Sanderson’s Second Law can be written very simply. It goes like this: Limitations > Powers
Brandon Sanderson said it best. Any good system, magical, judicial, or otherwise, needs checks and balances. While I cannot put it as eloquently as he does, I will try to talk about the matter. As usual, I’ll be looking at this from a perspective of fantasy.
What is a limitation?
Basically, it’s the rules in which something can act. If anyone could do anything at any time, I’d be debt free, know seven languages, and probably be in an everything proof bubble while I explored all sorts of old ruins somewhere.
In our world, the reasons we can’t are called physics, and on a varying degree laws. (No shoes, no shirt, no service, but no one said anything about pants! What’s that? Decency and sexual offender laws? Well, damn.)
So what’s a realistic limitation? A wizard can’t cast spells if his body temperature reaches 120 degrees Fahrenheit (~49 Celsius or ~ 322 Kelvin)! Well, since people tend to be dead or dying around 105, that’s not really a limitation. Limitations are basically believable constraints.
- The target has to be within the field of vision
- The spell must be vocalized
- The rune must be drawn a certain way
- Water trumps Fire
Believable limits are at the heart of a good system. Even an all powerful tyrant has to work with physics, or how else can the heroes win?
Why can’t we bend the rules?
This is a favorite of mine. It’s called suspension of disbelief. To quote Wikipedia:
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who suggested that if a writer could infuse a “human interest and a semblance of truth” into a fantastic tale, the reader would suspend judgment concerning the implausibility of the narrative.
Thus, we need some semblance of rules, or else our tales become implausible and unreadable. The idea, is that in order to build a believable world, we need believable characters, a believable world, and rules.
Oh, and plot. Plot is important too.