# How to put costs and limitations on telekinesis?

I am planning a book about a vigilante with telekinetic powers; however, this power will be extremely watered down. The character can only Push, Pull, and Twist on things.

If anyone has read Mistborn, I imagined it as being similar to a Coinshot and Lurcher, with the added ability to Twist an object. I'm trying to apply Sanderson's Laws of Magic (first, second and third) to this, but I'm having trouble doing so.

Can anyone think of other limits and/or costs to go with this? I want weight to play a role in the power though I'm not sure how, as the power comes from the mind, and not the body. Any ideas?

• This is a very open ended question, we tend to prefer more specific questions here, perhaps review our help centre for this in future: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/help/how-to-ask – Ummdustry Sep 2 '18 at 19:33
• @sirph can you clarify what kinds of costs, you're talking about? Are you looking for ways to bound what this power can do, or ways to impose a physical consequence on the user, or some combination of both? E.g. my magical system has hard limits, but only takes a a physical toll on the users in very specific circumstances, with very specific effects. – user49466 Sep 2 '18 at 19:49
• Also, to back up Ummdustry, the way your question is posed is cruisin' for a bruisin'. You'll also want to give us rules for what kinds of costs you want to be at play here, as well as how you'll determine what the best answers are. – user49466 Sep 2 '18 at 19:51
• @user49466. Thanks for the advice, this was my first post and wasn't too sure about how much detail to go in. As for your question, I'm looking for a way to both bound the power and have physical, or even psychological, consequences. For example, if the user pushes themselves too much they'll get a sever migraine and maybe hallucinate for a period, or the power would stop working for a certain amount of time. – Sirph Sep 2 '18 at 19:57
• Welcome to the site, Sirph. Please note that we strongly encourage users to wait 24 hours before accepting an answer, as doing so may discourage other people from providing potentially better answers. Feel free to take the tour and check out our site culture when you get the chance. – Frostfyre Sep 2 '18 at 20:08

Take a look at the world.

• Is this power rare? Common?
• For those who have it, Is this power everyday, used all the time like breathing? Or is it more like running used frequently by some, hardly ever by others? Or is it more like spaceflight, taking a large effort and considerable expertise to achieve and even then will likely go wrong?
• Is this power trainable, purchasable, fixed, diminishing?
• Who else has this power? Only those who can afford it, special forces, random chance, by the condescension of some greater being?
• Are there other means to obtain the same outcomes? Special tools, Social engineering, mundane actions?
• Are their institutions with a vested interest in this power? either its control, or promotion. They'll have an influence on the culture and how people will perceive the use of this power. Nothing like society to reign in 'aberrant' behaviours.

Take a look at the kind of story your trying to tell. eg: The vigilante arrives in a scene where they have to use their ability.

• Is it about personal cost? Are they struck down there and then by the repercussions, or do they have time before they have to pay up?
• Is it about wisdom? Have they saved their effort up for this moment by finding alternatives to using their unique talent?
• Is it about power? Have they been training, training, training to pull off this near impossible feat of strength or precision or both?
• Is it about something else? The psychic abilities are not the story, figure out what the story is and how the powers support that story.

Take a look at your theme.

• Is it hard science? Then take a look at physics. Laws of reciprocal motion, Inverse-Square Laws, Energy Conversion, etc... Ensure the power always operates the same, maybe find an equation which has a sweet spot. Have the vigilante exploit that sweet spot at a critical moment, then have everybody else scramble to learn and use it.
• Is it about love? Then what does the use of this power have to do with that? Does it make you colder of heart? Does it draw two people together? (The more you push the more your feelings entwine)
• Is it about chaos? then make the punishment random, and always out of left field. They pushed a ball out of the way, nothing. They push a rose petal, the tree falls over. It doesn't need to make sense. Maybe random things happen till they use the power...

Really just knuckle down on what your story is, use all the lovely W words: Why, When, Where, Whom, How, While, Want. (How has a W its just at the end). Figure out what you want to say, then how this ability (and its maleffects) help you say it.

• In Soviet Russia, your story tells you – Ed Marty Sep 7 '18 at 12:56

The mind is still part of the brain

For normal operation the brain requires certain levels of blood glucose. In order to support these telekinetic powers the brain must kick into overdrive consuming vast amounts of blood glucose.

Low levels of blood sugar can cause fainting, coma, confusion etc (look up diabetes).

What's cool about this is the body can grow to produce higher levels of blood sugar (based on constant demand) such that it represents a growth curve for your power as well as moveable maximums and plenty of possible side effects.

For instance if he becomes very powerful, he would have to use his power just to maintain healthy levels. Drugs could also influence his power.

• I never even thought about blood glucose or diabetes. Thanks. – Sirph Sep 2 '18 at 20:03
• Since the body will be using more glucose in the brain, it will also be creating more CO2 there - meaning overuse of TK could lead to hypercapnia, causing headaches, confusion, increased blood pressure, and (eventually) disorientation, convulsions, falling unconscious, or even dying. – Chronocidal Sep 3 '18 at 7:45
• @Chronocidal So the more they use their power, the more they have to use their power to avoid hyperglycemia but the more they use their power, the more they're at risk of hypercapnia? That sounds like a cycle of certain death; which I find really intriguing. The best psykers aren't the most powerful ones, but the ones that manage to balance their powers such that they get the most out of it without effectively 'overdosing'...and yet, the average psyker's lifespan is still less than a normal human unless they completely refrain from using their abilities... – Suthek Sep 3 '18 at 8:35
• So being a telekinetic diabetic would be quite a challenge? – htmlcoderexe Sep 3 '18 at 21:34
• @htmlcoderexe yes and no, since they would have access to drugs for diabetes, they could potentially regulate their blood sugar to support higher levels of power. But yeah on the other hand it could make it more complicated to regulate. – anon Sep 4 '18 at 13:41

The inverse square law, which means that, just like gravity sound and light, the strength of your TK rapidly weakens the farther away your target is.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inverse-square_law

The inverse-square law, in physics, is any physical law stating that a specified physical quantity or intensity is inversely proportional to the square of the distance from the source of that physical quantity. The fundamental cause for this can be understood as geometric dilution corresponding to point-source radiation into three-dimensional space (see diagram).

Notice how at 30 meters, the TK power isn't 1/3 of the 10 meter power, it's 1/9.

Distance  Power
2.5m   1600%
5m      400%
10m      100%
20m       25%
30m       11.11%
40m        6.25%
50m        4%


• Or make the energy/power required increase in a similar fashion as a function of distance and/or mass affected. x power at y distance, x^2 at 2y distance, x^3 at 3y distance. Usable distance is limited by the power requirements... – railsdog Sep 3 '18 at 4:40
• Interesting side-effect, use of your TK to enhance your own physical strength would be the most physically powerful option since you're right at the root of the inverse-square. hence: the common "Superman" styled character with super-strength, TK invulnerability and the capacity to fly. – Ruadhan Sep 3 '18 at 11:51
• One example of the sort of exponential law that @railsdog mentions is seeing through fog. – Damian Yerrick Sep 3 '18 at 21:13

Why not go the Lovecraftian route with the powers having an insanity inducing effect or other terrible cost?

In Lovecraftian fiction magic often had a great cost involved with it. There were some spells that required certain requirements to be met, but there were also spells that could be done as often as possible. Of course if you did too many of those you would go insane or attract the attention of some cosmic horror.

Perhaps there is no limit to the telekinesis in theory, but in practice there is something that makes it ill-advised to do so. Perhaps if the vigilante overexterts themselve his/her mind will start attacking itself for example; shadow enemies pop up that can destroy somebody mentally, seeing things that aren't there.

Alternatively, maybe the use of powers attracts some extremely tough enemy. There's nothing preventing the vigilante from using their powers a lot, but...it attracts some bad things. Sort of sucks saving the city by using a lot of your power if you are going to get hunted down by some insanely powerful enemies the next day depending on how close said enemies are.

Would Allomancy have been so good to use if Steel inquisitors could sense and pinpoint every use of it from across the Final empire?

• "maybe the use of powers attracts some extremely tough enemy." Members of a shadowy government agency? – RonJohn Sep 2 '18 at 20:45
• Or maybe a lovecraftian monstrosity, a beast which feeds on the thoughts of telekinetic users. Only telepaths can even see it, emerging from the dimension of insanity, awoken by telepathic waves and always hungry. If you use a lot of power, you have to hide quickly, or you are done for. – Falco Sep 3 '18 at 11:38
• Play Caves of Qud. Be pure ESPer. Die at the hands of those who can see your Psychic glimmer. Repeat. – Joe Bloggs Sep 3 '18 at 15:07

Newton's second law

Much like Coinshots and Lurkers, have an equivalent but opposite force on the body of the vigilante. So he'll be limited to only light objects if he wants to stay in place himself. Or use it to throw yourself around, like Vin with her horseshoe technique. (For those not recognizing the names and terms, they're all from mistborn which the Question asker mentioned.)

Get creative. What happens if I push all air around me down ? Will I go up ?

Get Tired

Using the power tires you slowly. Compare it to mistborn's pewter drag - once you stop you drop down really, really tired.

Have getting tired(or any other disadvantage) increase with the range. In general, linear composition will make it fairly easy to do stuff at range, polynomial limits you a bit more and exponential limits your range even more severe, but gives you slightly larger leeway at the start compared to polynomial. For reference, see this picture from wikipedia:

The red line is linear, the blue line a polynomial, and the green one is exponential. Your distance would be the X-axis and your getting tired/other disadvantage the Y-axis.

Torque could also be a limiting factor. The torque required for lifting, or sideways pushing, a 1kg object at 1m could only move a 100g object at 10m, or a 10g object at 100m.

Pushing or pulling an object straight away or towards the telekinetic doesn’t involve any torque, so if that was limited by the inverse square law, then doing actions which additionally required a torque would become significantly harder the further away it was. It might be easier to just get up and turn the dial on the TV than doing it with your mind, but pushing the off button might be easy.

• Good point! I guess, I'll have to rethink the Twisting part of the power. Thank for the information. – Sirph Sep 3 '18 at 21:23
• @Sirph You could use Twisting as a "next-level" power - it's effectively a Push and a Pull on the same object, just in slightly different locations, which is difficult enough that only a small subset of folks can pull it off. You may have a tough time incorporating that, though, and there's a caveat that you could only Twist along perpendicular axes – Punintended Sep 4 '18 at 17:16

The Mind is a Muscle

The mind acts as any muscle, it becomes tired. With practice, the mind can grow in power...as well as physically. The mind is located in the brain, and with the practice of telekinesis, it starts to expand and push against the brain. Symptoms of an oversized mind would most likely include symptoms of chiari malformation. Severe headaches, poor fine motor skills, dizziness, difficulty swallowing, vision problems, and problems with the heart and breath should provide enough motivation to stop using telekinesis for a while, however, your choice of where the mind is located will change the problems caused by overuse of the mind.

If you want to avoid these problems, as well as the problem of the lack of blood to the brain that Anon mentioned, you could stick the "mind" in the heart. Its growth would cause cardiac issues and could (maybe) make the person with an overused mind become out of breath and be forced to go to anaerobic respiration because of exercise quicker than they would if they had a weaker mind.

• But the mind isn't a muscle. – RonJohn Sep 3 '18 at 0:54
• @RonJohn, I am saying that the mind can be modeled by one, even if it isn't one. – Robert Sep 3 '18 at 1:05
• Which has the unintended consequence of ensuring that no one ever wants to learn anything, because they -- quite reasonably -- don't want to risk suffering from "severe headaches, poor fine motor skills, dizziness, difficulty swallowing, vision problems, and problems with the heart and breath". – RonJohn Sep 3 '18 at 1:11
• @RonJohn, People would want to learn it, they just would not want to get too good. Normally, the mind fits right into the body without causing problems, it only causes problems when it gets too big. – Robert Sep 3 '18 at 11:00

## Pain and fatigue

This plot element was used perfectly in Stephen King's book Firestarter, where Andy McGee could use the push, which was a hypnotic suggestion that could not be resisted. However, each time he used it, he experienced a splitting pain that took a while to go away. The more he used it, the worse this pain would get until, theoretically, it could even kill him. You don't have to use this exact side-effect, but you can safely base it on this, where use of this superpower causes physical pain over time. Just like someone can throw their back, your magical friend might throw his mind!

Some examples of the cost of using powers:

1. Wheel of Time - All men who use magic are corrupted by the magic itself. If they use too much magic, they will eventually go mad.

2. Darker than Black - An anime with power-users called contractors. Every time they use their powers, they need to pay a price. The price is different for different people. The protagonist needs to smoke a cigarette after using his power but some other person has to dislocate one his fingers every time. I don't remember if the cost had any relation to their powers.

3. Sanderson's other books - See what cost he uses in other magic systems.

Just like in Eragon, magic is not "magic"... You can "force push" a 100kg block, but this will require the same energy that you need to physically move it with your muscles. Maybe the recovery time for this can be longer, so you can actually move something very heavy but you'll need to rest for very long before being able to move again.

For this reason you are forced to think carefully. Moving a 1-ton block away from you is feasible, but it is much easier to flip the switch on the crane and let the machine do the work for you...