19
$\begingroup$

The premise: in a fantasy world I'm making, magic is a force woven into the world itself by the gods of the past. The soul of an individual is the means by which they can manipulate this force through spells and similar functions, and the more strongly one feels at one point in time, the more powerful their works of magic can be.

The problem: I'm not sure how to most effectively limit the power emotion has, since I don't want a character to be able to solve everything with one adrenaline rush, dopamine high, etc.

Potential solutions I've thought of: One possibility is that most magic users need to be emotionally stable to cast most large works of magic, but I don't want that to be the only thing since there's multiple magic-wielding races and it would feel contrived at least to me to give them all the same limit. Anyone have ideas?

$\endgroup$
9
  • 8
    $\begingroup$ What if emotional stability only affects how reliably you can cast spells? Some races are more tempered and reliable spellcasters, some are eradic and chaotic $\endgroup$
    – JamesFaix
    Feb 14 at 0:26
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Thorazine. SSRIs. Everybody has mono. $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Feb 14 at 2:56
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Nice idea. Consistent rules in magic worlds are so important. $\endgroup$ Feb 14 at 13:34
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Prozium........ $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Feb 14 at 18:50
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Many people have jumped in with many ideas, but this is an off-topic question because it doesn't give us specific criteria for a best answer, but just asks for opinions. Please re-read the help center regarding on-topic questions when you have a moment. $\endgroup$ Feb 15 at 21:05

13 Answers 13

40
$\begingroup$

Antipathetic Magic:

Opposites Attract: So you want emotions to power magic, but don't want characters able to go all "dark side" and just stay perpetually angry/happy to become gods. Sympathetic Magic is magic powered by things being similar to the desired subject or effect. So suppose your magic works exactly the opposite? The energy furthest from the desired goal powers it's opposite like a battery.

So when you are angry, anger fuels helpful healing magic. The Negative charge of anger powers the positive effect of healing. Want to kill someone? Love conquers all - literally. Trying to do some small, highly precise enchantment? Your frustration grows and grows until you manage to focus and WHAM, super-effect.

The glory of this is that only the mages able to control their actions best, with the least impulsiveness, will be great mages. The angrier you get at someone, the harder it is to kill them. But a mage who deeply cares about someone will need to pick a fight to muster enough energy to salve their wounds. Before a battle, everyone excitedly cheers, because the wizard has made up with his girlfriend and is filled with goodwill to all - the enemy doesn't stand a chance. If certain races consistently show certain emotions, they are masters of the opposite magic, so there can be racial differences based purely on how a species feels.

This does mean that there will be all sorts of opportunities to subtly manipulate the feelings of a Mage to result in desired effects. Think of how Delila manipulated Sampson's feelings. Cripple a mage before battle by torturing his parents - although I'm not sure what the opposite magical effect of despair is. Bribe a boyfriend to manipulate his loves feelings for a magical boost. IT would require some charting of powers and emotions, but hey - that's worldbuilding!

$\endgroup$
11
  • 11
    $\begingroup$ This is such a cool idea, and I THINK it's my favorite but I've gotten so many great responses that it's hard to choose. The idea of the cinnamon roll ball of sunshine's joyful nature allowing them to eviscerate their foes in combat and the angsty hothead being a masterclass healer is the kind of irony I live for in storytelling. $\endgroup$ Feb 14 at 19:55
  • $\begingroup$ Just realized that this idea goes near-perfectly with one of the races I came up with: a demon/draconic humanoid race with wings and horns where the horns shrink as they grow older and gain maturity, so those with almost nonexistent horns are respected within the race as wise and mentally stable individuals, but with this magic system in place, those same individuals would be terrors on the battlefield should someone get into combat with them. Thanks a TON for this idea, my mind is buzzing with story snippets and concepts! $\endgroup$ Feb 14 at 20:03
  • $\begingroup$ That last paragraph seems unhelpful. No matter how magic works, kidnapping parents or bribing friends would be effective. $\endgroup$ Feb 15 at 0:00
  • $\begingroup$ @Owen Reynolds The intent is that you could subtly manipulate the people through their emotions. Your girlfriend fighting with you on a day you need to get a big healing project done is convenient, but she might deny taking a bribe from your boss to enhance your work. The enemy trying to make you mad so you can't use offensive spells means you might refuse to be intimidated by their threats, but you can't stop getting angry at them for it. It's all about the opposites and feelings. If it's only emotion, an enraged mage is a strong one-you hurt yourself by hurting them. $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Feb 15 at 0:15
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Rekesoft I agree. It makes attacking those pacifist monks very different. They can rent rifts in the earth and create walls of fire with their jacked power. It also means the kinds of spells you use are changed, so angry mages in battle are healing soldiers to fight instead of dropping fireballs to kill (demanding some creativity in what you cast). You need to think about opposites and how they serve you. It's also a dad thing-be nice to kids who drive you crazy. Parents make good mages because they learn patience. $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Feb 15 at 13:56
39
$\begingroup$

Magic drains the emotion

  • You may need to be angry to cast an attack spell.
  • You may need to feel joy in order to help others with your magic.
  • You may need to feel a strong bond with somebody to cast a bless them them.

However, magic not only draws upon those feelings. It consumes them.

  • After the anger evaporates, the wizard doesn't feel like attacking even without a spell.
  • Joy evaporates after using it up to help.
  • A strong blessing diminishes what the mage feels about another.

This can recover in time but it does need time. Somebody who uses a lot of magic may just end up as an emotionally stunted husk of a person. Feeling no joy, no anger, no nothing. Or perhaps worse, only feeling one thing - fear, or hatred. Of course that also just means there is only a single resource the spellcaster can reach to for their spells, so eventually that will all burn up.

Magic is a perilous road to take. You need to cultivate an emotion to be able to cast a spell. At the same time, the very act of using magic eats you and leaves less of you as a person. Never mind, that you have less of the resource for that spell.

The capacity for emotions can recover but I can see mages may try to speed up the process artificially. Using substances that enhance and elicit given emotions is a dangerous enough thing by itself, so that's a good start for the perils magecraft can do. However, mages casting magic on drugs are likely going to burn out even faster than normal.

$\endgroup$
3
  • 11
    $\begingroup$ As a thematically interesting alternative; using emotion to fuel a spell increases how strongly you feel that emotion. Like a fire: feed your spells too much Hate and you end up consumed, unable to function as a normal human. Same for Joy, or Sorrow... $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Feb 14 at 1:26
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ And teh "wize old" mages of yesterday are just empty depressed shells. Damn, it would be a dark world imho, but an interesting one to explore $\endgroup$
    – Hobbamok
    Feb 15 at 13:14
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Hobbamok not only depressed. Somebody who overused anger as their source of power would be unable to hate. If fear was overused, then they would not think to flee or give ground. Maybe they've burned out their pride or even sadness. In the real world we have a collective term for conditions where people can't feel some emotion. It's "mental disorder". It's scary, and not fun. These would be broken people. Even if you think of the jolly mage who used all their sadness and anguish...they would still suffer but be unable to understand it. $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Feb 15 at 13:20
12
$\begingroup$

Frame Challenge: You Don't Really Need To

You want to prevent people from using emotional highs to consistently beat enemies and complete challenges? Look, as far as I know, you can't. The more intense the emotions you're feeling, the more stressed out you are and the less capable you are of thinking straight. Feel too many strong emotions at once, or just one really strong emotion, and you get overwhelmed and/or confused. Feel strong emotions for long enough, and you'll get drained.

Thus, any task that requires complexity or precision will actually be more difficult during an emotional high. Sure, you may be able to blast a door open instead of magically opening the lock, but it'll consume more energy and will likely get you caught by whoever's inside. And if you're in any state of mind that makes one want to blast a door off its hinges, chances you can't think clearly enough to do anything else.

Feeling tumultuous or confused? Cool, your magical energies will be disorganized, making your spells much less effective. So instead of flinging cohesive fireballs, you'll instead get fireballs that fall apart when thrown, sloppily streaking through the air and likely dissipating before they even reach the target. (Think of a cloud of ink in the water; cool-looking but not at all focused.)

What if you're feeling overwhelmed by the strength of your emotions? Well, sure, you'll have a lot of power running through your system-too much power. You know how Goku yells and glows when ramping up? Same visual, different mechanic. See, in this case, you're magically overloaded, which is painful as all get-out. You're going to scream, and your body is going to be beaten up, drained, and perhaps a little crispy afterwards.

Furthermore, feeling strong emotions over and over is taxing; your mages will get drained if they try that foolish strategy (relying on emotional highs to succeed) and thus won't be able to perform as well as they could have if they simply learned how to control their emotions.

Anyway, I hope this helps, sorry if it was a little too sarcastic.

$\endgroup$
2
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ But in the popular Harry Dresden Wizard series he successfully uses anger to power up his spells, all the time. You're saying he'd get better results with more calm preparation, but he's not that smart. And his fireballs only need to go about 10 feet most of the time. $\endgroup$ Feb 15 at 0:08
  • $\begingroup$ @OwenReynolds The point of the answer is that if you absolutely furious with something, you can't focus on precise task of spellcasting. Or even think straight enough to think of throwing a fireball instead of rushing for a brawl. Botched fireball, especially a highly powered one, would be worse to the caster than to his target. Only specialists, who spent years on controlling their emotions and training spellcasting can actually utilize those high emotional states without magic getting out of the hand. $\endgroup$ Feb 15 at 19:26
11
$\begingroup$

I'd like to add something to all the other great answers: Monotony.

Humans get used to pretty much EVERYTHING.

You just can't stay angry/happy/sad for a long period of time. Your brain just gets used to the emotions and it takes a stronger burst of emotion to feel again.

The worst you'll see in people in reality - unless they lose their sanity - is becoming numb after a while.

It's very much the same way as developing a drug resistance.

A mage that tries to act on an emotion for a long time will get used to it and it will dull, effectively "draining".

This can even have long term effects, so mages will have to meditate to clear their minds and "emotion pathways" (neurons?) for more of the same emotions, and prevent themself from spiraling out of control into perpetual anger or some other emotion.

You can imagine entire rituals and "self Pavloving*" dedicated to reaching the right mindset for a magic.

*Refers to the act of linking a cue with a mental state, such as was done in the famous experiment widely credited to Ivan Pavlov.

I've recently seen a story according to which a certain person's friend made a clicking sound with a pen whenever something made her happy, so any time she were sad she'd click the pen to trick her brain into going happy.

$\endgroup$
5
$\begingroup$

Emotions might make characters far more powerful, but they also prevent them from controlling themselves. Use this as a plot device. A character who meets their nemesis and becomes really, really angry at them might be able to cast really powerful aggressive magic, but be unable to control it in their rage. They won't just be a threat to their nemesis. Their magic might hit anything and anyone around while their nemesis escapes relatively unharmed.

A powerful magic user would not just be someone with very powerful emotions. They would also need to be able to maintain enough self-control to direct it properly.

So the naive but well-meaning protagonists at the beginning of their story might cause far more damage than good. They might be gifted with extraordinary magical powers, but they can't control them. A couple unfortunate accidents might then make them afraid of their own feelings. They will try to suppress them, which makes them weak, both physically and psychologically. Until they went through some character development and learned the right balance between accepting their emotions but keeping them controlled, which makes them strong enough to defeat the big bad and conclude their story.

Different amount of emotions and self-control can be used to differentiate different races, as can which emotions are how pronounced in their personality.

  • One race might produce some very powerful magic users, but their lack of self-control makes them very dangerous individuals which are feared and persecuted.
  • One race might not have that strong emotions, but is very good at controlling them. So they are very skilled at using low-level magic used for everyday tasks, but they can't do really impressive feats.
  • One very warmongering race might embrace their anger. They might use magic users as suicide bombers, who infiltrate the enemy and then give in to their strong anger, killing themselves and everyone around in an inferno of magic rage.
  • One peaceful race doesn't have much anger, but a lot of love and compassion, making them powerful healers.
$\endgroup$
3
$\begingroup$

There are several possibilities, depending on what kind of limits you want:

Complexity vs raw power - the most extreme emotional states are not very friendly to careful thought. If using magic effectively often requires a lot of mental discipline and precision, there may be a tradeoff between power and what you can use it for.

  • Perhaps setting things on fire is simple, but transforming, healing or creating things requires careful thought and precision, so only the most simple destructive magic can be used in extreme emotional states.

  • Perhaps each person using magic has one or two things they are "instinctively" good at, and only these things can be done without time and careful thought (something similar to this exists for some of the magic-using characters in the Wheel of Time series)

Danger of insufficiently controlled power - much like the above, using power incautiously could be very dangerous -- e.g. setting oneself on fire with stray energy, causing explosions, or whatever.

Emotions are expended - perhaps it works both ways, and magic actually exhausts the user's emotional capacity -- really powerful works of magic leave the user emotionally flat for a while afterward, so it isn't possible to get arbitrary amounts of power by frequently creating emotionally-charged situations

$\endgroup$
3
$\begingroup$

Performing magic is not trivial. In order to tap the threads of magical power woven into the fabric of your world the mage must focus on the minute details of the interconnections and pull exactly the right strings. They need perfect focus and lots of patience. That works really badly when they are raving mad or drunk with love.

You are best able to understand that fabric and focus on the ancient, intricate rituals which need to be performed just right when you are sober, well slept and not distracted by emotions. Alas, in that state your power to do anything with what you see is at its minimum; you can go through all the motions perfectly, but they are a bloodless charade which doesn't move more than a few specks of dust.

Somewhere in the middle of that spectrum is your sweet spot: Enough power to blow life into your spells, and still enough focus and patience to understand what you need to do, and do it right.

As an aside, that makes great mages: They are very passionate, but they have learned to ban their emotions into that little cage in the back of their minds where they writhe and scream while through self-discipline and willpower they disconnect from them just to the degree that they need to perform their magic properly.

$\endgroup$
3
$\begingroup$

If you are going for urban fantasy you can always go with drugs, beta blockers or some forms of SSRI anti-depressants. Both can make the person on them feel more muted emotions. A character dealing with depression or anxiety disorder might be placed on theses drugs, and it could be important enough for them to have healthy mental health that they could take the dampened magical talent as a acceptable tradeoff to having this condition treated.

$\endgroup$
2
  • $\begingroup$ A scientific approach to a magic based question which works surprisingly well in this case. Welcome to wb.se TK $\endgroup$ Feb 15 at 20:26
  • $\begingroup$ I actually came in here and was about to post 'drugs' as an answer - this would add an extra layer to the plot if there were a government-level conspiracy to over-prescribe SSRI's to the population so that they could control people's ability to perform magic $\endgroup$ Feb 16 at 1:25
2
$\begingroup$

You can just do away with the concept of emotions being this boundless limitless well of energy to draw from. The emotion helps make the spell stronger like an overdrive mode, but that still has its upper limit of usefulness, past which stronger emotions just don't result in stronger spells.

$\endgroup$
1
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This is reasonable, since that's how it happens with physical things. Adrenaline isn't an extra "energy source" itself - it signals the body to divert all available energy into speedy action, putting off less urgent things like digestion. But there's only a finite amount available even if it does that. And if it tried to run in that mode all the time it would quickly get ill from skimping on the other functions the energy was being diverted from. $\endgroup$
    – A. B.
    Feb 15 at 4:32
1
$\begingroup$

This exists in real life

Hysterical strength is commonly attributed to adrenaline releasing some of the restrictions the body has in place to not tear itself apart. EG. it is 100% possible to bite off your own finger but you will find it hard to do so in practice.

While physical strength is a mechanical process, Magic is at its core an emotional process. You have to feel the magic in the air, feel the power flow, and know what heat feels like for a fireball. Extreme emotional distress releases the innate limitations in doing nuanced casting and fine motor control for raw power.

Those who used hysterical strength are often hurt after as the effects can bypass safe limitations of their strength. Muscle tearing is a potential side effect. When doing the magical equivalent, some kind of mana burnout or apathy for a time after would be a realistic mechanical effect of overloading via emotion.

How does this balance? stable emotional states produce good fine controlled spells. think using a needle of magic. Using higher amount of emotion produces more power, think baseball bat or hammer. Combining states or being good at controlling emotions would allow you to do finer feats, equivalent to swordsmanship, spears, rapiers. Each has its own use and own subculture and isn't weak. A mediocre blow to a sensitive area can be just as damaging. Additionally, overloading leaves you vulnerable after,

$\endgroup$
0
$\begingroup$

Carry on with adrenaline rushes or dopamine highs… or create a new chemical that works like them, but without solving everything.

Haven't we all heard of normally impossible feats fuelled by adrenaline, such as a mother lifting a crashed car off her trapped child?

No-one could ordinarily do such a thing and even the luckiest of heroines isn't going to do it again in a hurry.

You also say that using emotions and/or bio chemicals to make magic comes with a high price, as for instance shortening the user's life?

$\endgroup$
0
$\begingroup$

The link can get too strong. Then your wizard is in deep trouble.

See, here’s the thing. You are actively drawing a link between your emotions and a desired spell. The more you link your emotions to your magic, the harder it gets to separate the two. If you spend enough time getting angry to cast fireballs, how long before that state of mind becomes a little...automatic? A little...involuntary? It used to be that when you wanted a fireball, you got mad. But now you realize that every time you get mad, you’re summoning fire.

That’s inconvenient at best.

Consider the seasoned battlemage who wakes up one morning, stubs her pinky toe on a bookcase while on her way to the privy, and involuntarily blows the roof off her own bedroom with a rage-induced fireball.

Consider the seasoned healer who is having a romantic dinner with his beloved. It’s going great. In a euphoric bliss, his magic activates and resurrects his dinner. Better hope it only affects the carrots this time.

These sorts of things don’t have to happen very often before word gets around. Mages MUST be balanced with their magic. Every single time a mage casts a spell, that mage makes it a little easier to cross up emotion and magic in an unguarded moment later.

$\endgroup$
0
$\begingroup$

People don't just feel one emotion.

Burning hot anger makes fire magic burn hotter. Love and affection lets healing magic close wounds faster. Apathy allows ice magic to chill you to the bone. Being somber seems to allow water magic to flow more easily.

If your friend is hurt, you'll get angry, diminishing your ability to heal them. You must learn to control your emotions, or you might burn your friend instead.

That being said, feeling just one emotion is very difficult. Humans, the complex things that we are, display a wide array of feelings at any time. Try to be angry without also feeling grief and remorse at the wrongs done, frustration at not being able to stop them, guilt for not wanting to, and/or just plain sadness. It's hard to do a lot with magic unless you can harness that one piece you need, purely.

If you want to cap it, then just say that too much of a raw emotion can harm the user. Getting a little upset will raise your body temperature just a little bit, but our bodies are constantly dealing with impossibly small changes in temperature to the point where we hardly notice. Going from 98.6 to 98.7 is not something you feel. If you let yourself be consumed by hatred, pure hatred, then you risk killing yourself from heat stroke. Too apathetic and hypothermia. Too somber and pneumonia. Only the positive feelings, those associated with life (joy) and growth (love/affection) have no cap.

$\endgroup$

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.