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How I Broke My Viral Magic System

Welcome to Part 9 of Building a Viral Magic System

Guess what? We’re finally nearing the end of our work in Stage 3: Definition

It’s taken a lot of work getting here. If you’re just joining me, you can check the series intro for more information and links to the rest of the posts. As for stage 3, we’ve explored the magic system variables, identified system boundary conditions, and tried to uncover some appropriate equations. So, yeah. We’ve done a lot.

At this point, we have a fairly well-formed system on our hands. The fine details are missing but the bones and shape of the system are all there. Depending on the type of magic system you’re looking to build, this might be enough, but because of how my brain works, we need to develop things further.

But before doing that, we get to break and repair the system over and over until it stops rattling. Maybe it’s just my not-so-secret urge for destruction, but I absolutely adore this phase of development. 

Today we’re just looking at the first half of the process… the breaking half. We’ll go over some general advice on the topic first before moving on to the viral magic system itself. That’s it. No more wasting time.

Let’s break something!

How to Break a Magic System

I’ve talked about this more in the past, but the best way to check the integrity of your system is to try breaking it yourself. This is exactly what I do with new tools, cameras, computers, and the like. Except in those cases, I don’t break my own stuff because that’s just silly. 

Regardless, the best way to break your magic system is to go hunting for any paths, quirks, or creative applications that will make specific challenges too easy or impossible to overcome.

I always start by asking myself some questions:

  • What is the easiest way to kill someone/something with the magic?
  • Is there a way to generate infinite wealth with the magic?
  • Can the magic make someone unkillable?
  • Is there any way for a user to generate infinite energy/power?  (refers to both traditional power and magical power)

After doing my best to find the most overpowered answer to each question, I move onto the next step.

I find the easiest magical solutions to specific scenarios like:

  • When exposed to a dangerous environment or circumstance, how can a magic-user protect themselves or eliminate the threat? 
    • Falling
    • Fire & Explosions
    • Attacked by animals or people
    • Poisons
  • How can they catch someone they are pursuing or escape from pursuit?
  • What can the magic do to help a character get something (information, item, money, favor, etc.) from someone else?
  • How could someone break into or out of a secure facility like a prison or bank?

Oh, I should mention that I don’t do all of it alone. I get better results when, after completing the analysis myself, I pull in others for their thoughts and approaches. Not everyone thinks like you or me; we can use that to our advantage when breaking our system and when confounding the criminal profiler the local authorities brought in just for you.

I won’t walk you through every step I took, because that was hours of work. What I will do is take each of these pieces and show you what horrible things my friends and I eventually came up with. 

Remember, we’re just spotting problem areas right now. All of these will be fixed soon enough.

Easiest Way to Kill with Viral Magic

The most obvious solutions all come from the Vector Strains. At the moment, strains exist that can induce paralysis in nearby targets, make it impossible for the secondary hosts to perceive you, and grant you mental control over others.

The most cliche solution is to use mind control and make the target kill themselves. This is always a potential breaking point when mind control of any kind is brought into the equation. Make sure you pay close attention anytime something smelling even faintly like mind control (emotional control, blood-bending, etc,) rears its monstrous head.

Beyond that, paralysis is the second easiest method of murder, followed closely by the unperceivable killer. Just walk up to your paralyzed target and dispatch them how you choose. Those that are essentially invisible have an easier time than most, but the host can still struggle and fight back if things go exactly wrong.

There were also some methods of murder involving the Environmental strains, but all of those would be a bit harder to implement. A person might use one virus to create a coating of metal or stone over a person’s face, or worse, inside their body. Gravity manipulation offers some options, assuming the user could create a strong enough field to crush a person where they stand. And kinetic dampening field might be used to trap someone in place, but even for me, that’s a bit of a stretch.

And that’s really it. 

None of the host effects can do much to other people, except maybe the one that makes your blood ignite. All around, this isn’t too bad. There are several effects to watch but we can easily change them to resolve any issues.

If you want to see what other magical effects I came up with, be sure to check out the post where I discuss How I Generated More Ideas for Our Viral Magic

Becoming Invincible/Immortal with Viral Magic

The kinetic dampening field from the environmental strains is clearly the biggest danger in this arena. Without some checks and balances, this could easily justify a character surviving all kinds of trauma. Like mind control, force fields should always be monitored and tested carefully as they can easily become overpowered.

Then there’s the sweat armor from the host effects. This one all comes down to how tough I want the armor to be. In my head, I never pictured this as something that could stop anything but small firearms and certainly not an explosion, high fall, or car crash.

And that just left the vector effects, that were by far the least helpful in this arena. At most, these effects can protect from physical attacks. If everyone around you is paralyzed or under your mental control, they can’t attack you. This provides little protection against long-range attacks and no resistance to environmental dangers.

So no real problems here either. The biggest risk factor is already on my radar so it won’t be a problem for long

Making Infinite Wealth with Magic

I’m just going to head this off at the pass. There is no way to generate infinite wealth with this magic system. While a few of the effects might have marketable applications, there’s no way to harness them to the point of breaking the system. At least, not when my story will take place.

The only way I found to make real money with the powers was through a variety of scams, heists, or robberies. Remote viewing could be used to monitor patrol patterns and gain access codes. An infected character could use portals to break into secure buildings or use mind control to get yourself an inside man. My favorite idea involved using a special virus to create molecular coatings of valuable material onto objects, making them appear more valuable.

There were two powers that might have broken this wide open, had I chosen to keep them. I’m talking about the transmutation strain and the virus granting the ability to manipulate technology. Both could are extremely problematic powers to have in a system, especially if the technical manipulation could trick a bank’s systems into thinking you have more money than you actually do. Fortunately for me, I already cut these effects earlier because they didn’t fit well enough with the theme of the magic and the story.

We know that mind control is already a problem, but I will also have to examine the portals carefully. If I leave those unchecked, an infected user could jump anywhere they want and that’s a serious issue.

All things considered, this really isn’t that bad. Most of the breaks have occurred exactly where I expected them too and I already have solutions in mind. And then I got to this next bit…

Generating or Increasing Power

This is where things got interesting. One person, no matter the virus they’re infected with, can’t break the system too much. I already limited characters to manifesting no more than three powers simultaneously, one of each type, each additional infection increases the likelihood of death, and there’s little they can do to increase the strength of their magic. At most, they can perform harmful tricks to make themselves get sick faster or stay sick longer, but that’s really it

Gather a bunch of infected users together, however, and things change. Drastically.

There’s nothing to stop a dozen people infecting themselves with the same virus at the same time. They could then work together to increase the magnitude of certain effects twelvefold. That kind of scaling can get out of hand fast!

And don’t forget about the environmental effects.

If the infected fluid is the magical part, there’s nothing to stop a twisted individual from kidnapping people, infecting them, and harvesting the fluid for its magical powers. Leave it to my friends to make “Peasant Farming” an actual thing I need to worry about in my story.

But wait, there’s more.

Someone clever enough could use vector effects to manipulate others already infected with a different strain. Beyond that, they could even use others to rapidly spread certain strains in a community. Over time, communities develop what we call “herd immunity” which is why a virus doesn’t just cycle in a town, school, or household forever. If managed intentionally, however, that could all change.

Which brings up another point. What of common hotbeds of infection. Places like schools, hospitals, and airports could be a breeding ground for magic users. Maybe you’re already immune to all local strains, could be all you need to do is spend time at the airport until you catch something more exotic than your body can handle. Never mind if someone is trying to spread a specific virus just for the sake of causing chaos.

This is some really serious stuff here. As things stand, there is no real limit to how much you could scale powers through these methods. While throwing an endless stream of bodies at a problem is often a viable, and often hilarious, solution, I don’t like where it’s going in this case.

So What Do We Do About It?

Well, It really varies from system to system.

Sometimes, like now, the questions explained above get me nowhere and the scenarios do all the heavy lifting. Other times, they both chip in and reveal problems in equal measure. This time, neither are showing me things I didn’t already know.

At least now I have some breaks to fix. Fortunately, most of them will be easy to resolve… except for that scaling of power part… that one will be tricky. That said, I know exactly how I’m going to patch this system up.

I’m going to build more magic system limitations. We’ll that more next time in part ten of the series.

Speaking of Magic System Limitations…

Building good limitations is often the fastest method of building an unbreakable system. It is also where most storytellers run into trouble. It’s easy to express the importance of limitations, but knowing how to build them is something else entirely.

That’s why I built something specifically for this problem.

display the magic limitations workbook cover

Restrictions May Apply is the solution to your magic limitation struggles.

This magic building workbook is wholly dedicated to helping you build limitations for your magic system. In the book, I walk you through 15 powerful exercises I use for every system; several of the exercises tie directly to topics covered in this blog post.

I’ve done everything I can to make this as useful to you as possible. I’ve stuffed the pages of this workbook with dozens of examples from popular works of fiction and the viral magic system. And if you grab the workbook now, you’ll also get bonus worksheets for you to use over and over again.

This is Exactly What I Need!

That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by and we’ll talk again soon. Rowenson, out.

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