One of the many story ideas brewing in my head is a sort of magic system revolving entirely around good luck charms and talismans. Basically, you possess an enchanted artifact that manipulates probability in your favor, making them highly sought after by adventurers. Bullets will miraculously wiz past the hero every time, burning buildings won’t collapse until after they leave them, bad guys won’t stop stepping on banana peels and rakes as they’re giving chase to the heroes, and the vending machine will accidentally give them two sodas after a single purchase!
This got me thinking though, when should their luck run out? How can I as a writer control how well things turn out for characters without overdoing it and making them completely invincible? Additionally, what are some examples of other stories handling luck-based magic and superpowers?
Thanks so much!
That’s a tough one! Luck magic is really hard to work with for several reasons:
- It could do just about anything, which makes it harder to set limits.
- Instead of doing one thing, it generally has some duration in which it does many things.
- Characters don’t have any agency in what happens with it. So it’s harder to make it feel like they earned their victories.
The end result is that with luck magic, it feels like the character can sit back and relax while the universe takes care of things for them. No tension and no satisfaction. However, if done well it does have lots of novelty. It’s fun to see what random thing happens and often how that random thing actually benefits the protagonists. But novelty fades, and so it won’t be fun for that long.
That means that while luck magic might make for a great short story or a great scene in a story, using it for an entire novel is a tall order. So what can you do to make it work in a novel?
- Instead of a passive luck charm, make the characters do something to earn their luck. Maybe after they use the charm, they have to do something tricky to recharge it before it works again. Look for something that will create interesting conflicts and stay fresh when done many times. Maybe the requirements for recharging it change every time. Besides adding agency, this will also give you a convenient reason why they don’t have luck powers during scenes where that would get in the way of the story.
- Make each charm activation cause a single lucky event instead of lots of lucky events over five minutes. This will help keep it from being too powerful and also spread the lucky events out so they don’t lose novelty as fast as if you had tons in one scene.
- Don’t let the charm judge what protagonists need in the moment. Maybe they activate the charm hoping it will help protect them from the bad guys, but instead they get two sodas out of the machine. Or maybe nothing appears to happen and they’re left guessing if it was subtle or if they still have a lucky event coming. If you keep it random, you’ll have more tension and leeway to do whatever works for the story.
- Consider making luck turn against the protagonists on occasion. Maybe the bad guys also have luck charms, or if you do something wrong with the charm, your luck turns bad.
Quality examples of luck magic are thin on the ground. In some works, it’s being used in a much more limited fashion than what you’re thinking of. In other works, it’s obviously being used to cover plot holes and comes off as pretty contrived. However, there is a TV Tropes page on luck magic you can use to find examples, I just would be cautious about assuming that these works are actually doing it well.
Best of luck with your magic system!