The soul of an individual is made up of two parts: The ghost, which is eternal and lives on after your death, and mana, which is the life energy that keeps your body functioning and your soul grounded to the mortal realm. When a person dies, their ghost travels to the hereafter while their life energy dissipates into the background of the world. All people are born with a set amount of mana, and there is a process in which one can steal theirs and add it to their own. This has led to human trafficking rings developing around the world in which people are kidnapped and sold to individuals interested in this practice.

For this procedure to work, ancient runes must be carved into the flesh of a living victim from head to toe. Once this is done, the person is killed in a sacrificial ritual. This allows the ghost to leave the body, but keeps the mana contained within the corpse. From here, the witch/wizard can do one of two things. They can seal the reservoir of mana into a containment jar(s) for later use, or absorb the mana themselves.

Sealing the mana in these specialized jars for later provide a temporary boost in power for spells or rituals. However, a significant amount of mana is lost upon the transference process from the corpse into the containers. It is also hard to store, as the mana eventually erodes the containers and decreases in quality over time. Absorbing it into your body immediately adds a permanent boost to your supply and makes your magic much stronger and can even extend your lifespan. Even though people are born with a set amount of life energy, the body can hold an unlimited capacity. All of the victim's mana is absorbed upon this process, with none of it wasting.

Why would the 1st option be more attractive to mages if it provides less returns on the investment?

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    The current concensus for "Why would X lead to Y" questions is to send them to the Sandbox for improvement. Remember that open-ended questions tend to be too subjective. – JBH Oct 20 at 22:13
  • "Why would the 1st option be more attractive to mages if it provides less returns on the investment?" Average return of investment is not everything. There is also liquidity and risk playing a role. Why do people keep money in a piggy bank and not investing them on the stock market where there is more return of investment to be expected? – Trilarion Oct 22 at 8:01
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    Whenever I see these type of questions, I can't help but wonder why you would paint yourself into a Worldbuilding corner like that in the first place. Your world is made up of numerous more or less arbitrary design decisions (e.g., the efficiency of directly absorbing vs. jarring mana). If those decisions make it hard to justify jarring mana rather than absorbing it, why not take a step back and change some of them? – xLeitix Oct 22 at 8:26

12 Answers 12

Why do most of us not use stolen money to increase our bank accounts?

The simple reason is that some indeed do it. However, most people (including a lot of other mages) tend to look with disfavor on those who go around killing people to steal their mana (or money), and band together to imprison or kill them. Therefore, mana-stealing is risky. While it can increase your power & extend your lifespan if you manage not to get caught, if you do get caught both are dramatically shortened.

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    To add to this, perhaps sealing stolen mana in the containment jars makes it easier to pass unnoticed. Something like how an auto chop shop works: stolen cars themselves are highly recognizable, but their parts are less so. – Cadence Oct 20 at 22:39
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    @jamesqf: The question doesn’t seem to be asking about the vast majority of nice law-abiding mages, though. It’s asking about why the mage who are participating abhorrent mana-stealing practices would choose the storage-jar mechanism over the direct-absorption mechanism. – Peter LeFanu Lumsdaine Oct 21 at 8:57
  • @PeterLeFanuLumsdaine then does the question has an answer? We can make up one - perhaps absorbing stolen mana is bad for the person somehow and we can make up a mysti-babble talk to explain it ("it taints the user's own energy pattern and warps their focus resonance, leading to any magic attempted be pulled in multiple directions because the mana coming from multiple sources") but...is that an answer? It's a completely made up detail. It's not contained in the question and no actual answer that covers the "why" would be by definition of the question not specifying it. – vlaz Oct 22 at 5:39
  • Or perhaps it's like stealing a painting. If found out, somebody else might come by and nick the painting from you (or in this case, kill you and take your mana) – phflack Oct 22 at 9:20

Why would the 1st option be more attractive to mages if it provides less returns on the investment?

Simply put, you don't. Well, you don't rationally do it. You might do it if absorbing someone else's life energy is taboo -- you know, more taboo than killing them and drinking their corpse.

Rationally speaking, mages will not take the path which returns less on their investment because rational people in general don't do that.

So to find an answer to your question, we first have to free ourselves from that choice of wording. You have some implied concept of what an ROI for mana is. Based on that formula, you see mages will only choose to absorb the mana. Thus, we need to identify a different formula for ROI that someone might use.

Let's create a hypothetical example. This example is intentionally extreme, to prove a point. You have a choice. You can either have 500J of energy, right now, to use or dissipate at your leasure, or 50J/day of energy. Let's say the 50J/day of energy comes in the form of a solar panel, so every day you get to have 50J more power to do your bidding. Over 10 years, that's 182,500J. Clearly the long term ROI is much higher if I take the permanent increase in power rather than the one-shot increase in energy. Only a fool would take the energy.

Now lets make this hypothetical situation dark. Really dark. Someone has broken into your house. They have beaten you. They've made it clear they're about to kill you, but not until after they finish raping your wife. Now let's say the 500J of energy you could have right now is in the form of chemical energy. It's the chemical energy in the nitrocellulose stored behind a 9x19mm Parabellum, chambered in a gun (which happens to be roughly 500J, depending on the manufacturer).

Your other option is a nice solar panel. Useful on sunny days.

If nothing else, it makes you rethink your ROI formula. The form energy is in can drastically change how it can be leveraged, even though the amount of energy is the same. Sometimes energy in the right form can be even more valued than power. (Incidentally, a phonecall to 911 would require a cellphone battery charged with a mere 100J)

If your mana container stores mana in a way which can operate differently than garden-variety living mana, it can be valued fundamentally differently than the living mana.

You can come up with any number of ways this could be different. Just to throw out one, what if you don't always have full control over how much mana a spell uses? The spell uses enough, however much that is. Dangerous spells might come with a high risk of simply consuming all of your living mana, freeing your ghost to depart. This might indeed be a check on the kinds of spells mages choose to cast. If you drew the mana from a container, it isn't necessarily connected to your living mana. So if the spell sucks the container dry, you stay alive.

This particular variant would make the creation of containers even more taboo than the, you know, killing people and raping their soul for mana. Not only would you be doing such things, but you would also be doing these things inefficiently, simply so that you could do dangerous spells without having the proper skill to manage their mana consumption. Particularly vile characters might keep entire storerooms of such containers on hand, requiring a substantial stream of victims to keep the stores topped off as they decay.

  • I like this answer, I think it is the best solution, get all of it at once for major spell requirements or a lower everyday boost. – WendyG Oct 22 at 10:15
  • Great Answer. A lot of taboo's tend to appear because of negative events in the past. A society that used to allow this practice for use on Prisoners, elderly, etc. The society had an event where someone in a position of power became corrupt and took a great many other wizards to take down (with high casualties) because of the mana-stealing practice. This example would be enough to create a taboo against mana-stealing to prevent the rise of a super-powered individual with ill intent. – IT Alex Oct 22 at 12:30

Because the powerful and rich don't sit in dark chambers killing people. They buy a nice little jar of mana for a lot of money.

In other words, it's easier to transport and sell a jar, even if most of the mana is lost on the way.

Additionally as suggested in the comments by Falco:

You can keep a clean sheet by only buying mana in Jars, maybe there are some legal ways of "mana-donation" how these Jars could also be produced. So you can just buy them and say you thought they were legal mana-jars. Money makes the world go round...

If there's a legal way of producing the jars, that's another plus. Maybe produced by death jars are a lot stronger, but there's also a way of stacking mana in a jar (e.g. emptying 10 jars, then donating that mana into a single jar) so legal mana jars could be that strong, just for a lot more money..

  • You can keep a clean sheet by only buying mana in Jars, maybe there are some legal ways of "mana-donation" how these Jars could also be produced. So you can just buy them and say you thought they were legal mana-jars. Money makes the world go round... – Falco Oct 22 at 8:02
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    @Falco good point, if there's a legal way of producing them that's another plus. Maybe produced by death jars are a lot stronger, but there's also a way of stacking mana in a jar so legal mana jars could be that strong, just for a lot more money.. – DonQuiKong Oct 22 at 9:04
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    Good Idea! If you can create a powerful jar by collecting mana-donations (like blood-donors) of 1000 people, or by killing a single one there will be a black market, because these jars will be very expensive. – Falco Oct 22 at 12:03

It may be dangerous

Infuse mana from another person to your own is a very difficult ritual which needs time, exotic materials and a lot of proficiency. Assimilate mana is like a heart transplant, not anyone can do it, and usually even done by a professional can be risky.

  • Mana carries part of the memories and personality of the victim, absorbing them during the ritual can lead to:
    • Mental problems, dissociative cognitive.
    • Mana has its own will (from the victim), so it may resist casting a spell or it can produce an unexpected behaviour in it. High doses of another mana can take control of your body due to personality imposition.
  • Maybe mana carries the diseases of the victim.
  • Maybe bodies don't have a limit of mana storage, but it becomes increasingly difficult (and dangerous) to store more mana each time you assimilate more. So having more mana than the average human is risky and can produce secondary, wilds and unpleasant effects.
  • It requires a lot of training.
  • It can have an unexpected secondary result on casting spells.

It is noticeable

Having the mana of another person in your soul is very noticeable, like a beacon of light. Other mages near you are able to feel that presence, which makes you a spot for other and finally they discover what have you done.

It's safer to have a jar with mana

Some spells are very dangerous to cast with your own mana, they can fail or have unexpected results which lead to injuries in your soul. For example, some spell can consume an enormous amount of mana until dry your soul. Casting the spell from another complete source of mana (like a jar instead of your body) can erase or mitigate this effects. Instead of dry out your soul or overload it and burn you down, it will just dry out the jar or smelt it.
Maybe this could be very effective for counter-counterspells measures, instead of dying due to a counterspell that was done by your enemy to cancel your spell (dispel magic), your jar just broke down.

It is non-ethical

Even criminals have some codes which lead what is ethical and what isn't ethical. The same with mana. Infuse mana in your own body can be seen as devouring a human soul or life, in that point of view is like cannibalism. Instead, save it inside a jar isn't so non-ethical.

It takes too much time

A human body has a lot of mana, you can't infuse it in your own body so fast. It's like eating too fast, it can produce health issue (even death as a choke), you must assimilate it very slowly and normal mages don't have enough time for that.

Well, there's your problem.

Absorbing it into your body immediately adds a permanent boost to your supply and makes your magic much stronger and can even extend your lifespan. Even though people are born with a set amount of life energy, the body can hold an unlimited capacity.

With this as a mechanism, shunting off mana into a leaky storage vessel is just dumb.

But is this model realistic? Maybe not. Two changes suggest themselves.

First, mana is not perfectly conserved. People constantly lose mana at the same time that it is replenished by natural means. This is rather like the osteoclast/osteoblast mechanism which governs our bones, so there is a perfectly reasonable analogy already place. With this model, absorbed mana will eventually leak out of the body, in the same way that a water vessel with a constant drain rate and (normally) constant inflow rate will show a rise in water level if extra is dumped in, followed by a gradual reversion of the "normal" steady-state level.

In this case, storage of mana, even if it is leaky, is reasonable as long as the stored mana leaks/degrades more slowly than it does from the body. It can be applied when necessary to give a temporary boost to mana levels.

Alternatively, increasing mana levels above the norm runs risks. High levels might, for instance, spontaneously manifest as unintended magic, with all sorts of unpleasant consequences. Accidentally turning your wife into a frog, for instance, is not likely to do much for your marriage.

If this is so, storage of mana for emergency use, when the risk of unintended side-spells is less dangerous than some external threat.

Or, absorbing all of a victim's mana at one time is just too much. Storage allows a thriftier approach to victim management, as a sacrifice's mana can be absorbed in manageable doses over a longer time period.

ETA - Assuming that your original description is correct, there is at least one possible explanation.

There is this whole "kill-the-mana-source" issue. How does a mage get away with it? Surely knowing that a local mage is killing people for power is likely to cause the surrounding countryside to break out the torches and pitchforks, or at least find somewhere else to live. So someone, somewhere, might do a very nice business in supplying vessels of mana to other mages while dealing with the consequences of the collection process. The shipping process, of course, requires transportation containers.

Given what is provided, I can see no reason that anyone would ever store mana unless there is an external factor that changes the calculus of the strategy.

One very real possibility is that incorporated mana is immediately obvious. The mage who has incorporated a significant amount of mana may not be able to conceal the fact that he has done so. Perhaps it's simply a quantifiable power aura that can't be easily suppressed, or maybe a specific tattoo must be applied to the forehead in order to complete the transfer. Being a shining beacon is a problem for criminals, and being a social outcast is a problem for anyone trying to mingle in the halls of power.

Also an option: creating magical artifacts may require one or more of your magical jars. This makes a fair bit of sense to me - if separating the mana from a body for absorption requires this ritual in the first place, that suggests that simply providing some of your own, personal essence would be silly, wasteful, difficult, or perhaps outright impossible. Depending on how effective these items are, and over what time period, this could easily become a winning strategy.

There may also exist a delayed payout to the mana-storing practice. Maybe with a specific ritual, the payout of providing 10 people worth of mana to the right demon has a greater overall relative gain in power. Another option down this path - the temporary boost from those 10 jars may give the mage just enough higher-dimension access that he can more efficiently incorporate that mana into himself, netting more than 10 people worth of power in the process, but requiring that said mana be external to his body in order for it to work.

A final note: the artificer and delayed payout options have the benefit that you get to control how many people have access to that knowledge. You can make the mana-storing behavior as widely- or narrowly- practiced as you require. It might just be the one mage, or every practitioner of the darker arts.

  • Maybe mana can be identified? So if you are a suspect, someone can scan your mana for the signature of the dead person. If they find the dead persons mana in your system you are done. So hiding the container somewhere and clearing your alibi is a good route. – Falco Oct 22 at 7:59

Mana stored in containers can be used to power Magical Artifacts or rune-clusters without the Mage having to be present - after all, you don't want the impenetrable shield around your Castle of Doom to turn off every time you pop out to the shops and let those pesky heroes in.

Essentially, it's a magical battery - so, ask yourself "why doesn't all electrical equipment run of the grid, or a hand-cranked dynamo"

The simplest answer would be that it has a negative effect.

For example: it is detectable if you are carrying mana from somebody else. Since you are now carrying identifyable proof that you were lead in a torture+murder event you are probably not even going to see a judge if you try to resist even slightly as you'll get an "accident" during the arrest, assuming lethal force isnt immediately justified. This means that the harder to detect/undetectable jars of mana are a better choice if you want to pack a punch without sacrificing your rights to use crowded area's like airports and stations.

It could be legal to do in some forms with consent (for example of a dying person). But the paperwork and proving consent would be tough.

Other options could be that someone else's mana might have a bit of its own will. Or that it's not as 'attached' as the regular soul and can leak or cause accidental mana surges etc.

Enslaved mana.

The problem with a human slave is that your slave is coerced through fear. A slave might see it in his or her self interest to obey because of a lack of better options. If a better option presents itself (e.g. run away, kill you and run away, not do dangerous job) the slave will take it. That will leave you in the lurch if you are counting on the slave.

A person who enters into a contract and will be paid might be more reliable, because he sees that a similar contract in the future could be useful. Employees are mercenaries - better than slaves because voluntary, but still less than completely reliable.

Better yet are workers / soldiers who are loyal to you because of training, acculturation or family ties. The best is your own self.

You could make mana fungible, like coins or oil. Or you could declare stolen mana is in essence enslaved mana. It may not behave as predictably as your own mana - or not predictably at all. You might want to reserve using this mana for fairly risk free / low importance magical endeavors. Just as your slave soldiers might decline to fight, or desert, or turn on you the slave mana might behave unpredictably. You could have the behavior of the slave mana depend on the individual who is its source. The magical parallel is the summoning and binding of a demon - a potentially powerful tool but one who will incompletely obey or betray you if it sees advantage and gets the opportunity.

A person needing more mana for some important endeavor might turn in desperation to slave mana - and the results could add interest and energy to your narrative.

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    Although a good concept, it doesn't answer the question itself, which asks, given that a mage has stolen some mana, why they would choose a limited storage mechanism over a permanent power boost. To address it, perhaps mention that storing enslaved mana within your person is particularly dangerous, because its rebellion in such a position will be highly detrimental, while enslaving the mana in an inanimate object is low risk. – BBeast Oct 21 at 7:36
  • @BBeast - agreed; that is how it should be. – Willk Oct 21 at 13:46

The reason mages don't just absorb the energy is that it is REALLY obvious to anyone with the sight to tell that the extra mana was stolen via a murderous ritual. Foreign mana, while easy to absorb and control is easily visible in the turbulent flow pattern it takes through the body and will take years to fully merge with the spirit of the mage and result in the smooth mana flows that natural mana generates in the human body, even if the mana from only a single person is absorbed. This means that everyone who has even the smallest measure of mage sight will know the mage is a murder as they can see the evidence of their crimes written quite literally on their soul.

Think of it like this. Would you rather commit murder to get a concealable handgun to secretly carry on your person to increase your prowess, or go for the assault rifle, with a severed human head tied to your belt...

What if the effects of absorbing stored mana for a temporary boost are much greater than if absorbed directly ?

If absorbing directly gives you a boost that makes any spell twice as efficient, absorbing mana for a temporary boost could make your wizard's life energy to surge as a reaction to foreign mana out of absorption ritual and make your spells 4x as efficient, but for a limited amount of time. Think of it as an emergency tool to get away from hazardous situations.

Drawbacks, if needed, can either be body exhaustion, requiring the wizard to rest when the effects wear off, or unability to absorb foreign mana for a given amount of time (proportionnaly or not regarding the amount previously consumed).

This way, even though there are som drawbacks, every wizard will want to have their emergency flask of stolen mana, in case of some unexepected events that might overwhelm them in their current state of power.

Options to solve the question:

  • Mages could go insane of the huge amount of mana, they consume.
  • Mages can only by this ritual extract mana in its pure form. If they have already consumed the mana they can't get it back.
    • Maybe the mages want to experiment with mana
    • or if different mana is put together, mana gets exponentially stronger
      ->Maybe mana types exists, like blood types and jars with every mana type are extremely strong
  • Memories in the mana could be passed on to the next mage and could make the consuming mage insane. In jars the memories gets lost
    • but many mages might do that to get the experience of other mages
  • Maybe absorbing mana causes huge pain, so everyone fears of taking too much at once

I hope it helps :)

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