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In my world, I'm trying to make my magic based on moving around energy using one's mind. Extremely powerful mages are as powerful as gods, and the most powerful are able to alter physics within limited regions of spacetime.

But the vast majority of magic-users aren't anywhere near as powerful. I'm trying to work in ways that limit the over-powered-ness of magic users. Here's what I've come up with so far:

  • To perform any action, you must get your energy from somewhere.
  • It is easiest to apply energy using the same type of source energy. For example, if you want to throw something, it is easiest if you take kinetic energy from something else. If you want to make a light, it is easiest to take EM energy from something else.
  • As an extension, it's even easier to spin something if you take rotational energy from something else. If you want to make a light, it's even easier to take EM energy of the some wavelength from something else.
  • By default, a mage cannot easily apply energy in an area larger than about a cubic quarter meter. If you want to push someone, most people find it hard to apply force across the whole body rather than shoving in the aforementioned region.
  • Similarly to the above, a mage cannot easily drain energy from one source or apply energy past a certain level. For example, it is hard to lower something's heat below a certain temperature, or raise it above a certain temperature.
  • Moving energy around is not effortless. It requires a great deal of concentration and depletes the user's own energy levels. If you lose control of a fireball spell, the energy of the fireball ends up inside you rather than in a spherical region by your hand. If the user depletes their energy reserves, they can spontaneously combust.

I have the following questions:

  • What range of energy extremes should I make the mages able to move around by default? How cold should you be able to make something, and use that thermal energy for spellwork, and not be OP?
  • Should I make it so that there isn't perfect efficiency in energy source to spell output? If you take 1000 newtons of force from somewhere, should you only be able to use 900 or 800?
  • Is there something else that I should add to make magic harder to perform or less powerful?
  • If it isn't beyond the purview of the rules, what is your opinion of this system?
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closed as primarily opinion-based by Mołot, Hohmannfan, Durakken, Frostfyre, John Dallman Oct 26 '16 at 19:03

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • $\begingroup$ OK, are you doing this for a book, or for an RPG campaign? It makes a difference: in a book, you can control the number of mages--if it's for a game, you cant control the number, so you have to control their power. $\endgroup$ – Justin Eiler Oct 26 '16 at 3:12
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    $\begingroup$ "spontaneously combust" While an interesting way to go that is very unlikely for when they run out of energy; it takes some energy to kickstart the fire, after all. You could consider spontaneous freezing or compaction or shrivelling $\endgroup$ – Zxyrra Oct 26 '16 at 3:19
  • $\begingroup$ This is for a book; I've complete control over the universe. $\endgroup$ – Kronimiciad Oct 26 '16 at 4:20
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    $\begingroup$ These are question that are about rules of a game system, not world building. The extents of your system are set by you and the facts that you are using and for you to decide. However you could ask questions like "how fast can energy move from place to place" what are "efficiencies of x materials" which can be asked/answered but should be asked seperately. I'm voting to close this, but would very much like to see answers to better thought out and phrased, non asking for us to make your rules, questions. $\endgroup$ – Durakken Oct 26 '16 at 14:46
  • $\begingroup$ Also please reference: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/help/dont-ask $\endgroup$ – Durakken Oct 26 '16 at 14:48
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  • What range of energy extremes should I make the mages able to move around by default? How cold should you be able to make something, and use that thermal energy for spellwork, and not be OP?
  • Should I make it so that there isn't perfect efficiency in energy source to spell output? If you take 1000 newtons of force from somewhere, should you only be able to use 900 or 800?

If you don't want it to be OP and want to set energy extremes, while reducing efficiency, you can work in the following rule/system into your system:

Any energy you take in from your source is stored in the mage's body until the spell is completed - so if you take in heat energy to make a fireball, that heat is stored in the mage's body and raises his core temperature until released as the fireball. In the same way, if you need to make something colder, you need to take in the heat from the object - again, stored in the mage's body. If the mage takes in too much of the energy, he will (probably) die in a fashion suitable for the type of energy stored. Of course, the longer the energy is stored in the body the more it dissipates normally (Eg: taking in heat raises core temperature which causes sweating, and in turn reduces the amount of "heat energy" that the mage can release for the spell)

Eg: Taking in the kinetic energy from a moving truck will rip him apart as his body can't store all that kinetic energy.

  • Is there something else that I should add to make magic harder to perform or less powerful?

Not needed anymore :)

Note: this system also allows your most powerful mages (i'll just assume that those are the mages with the strongest minds, in terms of concentration, ability to focus, and intelligence) to continuously collect and release energy, which helps them bypass the body-energy limit (thus allowing them to be as powerful as gods). For example, he might drain heat energy from the sun but transfer it immediately towards another object until the objective is complete; be it setting a house on fire, melting a rock, or burning down a forest.

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Where's The Wonder?

You need to capture the wonder and wow before you start twisting the screws to hold it back, and you need to keep it simple.

Don't try too hard too quantify it.

Without wonder, it is auto mechanics and accounting, not magic.

There's something to the concept, but I get the vibe that you're squelching it before you figure out how to have fun with it. Apply too much cold logic and you murder what you dissect.

Power And Friction

Maybe everybody has magic and what distinguishes powerful mages from weak ones is friction.

  • The most powerful can effortlessly convert any kind of energy to any other with almost no losses and can even turn energy into matter and visa versa.

  • The par for the course mage experiences significant friction in the process.

  • The average Joe in the long tail of the magical ability distribution can move a little energy with his mind, but loses so much of it in the conversion that it's hardly worth it for anything more than a parlor trick for children.

For the vast majority of magical people with relatively modest magical power, magic usually does what you want most of the time.

But the more frictionless your abilities, the more prone you are to losing your grip on it entirely and having it backfire or go wild, because stuff that doesn't experience much friction tends to be slippery.

It takes much more skill to control stronger magical power than weak magical power, and even the the best trained and practiced mages are going to mess up a lot, just like an ice skater who constantly pushes the envelope to do spectacular moves is inevitably going to fall more often that someone who never tries anything challenging.

Magic and Personality

Anything embedded in interpersonal relationships and individual personality traits becomes more juicy and wonderful than something that is merely mechanistic.

So, to make it more interesting and juicy, why not also tie the nature of someone's magical power to their personality?

Powerful mages would be virtually compelled psychologically to be reckless risk takers. Weak mages might tend to be comparatively cautious and careful, although if everyone in a long tail has some magic, however modest, the population of the magical world as a whole might be less risk averse than a non-magical human community that is otherwise comparable.

Powerful mages probably attract followers (power has a tendency to attract entourages). But, following a powerful mage, while allowing you to share in the mage's triumphs to some extent, also puts you at ground zero to be in harms way when things go wrong, and around powerful mages, anything that can go wrong usually does.

This applies even to powerful mages themselves who may be like Hollywood stars and rock stars who tend to die or burn out young.

Magical Romance

Mage power could also introduce interesting relationship dynamics. A pair of powerful mages in love may feast on their combined power and may even amplify their power, creating power squared and making their children even more super powerful. But, power squared is also trouble squared and that can be bad news.

Other powerful mages might prefer to have a weaker mage romantic partner to ground and stabilize him or her and have kids with a good balance between power and control.

And, lots of weaker mages might see powerful mages as both unattainable and danger to be avoided and hence might prefer a partner more at their level, leading to even weaker and more cautious children.

The bottom line

Thus, immense power comes with unpredictability, while mediocrity comes with predictability and control (magical and psychological). There are tradeoffs that can cause the extremes to not necessarily be the most attractive parts of the spectrum of magical ability. Having no magical ability at all may foster envy and suck, but having too much could be a serious problem too.

Situations with a natural incentive to favor balancing outcomes over extreme outcomes can be more interesting in the long run, and can make for a more rich alternative world.

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