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At the moment I'm writing on a little novel. My character has a hidden power (in a world where everyone has a unique power, he has two).

Now I'm thinking, doesn't that make him too strong? I mean, his normal power is pretty exhausting and everything, but would a second power be too much?

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    Too strong for what? If book's climax is winning a competition among his peers, then perhaps he is. But if he needs to defeat some omnipowerful evil king, your character can still be out of his league.
    – Alexander
    Sep 27, 2017 at 16:47

3 Answers 3

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It's not the number of powers that makes him overpowered. It's how they work.

I just recently read this article on rational magic systems on Mythcreants which explains why your magic system needs rules and boundaries. For example, it explains that your magic needs boundaries so you can craft strong, believable conflicts in your story. It also means that your characters have to come up with smart ideas how to use magic to their advantage because it isn't just a deus ex machina solution to everything.

Another article on the same site gives great advice on how to limit any kind of magic or superpower, though not all of it is applicable to your world. Examples would be to restrict a power to only be usable during a specific time (say full moon) or with specific resources (there needs to be water nearby) or to give your power a negative drawback.

In your specific case, I'm thinking that it would be great fun if your characters first power was relatively "weak". This automatically makes him an underdog, which is a great trait for a hero. Then, also restrict his secret, second power so it is really powerful under certain circumstances but absolutely useless in any other situation.

Remember, that just having two powers instead of one gives him and advantage over other people, because they are always going to expect he only has one. As long as he shows his first, weak power, he can use the second one in secret all he wants because nobody is going to suspect anything. This is a really strong power in itself, so take advantage of that and in turn make sure that his second ability is as weak as you can get away with.

Sorry for bad english, I'm not a native speaker.

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  • That is the perfect answer, it helped a lot. And thanks for the Links btw
    – Pawana
    Sep 27, 2017 at 11:16
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Depends on what the powers are, and what the weaknesses are.

Can your character fly but nobody else can? Or can he always parallel-park perfectly on the first shot? Does he have super strength or the ability to get a ball into a net? Does he need to eat so much after using his power that he's constantly stuffing food in his mouth? Does it make him collapse after 10 minutes of doing his thing?

"Too strong" means you've written your story without considering all the angles. Just because you have super speed doesn't make you bulletproof. A "power" could be something small, like always knowing exactly when to pick tomatoes so they're perfectly ripe.

Consider what your story needs and fine-tune your character's abilities so he's not too strong.

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  • His normal or first power is that he can make a space where he can controll every magic casted. This power consumes almost every spark of his magical power so he is considred weak from every one else and is lacking their capabilities. His second power is the power of darkness itself. Because his first power consumes almost every bit of energy, he needs a more direct type of energy to use his second power AND it is exhausting him pretty fast. I Wanted to know, if the general idea of having someone with 2 unique abilitys in a world where every one else has only one, is too powerful
    – Pawana
    Sep 27, 2017 at 9:43
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    It's a question of balance. Superman without Krytonite is too strong. If your character's powers are too strong compared to others, there is no conflict. Sep 27, 2017 at 9:46
  • Each power has a weakness: it draws a whackload of energy. Excellent. So now you have a character who is very powerful but in limited doses. He has to think about using his power strategically, withholding it until the precise moment when it will do the most good. So he can't use it for small stuff. That's conflict and drama. You're fine. Sep 27, 2017 at 12:29
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This depends on the effect the character's powers have on the plot.

I disagree with the other answers here. They posit that there has to be some inherent mechanical restriction to the way the powers work. But to me that's only one way of addressing the core problem: your story needs to be balanced. This means that in general, the character needs to struggle, sometimes fail, and face real obstacles. If their Specialness makes things easier for them, it should also make them harder in other ways to keep balance. And here I mean within the story as a whole, not in terms of the mechanics of how their powers work.

As an example of what I'm trying to distinguish here, consider these two sample cases:

Scenario A. The character has a destructive superpower. But! You've restricted it! He can only use his power while the sun is up, for a period of two hours max per day, and he needs to eat three times his daily calorie intake immediately after. Balanced, right?

Except that your character is part of a special elite task force funded by $shadowy_government_organization goes here. They specialise in lightning-quick attacks that are generally over in way under an hour, can schedule their engagements so they never happen at night, and have actual years' worth of concentrated scifi nutrient packs on board. Your whole story consists of your character blasting through the obstacles in his way with aplomb. The limitations never really matter.

Scenario B. Your character can fly. No limits, no restrictions. Everyone else's power is really little things, nothing compared to this.

Your character lives in a sci-fi dystopia. When his flight power developed as a teenager, he experimented them, tried them out, and got caught by $evil_superpowerful_corporation's surveillance equipment. They desperately want to find him, capture him and dissect him to figure out what mutation caused this so they can start duplicating it and selling it as a gene-mod to their rich clients or something. Your character has been on the run ever since, staying barely ahead of them the whole time. Needless to say, actually using his flight powers is hugely risky (the company's got high-speed armed flying drones), and he's only touched them a few times since in absolutely dire situations.

Which story is more imbalanced?

So. If you give your character some unusual ability or power, I'd check how much easier it makes things as a whole, how many obstacles it removes from the plot. If that's a lot, I'd then try to figure out how that same power can create obstacles and make things harder. This could be:

  • have the mere existence of the power cause problems, whether that's by people wanting it for themselves as in my Scenario B, discrimination, or something else
  • have there be negative in-world consequences from using the power (ex: character fights off attackers with his superpowers, people assume he started it, he gets arrested)
  • give other characters something which counteracts it, or which he can't counteract himself
  • add problems caused by the character overrelying on the power and using it where it's not appropriate
  • shift the plot into an area where the power won't help (if you need to balance out Superman, you can use Kryptonite... but you can also drop him into a hacking-based heist novel, or a high-stakes political intrigue, or a romantic comedy, and watch him flail)
  • mechanical restrictions as others are proposing to prevent it from going quite that smoothly

I'll honestly admit here that mechanical restrictions are often my least favourite option here; they can easily come off as unnatural and like the reader is reading a DnD manual instead of an organic world. You can pull them off, but you need to take care to weave them into the world as a whole and make sure they are continually believably relevant. And they still often come off better supplemented by other aspects of the above, which tie the power in with the broader plot, other characters, and world as a whole.

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  • What I was about to answer, and if the character ever gets too strong send in "a guy with a gun". Just had a case where the showdown of the story fizzled out because the protagonists were too strong. I sent in a bunch of guys with guns...
    – Erk
    Feb 11, 2023 at 15:32

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