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Background
Water is a very mysterious figure. He doesn't say much, he doesn't do much, but he is also at the forefront of an elite group of like-minded magic users. Water knows trust magic.

With his magic, Water could, for instance, raise a person's trust in himself when faced with nervous or critical circumstances. He could also render a man utterly devoid of self-trust, leading to episodes of hopelessness and depression, not to mention being useless in day-to-day activities and combat. He could lead a whole population and form a religion whose sole purpose is devoted to worshipping the almighty non-existent giant spaghetti monster.

But Water is a good guy in our story. There are believers, then there are haters. Water was thought to be a fraud by many, for could he not merely lift his finger, figuratively speaking, to gain himself loyal followers? At least that's one reason that failed to escape the sceptics' clench. Those who knew Water, however, understand that it was good enough of him not to extend his power to convert those who do not trust him.

Question

  1. Is the background psychologically sound?
  2. How can it be used in combat?

For the second question, I am looking at a scale of combat typically seen in mainstream battle manga where the fight is mostly one-on-one, and occasionally involving small (<1k, say) groups of people.
However, having Water acting as a strategist behind a full-fledge war is also an interesting possibility that I have considered. For example, a mastermind that wreak havoc the enemy lines by coordinating betrayals or planting spies that never have to worry about being exposed. I am rather happy with Water's potential on this scale (unless you also have something more to add! :) ), so I would like to hear some input regarding a smaller combat where Water is directly involved in the fight himself.

Best answer will be given to the use of trust in combat that are

  • creative - The fight wouldn't be too interesting if all Water does is tricking his opponent to not fight him.
  • subtle - What if Water actually does nothing but merely tells his opponent the nature of his ability? Simply by knowing that what you are trusting right now may be false can throw chaos to one's decisions.
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  • $\begingroup$ Hi sllnJin, welcome to Worldbuilding SE. Your question is interesting. But I fear that the second and third questions are a bit too open-ended. As such they can be very hard to answer, and is not what we expect of questions. You might consider to edit your question, to provide some kind of frame or, try to provide an answer to: how are you going to judge the best answer? Maybe consider removing the second question completely, and ask it as a separate follow-up question later. $\endgroup$ – clem steredenn Nov 26 '15 at 8:38
  • $\begingroup$ Hello bilbo_pingouin, I have tried to make changes according to your suggestions :) I am glad you find it interesting. $\endgroup$ – Little Pillow Nov 26 '15 at 8:57
  • $\begingroup$ I don't think your idea of subtle wouldn't work, for the main reason, your opponent would have to believe Water has such power. Most grunts in the trenches would give it a fleeting thought and continue on fighting. Grunts tend to do as their ordered. It takes quite a bit of goings on to convince them to fight otherwise. $\endgroup$ – Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 Nov 26 '15 at 11:52
  • $\begingroup$ Hi Paulster2, my example for subtlety was a quick one off the top of my head. It was an idea that relies on how effective it is if your opponent could no longer trust his/her own judgement. I will have to give your point a little more thoughts. Nevertheless, that criterion was there to reflect Water's calm and collected character (as opposed to a flashy sort of criterion, say). $\endgroup$ – Little Pillow Nov 26 '15 at 12:36
  • $\begingroup$ Hi sllnJin, does Water have limits? How many people can he manipulate at the same time? Does he grow tired and have some cool-down time for his ability? Is the magic limited by distance/substance/power of the almighty giant spaghetti monster (you convinced me)? $\endgroup$ – Nahshon paz Nov 26 '15 at 15:41
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The answer to your first answer is yes, of course. If you look in the many disciplines of martial arts, many will refuse to force their friends to agree with them, so you have many examples to draw upon for exploring how this can occur.

One powerful approach you can use to limit Water's abilities is to make its trust increasing abilities symmetric. He cannot increase someone's trust in him without increasing his trust in them. He also cannot decrease anyone's trust except for the ability to decrease trust in himself (yes, this is an ability... trust me ;-) ).

Why those strange rules? Because I have a soft spot for the systems that evolve from that point outwards, and because it builds a lot of the behaviors your describe in your post from building blocks that are simple enough to be turned into hard magic or soft magic as you please.

Symmetric trust is an interesting concept because it makes it very hard to see where the boundary of your "self" ends and the other's "self" begins. Take a physical example. You are rock climbing, and you thrust your hand out to a handold. It curls around the hold, tensing to support your weight. You trust your hand to hold fast, and not decide to wave to the cute girl on the ground. Likewise, the hand trusts you to not, say, put it palm down onto a hot stove (yikes!). This seems intuitive, because you consider your hand to be part of your "self."

Now consider the person you would trust with anything. You know that if you asked them to hide a body, they'd go do it. Likewise, they trust that you wont throw them away carelessly, letting the cops pick them up when they discover the hidden body unless there was a good reason for it. What do you call this person? Your right hand man. Coincidence? I don't think so.

Thus, its reasonable to model Water's ability as one which allows water to blend with his foes or his friends. Once he does this, his merest thought can become a hallucination in the other fighter's mind, making him think there's an opening to attack when there is not. But now there's a catch: Water has to believe there is an opening there too. If he overuses this ability, he may find himself reduced to a quivvering pile of goo, incapable of doing anything because he believes he has weaknesses everywhere. It is Water's best interests to do just enough with his abilities to finish the fight off with his actual combat skills.

Water's second ability is just as important as his first: he has to be able to break free. Otherwise he will carry with him remnants of every fighter he ever fought as everything they believed circles around in him. He needs to be able to doubt himself, but how does that interact with symmetry? It implies that he doesn't necessarily get to choose what part of him gets doubted, he just has to accept whatever that doubt is, and maneuver it to split his personality in half.

Visualize this: Water could be treated as a cell, perhaps a white blood cell. Water reaches out and finds a bacteria. First, he brings it into himself, letting his cell wall engluph the bacteria. It is now a part of him, as empowered as any other organelle in his body. He then instigates doubt, cleaving his cell wall, doubting the value of himself so long as he has the bacteria. The cell wall is pulled inward to surround the bacteria with a lipid barrier, still inside the cell. As far as the bacteria is concerned, it is still part of Water's white blood cell. Finally, surrounded in what is called a lysome, the "suicide bag" of the cellular system. It immediately begins receiving a transfusion of very non-trust based attacks such as acids and enzymes, and is killed. The remains of the bacteria are either then disposed of, or carried along as inert examples to the lymphatic system for analysis.

Its very hard for bacteria to prepare for this lysing effect, because they don't get to see the enzymes and acids that get injected into a lysome. They're never present outside of the cell wall. Those hateful vengeful compounds are only let loose on a part of the cell that the cell truly hates and wishes to destroy.

Meanwhile, you have Influenza, the flu virus. This is the human cell's worst foe... the yin to its yang. Influenza knows that, as a virus, it can't do anything until it is permitted the privileged of being part of a cell, so it simply attaches to one, and waits to be drawn in. Once inside the cell, it still doesn't do anything, because it knows its being invited in on a temporary basis. The cell quickly builds a lysome around the flu virus and begins pumping it full of hate.

That's where Influenza gets weird. It has a protien on it which is rather uniquely suited for this event. When the pH goes low enough (acidic enough), the protien denatures, losing its form. In the center of this protien, hidden from everything else including the cell that captured it, is a non-polar segment. A non-polar section of protien really wants to find non-polar stuff to embed itself in (the water-based suicide mixture it is bathing in is decided polar), so it flies out like a grappling hook and embeds itself in the lipid wall of the lysome. Once there, it undergoes yet another denaturing act, basically hauling in the line of the grappling hook, pulling the virus right up through the wall of the lysome.

Now the virus is where it wants to be. The cell thinks it's fully encased in the lysome, and so the cell is trusting itself to continue manufacturing protiens. But influenza is still within the cell's "trust" region, the cytoplasm. It begins slyly leaking instructions into the machinery, and... well... you've almost certainly felt the result of this at least once in your life unless you get the vaccine every year!

This also creates a wide array of rationales for why Water doesn't just use his trust magic on all of his friends. Its hard to make a large system that is trustworthy unless it is segmented into parts. Consider, the mind uses neural impulses to tell the muscles to contract, but never once does it decide "you know, you muscle fibers really should all just be part of the nearest neuron." They allow for specialization.

For more fun, consider a more complicated example. In the cellular metaphor, trust is binary: you're on the inside, or you're on the outside. Consider a system which has shades of trust, and how that would affect his abilities to reach out and touch others. The sky's the limit here!

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    $\begingroup$ Hi, Cort Ammon. I will have to slowly digest your answer and hopefuly request a less technical analogy for the parts starting from the visualisation. Apart from that I think Water being able to blend in with his subjects tethered on trust is super cool. The sheer coincidence of the subtle connection between this and the name Water is also amazing. I also like the reflexivity idea, but is symmetry more appropriate? $\endgroup$ – Little Pillow Nov 26 '15 at 18:40
  • $\begingroup$ @sllnJin You are absolutely right. I got my mathematical properties mixed up! $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Nov 26 '15 at 18:45
  • $\begingroup$ And there are other analogies that one can take. I happen to like the cellular one because its far enough from human-to-human interactions as to not confine you into one way of thinking, and yet close enough to make you wonder, and on top of it, its real life biology, so it's hard to argue with its believably =) (That and because influenza is pretty darn bad ass) $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Nov 26 '15 at 18:47
  • $\begingroup$ This answer is accepted particularly because its creativity exceeds my imagination, and the ability for Water to blend in with the subject is subtle enough. $\endgroup$ – Little Pillow Nov 29 '15 at 9:12
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    $\begingroup$ This is my favorite piece of writing on this site so far :) I would add that Water is a very apt name for this character. To quote Bruce Lee: “You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water my friend.” Water has to trust that he will remain whole as he gives in to doubt. He needs some kind of meta-trust in that even if the magic changes him, a part of him - his essence - will endure. $\endgroup$ – Stephane Dec 12 '15 at 0:35
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Ok. Lets assume for a second that Water has complete trust (no pun intended) in his ability to both completely manipulate peoples trust and understand it. Water can both completely understand where his opponents trust lies, and tweak it however he likes. (On a side note, you could also make this power something he grows to learn over time, rather than what he starts with, but that's beside the point right now).

For one on one fights, because you don't want him to simply trick his opponent into not fighting him you need to do two things.

  1. There needs to be some sort of expensive or difficult way to defend against or reduce his mind magic. Otherwise, everytime he gets into a fight with the next bad ass enemy, he could simply raise their trust in him to the max, effectively forcing them to listen to him and stop fighting. Even if he does have morals preventing himself from doing that to someone, when he gets into an extremely dire situation, those morals are going to fly out the window, and that might begin to annoy your readers.

  2. He needs to know how to fight. He doesn't need to be the very best, in fact he shouldn't be the best at swordplay or whatever weapon you decide to give him. Water should be able to, with a small amount of difficulty, be able to take out the lowest grunts without his trust magic. Otherwise he simply wont even be able to begin having any sort of fight with others.

Now that we have that out of the way, lets focus on ways he could do combat.

One vs. One

  • Manipulate the trust they have to make them believe that they are going to be hit in a moment, making them defend immediately
  • Make them disbelieve their skills or judgement. Once they start believing that they cant preform that particularly difficult maneuver, every time they attempt it, they will falter and will not be able to complete it.
  • Make them trust that he is weak and useless, or all full of talk and rumors, so they let their guard down and allow him to attack when they are off guard.
  • And for the subtle part, if it's difficult for him to change so many things, simply make them believe totally in his ability to completely manipulate them. Our minds automatically alter what we see based on experience, and our trust in it. So if Water makes them believe completely that they cannot actually trust what they see, or that they should completely believe what they should see, suddenly the world becomes a very strange place that they cannot trust. Their own subconscious goes out of wack, and they will quickly realize that the world they are fighting you in is very different from the one they have been living in till now. (See this video for where I got the inspiration for this one : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y2gTSjoEExc )

Larger Groups

  • For larger groups it seemed like you had it figured out, but you could also tweak his power a bit so that when he has a large number of people that trust him in close proximity, his power gets much stronger. Upwards of several hundreds or thousands maybe? Once that begins happening he could be able to alter large numbers of people, giving him the power to completely change the course of a battle in progress.

Final Thoughts

Overall I would say that you have a very powerful guy here. Don't be afraid to nerf him in some way so that he's not so over powered but it's up to you. I would say when you do use this character, explain what he is doing while he is doing it. For example, if Water's opponent suddenly drops his whip, explain that Water could interpret his mind to know that he was beaten by his Fathers belt when he was young, and that Water exploited those memories to make him trust that he was becoming his Father. Good luck with your world! Hope this helped!

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  • $\begingroup$ The first 3 points you mentioned in the one on one section seems like a standard way to use this magic in battle. And I quite like your subtle part, messing up with their trust in such a way that it affects their sense experience. I do think this is powerful, but I still couldn't quite grasp it yet. Water's role seems to be exceptionally and only disruptive. Ah and that's where his own ability to fight comes in. Could he also perhaps utilise it to positively enhance himself? $\endgroup$ – Little Pillow Nov 26 '15 at 18:31
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About the psychology, Water can make select people see him as a fraud, or no one really important, thus escaping deeper scrutiny (no trust, or neutral trust).

Now, for the combat.

I will assume that Water is telepathic, can find and alter where lies the trust of the enemy.

In a one-to-one fight, make the enemy paranoid. Now he trusts no one and nothing; his support could fail; his guns could be rigged; his equipment could be sabotaged; etc. The enemy will at least pause, if not retreat, creating an opportunity for attack.

In a one-to-many fight, and assuming that trust magic has no distance limitations, make the leader have a face-heel turn: distrusting allies and trusting enemies and rivals. This will put the troops in disarray.

And, for flavor, make some quiet soldiers paranoid to the point of executing his comrades or superiors; no one will expect such an attitude from them.

Bonus if the above soldier manages the armory, and he suddenly thinks that the BFGs are somehow faulty (because the producer isn't reliable - no trusting it), and tries one by one to check...

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The obvious, but boring, answer is to have him walk up to enemy generals and assassinate them. Everyone trusts him in their camp, the general sees no need to defend himself etc. I'll assume that either Walter is not this powerful, or is too moral to do that because...yeah boring story that way lol.

In fact if he can make people trust him when he says "I mean no harm" he can pretty much shoot and kill anyone without issue. Again this seems boring if you want complex 1 v 1 battles, so lets assume he isn't that powerful.

You mentioned making people distrust themselves. This alone is an absurdly powerful ability. Moral is a major affect on combat effectiveness. if you can make someone have enough self doubt they will run from you without issue, or suck in a fight. However, it to can be a bit bland as a go-to fighting technique, particularly for one V one fights.

So lets look at what you want and see what rules we can create that allow interesting and complex battles, not just easy anticlimactic kills. A few rules come to mind.

  1. Trust magic is limited, the more someone distrusts him the harder it is to get them to trust him and vice versa. He is not so powerful to get nearly-mind control level powers where he can get someone to do anything he wants because they trust him when he says it's a good idea.

  2. If someone knows he is working his magic they can better resist. The degree of power he has depends on how long he has to work, rather they know to expect something, and how strongly someone is resisting; plus how strong their own heroic will power is.

This is to give a few options. On epic 1 v 1 battles his powers are not game breaking because people know to expect them and can resist to a good degree. However, when he is working subtle outside of battle his powers are still quite useful because people aren't actively resisting. Power level is suited for the type of activity he is doing. It also prevents him from ever being too gamebreaking.

So lets look at the types of uses.

One V One battles

It sounds like your thinking anime and manga style battles here, I'm going to work with that for the sort of feel I'm trying to create, so hopefully that's a correct presumption.

The obvious first step is to imply someone with strong will power can better resist him. That way he can walk through mooks (you have to have your heroes beat mooks to show how awesome they are) but the strong characters can better resist because they have stronger will power. Besides shonon series always seem to build up the whole heroic willpower trope to sometimes unreasonable degrees, it may be interesting to justify the trope they all tend to use as an actual mechanic of the world.

I'm also going to assume that Water has some ability to fight outside of his trust magic, so that fight scenes can include the more traditional dodging of attacks and throwing of punches, again trying to keep up with shonan series, and because trust magic is otherwise too boring in a one v one fight (either it works and he wins, or doesn't and he looses, not much middle ground).

In terms of his battles I could see a few techniques he could use.

  1. Mind games. Get under your enemy skin, mess with their head and freak them out. If his power is dependent on how inclined someone is to believe him then knowing the psychology of his enemy, to know what they are likely to believe, or want to believe, allows him to make better suggestions. In addition giving them a verbal smack down to destroy their confidence, which you can use your trust magic to reinforce, can work to great degrees to destroy moral. It can also justify long verbal banter and soliloquies and all the sort of talk that often happens in these style of shonan stories.

The down side to this approach is that it's sort of a 'bad guy' thing. While intentionally messing with ones confidence like this would presumably work well, and could be made interesting to watch, it definitely feels a bit evil. However, I think you could manage a good guy version if you added a bit of a Warrior Therapist feel to these conversations. Yes he gets into your head and messes with it to undermine your effectiveness, but he does it in a way that ultimately is meant to build you back up.

For example imagine the enemy has someone child raised to be a super soldier TykeBomb, who the badguy manipulated to feel that he was the only one she could trust so she would fight for him. Water may dig into that trust she has for the badguy and point out how much the bad guy doesn't deserve it, which may devastate her and ruin her edge in combat, but would also be the first step to helping her realize she doesn't have to fight for him, which ultimately would help her to heal and go to leading a normal life. He got in her head, messed with her, but in doing so he helped her realize her own delusions (that the person who raised her as a weapon loved her) which helped her to ultimately heal.

He could potentially do this a good bit, destroying their confidence in battle, but only so he can help rebuild them to be better people later. It's much harder to write, but it could make an interesting character, and explain both why he is a good guy and why he has so many followers. Perhaps those he fight often join his side later, and people presume it's because he is mind controlling them but really it's just because they appreciate the way he helped them heal their own mental wounds and made them a better person, they actually want to join him.

  1. Illusions and deception. The whole look behind you trick may actually work if you can say it in a way that sounds so believable someone actually expects a trap! Perhaps he can do similar, messing with people's beliefs so much that they aren't sure who they are fighting against. In effect he says something so believable that their minds make it real.

Imagine he tells someone he is too fast for them to hit, only he says it so believable they actual accept it. For a few seconds he never seems to be where he should, he almost seems to teleport elsewhere with his speed. Only he isn't any faster, they just believe it so much that for a split second it is true for them.

This gets close to the game breaking territory I mentioned before, but there is an easy way to keep it from being to strong, people can shake off their belief once they have time to think about it for a second, but for a split second they do believe him, and for that split second he has an advantage. It won't last, but it's an opening.

Imagine he is in a fight with a badguy who uses a gun as his preferred weapon. After a volley of fighting, him dodging to try not to be hit while badguy shoots enough bullets to kick up dust the camera freezes on the dustcloud, we watch the dust to clear and find the badguy has his gun pointed at water from only 5 paces away, too close to dodge, and gloats that he has won. Water smiles and says that he would be in trouble, except that the he was counting and the gun should be out of bullets. The badguy gets a scared look on his face and for a split second looks down at the amount counter on the back of the gun, to see he still has plenty of bullets; but during that second Water runs in to close the space between them and lands a punch while the badguy is distracted.

To keep it interesting Water will have to come up with new tricks. He needs lies that have at least a little plausibility so the badguy will trust it for a second, and he only gets a brief advantage before they realize it's a trick. Of course the more he gets into the badguys head the longer it will take for them to realize the trick. And some badguys may simply say they aren't falling for it when he tries a trick, to keep things interesting.

  1. subtler gambits

The above may be his main weapons, but he would have others to use on a case by case basis. The ability to resist his trust magic is based off of your seeing something that could be manipulation, so if he can work in things you don't notice as manipulation ploys they could stick work.

Another scenario. Water tries a trick like above on a badguy and the bad guy simply says he knows about Water's tricks and won't fall for them, before throwing a surprise attack and Water complains that he hurt his foot/leg avoiding the blow, but he should be fine. Later the badguy barely dodges an attack and Water says he would have landed that attack if he didn't have to be careful about putting weight on his injured leg. Later as the badguy is pressing an advantage Walter accusing the badguy of cheap tactics and points out that if he hadn't been wounded in the first surprise attack he wouldn't be loosing now...

Finally, as the badguy is moving in for the kill on the apparently beaten foe Water leaps forward, using his supposedly wounded leg to propel himself, to move in past the badguys guard and land a nasty blow which ends the fight. It's later revealed that Water's leg was never hurt, but by constantly complaining about his wounded leg he convinced the badguy that it was too badly wounded for Walter to keep fighting (even though he was using the unwounded leg through the fight, the bad guy didn't notice it). Thus the badguy got sloppy and wasn't ready to defend against an attack that used waters supposedly wounded leg. Water points out that the badguy may have been ready to resist his more overt tricks, but was too willing to accept Waters complaints about being wounded as true, he wasn't on guard to defend against those.

Small group battles

Much the same as above, but with some added tricks. Making an enemy distrust something another enemy unit says could be useful. Making them second guess a command by their captain rather then following through can result in a vulnerability to exploit. In addition he can encourage his allies. Moral has a huge bonus in a fight, so just telling everyone that they are going to win this fight, and making them believe it, can really boost moral and thus effectiveness. Sort of like the way bardic music works in an RPG, it's a free buff to those he fights with :)

non-battle strategies

One of the things your notice is that many of the tricks above were short term tricks, people saw through them well. I like that angle, overt trust attacks only work as long as Water is actively using his magic, subtle long-tern effects must be more believable and carefully crafted.

The big thing here is, once again, to get into the psyche of his opponents, but in subtler ways. I think playing mind games by making people think he is manipulating them when he isn't would be a very effective ploy here. Briar patch something by telling someone they totally shouldn't travel through that mountain pass were snipers could easily get you. The enemy is so afraid that your manipulating them that they would go out of their way to do the opposite of what you say and fall right into the trap.

Eventually have him always contact people and tell them things just to mess with them. Have him make up obviously blatant lies, and tell people random things, just to force his opponents to have to wonder what trick he has and second guess what ploy he may have going.

One of the limits of his trust power in large scale battles is that it only works on those he actively manipulated, and he likely can't get to the important people. However, he likely knows quite a bit about how trust and the human psyche works. He may know how to sow disinformation and mistrust without using his powers at all, just by knowing what information to send when and where. I could see plenty of mind games that require no powers at all this way.

Another good trick is to mess with information lies. If he can convince spies or enemies he faced of something that isn't true it will mess with enemy intelligence. He could use this to set up ambushes or bait people by trying to confuse reports of what he is doing and where.

I would suggest giving him an ability to bestow to others some limited ability to use his trust magic, for instance perhaps he makes some sort of dust that you can blow on someone face to make them trust you more. He probably can't make many of these items, but let him do something with it. The reason why is because he can't use his abilities too well for large scale operations because everyone will recognize him and attack on sight, before he has a time to manipulate them. So his picking a select few to do his subtler work for him, and gifting them with some bonus that will help them manipulate others, will allow him to extend his reach beyond where he can physically go, and allow for more mistrust in enemy lines that can be exploited. However, I would make sure you set clear limits on what he can do here, make it clear that one or two individuals he can aid, but he can't give everyone on his side insta-trust goggles or anything like that; no mass producing these tricks.

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