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The Law of Power Proportionate to Effort

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The amount of work needed to activate certain Magic and Powers, or lack thereof, can provide a major advantage/disadvantage.

In fiction, the audience is conditioned to become invested in effort; after all, a fight where the characters go through the motions is boring. Thus, this law exists to ensure that the more effort an ability requires, the stronger it is. If you're the good guys, at least. Heroes need a handicap, after all.

The Law of Power Proportionate To Effort manifests itself in the following scale. The order, usually reflecting Most to Least Difficult, goes:

  • Incontinence
    • The character is unable to control their powers at all. This is worse if the powers are switched "off" by default, and there is no known way of turning them on. Sometimes, they need someone else to activate their powers for them.
  • Physical/Mental Stress
    • Using their abilities requires difficult, exhaustive, or harmful effort. Typically, this means the ability can only be cast a limited number of times before the toll is too much for the user to take (sometimes incurring permanent damage from overuse).
  • Concentration/Charging/Preparation/External Help
    • The character needs to focus all of their attention on something, such as maintaining concentration, meditating, gathering energy/resources, or setting up elaborate preparations, which prevents them from fighting at their best.
  • Normal Physical Action
    • The character can use their power like, or along with, a non-strenuous physical action. E.g. the character might form an Energy Ball which must be physically thrown at enemies, or cut an object in two by making a slashing motion in its direction.
  • Gesture
    • The character can use their ability with an effortless gesture.
  • Thought
    • The character can use their ability with just a thought.
  • Automatic
    • The character doesn't need to do anything at all. It will always activate when needed, and never activates when not needed.

Note that there are two distinct, somewhat contradictory but not mutually exclusive, ways to use this trope. In the first, a set of powers or single ability which requires more effort to use is often going to be more powerful than one that requires less, for reasons of narrative Competitive Balance. In addition, characters may be able to boost their own power levels by putting more effort into it, in a sort of willpower-based version of Tim Taylor Technology. On the flip side, a character who displays less effort using their abilities can safely be assumed to be scarily badass, for reasons similar to the logic behind The Law of Diminishing Defensive Effort. The former generally applies to heroes and the latter to villains, but exceptions do exist.

Sub-Trope of Power at a Price and Difficult, but Awesome. The middle-of-the-road tiers may cause a Psychic Nosebleed. Ki Manipulation almost have to follow this trope implicitly, because Ki is based on focus, physical health, and willpower. See also The Law of Diminishing Defensive Effort when it comes to using defensive efforts(or lack thereof).

Compare Cooldown for when the price comes after usage, but can still use this scale. Compare Spell Construction for the kind of efforts you have to make to perform magic feats.


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     Anime & Manga 
  • Dragon Ball goes by this trope implicitly.
    • Super Saiyan:
      • When first introduced, nobody knew how to ascend to this form; it required extreme amounts of emotional stress and a dire need for it. With enough practice, however, it gradually becomes easier. It also burns through ki over time (allegedly). To face Cell, Goku and Gohan perfected the form so that it took no effort to activate or sustain, which paid off because it closed the gap to Super Saiyan 2, allowing Gohan to attain it during the Cell Games.
      • Super Saiyan 3 takes the flaw of Super Saiyan and exaggerates it: it burns through ki like nothing else and takes an extreme amount of effort to activate. At the time, there were only two solutions: being dead (where ki isn't a problem) or the Fusion Dance, since the combined ki makes Super Saiyan 3 a plaything. The downside, however, was burning through time: if a dead person on Earth then the form will reduce the time they have left, while a Fusion that lasts 30 minutes may be reduced to mere minutes.
    • Kaio-ken:
      • When Goku is first taught the Kaio-ken (an ability that multiplies his base power), he's hardly able to use more than the fourth level before the stress on his body is too much to bear. Through training he's eventually able to use 20x with barely any effort, but by that point the technique had become So Last Season thanks to Super Saiyan, which has an automatic 50x boost to the user's ki and doesn't stress the body at all.
    • Kamehameha:
      • Downplayed for this technique; when someone uses a Kamehameha, the longer it takes them to say its name, the more power they're building up. Like all techniques, it can also scale relative to the user's battle power.
    • Genkia-Dama / Spirit Bomb:
      • The Spirit Bomb is by far Goku's strongest technique, but it needs a trifecta of charging time, mental concentration and co-operation from those he's borrowing energy from. Meaning that unless he has someone to cover him for the several (or even dozens) of minutes it takes to complete it, he won't survive long enough to throw it, and the longer it takes him to find and convince others to help, the longer it'll take to complete. The upshot is that it can be far higher ki than yours, an unquestionable advantage as long as the wielder has enough ki to keep it together.
    • Divine Abilities
      • Divine ki is noted to be denser and harder to control than mortal ki, but exponentially more powerful. It also requires specific methods of training or ritual in order to access, although it becomes substantially easier to do so once the user has activated it once.
      • Destruction and Erase are the biggest exceptions to the rule. They are terrifyingly lethal abilities which utterly destroy a person's body and soul down to the smallest particle. But even more horrific than that is that their users can do so almost instantaneously and with little time to dodge or defend. Zen-O's Erase can even wipe out an entire universe or timeline with a mere thought or gesture, which is what makes him and his future counterpart the most feared beings known.
  • Bleach demonstrates this through its kidou magic: a Shinigami can cast a spell without the half-minute spirit chant, but it loses most of its power and probably won't be more than a distraction against its target. Most kidou victories involve struggling to delay the enemy long enough for someone to finish a full chant— or one of the strongest Captains showing off how much damage they can do with a few words.
  • Naruto:
    • Naruto's Sage Mode is a perfect example of one that climbs this scale as it slowly succumbs to So Last Season.
      • At first, it requires Preparation, Charging, and Concentration to use. Sage Mode takes several minutes of charging nature energy to use, which makes it absolutely useless because you have to enter a battle with it already prepared, and then avoid using the energy you worked so hard to store in the first place.
      • Naruto learns to get around this by using Self-Duplication, having his clones charge the energy for him, and then dismissing them to absorb their power. However, as his clones need to concentrate, that means Naruto is limited in the number of clones he can use (which is problematic as a Zerg Rush is his signature strategy).
      • Later on, though, Naruto's Next Tier Power-Up gives him more power to summon clones with, and Naruto masters nature energy to the point that he can enter Sage Mode in seconds.
    • Obito & Kakashi's Kamui is also another ability that demonstrates most levels of this scale.
      • When Obito first unlocks his Kamui, he cannot control its 'intangibility' properly.
      • When Kakashi first demonstrates his Kamui, he requires a lot of time to prepare it, after which, he is left bed-ridden for a few days.
      • In order to teleport someone, Obito must lay a hand on them. Teleportation is fairly quick, with only instantaneous abilities like Flying Thunder God able to evade it.
      • Once he has mastered his Kamui, Obito's intangibility is more or less automatic.

  • Negima! Magister Negi Magi:
    • In general, the more powerful a spell is, the longer its activation incantation is. Powerful combat spells can take many lines of Ancient Greek or Latin to invoke, and the most powerful magics can actually require dozens of minutes of chanting. Negi takes advantage of this in one fight: he and his opponent both start incanting at the same time, but Negi's spell is slightly less powerful, with a shorter incantation, and therefore activates first, punching through his opponent's before it can fully manifest.
    • Highly skilled mages can cast basic spells without the incantation, but the more powerful ones still require some invocation. Evangeline, as a 700 year old master, is able to cast mid-tier spells without an incantation, but still has to incant the real heavy-hitters.
    • Really high-tier magic requires complex and intricate magic circles to be drawn in addition to invocations. Naturally, it's extremely difficult to do this in the middle of a fight, making uses of these spells limited.
    • Negi starts getting around the invocation problem by making use of delayed spells. A spell doesn't necessarily have to activate the second its incantation is finished; it can be held in reserve for up to ten or twenty seconds. Negi's combat style incorporates chanting the invocations during lulls in the fight, then attacking in other ways and releasing the spell later, when the opponent isn't expecting it, or as part of a combo with physical attacks or other spells.

  • My Hero Academia: Izuku Midoriya is a Quirkless boy who inherits One For All, the strongest Quirk a hero can possess. However, controlling the Quirk is an uphill task for him because his body cannot yet handle 100% of its output.

    Comic Books 
  • Invoked for Cyclops, whose main superpower is a destructive pair of Eye Beams, with the power to destroy mountains, that appear whenever he opens his eyes. Using this power is based on a gesture (opening his eyes), but to stop that from becoming broken, he not only has Power Incontinence, but two different energy sources for these beams are introduced to provide limits.
    • One energy source says that Cyclops absorbs sunlight and metabolizes it. Therefore, using his stored up energy fatigues him very quickly, which explains why he always looks as if he's straining to use his abilities.
    • The other energy source says that his energy comes from "a non-Euclidean dimension of limitless energy", and that his eyes are portals to this dimension. The energy passing through his body causes him a great deal of stress, and that also explains why he seems to visibly struggle to use his powers.
  • The clone version of Superboy has Psychic Powers that work both subconsciously and with effort.
    • His original abilities were "programmed" to mimic Superman's as closely as possible, including deflecting bullets and mimicking Super-Strength through Telekinesis. They turn "off" completely when he's asleep or unconscious, making him as vulnerable as a normal human.
    • He eventually takes effort to break the subconscious rules for his power so that he can use them in other ways, such as moving something as large a ship or as light as air vapor with his mind.
  • Iron Fist used to summon his Iron Fist in a very conservative manner due to the stress it caused. That limit has since been removed, however, because it made him rather useless after he began teaming up with stronger superheroes.
  • The Incredible Hulk: The Hulk's power typically comes from his lack of control. As the epitome of Unstoppable Rage, the more berserk the Hulk is, the stronger he is. There have been times in which he's gained a greater "base strength" while in controlnote , but even then getting angrier makes him scarier. Other characters have attempted to control the Hulk Out and keep their mental faculties, such as the Abomination, Red Hulk, She-Hulk, and Amadeus Cho, but they've all hit a limit to their strength—except when the latter two get mad.

  • A Song of Ice and Fire: This trope is exploited by Melisandre. In the world of the story, magic has dwindled in influence to the degree that it is exceedingly rare to be able to use at all, let alone use correctly. Melisandre is one of the few people with substantial knowledge about various forms of magic, and she has gained the reputation of being a dangerous and formidable Lady of Black Magic. This is partially because she makes the magic look easier to use than it actually is, using various forms of tricks and items to make the act of casting easier, or produce an effect which looks far more impressive than it actually is.
  • In Discworld magic works this way; it takes the same amount of effort to move something with magic that it would take to move it with muscle. If you want to get a 145 pound wizard to the top of a tall tower really quickly, it helps a lot if there's a 145 pound stone at the top of the tower you can use as a "counterweight". Of course, Discworld runs on Rule of Cool, so this is sometimes ignored when something really needs to happen for plot reasons.

    Tabletop Games 
  • This trope is the difference between Wizards and Sorcerers in Dungeons & Dragons and many of its spinoffs, as well as other variant spellcaster types.
    • A Wizard is a scholar of arcane arts and uses spellbooks and carefully-crafted rituals to cast spells and perform feats of magic. They can theoretically learn every spell ever created on their list, and with careful preparation can take on almost any foe. On the other hand, an unprepared (or worse, improperly prepared) wizard may as well be a Useless Protagonist; they put the 'Wizard' in Squishy Wizard for a reason.
    • A Sorcerer is born with an innate talent for magic, and they don't have to prepare or study spells; they cast what they know on demand. However, they have a far more limited selection of spells and so are far less flexible compared to the Wizards; on the other hand, Sorcerers are a little sturdier, less vulnerable to being screwed by poor preparation (all your enemies are fire-immune and you only prepped fire spells for the day? Sucks to be you!), and somewhat-suited to being a little closer to the front line.
  • Warhammer 40,000: Psychic abilities run up and down the scale.
    • In general, several rituals are seen throughout the franchise that require a long channeling time.
    • Untrained psykers are likely to have their heads explode into a daemon the first time they consciously try to use their powers, and psychic phenomena often manifest themselves around them (if there's an Inquisitorial agent nearby, the psyker might be able to avoid burning at the stake and become sanctioned, providing a measure of protection against the Warp via soulbonding with the God-Emperor). This can be reduced with intense meditation (though not to the point of zero risk).
    • At the other end of the scale, there are characters who can snap a Titan in half with a thought, but one miscast and daemons can come pouring through.

    Video Games 
  • Warcraft III: The most powerful spells often require channeling, which puts the caster at risk. Some very powerful spells like summoning a demon lord or breaking the Earth's crust under the Northern continent took several in-game days to complete, with the summoners completely dependent on others for protection.
  • Golden Sun has a psychic power that activates exactly once without any effort on the heroes' part and is never heard from again (in Kolima Forest, the pollen that turns people into trees starts falling towards the heroes, when Psynergy bubbles grow around them and prevent the transformation).
  • Pokémon: Many moves utilize this scale.
    • Moves like Solar Beam or Roar of Time have lengthy charge times for greater attack power or effect. Bide, in particular, has a Pokémon wait two turns and deal back double damage to the last Pokemon to inflict damage to it.
    • Some, like Avalanche or Roar, have a "decreased priority", which makes them move second that turn. These are typically stronger than special moves that activate on normal turns. On the other hand, "increased priority" moves are typically support abilities that do little to no damage.
  • In Dragon Age: Inquisition, it's offhandedly mentioned by one of the party members that back in the days of the advanced (but ultimately lost) Elven empire, some spells required decades to cast. These spells were apparently awesome to behold and blended with other magic to create an "unending symphony" of magical energy. But as Elves were immortal in that age, they didn't understand the concept of time, so such long casting seemed trivial.

    Western Animation 
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender and its sequel, The Legend of Korra, The Avatar State goes through five of the tiers.
    • It has incontinence, in that Aang, who is the first avatar we see in the series proper, is unable to trigger it normally by himself unless enraged, whereupon he's under constant mental and physical fatigue, and becomes a Glass Cannon.
    • He learns to control the Avatar State through concentration, meditation, and a calm mind, which took him time to master, being Fun Personified despite being raised as a monk.
    • While in the Avatar State, normal bending movements now work on a Bigger Is Better scale (e.g. the same movement once needed for moving a boulder is now capable of moving a literal island), while normal bending now only requires small gestures.