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Runes are used to enhance the human body's capabilities. They are inscribed onto the skin with through a ritual and work by the individual accessing the mana inside themselves. This mana is forced into the runes in order to activate them, creating the effect. Different runes have various uses. Super strength or speed, additional toughness, eagle eyesight, etc. Are some of the powers they grant you. There are even runes that add specific abilities not found in the body, such as generating a sword or shield, summoning a fireball, or turning invisible for a period of time. These runes fade away after repeated use, and must be re-applied at some point. They last for a period of time related to quality and skill of the maker.

An individual should only be able to use one type at a time. If they want to change their runic abilities, their current runes needs to be removed and replaced with a new one. I need a reason for why people cannot use different kinds of runes at once for a hodgepodge of various abilities, even though they all work the same way. How can I accomplish this?

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closed as primarily opinion-based by Mołot, Vincent, Gryphon, Anketam, AndreiROM Jan 21 at 19:42

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ @Mazura same here. You can't. Doesn't even need to have an explanation. Well, in-world it could be "We tried it. Doesn't work." which is just restating "because you can't" but from an in-world character. There are simply too many possible answers as anything and everything can be made up as an answer. $\endgroup$ – VLAZ Jan 21 at 15:10
  • $\begingroup$ Is there any reason the super-speed rune wouldn't work on a jellyfish? Or on a stone? The answer will help define the options... $\endgroup$ – Spencer Jan 21 at 15:28
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    $\begingroup$ If you get too greedy you're going to rune it! $\endgroup$ – Willk Jan 21 at 16:16
  • $\begingroup$ Is attempting to use two runes together and failing (perhaps rather spectacularly) important to the story? If so, you should include that in the question. If not, you can just say that they don't by fiat (because all magic is by fiat) and save yourself some exposition. $\endgroup$ – eyeballfrog Jan 21 at 16:55
  • $\begingroup$ I was reminded of this question about the logistics of combining different magic power sources. worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/106517/… $\endgroup$ – Willk Jan 21 at 18:24
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they all work the same way

And there's your problem.

I can tow any number of different trailers behind my van, they all work the same way. They all attach in the same place, using the same connector and drawing from the same power connection, which of course means I can only tow one at a time.

You've got the same problem, they all work the same way, which means they all have to be drawn in the same place. You can only have one.

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That's just a safety measure. Having two runes is likely to get someone an entry in the Darwin Awards.

Runes are logograms. You know what else are logograms? Chinese characters.

Now check this out. Suppose you could use chinese instead of your runes. You tattoo this character, and it gives you access to blood magic a la Game of Throne's Melisandre:

血 (blood)

Now you wish to gain ice-related powers, so you add this one somewhere else in your body:

冷 (cold)

Instead of being able to both cast ice magic and blood magic, you become cold blooded (冷血) and die in a few minutes from hypothermia.

The same could easily happen with runes. You may form a word that has little to do with the powers you get and die in very funny ways.

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Because of the skill of the maker

The art of rune engraving is ancient, and the ability to engrave multiples runes in the body is lost, just like some more powerful types of runes. (With This you can keep the "card" of multiples runes users and new and powerful runes appearing, under your sleeve)

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Because you can't predict the outcome

Renan's answer was the main inspiration for this (I just loved the cold blooded analogy).

A person CAN have the runes for fireball and super strength in his body - but that is a very dangerous thing to do. You stated:

They are inscribed onto the skin with through a ritual and work by the individual accessing the mana inside themselves. This mana is forced into the runes in order to activate them, creating the effect.

Your rune users have absolutely no control over their mana flow. Maybe it is a raw form of magic that's very difficult to tame - unless you use runes. Once the runes are there to guide the way, all the caster needs to do is release his mana - and the runes will guide the flow for the mana to invade his muscles and turn them to steel.

However, if you have more than one rune inscribed in your body, the mana flow will get mixed directions.

It may all go to the strength rune, giving him the power to crush a car with his bare hands. It may all go the wrong way, to the fire rune, allowing him to make a delicious car barbecue. If it splits up and goes both ways, well... his muscles start to burn and he's in serious trouble - but at least the car is okay.

It might also simply not work (none of the mana reached any important part of the runes) or have some useless effect (like warming up his hands or lighting a match nearby).

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  • Consumption of energy:

If you can only generistically power every single rune on your body, it might not be enough to activate the rune(s). This means that using multiple runes just deactivates your ability to use them. A few individuals might be able to squeese more out of it, but who's going to find out if could mean wasting time having two useless runes for a while? Its not like these tatoo's are going to be cheap and they are definitely time-consuming to make!

  • The way the magic is "shapen" to do its effects:

A rune is basically a spell, the magic energy needs to flow through it to "form" itself and create the effect. So you let the mana flow across your skin to be activated by the rune... But the mana encounters multiple runes. This could make the mana useless, or create unwanted effects such as weakness, drunkenness, suddenly burning alive...

  • Runes are like some chemicals and hormones in the body:

Adrenalin makes you active, melatonin makes you tired. Runes could simply cancel each other out, diminish each other's effects or like the previous idea have unwanted and unpredictable effects.

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Mental Component

Bearing the rune(s) is one thing, but to use one requires a specific state of mind. For instance, to gain eagle eye vision you have to induce a trancelike state where you take on the spirit of an eagle. As it turns out, doublethink is actually really hard. It's already hard enough to maintain this state of mind while in a high stress situation, never mind trying to juggle a second rune and its requisite mental state. Trying and failing means you gain the benefits of neither rune; there's probably a physical/magical backlash as well.

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The Rune Shapes the Soul.

The rune itself isn't the thing throwing around the magical power. Instead, it twists the user's soul (or manabody, or whatever) into the shape of a certain spell. The user pours mana through their soul, and it's converted into the effect by the soul-shape. If you try to put on two different runes, they'll each try to reshape the soul into their own preferred form. The result might be bad - the runes coudl tear each other apart, doing some damage on the way. They could tear the soul apart between them. It's possible that they'll even settle down into some sort of an equilibrium where the soul is in some sort of shape between the two... but when you pour mana through that thing, who knows what will come out? In general, taking two runes at once is high risk, no reward. The only people who wind up that way are poor unfortunates who've been strapped down by crazy magical researchers who want to see what happens and take copious notes.

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The reason for this lies in the runes themselves. Runes are mutually exclusive. As soon as you draw the new rune, the old one fades from your skin.

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IDK why, but I know where it goes.

They work by the individual accessing the mana inside themselves. [Insert reason why you can't here.] This mana is forced into the runes in order to activate them.

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