What Magic Can't Do

While belief shapes reality at a quite direct level in the Tomorrowlands Universe, even belief has its limits. There are some directions in which the flexible reality of TTU just doesn't bend.

However: All other things being equal, human ingenuity will prevail! If you absolutely have to have a certain story element in your TTU tale, take heart: a rule forbidding something is simply a loophole waiting to be found -- and just because the laws of magic work a certain way, doesn't mean that there aren't a lot of people trying to skirt the edges of the rule in creative and surprising ways ...

The Simply Not Possible

Although there may be no shortage of people attempting these tasks, they elude all mages' attempts.

Otherworld Travel/Contact
The story of TTU is about Earth and its inhabitants. Magical power seems to drop off as you approach orbit, and nobody has bridged the gap to other planets (not even those within our solar system). Nor has dimensional travel proved fruitful.
BUT: LocationTheShadowlands do provide a "flip side" to TTU's mundane reality -- and, depending on the circumstances of your visit, they can seem like a different world indeed. And a few sufficiently dedicated mages can leave Earth -- they just can't return ...

Spirits Affecting Matter
(And spirit summoning; demonic possession; ghost hauntings; evocations; etc.)
Mages who worked with the spirit world before the Changes will strenuously insist that there's some realm beyond the physical out there, and that there are beings in it to interact with. When they reach out to do so, they do get results (albeit unprovable, intangible ones). But when they try to draw those ethereal spirits down into the realm of matter ... no dice. And those who talk to spirits find that the spirits are, for reasons they don't want to discuss, reluctant to interfere too much in earthly matters.
BUT: Animating matter is another matter entirely! Golems, zombies, elementals, etc., can all be made -- as long as the "summoning" mage is willing to graft a little bit of her own life force into the creature, in proportion to the volition and power the creature will have. And of course effects like hauntings and manifestations, etc., are trivially within the (conscious or subconscious) power of a mage. The phenomena these effects would generate are still available, they just don't work in quite the way that's expected.

Contacting the Dead
Once someone dies, they are beyond the reach of mortal magic. Some argue consciousness dissipates; some argue the soul cuts its ties to its old body in order to reincarnate; some argue for an afterlife. Whatever the case, there is no piercing the veil.
BUT: This is hardly settled knowledge within TTU itself, and a lot of mages (and charlatans!) have a lot of investment in believing otherwise. The work of mediums has a long pedigree, and continues to operate as it always has; they just can't do anything beyond the nebulous effects available in our own universe.

Raising the Dead
See previous two entries.
BUT: Mages will still certainly try to resurrect loved ones. They'll just end up disappointed -- or with a hollow simulacrum powered by their own investment and expectations. (Necromancers going for shambling minions, on the other hand, can kinda get what they want -- at an agonizingly slow rate, leaving themselves badly drained.)

The Undead
See previous entries. No binding spirits to matter and no affecting the dead.
BUT: In later eras, TTU does have vampires of a sort -- they're living beings with a magical, bloodborne symbiotic disease. And necromantic servants are possible in alternate ways: see Spirits Affecting Matter, above.

Animal Intelligence
(And animal spellcasting, and animal therianthropy)
Since The Changes, the idea of holding a deep conversation with your pet has fired up a lot of people's imaginations. And wouldn't it be great to have a dog that could make itself invisible to sneak up on thieves, or put them to sleep? Unfortunately, all such effects have stayed imaginary. When spells do give speech to animals, they mostly talk about being hungry or sleepy or hearing strange noises and don't respond well to questions. Despite their underwhelming effects, those spells are unusually tricky and require a mage's active concentration -- and many aren't even convinced it's the animal itself talking! Likewise, magic -- and supernatural effects -- are an extension of sapient willpower, and require sapient intelligence. Even though humans can cast spells under controlled laboratory conditions, no (non-theri) animals can. And there are no verified cases of theris with nonhuman ancestry.
BUT: Within TTU, this is the single most hotly disputed item on this list -- even more so than resurrection. ("Just because it can't be done in a laboratory doesn't prove anything! And my friend got attacked by this spellcasting dog, and I know two weretigers who swear they grew up as feline ...") There are entire industries of animal uplift aids (which do at least seem to produce marginally "smarter pets", but the rest of their claims are exceedingly fishy); and almost everyone knows someone who has this story about an animal talking or shapeshifting or ... well, there's no way to verify it, but they'll swear on their mother's grave that something's going on here. In practice, this rule is very glitchy: as long as there's no externally verifiable evidence of animal intelligence in your story, you should be fine.

Time Travel
The success of small, isolated experiments with causality initially gave mages hope that fiddling with the time stream might show promise. However, larger effects simply fail. Attempts to get the next day's lottery numbers or news events return garbage; mining the past's secrets is equally untrustworthy; and actually interacting with the future or past is right out. The past remains immutable; the future remains inaccessible.
BUT: Late in the decade of the 2000s, mages perfected "time windows" -- using an item or area's accumulated resonance to reconstruct images of the past from times of strong or repeated emotional impact (even, under special circumstances, images over 1,000 years old). And small-scale time effects (affecting no more than a few people over brief periods) are demonstrably possible.

Accurate Future Predictions
There are, of course, ways to consult the future without manipulating time -- divination. The only problem is that their track record in TTU is no better than here on Earth. Random bursts of prophecy are cryptic, annoyingly nonspecific, and often self-fulfilling; divination tools offer advice that is heavily filtered through the fortune-teller's experiences and is generally clearest in hindsight; and high-profile predictions are hit and miss (largely miss). And, of course, lottery numbers? Forget it.
BUT: This does not mean divination spells are useless! The gathering of present information unknown to the mage is trivial -- mages regularly ace Rhine-deck tests and read poker opponents' hands. And even future predictions can be a reliable art in limited circumstances -- one early spell that spread through TTU's mage community was a "phone screening" divination, predicting whether it would be worthwhile to answer an incoming phone call. The trick is to use presently settled information to make simple guesses that aren't subject to significant future human influence.
AND: Following grand prophecies is a good way to have interesting things happen -- just not necessarily the ones you expect! Cryptic messages from beyond do tap into something deeper, and (even when wrong or interpreted badly) they genuinely do reflect that something is warping the fabric of reality dramatically enough to be felt and discussed.
AND: There are beings who have access to accurate large-scale divination -- gods, as the name might imply. (Or at least as accurate as the system allows: very short on the individual level, a few days out for the cumulative actions of large groups, and up to a few weeks for sensing the existence of changes that affect large chunks of humanity. There are also a set of specific and cryptic predictions governing the gods' struggle that go even further afield.) The gods don't interfere with human affairs, but those who stumble into the wars behind the scenes may find some questions coming up about predestination.

Long-Term Enchantments on Non-Consenting Non-Mages
Magic works just fine on average people. It can even have lasting effects on average people. However, try to turn someone into a frog, or stare into their eyes and dominate their mind, and something almost like an immune system seems to spring up. They freak out as the spell takes hold, ordinary reality reasserts itself after a few minutes, and the enchantment lasts only as bad memories. Often, this can kick in even when a non-mage consents to a spell -- it's not a conscious effect.
BUT: Short-term effects, and magic that works quickly but leaves mundane aftereffects (including wounding or death), all take place before that defense mechanism can activate -- and casting spells so that the target doesn't notice the effect extends this window greatly. In TTU's later eras, mages have developed increasingly sophisticated ways for their spells to weave through this protective layer and make small long-term changes in subtle (if complex and exhausting) ways. And, of course, once someone becomes a mage, all bets are off; the process of changing reality requires removing that layer of protection.

The Possible But Not Done

For various reason, mages give these topics a wide berth; they are typically either illegal or dangerous.

Starting with the EventBrogiAccident, huge safety issues came to light that had not been considered in the early days of TheChanges. It's conventional wisdom (and thus, at some deeper magical level, actually true) that teleportation is inherently, insanely dangerous, with its practitioners suffering unpredictable errors; unexplained delays; or, worse, permanent disappearances. And that's not even touching on the privacy and security issues it can raise -- which have caused many countries to outlaw it. Even LocationNewAtlantis, a nation of mages, has an islandwide teleport interdiction system, and mages seeking exceptions must go through an arduous licensing process.
BUT: It can be safely done if approached the right way, as many mages of the Pragmatist school will tell you -- it just takes a combination of inner expenditure and locational anchoring that nobody but them can do correctly. And outlawing a thing has never, in human history, stopped people from doing it -- merely driven the phenomenon underground.

Multi-Form Shapeshifting
While therianthropy has made shapeshifting one of the most visible manifestations of magic, the reality is that shifting spells are difficult -- and offer some unusual, subtle dangers. Therianthropes have a single form, or a single set of closely interrelated forms, beyond their original human body. Magic offers (albeit temporarily) the ability to go beyond that. But mages quickly learn that this flexibility has its drawbacks -- most notably mental instability, which (even more devastatingly) is worsened by magic use. The more diverse the forms that a living creature's resonance has recently adapted to, the more erratic they get. Anyone who studies shapeshifting magic quickly learns prudence -- or else learns the hard way.
BUT: While rare, true shapeshifters (those whose resonance fully adjusts to any form they can take) definitely do exist, and a careful few -- who stay away from magic work -- do go on to live well-adjusted lives.

Flying Cars
"It's the future. Where's my flying car?" Tied up in red tape. Mages quickly prototyped a flying car, and even were able to produce versions that were arguably safe enough for public sale. But the legal changes necessary to operate them within cities -- or anywhere that rules exist for the use of airspace -- were simply too immense to implement. In most industrialized nations, flying cars are currently treated as ultralight aircraft and must follow all applicable rules -- including minimum operating heights over populated areas; takeoff and landing restrictions; licensing; etc. -- meaning that, while they are available for the dedicated hobbyist, they didn't create the transportation revolution that most of us associate with The Future.
BUT: The same airspace rules technically should apply to flying theris, but the rules on unpowered flight are more ambiguous, and enforcement is often lax as long as they don't cause problems for other air traffic. A few cities even look the other way at "flying tours" or "air taxis" offered by large winged theris who let people ride them. (However, most cities do crack down on it for liability reasons -- fearing the lawsuits should someone fall to their death.)

The Merely Difficult

Magic is eminently capable of these things, and they shape the world in major ways. However, even powerful mages generally won't be capable of doing more than one or two of them! Some of these are available only to members of a specific school of magical thought.

Physical Transformation
Magic can't create therianthropes; see ShapeshiftingInTTU. It even has trouble making temporary changes. There's a feedback loop between people's souls and bodies that provides a massive amount of inertia resisting such effects.
BUT: Playing with that feedback loop -- which mages call "resonance" -- does offer some options. Typically, only Volitionists have the necessary expertise to do this, though -- since their own spellcasting style involves drawing from and through their own resonance.

For the same reason as above, healing is tough: the patient's body will resist physical changes, because their resonance has adjusted to the new, wounded state.
BUT: The body is already used to the sort of changes that healing triggers, so the threshold for healing is FAR lower than transformation. Still, it requires a healthy dose of the placebo effect -- effectively, the patient suspending their disbelief in their own wellness while magic creates the changes. Healing magic is exhausting work for Volitionists and exacting work for Directivists; many Externalists do have the benefit of a pre-Changes track record of "faith healing" augmenting their efforts. In any case, healing major dysfunctions -- like broken bones, or cancer -- is an order of magnitude more difficult, and self-healing is tougher still. (Not only does the injury disrupt the mage's concentration, but they're also much more directly aware of the state they're trying to abandon. Don't think of an elephant.)
AND: While healing a wide variety of injuries and ills is certainly possible -- up to and including cancer -- the lowly common cold has eluded every attempt at a cure. This is a continual sore spot for mages specializing in healing, and a common butt of jokes.

Permanent Enchantments
By default, spells require a conscious trigger, and active concentration throughout the duration of their effect. Since mages can't concentrate forever (e.g. sleep), even a consciously maintained spell that's designed to last will fade out within a day.
BUT: As mages grow in power, this is one of the limitations they quickly learn to work around. By the time a mage is Strong, they have learned to boost and self-power effects, so that they can maintain a few spells with merely passive concentration. With work, they can even "pre-invest" the necessary effort so simple spells can last on their own overnight -- and thus keep up an effectively permanent effect, as long as they regularly spend time maintaining it. (Most often these effects are on themselves -- but it's possible, if more difficult, to enchant someone they're in constant contact with.) And of course spells that create mundane effects -- like shaping non-living matter in ways that don't defy physics -- simply make their change and are done with it; the effect thus created is as permanent as if they'd (say) flipped the switch with their own hand.

Magical Items
If enchanting oneself is difficult, enchanting nonliving matter is tougher still: there is no resonance there consciously directing the added power, so mages must project their own willpower and concentration into the item to sustain the spell. And that's just for an item that is temporarily maintaining a passive effect -- items that can gather magic and release it in a surge, in order to cast a spell, require an unimaginable amount of self-investment!
BUT: Directivists are already used to manipulating the waiting potential of the passive universe. For them, shifting that potential around and concentrating it into artifacts is straightforward -- they're merely rearranging the building blocks of a universe that already responds to their commands. They can't make items that let non-mages cast spells, but "always-on" effects or pre-prepared foci that let mages cast specific spells can be created, and creative uses of "always-on" triggers can make a variety of magical effects available to the layman. Within a few years of TheChanges, there's an entire magitech industry, that only grows over time.

Effects From Vague Intentions
Directing willpower at a problem, by itself, does very little; unfocused willpower wastes most of its energy in turbulence. In order to create changes, the mage must channel that willpower by harnessing it to a mechanism for change. You can't stop a car crash by casting a "stop the car crash" spell -- you have to figure out how the cars will fail to hit, and throw your energy into that. (Note that this doesn't require full explanation of the mechanism; "the car stops because I grab it with telekinesis" is sufficient.)
BUT: The fundamental way that Externalists casts spells is by trusting the details to the higher power they're tapping! They do cast "stop the car crash" spells, and part of their style is that the magic makes its own mechanisms. The disadvantage is that, since they aren't directly controlling the effect, the method that their magic chooses to manifest itself may not be what they were expecting -- and there's not even a guarantee that they'll like the results.

What Magic Can Do

All that having been said: Magic is an immense force in the world! It causes a revolution at least as big (and a lot more immediate) than the printing press or the internal combustion engine.

Here is a far-from-exhaustive list of magical effects that aren't already discussed above, all of which the world quickly adapts to as a new part of daily life:

CategoryMeta CategoryConcepts CategoryMagic
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