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Made of Phlebotinum

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"How did this caption get written?"
"Mass Effect."
Some settings have Phlebotinum. It helps move along the plot, Hand Wave various characters' improbable powers, and conveniently get the heroes from point A to point B quickly. It can let you just say A Wizard Did It.

But then some settings...are different. They have nothing but Phlebotinum. That City of Adventure the heroes are exploring around? It's completely floating in the air; not one building is touching the ground. Why? Phlebotinum! In fact, the whole planet is probably bound together with some sort of magical or super-science energy, without which it would simply explode. Every single thing around requires whatever the local flavor of Phlebotinum is to run in worlds such as these, whether it's magic, nanomachines, or something else similar.

The main dividing line between a world that simply has a lot of Phlebotinum and one that's made of the stuff is this litmus test: if you took away the Phlebotinum, would your world still exist in any meaningful sense, or would it more or less just collapse? If it would, your world is just plain Made Of Phlebotinum.

There is actually a great deal of evidence that Real Life is thus: when you develop a potent capability to the point that there are few side effects, you start using it for everything imaginable. When we learned to harness electricity easily, the only things that weren't 100% electrical were the things that we used to generate electricity. When computers became advanced enough, we started carrying them around with us. Litmus Test? If you took away computers, it'd re-create The Great Depression. If you took away electricity, ninety percent of the world would die within a decade.

If something is literally made of Phlebotinum, see Made of Magic.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Bleach. Everything in the Soul Society is made of spirit particles.
    • So is everything in Hueco Mundo.
  • Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. The world runs on Spiral Energy, quite literally the quintessence of determination, hot blood, love, and willpower.
    • As one commenter on YouTube put it...
      Youtube Commenter: I'm not sure which is weirder, the way the universe in this series works, or the fact that the universe works EXACTLY HOW KAMINA THINKS IT DOES!
      • Case in point: Kamina tries the whole Combining Mecha trope by literally smashing together the two parts of the Gurren Lagann. It actually works. Sort of.
      • Even weirder; the two mecha were never parts of each other before they were forcibly combined. There's only scant circumstantial evidence that the Lagann could be a modular attachment to a larger machine, but the attempt to merge it with a cobbled together Gurren caused obvious structural damage that pierced the cockpit, and narrowly avoided opening Kamina's skull to the sky.

    Comic Books 
  • In the early Tales of Suspense issues starred by Iron Man, any and every technological innovation of Tony Stark was made possible thanks to "micro transistors." Even Iron Man's bulky iron armor could be folded like clothes thanks to the micro transistors. Almost every single one of Iron Man's tools was described with the adjective "transistor-powered" before its noun, from powerful magnets to incredibly fast roller skates.
    • The Iron Man films do a similar thing with "repulsor technology". Initially the Jericho missiles are described as using "repulsor technology", which teases the later use of the technology as the foundation for the Iron Man suits. After Tony gets a "close up look at [the] old turbines" as Nick Fury puts it, the turbines on SHIELD's helicarrier are replaced with repulsors. An early version of the repulsor technology is teased in Captain America - The First Avenger with Howard Stark's flying car.

     Fan Works 
  • I Woke Up As a Dungeon, Now What?: Everything in this setting revolves around mana and dungeons (which produce mana). Every form of life requires mana to survive, and all the magic and fabrial-tech runs off mana. Similarly, virtually all resources are harvested from dungeons in one way or another (even the regular flora and fauna is descended from the organisms dungeons spontaneously create), and dungeons are the only safe source of mana.


  • In David Wingrove's Chung Kuo, the world-spanning City is made of "Ice"
  • Discworld can seem ordinary enough at first glance, until it's pointed out that, without heavy duty magic involved, a flat world on the back of a giant turtle that swims through space should be utterly impossible.
    • The Science of Discworld books go on to give the Phlebotinum a name: narrativium, which (together with chelonium and elephantigen) in fact makes the formation of flat worlds on board giant turtles and elephants not only natural, but inevitable. Too bad Roundworld lacks these perfectly normal elements and had to concoct some outlandish alternative involving big rocky balls...
    • In The Last Hero Discworld comic, Cohen and his Silver Horde have made it their mission to bring fire back to the gods — via a large explosive. This would suddenly remove magic from the world and cause everything to die.note 
  • The Roman-based society of Codex Alera is so connected with their Phlebotinum of Furycrafting that the use of certain techniques and technologies, such as quarrying, are a lost art.
  • The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. Then, in the Second Trilogy, they lose the phlebotinum. This is way more horrific than it sounds. In part, because they eventually realize that the phlebotinum hasn't actually been lost: it's become corrupted and is causing the various disruptions that the world is experiencing (rainstorms, droughts, pestilences etc.)
  • Sixth Column by Robert A. Heinlein is heading toward this in the end. The harnessing of magneto-gravitic, electro-gravitic and ternary fields promises to change the world even more than electromagnetism did and much faster. Everything The Resistance uses, both weaponized and mundane is based on those new discoveries.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Eberron's Dungeon Punk world comes to mind as an especially obvious example of this trope. Without that magical-flavored Phlebotinum, everything in that world would fall apart hard. It's pretty much Made Of Phlebotinum.
    • To a lesser extent, all Dungeons & Dragons settings fit this trope. Planescape and Spelljammer especially, but even a place like Forgotten Realms is mildly Made Of Phlebotinum.
    • Ravenloft literally so - it's a series of artificially-created "demiplanes" floating in the misty emptiness of the Ethereal Plane. When a domain's Cosmic Keystone is destroyed, it may be absorbed by neighboring domains, or it may simply collapse into the Mists.
  • Exalted, full stop. Creation itself is the greatest artifact ever built, while Odd Job Gods exist for individual rice grains and their interactions provide the physics of the universe.
    • The Phlebotinum is named Essence, and it is the essence of everything ever. Even the unshaped raksha are made of it and use it to fuel their eldritch powers. Its name is used in many places where we would use the word "atom".
  • Numenera is set a billion years in the future, in the beginning of the Ninth World. As in, there were eight preceding great civilizations (very few of them human) that arose, mastered the Earth and beyond, hung around for thousands if not millions of years, and then collapsed or vanished. Now it's time for the ninth civilization to build itself up, mostly from the bits and pieces of phlebotinum left behind by the others. It's at the point where the whole world may technically be impregnated with or outright made out of smart matter, which enables most "magic" in the setting.

    Video Games 

    Web Original 
  • In the blog-novel Flyover City! – Malphysical Particles create a cosmic loophole which render the laws of physics “malleable”, allowing the story’s superheroes to do all those superhero-y things that are impossible in the real world.
  • The world of Tales of MU is driven by Magitek, the physics are based on A Wizard Did It, and from the point of view of people in other worlds, a knife that was said to be "barely enchanted" is made out of magic.

    Real Life 
  • The four fundamental forces of the universe. We know how they work; the why on the other hand would need a theory of everything (Or at least this universe).
    • The fact that everything is made out of matter is a bit of a headscratcher in itself. Matter and antimatter must have been made in equal quantities in the big bang, so why didn't they just annihilate each other? And even if the matter and antimatter by sheer chance ended up separated enough to not come into contact...where did all the antimatter go?
      • The short answer — they did. We still see a faint echo of that ginormous bang as a cosmic background radiation. It's just that due to the thing called CP-symmetry violation there was just a scant bit more matter than antimatter.
  • Life. Its all over the place, but we don't really have any concrete ideas about where it came from or how it started, and haven't had much luck finding it anywhere else so far.

Alternative Title(s): Phlebotinum Runs The World