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We know there are ways to make certain archetypal 'magical power' tropes realistic as for how they function. Wind mages could simply be able to control gaseous matter only, lightning mages could have some degree of authority over plasma, etc.

However, I've never seen a realistic take on "shadow/void/darkness" powers within media. What could be a reasonable explanation of how these powers could work?

Please note: I don't want to just handwave the functionality of the powers with "it's magic, who cares".

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  • $\begingroup$ lightning magic is more about electromagnetism.... $\endgroup$ – άλεξ μιζέρια Jul 7 '16 at 23:30
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    $\begingroup$ @άλεξμιζέρια -- and electromagnetism is also key in plasma generation and manipulation... $\endgroup$ – Shalvenay Jul 7 '16 at 23:37
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One take I have seen on shadow powers is that they don't have any power of their own. Instead, they lead others to fuel their spells for them. This necessitates entwining the mage and their victim, because the victim is the one actually casting the spell -- they just don't know it.

For source material, one can look at the work of great pickpockets, such as Apollo Robins. He does almost nothing at all; all of the work is done by the victim's own mind.

For a slightly more scientific approach, one could look at the curious case of metastability. You can get all sorts of counter-intuitive results there. For example, with metastability, it is completely legal to have a temperature below absolute zero (the rule that nothing can go below absolute zero is for stable systems, and does not apply to metastable systems). Usually heat goes from the hot object towards the cold object. However, with these systems, heat flows from the ultra-cold object into the hot object. This makes it appear that the object with negative temperatures is actually hotter than the hot object it is interacting with!

It would not be a large leap to explore metastable systems where it appears that no information is being transmitted with light (which would appear to be an absolute shadow), but in fact great energy is emitted from that shadow if you try to interact with it.

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  • $\begingroup$ I'm afraid I'm not easily grasping the concept of metastability. From what you're saying, would it be something like... anti-light? It'd technically be light but it just appears as shadowy, due to it being metastable? $\endgroup$ – autumnstorm451 Jul 7 '16 at 23:21
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    $\begingroup$ Metastability is not easy to grasp. The best way I've found to visualize it is to visualize a very smooth rolling hill, with a valley on each side. If you put a bowling ball in the valley on each side, the bowling ball doesn't move at all (emitting no energy). If you put the ball on the sides of the hill, it rolls predictably towards one of the valleys (emitting recognizable energy as it does so). However, what if the ball is perfectly balanced at the top of the hill? That's the metastable point. Like in the valley case, it doesn't roll (emits no energy) if its perfectly balanced. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon - Reinstate Monica Jul 7 '16 at 23:26
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    $\begingroup$ Thus, the bowling ball at the top (with the most potential energy of any position you could have the ball at) looks and feels exactly like a ball at the bottom, which emits no energy (just like a shadow). However, if you tap the ball at the top of the hill, it suddenly knocks it out of balance, and a ton of energy floods out. This is when you realize that your metastable shadow was not a simple shadow as you thought, and it is far more dangerous than you thought. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon - Reinstate Monica Jul 7 '16 at 23:37
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    $\begingroup$ @άλεξμιζέρια A metastable shadow would certainly be an illusion. Whether a normal shadow is an illusion or not depends on what you consider to be an illusion. There are some who consider all of reality to be an illusion. That being said, shadows can do strange things -- its completely legal for a shadow to move faster than the speed of light. A shadow is not a physical "thing," so isn't bound by the speed of light. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon - Reinstate Monica Jul 7 '16 at 23:40
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    $\begingroup$ If one is interested in the topic, I highly recommend VSauce's treatment of What Is the Speed of Darkness. He does an extremely good job of discussing shadows (though there is no discussion of meta-stability. While the concept of a metastable shadow would be good enough for the basis for a shadow magic system, I don't believe we've developed anything which could be called a metastable shadow, so there would be nothing for him to talk about. The best I've heard of so far is the object which was colder than absolute zero) $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon - Reinstate Monica Jul 7 '16 at 23:45
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Just throwing an alternate idea out, not nearly as awesome as Cort's but maybe requires less background.

Emphasize the void aspect, and let the shadows and darkness be consequences of opening a void. Essentially, something like a shadow ball could be a minuscule speck of void opened up, essentially a black hole, with an event horizon maybe 6 inches across that give it the appearance of being a ball of shadows.

A little creativity, and maybe some loose interpretation of void, could make some more interesting magic. Dampening the electric signals in part of the brain could entrance a person, or drive them insane. Opening a large void could cause a huge bang when all the air rushed in to fill it. A field of tiny, diffused voids could essentially cast darkness, and also maybe slow movement. And if travel through a void is possible? Or if something lives on the other side? There could be potential for some experimentation gone wrong as well.

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The power of casting darkness involves suppressing activity in the victim's visual cortex. Everything only appears to go dark. At low levels of suppression this might look like a shadow or if it worked partially there might be gaps in what the victim was seeing.

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The more you justify magic with science the more questions arise and the more justification is required, i.e. if Magneto's control over metal is based on magnetism (obviously) then why doesn't he use his power to generate huge amounts of electricity or to induction-heat enemies to death?

At some point you NEED to hand-wave away the issue and to do so plausibly whist also enabling there to be a number of thematically different types of magic I suggest that your magic users channel their powers from different sources. These sources could be dimensions, deities, familiars, emotions, or even colours.

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You could make void powers cover generally energy-sapping phenomenon, so that void magicians wind up powerful dispellers of all other magical effects, and possibly physical ones as well. Douse fires, pause Fukushima and Chernobyl for cleanup, stop a fleeting magic fireball in the sky before it strikes.

But there's a dark side to darkness, of course. If you have a vitalistic account of life (i.e. "there are unique forces or energies associated with the phenomenon of life") in your world, this lends itself very well to void mages having horrifying spirit-squelching capabilities. Truthfully though, the powers of the void mage might be even more horrifying in a non-vitalistic world. (Imagine a wizard who can just cause one of your limbs, or even your heart or brain, to metabolically cease (i.e. die) at an instant.)

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  • $\begingroup$ Excuse me, does this mean void magic is like negative energy? Works by neutralising other magic. I was wondering if in a vitalistic world where the void mage gets his/her power, wouldn't that be draw from his/hers own vital forces? If so, void mages would need a quick refill after casting a void spell otherwise they'd expire (you know, drop dead). $\endgroup$ – a4android Jul 9 '16 at 9:59
  • $\begingroup$ It could be as you say, or it could be otherwise. It's even possible that void magic recharges one's own vitalistic force (perhaps up to a limit, maybe a lethal one so that you must be careful not to burn yourself out) at the expense of whatever energy you're extinguishing, possibly enabling you to work greater magic of other sorts. That'd be a game mechanical disaster in a gaming world (here have a terrifying power that makes all your other powers even more terrifying), but not all of us are building game worlds. $\endgroup$ – SudoSedWinifred Jul 9 '16 at 17:38
  • $\begingroup$ Introducing the concept of vitalism into the topic was interesting. As you say, it could be otherwise and I guess that depends on the rules created for the way magic works in an imaginary world. Gaming worlds are not my game, so I can't comment about them. $\endgroup$ – a4android Jul 10 '16 at 9:23

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