Or more specifically, What physical law can X manipulate in order to affect the electromagnetic force?

For something to base our assumptions off of, lets assume that we can;

  • Fly
  • Cast lightning
  • Pyromancer
  • Matter Manipulation

An extension of of the previous post: What would powers based of Gravity look like?

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    $\begingroup$ You say "matter manipulation" and "pyromancer". This would indicate powers over sub-atomic particles. If we assume powers of flight then the powers are pretty prodigious - it would make your world a very dangerous place to live, perhaps dominated by ruthless personalities. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 29, 2019 at 21:14
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    $\begingroup$ I'm putting in some in in-universe safety measures in place, just need to know what powers are possible so I can adjust said limitation accordingly. $\endgroup$
    – Seraphim
    Commented Nov 29, 2019 at 21:17
  • $\begingroup$ Now my compass points to that guy instead of north. I can't go orienteering safely anymore. In the era before common GPS, that would be life-threatening to large numbers of folks on lost ships and aircraft. $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Commented Nov 29, 2019 at 21:35
  • $\begingroup$ Can he also affect the weak nuclear force? Oops, he didn't mean to make all the concrete of that city radioactive, but their team won the championship, and he's always been such a big fan.... $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Commented Nov 29, 2019 at 21:37
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    $\begingroup$ Maxwell has left the chat. $\endgroup$
    – user6760
    Commented Nov 29, 2019 at 23:31

4 Answers 4


As others have observed, almost everything involved in the regular day-to-day interaction with matter involves the electromagnetic force.

The problem is though that many of these interactions are at a very small scale. Materials can't interpenetrate each other in a large part thanks to the Coulomb forces causing the electron clouds around their respective atoms to repel each other. Away from the atomic scale though you simply can't "see" the charges of the electrons, because they are effectively screened by the charges of the protons they're bound to. That's why matter seems neutral at a macroscopic scale. You can apply truly collossal electrical and magnetic fields to overcome this... when you have electrical fields that approach a tenth of a billion volts per meter or magnetic fields of the order of billions of tesla you can do all sorts of weird stuff to matter but the side effect is that you'll destroy pretty much everything in the area of effect and need mindboggling amounts of power to induce such field strengths.

So, you should forget:

  • Flight, unless you're levitating yourself up a conductive and/or magnetic structure (such as the skeleton of a skyscraper) or along a suitable path, like the track of a maglev train.
  • Telekinesis, unless you're manipulating magnets or ferromagnetic materials. Plain old conductive materials can have magnetic fields induced in them, but that's a tiny bit harder. Remember that when you generate strong fields to do this that everything else around it is affected too. Sure, you might be able to pick up a can of coke without reaching it, but you've erased everyone's magnetic card stripes, blanked your hard drive, wrecked your laptop, stalled your car and broken Aunty Doris' pacemaker.

What you should be cautious about:

  • Throwing lightning. Those electrons have to come from somewhere, you know. Conjuring them out of the quantum vacuum is extremely hard and produces a lot of positrons too soo you'll only end up irradiating yourself.

    If you what a big enough potential difference between your hands to cause arcing, it involves bits of your own body being ionised and flying through the air. This is going to cause some damage, potentially a lot of damage. If you make yourself immune to ionisation you'll get air breakdown instead, which may or may not be enough to look cool.

    Remember that lightning behaves oddly and doesn't always hit the things you expect. Putting a huge potential difference between you and your target isn't necessarily going to involve lightning shootin gout of you and into them... you might both just arc into the scenery, or you might find that the scenery around them is enough to protect them from the effect.

  • Deflecting bullets. Sure, they're conductive and you might be able to induce a current in them, but you'll need an extremely powerful field to do so, and see previous comment regarding wrecking everything around you. Bullets are small and travel very fast, and so you'll have a very limited time to affect any change in their trajectory. You'll probably just get killed, and you're unlikely to have enough juice to keep a suitably powerful magnetic field up around you all the time even if you didn't care about the side effect. Also, someone will just gas you.

What will probably work just fine:

  • Setting stuff on fire. This isn't really pyromancy... directing flames by means of electrical and magnetic fields is a bit ineffective, but electrical arcs can certainly start fires.
  • Tasing people. It'll take a while to learn about the right sort of electrical frequencies and where to apply them for maximal effect. Remember that some waveforms will cause fibrillation and death rather than merely knocking someone off their feet.
  • Pulling lightning out of a stormcloud. It'll look badass, and solves the problem of having a lot of spare electrons lying around.
  • Welding.
  • Glowing.
  • Destroying electronics.
  • Picking up and throwing magnetic materials, potentially very hard.
  • X-ray generation via bremmstrahlung radiation.
  • Charging batteries and operating other simple electrical devices like motors.

What might not be practical is the generation of electromagnetic waves, eg. light, radio, etc. This is because they require very, very high frequency changes in an electrical and magnetic field. Being able to generate a magnetic field is not the same as flicking it back and forth at a precise rate a few trillion times a second! The hands are of course yours to wave, but this is quite an important distinction. If I were designing a magic system around this, I'd make radio or light-type EM radiation manipulation entirely distinct from "simple" electrical or magnetic field manipulation.

  • $\begingroup$ So what do you suggest the magic could manipulate to 'control' light and radiation? $\endgroup$
    – Seraphim
    Commented Nov 30, 2019 at 19:03
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    $\begingroup$ @Seraphim that's potentially another question in itself, but: emission, transmission and absorption/detection of EM radiation, altering optical properties of matter, eg. refractive index to bend and focus light in air, etc. Facilitates illusions, radar, multispectral vision, invisibility, plain old shooting lasers out of your eyes, etc. Quite stylistically different to magnetic levitation and electroshockery. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 30, 2019 at 19:19
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    $\begingroup$ Little late, but would it be possible to use plasma as a place holder for fire in pyromancy? the two would look somewhat the same, though i would imagine the magnetic fields required to direct said plasma would be insane. $\endgroup$
    – Seraphim
    Commented Dec 6, 2019 at 20:49
  • $\begingroup$ @Seraphim honestly, I'm not sure. It won't look or behave like fire. Confining plasma at relatively low densities isn't necessarily too difficult, but I couldn't quantify that for you. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 6, 2019 at 21:17
  • $\begingroup$ Hmm, question for people who are smarter than the both of us combined to answer. No offence intend. $\endgroup$
    – Seraphim
    Commented Dec 6, 2019 at 23:35

Almost everything people experience on a daily basis is electromagnetism. Full-blown control over this force is almost indistinguishable from reality-warping. One could plausibly even pull off some weird transmutations of elements, by reducing the charge between protons to get cold fusion.

It's more helpful to narrow things down to specific aspects of the force. If the power is more like generating an arbitrary EM field, and being able to shape or vary it, then you have something like Magneto, including the things he could do that the movies toned down (force-fields, blasts, etc). If you can mess with ions, the number of crazy chemistry tricks available become too numerous and complex to summarize, beyond pointing out that messing with ionic bonds seems like it should enable the weaponizing of table salt.

Can they emit light? X-rays are the most energy-efficient way to accomplish quite a few things, especially if those things involve killing. How about manipulating light, or the ways in which matter interact with photons? You now have both X-ray vision and telescopic / microscopic vision. If you can interpret radio, two people with these abilities are effectively telepathic. Not to mention all the potential for illusions, screwing with communications technology, etc.

When you get down to it, many, many superpowers are effectively a highly restricted form of EM manipulation, or can be accomplished thereby. Without some sort of specific rules, the answer is "almost anything not covered by the other forces, and you can fake some of those, too".

If rules are required to make such a power less god-like, restricting it in terms of scale, magnitude, or specific aspects (Magneto Vs light-bending) can help. These are still fairly overpowered (being able to wipe every hard-drive within a 100m radius, or lethally X-ray everything within a 100m radius are pretty terrifying).

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    $\begingroup$ "many superpowers are effectively a highly restricted form of EM manipulation" Even the ones that seem unrelated (like morphing) often need more energy than can be explained by just drawing on the energy of the hero's food consumption, so there's probably EM field adjustment going on there. $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Commented Dec 11, 2019 at 0:59

This person, since their powers can affect electromagnetism, would be able to induce variable magnetic and/or electric fields.

Thus it would be possible for them to:

  • emit light
  • induce electrostatic charges
  • move charges
  • induce magnetic fields, thus attracting iron
  • deflect moving ions
  • [...]

As a side note, every time we interact with the outside world we do it via "electromagnetic power": when I push an apple, the electron cloud in my finger tip interacts with the electron cloud of the apple (Coulomb repulsion, electromagnetic), resulting in the apple moving.

  • $\begingroup$ What does [...] mean? $\endgroup$
    – Seraphim
    Commented Nov 29, 2019 at 23:59
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    $\begingroup$ Usually means etc or ad infinitum. His point is that the sheer amount of things possible is extremely high. From charged particle beams,shearing things apart at the molecular level,making laser beams,electrocuting people,charging a battery by proximity,etc. $\endgroup$
    – Obelisk
    Commented Nov 30, 2019 at 2:10
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    $\begingroup$ @Obelisk: A walking induction charger would be a great superpower. Businesses would pay to have this guy wandering about their offices and customer areas every few hours $\endgroup$
    – nzaman
    Commented Nov 30, 2019 at 7:36

In addition to the answers already posted, what about messing with your brain?
From my limited understanding of biology I believe neurons operate via electrical signals so depending on how precise your control is and how well you understand the neural structure of the brain you could in theory manipulate thoughts by initiating tiny changes in the electrical fields between neurons.

Basically Bedlam from Deadpool 2.

  • $\begingroup$ Or you can just wipe all the signals and see if the brain "re-boots" nicely. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 11, 2019 at 11:53

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