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"We don't ask that you stay within the bounds of physics, but at least follow the rules you freaking made up."

Works heavy on speculative elements, such as Science Fiction and Fantasy, often have an assortment of fantastic intangibles we cannot even dream of encountering in Real Life — yet act in a completely consistent way, as if governed by imaginary rules of physics, or at least, they do if the writer knows what they're doing. No matter how fantastic the events in a piece of fiction, their Internal Consistency is what makes or breaks the Willing Suspension of Disbelief. You can have the tech guy of La Résistance explain in oblique terms involving the word "nano" why The Empire's fairy dust superweapon needs an hour to recharge after activation, and the audience will nod its collective head and smile; but if you later have that superweapon fire twice in succession, you just made a Plot Hole and they'll all be at your throat.


Internal consistency is often a superior alternative to attempting to scientifically explain every fantastical element in the story. Without it, any instance would quickly degenerate into an Info Dump of quasi-physics and pseudo-science.

In a related trope, a common response by fans of a series to plot holes is, "You're talking about a story which literally involves magic." The answer is that while the audience can accept the existence of magic within the context of the story, that doesn't automatically explain every contradiction within that story. Using the mere existence of fantasy elements in a story to justify continuity errors is A Wizard Did It.

It's possible to break consistency without damaging the Willing Suspension of Disbelief. It takes work; basically, the work of making a believable case that the violation did not happen out of nowhere. One way is to have the characters themselves notice the inconsistency; this only reinforces that it is unusual and there might be an explanation for it somewhere. If none ever ends up being offered, at least it relegates a glaring Plot Hole to mere Fridge Logic. After all, if Magic is actually like science, then the theory will likely be wrong sometimes and will have to be revised in the same way as earth science.


Related to Wrong Context Magic, when someone explicitly has the ability to circumvent it, Unequal Rites, where there's more than one type of magic, each with their own rules, and Your Magic's No Good Here, where the rules change in a different dimension or world. See also Beyond the Impossible, where internal logic is deliberately broken. If the rules are the same as the rules governing real physics but the energy source and methods are different that's Scientifically Understandable Sorcery.

See also Minovsky Physics, which is a fictional physics with extremely detailed laws that makes it look like real physics as well as the Cool of Rule. Contrast New Rules as the Plot Demands and How Unscientific!; also contrast Gameplay and Story Segregation, which is an entire category of notoriously common Video Game violations of this trope.



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    Anime & Manga 
  • Dragon Ball:
    • While the exact mechanics of ki and battle power are never fully explained, they do follow consistent rules. Among other things, the rules about who can fly, who can transform, and who can regenerate are all the same for everyone across the board. And if there's someone who does break the rules, an explanation is given as to why they can.
    • Dragon Ball Z also does this for the rules of the Saiyan race, which are kept internally consistent throughout the entire series for every Saiyan character, especially when it comes to Super Saiyan levels.
    • The titular Dragon Balls have their own rules that govern how often they can be used and what wishes they can grant. Earth's dragon, Shenron, notably cannot affect people whose power exceeds his creator, cannot revive the same person twice, and can be used to bring back multiple people under one wish as long as they died within the last year. Porunga is similar, but offers three wishes, can revive the same person any number of times, and originally cannot revive multiple people with a single wish. Later, both sets of Dragon Balls are upgraded to be similar in power.
  • Read or Die sets the arbitrary yet consistent rule that only the most skilled paper-manipulators may use paper that gets wet.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist never gets into the "nuts and bolts" of how one learns alchemy or gets it to work, but we are shown through repeated example that it requires a great deal of research, practice and the use of inscribed runes or circles to make it happen. There is also the constantly repeated rule of Equivalent Exchange, that for the alchemist to create something, he or she must destroy something of equal value (in practice, this means just having the necessary raw materials at hand — the act of construction itself doesn't seem to "cost" anything, since alchemy uses geothermal energy). In fact, the author's notes at the beginning of the manga emphasize that the series was originally intended to showcase a B-movie style version of real-life alchemy, without so much emphasis on the actual science behind it. In the 2003 anime, though, it's revealed that human souls from our world, especially the influx of souls from World War One are the cost being paid to perform alchemy. Philosopher's Stones seem to break this, acting as an infinite energy source, but in the manga/Brotherhood it's revealed quite early on they're compressed human souls and they eventually run out like a battery.
  • Death Note:
    • This is one of the central tropes of the series, with Light Yagami pushing each of the rules for using the eponymous Death Note to its breaking point, while his adversary L uses every clue available to determine the limits of "Kira's" powers. Some of the rules themselves are written out in an explicit, detailed manner in the first episode; others are puzzled out over time, and shown briefly in Eye Catch segments; a full list is here.
    • Some of these rules are introduced before they actually become relevant to the plot, while others never become relevant at all. One of Light's most devious tricks is to write a fake rule into a Death Note to throw L off his trail.
    • It's one of the rules that Shinigami don't have to explain all the rules to humans holding a Death Note unless one of them is about to be broken.
    • When The Simpsons comic book did a parody of it, they got rid of the impossible situations rule. Which led to, among other things, Flanders getting pecked to death by a flock of flying penguins.
    • Ryuk states that no one ever tried to systematically test out the full limits of the Death Note rules the way Light does. They usually just use the default rule that you need to know a person's name and face and when you write their name they die of a heart attack — sometimes playing around with the "set circumstances of how they die" rule. Light realized he can effectively mind control people for extended periods of time by exploiting this, so long as it ends in their death. This does have limits, though, which are fuzzy in-universe: you can't mind-control people to do things there was no possibility of them doing without your intervention, i.e. telling them to kill someone they've never heard about — but the limits of what someone might "plausibly" do are inherently vague. Another in-universe vague rule is how much of a person's face you need to be able to see: if someone is wearing a mask that partially obscures their face, how much is enough? The Death Note outright states this is a loose rule, but generally, you need to see enough that you can distinguish their face from someone else's. Basically, Light pushes rules to the limit which most people were barely aware of in the first place, so how consistently he can apply "Magic A is Magic A" is unknown in-universe.
  • Ranma ½: Magical transformations have a set of basic of very generalized rules to purposely avoid complicated minutiae ("I don't think about it, and neither should you!") despite whatever fans say.
  • Nasuverse: Nasu Kinoko's works have a nasty habit of setting up incredibly complex and detailed rules about The 'Verse...then having a character with some really rare ability break those rules. Only that character alone can ever do it (and probably not more than once), otherwise it's completely consistent. Needless to say, the rules in the Nasuverse are extremely complicated to the point of Mind Screw. The fact that more than a few rules contradict others makes it worse.
    • One of them: Nothing can reverse being a vampire, once you pass a certain point. Ever. Period, end of story. One character is an ex-vampire, through said convoluted spoilersnote . One character is almost at that certain point, and one character comes within inches of it
    • Another example is that you can't just make stuff with magic and expect it to stay around. It'll be gone within minutes. Unless you happen to have mastered the First True Magic that is, or you're Shirou and have a Reality Marble that allows you to break that rule.
    • Reality marbles themselves are either a very good example of this trope or a glaring break from it, depending how you look at it. But ultimately the concept boils down to a detailed and structured set of rules for breaking a detailed and structured set of rules. It's stated in-universe that the point of reality marbles IS breaking the rules.
  • Mahou Sensei Negima! does well with this by only ever explaining the nature of strategies and techniques, and leaving the actual science of magic for the Lexicon Magicum Negimarium. Even still, the eponymous Negi makes it clear that he's never heard of anything like a money tree and that Love Potions aren't common and are unreliable because magic wasn't meant to be used like that (later it's made clear that love potions are completely illegal in Magical society). It doesn't stop Love Is in the Air moments from occurring (often hilarious).
    • There is at least one rule Negi can break by kissing hard enough but no one knows if that was a rule to begin with, and considering that his ancestors created the Pactio system to begin with, he has a surprising amount of leverage. In other words, magic still follows the laws, but one of those laws is nepotism.
    • In the situation of Negi and Jack Rakan, whenever they break a seeming rule, it is brought to our attention, such as Chisame calling Rakan the man with infinite cheats, the one time he doesn't break a rule.
  • Code Geass has Lelouch test out via experiment the constraints of his Geass. The show mostly sticks to the established rules, and when it doesn't, it's usually because a Geass has "evolved".
  • For all the magic and curses flying around in Tsubasa -RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE- and Xxx HO Li C, it is made indisputably clear that the one rule of that multi-verse is that the dead don't come back. No matter what you pay, they stay dead. Yoko's living dead situation caused all the Mind Screwy mess in the former series because this sort of thing isn't supposed to happen.
  • Hunter × Hunter does this with the Nen-system. Going further, while Nen itself has its own rules and limits, specific abilities can also have rules of their own set in place by their creators. Examples of such rules can be placing limitations on how and when an ability can be used. Further, due to the general rules of Nen, setting such limitations can make the actual ability far more powerful. For example, Kurapika creates powerful attacks with the limits that they can only be used against the Phantom Troupe and he will die if he misuses them. These limitations allow him to take on the most physically powerful of his enemies one-on-one without difficulty.
  • The rules of Immortality in Baccano! are made clear-cut in episode 7 (and even earlier in the books). The rules in the book are elaborated on a bit more (primarily because at least two immortals have been spending 200 years testing the constraints), but the principles are still the same:
  • Future Diary has diaries that can predict the future. However, the limits of the future that they may predict varies from character to character. Yukki, for instance, has a diary that can only predict what is going on around him, from his perspective. Yuno, being Yukki's stalker, has a diary that updates her on things that are going to happen to Yukki. The only exceptions to the rules are if a character's DEAD END comes up, which will be a prediction of the future of the diary holder's death.
  • NEEDLESS: One Needless, one Fragment. It's consistent throughout the story, with certain Fragments can imitate the effect of other Fragments to some extent, i.e. Kana's Flamethrower is as good as the power of a Fire Needless. The Hero and the Big Bad have fragments that can learn the abilities of other fragments.
  • Each episode of Gunbuster has a little "science lesson" short that explains a certain aspect of the show's universe, laying out the physics behind it.
  • In Majokko Tsukune-chan, the Cute Witch heroine explains that while she can reverse her magic spells, she can't reverse any collateral damage that results from said spells. Since this is a Gag Series, Hilarity Ensues.
  • A certain middle school class in Another must deal year after year with a curse that will potentially kill members of the class and/or their immediate loved ones. This goes on for twenty-five years, more than long enough to determine many of the rules that govern the curse. For instance, the curse only takes effect within the school's town. The one time a death appears to be an exception the actual cause of death was an injury that occurred before they even left.
  • Zoids:
    • The Zoids: Chaotic Century manga establishes a rule that Organoids cannot beam into any Zoid at will. Zeke needs their permission, and Shadow will kill any Zoid it beams into. The anime, on the other hand, never establishes an equivalent limitation, and as a result the series has a ton of plot holes as the Organoids behave in an inconsistent manner.
    • Zoids: Genesis states that Bio-Zoid armour can only be harmed by Metal Zi weapons, and in particular are immune to beam weapons. This stays consistent, and later the armor is upgraded to be even more resistant to Metal Zi. However, there are other weaknesses related to the structure of the Bio-Zoids — their mouths (which breath fire) are extremely vulnerable, if difficult, targets, and can be destroyed by even the aforementioned beam weapons. The Bio-Zoids that didn't get the more powerful armor can be crushed, for instance by a group of falling rocks larger than them. And they also have one other, even rarer weakness — if they fall into lava, they melt. Late in the show a Brastle Tiger comes around with a gun that can turn land into pits of lava, which is a very effective weapon against a swarm of them.
  • Ojamajo Doremi: Magic follows a set of rules that is definitely adhered to throughout the series.
    • You cannot use magic to heal someone. If you do, you automatically suffer those wounds.
    • You cannot bring someone back from the dead. If you try to cast it and succeed in bringing the dead back to life, then you will die in the formerly-dead person's place.
    • You cannot use magic to directly control other people's thoughts and feelings. If you do, then you will fall into a coma, the length of which depending on how much of it you used and how long you've managed to deflect the punishment.
  • One Piece: While the individual powers and the rules regarding them vary wildly, every Devil Fruit ability follows consistent general rules. Any exceptions, real or imagined, are typically unique and always Lampshaded.
    • Those who have powers are unable to swim and grow weak when submerged in water. Even a character who possesses the power to swim through nearly everything else will drown if submerged. This also applies to creatures who are otherwise aquatic, like Fishmen. A Fishman with Devil Fruit powers will not drown, but they will still be rendered immobile and need rescue.
    • Two of the same fruit/power can not exist at the same time, though similar, overlapping powers are possible. This is first brought up in Thriller Bark, where the crew first meets the skeleton man Brook and then proceed to encounter Gecko Moria's zombie army. The idea that the zombies could be reanimated the same way Brook was is dismissed because of this rule and, indeed, the zombies are a product of Moria's Living Shadow powers. Later, in Dressrosa, a Devil Fruit is put up as a prize in a fighting tournament. The Devil Fruit had been eaten and used by another character already, but that character had died some time before the Dressrosa arc, causing their Fruit to reappear elsewhere for Big Bad Doflamingo to acquire.
    • Any attempt to eat more than one Devil Fruit is supposedly fatal. When a character does so and instead gains the power of the second Devil Fruit in addition to his existing one, this is a shocking event in-universe and years later (both in and out of universe) it's still a complete mystery how this was possible. The only hint was that the character in question was implied to have an irregular body (something noted much later on when it's rumored said character does not sleep.)
    • Logia-type users can become intangible by turning into their element, unless attacked with Haki or an opposing element. The exception to this is Blackbeard's Dark-Dark Fruit, whose powers are partially based on gravity and absorption. Indeed, rather than let things pass through him, Blackbeard is forced to attract things to himself even if he'd prefer not to.
    • Zoan-type users can transform into either full animal, their full original form, or a third in-between form. Tony Tony Chopper has more than the standard three, but this is explained due to his medical knowledge and experimental pharmaceuticals that only he can make for his own use called the "Rumble Ball". Rob Lucci is able to assume a second version of his in-between form via a body modification technique completely unrelated to the Devil Fruit.
    • The second source of superpowers in One Piece, Haki, was following this trope before it was even formally introduced. The "Color of Observation", or "Observation Haki" grants a Spider-Sense that is very useful for Combat Clairvoyance and detecting other people's emotions, the "Color of Armaments", or "Armament Haki" is a form of Magic Enhancement-based Instant Armor that can also be used to enhance attacks & weapons and can be used to bypass Devil Fruit provided defenses (such as the infamous Logia intangibility). "The Color of the Conquering King", or "Conqueror's Haki" is a Death Glare of Awesomeness that can incapacitate the weak-willed.
    • A third source of superpowers comes from Dials, or sea shells of shellfish that live in the sky-sea shallows of various Sky Islands. There are many styles of shell, each with at least two versions of the same effect. For example, Flame Dials emit fire when the apex of the shell (that acts like a button) is pressed, but Heat dials only become hot. Sky Island warfare is the skillful use of Dials, including embedding them into normal weapons, effectively giving them permanent enchantments. Usopp becomes very excited when he trades rubber bands for a huge bag of assorted dials, and uses them to upgrade the half-lame Clima Tact he made for Nami into the Perfect Clima Tact, and his own slingshot into the Kabuto.
  • High School Dx D:
    • The precise rules that magic and other powers operate on is never discussed in much detail, but there are ways to break the rules. Such "Balance Breakers" range from simply being obscenely powerful, to a supposedly uncontrollable Yin-Yang Bomb.
    • It's established fairly early that due to the effects of the Great Offscreen War (Namely, God is Dead), the rules in the setting are starting to break down. This results in such plot-relevant oddities as a sword that has both holy and demonic properties at the same time, and Issei being able to incorporate a fragment of Divine Dividing into his Boosted Gear, despite the two being designed to cancel each other out.
  • "Magic" in the Lyrical Nanoha franchise is essentially a massive pool of energy that certain living creatures can tap into and shape with the help of very complex mathematics to bring about spectacular, if temporary effects. Since it is very much rooted in conventional physics, the settings' mages actually have computers to help them store magical formulas and reproduce them quicker, and they can teach "spells" (essentially, magical programs) to other mages with minor alterations to produce exactly the same effects.
  • In SD Gundam Force, there is a distinct difference in the power of Mana, which all people native to Lacroa can use, and the power of Spirit, which one can only use by a pact with a supernatural creature like the Griffin or Dragons. This difference is very important when the evil knight Tallgeese was sealed in the Dark Hole; Mana can't work in the Dark Hole, but the Spirits exist just fine. Because Tallgeese had been fused with the Griffin at the time, he was able to escape.
  • Deconstructed in Uzumaki: it becomes clear that the supernatural events afflicting the town aren’t random. There are rules deciding what happens and breaking those rules incurs horrifying punishments. One problem; nobody knows what the rules are. And the Eldritch Abomination causing all this doesn’t care to explain. And the rules change over time, with zero announcement. The only method of discerning them is trial-and-error, but any error means you’re dead.
  • Dr. Stone has a similar deconstruction: Initially nobody knows what the "Stone Beam" that petrified humanity is or where it came from, but during the Treasure Island arc, the heroes meet a villager whose people are terrorized by people who have a weapon that produces a smaller-scale version of the effect, and actually managed to escape the effects of the beam personally. Senku is excited by this because it proves that the "Stone Beam" is a scientific weapon, meaning it has rules and restrictions and therefore they can work out a way to defeat and potentially reverse it.
  • This is the fundamental narrative rule behind JoJo's Bizarre Adventure from Stardust Crusaders and onward: Stands, wielded by heroes, villains, and neutral parties alike, can endow their users with superhuman abilities. However, all of them are bound by particular rules, and a more effective Stand must have a tradeoff of some sort, which adversaries can exploit once discovered and which bound their users to fight in particular ways. For instance, Josuke Higashikata's healing powers work at a distance, but only up to about two meters away from him, requiring him to stay on the front lines to be effective.

  • In the Child Ballad "Willie's Lady", Willie's mother knows his wife could not have given birth without undoing her spells, which lets them trick the knowledge of how to do it out of her.

    Comic Books 
  • The Exiles version of Mimic had a very specific brand of Power Copying:
    • He can mimic any power (up to, and including the Phoenix Force).
    • He has to be within a certain range of the person he's mimicking. E.g., if there's no one nearby with a healing factor, he can't give himself one. If there is, he can.
    • He can only mimic five people's powers at any one time. If he wants more he has to "switch" one power set for another.
    • Each power he mimics is at approximately half the strength of the original user.
    • He can mimic a power instantly, but it fades very quickly if he doesn't spend a prolonged period of time (about six hours) in relatively close proximity to the person he's mimicking.
  • X-Men explicitly tries to be internally consistent with mutant powers in that each mutant gets one mutation, along with any Required Secondary Powers. Then "Secondary Mutations" throws that right out the window, not that it hasn't been broken in the past.
  • Superman is an interesting example. When he was first published in The Golden Age of Comic Books, he was simply "leap an eighth of a mile or hurdle a 20 story building", "lift tremendous weights", "run faster than an express train" and "Nothing less than a bursting shell could penetrate his skin", or as later adaptations more eloquently put it: "faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings with a single bound". Then, The Silver Age of Comic Books started a massive Power Creep, Power Seep, with his abilities including powers as ludicrous as Super-Ventriloquism and Super-Weaving. It wasn't until later when his powers finally settled in the most accepted set nowadays: flight, invulnerability, super-strength, super-speed, super-hearing, X-ray vision, heat vision, and super-breath. Additionally, the basic/familiar power set above had become cemented by the early Silver Age (heat vision became a permanently separate power from x-ray vision in the early 60s). note 
  • Jesse Custer, from the comic Preacher, possesses the Voice of God, which cannot be disobeyed. While this falls more under the purview of divine power, it is not without its limitations:
    • First, Jesse must be physically and mentally able to speak. If he's gagged or delirious, no Voice.
    • Second, the subject must be able to hear Jesse. Jesse's recurring nemesis, Herr Starr, managed to escape Jesse's voice simply by covering his ears and repeating the word "no" over and over.
    • Finally, the subject must be able to understand the order Jesse is giving. In one instance, Herr Starr takes advantage of this by sending hitmen to kill Jesse that didn't speak English, and it's worth noting that wild animals don't speak any kind of human.
  • Fables is a bit confusing. All Myths Are True, and exist in another universe. However, Nick Slick (apparently the devil) and the Frankenstein monster seem to have always existed in the real world, and even mundane world wolves appear to have a complex language and even a religion, implying that they're far more intelligent than real-world wolves. It's partially resolved in that over the course of the series it becomes apparent that it is not our world. Jack of Fables makes it much more noticeable as it shows superpowered abstract entities already exist in the Fables universe.
  • The Green Lantern Power Ring should be able to avoid this, as it is advertised as being capable of anything the wearer can imagine. People still complain when it does something exceptional, though, mostly because it stands out as being extremely unusual. However, most of the Green Lantern Corps don't exercise the full advantage of imagination when wielding one. This is why people like Kyle Rayner, an artist, stand out. And when handled properly, John Stewart, an architect.
    • With the former, he is considered utterly unpredictable because of his artistic imagination, making figures like mecha or magical girls to fight. With the latter, John Stewart actually takes time to apply his architectural knowhow when constructing items, so they have a lot more 'solidness' to them.
  • Runaways features the Staff of One, which can do practically anything (save bring someone back to life). However, its spells can only ever be used once, and attempting to cast the same spell twice would do something random. Despite this, Alex Wilder once got hold of the Staff and managed to cast the same spell repeatedly; this hinted at a loophole where you could get a similar or identical effect by using a synonym or the same word in another language. In the first Runaways/Young Avengers crossover, Nico took advantage of the Vision's on-board thesaurus and language capabilities to wreak utter havoc.
  • Subverted in Matt Wagner's Mage arc; in The Hero Discovered, Kevin Matchstick's mentor Mirth told him that "Magic is Green." Subsequently, Kevin's various magic feats are invariably depicted in a greenish hue. In the sequel, The Hero Defined, Wally Utt ( a different face of Mirth) said that Kevin was taught "Magic is Green" so he could visualize magic more easily. As Utt revealed, "Magic isn't any color. Magic is color!"
  • In My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (IDW) Chrysalis tries to drain Twilight of her magic power to gain access to Twilight's more powerful spells. Twilight points out that even if Chrysalis drained her of her magic, the Queen still wouldn't be able to use Twilight's spells because Twilight gained her power through focused study; Chrysalis would have power without knowing how to use it.
  • In The Sandman, the Endless have immeasurable power, but it's stated repeatedly that they can only use it according to rules. For instance, Dream is only empowered to take a human life when it threatens the Dreaming; conversely, he cannot harm any visitors to the Dreaming due to the rules of hospitality. This applies to straight magic users such as Roderick Burgess and Thessaly as well.
  • There is an epic occurrence of this trope in a slightly NSFW comic (by EC or Warren? Wally Wood??) named "The Broadsword". Unfortunately, the whole plot must be told. The Broadsword is the sword that the hero carries to slay the local evil magician, as a quest before he may marry his broad. As he is bored on the long journey and speaks her name, the sword turns into her. Because the good magician has built in a toggleswitch so the hero is not bored on the long journey. (You have one guess what they do to counteract their boredom.) Woes, oh woes, the evil magician has a mag(ic)netic field around his lair: no trespassing with swords. He has to toggle and promptly the mooks grab him and drag him before the overlord. But suddenly, his broad slips him a dagger and he slices-and-dices the baddie. Happy End. Of course now you ask, the broad was nekkid, where did she get the dagger? Drumroll: It was their unborn baby.

    Fan Works 
  • Arad's Stardust, a crossover with My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic and XCOM: Enemy Unknown, equates Equestrian magic with the advanced abilities and technology the aliens display in the original game. The element "elerium" from the game is stated to be identical to Equestrian "arcanite," and is used to combine magic and technology, allowing for a positively dizzying array of Magitek weapons and devices. The author gets pretty much about as in-depth as is possible without a degree in physics when it comes to explaining the mechanics of magic.
  • Boldores and Boomsticks: The Aura from both sources is the same, but Remnant has a more in-depth understanding compared to Earth's. This fact allows humans with unlocked Aura to learn moves. Similarly, Dust, evolution stones, and Gems are the same substance in varying concentrations.
  • The Bridge points out Equestrian and Terran magic runs on different rules and can't be used to counteract each other. Equestrian magic works by using your emotions like The Power of Friendship, The Power of Hate, and The Power of Love to draw out your energy and manipulate it. Terran magic, however, works by harnessing and manipulating the mana in your body and the surrounding environment. Each type of magic has a 'nexus' from which it originated Bagan for Terran magic and Harmony for Equestrian magic. While Light Magic and Dark Magic are both Equestrian magics, they are also distinct from one another, to the point that Bagan realizes that Harmony can't have been the source of Dark Magic and it turns out Grogar is the nexus for it.
  • The Legends of Equestria continuity establishes some extra rules around those discussed in the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic entry below. Among them:
    • There are two over-arching types of magic: light magic which is available to most ponies by default and includes the Pegasi's abilities with the weather and the unicorns' natural abilities; and dark magic, which is an independent entity that flows from the earth. Dark magic is significantly more powerful than standard light magic, but tends to corrupt everything it touches.
    • The story also makes a clear distinction between the concepts of magical power and magical complexity. While any unicorn, regardless of study or skill, can cast simplistic spells (such as the standard telekinesis), and can cast very powerful versions of these spells when properly motivated (i.e. being able to lift large objects or throw items with great force), skill and instruction are required to master complex magic. So only a pony that has studied extensively can work with transmutation, teleportation, time spells, thought control, etc.
  • In the Ghostbusters/Danny Phantom crossover "The Ghost Child and the Ghostbusters", the anti-ghost technology of both groups is equally useful, but they recognise that the other has their own strengths and specialities, such as the Fentons being able to keep ghosts out with the Ghost Shield while the Ghostbusters' Ghost Trap technology wouldn't be capable of keeping ghosts out in the same manner without putting the humans inside at risk.
  • Guardians, Wizards, and Kung-Fu Fighters clarifies that that the magic used by the Guardians and Meridianites (called Raw Magic) is different from the Chi Magic used by Uncle, Tohru, and Wong. However, Nimue later makes it clear that it's possible to use both types.
  • Heroes of the Desk depicts characters of Heroes of the Storm who have come to life in the style of The Indian in the Cupboard. The process that made them real isn't explained but it follows a defined set of rules that the characters learn to make use of.
    • Any Hero character created in plastic comes to life when placed in a specific chest.
    • Any Hero character who "dies" disappears in blue mist before reappearing inside said chest.
  • Game Theory does this with the magic of Lyrical Nanoha. Clear rules are presented for things like mana constructs, spell design, mana itself, and much more.
  • The Harry Potter/Twilight crossover series The Secret Keeper has the following;
    • Alice’s abilities are clearly established as being unable to perceive anything non-human or non-vampire, with the result that just sitting beside Hagrid blocks her abilities when she’s attending a quidditch match, and Death Eaters are able to bypass her by forcing a house-elf to accompany them on raids.
    • While vampires’ special abilities are distinctly separate from wizarding magic, there are enough similarities that Edward can be blocked with occlumency, and Jasper’s abilities are similar to the effect created by a potion known as Empatheia.
  • The Five Nights at Freddy's fanfic, Something Always Remains, the ghosts are bound to their vessel and its limitations, hence no spooky shenanigans from 6am - 12pm, with the exception of Spring Bonnie, who was never programmed with this rule. Furthermore, only one ghost at a time can take control. If a ghost is freed from their vessel, they lose the ability to interact with the world aside from giving off a Ghostly Chill. More than that, imagine having the building as your vessel. Good thing ghosts can switch to different vessels with enough effort!
    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Iron Man: The first film established that the Iron Man suits only function while they have sufficient power, and Tony replaced the Mark 1 arc reactor with a more powerful one to power the Mark 2 and 3 Iron Man suits. Given that they were designed for sustained flight, they needed the extra power. When he has to use the proto reactor in his Mark 2 suit, he has notably less power. Each part of Mark 42 is implied to have its own reactor because it was made to come apart and move remotely. It's also an example of what happens when you push this trope too far: it's so complicated that it rarely works as well as it's supposed to.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean is built around this trope, in accordance with pirate superstition and lore. Or rather, the writers made a concordance out of pirate superstition and lore.
  • In The Last Airbender, M. Night Shyamalan changed a significant aspect of Firebending so that it aligned better with the other bending arts. In the show, Firebenders could create their own fire, but for the movie, they are now required to have an external fire SOURCE to manipulate. As he said, Katara needed a bag of water and Toph needed to be touching the earth, so why don't firebenders need fire? In the series, Iroh explained this source was the bender's own body heat. In the film, it's suggested that creating your own fire is a skill lost over the ages, and that Iroh was one of the few who have mastered that element of firebending and subtly was teaching Zuko to do the same.
  • Superman: The Movie:
    • Richard Donner directed the first Superman movie using the word "verisimilitude" as the production motto in scripting and crafting the film. They devoted a lot of their effort to figuring out how to have things make sense within the framework of the premise and plot. Why doesn't Superman solve all the world's problems? Jor-El's dialogue explains (piecemeal) that there is an intergalactic law not to interfere in the course of another planet's history. This rule was put into place as the result of the early history of "the twelve known galaxies" being rife with warfare due to interference (presumably resulting in stringent vigilance for that sort of thing now, creating the potential for the intergalactic equivalent of an international incident). He is already bending the rules just being Superman in the first place. If the name "Superman" was invented by the media, why is there an S-logo on the outfit? Marlon Brando came up with this idea: The fancy traditional attire of Kryptonians included family crests in a chest insignia, and the symbol on the seal of Jor-El's clan coincidentally happens to look somewhat like an S. And so on.
    • One of Donner's criticisms of Richard Lester's Superman II was that it gave Superman a variety of powers that he'd never had before, including teleporting, telekinetic beams and the power to pull off a cellophane "S" shield and throw it at your enemies. The audience has no trouble accepting a man who can shoot laser beams from his eyes or start hurricanes with his breath, but will immediately balk when the fictional boundaries of his abilities are overstepped.
  • In Transformers, one of the implied consistencies (enforced by Michael Bay) is that the robots don't do any of the "mass shifting" that has permeated all of the prior incarnations. The Robots have to fit inside their vehicle modes, no more and no less. This resulted in Optimus being a larger semi-truck model to allow for a bigger robot, while the largest robot in the first movie, the huge helicopter Blackout, has a hulking robot form. They figured that by keeping these things consistent, they could manage the (more difficult to accept) mass shifting of the All Spark because it was used as something special and not as a generic power of all the robots.
  • Back to the Future trilogy established three things about how their Time Machine works: you need to be moving at least 88 MPH, you need 1.21 gigawatts of energy, and the Flux Capacitor makes Time Travel possible. The lack of the proper energy source to create 1.21 gigawatts is what drives the story of the first movie and after a visit to the future Doc Brown installed "Mr. Fusion" that eliminated the dilemma by being able to use anything to create that energy. In the third movie a lack of proper octane gasoline fuel for the engine to get them up to speed is a different issue (they even made sure to specify that Mr. Fusion doesn't apply to the internal combustion engine). Some fans also noticed that the lightning strike in the second movie that shot Doc into the old West happened while the Delorean was mostly stationary, filmmakers clarified that the car rotated at 88 MPH which is seen with the fire trail after it happened.
  • It's probably more accurate to say that Star Wars gets away with this, rather than embrace it wholeheartedly. Since we typically see the Force through the eyes of a character who is gradually learning how to use it, new powers and abilities can be introduced to the canon without breaking the entire magic system. It helps that there are very few hard and fast rules about what the Force can and can't do. At present, it seems the only true upper limit is how talented and experienced the user is. But on the other hand, the few definitive rules that there are almost NEVER get broken in official media: there's a light side and a dark side to the Force, the dark side is more dangerous to the user than the light, and there are certain powers specific to the light (Force Transcend), and certain ones specific to the dark (Force Lightning)... Usually!
  • WarCraft adapts the magic from the game it's based on, so this happens. Every spell requires hand gestures, Instant Runes and a spoken incantation, and overall, the spells are distinct enough that after one use, you can guess what's being cast while the runes are still forming.
  • The original Ghostbusters films establish that the Proton Pack's stream is very dangerous to property and physical beings, but is incapable of harming ghostly entities, instead restraining them and allowing the 'Busters to lasso them into a ghost trap. Future adaptations would play faster and looser with this setup, but both movies stick to it pretty well, with Big Bad Vigo from part II going down because the team doused him with a mood slime that could actually harm his non-corporeal form, while the proton streams still did their main job of keeping him in place.
  • Averted in A Talking Cat!?!. After Duffy gets hit by a car, Trent suggests they dig up the magical collar that lets him talk, despite having given no indication it has healing powers. It works.
  • Fast Color: The central rule of the family's superpowers is that they can only turn things to dust and then back to normal. They can't repair anything that was already broken before their powers touched it. The one time Lila tries to fix a broken window with her power, it promptly shatters to pieces again.

  • The powers in The Zombie Knight Saga are handled this way. They are broken into six separate classes, including materialization and transfiguration, among others. Each servants power has unique elements to it, like the type of material they can create, but the core functionality is the same. Even the arguably main source of magic in the story, that of the existence of reapers, is explained as a genetic trait which manifested in humans several millennia ago.
  • The Brightest Shadow: Sein is deeply embedded in culture and always has been. They may not be completely understood by people, but there is never any doubt that they *could* be completely understood.
    • It should be mentioned, however, that the story is ongoing and as of December 2017, it does still include other, more mysterious forms of magic or magical artifacts, which may or may not see more detailed explanations given to them in the future. And given the author's apparent love of both playing with his audience AND writing characters whose greatest joy is explaining things, it's anyone's guess what will happen.
  • Robert A. Heinlein's works:
    • Magic, Inc.. uses it more or less conventionally — the magic in the story follows strict rules, which turns out to be important to the plot.
    • Waldo is an in-universe example. The title character (after whom remote-control manipulation machines are named IRL) is an expert technologist and problem solver who is called in when remote power receptors are failing mysteriously. He finds that someone is fixing broken receptors by magic, and is told that magic can do anything — no rules. He disbelieves this and proceeds to discover the rules of magic and applies them, becoming a very successful magician as well as technologist.
  • The Heralds of Valdemar series is quite consistent with its depiction of magic and "mind-magic" — which starts to confuse the main characters in some of the later series, when characters from far-distant locales come in with techniques that break rules they thought were unbreakable. In particular, Gates from one location to another always require an arch or similar frame, and a single mage's own power... until an eastern mage shows up and says they've always done it in teams, and that frames are just a convenience for them. The Adept Firesong once gave a speech declaring that most rules and limits of magic were all in the mage's head — they couldn't do something simply because the way they were taught made them think that it was impossible. And indeed, he and others did manage to do things that other mages couldn't — then a few books later he met the aforesaid Eastern mages who treat magic as a science complete with mathematical tools, and is forced to work with a group of engineers in figuring out a scientific approach to solving a magical crisis, proving that there are some real rules out there after all.
  • In John C. Wright's Chronicles of Chaos, there are six different, mutually exclusive paradigms of magic. Working out their relationships and interactions in a form of meta-magic is a major plot point, and the paradigms can, in fact, be charted.
  • The stories of Australian children's writer Paul Jennings often revolve around this trope — each has a Twist Ending which (however disturbing or disgusting) follows logically from the established rules of an item's or character's special power.
  • The Lord Darcy stories by Randall Garrett use self-consistent Laws of Magic to determine what can and can't be done by the characters. It's appropriate, since in this alternate world magic is a science. "Witchcraft" is used to refer to doing things that the Laws of Magic say are nonsense — like using willowbark to cure headaches when everyone knows that there's no symbolic affinity between the willow and pain. Magic as Science, and Science as Magic... Though there is starting to be some of what we would consider more normal technological development: a top secret military research project has developed...a flashlight!

    A few of the simpler rules are explicitly named in the stories. For example, there's the Law of Contagion, which allows a forensic wizard to determine whether a particular bullet was fired from a particular gun. Occasionally hints of greater detail are given; for instance, the bullet has a strong affinity for the gun, but the gun has a fairly weak affinity for the bullet... it's all explained in-story. It's strongly implied that at the higher levels Theoretical Magic is at least as complicated as Quantum Physics; one of the characters mentions that he has only a Master's degree and not a Th.D. (Thaumaturgiae Doctoris) because he couldn't handle the math.
  • John Dickson Carr's commitment to the Fair-Play Whodunnit, where everything necessary to solve the mystery must be laid in front of the reader, meant that in those rare cases where he wrote a story involving the supernatural, the rules the magic operated by were clearly explained. For example, in The Devil in Velvet, Professor Nicholas Fenton makes a Deal with the Devil to go back in time and try to solve (even better, prevent) a murder; he and the devil hash out a detailed contract as to how this is to happen. He will go to the 16th century by inhabiting the body of his ancestor Sir Nicholas Fenton, suppressing the latter's personality, though the devil warns that Sir Nick's personality might come to the fore in moments of strong emotion. Unfortunately, Sir Nick's wife is murdered on schedule and Prof. Fenton still doesn't know who did it. Turns out Sir Nick did; Fenton wasn't aware of having blacked out because of a moment of rage, during which Sir Nick took over.
  • The Wheel of Time:
    • The One Power has a convoluted system, especially when it comes to differences between male and female "channelers" and how various weaves are constructed. Once the author figured out how he wanted things to work (around the second or third book) it became perfectly consistent. Before that, the rules were slightly looser.
    • There also are other forms of magic besides channelers— Perrin's wolf powers, Min's viewings, Hurin's sniffing — these don't fit within the rules and confuse channelers. The Horn of Valere, has less to do with magic and more with the story's cosmology. Then there's Padan Fain/Mordeth, whatever he really is, who has all sorts of bizarre abilities that aren't connected to the One Power, though mercifully he seems to be the only wielder of the "Mordeth Power".
    • It's further complicated by the fact that the setting is full of Lost Technology, Poor Communication Kills and Culture Clashes, and is set after multiple different apocalypses. When something weird pops up, it's anyone's guess whether it seems completely impossible to the current viewpoint character but would be well-known and understood by someone from another country; was commonplace during the Age of Legends and has been forgotten by the present day; or has truly never been seen before by anyone in the world, often to the incredulity of the Quirky Miniboss Squad who have been Sealed In A Can since the Age of Legends.
  • Brandon Sanderson's magic systems are regulated to the point of being almost science. In one case, once the series was over and only about half the magic system was revealed, fans were able to correctly determine the rest of the system, based on the science of the parts that had been revealed. Sanderson owns this trope. You can find his essay on the subject here.
    • As an example, in Mistborn, the primary magic power is Allomancy. In Allomancy, you have to ingest metals and then "burn" them to produce very specific effects. Each "set" of effects are based on burning an elemental metal and an alloy of that same metal produces a generally opposite effect. For example, Iron allows you to pull nearby metal and steel allows you to push against nearby metal. Zinc gives the ability to enhance emotions in people and brass allows you to reduce emotions. This elemental/alloy relationship even allows an In-Universe deduction when a character is exposed to a new elemental metal and realizes there must be an alloy that produces an opposite effect she figures it out and actually gains an edge against other Allomancers for a while. The effect of a metal never change but its science-like nature allows characters to get really creative with applications.
    • Each of his other series and books thus far have had totally different but similarly complex, highly developed rules-based magic systems. Not only that, but the entire set of systems, collective referred to by Investiture people in universe who aware of the existence of multiple magic systems, also has several overarching rules and guidelines that apply to the individual systems.
  • The "magic" in Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman's The Death Gate Cycle is treated almost like a science, complete with a Technobabble-filled appendix describing how all of it works.
  • The Endowment magic system from The Rune Lords books is very much Magic A Is Magic A. Internally-consistent and thought out rigorously well, it was actually one of the inspirations behind Sanderson's ideas for the Mistborn books.
  • Skulduggery Pleasant uses this, with two separate magic systems. It describes exactly how the magic works — e.g. instead of "he snapped his fingers and a flame appeared above them," it's "she snapped her fingers, felt the spark and heat generated by the friction, and fed it her magic until it grew into a visible flame."
    • Further development on the system is given in the spinoff book, The Maleficent Seven. Magic is similar to a tree that's growing two trunks: Adept Magic and Elemental magic. The Elemental branch is pretty bare, just being the use of the four classical elements. The Adept branch contains all other branches of magic, from Necromancy (which is based heavily on the manipulation of shadows), to the multi-branch Sensitivity (which contains most psychic powers: Laser-Guided Amnesia, mind reading, prophecy, etc.) to the quite-popular Energy Throwing (Projectile Spells from the hands, eyes or for one character, the mouth). Some branches, like Wall Walking (which makes gravity pull you towards the wall or ceiling), have twigs, tiny branches that break off from the main branch, but main branch users can easily master them, in the case of Wall Walking, magically opening locks and strengthening doors. Trying to use two or more separate branches interferes with the magic you originally began studying. Some people can use multiple magic types, the two examples we've seen so far both using Necromancy and Elemental magic.
    • Furthermore, before adulthood, a person can freely choose between different magic types. However, at the end of puberty, around the 18/19 area, a sorcerer experiences "The Surge", which locks you into one magic branch and increases your ability. Essentially, teenagers get versatility in exchange for raw power, but they cannot keep it forever.
    • Symbol Magic seems to be an exception, as it seems any branch of magic can use it. For the most part, it requires precise measurements and years of study.
    • Finally, the source of magic in the series is uniform for all: a person's True Name, the name they are born with, provides it. Knowing your True Name gives god-like power, anyone else knowing it makes you a slave to their commands. It's protected with your Given Name, the name your parents give you, but power can be exerted on you through its use (you're more likely to answer someone if they call you by name). The Given Name is protected by the Taken Name, a name the person gives themselves. Sometimes, it's something quirky but still normal, like Deacon Maybury. Most of the time, it's completely out-there, going from those who use at least one normal name (e.g. Philomena Random, Gracious O'Callahan) to those whose names would probably be rejected by the birth register (e.g., the titular Skulduggery Pleasant, China Sorrows, The Torment, Neferian Serpine).
  • Discworld magic hasn't been terribly consistent over the course of the books (Vancian Magic or Mana? It depends how far along in the series you are), but one rule Terry Pratchett has more or less stuck with is the Law of Conservation of Reality, which says that doing something by magic takes as much energy as doing it without magic (although there are "cheats", such as where the energy is coming from). This stops Discworld wizards from being all-powerful Reality Warpers, but unfortunately doesn't apply to Sourcerers.
    • Because this is Terry Pratchett, the lack of consistency in the magic systems isn't (always) authorial oversight, it's intentional. Magic's tropes are lampshaded, discussed and played with a lot over the course of the books, both in the narrator's voice and by various characters who take issue with magic's messiness. Rincewind — at least at first — was depicted as being so bad at magic partly because he didn't really believe in it despite it patently existing. He thinks the world ought to make more sense than that. Discworld's magic is bounded by one important rule, which is: Don't Do Magic. Books from the series that particularly explore the different iterations, applications and limitations of magic on the Disc include Equal Rites, Sourcery and the Tiffany Aching books.
    • GURPS Discworld and, especially, The Science of Discworld take it to a whole other level by examining how magic works by its own rules, including both Narrative Causality and even the Rule of Funny. Magic has rules, but they're almost anti-rules, the opposite of how science works, and they explicitly allow for "breaking" the rules if the story demands it. Of course, the stories might then become about following and exploiting these rules.
  • Magic in The Dresden Files has a very well-developed and consistent set of established rules. Working within these rules (and finding loopholes) is a major part of the story in most of the books. Among the most common ones:
    • Magic is generated by a variety of sources, primarily living things and emotions. Shown when Harry is trapped in a magic-sealing field in an aquarium, and notes that there's still lots of magic inside the field because there's a lot of living things inside and that the aquarium is routinely visited by large numbers of people with strong emotions as they witness the animals inside.
    • Magic is affected and fueled by emotions. Powerful emotions like rage, fear, true happiness, etc., can make spells more powerful than usual or even fuel spells by themselves, but any sort of delicate magic, such as complicated rituals, requires total calm lest they backfire and blow your head off.
    • Magic is bound by the laws of physics. Harry's wind spells still need air to move, fire spells suck the oxygen from an area (and the energy can be drawn from ambient heat), and force spells still operate based on Newtonian physics. Creatures with Super Strength are helpless if airborne, for example, as they are at the mercy of physics without anything to push against.
    • Magic is defined by human thought. This is why wizards use a variety of dead languages to cast spells. The words simply help the wizard shape exactly what they want the spell to do in their minds. Amateurs need rituals, lengthy chants, and meditation to do even simple spells while more experienced wizards can do the same with a single word. You use a dead language because the magic becomes linked with the word in your mind. Use the word "fire" for fire spells and you'll be burning your house down within a week. Don't use words, on the other hand, and the magic comes out raw. The one time we've seen this in the books, the person trying it turned into a human Taser(R) while having a seizure.
      • The exceptions to this are the very powerful or experienced wizards. Senior Council members can potentially cast spells without using words, like Ebanezar McCoy, and the Archive can fling literally dozens of spells off without speaking. Of course, the Archive is the living archive of all recorded knowledge, and knowledge is power. Note that "Ivy" (Harry's nickname for the Archive) is not a magic practitioner in the conventional sense. Normal people can use magic to a limited extent, but it's like an armless person trying to paint. Ivy has the same amount of magical talent as most people. Her immense magical ability is nothing but skill and knowledge, like an armless person painting ten Mona Lisas with their feet.
      • Expanding on the previous point, magic is defined by human thought, but this is dependent on the user in question. In one book, Harry marks out the boundaries of a protection spell with blue Play-Doh. When Murphy asks why, he explains that he mentally associates the color blue with safety, and that another wizard might use an entirely different color. This also comes into play with potion-making, as all the ingredients must fit the central theme. For example, a vigor potion might use strong coffee as the base liquid and include ingredients such as high-energy music and a piece of tie-dyed fabric.
    • Religious faith has been described as something "like" magic, but not quite. Magic is compared to feeling like electricity, while faith more like a deep ocean. The main use of faith seen is that it can harm certain supernatural beings (most prominently vampires) and can negate supernatural powers (Michael's duel with Nicodemus in Death Masks).
    • Using magic physically tires out the spellcaster. Throwing around magic wears one out like doing any other act of physical exertion. Dropping lots of energy can make one black out if used too quickly or too hard. And just like doing a lot of physical activity builds up muscle, casting a lot of spells builds up your ability to cast them — Harry has gotten a larger and larger "reservoir" to draw from as the series has gone on, while he was pretty much out of juice after only one or two big spells in the first few books.
    • Magic can be targeted using connections between objects, i.e., a spell can be targeted against a person by using a sample of hair, skin, or blood, or an object can be tracked by using a small piece of it. This is used throughout the series to do everything from tracking down lost items to eavesdropping on conversations to launching heart-exploding spells at targets. Harry takes this to a rather impressive extent by taking tiny samples from every building, tree, and street in Chicago and making a precise scale-model replica of the city that allows him to work tracking and eavesdropping spells across the entire city. However, this magic can only be used so long as the two objects have a direct connection—hair clippings, for example, could not be used to find someone who'd shaved his head at some point after the clippings were taken because the clippings no longer matched up with any of the hairs on his head.
    • Mortals and certain other entities have will and choice, which are actual forces in the setting. It is what separates humans, the various types of vampires, and other denizens of the mortal world from denizens of the Nevernever. Humans and other creatures with willpower can create circles of willpower that trap, cut off, and contain magic and can hedge out entities without willpower.
      • In the novel Cold Days, mortal willpower becomes an even more crucial force, making the entire difference in several life-or-death battles.
    • Physical contact between magically-sensitive mortals generates a detectable field. Making eye contact with a person with strong magical ability triggers a "soulgaze" that shows both participants the true nature of the other. Anyone with sufficient talent at magic can initiate the "Sight" which allows them to see reality as it "truly" is — letting them see magical auras and determine the true natures of creatures and locations — with the downside that the person who uses the Sight will retain that knowledge with perfect clarity (so if you look upon a victim of a psychic mauling or an Eldritch Abomination, time will not dull the edges of the memory).
    • Another very important aspect of the magic is that in order to use magic you have to believe that what you are doing is right, which is why killing someone with magic is such a terrible thing—you have to believe that you have the right to kill them. This creates a psychological effect on anyone who uses magic to kill or tamper with the free will of another human, which inevitably leads to Jumping Off the Slippery Slope and becoming a raving psychopath. This is the basis for most of the Laws of Magic enforced by the White Council.
  • Magic in Rivers of London, at least the type practiced by human wizards, appears to be exceptionally rules-based and its apparent violation of the laws of thermodynamics greatly worries apprentice Peter Grant. Beverley Brook, a minor river goddess, seems to do magic in an instinctive fashion.
  • Magic in the Inheritance Cycle is limited by several strict rules that are generally obeyed as the series goes on. The most important of which is that magic always drains the mage who uses it, and the bigger the magic, the more Life Energy is required...except when dragons or any other kind of wild magic is concerned. Dragons are more innately magical than humans.
    • Magic in general seems to work off of Newtonian physics. Throwing a small pebble at a certain speed requires as much energy as if you did it by hand. Then you have to consider how far away the target you're enchanting is and even the very wording you're using in the ancient language, all of which can determine how much energy you could spend on a task. This law can get abstract when you're dealing with metaphysical concepts like turning invisible, healing wounds ranging from cuts and bruises to broken bones and birth defects, and amalgamating enough particles of pure gold to be the size of your fist, to the point that experimenting with magic is extremely dangerous because you don't know exactly how much energy it will require, and it WILL kill you if you try to use more energy than you have. It's possible to get around this by pulling energy from other sources (plants, animals, dead dragons, etc).
      • The problem is compounded because the ancient language used to cast magic is also a Language of Truth, so if you frame a spell as an absolute statement, you're effectively forced to commit energy to it until either the spell is successful or you die.
      • The adherence to physics is further demonstrated when a character in the past is revealed to have ended a battle by telling his own body to "be not", creating a huge explosion. Although the characters don't know the specifics, it's pretty clear to modern readers that he converted his body to energy and turned himself into a literal Fantastic Nuke.
    • Angela knows a spell which uses dragon bones to predict the future, although she herself admits that interpreting them is tricky. A group of elves at some point created a spell which could outright see the future, no interpretation necessary....and it killed them when they tried using it.
    • Trying to raise the dead will also cause instant death because that would be a HUGE energy drain. In the last book, Eragon considers trying to bring Brom back. However, what he seems to be suggesting sounds more scientific (use magic to repair the body, repair the brain, use telepathy to give the brain its memories and personality, then jumpstart) than summoning Brom's soul from beyond the void, which is specifically what he was warned against. In any case, he decides against doing it.
    • Most, if not all of these rules, however, can be bypassed under one condition. As knowing the true name of something gives absolute control over it, knowing the true name of MAGIC ITSELF would therefore give you complete control over magic and its rules. This is not an easy task, though, as the only person to actually discover it on their own had to spend over a century of research to even figure it out.
  • The Rules of Magic (or how it works) are seldom explained in J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings — the lore and magical words are well outside the ken of the hobbits. Even people who ought to know (such as Elrond) express some ambivalence on the potential effects of, say, destroying the Ring. Still, this doesn't stop fans from getting into debates about whether the Nazgûl wore their Rings or if Sauron had them on his person.
    • It also seems that what is considered magic by, say, Hobbits, isn't always thought of as such by, say, Elves, which makes explanations difficult and/or unnecessary. This is because, as Galadriel points out, the word for "magic" used by the hobbits covers what to the elves are two distinct concepts, both elvish "art" and "sorcery" which is the term for the works of Sauron and the Ringwraiths. Of course, even in Sindarin the term for "sorcery" is just the prefix for "dark" or "black" (mor-) thrown on the word for art, lore, or knowledge (gul, thus sorcery or "the black arts," is morgul as in Minas Morgul and the morgul blade.)
      "'Are these magic cloaks?' asked Pippin, looking at them with wonder.
      'I do not know what you mean by that,' answered the leader of the Elves. 'They are fair garments, and the web is good, for it was made in this land. They are elvish robes certainly, if that is what you mean.'" ("Farewell to Lórien", The Fellowship of the Ring.)
    • Additionally, as is made more clear in The Silmarillion, elves simply don't think of what they can do as "magical". It's just a natural ability to them, like carpentry is to a human being — as far as the elves are concerned, they're just better at making things than weakling humans. Basically, an elven sailor could get so good at sailing that he could make his ship fly. Likewise, the "wizards" (istari) like Gandalf aren't stock fantasy wizards so much as a group of minor gods (the same kind of being as Sauron and the Balrogs).
    • A point is made in The Silmarillion that many great works that might be considered magical can only be accomplished once. The great trees Telperion and Laurelin created by Yavanna could only be created once. The Silmarils created by Fëanor could only be created once. One may presume the One Ring created by Sauron could also only have been created once and it would make sense that reason for this is as given that he put his own power into the ring thus diminishing it in himself. In this respect, the act of using one's 'magic' to create a great artifact appears to forever diminish the creator of the artifact.
  • In Patricia C. Wrede's Thirteenth Child, there are three different traditions of magic, but the differences are mostly how you go about it. There's three main schools.
    • Avrupan (European) magic is mostly Functional Magic. It's very individualistic, and to achieve the really large spells, multiple mages will each cast a part of the spell, which can then be fitted together. It's the best style for everyday stuff, but is usually weaker the greater you go.
    • Cathayan (Asian) magic involves a group of mages pooling their power to cast spells together. This results in better large-scale spells, but if you wanted to use it to, say, light a campfire, you're out of luck.
    • Aphrikan (African) magic is less direct and mostly about manipulating magic that's already in things. While this means it uses less power than the other two styles and can achieve different things than them, it also has less of the straightforward effects the other styles have.
  • In Masks of Aygrima magic moves like a liquid, can only be seen by people with "The Gift" and can only be used by a few gifted people, magic comes from living beings and comes in many colors and each color has a specific ability, all but a few gifted can only see one color of magic, magic is drawn to Black Lodestone and can only be used by someone who touches it, there are some gifted who can see and use all colors without touching it and can also tear magic from people's bodies but if someone dies near them, especially if they killed that person with magic, then they will be haunted by images of that person (called a Soulprint). Finally Black Lodestone exists only in the country of Aygrima and Soulprints are less prominent outside of Aygrima.
  • A rather interesting case in Shadows of the Apt—humans all possess the Art, giving them powers and abilities based on the particular insect-archetype. This is all inherited—if you have Beetle parents, you're a Beetle yourself and you get Beetle Art. There's also Aptitude—either you're Apt, and can use—and learn to create—technology, or you're Inapt and can't even open a door with a spring-latch. However, the Inapt can learn magic—another interesting part being that if you see Art, you know it's Art not magic.
  • Jim Butcher's Codex Alera takes Elemental Powers into Magitek levels. Furycrafting uses furies to control the elements, as well as providing other abilities, with all Alerans being capable of furycrafting to varying degrees. Legionaries are required to have basic abilities in all six varieties of crafting, but they tend to specialize in just one or two. High Lords and Ladies are strong in all six elements (earth, air, fire, water, metal, wood). Guile Hero Tavi also specializes in using the well-established rules coming up with surprising new twists, yet still within the rules.
  • While Merlin in T.H. White's The Once and Future King can display spectacular power (such as causing a tree to instantly grow and bringing about a snowstorm in the middle of summer), he has some clear limits on what he can do. The only two powers to which he has continual access are insight (being able to see events going on at the present) and foresight (being able to see future events, part of this is due to Merlin's being born circa the late 20th century and living backward through time). It is stated that Merlin could not use magic to imitate the Great Arts, such as Falconry or Sculpture, as it "wouldn't be fair". Also, Merlin was "given" his magical powers for the specific purpose of helping Arthur prepare for the kingship, which is why he cannot transmute Kay into an animal like he does Arthur.
  • The Belgariad:
    • There has to be "the Will and the Word" — you gather your Will and focus it with a Word. This uses the same amount of energy as doing it any other way, but means you can pull in energy from your surroundings and apply it with more flexibility. The exact nature of the word isn't important (though Belgarath chides Garion several times for choosing insufficiently impressive words), but there does need to be a word.
    • The one thing magic cannot do is "unmake" anything. It can kill and destroy, for that it just changes live people to dead people or whole objects to broken ones, but it cannot erase anything from existence. Doing so causes the universe to take massive offense, protect the targeted object, and annihilate the sorcerer. (As a corollary, this means that there is one object any sorcerer can freely unmake — themselves. Several characters have either attempted or committed suicide this way.)
    • It is theorized that many mages who never had any practical training accidentally killed themselves by trying to annihilate objects. When the group meets a two-hundred-year-old scholar whose work was ignored because all of his apprentices mysteriously vanished, they find that he is a really nice guy and the worst thing he ever did was teleport an assailant out to sea.
    • It also includes the fact that Newton's laws of motion still apply, and not pulling energy from elsewhere will drain you quickly. The main character, Garion, tries to lift a large rock when he first learns of his power. He succeeds, but then becomes very dizzy, falls asleep with his head on his arms, and only upon awakening realizes he didn't lie down. Instead, he is up to his armpits in soft soil.
    • There is also the warning that just because something can theoretically be done doesn't mean it should be attempted. There are many things that no experienced sorcerer is stupid or crazy enough to attempt under normal circumstances, such as bringing the dead back to life. This comes from the fact that for it to work, the sorcerer has to be completely committed to making it work, and that the smallest bit of doubt can cause it to fail.
    • There are also other forms of magic, such as wizardry — demon summoning, witchcraft — some sort of natural magic, and various others such as seers and necromancers who get even less explanation. Even if the rules of one form of magic prevent you from doing something, there's probably another type with different rules that would allow you to do it.
  • In The Name of the Wind, magic is surprisingly mundane and consistent. The most common type, sympathy, follows (really follows) the law of conservation of energy. For example, if you bound two coins, lifting one would lift both, but it would weigh like both, not accounting for the loss of energy (the more similar, the less energy lost). One can use an outside energy source, though (like, say, using a fire's power to move an iron wheel). Sygaldry is sympathy, but based on written runes, and Knacks are individual and very mundane skills (always getting sevens when rolling dice, growing very large fruits). Lastly, Naming is barely explained, but it's rare, far more powerful than sympathy, and described as "fairy tale magic". There are also the even rarer Fae magics, grammarie and glamourie, the art of making things BE, versus making things SEEM. The same University that teaches these arts also teaches medicine, informatics, rhetoric, and linguistics, which aren't exactly magic.
  • Subverted in the Collegia Magica trilogy by Carol Berg, in that this is certainly how it is taught...whether the true nature of magic follows this trope or not is a different matter.
  • Superpowers in The Grimnoir Chronicles books fall on a grid that is one part The Quade Diagram and one part ROYGBIV. All supers start out with a single power which either comes from one part of the grid or the overlapping of two or more parts. In turn, the kanji brands are two-dimensional sympathetic representations of whichever part(s) of the grid the user wishes to draw power from.
  • Averted in the Shannara series, where it is made very clear over and over that magic is highly unstable and unpredictable, prone to shifting over time from one form to another. Even well-known and fairly well understood magics can occasionally have unforseen effects.
  • In the Time Scout series, there are a few rules to time travel that aren't broken.
    • No paradox. Don't bother trying.
    • If you exist twice in the same time, you'll die. It's called shadowing yourself. You can't cross your own shadow and live.
  • The Alex Verus series has a fairly definite set of rules for the powers the mages can use. The author even has a series of articles on his website called the Encyclopaedia Arcana talking about it.
  • Magic in Kim Harrison's The Hollows series has a different set of laws for each magical species, and several arcs on the series rest on the relationships between the species and the rules of their magics.
  • David Friedman's Salamander opens with a college lecture on the laws of magic.
  • In the Stories of Nypre series magic may at first sound like a bunch of gibberish. That is until each of the words used in the incantations are given meanings. It grows to the point where it's almost a separate language!
  • The magic system in New Arcana is partly based on fantasy rpgs, but also has its own rules; for example, technology drains mana, and female mages can cast spells only on themselves, while male mages can cast spells only on things other than themselves.
  • In The Broken Crescent, The Language of the Gods operates much like a programming language for reality. Once you know the words and syntax, you can precisely define and predict the effects.
  • In the Rainbow Magic series, spells don't work unless they rhyme.
  • In both of Tamora Pierce's universes, magic is bounded by rules but there's quite a lot of undiscovered territory.
    • In the first series of her Tortall universe, Song of the Lioness, we find that classical 'pseudo-medieval fantasy magic' is around. Some people are born with it and are called Gifted, but they are under no particular obligation to become Mages. Some people have enough innate power to level a building, some people with the Gift can just about light a candle and little else.
    • In the next series, The Immortals we discover a Magic B: Wild Magic. This seems bound up with the natural world and the gods, inherent in all living things but only available as usable magic to a few (also born with the talent innately).
    • In Daughter of the Lioness it has been confirmed that there are further types of innate magic: one heroine has 'the Sight' which enhances her perception skills in various ways. In Provost's Dog, one has the ability to communicate with certain beings (ghosts and wind-spinners). It is implied these types of magic aren't inherently different from the more common Gift, but that the way these skills are classified is more of a societal invention.
    • There are plenty of other magical things going on too which don't fall into these categories (the magical communion of the Bazhir tribes, the magical abilities of dragons etc).
    • In Pierce's other universe, The Circle magic works along similar but different lines.
      • As in the Tortall-verse, some people are born with an inherent capacity for sorcery. This is known as Academic magic, and is an all-purpose force that can be turned to many different tasks.
      • A second form of inherent magic is the one focused on in the series: Ambient Magic. A person can have an affinity for a particular craft, activity, force or thing (in the series we see Ambient Magics for weaving, weather, forging/fire, plants, dancing, glassworking and stones amongst other things). The wielders can only express their magic through the thing they have the affinity for, but with a little imagination and a lot of practice and study this doesn't have to be limiting at all: for example, Sandry the thread-mage is able to work with all sorts of materials by stubbornly persuading herself to think of them as weavable or spinnable. In addition, when desperate, Ambient Mages are able to work with their raw power rather than through their 'thing', but since this uses their own life-force rather than accessing the power inherent in the activity or object of their alignment it is swiftly exhausting. Furthermore, Ambient Mages are bound by the natural order of their 'thing': the weather mage Tris is able to push storm clouds around but more often than not she finds it's either pointless or a bad idea to mess with what the weather wants to do. Lastly, the abilities of the ambient mages vary between people and have certain limits: Lark, an ambient thread mage, must work with physical cloth and thread to represent the thing she is trying to spin or weave, while Sandry can spin and weave magic itself. Neither of them (nor any other ambient mage, as Briar discovers) can heal, even if they try to think of veins or nerves as part of their magic. It just doesn't work.
      • Interestingly for this trope, the 'rulesiness' of Ambient Magic makes it maligned in-universe: Academic Mages are often contemptuous of what they see as limited, folksy magics bound in the superstitions of the temple-folk who teach it. Unlike the Tortall-verse there doesn't seem to be any conformation of magics beyond these human ones: whereas in Tortall we meet the gods and see their god-magics, there's no conformation of any god's existence in the Emelan-verse; there are no magical creatures (e.g. dragons, unicorns etc).
  • Magic By The Numbers: In Master of the Five Magics there are, oddly enough, five different schools of magic which all operate under a strict set of foundational axioms. The sequel adds a new set of higher level rules which govern how the other rules can be manipulated. Though the rules themselves can change, each magical system is itself internally consistent.
  • Journey to Chaos: Magic is a consistent and learnable skill in this verse and Eric spends the first book doing just that. Introduction to Magecraft was written two thousand years ago and it is still the most popular reference guide for beginners because regardless of time or practioner, the basic rules of magic don't change. The Three Laws of Magecraft are as immutable as the Three Laws of Motion.
    • 1.Mana. You can't do magic without mana because it is the root of all power.
    • 2. Knowledge. You have to know what you're doing. You can't just say say "Fireball!" while focusing hard if you don't how that spell is supposed to work
    • 3.Willpower. Since mana flows from the goddess Chaos, all magic can be seen as Wild Magic. Magecraft is the tamest of all forms of magic but a mage still needs a strong will to force mana to take the shape he/she wants and go into the direction that he/she desires.
  • In The Iron Teeth web serial, magic is done by growing crystals using alchemy. Each crystal can then be used by a mage to produce some effect.
  • Magic Ex Libris involves libriomancy, the magic of pulling items from a book with the powers they're described as having. This leads to many references but a few hard limits are laid out, too. No necromancy, no time-travel, no wishes. Minor exceptions occur, but these are clearly marginal examples of these things happening in a far more limited form.
  • The Unexplored Summon://Blood-Sign has an extremely complicated system of Summon Magic. The basic idea is that a summoner must be partnered with a vessel, and uses a long stick (the titular Blood Sign) to spell out the name of a particular Material (supernatural being), who possesses the vessel.
    • All Materials belong to one of three classes. In ascending order of power, these are the Regulation-Class (monsters created by humans, as a means of accessing the higher classes), the Divine-Class (gods and other legendary figures) and the Unexplored-Class (all-female beings who represent the laws of the world itself).
    • Within each class, the power of a Material is directly related to the number of letters in its name. This means that, for example, Quetzalcoatl is stronger than Zeus or Odin.
    • The 26 letters of the alphabet are divided into four categories: vowels, 'low' sounds (the first seven consonants), 'middle' sounds (the middle seven consonants) and 'high' sounds (the last seven consonants). All Materials belong to one of the three sound ranges, based on the composition of their name. For example, a Material with two high sounds and one low sounds would be 'high'. This leads to a form of Tactical Rock–Paper–Scissors: 'high' has an advantage over 'medium', 'medium' over 'low', and 'low' over high'.
    • Materials are completely immune to non-magical means of attack, and can only be harmed by other Materials. While summoning, summoners are surrounded by a protective circle which protects them from all forms of harm, including Material attacks.
    • All Materials contain a Silhouette, a core which houses the vessel's mind. If this is destroyed, the Material will leave the vessel, and both summoner and vessel will experience a supernatural shock for 24 hours. In this state, they won't take any actions of their own accord, but will follow simple orders.
  • The core theme of Rick Cook's Wiz Biz series is the technically-inclined protagonist's creating a new kind of magic by applying the techniques of computer programming to the magic system in the fantasy world he's thrown into. While the base rules of magic appear not fully comprehensible (any attempt to model or simulate them starts breaking down reality as it gets more predictive), there's a limited subset of magical operations that while still not actually reliable can be combined and cross-checked in ways that let work get done. Most magic in the setting remains unknown in detail.
  • The Traveler's Gate: Travelers use Gates to "Territories" from which they summon monsters and allies. They can also use the Gates for travel (hence the name). Those are the general rules, but each Territory also has its own quirks. Endross Gates get bigger the longer they are open and eventually run out of control, Lirial Travelers can only summon things if they know exactly where they are, Valinhall Travelers summon powers into themselves rather than summoning allies, so on and so on.
  • In The Divine Cities, miracles can be used by anyone who knows what they're doing. Granted, most people are unaware that there are even any miracles still available after the (supposed) death of the gods. As such, they almost take on the role of Lost Technology.
  • The Tough Guide to Fantasyland: It's stated the Rules of Magic rarely change, but some secrets often will be reserved to have a nasty surprise later on a "Tour". Additionally, usually at least three different kinds of magic will exist, all with their distinct Rules.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The 10th Kingdom: Despite the fact that Wendell's transformation into a dog and of the dog into him is shown through a now-somewhat-dated but still effective slow-morph, his later restoration at the end of the series occurs in only a few split seconds while he and the Dog Prince whirl around in each others' arms and then fly apart with a burst of magical sparkles. The only explanation for this sudden change in the speed of transformation is an attempt to show off the special effects, most likely as a minor example of the Rule of Cool. (More dramatic, after all!)
  • Super Sentai / Power Rangers:
    • Mahou Sentai Magiranger had a well-mapped magical system. There were multiple tiers with 10 words each, but said words could be combined in any which way by a character wanted to do different things. The fact that the main heroes were breaking the tier system by the end of the season gave a feeling of "they're more powerful than any magicians in history" instead of ruining suspension of disbelief, because the usage still remained consistent within the tier breaking.
    • Magiranger's system was lost in the adaptation, Power Rangers Mystic Force. Whereas the original version had magic syllables that were made up words to signify general intent, this version dropped much of the magic and more or less used them as By The Power Of Grey Skull. Which phrase was used for the basic transformation, the Super Mode, etc., was still consistent but it wasn't as well-mapped as the original.
    • Samurai Sentai Shinkenger has magic called Mojikara (literally "symbol power") invoked by writing the appropriate kanji character in the air using their magical paintbrush/cellphone transformation device. Writing the kanji for "rock" (石) will cause a rock to materialize, and writing the kanji for "horse" (馬) will also cause a horse to appear. Each of them has their own transformation kanji, which itself represents their own elemental power affinity. The kanji also has to be written properly. Chiaki's terrible penmanship prevents him from using Mojikara early in the series, demonstrated by his inability to summon plant life after failing to use the proper stroke order to write the kanji for "grass" (草). Genta, who does not have the paintbrush/cellphone, instead uses a text-messaging interface on his sushi-themed cellphone transformation device.
    • Power Rangers Samurai kept Shinkenger's system, but uses different kanji in some situations. To their credit, this series hasn't fallen into the "make stuff up" trap that Mystic Force did; replacement characters are still real kanji and still relevant to what the Rangers want to do. For example, to change their Humongous Mecha out of their Sleep-Mode Size, the Shinkengers use the kanji for "big" (大); the Samurai Rangers, however, use "super" (超) since they wear adaptation-exclusive armored costumes while piloting.
    • The Meta Origin of the Morphing Grid was very loosely defined throughout most of the series, as every Ranger team would have a different source for their powers via technology, magic or Magitek. The assumption is that what makes a Ranger a Ranger is tapping into the Morphing Grid using whatever power source to give them access to their costume and gear, while other characters with a transformation external to that (such as Masked Rider in the crossover) are not Rangers. An offhand line by Zordon "Too much Pink Power is dangerous" sounds silly at first, but as noted in History of Power Rangers whenever there is a duplicate Ranger of the same color apparently makes their powers unstable, possibly fatal.
  • Star Trek attempts to follow its own internal rules regarding technology, with varying degrees of success Depending on the Writer. Storytelling usually comes first, though, which is why Technobabble exists to create exceptions when the rules become inconvenient. They had teams of technical designers work out how things like their Faster-Than-Light Travel and other internal mechanics of the starships worked, and in some cases would veto script suggestions because it went against their established rules. That said, there were some interesting deviations:
    • Warp Speed factors would be inconsistent depending on the incarnation. About the only thing clear is that the scale is exponential rather than linear. The original Enterprise was said to have a max speed of Warp 8, but had aliens modify the drive to temporarily reach warp 13. By the Next Generation era it was said that Warp 10 was a theoretical limit break for conventional warp drive note , with the fastest ships topping out at 9.95. The future depicted in the Grand Finale made mentions of Warp 13, which made the technical advisers suggest the warp factor scale has been recalibrated several times rather than Broke the Rating Scale.
    • The holodeck was pretty well arbitrary at times with how it worked, and prone to the Holodeck Malfunction. In "Elementary, Dear Data" it is stated clearly that holographic material cannot exist outside the holodeck for long, but they were able to take a piece of holographic paper outside the holodeck to show how a character inside had become aware of the Enterprise. Other times characters get wet in the holodeck and remain so after leaving, even developing a cold. Most explanations of how the technology works is that it uses a combination of Hard Light and Matter Replicator to simulate the environment, objects and people, which means that theoretically it could make simple items like paper or water that could be removed from site, but later works emphasize that the system is primarily force fields holding photons together and require a holographic emitter to maintain form.
    • It's often stated that a warship with an Invisibility Cloak must decloak before it can fire its weapons. Any ship that can fire while cloaked is treated as a major game-changer and leaves the heroes scrambling to find any weakness to exploit.
  • In Wizards vs. Aliens wizards only get three spells a day and their spells are recharged at sunrise. There are plenty of other rules about how magic works that that are the focuses or solutions of several episodes. The Nekross eat magic, so it cannot be used directly against them. (With the exception of grim magic, but that's another story.) Benny Sherwood reckons the reason the Nekross eat magic is because it is a form of energy.
  • Bewitched, the Ur-Example of many shows about magic, was surprisingly consistent in its rule system for casting spells. The basic rules were as follows:
    • Typically, only a particular witch or warlock could undo any charm they had personally cast.
    • If it was possible for another magic user to reverse a spell, they had to get it exactly right, often by determining what movements and words the caster used in the first place.
    • Generally speaking, magic had to be done with extreme precision—one wrong word or movement would either make the spell fail, or cause some kind of strange side-effect.
    • Mortals were unable to learn magic, though they could use enchanted objects.
    • The Power of Love was far too great for any magic user to control; similarly, witches and warlocks couldn't raise the dead, although it was possible to summon famous individuals from their own time period, when they were still alive.
  • The rules of time travel were fairly consistent in Quantum Leap, insofar as Project Quantum Leap was concerned: Dr. Sam Beckett could travel in time, but only within the range of his natural lifetime (starting on his date of birth). He "leaps" into someone who already exists at that time, and he retains his physical form and abilities while everyone around him sees the image of the "leapee" (conversely, the leapee is kept at Project Quantum Leap because they look like Dr. Beckett). Children, animals and psychics can see Sam's true form. The times this was broken were explained as extremely unlikely events:
    • Sam and Al exchanged places and leaped to a point before Sam's birth due to a lightning strike hitting Sam and Al at the same time just as Sam was leaping out.
    • Sam leaped into one of his Civil War ancestors because the ancestor and Sam were close enough genetically to cause a cross-time jump.
    • Similarly, Al (as the Observer) has very strict rules - he can only be seen by Sam and certain others (animals, children, the mentally disabled, and those whose brainwaves are similar to Sam's). Sam can see Al because Al is "tuned" to Sam's brainwaves, and anyone else who tries to fill in as Observer when Al is not available is seen by Sam as a distorted or ghostly image due to the mismatch. And Al cannot interact with anything except what he brings into the Imaging Chamber because from his perspective he's real and everything else is a hologram.

    Myths & Religion 
  • Any number of superstitions regarding behavior of mythical creatures that "haunt" people are internally consistent. They make sense if you know from what leaps of logic they spring. For example, salt keeps evil spirits at bay. Salt keeps food preserved, rot is caused by unclean spirits, ghosts are unclean spirits, therefore salt = no ghosts. Where it gets complicated is when you combine several internally consistent systems, i.e. cultures. Similar things from different cultures and times can sometimes result in a lot of mythological mashups. The result being many different rules that were consistent becoming inconsistent because they're being applied to each other.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • The Expanded Psionics Handbook has no less than two sets of alternative rules for running a "Psionics are just different" game — either making them 100% independent of magic (so spell resistance, Dispel Magic and so forth don't work on them), or making them about 45% independent (so you need to make a caster level check to use Dispel Magic on a psionic effect, and your power resistance is 10 lower than your spell resistance). The default (and balanced) setting is one where they are interchangeable for such purposes and at least one setting, the Forgotten Realms, has psionics as an explicitly separate type of magic.
    • In earlier editions, psionics did not interact with magic. The system was a completely bolted-on addition which barely fit the rest of the game and could be horribly broken when a wizard or paladin, no matter how powerful, was just as vulnerable to a 2nd level psionic character as a peasant would be. Additionally, the rules for psychic powers required ability score checks against variables and had their own, separate, entirely different mechanic for psychic combat. Defenses against psionics for non-psionicists barely existed. Gaming groups often would rather forget psionicists existed than deal with the headaches you get from averting this trope.
    • There's two different flavors of magic, depending on what its source is — Arcane or Divine. Arcane magic comes from wizards memorizing spells and using hand gestures to cast them (and so can be screwed up by wearing armor that restricts your movement and gets in the way), whereas Divine magic comes from the Gods and has no such restriction. Also, for the most part, healing spells are limited to divine only (except for Bards, who do things their own way).
      • The fluff regarding the difference between Divine and Arcane magic varies by setting. In some of the official worlds, such as Dragonlance, Arcane magic is separate from Divine magic, and yet still comes from gods, and you get it by worshiping them. One very common tendency is that divine magic requires one to act as one's faith would have it (or at least to be able to convince oneself of that), whereas arcane magic have no such compunctions — that highly religious, saintly wizard can one day wake up and decide to become evil for his own sake rather than for any god, and it would not impact his ability to cast magic in the slightest. By contrast, the priest would himself Brought Down to Normal.
      • Clear rules were designed for exceptions to the armor rule, with corresponding limitations. It is possible to get a wizard to use magic in armor, but with a drastic restriction in which spells they can then use as they have to then specialize in just one type of magic and only in specific spells. Look up the Battle Wizard build, which allows for casting in medium armor without penalties, but with a drastic reduction in versatility and number of spells they can both learn and use.
    • Then you get into all the alternate forms of magic:
      • Binding: A character makes a Deal With an Eldritch Abomination, and can gain some really cool powers from it (BreathWeapons, wings, the ability to see magic, etc.).
      • Shadowcasting: A form of magic that is fuelled by the shadow plane. It resembles Arcane magic at early levels, but later on, you can use the mysteries (their equivalent of spells) as spell-like or supernatural abilities, which are less limited.
      • Incarnum: Shaping magical, item-like effects formed of pure soul-stuff to your body. These effects can be augmented with Essentia, which can also be put to other uses. The color blue is a common motif.
      • Martial Adepts: Ranging from advanced martial arts to straight-up Kung Fu Wizardry, this system was introduced while Wizards was testing out similar mechanics for 4e, making it one of the biggest retrospective Obvious Betas in tabletop gaming.
      • Invocations: The most spell-like system, Invocations are spell-like abilities used by Warlocks and Dragonfire Adepts. They tend to pack less punch, but totally avert Vancian Magic.
      • Truenaming, which draws on the power behind using the true names of beings...or, at least it's supposed to, if it weren't accidentally made almost useless to play.
    • 4th edition at once simplified and diversified its magic. Magic is divided between three categories: Arcane ("pure" magic), Divine (magic coming from the gods and the astral sea) and Primal (magic coming from the spirits of nature), with the third being spun out of the Druid (traditionally a "Divine, but somewhat different" caster in older editions). Though each kind of magic has its own themes in general, and classes in particular have completely unique spells, there's a lot of overlap between them — for example, healing used to be strictly a Divine magic ability, but now all sources can provide healing spells via their Leader class.
      • Psionic power is still the odd man out but this time in a much more marginal fashion. Psionic classes differ in their ability set-up alone, in that rather than having At-Will, Encounter and Daily powers, they instead have At-Will powers, Daily Powers, and a number of level-determined "Augmentation Points", which can be spent as a mana system to super-charge their At-Will powers and make them as strong as Encounter powers.
      • Towards the end of 4th edition's lifespan, Shadow and Elemental magics were brought in as "sub-sources", piggybacking upon the original four. This is one of the more contentious decisions of the system by its fans, as many were anticipating fully fledged Shadow and Elemental power sources in their own right.
    • In 5th edition, the distinction between Arcane and Divine magic is mentioned in a sidebar, but has no effect in game mechanics. There are several ways for a caster of one style to pick up spells from the other, or in some cases bridge the gap. Aside from rangers, Divine casters have access to all possible spells for their class, and pick and choose what they prepare-easily justified as the caster's deity granting spells. Some spells are not available for wizards, warlocks, or sorcerers, being restricted to divine magic. Other spells are restricted to arcane casters. However, certain cleric domains give access to spells normally restricted to arcane casters, while some abilities and features grant divine magic to arcane casters (in particular, a sorcerer variant allows him/her to cast cleric spells). Bards, however, draw magic from the fabric of the universe. Their basic spell list draws from both the cleric's and wizard's primary spells, and can also pick spells from any list to add to their repertoire via a class feature.
    • The setting Maztica presents a continent whose native humans never developed the same arcane magic as those on the main continent of Faerun. Instead, they developed a talismanic magic that uses animal body parts to craft tokens that serve to channel magical energies, with the art divided into two schools; the protection-focused plumaweavers (feathers), and the offense-focused hishnashapers (claws, fangs, stingers)—5th edition would add a third school, the water-manipulating teoatltamers (seashells and other marine materials). The magical style is actually infamous amongst those aware of the obscure setting for how incredibly weak it is presented as being compared to magic from the main continent, which was one of the reasons why the Evil Colonialists were able to curbstomp an entire nation with the aid of just one high level wizard. This element is an Old Shame that attempts to revive the setting in 5th edition dropped.
  • Pathfinder is almost exactly like its parent 3.5 when it comes to Arcane and Divine magic, with only a few minor differences. It lacks official support for the other systems, howevernote , but also adds the Psychic magic type, which is similar but not identical in theme to psionics (as an example, psychic magic is heavier on the magic ultimately coming from interaction between the mage and other things, even things like concepts, while psionics leans more towards psionic effects coming from the wielder's mind and self), and uses the standard Vancian Magic as the base.
  • Exalted:
    • There are three set rules for magic: "No time travel", "Once Exalted, you cannot Un-Exalt."note  and "No resurrections." This being Exalted, those rules exist mostly for Solar Circle Sorcerers to kick them in the nuts and steal their lunch money, but you will never see official Charms or Spells from White Wolf that allow you to break those rules; Bend, maybe but break, no. Below are some examples.
    • The 'no unexalting' rule has found some limited exceptions. It assumes that on a mystical level, the Exalt remains fundamentally human. Green Sun Princes who 'ascend' to full Primordial status with Heresy charms find their Exaltation flitting off to find a new host (not that they need it at that point). Likewise, Exalts who chose to take up a job offer to divinity extended via Greater Sidereal Astrology find their Exaltation moving on once they become Gods. Becoming a God or a Primordial results in the end of mortality... which looks like death to the Exaltation. It should be noted that in both of these cases, the exception is allowed because the action of releasing the Exaltation is a choice, and cannot be driven by any supernatural or unnatural compulsion at all else the powers fail to work. The more precise law would have to be "Exaltation cannot be taken away from Exalts, ever".
    • Another example is found in the First Age. There the Solar Queen K'tula twisted herself into a fundamentally inhuman cephalopod horror to the point that many of her Solar charms ceased to function properly (because she was no longer remotely human), but her Exaltation lingered because she was still unmistakably alive and mortal (in the sense that her lifespan wasn't infinite).
    • There is an exception to the "No Resurrection" rule, and it's a long story why and how it can be achieved. When the Primordials surrendered to the Exalted hosts, they forewent their ability to rewind time and undo death in Creation. Said Primordials were then imprisoned/became Hell. In Hell, they can do whatever they want, as long as the aforementioned term is not violated. In practice, now-Yozi Primordials can undo the causality of something that happened within the last 5 days in Hell. This means that if your significant other died in Hell, you can surrender his or her thread of Fate to the Yozis, and if the Yozis see something to be gained from undoing the demise of the deceased, then a resurrection is in order. Considering who the Yozis are, it's an almost-certainty that the person will no longer be the same as who he or she was...
    • The Liminal Exalted's creation also bends the "no resurrection" rule. When their "dark mother" takes note of a suitably obsessed person attempting to raise the dead, she can intervene, giving the body new life. What rises isn't the person — or people — who died, but a new being entirely. The Liminals themselves can resurrect so long as their brain and most of their body is intact (or at least survives).
    • The "No Time Travel" rule was repeatedly broken during the Primordial War(s), and there is nothing stopping you from playing a game set during that turbulent period. This was a time when Reality itself was the casualty of the war, so don't expect that rules taken for granted today existed in any form back then.
    • Sorcery cannot alter heavenly bodies but this rule is the easiest to get around though: you just need to go to heaven, get the permission of the god whose celestial body you want to move, and fill out the proper paperwork. "Bureaucracy" is a stat in Exalted for a reason.
    • There are hardwired rules on just what certain Exalts can do that other Exalts can't.
      • Sorcery's available to all Exalts, but Dragon-Blooded only have the ability to power first circle (Terrestrial) spells and only Solars can power third circle (Solar) spells. The only way around this is with extremely powerful artifacts, such as the one that allows the Scarlet Empress to use second circle sorcery. Necromancy can only be learned at the highest levels by the Abyssals, and everyone else is capped at one less than what they have learned in Sorcery, meaning Dragon-Bloods can only cast necromancy if they forsake the ability to use sorcery.
      • Martial arts are likewise available, with a slightly different theme of everyone being able to attain a level above their station with huge enough effort. Mortals can enlighten their essence and use Terrestrial Martial arts, Terrestrials can refine themselves to use Celestial martial arts, and Solars/Abyssals can use Sidereal martial arts if they somehow manage to find a teacher, which is probably harder than the former two examples. The exception here are Lunars who cannot learn the highest tier of martial arts at all, only their own Celestial tier. Dragon-blood can learn celestial martial arts but it takes significantly more effort.
    • Technically everyone can learn all of these charms and spells even if their exaltations are too weak for them to put them to use
  • The magic in Shadowrun has similar rules to Exalted: no resurrections, no time travel, and no teleportation. Furthermore, if you do not Awaken naturally, there is (practically) no chance that you ever will. There are several different flavors of magic-user.
    • Adepts are limited to one type of magic; this can be casting spells (sorcerers), summoning spirits (conjurers), or enhancing the capabilities of their own bodies ("Phys-Ads").
    • Magicians can both cast spells and summon spirits. The exact style and trappings of each magician's talents varies from one practitioner to the next, but the two most common catchall terms are hermetic mages and shamans. It should be noted that, despite the names, there's no arcane/divine magic split; anyone capable of sorcery can learn and use any spell.
  • The indie superpowered-sleuth system Mutant City Blues uses this trope. Sure, there are mutants in the setting, and they can fly, shoot assorted kinds of energy bolts, read minds and even steal each other's powers. All these abilities are meticulously catalogued in the so-called Quade Diagram which provides solid insight about what powers can concievably coexist in a person. Some, like supernatural analytical abilities and remote control of electronic devices, are very *close* so that the person possessing one can be routinely assumed to possess another. Others, say, the ability to fly and become invisible, are so far apart in the chart that it is impossible for one man to have both (without breaking the setting and/or having Infinite Experience Points). This diagram, along with more conventional investigative methods, makes the task of solving "Heightened" crimes more of an unusual analytical exercise and almost none of the "whoever got more control of The Force" thing.
  • GURPS: Thaumatology is a sourcebook dedicated entirely to making up bizarre, yet internally consistent, magic systems. GURPS also has a completely separate system for "psionics," which can be the same exact force as magic, but which are administered in the form of traits specific to a given character, rather than general rules that all magic users have to follow. That's where you go for Wrong Context Magic.
  • Warhammer 40,000 has a very simple magic (all right, "psychic powers") system allowing various psykers to do different things (mostly attacks or buffs), though they all have a chance of suffering the consequences.
  • Warhammer has a more detailed system that has most people drawing on a collective library of spells, though Lizardmen, Chaos, Undead, Orcs and Goblins, High Elves, and Dark Elves all have access to an extra group of spells.
  • In Ars Magica, wizards can do virtually anything, but every spell they case must be formed by combining and constructing a Latin sentence consisting of one of five "techniques" (the verbs, all with the subject "I") and one of ten "forms" (the direct objects). For example, throwing bolts of flame would be "Creo Ignem" ("I create fire"), while making someone forget something would be a "Perdo Mentem" spell ("I destroy the mind"). Every wizard has varying levels of ability with each form and technique which determine how powerful of an effect they can generate (someone with a high score in Creo is good at making things in general; someone with a high score in Mentem is good at working with people's minds in general; someone with high scores in both Creo and Mentem would be extremely good at putting thoughts in other people's heads). Each edition of the game also has a few hard-and-fast rules beyond the verb/object format, such as it being impossible to raise the dead or travel back in time, although whether those things are literally impossible or simply unknown or forbidden to members of the Order of Hermes (the organization player character magi are assumed to belong to) is generally unclear (by design).
    • In addition, these rules apply to Hermetic magic and only Hermetic magic. Other forms of magic exist in the setting, and even Hermetic mages often have access to some quirky abilities that violate the rules. Hermetic magic is uniquely powerful for two reasons: one, the sheer breadth of its verb/object format, which allows for virtually any effect that doesn't run up against the limits of Bonisagus' theory, and two, the jealously-guarded knowledge of the Parma Magica, a universal defense against magic. Incidentally, the Parma Magica is not "Hermetic magic" in the strictest sense: It doesn't use the verb/object format and can't be tinkered with by Hermetic experimentation, except when it can. But the latter has only happened once.
    • Mage: The Ascension (which draws from Ars Magica to some extent) and Mage: The Awakening have spheres that work like the "mind" side, and can also be combined (e.g. Correspondence + Mind to mess with someone's head from a distance). Changeling: The Dreaming uses a two-factor system (along the lines of "the mind of a human" or "the mind of another fae"), as does Geist: The Sin-Eaters (where a Key determines general dominion and power source and a Manifestation determines what you can do with it).
  • World Tree RPG uses a noun/verb system (7 and 12 of each), but lets several of each be combined in one spell. Eg. a life-extension spell involves "Sustain/Body+Mind+Spirit". And that's the standard "pattern magic", one of several systems the main races know, each with known rules. The trope is played straight in that the rules exist, but subverted in that ultimately the gods control magic and don't do it predictably.
  • Magic: The Gathering bases everything around its Golden Rule: when a card contradicts the rules, the card takes precedence. This makes sense, since the players are Planeswalkers, beings explicitly stated to be able to violate a particular plane's magical laws by nature. So while the basic rules of the game and its universe are in a constant flux, the reasoning behind it is consistent.
    • They also attempt to keep each colour with fairly consistent mechanical themes, even if the execution varies and they occasionally permit a degree of "bleeding". Each color has its own specialties, like summoning token minions and life gain for White, or Blue's expertise in Counterspell use and card drawing.
    • Every spell characters cast within the lore is fueled by mana drawn from planes. The different effects all come from the way the mana is channeled.
    • Planeswalking is generally kept pretty consistent. Only someone with a Spark can planeswalk, you can't bring much more than what's on your person, and organics objects not immediately on your body can't withstand the Blind Eternities. It is also hard to control where on a Plane you appear, but you can follow another Planeswalker's 'trail' to appear near them if they planeswalked recently. There are some exceptions(Yanggu can bring his dog Mowu with him), but those are due to unique properties of the Planeswalker in question.
  • Played mostly straight with a few notable aversions in The Dark Eye: In general, magic within the setting is an organized, mostly rigid system drawing on a finite, regenerating resource ("astral power", i.e. Mana). There are several "representations" of magic that differ in-universe, but work more or less identically rules-wise:
    • All player characters and the vast majority of NPC magic users makes use of said organized, restricted magic, with spells being described as specific patterns of astral energy ("matrices" in in-game terms) with set effects, duration, range, cost etc. It is possible to modify things like range and duration on the fly, albeit to a small extent, but the effects are set in stone. In-universe, the spells are codified in definite formulas ("theses") that a guild mage (the "scientific", organized study of magic) can learn. There are also the druidic and witchcraft representations, as well as the magic of elves and the few magic-capable dwarves, which are not as rigidly stratified and considered more like "wild magic" in the fluff, but are mostly similar in gameplay terms to guild magic, only with a different set of spells and some additional bonuses and restrictions.
    • The aversion comes in the form of "free magic" (Freizauberei in German), which is off-limits for player characters and is also a very seldom form of magic among PCs, restricted to a few legendary figures of Aventurian history, the (extinct) High Elves, the higher (i.e. sentient) dragons (of which there are only a few) and the entire kobold species. These magic users are still limited in capacity, having a limited, regenerating pool of astral energy just like all other magic-capable characters, but theoretically unlimited in power: they can achieve any effect they wish, essentially creating unique spells on the fly, with the only limitation being that greater power (in nature and scope of the effect) costs them more astral energy. There are no further rules and no spell list for free magic, seeing as it is not meant to be used by PCs anyway — the GM is encouraged to get creative with it.

  • In the original play of Bell, Book and Candle, Gillian explains that the effects of spells have to look like coincidences: "I can't bring Niagara Falls down to Grand Central Station, or turn this house into the Taj Mahal. It doesn't work that way."
  • In Der Ring des Nibelungen, Wotan's power is constrained by the treaties written on his spear; he cannot use his power against people he's previously made treaties or agreements with, or he'll lose it all. This plays out to a conclusion when Siegfried shatters his spear, robbing him of all his power.

    Video Games 
  • In Choice of Magics, the five arts of Negation, Automation, Glamor, Divination and Vivomancy each have their own rules, powers and drawbacks. Saints of the Church claim to use divine miracles, which are exactly the same magic everyone else uses, albeit focused on Glamor, Vivomancy and Divination. Interestingly, though, one of Vivomancy's rules is that it doesn't work in an entirely consistent manner, having unpredictable side-effects that are partly tied to humor and whimsy.
  • Magicka in The Elder Scrolls series is an excellent example of this trope, crossing over with Functional Magic (mixing "Rule", "Force", and, including enchanted items, "Device" magic). To elaborate:
    • Anyone can practice magic in their spare time, but it is also the subject of substantial research by magical and scholarly communities across Tamriel. There are also some very clear rules. For example, to enchant an item, you must know the spell you'll burn in the item, you need a soul gem with a soul inside, and clothes and accessories can hold much more magic than weapons. While enchanting is consistent within each game, the exact mechanics tends to vary wildly throughout the series as a whole. (See below.)
    • There are many esoteric rules that are referenced throughout the series but don't appear in actual gameplay. For example, some magic requires "rituals" to perform, such as necromancy or permanent conjuration, which explains why the player can't use them in-game. "Daedric magic" is mentioned as a quick way for eager mages to get their hands on volatile power, though this isn't elaborated upon.
    • Finally, it appears some, most, or maybe even all rules of magic can be stretched, if not necessarily broken; Ancotar states that permanent invisibility would "violate the Conservation of Perception," but has created a spell that can keep a whole village invisible for at least a year.
    • As a result of Daggerfall's merged Multiple Endings, Mannimarco, the King of Worms and legendary Lich/Necromancer, ascends to godhood as the God of Worms, patron deity of necromancers. Later works reveal that his ascension allows him to temporarily block the power of Arkay, Aedric Divine of Life and Death, who normally protects the souls of sapient beings (Men, Mer, the Beast Races). This allows mortal necromancers to convert Grand Soul Gems into Black Soul Gems during this period. Black Soul Gems can be used to capture sapient "black" souls, the most powerful type of souls.
    • In Morrowind, you can trap the souls of Vivec and Almalexia, two of the Tribunal Physical Gods, and they are very powerful indeed. Trying to mess with how magic works also tends to end badly, especially with Necromancy and (ritual) Conjuration, which is a big reason why they've been outlawed by the Tribunal Temple.
    • Oblivion:
      • Two Oblivion quests also center around the consequences of using magic to travel into your own mind. In one of these quests a divine artifact gets involved and the dreamworld imposes itself on reality inside of the poor wizard's tower. Except with the Khajiit, which has resulted in a tangle of lore to reconcile those inconsistencies that puts most fandoms to shame.
      • It's hinted at with the Sigil Stones in Oblivion: at higher levels, they're more powerful than Soul Gems, but they can only bestow one spell effect on a weapon or piece of armor. In short, it's a quick-and-dirty way to get a super-enchantment on anything you want, and they don't even require skill in Enchanting or an Enchanting Altar.
    • Skyrim introduces another form of magic in the form of dragon Shouts, or "Thu'um". Distinct from magicka, it is the dragons' Language of Magic, with their very voices capable of manipulating reality to their whim (they don't so much breathe fire as conjure it into existence with their words). Mortals can learn how to use Shouts as well, but to do so normally takes several years of study and training, and a great deal of restraint to prevent losing control over so great a power...unless, of course, you're the Dragonborn.
  • Tales Series
    • In the Aselian Continuity (Symphonia, Symphonia: Dawn Of The New World, and Phantasia and its Spin-offs) magic, is magic, but only Elves and Half-Elves can do it. Healing Artes, Light-elemental magic (which are amongst Healing Artes), Angel Skills and Summoning are something else entirely. Symphonia, and Dawn of the New World have a rare mineral called Aionis that allowed that rule to be broken.
    • In Tales of the Abyss, "fonons" are used. They are listed from One to Seven and each have their own properties. All magic depends on understanding these and how they work. They play a significant and often heartbreaking part in the plot — even to the point of explaining exactly why the Big Bad's Evil Plan requires destroying the world. They also lead to much of the character development of reformed Mad Scientist Jade Curtiss, who simply cannot do some things like saving Luke from vanishing due to fonon separation, no matter how skilled he may be at fonic artes.
  • In Pokémon, even the Pokemon of the Elite Four and other powerful Trainers, as well as Legendaries, still have to work with Power Points, etc., and type advantages and disadvantages. Immunities are kept consistent as well — unless "Miracle Eye" is used, Dark types are immune to Psychic attacks, for example.
  • Kingdom Hearts plays with this, where certain things will be described and appear consistent... until something comes along that 'breaks the rules'. The authorities on that particular subject will subsequently be as confused as the player, demonstrating the Aesop of "Attempting to apply strict rules to natural phenomena is foolish, as the world is chaotic and wonderful".
  • Magicka revolves around this. Players have eight basic elements with which to cast spells. Each element has given properties and can be cast directly forward like a projectile, in an area around the caster, or on the caster. There are also opposing elements that will cancel each other out if used while conjuring a spell, or worse. It is very possible to kill yourself with ease or heal the enemy by accident.
  • Though the FEAR games do not generally provide hand-and-fast rules on how the psychic abilities of Alma work, the abilities of the Point Man and Paxton Fettel are fairly consistent. For example, the Point Man's slo-mo/reflex abilities can only be used for short periods, while Fettel's possession powers will kill anyone he possesses shortly after taking over their bodies. Including Michael Beckett.
  • Dragon Age has, among other restrictions, "The Rules" which apply to magic: it's impossible to raise someone from the dead, it's impossible to use magic to travel any faster than "putting one foot in front of the other" (anyone who appears to be teleporting is actually just using an illusion to make them appear to be in one location while they hide and run somewhere else), and entering the Fade physically, while it's technically possible, requires an EXTREME amount of resources (lots of lyrium and Human Sacrifice) and is a VERY bad idea likely to result in divine retribution. In addition, magic requires that mages expend mana (and/or lyrium) or blood. Exactly how other things work (magical healing and the darkspawn taint in particular) sometimes varies.
    • The rules change drastically in Dragon Age: Inquisition. Following the Breach event, the limitations of magic are significantly loosened in ways that even the most learned scholars are struggling to comprehend. Even a form of time travel becomes possible following this event, albeit in an extremely unstable fashion. Surprisingly, an entire new school of magic revolving around manipulating the newly released energies arises mere months afterwards, although not without significant risks.
    • The trainer for a Mage Inquisitor in Rift Magic is literally the only person to not die and/or disappear out of 20 mages experimenting with the rifts. And even then it's quite clear that not all of her made it back. The lore of the Specialization in the Codex has an account about how the writer's master found that the rules had changed, which led to her drawing far more magic than she could control. Both Cole and Solas recognize it, however, since they're both attuned to the Fade, and know that a Rift mage is using spirits themselves as a source of energy.
  • Magic in RuneScape seems to follow the rule that energy can not be created or destroyed. Magic always needs some kind of source of energy to be cast. For the player character, this takes the form of rune stones, an energy absorbing mineral that has been charged with elemental energy. Whenever the player character casts a spell, they consume rune stones. Wizards in game have theorized that the temples where rune stones are made might have only a limited amount of energy that may one day run out, forcing them to find another source of energy. Other characters in the game may get magical power from other sources. In the quest Nomad's Requiem, it turned out that Nomad was collecting souls for a Soul-Powered Engine that grants him a massive amount of magical power. The Mahjarrat do not require any runes to cast magic. It has been strongly implied that their powers are Cast from Lifespan, because a Mahjarrat named Kharshai was able to completely stop himself from aging by erasing his own memories of being a Mahjarrat which made him undetectable to other Mahjarrat and prevented him from using any of his Mahjarrat powers. Another interesting thing is that when a god in Runescape dies, their power does not disappear with them, some of it is transferred to the person who killed them while the rest is dispersed back into the world and can then be collected by anybody who happens to find it. This dead god energy apparently is completely different than the energy used for magic and so its uses are very different. Another interesting rule about power in Runescape is that the different tiers of godhood have specific rules about what they are capable of doing depending on how high their tier. Currently the only rule that has been revealed so far is that only an elder god can create life out of nothing. Young Gods, no matter how powerful they are can only create life by altering what already exists.
  • The lore of Final Fantasy XIV has very in-depth analyses of the workings of magic in Hydaelyn:
    • All magic is performed using aether, which seeps into the world from The Lifestream, the life force of the planet itself.
    • Teleportation spells send the caster's body and aether through the planet's Lifestream. Large aetheryte crystals act as beacons that guide a person safely between two points on the planet via the Lifestream. While it is technically possible to teleport anywhere on the planet without the need for aetheryte, to do so is extremely dangerous, as without aetherytes, one can be lost in the Lifestream until their bodies and aether break down completely.
    • Primals are a form of Summon Magic which entails concentrating large quantities of aether through prayer and reverence to give form and life to simulacrums of godlike beings. This has been a major issue in recent years, as beast tribes summon primals of their gods to protect them from incursions by Spoken races. The dangers posed by primals are twofold: in addition to being summoned to use against the Spoken races, their bodies require massive amounts of aether not only to be summoned, but also to maintain their form: left unchecked, they can potentially drain the planet of its life force. While it was initially believed that primals could only be summoned by beast tribes, it has been recently discovered that those of the Spoken races can summon primals as well.
    • Each class of magic has its own methods of being used. Conjury draws aether from one's immediate surroundings to focus through their staves into spells. Thaumaturgy uses aether from the caster's own bodies, which they attune to specific elements. White magic and black magic have the same basis in spellcasting as conjury and thaumaturgy (respectively), albeit on a much larger scale, such that their destructive potential makes their usage highly restricted, if not outright forbidden. Arcanists use complex calculations to essentially program unaspected aether into desired functions, most commonly in their carbuncle familiars. Summoners use arcanum to create smaller-scale, controllable primals, while scholars use arcanum to summon fairies to provide support. Astralogians use star globes and cards to foresee the immediate future, allowing them to cast spells as needed. Red magic was born from both white and black magic, and while it uses aether from the caster's body similar to black magic, it is out of a philosophy of preserving the planet by not overusing environmental aether. In addition, red mages have mastered the technique of using special magic crystals to amplify the effects of small amounts of aether, minimizing the risk to themselves while maximizing the potency of their magic. Blue Mages use spells that replicate the abilities of monsters, first by observing their techniques, then by absorbing their aether after they are vanquished, gaining both the power of that monster and the knowledge of how to perform that monster's techniques.
  • The older models of the Yo-Kai Watch are incompatible with the newer types of Yo-kai Medals. Better get the new one!
  • There's two forms of magic in the Divinity series; regular magic and Source magic. Regular magic is the usual fantasy magic, with fireball and polymorph and the like. Source magic tends more towards esoteric powers, like blessing people or producing orbs that can heal any ailment.
    • Source magic also seems to come from a different origin than regular magic and is especially prone to breaking. There's never been a Divinity game where Source has been present and worked as intended the whole way through; at best, it just doesn't work. At worst it'll make you go crazy or summon eldritch horrors. Despite all this, regular magic has never had such problems.
  • Fire Emblem: Three Houses has two different schools of magic: reason and faith. Reason-based magic is based on academic knowledge, while faith-based magic is based on piety towards the goddess of Fódlan. Reason-based magic is entirely offense-oriented, while faith-based magic is primarily supportive with only a handful of attack spells.

    Visual Novels 

    Web Animation 
  • RWBY: All living beings have a soul that produces an energy known as Aura; every person and animal have Auras, although only Huntsmen are trained in how to fully master using their Aura to produce certain effects, such as surviving potentially lethal injuries. Every human has the potential to produce a single manifestation of their Aura, known as Semblance, which is unique to each individual. For example, one person might be able to channel their Aura into super-speed or creating clones of themselves. Meanwhile, Dust is a naturally occurring energy resource, mined from the ground as a crystal. There are both natural and artificial forms of Dust, which produce different elemental effects. Different forms of Dust can also be produced by combination to produce new effects. Dust requires Aura to be triggered, can be woven into clothing, used raw, infused into a persons body, or manufactured into cartridges. Dust's importance is paramount in the survival of Remnant, but no one is sure where it originates from. It also will not function outside the planet's atmosphere, making Dust-powered space missions impossible. While Dust, Aura and Semblances sound like magic, they're not. Dust is regarded as energy, and Aura and Semblances are regarded as natural. Real magic, that doesn't use Dust or rely on Aura, does exist on Remnant; it's kept a secret by those few who know about it because its existence hides an Awful Truth about the planet that most of humanity doesn't know.

  • The Order of the Stick does this with D&D rules, except when the result would be really funny or sufficiently cool. For an example, there's a strip where Durkon uses Control Weather to attack a group of treants warded against electrical generating a thunderclap so loud that it breaks the treants in half. When an angel tells Thor (Durkon's patron god who enabled the spell) that that's not how the spell works (Control Weather cannot cause sonic damage, thunderclaps or no), Thor tells him to be quiet because it was awesome. Though it later turns out that the Southern Gods didn't appreciate Thor breaking the rules within their territory, and prohibit him from making further such interventions on Durkon's behalf.
  • In Gunnerkrigg Court, Reynardine's possession abilities and contract of ownership with Antimony follow specific and consistent rules. Some of them are given in-comic, but some are only spelled out by the author on the forum.
  • El Goonish Shive:
  • Tales of the Questor has "magic" that is, essentially, Sufficiently Advanced Science—- Magic is a natural ability to manipulate an exotic form of energy, can be used via technological means, and generally follows the known laws of physics (Conservation of mass and energy, for example, still apply).
  • A Magical Roommate is fairly flexible, but has some strict rules with its magic system. When it appeared that one of these rules had been broken, Aylia immediately rushed to figure out how... only to discover Loophole Abuse was the cause.
  • In Homestuck the video game Sburb (or Sgrub), around which the plot is based, has a series of strict, consistent rules. Its Time Travel rules are also internally consistent. The few "magical" concepts that pop up (usually with Rose Lalonde) tend to be loosely defined and fairly inconsistent, because real magic (ie. not based on an explicit Reality Warper's powers or on Sburb itself) is fake as all shit.
  • Despite the craziness of Educomix, certain things about the ecos are firmly established, e.g. urine is better than water. Also, the magic system is coincidentally based on letters — the known types of magic are Qmagic (used by Qwizards, and essentially the same as "normal" magic), Wmagic (used by the Whats in the Portal parody), Emagic (there's only one spell, but its effects are programmable by computer), Rmagic (Summon Magic), and Tmagic(affects time).
  • morphE is set in the Mage: The Awakening canon and follows its rules of magic.
  • Unsounded calls its magic system "pymary", because calling it "magic" would imply something unknown and mystical. Not so with pymary, which has been researched extensively and functions according to clear-cut rules and limitations. And while it's channeled through a Language of Magic, a translated snippet of that language sounds a lot more like programming code than any regular incantation. Here's an article.
  • Missing Monday has rules for who is eligible to visit another world and how to open the magic door. Monday followed the instructions in her favourite childhood storybook.
  • Cucumber Quest
    • The Ripple Kingdom's magic gachapon machine. All of the capsules provide spells that will work, but they create items so mundane, or the ability to do things in such incredibly specific situations, that they're basically useless. Nautilus eventually saves everyone with her ability to order a pizza only if nobody is in the mood for it, allowing the group to escape an airship crash by jumping into the delivery vehicle—but she can't repeat it when she's in Rosemaster's prison, because she actually is in the mood for pizza.
    • Rosemaster can alter the memories of people with botanical names. This makes Carrot, Cucumber, and Almond subject to her plot, but she throws Nautilus and Peridot in the dungeon because she can't mess with their heads the same way.
  • In Anecdote of Error, the local Wizard School exclusively teaches magic derived from dust called tshetsha, and the classes consist of the students learning how to mix it to produce the desired effect. Then subverted when the heroes gain the inherent ability to manifest household objects just by willing it, an old discipline taught in Alemi which has since been forgotten.

    Web Original 
  • Homestar Runner: In the Strong Bad Email "shapeshifter", Strong bad riffs on this by listing possible downsides that would accompany the power of shapeshifting. For instance, he imagines the power to turn into any species "of balloon animal", the power to turn into legal tender (which causes him to blow away in the wind after turning into a hundred dollar bill), and the power to turn into almost anybody in the world (that is, one-half of the intended person, hence the "almost").
  • In Arcana Magi, Mana is a source of energy akin to electrical energy, with kinetic and potential types. Mana energizes magical items and can be drawn from nature by people with magical powers to cast spells, but cannot be drawn from other people or creatures due to willpower and instinctual resistance. Mana is 100% pure when the object it's drawn from is natural, like copper and wood, and slowly but surely the natural object will lose all its Mana when changed into something else, like when copper and electricity is used in a computer. Though in Arcana Magi Zero, different types of magical groups have different ways of drawing mana and casting spells. For instance, Alysia Perez and Megumi Miyazaki are Circular Magi, so all their magical powers come from Magic Circles.
  • Explicitly averted in Tales of MU, where the laws of magic will change if they detect someone trying to figure them out. In-universe, science is a heavily discredited pseudo-, uh, science, much like people who believe in All-Natural Snake Oil in the real world. How, then, does the heavy use of Magitek work, in-universe? There's a difference between craftsmanship and science. You can make a gun without knowing ballistics. Pointing out this inconsistency to the author is an excellent way to make her not pay attention to you anymore.
  • The Whateley Universe tries to be consistent about this. Given that the major characters now include a mage who is part-Sidhe, a half-demon who has psychic abilities but deals with magic regularly, and an Action Girl with a magic sword, keeping the details consistent across authors must be fairly involved.
    • One story has a character begin to talk about a phenomenon that underlies everything in the universe which is what gives her her powers, only to be told by the other characters that it doesn't exist, or at least, they've seen absolutely no evidence of it. It's a nice thought about how theories are subjective, so when a character explains their own or someone else's powers, they could be completely wrong yet still come up with an explanation that covers the bases.
    • Phase got his via some sort of virus that was non-contagious and nobody else displays any other form of symptom and Tennyo got hers via what are best described as "Magic Brownies".
    • Part of what helps keep the Whateley Universe canon stories straight is the secret "Whateley Academy Universe Bible" that only canon authors are allowed access to — this lays out every single "rule" for the storyline, canon characters, backstory, etc
  • The Slender Man Mythos is an interesting example; the character is shared between several projects by different groups, and one of the reasons he's so effectively frightful is that the most well-known Slenderblogs and vlogs keep things consistent. They accomplish this while retaining wiggle-room for variation without angering the fandom: In Marble Hornets, audio and video distortions show up when something bad is about to happen, whereas in Everyman HYBRID, video usually doesn't distort unless Slender Man himself is both in the shot and very close to the camera.
  • Worm while not calling its superpowers magic, has this in full force.
    • Every cape has limitations to their powers, dictated by an in-universe law known as the Manton Effect
    • Even Scion has these limits in place, despite outward appearances.
  • Handwaving lack of internal consistency with extreme applications of Bellisario's Maxim is discussed in #3 of Cracked's 6 Common Movie Arguments That Are Always Wrong.
  • Chatoyant College: There are strict rules on what can be achieved with each type of magic.
  • Saga of Soul: After the main character acquires magical powers, the first thing she does is run experiments to try and fit her new abilities into a scientific framework. A large part of what makes her effective in battle afterward is her ability to figure out the most efficient applications of what powers she has.
  • SF Debris often points out violations, typically phrasing it as "All I ask is that you be consistent with your nonsense."
  • This is a big part of The Kingdoms Saga's setting. Each type of magic has specific rules, costs, methods, and effects.

    Western Animation 
  • Aladdin: The Series added to the rules mentioned in the movie that mixing different kinds of magic is a bad idea, because it produces unpredictable results. This is used as a reason why Genie can't just undo any magic used by villains. It's also hinted that lamp-bound genies are more powerful than free ones, presumably because the bound ones have wishes to grant.
  • Gargoyles lays down a few rules of magic and sticks with them:
    • Magic is sourced from energy, and the relative power of magic is simply a factor of the energy put into it. Magical energy can also be matched by energy created by other means, like electricity — at least in theory. Actually doing so is another thing entirely, as powerful magical beings (like the Children of Oberon) are basically the raw energy equivalent of the world's nuclear arsenal. But technology can keep up for a while, such as in "The Gathering", where Xanatos uses a force field to temporarily fend off Oberon. That episode also features an explicit invocation of this trope:
      Owen: Energy is energy, whether generated by science or sorcery.
    • The stronger the mage, the less effort they have to put into the actual act of spellcasting. For example, Demona has to cast spells by chanting in Latin, Puck can work magic in English but has to use rhyming verse, and Oberon can knock out a whole city just by yelling "Sleep!"
    • A Curse Escape Clause makes casting spells easier, so most magic includes one (and mages make them ludicrously implausible to compensate).
  • Bending in Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra mostly follows this:
    • Certain characters can use various martial arts derived movements to telekinetically control one of the classical elements. It is possible to utilise this basic mechanic for more esoteric uses, e.g., "Bloodbending" is the act of a Waterbender controlling the water in someone's blood, and by extension the blood in all of their bodily tissues. "Metalbending" is the act of an Earthbender controlling the leftover impurities in metal to indirectly bend metal. Firebenders can generate lightning.
    • At least some types of bending are affected by celestial bodies. Waterbending is stronger at night and, like ocean tides, is affected by phases of the moon, being strongest during a full moon. Firebending, on the other hand, is stronger when the sun is up during the day and can receive an immense enhancement by the presence of a certain comet, but fails completely during a solar eclipse.
    • Lightningbending can only be generated by a firebender who can clear their mind of emotion and distraction — something the internally conflicted Zuko finds himself unable to pull off. When Azula performs it during the climax, it gets complicated. She seems to have no difficulties wielding it even while in the middle of emotional turmoil. Either she's just that good (she is a prodigy that bends hotter blue flames), the power-boosting Comet of Doom in the sky had something to do with it, or she has no internal conflict at all about being a psychotic sociopath...probably the third thing.
    • Firebending doesn't require an external source of the element like other the three, because all firebenders have a internal source. Iroh explained that the bender's body heat was the source of their bending. When Zuko was enduring hypothermia in Season 1, he was easily floored by Katara until the sun came up.
    • Combustion Man's "sparky sparky boom ray", which allows him to focus his firebending to an extreme level, is a power that he was born with, according to the Nickelodeon site. It also appears that it is the only form of firebending he is capable of.
    • A universal trait of all the styles is the more skilled the bender, the less physical effort required to do so akin to a muscle. A master like King Bumi can bend just by moving his face.
    • Even Ty Lee's chi blocking is based off of the idea that acupuncture can block chi, and that bending uses chi as well. Legend of Korra proves that anyone can learn this if they practice, and can be used in conjunction with bloodbending to semi-permanently take away someone's bending.
  • The Last Airbender's Sequel Series, The Legend of Korra, follows up on what the original show set down.
    • It's shown that the characters are still learning and developing their understanding of those rules: Metalbending was only discovered in the original series by Toph due to her Disability Superpower, but is now understood enough to be taught to others and also to be defended against: platinum was found to be free of the impurities needed to bend it. Likewise, bloodbending was once thought to require a full moon to boost a Waterbender's power, but people have been found that are powerful enough to bloodbend at any time.
    • A combination of Superpowerful Genetics and early training is what can apparently overcome the bloodbending full moon restriction. In the time between the two series, Yakone exploited the unknown nature of the loophole to disguise what he was doing, but Sokka eventually saw through him. The fact that they share this ability outs two other characters as his sons, Tarrlok and Amon/Noatak, the latter of whom is skilled enough to not even need to do the familiar gestures. The wiki refers to it as psychic bloodbending, while he passes it off as energybending from the spirits.
    • With the episodes "Beginnings, Part 1 and 2", the history of the Avatar is set out. Notably, bending was given to people by lion-turtles, who acted as guardians to humanity in a world ravaged by spirits. At the end, Wan becomes the first Avatar by merging with the Spirit of Light Raava and becoming the first person capable of bending all four elements at once. With the coming of the Avatar, the lion-turtles relinquished their position as guardians of humanity and notably claimed that they will not give humans the power to bend elements anymore. This provides for two possibilities: All benders are descendants of those humans who kept their bending powers after the lion-turtles left. Or, subsequent generations of humanity really did learn to bend the elements by watching animals (and the Moon) do it. The show vaguely implies the second, as the effects of energy-bending were shown to not be hereditary, meaning that the people with bending granted by energy-bending can't pass it on to their children.
    • The ability of spirit-world interference to bestow bending is further built upon at the end of Season 2, when the Harmonic Convergence causes random non-benders around the world to suddenly become airbenders, correcting the imbalance caused by the Fire Nation's earlier genocide.
    • In Season 3, the members of the Red Lotus are capable of bending in unique and unusual ways, but even then they don't seem to deviate from the previously-established rules. Indeed, other people are shown being able to use those powers.
      • Ghazan is an Earthbender capable of creating and controlling lava. While lavabending was previously thought to be restricted to Avatars using a combination of earthbending and firebending, it seems that Ghazan can convert rock between liquid and solid states the same way waterbenders can change water to ice and back again. Bolin gains the ability to do the same in the finale of Book 3.
      • Ming-Hua is an armless Waterbender who fights by using her element to create temporary limbs of liquid water. These usually take the form of Combat Tentacles and ice blades. This is consistent with the aforementioned master rule.
      • P'Li shares Combustion Man's explosive ray, but has the additional power to curve her shots to hit targets behind cover, in addition to regular firebending (which Combustion Man couldn't use).
      • Zaheer starts off the most normal of the bunch, but he becomes an airbender following the Harmonic Convergence. He goes on to confirm what many people feared was the reason why Airbenders are taught to be pacifists. Zaheer was able to literally take the breath out of another person, suffocating them to death. Later, he gains the ability to fly unsupported, becoming the first airbender to do so in four thousand years. This has its own rules—it requires severing all earthly ties, including relationships, so he can't achieve it until his girlfriend is killed.
  • Beast Wars Transformers had the "Transmetal" subline, which was forced on them by virtue of being Merchandise-Driven. Essentially the story goes that they had to destroy a doomsday device in orbit that was threatening them with Death from Above. The resulting "quantum shockwave" changed the bodies of Transformers on both sides, but due to budget (CGI models take a lot more effort to redesign then with traditional animation) only a handful of current characters were redesigned. To try and explain why some changed while others didn't, those who weren't altered were otherwise incapacitated in a repair chamber or something else. It wasn't perfect and there was still a few inconsistencies with a couple of characters. Then the Transmetal process was refered to again. A device from the same aliens that sent the "Planet Buster" emitted a paralyzing pulse at the transformers around it. Those who with some form of transmetal in them proved to be immune to its effects.
  • Beast Machines: a planet-wide virus on Cybertron incapacitated anyone who didn't change and those who did have a transmetal form reverted into their first forms. While it had some nasty side-effects such as memory loss and the inability to transform, that ended up being what saved them from certain capture.
  • The Fairly OddParents has consistent rules for making wishes. These come from a Great Big Book of "Da Rules" (allowing for new rules when the plot demands), but the same few rules tend to recur.
    • For example, you can't wish to break true love, or to win a competition. For example, when Timmy used wished-up skills to play basketball, he only lost the skills when the clock hit five minutes, because the last five minutes are the only competitive part of a basketball game.
      • Notably, wishing for death wasn't banned until at the earliest 1914, when a little girl wished for the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, starting WWI.
    • In The Movie, there is a magic muffin that allows a certain amount of unrestricted wishing for those trusted with it. The only wish that can't be made is for the magic muffin to taste better (yeah, the muffin is all-powerful, but it tastes horrible).
    • Genies can break the rules, though it might not be wise to go for it. The reason for this is that "Da Rules" aren't inherent to magic, but rather more like an unbreakable code of law for fairies. In at least one case, they had to add a new rule because Timmy screwed things up in a way that wasn't anticipated.
  • Mighty Max established how the portal system works that Portal A leads to Portal B and vice-versa. In order to travel the world they need to move through a series of portals to arrive at their destination, like a subway train map. In multiple episodes they show that the portal underneath Max's house leads directly to Skullmaster's cavern, and a portal overhanging a lava waterfall some distance away leads them to Australia, with the nearest portal on foot is 50 miles away.
  • In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: Twilight Sparkle, an ardent student of the subject, insists that real magic has some rules. These are left vague, but she speaks of how it comes from within, and also how it is done consciously and studied. However, rather than a single cohesive "ruleset", there seem to be lots of different kinds of magic (too many to list here), each with their own rules.
  • Trollz has a complex system of magic.
    • Only girl trolls can use magic. Originally everyone could until the Big Bad grabbed most of it and turned it evil, minimizing magic as a result.
    • Spells don't work unless they rhyme, and can vary depending on how they're worded.
    • The most powerful magic is done with five trolls from five different gem alignments.
    • Most spells are cast using spell beads, though a beadless transformation spell required the Magic of the Five to be used correctly. When Onyx and Topaz tried it on their own, it worked, but caused the woman they used it on to become mute and ill.
    • Magic is powered via amber, found in the Amber Caves.
  • As Steven Universe progresses, the rules and limitations of Gems and their “magic” become more defined, with the audience learning the mechanics alongside Steven. These rules are set in stone, to the point that it’s possible to catch characters in lies based on how their description of a magical event lines up with the established rules. To whit:
    • Every type of Gem has a power and/or summonable weapon unique to that type; every Sapphire can predict the immediate future, every Lapis can manipulate water, and so on. There are three caveats to this:
    • Gems who are created using insufficient resources or take too long to coalesce (overcooking) still have powers, but said powers are significantly less potent and may not activate for years. Peridots, for instance, have metal-controlling powers, but our Peridot initially doesn’t know she has them and is mostly limited to stuff like throwing soda cans, all because she was born during a resource crisis and had less resources spent on her than she needed (which is also why she’s much shorter than average).
    • All Gems have a degree of Voluntary Shapeshifting, but changing to and maintaining any form other than their current Shapeshifter Default Form takes effort and concentration. Holding a temporary form for too long can result in a loss of control and eventual involuntary return to default. Further, any form they take will possess their default form’s color scheme, no matter what; Amethyst is always purple, even when turned into something like an owl or bulldozer. Their Heart Drive is also always located on the same spot on their body. Rose Quartz/Pink Diamond works around these handicaps by palette-swapping her hair and skin, while also rotating her gemstone to conceal its shape without actually moving it.
    • Gems can fuse into a stronger being. These Fusions possess all the powers and knowledge of their components, but the more Gems that take part in the Fusion, the less Morphic Resonance it has; the two-Gem Opal looks and acts like a mix of Pearl and Amethyst, but the four-Gem Obsidian has only vague similarities to any of her components. Fusion also works on both physical and mental levels, which mixes badly with another bit of Gem magic, The Corruption. Any healthy Gem foolish enough to fuse with a Corrupted Gem will immediately contract the Corruption themselves, as Jasper learns the hard way.


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