The COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect a lot of people, which can be expressed in creative elements like writing. A good plot point could be utilizing diseases like this to tell a story and send a message, be it how your characters would respond to such a disease, or how society does so as a whole. We know what people do in the face of things like this. From refusing to do a simple inconvenience to protect other people, to intentionally spreading disease, there’s plenty of folks to criticize in works.
You could have a disease be minor and not impactful as contagious, then see how it affects your characters, or you could have a widespread story centered around disease. Combining magic with disease is an interesting concoction, and given what we know now in a modern era when it comes to reacting to disease, we can come up with creative ways to build a story.
Let’s explore different ways disease can affect people. This also can apply to curses, which in this sense would work in the same way as a disease. Spreadable curses! How horrifying if, say, your villain creates one that acts like a disease. It certainly would lead to some interesting plot points.
(1) Cut off from Magic
Being denied magic after being able to use it for so long would be super tough, and so this sort of disease could be devastating. I’m not a huge fan of the ‘lose magic permanently’ trope, but this is one of the rare instances I think it could work, especially if the disease has permanent consequences. You could explore life without magic after someone adapted to using magic for so long, which would be a great metaphor for losing senses or limbs.
Something so drastic might not be warranted, however, so making them weaker with certain types of magic or magic as a whole works too. This would be as effective even if a full recovery was possible. Having the protagonist figure out different ways to fight or solve problems without their magic would be a good look into their personality. They could even discover a different type of magic if there’s only one specific type of magic cut off by the curse or disease.
(2) Heightened Power & Aggression (Zombies?)
The first thing that comes to mind is obviously zombies, given rabies heightens aggression and would be the ‘zombie disease’. Any sort of undead disease where you have a higher chance of attacking people and spreading it would fit under this. However… what about a disease that gives you an aura that causes aggression in other people? This would be a different take on such a disease. This negative aura could empower only them or you and them, and make people dangerous. It would certainly take social distancing to another level.
Another idea for this disease type is an intense increase in power at a heavy cost of energy. Sort of like overdosing on caffeine, using all of your energy, then crashing. Or any other drug with a major crash like that, come to think of it, except in the form of a disease. Pair aggression with that, the lack of ability to control yourself, and you have a recipe for disaster.
(3) Magical type/power change
Something unusual would be if your magic was afflicted but not destroyed. Rather, a power swap, possibly the exact opposite of what your character is used to. This curse/disease could impact the magic in a specific way, swapping it to only one type of other magic, or going with the most inconvenient for the caster. A psychological component could be at play here. Imagine someone against undead suddenly having a magic swap to necromancy?
The power changes work especially well for elemental powers. Suppose the swap also hurts the caster due to it being the opposite magic, or the character being so used to the opposite of what they now have access to. The possibilities are endless, but it doesn’t all have to be doom and gloom. It could be used as a plot point to get the main character out of their comfort zone, or to see from a different caster’s point of view.
A polymorph disorder could be either amusing or devastating. Imagine your character being stuck as a small animal for an undisclosed amount of time (until they find the cure, I assume.) Then, imagine this polymorph can actually be spread. Sounds both amusing and terrifying, doesn’t it? I have an idea for a story of my own I might play around with when it comes to this idea, but it wouldn’t be spreadable. Just a single curse on a group of characters.
A spreadable polymorph doesn’t have to just be small animals, either. I think lycanthrope falls into this, though not quite. Still, a ‘transform curse’ that’s spreadable is something we see often, and that’s usually combined with the points brought up in (2). You could go the traditional road, or something entirely different. I imagine varying methods of spreading these curses/diseases could have degrees of terrifying consequences, but I plan on talking about method of spread below.
(5) Increased Consequences for Casting
We talked about a total loss of magic, but haven’t dipped into magical consequences. A disease could affect your magic in a different way than shutting it off. What if your mana use goes up, draining your energy much faster? What if, every time you cast, you get wounds that aren’t necessarily easy to heal? What about a psychological component, where you’d get horrible nightmares the more you use your magic due to this affliction?
Some folks have specific consequences per magic type. I do this with my system; here’s an example with mana-based magic in my series. An affliction could make this much worse, like more damage per cast even if the person is an expert at their craft.
There’s many way to play with afflictions, but something to keep in mind is method of spread. Is the origin point some sort of caster (witch, wizard, warlock, etc.) or possibly a spell that went wrong? How can it spread; the easier it’s spread, the more of a problem it will be. I imagine an airborne curse would cause mass panic, for example. However, there’s something to keep in mind as well: Behavior.
Someone incredibly sick is more prone to staying home than someone with just the common cold. This means the cold, while usually having less devastating consequences, is spread faster–and could evolve into something more deadly, depending on the story. The lack of symptoms and ease of spread would also be a major factor. If your character is afflicted for a long while and has no idea, they have a chance to spread it around quite a bit (as seen with COVID19).
Hopefully this helped gives some ideas. Happy writing! Please stay informed about COVID19!
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