and as soon as they release, the ring flies off again. Hopefully without taking your finger with it. To get the complete electric spectrum, maybe you can make opposite magic attract. $\endgroup$ – EagleV_Attnam Mar 12 '15 at 9:49
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    $\begingroup$ Similar to "Interference" and "Drawing Attention", too many interfering magic items has been known open a portal to the [Danger Zone] and suck the wearer into it. Nobody has returned. It is not sure whether this is caused by attracting an unknown being who pulls the victim in, or whether the manipulation of so much mana in such a small space causes a tear and opens the portal. $\endgroup$ – DoubleDouble Mar 12 '15 at 15:48
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    $\begingroup$ Another thing to add that may reduce magic item use to any but crazy people: Addiction. Use of magic items is addictive. If you keep your usage moderate, you're pretty much fine. But if you start loading up on too many magic items, you become addicted to their use. At that point, you go into the standard vicious cycle of addiction: Can't bear to be without them, and eventually the ones you have don't give you enough of a 'fix.' Add in negative backlash from not fulfilling the addiction. So, unless you want to be a junky...limit your item use. $\endgroup$ – guildsbounty Mar 13 '15 at 13:21
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    $\begingroup$ Note, careful with the 'drawing attention' option. "I wear 100 rings of teleportation, stand in the capitol city of my enemies and wait for a balrog" $\endgroup$ – Scott Mar 15 '15 at 21:48
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Another possibility I have invented for one of my recent settings:

Let magic be a harmful radiation. The mightier an object is or the more magical stuff you wear the more (tissue) damage you will receive.

This gives you a lot control over how useful a magical item is.

Magical casters can be more resistant about a short but intense flow of magic but can also be damaged when exposed to constant radiation for too long.

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  • $\begingroup$ I would also then suppose that those that are resistant to the radiation of magic would then be able to handle more magic and be able to rise through the ranks I guess. $\endgroup$ – grimmsdottir Mar 12 '15 at 13:50
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    $\begingroup$ Is there healing magic, and if there is, does it cause more or less harm than the healing done? (Imagines a team of magic-users doing something very powerful while another team heals the damage being done to that team, and another team healing the first healing team.. etc.. until a team can heal both itself and the next team) $\endgroup$ – DoubleDouble Mar 12 '15 at 17:33
  • $\begingroup$ My thought was along these lines. Except I thought of it more as "magical poisoning". Exposure to magical effects builds up a residue in your body, like a toxin with a long half-life. Your body can gradually eliminate it naturally, but if it is rising faster than your body can eliminate it, you will become more and more ill until you die. Static effects could have a small steady exposure, limiting how many and how long you can wear them. Going over baseline means you need some downtime away from them to recover. $\endgroup$ – Bryon Mar 12 '15 at 17:36
  • $\begingroup$ Items with instant, large effects would be more interesting. You could have one massive exposure, meaning you would have to be pretty much clean to begin with to avoid getting sick, and would need down time to clean up again. Or perhaps the effect can be amortized somehow, feeding the exposure into you gradually before or after triggering. That could make for interesting trade-offs. $\endgroup$ – Bryon Mar 12 '15 at 17:39
  • $\begingroup$ This won't work well since you can shove a regeneration ring down your pants and nothing will happen (except some extreme discomfort). $\endgroup$ – Ismael Miguel Mar 12 '15 at 18:24
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You don't need a magical reason to solve this, here are a few

Weight

Magical items are made of heavy things. Only the strongest person can carry so many items ( and has little use or understanding because they spent the time studying trying to build their physical strength ). The only feasible way to do it is to carry them in a horse and cart at which point you aren't wearing them and there's no point

Social Stigma

People would look at you funny if you had a lot of bling on, in society today overdoing it is frowned upon. Subtlety. Why not the same with magical items? Don't prevent having too many, just make the character a pariah when they do so

Bulk

There are a lot of things within the range of weight that I'm able to carry, that are simply too unwieldy and bulky to carry. For example I can't carry a 10m x 10m cube of polystyrene. It's light enough for me, but it's too bulky. Make it the same for your magical items. Carrying more than 2 or 3 can be impractical purely from a volume/density point of view

Finances

Nobody really buys their magical items, they buy them with loans, and if you have too many loans, the interest prevents you from doing other things ( like eating )

Religion

Magical artifacts aren't seen as magical, they're seen as religious, divine artefacts. As such, they're gifted by clergy, and held on to for their power, seen as gifts. Some people see crucifixes this way, but they don't walk around with hundreds of them hanging from their neck. Additional crucifixes and prayer beads don't make Gods presence stronger around you, so why would more of these magical artefacts do that? These people believe their power comes from God/Gods not from an innate magical ability

There's another side, even if it's known that carrying multiple artefacts conveys more magical effects, and they are cheap, such actions may be blasphemous, or seen as greed. Equivalents of the religious texts we have that pour scorn on greed and materialistic tendencies may make hoarding magical objects obscene, possibly illegal

Chain Reactions

The destruction of a magical object may incurr a costly event, such as an explosion or the sapping of life force. While multiple of these objects would be powerful, the destruction or damaging of one may set all of them off, incurring a devastating event to the owner and all around them. This also provides you with a mechanism for Kamikaze Wizards, magical suicide bombers, etc

Smell

Perhaps a vital ingredient of constructing magical objects involves something that smells horrific. Perhaps it's a binding agent, or a catalyst which unlocks the powers of the items. Eitherway if you have too many items in one location, you're overwhelmed by the smell, it becomes unbearable, the weak of heart may pass out from the fumes.

This places those with no sense of smell at a huge advantage however

Toxicity

There are plenty of things we ingest on a daily basis such as caffeine that are poisons. Caffeine for example is a natural insecticide, insects eat a plant with caffeine in its leaves, and are unable to regulate their bodies and go into overdrive. They curl up into a ball violently shaking, super wired.

We're too big for caffeine to do that to us, and perhaps it's the same with magical items. Something in them is poisonous but within tolerable levels. Until they reach a critical mass and we start to lose the battle, leading to a slow decline.

Perhaps as a result, users with lots of magical items become weak, suffer signs of dementia, respiratory issues, etc

Critical Mass

What if one of the traditional ingredients was radioactive? Perhaps they were using a mildly refined form in order to produce the heavy metals for aesthetic sake ( the bright red uranium dishes from early 20th century that were so popular? Or the glow in the dark watches that used Radium? ) Too many magical items mashed together may create a critical mass, resulting in dire consequences or radiation poisoning

Taxes

Faced with a proliferation of magical items and a shortfall in government coffers, perhaps taxes were instituted on the growing trade in magical items. It's no longer financially feasible for people to own large numbers of items, and it makes sense for the rich to go for individual expensive powerful items rather than face a tax burden of multiple not quite as expensive items

Ritual

It may be custom to prepare each item, a ritual of sorts, required each day. Owning more items means more time spent doing this, which becomes tedious and impractical

Maintenance

The maintenance costs of keeping the items operational, clean, and well functioning may make owning lots of magical items unfeasible

Technological Obsoletion

Magic can set a house on fire, but so can matches. Why carry an amulet that can set things on fire when a small box of matches will do the trick too? As technology progresses, things can be done better and more reliably with a machine than using magic, so people may be able to have lots of magical items on them, but there's no need.

Why carry a staff of light, a magical compass, enchanted music box, and crystal ball for communication, when you can carry an iPhone? Of course the lightning wand and the paper thin adamantium armour that melts attackers would stay

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  • $\begingroup$ I like the idea of social stigma, because I imagine the most powerful magicians as looking like stereotypical pimps, with lots of rings and necklaces, ornate robes/coats, shiny shoes, and a blinged-out cane. Maybe even a grill! $\endgroup$ – KSmarts Mar 12 '15 at 17:16
  • $\begingroup$ I like the idea of magical items tending to be heavy, as the traditionally magical items like gold and silver tend to be pretty heavy. Expanding further on that, I could also probably reason that the entire Platinum family of metals are one of the more magical metals around, and they tend to be heavy and expensive too. $\endgroup$ – grimmsdottir Mar 13 '15 at 1:01
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Rune-crosstalk

While we perceive objects as being distinct from each other, with clearly defined boundaries, they are just collections of individual atoms. The inscribed runes affect the underlying mana and do not "know" the objects. Instead they affect all matter in a certain distance. Too many runes in one location and the runes of the sword starts interfering with the job of the runes on the ring, weakening both or creating new unforeseen effects.
The power of the runes also extend to the wearer's body. This is usually fended off by the wearer's intrinsic mana/magic/soul, but too many runes and they start having unintended side consequences on the body.

Both storywise and in RPG campaigns, you can have anything happen to a character "because too many runes".

Also see: Crosstalk

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  • $\begingroup$ Pretty good answer, I like the idea of the ethereal and corporeal being fuzzy. $\endgroup$ – grimmsdottir Mar 12 '15 at 14:00
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    $\begingroup$ This might also affect non-magical items. Magic ring of healing + regular sword = magic sword of healing. Oops. $\endgroup$ – Quentin Clarkson Mar 13 '15 at 0:05
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    $\begingroup$ @QuentinClarkson The way there are destructive interference, there could also be constructive interference. So, you can end up with sword of fire + ring of water breathing to become ring of fire breath. Sometimes. $\endgroup$ – grimmsdottir Mar 13 '15 at 0:16
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    $\begingroup$ @grimmsdottir That one would probably just give you the ability to drink an unusually hot cup of tea. My initial thought was that the destructive interference was more fun, but this lets you introduce a third class of magic user - the 'power users' who understand how to combine items in useful ways. And then there are those who think they know what they are doing but really don't have a clue... $\endgroup$ – Quentin Clarkson Mar 13 '15 at 0:56
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    $\begingroup$ Precise ingredient identification becomes another source of trouble. Does that recipe call for a sword with a magically sharpened edge? Beware that the local merchant doesn't know the difference between that and a keen sword with magically enhanced durability. Both keep their edge in battle but... $\endgroup$ – Ben Voigt Mar 14 '15 at 19:56
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Unless this is for a RPG and you need to actually calculate the effects, you can simply assume a background mana field of varying intensity of low and high mana areas. This field powers anything with mana, in this case everything, and the local mana level is then simply the point of balance between the natural rate of mana generation of the field and the draw imposed by mana use in the location. Thus places like mountain tops or desert would have high mana and places like cities low mana. (Mentioned because this migh be undesirable side-effect.)

This would imply that if you increase the mana draw of a location, its mana level will drop towards the new point of balance, and then take some time to recover after the extra draw is removed. Examples of such extra draw would be magic items and magic use. Thus concentrations of magic items would be surrounded by an area of depleted mana.

You can further assume that the rate of mana generation is not a constant, but varies depending on the current mana level with lower mana areas generating less mana and recovering slower. This would make the time an area needs to recover from mana depletion longer the deeper the depletion is. The depletion caused by magic items could become a real issue if the density of magic items is too high.

Since magic items require mana to work and probably have some minimum levels needed to work reliably or at all, having lots of magic items at the same location for extended period does not really work. With sufficient number of items in the area the depletion might become an issue fairly fast. Certainly people with lots of magic items would be asked to "move along right now" in cities, otherwise cities would become permanently mana depleted areas.

This would be bad as it would make spell casting too unrelable to be useful. And since in the scenario living beings are also mana active exposure to mana depletion would probably cause some serious health issues. I'd expect people carrying lots of magic items would need to be constantly moving to avoid becoming sick. Added number of items would force person to do that movement in remote high mana areas. And at some point only outer space would be remote enough to avoid sickness.

This would give a tunable reason to limit and actively manage magic item density. Math would be annoying if you need it and it has side effects on how society regards magic use and magic items, so it might not be what you want.

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  • $\begingroup$ Tangent stories to the mana depletion: The Magic Goes Away by Larry Niven. $\endgroup$ – user487 Mar 12 '15 at 13:24
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelT I feel bad that I recognized that as the trope, rather than as the book, even though the book is the trope namer $\endgroup$ – grimmsdottir Mar 12 '15 at 13:46
  • $\begingroup$ That's actually pretty good answer, as my setting, when described in greater detail, will also include a civilized areas where magic is tamer and more logical, while there are wild lands, with wilder magic $\endgroup$ – grimmsdottir Mar 12 '15 at 13:48
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    $\begingroup$ @grimmsdottir its not a well known set of books for Niven (the MtG card is probably better known) and wasn't his best works back when they were written. The short stories are much better. Side bit: spoiler (look at link). Aside: I suspect an answer to this question could be written based on The Roentgen Standard. $\endgroup$ – user487 Mar 12 '15 at 14:01
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelT Nice trick for spoilers in a comment! $\endgroup$ – Rob Watts Mar 12 '15 at 21:20
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Euphoria/Addiction:

Using magic feels good. Casting a powerful spell can get you high. Rituals can get you effectively drunk (as a side effect).

Use a handful of magic items, and suddenly you're trying operate with a permanent high. Load up on a ton of them and you might as well be constantly mainlining heroin.

Needless to say, people who use a ton of magic items tend to not last long, although sometimes they don't last long in really spectacular ways.

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  • $\begingroup$ Along the same vein, using magic could be dangerous - "The Wheel of Time" series uses this - the "magic" is channeled through the user and creates a high but is also dangerous. Channeling too much through yourself at once can kill you, or, some consider it to be worse, burn you out - making you unable to do it anymore. $\endgroup$ – DoubleDouble Mar 12 '15 at 16:05
  • $\begingroup$ Alternatively it hurts and can only be used by people with great tolerance to pain or extreme willpower. $\endgroup$ – Jim2B Mar 15 '15 at 5:22
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Bad luck

Look, it's great that you got all the magickal jewelry to improve your armor by 200 percent. But now it seems, that you need to wear your armor all the time - there are suddenly falling objects, tree branches hitting you and you slipping and falling to sharp object.

It can be mindset, or it can be truth. But people tend to wear only X magic items at a time, because having more is generally considered bad luck

Name of God

You pointed out, that to make object magical, you have to scribble runes onto it. Going from Norse mythology: The runes are from God(s) and made by God(s). And the point is, that it is generally believed, that X runes put together might accidentally spell out the "True name of God"

No one knows what happens, but I dare you to wear more than X objects! You could end the World existence!

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  • $\begingroup$ Huh, that's a good way to limit the use of magical items, by not making the magical items needing X, but by making the user not want to use so many magical items $\endgroup$ – grimmsdottir Mar 12 '15 at 9:07
  • $\begingroup$ One part of why magic actually works: Both caster and receiver deeply believe into effect of the spell $\endgroup$ – Pavel Janicek Mar 12 '15 at 9:15
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    $\begingroup$ The Name of God is a neat idea, but I'm sure some maniac convinced that it would give him God's power would certainly try (which wouldn't be a bad plot line in a story). Actually, regarding "God's true name" I've written on that on a different SE. It's a very old and varied concept from which our world building endeavors could get a lot of ideas. $\endgroup$ – 458 Mar 12 '15 at 18:33
  • $\begingroup$ @fredsbend I like that answer of yours on the other SE, pretty cool stuff. $\endgroup$ – grimmsdottir Mar 13 '15 at 1:05
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Constitution

Very similar to Erik's 'Attunement', but a different take on it.

The ability to effectively use a lot of powerful magic items is unwieldy. This has a direct physical analogy: warriors don't use a bunch of weapons. It's true that people only have two arms, and those are the best candidates for holding weapons, but historically even dual wielding isn't done. Video games and movies make it seem wonderful to dual wield swords and daggers and all manner of weapons, but in reality you don't gain much. The same could be true for magical items.

Splitting your thoughts between fire, ice, necromancy, lightning, healing, etc would surely become unwieldy or inhibitive just like dual wielding swords.

Insanity

Kind of in-line with the previous one. Wearing too many items, and trying to control too much magic, drives people insane.

Affinity

Perhaps magical practitioners can only utilize one niche of magic. Or, more accurately, they can practice all types of magic, but they're just completely inept at everything except their favorite. Combined with the next item, diminishing returns, there would be a functional limit to what you would want to wear.

Diminishing Returns

Sure, you could have 20 rings, 7 amulets, and carry some magical daggers in concealed locations, etc, but would it offer any benefit? In video games and RPG settings a lot of times the effects are simply additive or a percentage boost. "Wear this ring, +20% fire damage". What if the reality of it meant "Wear 1 ring, and you get a 50% boost. Wear another ring, and get a 50.1% boost(in total...so the second ring is adding 0.1% to your abilities)." It would be immediately obvious to magical practitioners that you could continue adding more and more, but the increase in magical abilities would quickly interfere with things like dexterity. Even in our world, I don't understand how some people walk around with a bunch of rings on their hands. I've seen some people with 5+ rings on a single hand... I can barely wear 1 ring before I feel restricted.

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  • $\begingroup$ Funnily enough, as this question fits right at home here in World Building as well as the RPG SE. Diminishing returns does seem like a good idea to limit the use of magic items, especially when combined with any one of the other reasons. $\endgroup$ – grimmsdottir Mar 13 '15 at 1:00
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Magical Size

Objects have a size and weight in terms of reality, but magical items also have a magical size and weight. The more magical (and thus the more expensive) and item is, the "bigger" it is in terms of magic. Putting too many magical items together can cause drastic problems; the easiest is that some magical items get magically 'crushed', and cease to work; more interesting may be a magical black hole that suddenly begins effecting reality AND the magical realm.

Unexpected combinations

Runes may work by simply being close; put rune A and rune B together, and you get a magical anti-fire ring; put rune C and rune D on an amulet, and your can breathe under water. However, if that rune-covered ring is close enough to your rune-cover amulet, you may well accidentally get rune B and rune C to make a (stronger) bond than their previous mix, and make an anti-breathing spell. Oops.

Magical Attractor

Amulets, rings, and other magical items act as collectors of magical energy, which is what is used to power them. However, like a lightning rod, too many magical items become too strong of a collector, and will overpower themselves, burning out, burning up, or simply ceasing to be. Worse, magical energy is attracted to large piles of magical collectors, which make whoever is wearing a hundred rings an easy target...

Magical Repulser

Or, from the other side, magical items may work by removing all the "static" of normal magic flow, and keep only the useful bits; the runes act as filters, allowing the devices to store up large amounts of just the right kind of energy. However, this also has the downside of constantly bleeding off magical energy. A little bit is fine, but at some point you start zapping yourself just by moving around.

Incompatibility

Different magical manufacturers may simply use different magical technology that simply isn't compatible; multiple rings of the same kind of ability may simply not work together, or even cancel each other out: "I've got an iRing of Fire Resistance, but it doesn't stack with my WinBrace of Fire Resistance; I have to choose one or the other. Worse, neither one works with my iAmulet at all unless I buy an iRing of Compatibility, and everyone knows those are insanely expensive! And don't even get me started on how my Helmberry works with my Magicsoft Shield. I'd use Red Helm Linrune, but I don't have time to build it myself..."

All of it

But why stop at just one reason? One reason can be overcome easily enough. What you need to do is put all of it together: Magic items take up magical space, and putting them too close together creates unexpected combinations; they also attract magical energy, but bleed off the energy they don't use. Together, that means that manufacturers can only guarantee that their own items will work together, because of the careful placement of runes and magical bleed-reducers; mixing products in large amounts can have catastrophic failures.

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  • $\begingroup$ I like this answer too, as I was imagining the magical items and spells in my setting to be fairly modular. There is no actual fire ball spell, but you can get together a rune of fire, rune of ball and rune of throwing and mix it together to end up with fireball. $\endgroup$ – grimmsdottir Mar 13 '15 at 1:14
  • $\begingroup$ Yea, like saying our universe's matter is made of atoms doesn't tell you how there are different elements that join up in different complex ways. Magical elements might have analogous magic chemestry: pre-information-age people made amulats and spells by trial and error and came up with mostly wrong alchemy to try and explain it. Like, our ancestors made glue from pig bones, but now we know how collegen and geleten are arrangements of C, H, O, and N; and can devise plastics from scratch with desired properties. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Mar 13 '15 at 3:20
  • $\begingroup$ That's exactly what I was thinking; atoms/molecules are full of 'empty space' that needs to be there, or the atom can be seriously damaged. And, a single character magical rune forms the nucleus of a magical atom, and the bonds between runes are like the bonds between atoms. Stable, but still able to be split and recombined. $\endgroup$ – ArmanX Mar 13 '15 at 17:06
  • $\begingroup$ I like "magical repulser" the best. If you imagine magic rings as very powerful magnets, wearing two of them on adjacent fingers would be very uncomfortable, and wearing dozens of them on the same hand could literally rip it apart. $\endgroup$ – Aaronaught Mar 14 '15 at 5:13
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I think the ideal of incompatibilities has been covered reasonably, but I wanted to suggest a mechanic which could be used to bring more color to that incompatibility: wave mechanics.

What if your magical items did not have a constant magical force, but rather constantly emitted ripples of magical energy in complicated patterns. Each item would have its own "fingerprint" of ripples, though two fire-amulets might have similar fingerprints. These ripples emanate out across the body, interacting with themselves until they finally fall into a standing wave pattern in tune with not only the amulet, but the individual. Only in this state can one effectively use the amulet. Otherwise the amulet just can't tap your mana as well.

There is a physical analog. In percussion, one "warms up" a gong by [almost] silently tapping it several times before finally hitting it to make a noise. The light taps set up vibrations which bring the entire gong into a sort of alignment. You can hit a gong without warming it up, and it will make a gong noise, but if you warm the gong up, the sound is much brighter and more musical.

If you are wearing multiple items, those waves have to also come to a standing state before you can use any item. This state is certainly more complicated than the one-item state. This would be hard on the psyche, as it tries to deal with the "bickering" between items competing to generate their "best" effect.

The wave mechanics not only offer a visual for what these interactions look like (ripples on a pond, perhaps), but also offers a neat plot device. It would be reasonable that you could devise tatoos that behave like the pyramids in anechoic chambers. These tatoos, perhaps on the shoulder, could make it easier to carry incompatible amulets. The energy reaching up the arm would hit the triangular tattoos, and dissipate. Of course, this comes at a cost of each amulet only having access to some of the mana of the body. However, this would open the door to people trying to use amulets that would otherwise be too dangerous to wield (i.e. "this amulet is powerful, but it slowly steals your soul" is no biggie because the amulet can't "see" past your shoulder)

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  • $\begingroup$ I like this answer too, as well as the many other answers that try to model real life to magic, as one of the things that I strive to do is to achieve a high level of internal consistency. I can also imagine that, using this magic items needing a warm up period, you can have highly decorated knights dressed in a large number of magical items simply spending all of his time meditating to warm up and prepare his magical items until he is needed by the kingdom or something like that $\endgroup$ – grimmsdottir Mar 13 '15 at 1:09
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Well you always have the idea that some items cause interference for the safe use of other items. A charm to protect you from fireballs, might significantly hinder your ability to use your fireball flinger. An Ice storm maker could cause conflicts with it too!

The more powerful an amulet the more it affects magical items in it's vicinity, maybe putting huge stresses on a body that is touching 2 or 3 such items at the same time.

There is always the activation of such as well. If it needs to draw mana from the surrounding area, or some reserve the individual has then it will limit how many can be used before they all become useless. This would encourage the mastery of a small number, to get the most out of them and understand their uses in any situation.

Of course if they are self sustained, and can be used 1-3 times before it runs out of juice, until you have a chance to recharge them, then someone would be much more likely to want as many as possible.

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Temperamental Theurgy

Okay, so Mana is in everything. However, people don't actually have the ability to manipulate it. The only ones with the power to directly affect Mana are the gods. Therefore, the magic that people do is indirect, performed by invoking the power of a god or gods.

The exact nature of your world's pantheon is flexible, but there is one important thing: as in classical mythology, the gods are generally jealous and fickle, and they don't all get along. So, small-scale magic works reliably as long as you know the right inscription, ritual, or incantation. However, if you call on single god too much, that god may get annoyed and refuse to help you, causing your enchantment to fail. He might even get angry and make a spell backfire. So you'd better not use that wand of greater fireballs unless you're sure Michaelus Baya, god of fiery explosions, likes you.

People who try to get around this by calling on multiple gods could run into a similar problem when the gods dislike each other. A god won't be to keen on helping someone who's been working with a rival, and if they are enemies, he may try to sabotage that person instead.

So in either case, using too many magical items is ineffective at best, and dangerous or deadly at the worst. Of course, what is "too many" is relative. The gods tend to show special favor to kings and to certain heroes, which would enable them to use more magic than other people.

This setup works even if you don't have and don't want to create a bunch of gods for your world—just take an animist approach, where different places, objects, and forces have their own spirits. You could use this to justify ancient artifacts being more powerful, as their spirits are more experienced and skilled. This could also lead to newly-acquired items being difficult to use, as the owner is unfamiliar with the spirit. Also, the gods' or spirits' familiariry with people in general could justify having controlled magic in populated areas and "wild" magic in the wilderness, as you indicated in a comment.

The idea of the gods powering magic items getting annoyed, tired, or distracted could justify a plot-driven breakdown, if you want your protagonist to face a problem without some or all if his magical items.

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  • $\begingroup$ +1 for Michealus Baya. I can also imagine that the World might then be quite dedicated to the worship of the pantheon, as the more favor you curry with the gods, the more magic you can have, and then you will both be able to achieve higher status as well as fulfill the wishes of the gods better $\endgroup$ – grimmsdottir Mar 13 '15 at 1:12
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OK, there are already quite a few options, but I found there's still something I can add:

Physical repulsion

Mana has a natural repulsion built in (this is what makes it distribute over the world to begin with). Now the magical items concentrate Mana, but this means they also concentrate the corresponding repulsion. That is, different magically enchanted items repel each other, physically. This repulsion is no problem if you have only a few items, but the more items you have, the stronger the repulsion gets. At some time it already needs a considerable force to put another magical item close to the others. Putting too many rings, amulets and so on to your body might make some simply fly away from you due to the repulsion (and if you are unlucky, take parts of your body with them).

Note that such a repulsion could also be used productively to deflect magical items from structures which can exert the necessary physical force, even if the magic of the items stored there would be otherwise completely useless (say, there is a type of magic that does nothing but change the colour of objects; it's cheap and normally useless, but if you manage to get sufficiently many enchanted items together in your wall, it protects it from magically enchanted projectiles due to Mana repulsion).

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Here is a possibility from GURPS.

Powerstones naturally recharge themselves over time. Multiple powerstones of similar power too near each other will split the available ambient energy, which greatly increases the time required to charge. When powerstones of varying power are near each other, the lesser stones do not charge at all, even once the more powerful stone is "full".

So, for your case, someone could wear many items, but they would need to be of similar power levels, and could decrease the available usage of each individual item. Someone with a more powerful item may just have to make do with the single item.

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protected by HDE 226868 Mar 14 '15 at 0:52

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