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No Ontological Inertia

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Becky: And the machine blowing up has returned everything to normal in the real school, including Mr. Abercrombie!
Templeton: Hmm. I'm not convinced that blowing up a machine would make everything go back to normal.
Mitchell: Don't question it. We meddled with stuff we don't understand. We got away with it. Let's go play in the snow.
Templeton: I mean, if you blow up a toaster, your toast doesn't turn back into bread, does it?
Becky: Templeton, shh!
Templeton: And if you blow up a cow, you don't make cheese not exist. I mean, it just doesn't make any sense!
Strange Hill High "Teacher's Pet"
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Ontological Inertia is the tendency stuff has to continue being stuff. Things, in general, keep existing even when we're not looking at them.

Writers often forget about or ignore this, and assume that the creator of a thing maintains some sort of existential tie to the thing created. That is, if the creator is destroyed, it is "only natural" that the creation will pop out of existence, or, preferably, explode. Whatever damage or curse the Big Bad has done disappears when it is defeated, instantly resulting in sunlight, birds and happy little flowers. (Keep in mind that this ontological tie is actually the case in many fairy tales and faerie stories.)

There are certain situations in which this can be inherently justified. Computer programs, for example, stop running if their hardware turns off, and may be reset to a default state under certain conditions. Magic usually lacks ontological inertia, under the theory that continuous effort has to be applied to work against the natural order, and ceasing that effort will cause things to snap back to the way they ought to be. Sometimes the magic lacks ontological inertia because spells are contracts i.e. pacts (with the spirits, the gods, demons, etc.), and the death of the contractor voids the contract—like what sometimes happens to currencies when the government issuing them falls, e.g. good luck buying things with Confederate dollars in 1866.

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In other situations it's more blatant, such as the ever popular Load-Bearing Boss, or a poison/disease that not only stops doing further damage when it is cured, but also erases the injuries that it's already inflicted. A slightly more subtle variation is the Fisher King, whose health is mirrored by the state of his kingdom.

This trope may be considered a Necessary Weasel in more idealistic works, as dealing with the damage left behind by the depredations of the Big Bad or the Monster of the Week can turn even the best Happy Ending into a downer as one realizes just exactly how much work the heroes will have to do to put their world back together. See No Endor Holocaust for the ultimate extreme of this.

Similarly, This Was His True Form is this trope applied to shapeshifters and to any reality that has been overlaid by a fairy enchantment. This is a type of Reset Button. Destruction Equals Off-Switch is arguably a subtrope. A Keystone Army that features a Hive Queen of some sort frequently employs this as well.

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Compare with Critical Existence Failure, when something has no intermediate state between functionally perfect and completely destroyed; and What Happened to the Mouse?, where not only does something disappear, but the author fails to give any clue why. Contrast Offscreen Inertia. See also Liquid Assets and No Immortal Inertia — though these are more about Life Energy, they still represent states that can be easily restored to "normal".

Not to be confused with Status Quo Is God, where the reversion happens offscreen and no reason is ever given.

Some spoilers ahead (villain deaths, primarily).


Examples:

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    Card Games 
  • Magic: The Gathering:
    • Played straight with cards changing zones (such as a creature dying or a card being discarded). The game "forgets" where a card used to be and the rules treat it as a new object when it arrives in a new zone.
    • Similarly, the rules state that when a player loses the game, everything he controlled disappears. This can be very important in multiplayer games.
    • Zigzagged with card abilities. The effects of static abilities disappear the instant that their source leaves the battlefield. In contrast, once an activated ability has been activated or a triggered ability has been triggered, they exist independently from their source, and killing the source will do absolutely nothing to prevent the ability from resolving. This is mostly so that Death Activated Superpowers work the way you would expect them to.
    • This used to be a defied trope with creature damage. Magic uses a timing system called "The Stack," in which whatever was put on it last is resolved first. (This makes sense in gameplay even if it involves a Timey-Wimey Ball.) The problem is, damage dealt by creatures used to go on The Stack, meaning that, in response to your creature dealing damage to your opponent, you could take it out of play in various ways and for various beneficial purposes. In other words, the game's timing rules made it possible for your creature to swing a punch, suffer Critical Existence Failure, and still have its punch land. This was eventually changed with an Obvious Rules Patch that made creature damage not involve The Stack.
  • Notably, many card games feature a rule that states whatever is on a creature disappears when that creature leaves the playing field. For example:
    • In Yu-Gi-Oh! card game, if a monster has its ATK stat reduced or increased, when that monster is sent to the Graveyard, its ATK stat returns to normal. Even if the exact same monster card (not just by name, but the physical card) returns to the field, its ATK stat will remain normal, unless a card with continuous effect changes its ATK stat again. Similarly, if a monster's effect is negated on the field, when it is sent to the Graveyard, its effect is no longer negated. Even if the exact same monster returns to the field, the effect will not be negated, unless a card with continuous effect negates its effect again.
      • Yu-Gi-Oh! takes it one step further with some "Trap monsters" (as in, Trap cards whose effect summon themselves as monster). They are only treated as both Trap and monster while they are face-up on the field. In any other locations, they are just a Trap card. Paleozoic archetype in particular, do not even treat themselves as Trap cards anymore when they are face-up on the field as a monster.
    • In Pokemon card game, if a Pokemon is defeated, all the Energy cards on it are discarded. Even if the Pokemon returns to the field or your hand, the discarded Energy cards remains discarded.

    Comic Strips 
  • One Sunday edition of Calvin and Hobbes saw the titular twosome engaging in one of their trademark petty arguments in the midst of a meeting of their "anti-girl" secret club. While Calvin's head is turned (he's writing a derogatory "law" about Hobbes in the club charter), Hobbes snatches Calvin's "Supreme Dictator Hat" off of his head and proclaims "Now I'm the Supreme Dictator!" - as if taking off the Supreme Dictator's hat automatically drains him of his power.

    Fairy Tales 
  • Slightly zig-zagged in Cinderella. The coach, horses, dress, etc., all revert to normal at midnight, except for one (possibly both) glass slipper(s).

    Fan Works 
  • The Dragon and the Songstress: The curse inflicted on Aqua goes away after the sorcerer that inflicted it is killed.
  • Averted in the Spirited Away fanfic The Kamikakushi Saga. The kami from the film remain bound to their contracts with Yubaba, despite her death and the destruction of the bathhouse. Working at Chihiro's onsen allows them to fulfil the terms of said contracts.
  • Principal Celestia Hunts the Undead: Brain worms need a source of black magic to survive on Earth. When the source they were using is gone, they die quickly and are purged from the victims' body within twenty-four hours.
  • Rosario Vampire: Brightest Darkness:
    • In Act IV chapter 18, upon Hitomi's death, all of those she petrified return to normal.
    • Similarly, both times Jovian and Jacqueline are killed, the mind control spell they cast on Felucia, and later Apoch and Astreal, are automatically broken.
    • Discussed in Act VI chapter 51. Kokoa suggests that they just kill Hex to break the spell he has on Falla and Akasha. Moka and Kyouko dismiss that possibility, pointing out that Hex is much stronger than he looks, that Akasha and Falla will fight against them to protect him, and there's no guarantee that killing him will break the spell anyway.

    Gamebooks 
  • Lone Wolf:
    • An aversion: after the Darklords are defeated, the lands that they corrupted in their campaign of conquest are still corrupted. The intro pages of the Grandmaster series reveal that the Elder Magi and the Herbwardens are working to restore the Darklands to their original states, but realize that it will take centuries of effort to undo the damage.
    • Played straight in Book 6: killing the ancient Dakomyd causes it to instantly decay and turn to dust.
    • In Book 17, destroying the Deathlord Ixiataaga removes the power that kept the city of Xaagon in a suspended state, causes the entire city to collapse, breaks the cloud cover that prevented sunlight from reaching it, and "shuts down" all of Ixiataaga's undead minions.

    Myths & Religion 

    Pinballs 
  • Played with in the "Tower" table of Ruiner Pinball; casting three magic spells supposedly destroys the Tower and cause it crumble, but we never actually see it happen.

    Podcasts 
  • In the Cool Kids Table game Here We Gooooo!: Once the party destroys the Aspartame Crystal and restores the Sugar Crystal at the Grape Escape factory, they get rid of the diet symptoms and restore the surrounding area to it's former beauty.

    Sports 
  • In some versions of dodgeball, getting someone out makes everyone they got out come back into the game.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons
    • Occasionally found in the Ravenloft setting.
      • When the Darklord of an "island" domain is killed, the island may cease to exist, sometimes simply being absorbed into the Mists, sometimes violently falling apart. What happens to the island's inhabitants is unknown. This is because the Darklords are Fisher Kings of their various domains, which only exist to serve as a prison and stage for the Darklords they're built around. With no Darklord, the domain literally serves no purpose and is, in the view of the Dark Powers, expendable.
      • This trope forms an important part of the worldview of the Abber Nomads who inhabit the Nightmare Lands domain. Because their surroundings are constantly shifting, they see no reason to believe that anything exists when they are not interacting with it.
    • 2nd Edition adventure FROA1 Ninja Wars, adventure "Tiger-Bird Spirit - The Sequel". Centuries ago a wu jen was turned into a tigbuana buso through a divine curse. He can infect a victim and cause them to become a tagamalang buso. If he is killed, any people he has infected become normal again.
    • Mostly averted in D&D, however. Spells have set durations that will play out whether or not the caster dies before they end, and magical items are their own thing and not reliant on the creator. Killing the master vampire, head necromancer, or golem-creator just means the subordinate vampires, zombies, or golems are now independent. You'd have to specially invoke this trope to make it happen, barring some very unusual circumstances.
    • The trope is played straight with the regional effects associated with the lairs of powerful dragons, vampires, etc., which fade either over a period of days or instantly after the death of the lair's master.
  • The default behavior of magic in Mage: The Awakening. Generally, if a mage is killed, their ongoing spells will end, since they require the mage's soul to function. However, mages have the option of relinquishing a spell, making it self-sustaining, at the cost of no longer being in control of it, and having to invest a dot of Willpower. Relinquishing a spell imbued into an item has a few other options for what has to be sacrificed.
  • Vampire: The Masquerade
    • Level 10 of the discipline Quietus is Punish the Sins of the Father, which kills the target vampire and all descended from him through the Embrace.
    • In one adventure a vampire was trying to kill the vampire who Embraced her so that she could become human again.
  • In Warhammer, the normal rank-and-file undead (zombies, skeleton etc.) in the armies of the Vampire Counts slowly crumbles to dust when the general of the army is killed, since the magic power that have created them is gone. In case of creatures such as ghouls who are not technically undead but enslaved by the vampires will, they slink back to where they come from. This was averted on a grand scale when the spell Nagash was casting to resurrect the entire world's dead was disrupted. Most of them died again, but many stayed around and there are still places where the dead spontaneously come back due to the echoes of his spell.
    • Averted with certain spells that have a delayed response. As one faq pointed out, jumping up and down on a wizard does not stop a meteorite he 'summoned' from crashing onto the battlefield a turn later.
    • Used hilariously by the Glottkin; when faced with a Vampire with an impossibly large army of undead (who was taunting them no less), Otto took a third option and ordered Ghurk to punt the Vampire across the horizon. Literally. As soon as the Vampire went out of sight, his army crumbled away as he was now too far to keep them up.
  • Champions supplement The Circle and M.E.T.E. When a vampire is destroyed, some of the people it changed into vampires become human again.
  • Massively averted inNobilis, where they exist in Celestial time and are mostly immune to the effects of mundane time. You can travel to before a Noble was born and kill her parents...and all you'll do is piss her off. Mundane history now says she was never born, sure, but she still exists, because she she was Ennobled before you tried to erase her.
  • Incorporated into Ars Magica, where less powerful magics often have no persistence, but more powerful magic does persist, mainly through investment of game resource / power-points. Things destroyed by magic stay destroyed, and killed creatures are still dead, even with less powerful magic.
  • Rolemaster Shadow World supplement Demons of the Burning Night. While wearing the Helm of Kadaena the wearer accumulates 10 years of aging during each combat, but the Helm prevents the aging from taking effect. If the Helm is ever removed all of the aging immediately takes effect.

    Theater 

    Toys 
  • BIONICLE's Kanohi Mohtrek toyed with the trope. It's essentially a mask that creates duplicates of the user, but with a twist: the duplicates are actually the user's past selves, plucked out of the timeline into the present. Then they fight or some stuff. When the mask is turned off, the duplicates return to their original time, and will have no recollection of the future events they "just" witnessed. What the mask doesn't undo is physical damage, however. So whenever a past-self is summoned into battle and gets battered and weakened, he/she will return in that state to his/her timeline, but won't know how he/she suddenly got weakened and bruised.

    Web Comics 
  • Averted in Bob and George; George is wearing a time travel suit that makes him intangible. When the suit is destroyed, he stays intangible. A lot of fans were surprised by this, given the prevalence of this trope.
  • Averted in Dominic Deegan with the poison infecting orcish lands. It takes so long to be undone after the source was destroyed that Dominic face palms himself for completely forgetting it was there.
  • Summons in El Goonish Shive follow this rule. See ''Taurcanis Draco".
    • Earlier, Fox dissolves after Abraham uses a mass sleep spell, knocking out Nanase so he can kill Ellen. The author admits it looks more disturbing than he originally intended.
    • On the other hand it is averted with creations of the Dewitchery Diamond, when Tedd read a log of the diamonds original creation wherein a man cursed with lycanthorphy was separated into himself and a giant wolf-beast when the man died the wolf still survived.Tedd point out this means if Elliott dies Ellen will be just fine, this doesn't particularly reassure Elliott.
  • In The Order of the Stick, three fiends discussing a magic-boosting 'soul-splice' mention that any spells cast during the splice will end when the splice does, except those with permanent non-magical effects (like death).
  • In Shadows Of Enchantment, a common annoyance for the True Companions in the past has been for them to heroically slay a huge, hideous enchantment-created monster, only for its corpse to revert to a dead squirrel or something.
  • In Sluggy Freelance, the demon K'Z'K possesses Gwynn's body and changes it to a large, monstrous form. He seems able to change alter this form at will and does so, and at one point even reconstructs it after being put through a meat grinder. And when he's banished from the body, which is looking monstrous at the time, it returns to its normal shape (albeit comatose because he keeps her soul). At least, before this, one of the characters mentions the possibility that she might come back as minced meat.
  • The permanence of any spell run amok in The Wotch seems inversely proportional to the number of people still stuck when the danger has passed. For example, a demon turns dozens of people into human-animal hybrids, and even a stone fountain, but they all turn back when he vanishes. On the other hand, a girl turned temporarily into an imp switches a couple, and they stay switched for months after she turns back, and only switch back at all because a witch does it for them.
  • Invoked in Manly Guys Doing Manly Things when Commander Badass hunts down Gackt with the belief that defeating him will cure his case of Nomura Syndrome. It doesn't work.
  • In Axe Cop, "The Dogs", once the Siberian Witch Doctor Mummy Cats are sent to Mouse World, their evil magics are undone because they become so happy, and everything they enchanted (which was a lot) returns back to normal. The birds shrink back to normal size, the fish return to normal and fall from the sky, the humans turn back into humans instead of witch doctor mummy kittens... It Makes Just As Much Sense In Context.
  • In Sorcery 101, a werewolf's Healing Factor has no ontological inertia, so when a person is cured of lycanthropy, any wound they received as a werewolf will come back.
  • Subverted in this Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal comic. The protagonist murders the source of all swear words, yet the use of such words still persists.

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