The "Weird" spell in my world is basically a magical version of the US government's goals with the "MK Ultra" project from the 1950s: it induces a shared hallucination in every creature within a 9.1m radius of the spell's ground zero.

It manifests the victims' worst fears (and possibly combines them) as an implacable monster. The spell's effects are supposed to be strong enough to cause physical harm and even death, even though the monster itself is just an illusion, albeit one that can deceive all six senses (the sixth being magnetoreception).

Magic doesn't actually exists in my setting; it is just super technology (we're talking utility fog levels of super).

Is it actually possible to create an effect that can scare (almost) any sentient being to death?

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    $\begingroup$ If people can be scared to death (yes, they can), the answer is obviously yes - just make it scary enough. I don't really get what you are asking, what I'm pointing out is trivial. Are you unsure if the monster being what you call an "illusion" has any relevance? It doesn't if all senses can be fooled $\endgroup$
    – Raditz_35
    Nov 17, 2019 at 11:36
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    $\begingroup$ If you are using utility fog to create the effect, and the desired result is the death of all affected creatures - aren't there easier and more straightforward ways to achieve the same (e.g. just suffocate everyone inside the area of effect)? Why go to the trouble of generating a frightening "monster"? $\endgroup$
    – G0BLiN
    Nov 17, 2019 at 13:04
  • $\begingroup$ @G0BLiN "utility fog levels of super" refers to full-fledged molecular nanotechnology. Why exactly frighten the target can be for a multitude of reasons, like pure sadism or to prevent the target from focusing. $\endgroup$ Nov 17, 2019 at 13:22
  • $\begingroup$ Please define term “MK Ultra” $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Nov 17, 2019 at 22:13
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    $\begingroup$ "all six senses (the sixth being magnetoreception)" just to make it clear - in the real world we have a lot more than five senses already. Close your eyes and try to locate your elbow, for example. You need not use neither sight, nor sound, nor taste, nor smell, nor touch to do that. So, when you say "all six" do you mean "all senses" or do you mean "six of the possibly twenty or so we posses"? $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Nov 18, 2019 at 8:11

3 Answers 3


Is it actually possible to create something that can scare (almost) any sentient being to death?

Yes - in your world with "super technology" that can deceive all six senses in all sentient beings within that radius, this would certainly be possible.

We would need to define "scare them to death", however. Is it the fear itself which causes them to die? Or does the fear make them panic and attack each other (more like MKULTRA), or kill themselves (like The Happening), and thus they all die?

If it's the former - where fear itself kills them - then I would recommend you keep the exact element/item/sensation/monster more vague. Perhaps this technology "unlocks their brains" in someway which makes them suddenly become flooded with true existential dread and the meaninglessness of life; or perhaps they all see a monster of such imaginable terror that they believe they will be tortured and killed in such horrific ways they simply panic to death. Small rodents (squirrels, rabbits, etc) have been known to die simply by being placed in a dark box and transported - it's the unknown that we can't comprehend or handle, and that spikes our panic factor out the wazoo.

If you notice, most "good" horror films are not based on a monster you see. For a fun side project, watch the original Alien movie, or even Saw - the "reveal" is handled much later in the film, usually the third act, and it's the suspension that causes the fear. In films where you see the ghost/monster/etc, it gives too many knowns, and that breaks your ability to be afraid of it.

However, if the technology makes them panic and kill each other or themselves, this would be a bit easier to handle. You all see a monster planting worms in your body, and they're eating you alive, so you try to "cut them out", which means you're just jabbing a knife into your flesh and thereby killing yourself. Or, every other living thing around you turns into a monster which you think is attacking you so you start attacking all of them (like Scarecrow's fear toxin at the start of the Arkham Knight game).


Broken Heart Syndrome

A more technical name for it is stress cardiomyopathy, which I prefer because sadness is not the only cause for it, but the general title for this is Broken Heart Syndrome. Essentially what happens is that a surprising and strong burst of emotion (for instance, the sudden loss of a loved love) will trigger symptoms similar to that of a heart attack, but there's no damage to the heart. What does happen is that the heart's pumping rate is altered, most likely from a hormonal imbalance. In most cases, this will not lead to serious consequences, although under the right circumstances, this will result in death.

Now the real question here, is how you cause that level of fear. Well, given that you're using fog, I'd recommend a three things - the first, a hallucinogenic in the mist. Second, you want to release some biological hormones in addition to the hallucinogenic which will contribute to the balance. And the last step is the jump scare. (Of course there's a jump scare.) Use the mist to project some kind of horrible beast, which when magnified with the hallucinogenic, will trigger the hormones you've been pumping into their system. This should trigger a heart attack, and if no help comes, the target should die from acute myocardial infarction caused by stress cardiomyopathy.

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    $\begingroup$ Why jumpscare? I prefer brutal psychological and physical (well, the spell can manipulate the six senses) torture that depletes the body and heart. $\endgroup$ Nov 17, 2019 at 22:23
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    $\begingroup$ Jumpscare is the trigger. I mean, you can use other things for the trigger, but a trigger is needed, and why not use a jumpscare? It fits, and it's a classic. $\endgroup$
    – Halfthawed
    Nov 17, 2019 at 22:25
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    $\begingroup$ @Mephistopheles you need something surprising to kick the heart over into fibrillation. There's a bit of an energy barrier to overcome after all... most things with hearts generally don't fibrillate apropos of nothing, hence the spreading popularity of the organ over the past half a billion years or so. $\endgroup$ Nov 17, 2019 at 23:20
  • $\begingroup$ @Halfthawed indeed, you can probably prime the subject with eerie and scary stuff first, then introduce the jumpscare. Similar to how horror movies do it. $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Nov 18, 2019 at 8:12

You mention that it can affect "the six senses", but there are in fact far more than six. It could be interesting to play on some of those.

For example, nociception: being able to sense pain. What happens when everything hurts as much as possible? Would you lash out at everything around you? Maybe. Or maybe you'd just collapse. Perhaps it needs some tuning, everything at 100% is too much, but sharp spikes of pain all over your body could drive someone insane quite fast. Especially if you pair it with some other stimuli, like messing with their sense of balance and sense of self.

You could also affect internal stimuli, like hunger and thirst, which could cause someone to rush blindly for the first source of food and water they could find. You could also make the victim feel like they are suffocating due to a lack of oxygen, but I'm not sure how effective that would be at killing them.


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