Follow TV Tropes


Conditional Powers

Go To

"No vegan diet, no vegan powers!"
Vegan Police, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Alice has a superpower, but she only gets to keep the power as long as she does (or doesn't do) a specific thing, such as having Healing Hands unless she fights in battle — or possibly kills. If she violates these conditions, she faces some sort of consequences. At the most benign, the power just stops working. At the more extreme end, Alice can face repercussions ranging from anything up to facing physical backlash from the power or divine punishment. The severity of these consequences is usually directly proportional to the potential benefits of the power. Whether or not the risk outweighs the reward depends heavily on Alice's perspective.

This can serve multiple narrative purposes. It can impose needed limitations on particularly potent abilities. Allowing them to remain in play when necessary while avoiding invalidating the plot by being useless outside of the needed time. Restrictions can offer insight and force growth on a user of these powers by observing how they operate under these restrictions or whether or not they consider the power to be worth it. It can also encourage creative conflict resolution rather than allowing pure power to be the only deciding factor. Conditions can also equalize mismatches by allowing a weaker character a method of defeating a stronger one by maneuvering them into a position where their conditions cannot be fulfilled.

The trope can easily be misused if a writer isn't careful. Balancing the benefits provided by a condition with the limitations it imposes on an ability is an inexact science. Too great a restriction risks turning the power into an example of Blessed with Suck or impose a Weaksauce Weakness. Too loose with the condition or if its used inconsistently, it becomes nothing but an Informed Flaw. When done correctly, this trope can add spice to even some of the most basic abilities and hook an audience into some of the most unusual fights. In some cases, it's possible to create an entire power system around conditions, which can result in particularly unpredictable encounters where a battle could take the form of just about anything. If done correctly, even seemingly-useless powers can show at they can be great when properly use.

A Super-Trope of Virgin Power, where the something is not having sex, and Oathbound Power, where it's adherence to a specific vow or creed. Compare to Equivalent Exchange, No Man of Woman Born, and Situational Sword. Contrast Pent-Up Power Peril when, instead, you have to use your power regularly or else something bad will happen.


    open/close all folders 

     Anime and Manga 
  • In Attack on Titan, All Titan Shifters inherit the Curse of Ymir, which means that they will only live 13 years after receiving their power (since that's how long Ymir Fritz, the original Titan Shifter, lived after gaining her power). Also, to use the powers of the Founding Titan correctly, one has to be Ymir Fritz's direct descendant or is at least in contact with a direct descendant who is also a Titan.
  • In the universe of Avesta of Black and White there exists something called a Commandment. Basically what it is is a set of restrictions put on an individual that forbids them from certain actions, lest they suffer divine retribution. The trade-off though is that they gain immense powers related to said restriction. One character for example is forbidden from ever healing her injuries, but gains greater physical strength the more she is wounded in battle as well as a limited form of immortality.
  • In Banana no Nana those with powers have a condition they must follow. For example, the protagonist Nana has to eat a banana still in its skin every day and every time she uses her power to manipulate bananas, and her friend Ringo has superhuman leg strength, but can only use it when wearing a ridiculously short mini-skirt.
  • In Campione!, Godou Kusanade has several powers that he's only allowed to activate in specific conditions. He can only use his super strength in situations that would actually require super strength (for example, he could use it if he were fighting a bear, but not if he were fighting an ordinary human). He can only unleash a stallion formed from The Power of the Sun against a target who has committed great sins, etc.
  • In Darker than Black, Contractors need to perform a 'remuneration' of varying degrees of seriousness/irony after each use of their power, be it drinking beer, breaking their own fingers, baking a cake, or de-aging. Under rare circumstances, it is actually possible to 'pay off' the contract in full—like Mao, a Contractor whose human body died while he was animal-surfing, after which they don't need to do anything anymore.
    • Or Hei who got his powers from his sister. She transfered them to him at the cost of her life. Because of this he also avoids the sociopathic tendencies of the other Contractors.
  • In the anime and manga of El-Hazard: The Magnificent World, the teacher Fujisawa has super-strength so long as he can refrain from drinking alcohol. In the anime, he gets even stronger after running out of cigarettes.
  • A specific mechanic with Nen abilities in Hunter × Hunter is turning your power into this. By limiting the conditions in which you can use an ability and/or impose penalties for not using them within those conditions, a Nen user can multiply their Nen ability's power several times over, and the harder the conditions are to accomplish, the more powerful the technique becomes in turn.
  • This is a common drawback among various Stands in JoJo's Bizarre Adventure. Most Stands can at least serve some function on their own, but some with powerful, but esoteric abilities only operate under very specific circumstances, requiring the Stand User to manipulate their situation to match those circumstances to use their power.
  • In The Law of Ueki, the God Candidates have, to varying degrees, powers, for which they have to meet special conditions. This includes requirements such as trash small enough to fit in your both hands for creating trees and control them, holding your breath to turn bath towels into steel or putting your fingers up someone's nose to turn them ugly and/or fat.

    Asian Animation 
  • Discussed in episode 2 of BoBoiBoy, where Gopal doesn't yet know his powers when everyone else does and he suggests maybe helping people will cause his powers to emerge. Unfortunately, it doesn't work.

     Comic Books  

  • In Scott Pilgrim, being a Vegan gives you psychic powers by freeing up the remaining 90% of Your Brain, as demonstrated by Todd Ingram, the third evil ex-boyfriend. This bites him in the ass when he eats gelato shortly before the fight, and the Vegan Police remove them mid-battle.
    • They're surprisingly lenient about it in the film compared to other examples of this trope. You get multiple screw ups before there are consequences.
      • On the other hand, one of the infringements they punish Todd is accidental, thanks to a Poisoned Chalice Switcheroo. The others are stated to be mistakes on Todd's part, as he was unaware that gelato contains milk and eggs (something he was fully aware of in the comic) and that chicken is a meat.
      • That being said, Todd claiming to not know that gelato and chicken aren't part of a vegan diet could just be him trying to feign ignorance.
  • Wonder Woman Vol 1: Golden Age Amazons have three such restrictions:
    • So long as no man sets foot inside the capitol of Paradise Island and the Amazons do not submit and offer obeisance to a man they are immortal and do not age (as adults) while on Paradise Island.
    • So long as the queen wears her Golden Girdle the Amazons (as a group) cannot be defeated, by any foe. As they're superpowered fighters with centuries of experience on the few occasions a foe has caught them out on this they notice quickly that they don't have that extra bit of invulnerability and adjust quickly.
    • Should an Amazon's bracelets be welded together by a man they lose their super-strength until the weld is unmade. This one is tricky, as they're still stronger than the average human and Diana has been able to break chains holding her bracelets together that were welded by men, just with far more effort than normal.

     Fan Works 

  • Bitter Seeds by Ian Tregillis features a team of psychic children. Their powers require electrical batteries wired into their brains. As long as the batteries are charged, they can burninate and phase-shift to their hearts' content. Once they run out of juice though ...
  • Enchanted Forest Chronicles: In book 4 (Talking to Dragons), Daystar accidentally makes Shiara's powers only work when she is polite. She does not like this one bit.
  • In A Fine and Private Place by Peter S. Beagle, Jonathan Rebeck's ability to see ghosts and speak with the raven is connected to his liminal existence in the cemetery; when he leaves at the end of the novel he loses both.
  • Lythande stories. Each Adept of the Blue Star has a Dark Secret, and if an Adept's secret is spoken aloud, henote  will lose his powers.
  • In Pact, mystic practitioners are bound by agreements that they make, and are unable to lie, or they lose their power. Given that the setting also depends on making deals with Others for power, this means that several practitioners are bound by agreements that force them to not swear or make an effort to get to school on time. As oaths and promises accumulate, the practitioners must step carefully to avoid telling a lie or violating their agreements, thus losing their power.
  • In the Scholarly Magics series, the power a wizard gains in his or her Rite of Passage will be immediately lost if he or she ever tells anybody what happened during it. A College of Magics includes a scene where a witch who has acted in a manner unbecoming is stripped of her powers by being forced to publicly recount the events of her vigil.
  • In Super Powereds, the five protagonists are former Powereds (people with superpowers and Power Incontinence), who have been given control over their abilities through an unspecified procedure, becoming full-fledged Supers. They typically have triggers that activate their powers, although only one was actually described and ends up being a plot point several times. In order to become his Superpowered Alter Ego Roy, Hershel has to drink whiskey (which is illegal since he's not 21 yet). He always carries a flask with whiskey on his person, just in case he needs Roy to come out. In Year 1, when Hershel is kidnapped, the bad guys make sure to take away his flask, thus keeping him normal. Nick shoots him (non-fatally) with a whiskey-coated bullet, thus delivering it directly into his bloodstream.
  • The Wheel of Time: Many "Wilders", whose channeling powers spontaneously manifested, have mental blocks that restrict how they can use them; Aes Sedai Magical Society works hard to break those. Nynaeve first channeled in a How Dare You Die on Me! moment to Heal a child, leaving her only able to channel when angry until a Near-Death Experience breaks her block. Another wilder admits that she used to need to have a boy present to be able to channel, so her tutors kept a Sweet Polly Oliver in the classroom who eventually took "his" shirt off in front of her.
  • In Wizard of the Pigeons by Megan Lindholm, the wizard and his colleagues each have a condition on which their powers depend. (One, for instance, may not use her powers to help others unless they ask her to.) Some of the wizard's troubles in the book result from him forgetting which of the rules he lives by is the condition, and which are just rules he's given himself.
  • In Xanth, Ida's talent is that she can make any idea become true, provided that it's suggested to her by someone who doesn't know that she can do this. This originally even included her... when she didn't know what her talent was. Either way, all she has to do is "agree" with the idea, as long as the idea's source doesn't know about her talent.

     Live-Action TV 

  • Played with in Supernatural.
    • The angel Castiel has multiple awesome powers, but they're to some degree maintained by his connection to Heaven. When he chooses to rebel against his orders and help the Winchesters, he loses certain abilities outright while the rest of them then diminish over time until he's left essentially human. For a day or two.
    • The angel Anna had the same powers, but also disobeyed. Instead of losing power gradually, they straight-up ripped their Grace out and fell to Earth, which was probably a better option than sticking around to get executed. Disobedience generally robs angels of their powers one way or another (though seraphs and archangels are immune).

     Mythology and Religion 
  • Book of Judges: Samson had Super-Strength in exchange for a number of promises to God, including not cutting his hair. When he tells his secret to his lover (who has already tried to exploit various fake weaknesses), Delilah, she betrays him and has him shaved, and he lost his strength. By this point Samson had already broken the other promises he made to God — the shaving was just the last straw.
  • Geas was a boon granted by a supernatural being that bound one to certain rules. Cu Chulainn was bound by two such laws: one, he could never partake of dog meat, and two, he would always accept hospitality when offered. His downfall came when a hag offered him a meal of dog meat, forcing him to break his geas.
  • Classical Mythology: Antaeus was the son of Poseidon and Gaea, who remained invincible as long as he was in contact with earth. Hercules had to hold him off the ground to defeat him.
  • Native American Mythology: A legend features a man who has a "can't be hit by bullets as long as I don't touch metal" power, which was nullified by accidentally touching a ladle.

     Tabletop Games  
  • 7th Sea has the ability Geas which is given to you by their equivalent of a gypsy. It grants the user an extra experience die, as long as they do not violate the rule that was given to them.
  • In The Dresden Files RPG, Items of Power and Sponsored Magic tend to come with restrictions on how and when they can be used. The most obvious for Items of Power is that the item has to be in your possession to use the powers. Some sponsored magics will only work for certain ends—a demon might grant a character a bonus to their spellcasting power, but only if they're using that spell to kill, for example. In other cases, it's a little more lenient, and will only not work for certain things—a Sword of the Cross, for example, will work for just about any ass-kicking so long as it's a righteous ass-kicking for the cause of good, but will stop working and drop out of the user's hands of its own accord if the wielder tries to use it for selfish or evil reasons.
  • Many classes in Dungeons & Dragons, especially ones that grant powers with a divine power source. Paladins are arguably the most well-known example; if a paladin knowingly performs any act that isn't Lawful Good, his paladin powers are stripped from him until he atonesnote . But the Forsaker probably takes the cake as it requires you to destroy magic items daily to maintain your powers. Although alignments were mostly removed from 4e, meaning there was no MECHANICAL way for someone to lose their abilities, it's also explicitly stated that all rules are up to GM fiat. Meaning should the paladin of Bahamut not diverge the party from their trek to stop the Big Bad because a small contingent of his men are attacking from a village he's not instantly stripped of his powers; should he decide to instead extort huge sums of money from said villagers to protect them, he may suddenly find his charisma-based spells useless and his lower-strength basic attacks pinging futilely off of enemy armor.
  • A standard way to build power modifiers in GURPS is to take a Vow, then add the point value of the Vow to the power modifier, to reflect the fact that your power goes away if you break the Vow. Vows are disadvantages worth negative points, so your power becomes cheaper this way, to make up for it being harder to keep.
  • Combined with Oathbound Power in Princess: The Hopeful. Princesses have access to a specific set of powers known as Invocations, which allows them to enhance their Charms and is required to activate some of them. Each Invocation is connected to a specific Queen, and through her to her personal philosophy, which a Princess has to follow for the Invocation to work properly; if the Princess commits an action explicitly against the philosophy (such as starting a fight for a follower of the Queen of Clubs), she loses access to the Invocation for a specific amount of time.
  • Shadowrun mages often prevent magic loss by accepting something like this being applied to their magic. They can be as simple as needing to chant while casting spells to needing to not eat anything for 24 hours or needing to be in a forest/city/desert/whatever.
  • Many magic schools in Unknown Armies work this way.

    Video Games  
  • Several Forensic Fortes in Master Detective Archives: Rain Code require specific conditions to be active on top of Yuma Kokohead's "Coalescence" where he has to be holding the user's hand if he wants to share their Forte when in use. Halara Nightmare's "Postcognition" for example allows them to see exactly how a crime scene was discovered by a third-party; the victim and culprit don't count and they must be present at said crime scene, which is convenient when solving Chapter 1's "Nail Man" murders which involve months-old cases. This screws over the Worshipper who had extensive knowledge about the serial killings and was the first one to discover the bodies following him trying to warn the future victims, only to try and frame one he committed himself as a Nail Man murder, but him being the murderer meant that the third Nail Man killing's Postcognition was actually from the perspective of a museum employee accompanying him since the Worshipper knocked over a can of paint after stumbling onto the crime scene right before the former, resulting in the paint being carved into the Postcognition.
  • Downplayed in Pillars of Eternity. Through dialogue and story decisions, it is possible to acquire various "reputations", such as "Honest", "Rational", "Subtle", etc. The Paladins and the Priests' class powers depend on how well the Player Character's reputations align with the goals of the Paladin's order or the teachings of the Priest's deity, respectively. While role-playing the "wrong" way won't strip either class of their powers, it significantly diminishes their effectiveness, while role-playing "correctly" gives them a considerable boost.
  • Shantae: The Monkey Bullet move needs to be acquired, and then to use it, the Monkey form has to be clinging to a wall before it can launch off it.

     Web Animation  
  • In Homestar Runner, Bubs apparently had the ability to fly (or at least hover a few inches off the ground) until Strong Bad got him to say "sbu".

    Web Comics 
  • In Homestuck, anyone who ascends to God Tier has conditional immortality. As long as Sburb doesn't consider their death "Heroic" or "Just", they can come back to life and continue fighting.

     Western Animation  
  • Timmy Turner's access to his fairy godparents in The Fairly OddParents! has this condition. If he tells anyone about his fairies, they'll go away forever.
  • From Gargoyles:
    • Puck eventually has a geas laid on him that he can only use his magic to teach or protect Xanatos's infant son Alexander. Otherwise, he's just Owen.
    • Demona and Macbeth are immortal thanks to a spell cast on them by the Weird Sisters. The spell keeps each alive as long as the other lives. The only way for either of them to die is if one kills the other. This turns out to be the true reason Macbeth hunted Demona for centuries. He is weary of his existence and he just wants to rest forever. He mostly gives this up after the Weird Sisters (for their own reasons) convince him that death has never brought him peace.
  • In Miraculous Ladybug, Miraculous wielders are restricted societally, not by inherent conditions of the magic itself. If a wielder misuses their powers- like Marinette and Chat Blanc have done- they can expect other wielders to find out and demand an explanation (at the very least). The Guardian of the Miraculous empowered Marinette and Adrien so they could do this to Hawkmoth.
  • Sabrina: The Animated Series: it's not a direct problem for a witch to reveal his/her witchiness to a mortal, but if that mortal tells another mortal, the witch gets depowered.
  • Raven from Teen Titans can only manifest her most dramatic magical abilities while feeling particularly strong emotions- something she deliberately avoids, as this also leaves her open to Power Incontinence and/or possession by her Superpowered Evil Side.
  • Part of the shtick in The Wild Thornberrys was that Eliza was given the power to talk to animals—and if she revealed the fact to anyone, she would lose the ability.