Inverse Law of Complexity to Power
When a story contains a vast variety of Elemental Powers
to choose from, the most powerful are inevitably the least complex. For example, individuals with elemental control over technology, rubber, string, plastic, fish
, etc., has less to work with against those who have elemental power over such basics as light
, life, death
The reasoning behind this could be that as the concept/element becomes simpler/broader, it encompasses more, giving its controller a larger dominion. This is especially true considering that Artistic License – Physics
is often involved anyway; the more defined something becomes the less room you have to fudge the rules. This is the reason Lightning Can Do Anything
after all. On top of this, the less complex the concept, the closer it is to a facet of reality rather than an idea of man's.
See also Rock Beats Laser
and Heart Is an Awesome Power
. Contrast Elemental Rock-Paper-Scissors
, which is where the weakness/strength relationships are between the broad powers only. Can be a cause of Linear Warriors, Quadratic Wizards
, since "skilled with a bow" is narrower than "magic
". What Kind of Lame Power Is Heart, Anyway?
is often an exception to this rule (broad but useless). Heart Is an Awesome Power
is applicable, too: the user's creativity invents more uses for the power. This Looks Like a Job for Aquaman
is this trope's logical conclusion: a power so complicated it's only useful in circumstances so specific they're contrived. Odd Job Gods
are the divine equivalent, as the more powerful gods are in charge of the simpler/broader domains.
Compare/Contrast Semantic Superpower
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Anime & Manga
- In One Piece the most powerful Devil Fruits are usually logias, which represent 'elements' such as fire, electricity, sand, ice, light, darkness, etc. Paramecia generally represent more specific concepts like push, throw, stretch, invisibility, etc. How powerful the precise details are change from fruit to fruit. "Push" for instance can apply to abstract concepts, such as pain, and seems to have no physical limitations whereas "throw" just allows a user to touch a target with their hand and as long as they don't touch someone else with that hand, they can always hit them with any thrown object from anywhere. Zoan devil fruits are generally the weakest fruits and just allow the user to turn into a specific creature (and a hybrid form).
- In Psychic Academy, the characters each have dominion over a certain thing, such as string, fire, steel, healing. The most powerful elements are light and darkness.
- JoJo's Bizarre Adventure averts this more and more with each subsequent part. Jotaro's Star Platinum is rather simple in concept. Compare that to his daughter's stand Stone Free, which teaches the lesson that there are MANY things that can be done by turning your body into string.
- Inverted in Naruto, where the more complex elements (both in what is required to use them and what they are capable of doing) which are formed by a combination of the basic five are consistently shown to be vastly more effective, mostly due to the numerous special abilities those elements confer but also in absolute terms. The list of characters who have the ability to use these elements is short, but everyone on it is a certified badass.
- In A Certain Magical Index, most everyone has, at the core, a rather simple power. They proceed to use these powers in interesting, complex ways to do some pretty amazing stuff. For example, take Mikoto "Railgun" Misaka, whose power is generation and control of electricity. With this ability, she can: zap people (basic), launch small metal objects at over three times the speed of sound ("railgun"), control and manipulate metal (magnetism), hover when over bodies of water (electrolysis), cling to walls (magnetism again... this assumes the walls have a metal framework/coating), and read minds (copy the electrical impulses of another person's brain into her own).
- Accelerator might just push this further than Mikoto. His power is "vector manipulation" on vectors that touch his body; for those unfamiliar with physics: a vector is a a measurement of direction and magnitude (can be loosely interpreted as force). This means that when something touches his body, he essentially then gets to decide where it goes and how hard/fast it goes there. He then goes on to apply this in doing everything from running, to stamping so hard he causes the earth to erupt, to kicking a rock so hard it breaks the sound barrier, to dropping out of a plane that's several thousand meters in the air into a pool of lava with no parachute, to causing a dust explosion (he presumably did this by changing the vectors on some particles touching him to move so fast that the vibrations ignited the flour in the air), to stopping the earth's rotation temporarily, to reflecting sound waves off him so he can walk in silence. On top of this ( at least until he gets shot in the forehead) his powers are set to subconsciously make every harmful vector that touches him go in the opposite direction, meaning that he's more or less invincible to any kind of attack, no matter how powerful.
- Inverted in Hunter × Hunter, where placing additional rules, restrictions, and drawbacks causes the ability to become more powerful or allows access to stronger powers. For instance, Chrollo can steal people's abilities, but he must fulfill four conditions to do so and another three conditions to use the stolen ability.
- Neil Gaiman's The Sandman features the seven Endless who are all Anthropomorphic Personifications of concepts starting with the letter D. From oldest to youngest: Destiny, Death, Dream, Destruction, Desire, Despair and Delirium. Death is arguably the most powerful of the lot. Although the nature of Dream tends to allow him to control things like say... all of reality.
- Arguable. His powers allow him to affect how others see reality, and yes, reality is defined by his absence. He is, however, constrained by his nature; he cannot alter reality, because to do so would alter himself, which he cannot do. And none of them are 'more' or 'less' powerful; they are all omnipotent within their sphere. Desire could toy with Dream's heart, but Dream could destroy Desire's reality (at the end of The Doll's House, he hits Desire with a BSOD by explaining something. That's all.).
- Though Death is the one that will not be fazed by any of them, since she is certainly going to be the last one standing. They even admit she will almost certainly "exist" in some form longer then the rest of them.
- Empowered's Syndablokk averts this entirely. He's a C-List super, but that's because he holds back; his power is elemental control of ARCHITECTURE. Villains have a 0% chance of touching him in a city, near a freeway, or basically anywhere. He never uses it except when really, really pressed, because of the massive collateral damage buildings-wise.
- Magneto has full control over one of the four fundamental forces of physics, and is consistently portrayed as one of the most powerful human beings in existence.
- A Fistful of Sky has the LaZelle family who develop magic gifts around puberty that tend to specialize in various areas. On one side of the scale is Jasper, who gets the lame and extremely specific ability to be magically good at musical notation. On the other end is Gypsum, who gets the power to curse, which when used properly, can pretty much control anything.
- Alcatraz plays this straight with several of the main characters, notably the Talents of anyone in the Smedry family: The main character has the Talent of "breaking things", which gets used creatively throughout the series. His grandfather has the Talent of "being late", which, when used creatively, allows him to dodge bullets, delay the effects of torture and survive assassination attempts, just by arriving too late for it to affect him.
- In The Passing of the Techno-Mages trilogy, Galen develops his spell language in terms of mathematical formulae, making it less of an art and more of a science. He orders the known spells he translates from other mages' languages in several groups based on the progression of terms. Then he discovers that, instead of coming up with more complex spells, he could try breaking down the basic two-term spell even further into a simple one-term spell. The result - a Sphere of Destruction that can make anything within it cease to exist. No one else can replicate his achievement (on their own, at least), as the spell languages of others are more artistic than functional. Later, he tries the same thing with the other progressions and comes up with other extremely-powerful spells, such as an organic (Shadow) skin that absorbs energy, energy beams shooting out of his palms, etc. He finally realizes that he can become even more powerful by casting a zero-term spell; which results in the implants working in harmony with him. Only one other mage manages to accomplish this latest feat and only on his deathbed.
- In Wrong Time For The Dragons by Sergey Lukyanenko and Nick Perumov, magic is subdivided into Elemental and Totem (imitating various animals). Of the two, the elemental mage clans are considerably more powerful than the totem clans.
- Simon R. Green
- Lampshaded in one of the Hawk and Fisher novels, in which the sorceress Mistique criticizes an opposing wizard who's specialized in controlling wood, claiming he was limited by that choice. When someone points out that she, herself, only works with mists, she remarks that you can do a lot with mist.
- In Nightside, the protagonist has the ability to find things- not only is this very handy in his day job as a detective, but in a fight he can "find" (and relocate) bullets from enemies' guns, or even air from enemies' lungs. There's also Tommy Oblivion, who can persuade anyone of anything in a rational debate.. including persuading all of reality that he escaped pursuers by reasoning that the possibility of escape existed.
Live Action TV
- The Gaia Memories in Kamen Rider Double get much more powerful the more vague their "title" is. For example, memories like 'Cockroach' and 'Money' typically give only one ability to the Monster of the Week, but more abstract memories like 'Nazca' or 'Utopia' have long lists of powers they grant their users. This can be argued with, since the users of the Gaia Memories like 'Nazca', 'Taboo' and 'Terror' have had them MUCH longer than any other character AND unlike the weekly opponent, they don't use them by attaching them to their skin, but using special devices similar to W's henshin belt, seems this is a much more effective method...
- Averted in the tabletop RPG Nobilis. PCs can have control over very specific things, but their utility is dependent more on how much control the user has over the domain rather than the encompassing nature of the domain. An example of that straight from the rulebook is that a character that has dominion over Emotion might only be able to affect emotion related to artists. One with the more specific control over Fear might be able to control darkness and monsters. In addition to this, your powers tend to only be as useful as you are creative. An example of play in the book had the power of treachery convincing bullets and guided missiles to turn on the people who fired them. 3rd edition averted this trope even harder by introducing Persona miracles that let you play with the boundaries of your Estate, granting its qualities to things not within it. So, you might think "Hope" is a weak estate, but if the Power of Hope believes one Hope's most important properties is that "hope springs eternal," then with a Persona miracle, they can apply that to a person's life and make them immortal. Even a character with authority over something seemingly weak or limited, like "Whimsy" or "New York City," could be terrifying with creative use of Persona.
- Averted in most points-buy based superhero RPG systems. A power that allows a player to control a vast variety of effects, such as Time Manipulation, Matter Manipulation, and such tend to be MUCH more expensive than those that are more focused, such as Metal Manipulation or (to borrow from the original DC Heroes game) Omni-Arm - the ability to control the shape and structure of one's arms. This means the character with the more 'complex' power, with limited focus, can buy that power at a much higher rank than those with the broad, far-reaching effects.
- A broad version of this in the Nightbane RPG: Nightbane buy their Talents(Powers) through permanent expenditures of the very P.P.E. pool they use to actually use them. So a Nightbane with a large array of Talents will not have the power to use them all that often.
- Averted in Fate/stay night. Most spellcasters have one of the five basic elements, but hybrids of multiple elements can generally create more powerful effects. Shirou and Sakura have the bizarre elements of "Sword" and "Imaginary Numbers" respectively, both of which turn out to be insanely powerful - the former leading to Power Copying and Storm of Blades, and the latter to Eldritch Abominations.
- Golden Sun: The game uses a complex Equippable Ally system that controls not only the Class System, but Summon Magic and stats as well. It's possible to give every PC a broad range of multi-element Psynergy, but doing so means you can't use Djinn without messing up the stats and classes. It's far more efficient to give each PC the Djinn of his element for the whole game.
- Mostly averted in the inFAMOUS series, especially in the third game. Delsin is able to make use of an obscure element like neon just as readily as something common like rock. Conduits absorb their element of choice and then can usually find a variety of lethal ways to expel it, so as long as they can find sources to recharge between fights it doesn't really matter how narrow their focus is. An audio log notes that the DUP experimented with various elements and settled on rock, but this was largely because they found it to be more intuitive for training large numbers of troops rather than because it was more powerful than some of the alternatives.
- Happens to a degree in Drowtales. Most Drow and other fae races have an affinity to a certain type of magic and these can vary from the basic - rock, air, water, fire - to the more specific - bones, blood, wood/plants, ice, pressure, summoning, empathy - among others. Due to the rules of magic within the universe, you need something to work with to achieve anything. Obviously, you're usually surrounded by rocks and air, so Fae with this affinity don't need any tools but those working with fire, for example, need to carry a source. This goes from carrying a lantern or a fire pot to hiding a spark plug in their gauntlet. Additionally some basic powers are effective counters against more specific ones - one comic demonstrates an ice-specialized caster freezing a blood-spitting attack, since blood is mostly water. Air powers are good to shield oneself against fire attacks with little effort. The more powerful casters are able to overcome some of the limits of their skills, but not without strong expenditures of power.
- Trinton Chronicles has the base super-powers of fire, ice, time, and electricity but tosses it up a bit with more oddity characters who have things like summoning, glass manipulation, acid control, poison creation, paper control, or the power over luck.
- Seen with some of the various mutants in the Whateley Universe, whose powers naturally come about by random genetic chance. The school tries to teach every student to make the most out of whatever it is they got, be it the ability to shoot harmless sparks from one's fingertips and nothing else or being the reincarnation of a powerful ancient faerie queen on good mystical terms with the very elements themselves. (It's worth noting that some powers aren't actually as narrow as they may appear. The Avatar trait, for example, in and of itself is just the blanket ability to more or less safely 'merge' with a spirit and acquire its powers — and while most Avatars seen to date do seem to have a single quasi-permanent partner, nothing says it has to be a committed relationship for life.)
- Static Shock uses this, as the average villain of the week has a narrower power, while Static himself has lightning powers with Lightning Can Do Anything in full force. Two of the major villains have Darkness and Fire. In the comics, he's fought people with powers over Rope and Cars.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra feature "benders," who control one of the classical elements: Water, Fire, Earth, or Air. At first it seems pretty basic: firebenders control fire, waterbenders control water, and so on. But then Fridge Logic ascends to canon and we learn that firebenders can generate and redirect lightning; earthbenders can bend the impurities in metal; waterbenders can control all fluids, including the blood in a person's body; airbenders can pull the air out of a person's lungs and suffocate them.