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John is a teleporter. He can teleport other people/objects along with himself. Teleportation is very fast - let's say one second per 1000 miles travelled. He needs to be touching something to teleport it with him.

But this is kind of overpowered - imagine a criminal is holding people hostage, and John just teleports in, touches him, and teleports the criminal straight to jail. So what kind of constraints would make this infeasible?

I currently have three ideas:

  1. You have to hold your breath while teleporting. If you try to breathe, you get sent back to where you started.
  2. You can't move while teleporting. Everything being teleported must be stationary with respect to John. If you move too much, you get send back to where you started.
  3. If you are a conscious being, you can't be teleported unless you want to.

I don't like any of these ideas so far: 1 and 2 makes it too difficult to teleport someone in an emergency. I want John to be able to jump in, grab someone in danger, and teleport them out. Even if I knew John and had teleported with him before, if I were in a dangerous situation and I suddenly felt like I was being sucked through a wormhole/speeding through space/went blind and deaf, I would instinctively try to flail around and breathe. 3 seems like a copout, and requires that the teleportation power is understanding of the intentions of other people. Also, it would fail in the previous situation because while in that dangerous situation I may want to escape but I certainly wouldn't be thinking, "I want to teleport with John".

So what kind of constraint would be reasonable so that people who really don't want to be teleported aren't, but people who don't mind or want to be teleported can be, without prior warning given to them?

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    $\begingroup$ Warning this This question needs to rephrase. As it's phrase now you're asking us to write your story for you. Instead think about each of the possible weaknesses. Think about questions Or problems You have with each Then turn that into 3 different questions. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 18, 2022 at 17:49
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    $\begingroup$ "People who really don't want to be xxxxed aren't, but people who don't mind or want to be xxxxed can be, without prior warning given to them": I am not sure that this is how consensual xxxxing works. In particular, taking somebody away without their freely given consent is abduction, a rather serious crime, isn't it? $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Aug 18, 2022 at 19:03
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    $\begingroup$ @BryanMcClure I don't understand how I'm asking you to write my story for me? I'm not even writing a specific story, I'm simply asking whether anyone has a solution to a sort-of-plothole that exists in any world with teleporting superheroes. $\endgroup$
    – otah007
    Commented Aug 18, 2022 at 20:34
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP I never used the word "consensual" - in fact consent as it's defined in law is certainly too strict for what I want. I actually want "anti-consent" - I can do it unless you explicitly don't want me to. Like pushing someone out of the way of a bus, or resuscitating someone: I don't need to ask for consent, but if you tell me not to then I won't (like a DNR order). $\endgroup$
    – otah007
    Commented Aug 18, 2022 at 20:35
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    $\begingroup$ The OP is asking for some plausible justification to explain the story that has already been designed. While I am not especially fond of most superhero stories, I see this question as being about worldbuilding the rules behind a superhero power. The OP has already decided what the character(s) with the power will and will not be doing with it, which is the storytelling element. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 19, 2022 at 0:03

16 Answers 16

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Three legged race

3 legged race

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three-legged_race

A three-legged race is a running event involving pairs of participants running with the left leg of one runner strapped to the right leg of another runner.

You can do a three legged race pretty well with practice and cooperation. A three legged race where the 2 racers do not cooperate is not a doable deal. So with teleportation. A sentient being teleported participates in the teleportation. Ideally it is like a 3 legged race, or maybe the first couple of times a dance where John leads. People who are used to teleporting with John participate more fully and I can imagine a scene where John is pretty much incapacitated and is grabbed by his partner who disappears with him - she knows how it works now and she can take the wheel. Teleportation as viewed by the participant could be fun to write.

An unwilling participant will not do his part. This might mean they don't disappear. It might also mean they do disappear but don't go where John is trying to go. There are a lot of ways teleportation can go wrong and a lot of them are dangerous for all involved including John, a lesson he learned young that cost him a foot.

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    $\begingroup$ So John provides the motive power but if he chooses to take someone else then both share the control. Neat idea, especially combined with a modified version of FuzzyChef's answer so they don't leave all their clothing and possessions behind. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 19, 2022 at 0:26
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    $\begingroup$ Teleportation with multiple people is like a three legged race in a maze full of spike traps and barbed-wire walls $\endgroup$
    – Hobbamok
    Commented Aug 19, 2022 at 9:05
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    $\begingroup$ I really like this idea - the person (if they are conscious) needs to actively participate. As John activates his power, anyone he is touching can feel the teleportation ability manifest within them also, and they need to willingly allow John to carry them along. Any kind of mental resistance means you can't be teleported, so only minimal warning is needed to mentally prepare. People John have teleported before can acquiesce instantly. This also makes it harder to (for example) rescue hostages - John needs to spend the time to explain to them that they need to relax their mind and acquiesce. $\endgroup$
    – otah007
    Commented Aug 19, 2022 at 10:54
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It only works if you jump!

There's a weight limit, you can only teleport up to 300 kg! And teleportation will apply to anything that touches you. This is transitive: your shirt touches you, and your backpack touches your shirt, your backpack gets brought with you. Air particles are far enough apart to act as an insulator.

This means that if your feet are on the ground, the teleportation will attempt to take the planet with you and it will fail - you will not move and nothing happens. You have to be in the air - a quick hop suffices.

So if you want to teleport someone you have to

  • convince them to hold hands and jump at the same time as you (easy for every day transportation with friends), or
  • if it's an injured person in an emergency, pick them up and jump as you carry them, or
  • if it's a villain: overpower them physically before you pick them up and jump as you carry them

This wouldn't stop your hero from teleporting unwilling people, but would make it quite a bit more difficult. He could still go into that hostage situation and be helpful without his abilities being overpowered.

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    $\begingroup$ Fantastic answer! I was working under the assumption that John can either selectively take/not take things he's touching (including transitively) or that massive things like buildings and the Earth don't count. Removing this assumption is a very compelling solution. $\endgroup$
    – otah007
    Commented Aug 22, 2022 at 16:43
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Everyone has some teleportation capability. It's just most people can't even move themselves, it's useless and not developed. However, it is enough that everyone can block being teleported if they are actively resisting.

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    $\begingroup$ I was about to write something of this kind. Teleportation is the ability to "unlock" yourself of your current coordinates. Everyone is constantly and unconciously keeping in mind where they are in space. John is able to conciously change his perception of his location. When he teleports someone, he makes the subject temporarily concious of this sense and suggest new coordinates. A subject which is unused to the process will accept by reflex unless they really want to stay where they are. People that are teleported often will refuse more easily (and could even learn to teleport) $\endgroup$
    – Jemox
    Commented Aug 19, 2022 at 9:03
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    $\begingroup$ This answer is true! Everyone has some teleportation capability! I can teleport the electrons of my atoms when I'm not observing them. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 19, 2022 at 20:49
  • $\begingroup$ Interesting solution. This makes teleportation an inherent power that all humans have, which wasn't the angle I was going for and wouldn't really work in the setting I had in mind (not a criticism as I didn't elaborate on the setting!), but there are definitely interesting ways this solution could be used. It would, however, require all unwilling people to be constantly "on guard". $\endgroup$
    – otah007
    Commented Aug 22, 2022 at 16:45
  • $\begingroup$ @otah007 Everyone has some capability but they're too weak to actually teleport--other than as an intellectual curiosity they wouldn't even know it. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 23, 2022 at 16:17
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A simple constraint would be: the teleporter has to be touching the person over a majority of one side of their body. That is, they can teleport someone that they give a full-body hug to, but not someone where they've only grabbed their wrist. While this wouldn't prevent some teleportation of uncooperative victims, it would make it much, much harder.

This would also have the advantage of being extendable to answer the other problem of "why can't they teleport a building", because of the requirement to be in contact with "most" of the thing being teleported. They can teleport their clothes or a backpack, but not a car.

This can either work via some kind of contact principle, or via the teleporter having a "sphere of influence" that anything being teleported has to be inside. The latter is more scientific-sounding, but does lead to the problem of "well, can they teleport part of a person?"

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  • $\begingroup$ I like the idea, but a bit of a problem is that while this explains how the teleporter can move themselves and one layer of clothing, it requires both the teleporter and the subject to be naked or nearly so in order for there to be sufficient contact. Possibly there needs to be a threshold number of points + area of skin contact between the teleporter's body and what they are bringing along. Contact can't be "conductive" through most items or the teleporter will try to bring the ground along with them. Which makes a backpack problematic (continued) $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 19, 2022 at 0:15
  • $\begingroup$ (continued) even if the teleporter has cut-out sections in their clothing to let their skin touch the backpack, the teleporter can't be touching all the contents of the backpack (or the contents of their own pockets). Maybe if an item is being teleported then everything fully enclosed in that item also comes along? Note that while the teleporter can design their clothing to allow for this, a "passenger" is likely to lose their coat, shoes etc that are only touching clothing rather than their own skin. Agree that having a "sphere of influence" is very problematic. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 19, 2022 at 0:18
  • $\begingroup$ @KerrAvon2055 make the idea of contact transitive. e.g. if you are wearing a shirt and I place my hand on your shoulder it would still count: my hand is in contact with your shirt, your shirt is in contact with you, therefore my hand in is contact with you. Air would be an insulator because the gas particles are too far apart. $\endgroup$
    – Aubreal
    Commented Aug 19, 2022 at 16:30
  • $\begingroup$ Transitive contact + distance. That is, if the objects are all in contact in a chain and within a few mm of each other. This prevents "I'm touching the end of this highway, let's teleport all the cars". It also occurs to me that you must require teleportation to work with "complete" objects, otherwise you'll be constantly teleporting chunks of ground. $\endgroup$
    – FuzzyChef
    Commented Aug 19, 2022 at 17:05
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Every person has a natural energy field that interferes with your teleporter's power. Perhaps the field reacts in some way to conscious thought processes, and is generally too chaotic for the power to deal with. The only way the power can get a grip of the target is if they make a conscious effort to let it happen, which smoothes out their energy field enough for the power to get a hold. An unconscious person has a smooth energy field, except during REM when it's super chaotic. This lets you take a wounded, unconsious person out of danger and deposit them at your local emergency department for treatment, but stops you from teleporting explosives into your enemies... not that you'd ever do anything like that, 'cause you're a Good Guy, amirite?

On the other hand, perhaps this is an expression of the mind/body duality problem. A conscious person's mind is anchored to the physical world via its' connection to the body, and that anchor is strong enough to interfere with your ability to move the body around. The mind can make a conscious choice to let the teleport happen, releasing the locality and focusing on the body itself. When unconscious the mind is untethered from reality, only bond to the body itself, and thus offers no resistance to the power.

Depending on how super powers work in your world, maybe there's something inherent in the power framework that just imposes these arbitrary-seeming rules on your Supers. Teleporter A has a restriction that stops her from ever moving a person without conscious consent, even when they're knocked out. Teleporter B can only teleport a smaller amount, but at longer range and with no consent restriction. Teleporter C lucked out and can move basically unlimited amounts of mass (and people) to anywhere they've ever seen with their own eyes... but they can't move platinum atoms at all for some reason. No two people have exactly the same restrictions, and nobody knows why: it just is.

Or maybe you do know why. Just you, the guy who vets all the Supes and, without them ever knowing, implant deep hypnotic compulsions in them to ensure they don't go completely out of control. Teleporter who can move people? That's dangerous, let's make it so they can't make it work unless they really, really believe the person wants it. After all, nobody should be trusted with that much power.

Except you, of course. You're doing this for The Greater Good after all.

What could possibly go wrong? {cue thunder and lightning}

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After re-reading the question (and some comments) I see that the author wants an opt-out mechanism, not an opt-in mechanism. So, for example, John should be able to teleport unconscious humans or animals or objects - just not something that actively does not want to be teleported.

So I think this makes it simple then - teleportation just takes time. John cannot just touch you and go. He needs to touch you for at least 30 seconds before a jump. And the touch needs to stay at the same place. Good luck doing that with an armed criminal!

Now, this might also diminish usability in some emergencies (like a burning building where you have only seconds to get the orphans to safety)... but most emergencies will still work just fine and John will have ample opportunity for hero work.

Added: A variation on this is that John doesn't need to touch anyone, but he teleports everything at a certain radius - and takes time to expand that radius. John can teleport himself instantly anywhere, but it takes about 30 seconds to make a sphere big enough to fully include a human next to him (and you do want to include them fully...).

In addition, the radius is clearly visible - it's like a green glowing sphere around him. Impossible not to notice even if you're standing with your back to him on a bright sunny day. Well, unless you're blind. Since John is a bit of a celebrity and his powers are well known, anyone seeing him and not wanting to teleport will run away quickly... or worse.

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  • $\begingroup$ Or John needs to perform a long incantation, chanting for 30 minutes before they are able to move (perhaps giving the directions to the benefactor of bra answer?). Teleportation itself is very fast, which that makes up for the long preparation... most of times. It's still useful to teleport out the hostages or someone unconscious, but not suitable for the criminal. And sometimes it's quicker to go by foot. $\endgroup$
    – Ángel
    Commented Aug 21, 2022 at 20:52
  • $\begingroup$ This is a good solution, although it makes it difficult to teleport in a hurry. $\endgroup$
    – otah007
    Commented Aug 22, 2022 at 16:48
  • $\begingroup$ @otah007 - Well, you can assume that the initial radius is just about big enough for himself (and maybe his clothing... Maybe not 😉) so he can teleport himself away quickly, but not take others with him. $\endgroup$
    – Vilx-
    Commented Aug 22, 2022 at 20:41
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Teleportation is based on the subjectiveness of the people being teleported.

Teleportation needs tons of rulesets to make sense. For example you need to teleport relative to the center of the planet, gain a different velocity and direction similar to the local earth surface and re-orient your body to remain upright in the gravitational pull.

But then you also have to teleport your clothes, how does the teleportation know where do your shoes end? And if you teleport with naked feet you dont suddenly teleport with a shoe thickness of dirt beneath it right? And if you grab some object you cant just cut it in half by teleporting half of it away right?

So teleportation requires the subjective idea's of the people being teleported to judge what and how its teleported. If the subject you are trying to teleport is unwilling and hasnt prepared himself for a teleport they wont teleport.

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John's teleportation is not something that he does through his own power. Instead, John has been given a gift by his benefactor, a powerful entity that exists outside of time and space as we know it. When John "teleports", he merely decides where he wants to be and communicates that to his benefactor telepathically. The powerful benefactor reaches out through the fabric of space, yanks John in a direction that he didn't know existed, and places him at that target location. John gets to experience a brief, indescribable trip through the ether, but to any outside observer he simply teleported to another location.

After using this gift for a while, John noticed something. To this powerful entity, humans are tiny, insignificant things and are difficult to tell apart from the other side of the cosmos. The telepathic link with John is the only way it can pick him out of a crowd. If John is in close enough physical proximity to another human and they are both thinking the exact same thought, the benefactor won't even notice the second human. They'll look like they're part of John. When the benefactor grabs John it will grab the other person as well, enabling them to hitch a ride in the same way that your shadow hitches a ride with you as you travel.

That means that John can teleport other people, but with some important restrictions. The other person must be very close to John. That person must also make a conscious effort to synchronize their thoughts with John. Someone who doesn't want to teleport or isn't aware of John's presence wouldn't be able to synchronize their thoughts and thus wouldn't be included in the teleport.

That also opens up some potentially-interesting plot options for you. What happens if the tagalong gets distracted at the last second and thinks about something else? Could John attempt to involuntarily teleport someone by tricking them into thinking about something specific? What if John teleported out of a tightly-packed train car and the person next to him was thinking the same thing by coincidence? Will the benefactor gets confused when John's long-lost evil twin shows up?

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  • $\begingroup$ which causes some issues for John when he needs someone to think on the benefactor entity he doesn't believe in, in order to convince him of his powers :D $\endgroup$
    – Ángel
    Commented Aug 21, 2022 at 20:39
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It's a mental ability. Why wouldn't it be based on mental agreement?

For two or more people, there's a kind of synchronization based on their all desiring to teleport that enables him to do it.

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Teleportation involves time travel - sort of

You protagonist may not be able to explain it, or even realize it himself, but if someone doesn't want to have been teleported,they never were. It fails retroactively. Therefore, people cannot be teleported against their will.

Yes, I realize this treads all over the territory you wanted to avoid, of having the teleportation "understand" what people want. But it solves a problem you didn't even bring up!

You cannot accidentally teleport somewhere you wouldn't want to arrive at, for the same reason why you can't teleport somone against their will - you would be very unhappy about teleporting into a wall, or onto the sun, or to the bottom of the ocean. And for that same reason, the hostage-taker cannot be teleported into prison. (But maybe you could teleport him into an unguarded bank vault... because sometimes it works if it's somewhere the person didn't know they wanted to be.)

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  • $\begingroup$ This is a really cool idea, although as you say it is essentially the same as my third idea. $\endgroup$
    – otah007
    Commented Aug 19, 2022 at 10:50
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John has the power to trigger the teleport on himself and anyone he touches, but where each person is teleported to depends on having a picture of the destination in their mind.

Without an image of a destination they won't be teleported at all.

This also opens up the possibility of being teleported to a random but familiar place (hostage thinks "I want to get out of here").

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  • $\begingroup$ And this creates a loophole for teleporting an unwilling person. John says "Don't think of the Great Temple in Megalopolis," and of course they instantly think of it, and he teleports them there. $\endgroup$
    – Peter Shor
    Commented Aug 21, 2022 at 15:50
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Everyone can almost teleport

Imagine that the average person has about 90% of the telekinetic skill needed to teleport. John has 110%. Below 100% per person, nothing happens; the mass is too large (and telefragmentation is forbidden).

A willing person contributes 90% and John puts in 110%, resulting in 200%, enough to teleport two people. An unwilling person puts in 0%, and thus can't be moved.

For fun, some people could have more or less skill, or more or less willingness; one person might be a near teleporter with 99%, and thus hardly a burden to John even if their twin comes along too; another might have only 50% and be unteleportable, or nigh on.

Someone with severe depression might not be able to muster all their latent jump ability. Or a certain drug might enhance it temporarily. Maybe different degrees of unwillingness matter. Handwave as needed.

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Teleporting is a three stage process: First John needs to put the part of his surrounding that he wants to teleport into his teleportation bubble. In the second step he needs to establish a mental connection to his destination. Only the third step is the actual teleportation.

During the second step John is extremely vulnerable to his current surroundings as all his senses are turned towards the destination. This is usually no problem as this happens in less than a second. However it is only so quick as in Johns teleportation bubble the time runs faster. Thus a person being inside has about 7 minutes to burst the bubble or even attack John. The other person might still be transported unwillingly if they did not react in time. However John should rather not rely on this and strongly prefer willing passengers (or passengers weakened enough through accidents that they cannot do any harm while getting teleported to the hospital).

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I think everyone here have overlooked an important point, which is that by teleporting John gets tired. The more mass he moves, and the further they go, the more exhausted he arrives.

So let's examine the situation where we have a criminal with a gun holding hostage a bunch of people. For simplicity, suppose John was amongst them, so he doesn't even need to get there in advance. Technically, John could touch the criminal and teleport him to a jail (if there is a nearby one). But John would arrive with the criminal, which would immediately shot him point blank.

Even without firearms, you should note that John arrives exhausted after every jump, and will need to rest for several hours before being able to teleport again. A lesson he learned very soon was that teleporting someone to a place they don't want to be, usually ends with them punching in the face a John too tired to even cover himself.

The evaluation of the intentions of other people is not done by his power, but by the teleporter himself.

That's why people who really don't want to be teleported aren't, but people who don't mind or want to be teleported can be.

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  • $\begingroup$ With that constraint, it would still be easier to teleport the criminal than just the hostages. I think the OP needs something that prevents the current teleportation, not something that prevents a follow-up teleportation. $\endgroup$
    – toolforger
    Commented Aug 22, 2022 at 6:01
  • $\begingroup$ @toolforger John could teleport the criminal, but would likely end up dead. Teleporting the hostages, he will be an hero for them. You could play with how tiring it is to teleport one more person vs the whole effort of disappearing and reappearing so teleporting multiple people isn't too much of a difference vs one. $\endgroup$
    – Ángel
    Commented Aug 25, 2022 at 22:22
  • $\begingroup$ Sure, John would risk being shot. However, the criminal would then charge a murder charge instead of hostage-taking, given near-certain conviction on either charge. It depends a bit on local culture, but unless the criminals are in a nothing-to-lose or drug craze, it's very likely to work. It wouldn't be risk-free, obviously, but then freeing hostages never is, teleporting or not. $\endgroup$
    – toolforger
    Commented Aug 26, 2022 at 10:18
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Quantum mechanics and observation

Quantum mechanics is full with things that we don't understand. That means it's easy to bend into shapes that fit the narrative.

We can see with the double slit experiment that things can change with an observation. In one way it's a wave, the other classic particles.

Next we have Quantum tunneling. This is because of some uncertainty that a particle can 'teleport' short distances. This doesn't require energy and go 'through' obstacles as far as we can tell. Your teleportation can work the same. The teleporter makes themselves and any object or person uncertain. The teleporter does this in such a way that it initiates Quantum tunneling all at once, towards the location of her/his choosing.

Now we start to bend the rules further. Observation in a certain way will make someone certain of their location. In this case, observing you do not want to teleport is enough to keep you at your place. If you do want to be teleported, your observation will allow the uncertainty, thus the Quantum tunneling.

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    $\begingroup$ This is quite the bastardisation of quantum mechanics, which I'm really not fond of. $\endgroup$
    – otah007
    Commented Aug 19, 2022 at 10:48
  • $\begingroup$ "Observer" in QM, in Nils Bohr's time, just meant "measuring apparatus". Using this answer will immediately break suspension of disbelief for anybody who knows basic QM concepts. $\endgroup$
    – toolforger
    Commented Aug 20, 2022 at 6:51
  • $\begingroup$ @toolforger that is of course the greatest fear. Suspension of disbelief is shattered for those QM people when we talk about teleportation and resisting it if the person doesn't want to. $\endgroup$
    – Trioxidane
    Commented Aug 20, 2022 at 11:34
  • $\begingroup$ Sarcasm is not a valid answer. $\endgroup$
    – toolforger
    Commented Aug 22, 2022 at 6:03
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Teleportation is an effect of mind and probably quantum related. Trying to teleport an unwilling sentient resulting in failure to teleport them would be a blocking effect of their unwilling mind on the quantum process. Knock them out to port.

All the overreaching aspects of ‘breathing makes it fail’, or moving, etc. sound like the capricious and entirely subjective choices of a dungeon master on spell effects and best avoided.

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