Yerushalmi on Nov 5th 2013 at 3:40:22 AM
Last Edited By:
FactoidCow on Aug 12th 2017 at 9:10:55 AM
Page Type: Trope
A type of Fridge Logic.
It stands to reason that, as magic users gain strength and power, they gain access to greater and more powerful spells. In most cases, these spells will be more useful and more difficult to overcome or counter than the spells cast by lesser mages. The logical progression behind this is straightforward:
- The spell is stronger
- Therefore the spell takes more energy to cast
- Therefore the spell is likely more useful.
Sometimes, however, a setting will spin this logic the wrong way around:
- The spell is more useful
- Therefore it automatically takes more energy to cast
- Therefore it is automatically stronger.
This reverse order has two holes in it:
First, authors and game designers usually set the accessibility of spells based on how much the characters want to use them - not on a realistic assessment of how much energy such effects would require. As a result, most settings make the One-Hit Kill spell quite difficult to cast, while opening a large hole in a wall can be cast by relative beginners - even though this is the reverse of how difficult it would be to accomplish the same things by mundane means.
Second, even if a spell requires more magical energy, that extra energy can be poured into the diameter of the effect, the duration, or the number of people it hits. None of these necessarily makes the spell more difficult to overcome. Yet if a large group is being enchanted instead of an individual, the setting may assume that the more difficult spell to cast is therefore more difficult to escape - even though it could make just as much sense to say that the divided attention would make it easier for the individual to break free.
This trope can apply to superpowers as well as spells: a setting might initially set Power Levels based on how useful a person's superpowers are, and only later in the series will the question arise of who wins when two super-beings come into conflict. In resolving such questions, authors often take the easy way out and use the same Power Levels for both purposes. The superhero whose powers are more obviously useful will invariably have powers that are more obviously 'stronger'.
Roleplaying Games can exacerbate this trope because the mechanics of spellcasting often directly incorporate the level of the spell in deciding, for instance, dodge or resistance rates. As a result, the difference between higher-level and lower-level spells is compounded: a higher-level spell that is simply a longer-lasting or wider-range copy of a lower-level spell will be stronger not only because of what it does but also because it is higher level. This can help feed the Quadratic Wizards half of Linear Warriors, Quadratic Wizards.
Aversions often arise for status effect spells in video games, as these are often Useless Useful Spells to prevent them becoming Game Breakers. See also Mundane Utility, which can sometimes inform and sometimes defy this trope. Contrast with Lethal Harmless Powers, which this trope is designed to avoid; said avoidance is often enforced with ObviousRulePatches.
- X-Men comics use Greek letters to mark power levels: Delta-Epsilon (latent), Gamma (almost nonexistent), Beta (weak powers, or powers that only affect the mutant in question), Alpha (powers of moderate to great strength that can affect others), and Omega (depending on the writer, powers that might be "theoretically unlimited" or "can affect the world as a whole"). However, Depending on the Writer, it's instead a rating of how useful or convenient a power is. Alpha powers are useful and controllable. Beta powers are useful but with Power Incontinence. Gammas are weak, but controllable, and Epsilon-Delta are basically the Marauders.
- Outright defied in Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, in which Harry expresses surprise about the Unforgiveable nature of certain specific curses, as even the simplest spells can have lethal applications when applied creatively. The wizards' lack of appreciation for which spells can actually be the most useful - or the most dangerous, or the most horrifying - is one of the themes of the work.
- Magician-class talents were originally used to describe anybody whose powers are useful above and beyond any others: transfiguration, weather magic, informational magic. But later in the series it was established that a Magician's magic will always defeat that of a lesser talent when they go head-to-head, no matter the circumstances.
- There is an attempted subversion with Dot, a minor character whose "spot on the wall" variety of talent turns out to be extremely useful because she can produce any number of dots of any size and therefore create fully detailed mosaic images of things like instruction manuals she's never seen before. But the subversion only goes as far as establishing that her talent is of a much higher level than you would have thought at first glance, and if anybody with the non-Magician-level talent of Cleaning A Wall tried to erase her dots, they'd fail.
- In The Wheel of Time, the spells with the greatest amount of utility, especially Traveling, require so much power that most magic-users in the setting are unable to use them. However, this also varies according to the talent of the individual: one man in particular is almost as weak as a man can be, yet can make a portal as large as anyone else.
- Dungeons & Dragons. In D&D 3.5 the level of a spell is directly added on to the difficulty score of throwing off its effects.
- Even though Mass Inflict Light Wounds does exactly the same damage as Inflict Light Wounds, to each of several people, the difficulty of any given person saving against it is raised by four, just because the spell is higher level. But the spell is at a higher level because it's more useful, not because it's stronger - so making it more difficult to dodge makes little sense.
- Similarly, you'll never see an instant death spell with a ridiculously low save DC; it is assumed that instant death spells are too useful to put at lower levels, even if the very act of putting it at a lower level would make it easier to save against, and therefore less useful.
- This is both played straight and averted in Magic: The Gathering.
- Stronger creatures almost always cost more mana to summon, no matter whether they are larger, more powerful, or are actually a swarm of creatures in one. Stronger single spells, too, cost more mana.
- Due to the way the game is structured, however, many of the most useful cards are actually quite weak individually. They're considered the most useful precisely because they cost nothing or next to nothing, and merely provide an important boost in the early game, allowing you to get ahead of your opponent and stay ahead. The famous Black Lotus, for instance, never killed anybody on its own, but it can help you play other cards that do - and in the first turn of the game. And the Black Lotus costs nothing.
- Counterspells and protective spells are a mixed bag. Some play this trope straight, scaling up their mana cost in accordance with the strength of the spell being countered or the damage you're preventing; but others (such as Circles of Protection) cost a fixed amount no matter how strong the effect being negated is.
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