Magic drain is a physical condition caused by overuse and over-expenditure of magical energy. Its symptoms include caloric and electrolyte depletion, exhaustion, physical weakness, headaches of varying severity, and inability to summon magical energy for extended recovery periods. In severe cases, it can lead to seizures, nerve damage, organ failure or even death.
Transmission & Vectors
Magic Drain is innate to literomancers and is probably as natural as fatigue. Its rarity is more due to the rarity of literomancers than to the rarity of this condition among them.
When a literomancer draws upon or channels a lot of magical energy in a short period, their bodies resist this, although the exact mechanism of this remains a subject of scholarly debate. One theory suggests that the body begins to cannibalize its own resources when the well of mana runs dry. The resulting caloric and electrolyte depletion is a result of the body draining calories as a substitute for mana. Another theory suggests that the body is more of a conductor than generator of magical energy, and the electrolyte and caloric depletion is a result of resistance, forcing the body to expend electrolytes to adapt, and releasing calories as units of heat. A third theory posits that these effects might simply be a result of extreme physical fatigue, since they are not dissimilar from the effects the body suffers after running a marathon. Magic drain is fairly common, at least in its milder forms, during times of war, but cases can also see a spike during Tourneys of Tales, as literomancers push themselves to greater heights to compete for the glory of their Houses.
The symptoms of magic drain can vary broadly, and imitate the effects of extreme fatigue, electrolyte depletion, and other forms of malnutrition. If caught early, these symptoms can be mildly painful or inconvenient. If not caught quickly enough and treated, or if the magic drain is of sufficient severity, these symptoms can be disabling or fatal. Mild symptoms should be watched closely for signs of increasing severity, but are generally expected to recover with sufficient nutrient replenishment, proper rest, and a break from using magic for periods of a few days to a few weeks. These range from mild headaches and fatigue, to mood fluctuations, burn-out, mild nerve and muscle conditions, nausea and diarrhea, and mild heart arrhythmias. More severe or chronic symptoms, which result from repeated or extreme magic drain, often look more like malnutrition, more severe nerve or auto-immune disorders, extreme headaches, blood pressure fluctuations, significant heart arrhythmias, or loss of consciousness. Inability to use magic or the feeling of "burn-out" lasts for weeks as opposed to days. Literomancers who show signs of any of these symptoms should seek immediate medical attention. See the sidebar for a complete list of currently known symptoms.
Treatment is limited to treating the symptoms, since the specific cause is unknown. Directly replenishing magical energy is possible in the short term, but only seems to stave off the effects. Further, in some cases, trying to replace lost magical energy can put additional strain on a literomancer's system, and is therefore contraindicated. Milder cases of magic drain have been self-medicated for centuries with blends of high-sugar and high-protein, or high electrolyte foods, such as trail mix, hard candies, bananas, potatoes, carrots, salty jerky, and so forth. This has often been referred to as "mage food" or "shaman food." In modern times, magic drain is most often treated by Crocoade and other electrolyte-replenishing "sports drinks," or blends of foods or drinks naturally high in electrolytes, such as the blend of banana and carrot juice that is popular in the Lapin Protectorate — something they refer to irreverently as "rabbit crack." More severe cases are now typically treated by an electrolyte and glucose IV drip, with the dosage adjusted for severity of the drain. This treatment is relatively new, however, and physicians are still adapting the treatments available as they learn more about literomancers and their unique medical needs. Immediacy of receiving treatment, even in the worst cases, can lessen the severity of symptoms or make the difference between life and death.
Continued strain on a literomancer's magical resources can make symptoms more severe. Extreme or extremely chronic magic drain can result in permanent damage, disability, organ failure, or even death. Fortunately, most cases are relatively mild and easily treated with diet, drinks, or IV fluids, as long as the literomancer refrains from using magic while their body is recovering. Wartime conditions make more severe cases of magic drain more likely, since literomancers may not be able to take a break from using magic, or they may be forced to call upon levels of magical power they have never attempted before. Keeping a close eye on the magical health of literomancers in a war is essential.
A number of chronic conditions and disability can result from extreme or chronic magic drain. These conditions range from auto-immune disorders, to significant nerve or organ damage, to brain damage, to death in the most serious cases. The sudden appearance of any of these symptoms should be regarded as an medical emergency. See the sidebar for a complete list. Delayed healing and reduced resistance to infection can result in ongoing complications from secondary infections and illnesses as well. Magic drain patients are more likely to catch superbugs and pneumonia in hospitals, for example, which may then cause permanent damage or even death in turn.
The best way to prevent magic drain is simply to not overtax the system when using Literomancy. However, since this is not always possible, the ability to channel and expend increasing "levels" of magic can be improved through practice and training, just as the body can be conditioned for running marathons or participating in other extreme sports. This is a process of building one's capabilities over time by pushing one's abilities just a little bit more on a regular basis. Most literomancers have only been casting for a couple of years, however. Literomancers who practiced building their magical abilities prior to 2020 are exceedingly rare. Further, the power level of magic available to them has increased exponentially since then, so even some of the most seasoned and accomplished literomancers have been known to suffer from magic drain. Famously, the magic drain that Sable Aradia, who is considered one of the world's most seasoned literomancers, suffered following The Battle of Kin Beach just about put her on the casualty list for the rest of The Third Word War, and there may be long term damage that is undiscovered as of yet.
Until recently, this condition was almost unknown in the general population, and literomancers who suffered from it more often than not were regarded as lazy people who were consciously malingering. As awareness of literomancy grows, the public has come to understand magic drain as a serious condition. Victims are usually regarded as wounded combat veterans, deeply respected and supported. Literomancers who overextended themselves in situations that were not life-or-death, however, are often teased by their peers for their foolishness.
This article is a work in progress, and may be subject to changes.
This article is part of a series related to streaming the Game of Tomes. For more information, see Streaming Game of Tomes.
The popular sports drink Crocoade began marketing to literomancers when it became common knowledge that magic drain could be treated with electrolyte replenishing drinks. Since there are only a few hundred literomancers in the world, this is clearly a marketing gimmick.