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I'm working on a set of supernatural creatures, their powers and their culture/social structure.

One of these races have the power to make gifts appear out of thin air. They can be anything from spell book to smartphone and their one and only recipient must be present when they are created. These gifts are either something the recipient wants, needs, or would love to own even if they don't know it yet.

This is for now their only power. They are otherwise humans.

The main problem is that beings able to create anything from atomic bombs to boxes full of diamonds would be way too powerful. They risk becoming basically gods or being kidnapped by other creatures and milked for useful and expensive goods.

Another problem is that they may be too "santa-like" to be interesting as characters. A creature that only appears to give protagonists exactly what they need would turn the story into a stream of "Deus ex machina" moments.

My goal is to have them being powerful enough so they can have a good social rank in the underworld (which is basically a network of magical mafias), but not become godlike figures. They also need to face some sort of human struggles (emotional/familial/economical) to keep them from becoming too artificial.

I thought of three different ways to restrain their power, but none of them is satisfying:

  • Feelings : They can only give awesome gifts to the people they like, and useless junk to the rest. Problem: thanks to the Stockholm syndrome, it wouldn't prevent the kidnappings.

  • Dates : Their power only works on birthdays/Christmas/Hanukkah/Weddings/Eid/etc., but it would make them too predictable and boring. Plus, how to choose which holidays to use?

  • Sanity : Easy but lazy rule. They could be all insane and thus easy to fit into any story, since their behavior wouldn't need to be consistent.


Questions :

What do you think of these 3 possible rules?

How could I keep them fun without turning them into insane trolls or "Deus ex machina" characters?

You can use any set of rules you want, or even give them additional (related) powers and personality traits.

EDIT :

The gift generated are literal gifts, they appear inside boxes, packed in colorful paper. When a gift appears, no one know what's inside, not even the creature itself.

I'm looking for the simplest way to limit these creatures power, without altering them too much.

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  • $\begingroup$ Note: I'm not a native English speaker, please tell me if I made any grammatical errors. $\endgroup$ – Babika Babaka Aug 31 '15 at 14:02
  • $\begingroup$ I don't see any grammatical errors, but you did misspell Hanukkah. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Aug 31 '15 at 14:17
  • $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre Thank you, it's corrected. $\endgroup$ – Babika Babaka Aug 31 '15 at 14:19
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    $\begingroup$ This reminds me of Coco from Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends. She had all three of your restraints, and was still a Deus Ex Machina machine and a troll. $\endgroup$ – DaaaahWhoosh Aug 31 '15 at 14:57
  • $\begingroup$ One solution you can toy with: It's very expensive for them to create a gift out of thin air on a whim, but some gifts are easier in some conditions than others (including the mindset of the intended recipient). An entity that can convince people to want the right gifts at the right time will have a much easier life than one that simply exerts effort in a vain attempt to make everyone happy all the time. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Aug 31 '15 at 15:30
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Alternate Rules

  1. Make each gift have a cost to the giver. Greater gifts have a greater cost. The cost increases proportional to the amount the receiver wants it. A diamond ring for someone who's starving won't cost anything, though a loaf of bread will cost a great deal.
  2. Make the cost be something that the giver doesn't want to pay such great pain, loss of a pleasant memory or a shred of sanity (for really big gifts). Depending on the needs of the story, this resource can be renewable or not: Pain goes away but sanity doesn't come back.
  3. Givers are tricksters so that they never give what they were explicitly asked for but they do give what the giver really wants or needs. So a request for the gift of bread might be met with the gift of a diamond that can be traded for lots of bread. This does two things. It cuts down the risk the giver can be manipulated because there's no 1:1 mapping between requests and receipts. As a storytelling mechanic, this gives the author a tricky method of foreshadowing or character exposition. Giving what the asker needs but may not want allows the giver to avoid the penalties and costs of Rule #2.

Insane givers or just slightly deranged ones are never ever boring.

Implications of these rules

Perhaps a giver can be forced to give lots of gifts, say coal in the winter-time but forcing them to do so eventually kills giver or renders them unable to exercise their gift.

Forcing a cost on each gift ensure that givers don't turn into infinite resource machines.

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  • $\begingroup$ That's a very Fae way to do things! :) $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Sep 3 '15 at 9:11
  • $\begingroup$ The cost could be to the recipient as well. You need a spell book? Great, but it'll cost you 12 years of YOUR life. $\endgroup$ – Flotolk Sep 4 '15 at 0:36
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This is for now their only power. They are otherwise humans.

This means, that they have limited lifespans, right? In this case, the most valuable thing they have is time, because this is the only thing they cannot create. This give you two choices:

  1. Each creation shortens their lifespan
  2. Each creation takes a lot of time to create. Or even better: the time to create a gift (no matter if big or small) increases each time the power is used.

In the first case, they have to pay for for each gift with their lives (literally, although the payment is conveniently postponed). That would make them think: "Is this gift/this person really worth it?"

Oh, and any kidnapper too smart for his own good would find in the morning a dead body covered with leaflets saying "thou shall not hold others against their will".

The second case is even more interesting. You can create scenes like "will she create the antidote before the toxin kicks in"? "Will he decide to spend next year doing nothing, but creating the ring for the love of his life?" You can put them in some state of suspended animation for the creation time, to solve problems like sleep and nutrition.

If you choose to have creation time increase with each gift it gives you easy way to use this power a lot while setting up the plot, and use it only in most dire situations later on. It can be part of the story arc: character learns to rely on himself instead of on powers.

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I think the most important part of this is that they don't give gift cards, they give gifts. That means two things:

1) - You shouldn't know beforehand what you're getting, and

2) - The gift-giver should give you something that reflects their own personality.

This way, someone who wants, say, a nuke, won't always get one. The first gift-giver they find might be a pacifist, and gives them something they want, but nothing that will kill anyone. The next gift-giver might be on board with violence, but enjoys the simple things in life; thus, the gift is a knife (which is always useful). Even if there is a gift-giver who can and will create a nuke for someone, they might not do it for this guy; again, gifts are part of a relationship, so in order to get the things you really want, you'll have to make sure the gift-giver really knows you. Otherwise, it's anyone's guess which one of your myriad needs and desires will be fulfilled. Plus, maybe without a relationship the gifts you get will be small.

To add to this, and make the process of gift-giving special, why not make it a one-time event? Everyone can only get one gift per gift-giver. So maybe there's one thing you want, and you only know one guy who can give it to you. You're going to make sure to be nice to this guy, and spend a lot of time with him, and make sure you get to know each other, before you ask for your gift. Only then can you be sure that what you get is what you expect to get.

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    $\begingroup$ Then of course there's the fact that if you befriend a giver for the sole purpose of getting a gift, either the giver will be offended when you finally pop the question (because I'm sure this sort of thing would happen often), or you would never ask the question because you really did become friends. $\endgroup$ – No Name Oct 8 '17 at 21:41
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Well one possible choice is the appearance of insanity. Like the Malkavian in the World of Darkness. They were considered insane by the other vampires but they saw the world in a very different light. Often giving cryptic advice that if one bothered to pay attention to it, could be very useful later.

So gifts might be strange or obviously useful, you might not even know how until much later. A piece of lore would be to never ignore/toss/lose something given to you by a Deus Ex, of course the practical jokers might have a lot of fun with that.

I would also expect for the power, it's not like a genii, "I wish for a million dollars". But is more esoteric, using some of the targets subconscious. This means that a terrorist wanting to blow up the White House, might receive a Koran and a prayer mat.

Some of this might be controlled by the personality of the Deus Ex, Say a joker might have a picture of Mickey mouse on the prayer mat, another might have the Koran opened to a particularly important verse admonishing the perpetrator for his actions.

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I see two good options for limiting them. Firstly, make their power costly in the following way: you can only get something you want by giving up something else you want at least as much, without knowing what that will be. (Making it tit-for-tat just means that they become gods of trade.) If you ask for great wealth, the genie might age you twenty years in exchange. If you ask for eternal youth, you might lose all your limbs.

Secondly, make the power have no common sense. If you ask to get out of a burning building, a gas main blows up. If you ask for water when you're dying of thirst in the desert, you get water, but nothing to store it in. The key here is to make each gift be a very good way to give what the person thought of (e.g. "I need water"), but never what the person actually wanted (e.g. "I need to not die of thirst" - which will result in the gift being a bomb). For example, giving someone infected water is not a good twist unless the gift is actually teleporting things from elsewhere and the nearest water source is a sewer. This method makes the gift extremely dangerous to use, including for the giver and any bystanders. The best way to employ it is to ask for very precise, simple things, such as "an exact copy of the sword I was wearing yesterday".

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What if they could make anything, but were limited by the natural resources available around them? They could draw water from the ground, but only if their was a source nearby.

They could create anything even machines or technology only if they could draw (steal) the resources they need, copper, plastics, energy. Junk yards might be a great place for them to hang out.

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Perhaps you should look more into where these people come from. Even if limited, it is a very potent gift. Given that someone will invariably try to kidnap them and they can't use the gits for themselves, it seems almost like a curse... what if it is?

What if someone, a long time ago, was granted a genuine Wish - and wished for the ability to have wishes, that would go to his children and their children's children? The deity in question had a bad day, annoyed by yet another smart-ass wishing for unlimited wishes, or was a great trickster to begin with.

The result is a (sub)race of humans with a potentially great power, pursued by anybody with half a brain. (Anybody with a complete brain will be extremely careful around them.)

Limitations

In addition to the other limitations mentioned, consider these:

The gifters can only create one gift per person, ever. In addition, the gifts are suited to the gifted person in unlikely ways, often turning their life one their heads. Warlord trying to conquer the world? Give him a toy he lost a child to remind him what he really lacks.

The gifters have no choice over the gifts, the benign or trickster deity is still calling the shots.

The gifters could be also bound by the name of their originator, leading to a strong love/hate relationship and attempts to purge his name from existence. They will do their utmost to avoid being discovered for what they are.

There is probably at least one organization bent on exterminating these people.

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A potential (and I think very flexible) way would be if the giving of gifts attract the attention of other; more malignant forces. Occasionally giving small gifts goes unnoticed, but constant giving of gifts or creating large, impressive gifts causes some form of extra-dimensional beings/spirits/secret organisation of assassins/irritated Elder Gods to notice, locate and 'deal with' not only the giver of gifts but also anyone/anything nearby.

This allows for a lot of character development, doesn't require that the giver have any personality traits in particular (though the extravagant, foolish or incautious among them will die off pretty quickly) and gives plenty of scope for adding in extra plot elements. Fear of the gift givers leading to societal isolation, a gift giver taking hostages and threatening to make a stash of diamonds, incidental bystanders trying to survive the eldritch horror summoned by an ill considered birthday present, there are load of plot elements you can use.

The biggest problem with this is that the gift giver isn't in control of what gets made. If they go to give a gift to someone who says they want a puppy, but in actual fact wants a slavishly obedient oompah band (it might happen, you never know!), the gift giver is going to accidentally call down the wrath of whatever being/organisation/natural disaster you're using, killing everyone nearby and leading to a lot of melted brass instruments.

Ok, that last example was a bit odd, but the point stands. Perhaps if they had a way to gauge the 'size' of a gift before it was given, it might help. an innate ability, perhaps, or only being able to give gifts explicitly asked for and greatly desired by the recipient, otherwise...

"Can you make me a nuclear bomb?"

"Not unless you really like tentacles ripping your face off..."

"How about a puppy?"

"Fine!"

Cue trombones, followed by screaming

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