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There's a facet of my magic system that uses a certain kind of crystal to create water out of the magic energy stored within. But, I don't want to solve the entire world's water supply issues with this magic. I'm struggling to think of a restriction that makes it so that infinite water can't be created. I've considered making the water not 100% healthy, but that also kind of defeats the point, especially since that doesn't mesh well with other aspects of the magic system.

So how can I effectively create restrictions to water-based magic so the system cannot create large water quantities?

NOTE: Each crystal corresponds to an "element" roughly, as well as a color. Blue makes water, Red makes fire, etc.

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    $\begingroup$ Make the crystals get depleted with use. Then make them rare enough, or hard-to-use enough, that it's easier to find and pump water non-magically. $\endgroup$ – Daron Apr 29 at 20:42
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    $\begingroup$ It's worth expanding on what you want to keep in your magic system. For example: "I want it so a powerful wizard can temporarily save a village from water shortage. But water magic does not automatically solve the whole world's water supply problems." $\endgroup$ – Daron Apr 29 at 20:44

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Your question already contains the answer:

There's a facet of my magic system that uses a certain kind of crystal to create water out of the magic energy stored within.

The amount of magic energy that can be stored within a crystal is the natural limitation for the amount of water that can be created using this crystal.

If you want to make the system completely closed, so no 'new' water is created, you can add a requirement of charging crystals by converting existing water into magic energy. This will turn your crystals into what essentially is convenient vessels.

The same principle can be applied to other crystals.

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    $\begingroup$ Maybe the crystals passively absorb the moisture around them (like the silica gel packets found in shoeboxes), and with the magic word you can extract exactly that amount of water out of them again. This would instantly "balance" them out perfectly, but they would still retain their value as a transport vessel of water. Maybe they can store like 1 litersper cubic centimeter [= factor of 100 compression], and lets say they also only gain a 10th of the mass [or none at all]. This would leave them incredibly valuable artifacts for travel etc. without giving infinite water $\endgroup$ – Hobbamok Apr 30 at 7:40
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The crystals don't MAKE water, they just summon it from the environment around them.

From nearby water, from the ground, from the air, and yes from the body of the caster doing the summoning.

You could have the quality of the crystal, or the skill of the user, determining just how far and from what source the summoning is done.

An amateur summoning water for a whole village is likely to keel over dead (and a bit dried out!) halfway through the process.

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  • $\begingroup$ I've considered that, but that makes other crystal types really weird. Like ones that create light or earth exist. Not sure how that would apply $\endgroup$ – Inky Apr 29 at 14:49
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    $\begingroup$ @Inky stealing a bit of earth from a range of, say, 500m will not be noticeable, even if you make a building-sized mound. Ditto with light (in daytime). at night the light producer could cause your neighbor to curse you, for dimming his candles too much! $\endgroup$ – PcMan Apr 29 at 14:54
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    $\begingroup$ @Inky If you allow the transport to be from any distance, but for similar water, then your summoner is depleting the clean water supply somewhere else. You are taking water from SOMEWHERE, likely somewhere that can afford it, but if numerous casters start summoning all the world's clean drinking water, then it starts to have real-world consequences. OR perhaps it can summon from a specific place (where the crystal is from originally) and only takes water from there. Water supply is limited by the quantity and quality of the source. Fire crystals from volcanoes, etc.. $\endgroup$ – DWKraus Apr 29 at 22:11
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Creating mass (of any substance) requires a certain amount of energy to be converted into mass, according to the well known relationship $E=mc^2$.

Creating humongous amount of water would require hyper-humongous amounts of energy, to the point that the user of the crystal would turn into plasma very quickly.

Therefore the amount of matter that can be created with these crystals is necessarily small, limited to the amount of energy that the users are capable of producing.

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    $\begingroup$ If the 'magic energy' is a form of energy why bother with water? I skilled mage could probably wipe out the planet. If a mage has enough magic power to save a village from a famine for a day, he can probably end life on earth. A liter of water would require about 1000 times more energy than which was released in the Hiroshima bomb. Maybe that's the answer, the magic crystals have the potential of killing everyone so they are highly regulated. $\endgroup$ – user184322 Apr 30 at 1:43
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I like some answers here, but let me offer a simpler one.

The crystals are ice cubes. Magic keeps them frozen above 0C/32F. Dispel the magic and you have melting ice cubes, and that's how you get water from them.

It works for your other crystals too. Earth is quartz crystals. Those are basically gigantic grains of dirt, so magically pulverize them to have sand. Seriously, they are all SiO2 (i.e.: sand) with different impurities leading to different colors and patterns.

Fire crystals are crystalized alkali metals. These react violently with water: a pure sodium crystal will catch fire from the humidity in the air. Just find some compound that is red. Use magic to keep it inert, dispel to start a fire.

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  • $\begingroup$ Uh.. Sodium is not a rare earth, it's an alkali metal. The rare earths are the metals between lanthanum and lutetium, and are not particularly reactive (although they make spectacular flints). $\endgroup$ – No Name Apr 30 at 16:06
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    $\begingroup$ @noname thanks, I fixed that part. $\endgroup$ – The Square-Cube Law Apr 30 at 17:05
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    $\begingroup$ Alternatively for the fire crystals, make them out of red phosphorus, and have the process of using them shave some off and convert it into powdered white phosphorous. $\endgroup$ – Austin Hemmelgarn May 1 at 11:52
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The Crystals are sentient.

The crystals can make unlimited water... as long as they are happy.

Inside each crystal is a small, fairy-like soul with its own likes and dislikes, and its own personality. Some of them are easy to please, others are quite feisty. More importantly, however, each one is unique:

  • The Water Crystal of Songfall has a very strong likeness to a very specific music, and only produces water if a chorus of children is singing that song to it.
  • The Water Crystal of Volcarona, on the other hand, works on a fire-based schedule: it only works if it is placed on a very hot chamber, where it then spills a geyser-like jet up into the sky.
  • The Water Crystal of Melodia had a very strong affection for a specific person, and once said person died it became taken by grief, producing little water, if at all - and the water it produces is salty, like tears.
  • The Water Crystal of Gorestain is one that relishes on violence, and only produces water if gladiatorial games to the death are taken at least once a week on its vicinity.
  • The Water Crystal of Crimson Cape produces an steady flow of water... that comes at a hefty cost, slowly turning those that drink from it into blood-sucking vampires.
  • The Water Crystal of Dragonmaw has a strong likeness to treasure. It only produces some water if treasures are brought to its chamber as offerings. Taking a single gold coin from it makes the crystal "moody" for a few days, or until the gold is given back to it.
  • The Water Crystal of Snowstorm Peaks doesn't produce anything unless it first charged up by a single drop of blood from the high-priestess of Gormok the Snowy Gorm, in a ritual that must be undertaken once every new moon.

And so on.

While the crystals themselves can produce unlimited water, there are other resources or rituals that must be taken so they produce water at all. This can create entire economies around "pleasing" such volatile magic items, so the crops can grow and cities can thrive.

You can even expand this entire system to the other crystals, for similarly limiting results:

  • The Fire Crystal of the Foulmouth only produces fire if someone is cursing like a sailor while holding it.
  • The Earth Crystal of Geodos has no special limitations on how much it serves its users but can only make spherical rocks, and nothing else.
  • The Rainbow Crystal of the Everfolk swaps colors, and thus elements, accordingly to the race of the wielder - on merfolk hands, it is a Blue one. On elven hands, it is green. With orcs, it becomes red, etc.
  • The Child of Galicta is a crystal that can produce an unlimited amount of starlight, but it must be wielded by a person that received a kiss from a priestess of Galicta, the star-goddess.

The possibilities are endless!

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Using magic consumes the crystal. So if you want to make 5 pounds of water you need a 1 pound crystal. Add to that these particular crystals are rare and hard to find.

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  • $\begingroup$ Well they used to be abundant, but because of that were used quite frequently $\endgroup$ – Hobbamok Apr 30 at 7:42
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A simple way to add restrictions is to give it a certain amount of uses per day. It has a certain amount of power it can store, and it regains power at midnight or something, as the midnight moon 'charges' it. You could also make it sentient, which is a good way to add new characters while also making it hard to get infinite water. The crystal could have a superiority complex, and it thinks it's supierior to the people, making it not want to help people all that much. It could also be kind, but will suffer exhaustion from working too hard. Finally, you could make the crystal only "store" a certain amount of water, corresponding to it's size. The bigger the crystal, the more water is able to be produced.

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    $\begingroup$ I think the last one makes the most sense in the context of my world... it can only store so much energy to create water until it's empty and has to be recharged, either by time or a magic "charging port" or something. Thank you. $\endgroup$ – Inky Apr 29 at 14:33
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Tax on the user

Although there are already many good answers, one avenue hasn't been considered. The users themselves.

With many useful items or technology you still need to put in some mental or physical effort. The crystal requires a mental focus that can easily wear down the user. There is an unlimited amount of water to be made, but the amount of effort (and skill) with the crystal limit both the amount and duration of water summoning.

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You didn't specify how the magic works, but there are many solutions. If the magic creates a sort of chemical reaction (for instance, taking the oxygen and hydrogen needed from other materials to create water) there would be other byproducts from the reaction. These reactions can be configured in many ways. But if there are reaction byproducts, there could be restrictions on magic use to protect the environment or resources (because some reactions can create dangerous byproducts, or in large quantities could).

Another consideration is some sort of energy-draining. The magic may use energy from the wielder or surrounding life, meaning that using it in too large of a quantity could kill a person/people (this also provides the potential for interesting conflict over the value of life).

It could utilize a light source, so it could only be done at a specific time.

Really anything has the potential to act as a restriction. The most important thing to remember is that in most reactions energy either is used or created. So by draining an energy source or creating one, issues may occur that force a magical restriction on the user.

On reaction types: https://chem.libretexts.org/Courses/Valley_City_State_University/Chem_121/Chapter_5%3A_Introduction_to_Redox_Chemistry/5.3%3A_Types_of_Chemical_Reactions

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  • $\begingroup$ Oop, yeah, I've been so tired. Imma change that... $\endgroup$ – A Writer Apr 30 at 16:03
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Maybe using a crystal produces "negative energy/corruption/magic wastes..." that makes other crystals nearby use their magic energy faster.

Like a water crystal "pollutes" magically a village, so villagers try not to use it (and prefer to use the local well) because if you start to use magic to get water, they will have to use more and more magic to produce the same amount of water, exhausting their crystals faster.

Maybe the "pollution" can be "purified" with time, or a specialized magic

And yes, this could be used by enemies during/before wars: they "pollute" a place they know will be used as a stronghold, but because they polluted it, it will be very crystal-expensive to cast spells there, and so harder to defend

EDIT : Using water magic could dry nearby areas, this could be why you can't use it on a big scale : the capital city could use water crystals, but if they do that too often, all nearby plants will die, townspeople will get skin problems, soil will turn to sand, walls will crumble...

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  • $\begingroup$ I do have a concept of magic pollution, yeah. Maybe it's just a scale thing, and if you do it too much without proper restrictions/safety measures, it can cause a lot of polluting. The restrictions keep it more low-scale or restricted to certain countries that can afford mass water production. $\endgroup$ – Inky Apr 29 at 14:27
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    $\begingroup$ I was thinking of it like soil quality : if you cultivate too much a field, its soil quality will decrease, and you'll end up using more and more resources to get crops (and their quality will worsen too) I thought that the crystals were like "mana batteries" and when their mana is empty, you had to throw it away and buy/use a new one $\endgroup$ – K4t on keyboard Apr 29 at 14:35
  • $\begingroup$ That's kind of the case, they break after overuse. $\endgroup$ – Inky Apr 29 at 14:38
  • $\begingroup$ I added some details and drawbacks, maybe it will suit you more edit : seems like I'm not the only one that got the idea $\endgroup$ – K4t on keyboard Apr 29 at 14:46
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Make it dangerous.

If you want to discourage someone from doing things like conjuring whole lakes (or razing a city, etc.) out of nowhere, but still want a magic system where that's technically possible, you can impose delayed but severe consequences for using magic in high quantities.

Maybe your magic disturbs "The Ether" in amounts proportional to "how much" magic you do in a given time. Small disturbances are just lost in the background noise of ongoing life and other magics, but a large one is like shining a lighthouse in a lamp-lit room. Someone or something out there is going to notice. And when they find you (and they will find you eventually)... [INSERT HORRIBLE FATE HERE]! Now your mages must weigh the need for huge amounts of water right-this-instant against the terrible price of unending torment or whatever happens to those poor fools dumb or desperate enough to tempt fate.

This has an added benefit of flexibility: It's up to you how much, if anything, mages know about what happens, and you get to be as vague as you want about what the cutoff is! Maybe wizards who do too much magic just vanish without a trace. Maybe they have some twisted version of the magic they did happen to them at a later time. How much is too much? Maybe people know exactly, maybe it seems totally random. The world is your oyster.

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I don't see the problem

I understand those crystals as magic batteries. So you have to store energy in it to do something with it. So the question pretty much is: What is magic in your world? You say it's some kind of elemental power... so you have to store water in the crystal to create water. So it's basically just the magic crystal version of a bottle. Yea, I know that sounds way less cool... but it's basically what those crystals do, right?

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