Created By: Generality on June 10, 2011 Last Edited By: Generality on June 16, 2011
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Supernatural Sensitivity

Characters with supernatural powers can detect when such powers are in use.

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Trope
In any setting where there are people with uncommon powers, be they magical, psychic or ki-based, it's a common trait for those blessed with such abilities to be able to sense it in others. This often results in simply having characters remark of one another: The Force Is Strong with This One. But sometimes, they sense more than the sheer amount of power and can actually detect fine details in what's going on. There are two basic ways this works:

Active Detection

Characters can sense when others are using magic, and perhaps exactly what they're doing. Often tied to vision or hearing, but could also just be some sixth sense unrelated to those possessed of normal people. The signs of magical use are diminished over distance, and by the degree of power being emitted. There are probably tricks to avoid detection or dampen the signs of use, and other tricks to see through those.

Residual Detection

Use of magic leaves signs which can be sensed by those with the right gift. Any place where magic has been performed, and any object or person under the effect of a spell will have a residue that fades with time. The amount of detail which can be gleaned from this method varies.

The sensitivity of magic-users to one another is important in the development of a magic system. It acts as a limiter on the more powerful users in High Fantasy: The mighty wizard could wipe his current foe off the map with ease, but doing so would attract the attention of much darker and stronger forces. Thus, he has to resort to more subtle and indirect magics, and save his strongest stuff for true emergencies. Sensitivity also plays a key role in unraveling a plot, as the characters check residues and enchantments to try and uncover who did what long after the fact.

Often tied to Aura Vision. See also The Empath, who may have these abilities, and Detect Evil.


Examples:

Anime and Manga
  • Bleach. Powerful spirit creatures such as Soul Reapers and hollows can detect the use of spiritual pressure (spirit energy) a considerable distance away.
  • Detecting the aura of Youkai is a useful ability in Inuyasha, common to Youkai themselves, Hanyo like Inuyasha, and to ki using humans like Kagome and Miroku. Even exterminators like Sango could sense it to a lesser extent. In the Anime there was an old exorcist who was completely insensitive.
  • In Rosario + Vampire, Inner Moka teaches Tsukune how to do this in season two.
  • Kekkaishi have the ability to sense when an Ayakashi enters the Karasumori site.

Literature
  • Sorcery in The Belgariad and related works makes what is described as a "sound", which can be mistaken for mundane noise under some circumstances. The sound can be lessened by doing things slowly, and shapeshifting, because it's directed internally, is very quiet. The protagonists are often forced to avoid sorcery in enemy territory because of this noise effect. Interestingly, other forms of supernatural power, such as magic, wizardry, necromancy, and prophecy, do not make this signature noise.
  • Channelers in The Wheel of Time series can always tell if someone of the same gender is channeling nearby, and how strongly, but need to see the flows of Power in order to determine the nature of the weave used. Both the ability to channel and the weaves themselves can be concealed, by methods long-lost but rediscovered partway through the story.
  • Wizards in The Dresden Files can use their True Sight to see exactly what is going on. The Sight shows everything that's happening, in excruciating and often maddening detail, and one of the things that can be Seen is the residue of magic that has been used recently.
  • Played with in the Mistborn series: a Misting who can burn bronze (known as a "Seeker") can detect Allomancy, but a Misting burning copper (a "Smoker") can hide it.
    • It's later revealed that very powerful Mistborn, like Vin, can even detect Allomancy through Copperclouds.
  • In Tamora Pierce's Tortall Universe, characters with the Sight can observe use of the Gift. Alanna also has a stone which, when held, allows her to see magic in use.
  • In For Love of Evil by Piers Anthony, Parry is tracked through France by a sorcerer who can sense when he does magic.
  • Magic in the Discworld falls under both types. Strong magic leaves strong residue, to the point that especially strong magic can leave magical fields behind that warp reality and last for centuries. All wizards, and only wizards, have the ability to see "the colour of magic" (octarine, an eighth color which is outside the normal 7-color spectrum), a color which appears whenever magic is being used.
  • Robert A. Heinlein's Magic Inc.. Dr Worthington is a witch smeller, who detects and analyzes the magic forces that trashed Archie's store.
  • Randall Garrett's Lord Darcy series. A Witch-Smeller can detect the taint of black magic on its caster and its victims.
  • In Katherine Kurtz's Deryni, mages work this way. They can generally tell who is Deryni and who isn't, because Deryni have mental/psionic barriers called "shields" that are detectable over short distances. Some highly skilled Deryni can disguise their shields, making them seem transparent. Ordinary humans lack these shields, so their surface thoughts are easily apparent to Deryni.

Tabletop Games
  • The spell Detect Magic in Dungeons & Dragons lets magic-users see magical auras. Sufficiently long study (and a sufficiently high roll) allows the spellcaster to determine what school of magic the magic is from, and what the magic (or magical item) does.
    • In addition some monsters had the innate ability to detect magic (as the spell), such as several types of demons and devils, efreeti, imps, gynosphinxes and so on.
    • Several psionic monsters had the ability to detect the use of psionics nearby, such as the Brain Mole, Intellect Devourer and Thought Eater.
  • In In Nomine characters with supernatural powers (mostly angels and demons, but some special humans as well) can detect "Symphonic Disturbances" caused by use of certain supernatural powers, and/or controlled Essence expenditure nearby.
Community Feedback Replies: 21
  • June 10, 2011
    smilingsoprano
    A couple examples:

    • Played with in the Mistborn series: a Misting who can burn bronze (known as a "Seeker") can detect Allomancy, but a Misting burning copper (a "Smoker") can hide it.
      • It's later revealed that very powerful Mistborn, like Vin, can even detect Allomancy through Copperclouds.
    • In Tamora Pierce's Tortall Universe, characters with the Sight can observe use of the Gift. Alanna also has a stone which, when held, allows her to see magic in use.
  • June 10, 2011
    Hadashi
    • In The Sixth Sense a character's breath may fog in the presence of a ghost.

    Western Animation

    • In Danny Phantom the title character has a 'ghost sense' that manifests as his breath fogging in the air.
  • June 10, 2011
    Earnest
    See also The Empath, who often has this as one of their abilities.
  • June 10, 2011
    Aspie
  • June 10, 2011
    Nocturna
    The Lord Of The Rings doesn't count, because Gandalf was referring to the amount of light generated by his fire magic; he was on an exposed plateau, such that the large amounts of fire (and lightning, etc.) were visible from a long way off. He wasn't referring to any lingering effects of the magic, and wizards do not (as far as I am aware) have the ability to sense the use of power by another wizard.

    However, magic in the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett definitely counts, falling under both types. Strong magic leaves strong residue, to the point that especially strong magic can leave magical fields behind that warp reality and last for centuries. All wizards, and only wizards, have the ability to see "the colour of magic" (octarine, an eighth color which is outside the normal 7-color spectrum), a color which appears whenever magic is being used.
  • June 10, 2011
    Nocturna
    Two more things:

    1. Detect Magic is a spell that lets magic-users see magical auras. Sufficiently long study (and a sufficiently high roll) allows the spellcaster to determine what school of magic the magic is from, and what the magic (or magical item) does.

    2. I presume that this trope does not include magic which is visible to anyone and everyone, such as the spells in Harry Potter. If this is so, you may want to specify that in the write-up.
  • June 10, 2011
    Arivne
    This has been on YKTTW before, because I remember giving some of these examples.

    Active Detection

    Anime and Manga
    • Bleach. Powerful spirit creatures such as Soul Reapers and hollows can detect the use of spiritual pressure (spirit energy) a considerable distance away.

    Tabletop RPG
    • Dungeons And Dragons.
      • Some monsters had the innate ability to detect magic (as the spell), such as several types of demons and devils, efreeti, imps, gynosphinxes and so on.
      • Several psionic monsters had the ability to detect the use of psionics nearby, such as the Brain Mole, Intellect Devourer and Thought Eater.

    Residual Detection

    Literature
    • Robert Heinlein's Magic Inc.. Dr Worthington is a witch smeller, who detects and analyzes the magic forces that trashed Archie's store.
    • Randall Garrett's Lord Darcy series. A Witch-Smeller can detect the taint of black magic on its caster and its victims.
  • June 11, 2011
    69BookWorM69
    Katherine Kurtz's Deryni mages work this way. They can generally tell who is Deryni and who isn't, because Deryni have mental/psionic barriers called "shields" that are detectable over short distances. Some highly skilled Deryni can disguise their shields, making them seem transparent. Ordinary humans lack these shields, so their surface thoughts are easily apparent to Deryni. Most Deryni magic is also based on using the shields, through deep concentration verging on self-hypnosis, and such efforts can also be detected by other Deryni. Specifically in High Deryni, Alaric Morgan tries to send a Call to his human aide-de-camp Derry during a Church service while pretending to be praying. One of the bishops is also Deryni, detects what Morgan has done, and confronts him about it. Objects can also store energy and impressions that Deryni can read and/or use; Wards Major are cubes that store energy that can be used to conjure a protective dome over an area (rather like psionic batteries with opposing poles), and Duncan Mc Lain later finds his bishop's ring has impressions of both the ring's last wearer (the martyred Henry Istelyn) and of Saint Camber of Culdi (who owned the gold when it was a piece of altar plate).
  • June 13, 2011
    Generality
    I'd say this is just about ready to launch, yeah?
  • June 13, 2011
    LarryD
    Detecting the aura of Youkai is a useful ability in Inuyasha, common to Youkai themselves, Hanyo like Inuyasha, and to ki using humans like Kagome and Miroku. Even exterminators like Songo could sense it to a lesser extent. In the Anime there was an old exorcist who was completely insensitive.

    In Rosario To Vampire, Inner Moka teaches Tsukune how to do this in season two.
  • June 13, 2011
    Generality
    Just detecting the presence of a Youkai is another matter, and so shouldn't count, I think.
  • June 13, 2011
    jaytee
    Unless it's another trope altogether, this seems especially common with "psi"-related powers. The only example coming to mind is Professor X in the X Men First Class movie commenting that he can't read the mind of Emma Frost without her knowing, but that's just because I just saw the damn movie. I know I've seen it elsewhere.
  • June 13, 2011
    Nocturna
    ^How is the ability to detect youki (the essentially magical aura of youkai) different in any substantive way from this trope? It seems to me that they're the same thing: youki=magic aura, magic aura detection=this trope; miko, youkai, hanyou, monks, and youkai exterminators have the ability to sense this aura and from it determine where the youkai is and how strong they are, therefore they fit this trope.

    If something in my above explanation doesn't fit with your understanding of/intention for the trope, then the description probably needs to be clarified to prevent misunderstanding.

    ^^^Not until it has five hats.
  • June 13, 2011
    Generality
    Getting enough hats is not compulsory. However, seeing that examples are still coming in, I'm content to wait anyway.
  • June 13, 2011
    Generality
    As to the youkai thing, I had this trope written as the explicit detection of magical acts, i.e. spells, and not the mere recognition of supernatural creatures. However, if there's not a page for the latter function, I suppose it could be considered a subset and thus would belong here after all.
  • June 14, 2011
    GymQuirk
    Would variations on "The Force is strong in this one" be applicable?
  • June 14, 2011
    Generality
    They would probably go in The Force Is Strong With This One.
  • June 14, 2011
    Flioro
    Active Detection

    Anime And Manga
    • Kekkaishi have the ability to sense when an Ayakashi enters the Karasumori site.
  • June 15, 2011
    Andygal
    In In Nomine characters with supernatural powers (mostly angels and demons, but some special humans as well) can detect "Symphonic Disturbances" caused by use of certain supernatural powers, and/or controlled Essence expenditure nearby.
  • June 15, 2011
    jaytee
    ^^^ and ^^^^: that particular phrase is The Force Is Strong With This One, but in general, the ability of Force-users to detect disturbances in the force surely counts. There's no reason there can't be overlap.
  • June 16, 2011
    YourTimeIsNow
    In Harry Potter And The Half Blood Prince it is suggested that powerful wizards who actually know what they're doing are capable of the residual type; in the cave scene Dumbledore is shown to determine where the secret entrance is and the spells used on it without the use of any detection spells.
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