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Power at a Price

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You mean magic isn't for free?

"All power demands sacrifice."

Power. The ability to influence, create, change, and even destroy. Things, places, people. It is by nature highly contentious: Some want it and would kill for it, others do not want it, or would gladly give away such a burden. Therein lies the rub. For all its force, blessings, or ability to change, power is not free... of responsibility, consequence, or cost. Some people think the exchange has to be "fair." Be Careful What You Wish For...

Drama derives vigor from the quandary of how power, seemingly free of any strings, has inherent costs. Whether they are hideous mutations, social alienation, or even death varies by story, genre, and kind of power. But the underlying basis is the same: Power at a Price.

See also Necessary Drawback and Weakness Tropes. For related tropes, see Price of Power Index.



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    Anime and Manga 

  • Darker Than Black: The premise of the whole show. Superpower Lottery gives you a superpower but you must pay the price for using it. When it's something that you can do yourself, like breaking your fingers or smoking, it's compulsive. When it's aging forward or backward, it triggers after each use. Also, the show strongly implies that the main price which all Contractors must pay is losing your humanity and becoming an absolutely rational... being. There are at least two ways of using the power and not paying the price, though both aren't cheap either. Losing your body is really a price to pay. Or gradually turning into walking plant. Hei subverts this because he inherited his abilities from his sister, who effectively paid the price for him (and depending on how her merger with him works, she may still be paying the price for every time he uses the power as her sleeping probably wouldn't impact Hei all that much).
  • Hell Girl: Eliciting the services of Ai Enma grants one the power to send whoever wronged them directly to Hell, and all one has to do is untie the red string around a black straw doll's neck. Once you pull the string and finalize your intended target's damnation, however, you will be branded and, after you die, be condemned to Hell, yourself.

    Fan Works 

    Film - Live Action 

  • Dracula Untold: Vlad's supernatural powers that he needs to defeat his enemies comes at the cost of his humanity.
    Vlad Dracula: I'm the thing men fear, but at a cost.



  • The Jenkinsverse:
    • Humans have insurmountable physical advantages over other species, but with some serious downsides. Earth's comparatively dense, warm and humid atmosphere means that humans can suffer from altitude sickness if they exert too hard in the thinner, cooler and drier atmosphere preferred by most species. Humans must eat and drink more to stay healthy, have a whole battery of dietary needs that, if not met, lead to malnutrition, scurvy or BeriBeri. The human nervous system, being efficiently fine-tuned for high performance relative to those of nonhumans, is vulnerable to things such as intoxicants or hallucinogens. While this may sound like a case of Cursed with Awesome - humans are the only species capable of getting drunk and enjoying recreational drug use - things like the standard fire suppressant foam found on all starships can drive a human into a paranoid frenzy before they go catatonic.
    • Then there's the SOR, whose training consists of working themselves to and past the point where the human body tears itself apart. Then they use alien drugs that allow them to rapidly regenerate, their bodies all the stronger from having been pushed so hard. They're the closest thing to superhuman, and can die of malnutrition if they're active in their gear for too long, due to the sheer impossibility of eating enough calories to fulfill their bodies' energy needs during such activity.
    • The Ten'Gewek have the same problem but worse. Corti discussing their biology note that they really need all those huge game animals to satisfy their nutritional needs, and there's the possibility of them starving to death in as little as three days. Given Men like Yan grow even bigger and stronger, but it eventually causes a neurological disorder similar to Alzheimer's.
  • The Traveler's Gate: All artifacts of Ragnarus require some cost to use them. It is possible to force others to pay the price for you, but the only one who did that was the Ragnarus Incarnation; every normal Traveler of Ragnarus simply pays the price themselves. These include a wand that eats away at your sanity every time you use it, a knife that makes you forget a single person when you return it (the longer you keep it out, the more important a person you forget), a crown that strikes you mute, and a spear that causes horrific pain to the user. The spear, notably, is typically the Weapon of Choice for the head of the family, as the pain is ultimately an illusion and thus nowhere near as dangerous as the other prices.
  • Discworld: According to Archchancellor Ridcully, magic is actually very easy. The tricky part is getting wizards to not perform magic for every mundane purpose or using it to solve their problems, because the overuse of magic attracts the things from the Dungeon Dimensions, and if they break through, the effect is described as the ocean trying to warm itself around a candle.

    Live Action TV 

    Video Games 

  • The Binding of Isaac: A lot of items require this.
    • Deals with the Devil provide some of the best items in the game, but you need to spend permanent Heart Containers to use them.
    • Glass Cannon fires a repeatable gigantic tear, but every use lowers you to half a heart remaining, no questions asked.
    • Potato Peeler gives Isaac a stacking Meatboy familiar and can be used as many times as you like, but each use will cost you a Red Heart.
    • Magic Skin gives you any item from the current room, but removes a heart container for the rest of the run (it's filled with a useless Broken Heart). Also, the more you use Magic Skin, the more likely you are to find it later, tempting you to keep using it...
  • Dawn of War: In Chaos Rising, there are some very powerful items. The catch is that they are tainted by Chaos and corrupt their users. Interestingly, this also applies to maintaining full purity in the same game, since it grants you ludicrously powerful abilities, though at the expense of forcing you to work very, very hard at maintaining that purity.
  • Heroes of the Storm:
    • Gul'dan is based around this concept. Instead of naturally regenerating mana, he Life Taps to trade health for it. This gives players infinite mana to use... if they're careful. His talents also enforce this, with an option that increases his damage but reduces how much healing he receives, and another that boosts his health but increases his respawn timer.
    • Alarak has a series of talents that lower his overall damage but improve other aspects of his kit. One in particular is Hasty Bargain, which resets the cooldown of all of his skills at the cost of permanently lowering his damage by 3% each time it's used.
  • Warcraft: This is pretty much a universal theme for the series. Draw power from the Burning Legion? You get a serious power boost, but enjoy being twisted into a hideous demon and serving the will of an Omnicidal Maniac. Serve the Old Gods? Sure you can wield shadows and control minds (if you don't go insane first), but Body Horror and Lovecraftian Superpowers are the best you can eventually hope for. Hear the call of the Lich King? You might be a great necromancer, but the Scourge only works with the undead... Even the relatively benign arcane magic is cripplingly addictive, enough to destroy ancient night elven society and cause global misery for the high/blood elf population millennia later.
    • In particular, playable Warlocks in World of Warcraft embody this. They trade health for mana as a key mechanic, and can summon powerful demons for a price. Classic WoW was most harsh about this, with the Warlock's most powerful demon requiring the sacrifice of another player and a separate enslavement spell. If anything failed, that demon could turn on its master.
    • Worgen are immune to being turned undead by anything short of The Lich King himself, but are also monstrous wolf-men. They have their origins rooted in this trope as well: a sect of nigfht elves once practiced a form of Voluntary Shapeshifting into wolves, but they lost control of themselves in the process. Seeking to fix this, they used an enchanted scythe... which instead Shapeshifter Mode Locked them in an in-between form.
  • 20XX:
    • You have, effectively, six stats: weapon damage, power damage, running speed, jump height, health and energy. Many, many augments you can pick up increase some at the expense of others: Forcemetal Shell, for example, increases your health at the expense of speed, while Glass Cannon buffs your damage output but lowers your health. Your maximum health does not have a minimum level, so if you pick up too many health-reducing items, you will die.
    • Prototype Augments are even worse. These have sizeable benefits, but potentially devastating drawbacks. You might, for example, pick up a cloud of minions (this can get very silly, especially if you have a Splintering Twinifier), but while those will be attacking anything that gets close to you, you'll lose the ability to attack or use powers. Another couple massively increase either your damage output or the effects of all future stat boosts you get, but doubles or triples the damage you take. Still others cause you to burn maximum energy instead of recoverable energy in exchange for significantly increased power damage, make bosses harder in exchange for more rewards, or let you use a Set Bonus without the full set at the expense of a harsh reduction to your damage. (That said, if you get lucky, you can find a System Restore, which lets you wipe away the drawback of all the Prototypes you have when you pick it up.)
  • Grim Dawn: Thematically, the Witch God Solael is all about this. He has overwhelming power greater than either of his two siblings (with none of the foresight or planning), and he will gladly grant you a piece if, and only if, you are willing to make great sacrifices for it. One of his followers in the Forgotten Gods expansion is glad to go at length on it; if you say this seems like the work of a cruel god, he'll fire back saying the world and life itself is cruel, since both will keep taking things away from you and never stop, while Solael gives you something worthy for all the suffering and lets you take things into your own hands afterwards.
  • World of Horror:
    • The majority of the spells in the game cost either Stamina or Reason to cast, meaning that you're burning away your strength or sanity as fuel.
    • The influence of the Old God Ath-Yolazsth makes it so that spells that normally drain your Reason advance the Doom Track instead. They're specifically noted to be popular with magicians, who appreciate being able to practice their craft without any visible cost to themselves.


    Western Animation 

  • The Dragon Prince: This is how dark magic seems to work, requiring the lifeforce or essence of at least part of living being in order to cast a spell. Excessive amounts of usage also seems to take some kind of toll on the user, as evidenced by Viren draining the life of magical butterflies to keep himself looking like a middle-aged man.
  • Steven Universe: Jasper tried to fuse with a Corrupted Gem Monster to create a One-Winged Angel to stop Amethyst and Steven. Not only did this end up being more of a Clipped-Wing Angel, it spread The Corruption to Jasper herself, turning her into a mindless beast.

     Real Life 

  • The industrial revolution, and the use of oil, coal and natural gas for energy, has brought tremendous scientific and economic progress for humanity, and unprecedented quantities of energy, but releasing carbon into the atmosphere is slowly but steadily warming up the Earth, and modifying the chemistry of the atmosphere and ocean, which isn't very good news.


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