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Context

The setting of this question is basically our world, with magical creatures hiding among us. They are from different races, and can be human-like (witches, santas, succubi...) or not (kitsune, swamp monsters, chimeras...). Most of them are part of supernatural mafias.

Those mafias have set very lucrative traffics around the world. Like regular criminal organizations they smuggle drugs and weapons, but some of them specialize in tissues of magical creatures (flesh, brains, bones, skin, etc.).

In this world every potion, artifact or spell uses something originating from a creature, so the demand is high enough for this traffic to be very profitable. The something in question doesn't have to be a whole organ, it can be a few grams of dried flesh, for example.

The quantities are somewhat limited because every group protects their own members, so most of the sellers get their source materials either from their own deads or from "unaffiliated" creatures.

Recently, more and more lab-grown tissues are sold on the black market. These are produced using modern equipment, like what's used to make in vitro meat and lab-grown human skin, and maybe a little magic.


The problem

I'd like to limit the production of in vitro "magical meat" by adding some kind of extra difficulty.
For now, I've found a few options that could work, but am not sure which one is the best.

  • Need for blood

The tissues have to be "fed" with a solution containing blood (or blood plasma) taken either from the original donor or from another member of the same race.

  • Magic decay

Each magical cell can only produce a limited number of equally magical cells once placed in vitro.
As a result, 1 mm2 of natural skin can only produce 1 cm2 of equally magical lab-grown skin.

  • Consent is key

The seed sample has to be given willingly to be able to grow.

  • Rule of proximity

In vitro cells present magical properties only if they were grown in the proximity of the original source. The closer the donor is, the better the result.
So if a lab wants to produce werewolf liver, they have to lock a werewolf inside the lab, collect a sample of his liver and keep him alive for as long as the growing process last.

  • Magical support

A witch/magician/druid must be present and reciting incantations/casting spells/maintaining pentagrams during the whole process.

  • Simple but boring option

Cells originating from magical beings don't reproduce as fast as human cells.

  • All of the above

I could use all of these options if each race has its own rule. In this case, I'll have to find other rules to cover every race I've included in this universe (I'd rather not).


What rule or set of rules is the best to complicate the production of in vitro magical tissues ?

The limitations should reduce the production capacity of these labs enough so their products wouldn't flood the market, but not too much so they can still produce something.
Also, it's better if it sounds (at least a little) logical.

Disclaimer : Most of the scenes I've written for this setting so far are a bit violent and/or gross, so don't hesitate if you want to propose a solution that contains a bit of violence and/or grossness.

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  • $\begingroup$ Note: I'm not a native English speaker, please tell me if I made a mistake. $\endgroup$ – Babika Babaka Jan 5 '16 at 23:49
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    $\begingroup$ MULTIPLE SANTAS??? Blasphemy! $\endgroup$ – BrettFromLA Jan 6 '16 at 0:25
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    $\begingroup$ As another option, consider letting everyone approach work for every race, but some work much better than others for a particular race. That lets you share techniques between races, so you don't need to make up dozens of ideas, but remains fluid enough to avoid having to explain why synthetic werewolf can't be just grown with consent. It can, but it's better to use blood from a donor $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Jan 6 '16 at 1:29
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Why not use a sociological reason instead of a fundamental limitation of the technology? Real world examples include:

1: It's really expensive: The lab grown meat isn't cheap. Mostly because of the research costs associated with getting it to grow. If each new 'meat' added to the repertoire requires intensive magical/technological research, along with careful monitoring and tending once you have developed the in-vitro tech, then the costs of this are going to be astronomical. Even if the demand (and thus the price) justifies the expense, you're going to have to put up a lot of capital and be able to launder a lot of ill-gotten cash to be able to sell your product.

2: It's really hard!: Most of the batches of werewolf-hair just fail to grow. No idea why (could be any of your ideas above, some strange combination of the ideas, whatever). Eventually the ease with which you can go out and whack a werewolf is going to outstrip the convenience of growing your own. Hydroponics experts can charge a lot for their continuing services because it's not as easy as it seems. This might fall under the same purview.

3: It's not easy to hide, and it is easy to demolish: Consider Meth. It's relatively simple to make and it's got a decent street value. The reason that we're not utterly flooded with it? Meth labs get shut down, get taken out by rival dealers or just plain blow up. If I were a vampire lord trying to deal in unicorn-horn (the one on it's head, people) and I found out someone else were trying to make it on my patch? Firebomb through the window. If you add in a magical 'trace' or certain chemicals that are needed and are easy to track then this becomes even more of an issue, as your scientists will keep having to move production rather than increasing output.

4: All of the above, plus your all of the above: Combining everything seems like your best bet. In your 'All of the above' option, you say that you'd have to make a new set of criteria for each race. That's not quite true. If all the Fae races need to be near their flesh, all the Were-flesh grows super-slow unless attached to the host, and all the Undead cells have a nasty habit of getting up and walking around the lab, then you've got a good set of different needs for each type of creature but you haven't had to go through each one individually. You can re-use rules, or put them in other combinations.

For example: It took years to work out how to grow Fire-Imp nipples in the lab, and the chemicals needed for it weren't cheap! Not only that, but their tendency to combust when other imps came near was a major hazard! (Options 1 and 3 on my list, plus some flavour for the race)

By comparison growing zombie brains was cheap, though the smell tended to bring the Werewolves down hard on whoever tried to grow that dead meat on their turf. That, and the constant, expert Necromatic tending it needed.. (Options 2 and 3 on my list, plus the magical support from yours)

All in all: I think given your setting it would be more interesting to find social blockers to this happening than just saying 'magic doesn't let it happen'. That way you can avoid justifying why it doesn't happen much, and instead use someone trying to make it happen as a plot hook (but why does the good doctor need so much Troll blood? There must be a reason...).

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  • $\begingroup$ Re #2: Shadowrun had this "problem." You could clone a mage, but the result had the same probability of being a mage as if you'd cloned any random joe: exactly 1%. Whatever was the cause of expressing the magician quality wasn't related to genetics or epigenetics, but rather some other (possibly undiscovered) factor. $\endgroup$ – Draco18s Jan 6 '16 at 16:51
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I would say you have to feed your tissue sample some living or recently deceased flesh of a similar creature, while a magic user influences the flesh to transform into the same material as the tissue sample. For example, let's say you have a square inch of werewolf liver. Someone slices some flesh off of a wolf then immediately places the werewolf liver on top of the sliced wolf flesh. The magic user then casts a few complicated spells on the wolf flesh and it turns into werewolf liver.

The similarities between the flesh and tissue sample influence how long the transformation takes place. So if you're making a werewolf liver, then wolf or human liver would take the least time, then other flesh of a human or wolf, then maybe a fox liver would be next. If the two types of flesh are too different, then the transformation would be impossible.

Tell me what you think of the system I suggested.

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  • $\begingroup$ I need to think about it. Your solution is original and interesting. Maybe it's not sciency enough(I'd like to have one of these labs directed by a crazy scientist)... I'll see if it works, thanks for your suggestion! $\endgroup$ – Babika Babaka Jan 6 '16 at 8:57
  • $\begingroup$ Alright, that makes sense $\endgroup$ – Xandar The Zenon Jan 6 '16 at 20:38
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Like the other answers mentioned, I think a combination of reasons will result in a much more realistic and interesting world. You can also include success probabilities. Say you have to seed a sample of skin along with various chemicals and a magic ritual, but everything only comes together in the correct configuration 1 out of 50 times. Suddenly, even if the process is cheap, you might have to run it 50 times to get a viable sample.

Another thing to consider is some higher mob power keeping supply low so that demand and prices stay high. Then, if one of the labs starts producing a lot more imp brain (or whatever that lab produces), the big bosses work together to either limit the lab's production or take it out altogether.

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