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alarajrogers


Okay, I admit it, I'm probably not your mom. But odds are I'm old enough to be. Now with Patreon account (under alarajrogers) and short stories on Amazon (under Alara Rogers).

More Blog Posts361

  • 5 weeks
    Wrote, like, three words in June

    I'm exaggerating. It was actually 18K, which sounds respectable until you realize it was a third of the recent chapter of No Escape From Yourself, and one other story, and that's it. Work has been brutal this month.

    I expect things to be more relaxed in July, so I hopefully will get more written.

    Read More

    7 comments · 222 views
  • 11 weeks
    I frankly cannot believe this.

    Given the overlap between fans of She-Ra and fans of My Little Pony, how is it there are no stories yet where Swift Wind comes to Equestria and ponies try to get him and Celestia to date? That would be hilarious.

    11 comments · 266 views
  • 11 weeks
    More 52 Project stories, but sadly no fanfic

    I've been struggling so hard to write anything. Output this month is abysmal. I've had to put all the writing energy into the 52 Project stories, so I haven't gotten any farther on my fanfics than I did when I last posted.

    Read More

    3 comments · 196 views
  • 16 weeks
    I am not dead

    I feel like, in this day and age, this is something I should be telling y'all fairly regularly.

    Anyway, I have been writing frantically for my 52 Project and haven't had a chance to swing around to any fanfic yet. But I believe I am going to do the next chapter of No Escape From Yourself, very soon.

    Read More

    9 comments · 390 views
  • 18 weeks
    52 Project is live!

    Not related to MLP, but to my recent blog post about the 52 Project, a thing I am undertaking where I have to post a short story every week for a year.

    First story, "The Chicken Story", is up!

    Read More

    4 comments · 133 views
Jul
17th
2014

Reforming spells · 5:21am Jul 17th, 2014

Some thoughts about reforming spells.

In canon, reforming spells are easy to get. That was a big bowl of paper Discord was eating. Yet, we do not see a large assortment of mind-controlled zombies or Happy Happy Joy Joy ponies; in fact most ponies have neuroses of one kind or another, and while we see few out and out pony criminals, there are certainly con ponies (the Flim Flam brothers), and enough pony criminals that superhero stories make sense to them. (Why would you have superheroes in a world with no crime at all?) So the basic, ordinary reforming spell can't possibly be the kind of mind-blasting "change you completely into someone else" that some have speculated them to be. I do think that a reforming spell that could work on Discord would have to be at that level, but most of that paper Discord was chowing down on can't possibly be anything that badass.

So I've been coming up with a bunch of different types of reforming spells, with different effects. Most should only be cast by the pony equivalent of a psychiatrist (one thing that is dangerous about Twilight is that she is capable of learning spells without context; she can learn a medical spell, all by itself, just by studying the spellwork itself, without the context and understanding of when to use it. As the Element of, and later Alicorn of, Magic, Twilight can learn any spell... but there are many spells that the average unicorn cannot figure out how to perform unless they know the underlying craft the spell was created to aid with. Usually, only medical knowledge would enable a unicorn to learn medical spells, but Twilight can learn any spell from her sheer understanding of how magic works... which doesn't help her figure out what is appropriate to use when.)

Be Your Best Self: The Be Your Best Self spell inspires a pony to live up to their personal ideals. It is similar to the memory spell Twilight cast on her friends in Return of Harmony, and can all by itself undo discording most of the time. This spell would work on somepony like Lightning Dust, who has ideals her bitterness is not letting her live up to. Celestia tried casting it on Nightmare Moon, but it didn't work because Luna is too powerful and simply blocked the spell. The spell wouldn't work on Discord even if his powers were suppressed and he therefore couldn't fight the spell off as a spell; the wanton spread of chaos is the ideal Discord wants to live up to, his raison d'etre, his "best self". He ate all of Ponyville's copies of it anyway because it can reverse discording and he figured that if Twilight studied it to find a spell to "reform" him, she'd find a counter against one of his weapons. There are no real downsides to Be Your Best Self, but it is not a permanent spell. It can only produce true reform in a pony who was decent enough to begin with that once they are reminded of their personal ideals, they want to continue to live up to them and will work to make that happen.

Addiction Breaker: The Addiction Breaker spell removes the desire for an addictive substance and even makes it seem slightly repulsive, thus breaking an addiction. The effect is not permanent but lasts long enough to help the pony genuinely overcome the addiction -- it's like rehab in a spell. It is a dangerous spell that should only be cast by pony psychiatrists because there are potential downsides to it. Firstly it cannot be used on an addiction that is also a biological or social need. So it can't be used to overcome food addiction and should not be used on sex addiction. Secondly, while it removes the desire for the addictive substance, it does not immediately replace it with the original desires for everything else in life, that were suppressed by the overwhelming need for the addictive substance. So the pony who has had Addiction Breaker cast on them may for a short while be apathetic, unmotivated, even deeply depressed, and in ponies who did bad things because of their addiction, suicidal ideations or attempts are not unheard of. The spell is generally only used on dysfunctional addicts whose lives have been ruined by their addiction; functional addicts may willingly choose to undergo Addiction Breaker but it would be a crime to cast it on them against their will, and in general, Addiction Breaker is only cast as part of a treatment plan involving aftercare to help the pony with the broken addiction find joy in normal life again and be safe while they're relearning how to care about things that aren't the addictive substance. It's a fairly low level spell, so Discord could easily counter it as a spell; if it got through and worked on him it would probably screw with his head and leave him seriously depressed. The spell can be used on victims of love poison but at the cost of probably making the victims hate each other, at least for a while.

Empathy: Empathy is of a class of spells called "friendship spells" whose purpose is to help ponies better understand each other or treat each other well. Empathy temporarily makes the object of the spell feel what the ponies around them do. It can be used to help narcissists or ponies with severe anger management problems overcome their negative behaviors toward other ponies, and to enable sociopaths to make a connection with other ponies. Empathy can be a very dangerous spell; casting it on a pony whose negative behavior comes from low self-esteem or a feeling that other ponies dislike them could produce extremely negative effects if the other ponies really do dislike them, producing either downward spirals of self-hatred that can lead to suicide, ponies fleeing the society of other ponies to live as hermits, or mental circuit breakers kicking in to destroy the effects of the spell. It can also be used as a form of torture -- casting Empathy on a pony and then making other ponies suffer in front of them has broken ponies who were resistant to anything else. Empathy can be cast at different power levels. At a very high level it might affect Discord if he wasn't watching for it and prepared to disrupt it when it hit, but given that nobody likes Discord, it would probably not have any positive effects.

Please Like Me: Please Like Me is similar to the Want It Need It spell, but instead of being cast on an object which ponies are then compelled to want, it's cast on a pony, who is then compelled to want things. Specifically, social interaction. The Please Like Me spell makes ponies crave positive social interaction. It makes them hungry for praise and friendship. The targets of this spell must be chosen very carefully; many ponies engage in criminal or immoral behavior because they want to be liked, loved, praised or admired. Please Like Me is only useful against targets who have little to no actual desire to be liked or loved, or who have gone so long without being liked or loved they have suppressed the need. This would superficially have had a similar effect on Discord as befriending him did, but if it was not followed up with ponies actually liking him, it would likely have made matters worse; also, it wouldn't actually have given Discord any insight into what kind of behaviors would make him liked, so he might have been just as bad in a different way. Please Like Me is only cast on criminals who have been diagnosed as sociopathic or have deeply suppressed affect, and only in a program of care that includes reinforcement of positive behavior with positive attention.

Conform: The Conform spell can be used on ponies whose unusual moral beliefs confound "Be Your Best Self". Conform imposes on the object of the spell a desire to meet the moral standards that the rest of society sets. While it can be used to make ponies "reform" by behaving in the ways society sees as "good", it can just as easily make ponies conform to the mores of an oppressive society.

There are two variants of Conform. There's a low-powered variation that is used on pony criminals such as cultists whose belief structure makes them commit immoral acts in the belief that those acts are morally correct. In combination with Empathy, low-powered Conform can more or less permanently smash belief structures that are all about causing harm to other ponies (for example, unicorn or pegasus supremacists who go so far as to want to kill earth ponies). This is the commonly available version of Conform. It's actually too low powered to be a serious threat to Discord, though if cast in combination with some of the other spells, it could do him some psychological damage if it got through.

The high-powered version of Conform is found only in Princess Celestia's private library of forbidden and dangerous spells, and has not been cast in millennia, and was never cast by Celestia or her sister (or Discord). This version permanently overlays the moral structure and belief system of the majority on the individual. Individuals who have normal levels of magical power will be altered forever, usually to be unrecognizable as their former selves. Individuals with very high levels of magical power can break free briefly -- long enough to realize what has happened to them -- which generally results in suicide when the victim realizes that their periods of freedom are unpredictable, transient and short, and nothing they can do will get rid of the overlay on their mind that is usually in control.

Edited to add:

In "The Tale of the Terrible Doctor Twilight", Twilight claims that a reforming spell would have no effect on a being who doesn't need to be reformed. This is only partially true.

"Be Your Best Self" will have no effect on a pony already striving to be their best self. It would not work on the Mane 6 (or rather it would, but the effects would be unnoticeable, because they are already striving to be their best selves.) "Please Like Me" would have no effect on a pony who is already motivated by a desire to be liked or loved, which is most ponies. It would not work on the Mane 6. (Or Spike, for that matter.) "Empathy" would be noticeable to the pony it was cast on, but ponies who are already keenly aware of how others feel about them wouldn't behave differently. Most likely, Rarity, Fluttershy and Applejack would be totally unaffected by Empathy, because they are already aware of and concerned with the feelings of others; Pinkie Pie would actually figure out when it is appropriate to back off and not try to cheer folks up, because she's very concerned with but not always aware of others' feelings; Rainbow Dash would tone down the bragging some; Twilight would turn into a bigger nervous wreck because every time she geeks out most ponies lose interest, and that's a strong part of her personality; and Spike would probably desperately engage in more grandiose activities to get ponies to notice him positively, but it would really just be an extreme of the behavior he already exhibits.

Low-level "Conform" would have no effect on Rarity, Applejack or Rainbow Dash because they already behave in ways that are expected and normal for their positions in life. It could do damage to Fluttershy, Twilight, Pinkie or Spike because they all behave in ways that ponies consider unusual (though the main unusual thing about Spike is that he behaves like a pony when he's a dragon). High level Conform might not produce a visible effect on Rarity, Applejack or Rainbow Dash, but it would actually remove most of their free will and force them to behave in ways that they probably would have behaved anyway, but now they have no choice.

Addiction Breaker is different from the others; Twilight might not even think of it as a reforming spell, though Discord ate it anyway because he is arguably addicted to dissent and chaos and didn't want to take the risk. Addiction Breaker can do damage to any pony it is cast on, because whatever it is you most want to do, whatever it is your life is not complete unless you do it and you are compelled to do it, your interest in that will be broken. Cast on a genuine addict, Addiction Breaker will allow them to restore their interests in everyday living; cast on an ordinary pony and it can have effects similar to discording, because it will make them be repulsed by whatever activity it was that they most loved, previously. All of the Mane 6 could be harmed by Addiction Breaker.

So Twilight is partially right -- Be Your Best Self (the most common reforming spell) will have literally no effect on a pony who does not need to be reformed, and low-level Conform (the most powerful of the "normal" reforming spells) will not alter the morality of a pony who already shares the morality of the majority. (It can do damage by altering their interests and behavior to conform with the majority, though.) Please Like Me and Empathy will have no effect on most ponies. However, Discord is right in that high-level Conform -- the spell Twilight is actually threatening him with -- is really damn dangerous and has basically only one legitimate function. High-level Conform can protect a powerful pony against possession by malevolent entities, at a very high cost, by essentially locking them into the behavior expected of them by the majority of society. Celestia keeps the spell in case she herself starts to fall to something like the Nightmare. She considers it highly unethical to cast it on an unwilling pony, even if they are being possessed by something malevolent, because once cast it removes the target's ability to change and strips much of their free will; she thinks turning someone to stone, banishing them to the moon, locking them in Tartarus, or even killing them would be more ethical, but she also thinks that if a pony freely chooses to have Conform cast on them to protect themselves from corruption, that would be ethical to do. This is why Twilight has access to the protected library; many of the spells within it are incredibly dangerous failsafes Celestia keeps in case something should happen to her, and as her apprentice, Twilight is given access to them. Celestia possibly should have made the ethics of the various spells clearer rather than letting Twilight read through them on her own, though. :-(

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Comments ( 12 )

:twilightoops: Well, that's several flavors of disturbing. And knowing Twilight, she'd be so worked up over "fixing" Discord that she might skip over the various usage warnings. In fact, I almost want to see a scene where Discord runs through the various things that could've gone horribly, horribly wrong for each reform spell that might have worked. And the ones that didn't, just so Twilight doesn't think she knows the full catalog of spells that might affect Discord.

Of course, there is The Terrible Tale of Doctor Twilight. I should go read that...

Would celestia have noticed that discord was under a spell? Or is the spell undetectable?

2294187

Depends on which spell.

She'd have noticed Conform. Any competent mage would.

Most of the others, if they actually worked on Discord (which they usually wouldn't; in traditional continuity, Discord's chaos powers tend to break harmonic magic, disrupting it badly enough that it doesn't work, and in Next of Kin to Chaos, Discord is a Q and several orders of magnitude more powerful than any one spellcaster on the entire planet, so the vast majority of spells won't work on him unless he lets them... with notable exceptions, like the spell Luna placed on his stone body to suck him back into it if he tried to use magic on it after he escaped it), would be only noticeable by their effects.

2294201
It would be interesting to read a story where discord didn't eat or missed a page and twilight casted a Conform. If celestia noticed the spell, then who knows what she would say or do to twilight

2294278

Given that the way I've set things up, Conform cannot be undone, this would be a tragedy and I don't want to go there. Others have written about what happens if Discord is hit with a reforming spell.

I think Celestia's going to have some words with her in "Tale" about her decision to even threaten him with the thing (after having words with him about his choice of retaliation.)

Keep in mind, Twilight thinks she's doing the right thing, so she would not have been ashamed of reporting to Princess Celestia that she used a reforming spell. Even if she used one of the ones that's not easily detectable, Celestia would know because Twilight would tell her.

2294557
You're right. The story would be depressing if the spell was permanent. Discord would lose himself. And Even if they're not exactly friends, Luna and celestia would be sad if he committed suicide. Not to mention that another chaos spirit would soon rise up. (I'm using last draconequus not the Q)

Your ideas on this are so well thought out that I want to marry them and have children with them! :pinkiecrazy:

Seriously, they're good. Along with the obvious limitations and moral hazards.

I think your choice and description of mind magic spells in Equestria makes a lot of sense. I'm not sure I agree 100% about its use though, if anything I suspect it is more prevalent than you've said.
The way ponies act in the show, and the values they espouse, indicates they value harmony and friendship even more than we do. And of course, since everything is a tradeoff, that means they have to value OTHER principles less. Here I would guess the value ideals of personal liberty and individuality a bit LESS than we do. They still value them, but they are not seen as quite as important relative to the harmony of the community and the happiness of its members.
I could spend pages going on about the reasons for this belief, but for now I will just say that I think Equestrians think mind control magic is ugly but necessary, rather like putting someone on powerful lithium, or locking someone in prison (and we never really see a prison except for beings too powerful to be effected by mind control).
Anyone facing serious psychological problems in Equestria would probably get some of the low power spells you describe at about the same time someone here would be put on medication, combined with normal therapy (in both cases).
Criminal justice systems work fairly similarly, although I suspect crime is much less common in Equestria in general. At the point where a pony would actually be imprisoned, they are hit with "reform spells" or something similar to keep them from causing trouble, probably for a specified time and with some sort of parole office function. A terrifying invasion of individuality yes, but very harmonious and it helps the pony in question keep their friendships and place in the community. Of course, there are criminals out there, no system is perfect, the rather small police force/royal guard is probably not as advanced in crime solving, and reform spells probably wear off over time, especially if the criminal has a criminal cutie mark. At the same time, we do see criminals only far from civilization, and even in the power ponies comic you'll notice the criminal is extremely insane, possibly mind control just doesn't work on the highly insane (like that mare who thinks she's a dog.)

2296103

I think you're probanly correct in that reforming spells get used a lot, but because of the negative side effects, they do take some care in making sure the correct spell is used. Most ponies will respond to Be Your Best Self because few ponies are sociopaths; most actual criminals know what they are doing is wrong and are suppressing the guilt they feel about it. Criminals acting out because they are addicted to something -- which, in my area here on Earth, actually covers most of the crime that happens -- would be treated with Addiction Breaker, maybe in combination with Be Your Best Self. Please Like Me and Empathy are brought out for harder-core cases. And the truly weird, or the dangerously insane, might be treated with a low-level Conform. None of these spells are rare or hard to get; they are hard to learn if you're not a medical professional, a social worker, or the Element of Magic, but they're in spellbooks all over the place. (Had Twilight simply gone to Fillydelphia or Manehattan she could have gotten more copies of reforming spells to play with; Discord just ate the ones in Ponyville and in the main Canterlot palace archive.)

The mare who thinks she's a dog wouldn't respond to any of these spells, because even Conform would simply make her try harder to be a good dog. The problem with Conform is that it makes you behave the way others would expect given your role in life; if you're convinced you're a dog, it will probably make you try to conform to dogginess. (High level Conform would work, though; that one resets your personal beliefs and leaves you a blank slate for society to write on. So it wouldn't matter that you think you're a dog and should therefore conform to the standards for dogs; you look like a pony so you need to be a pony.) Someone like Mane-iac would probably need a low level Conform at the very least, and low-level Conform isn't permanent. (I think Celestia has hidden away all the permaent mind control spells, because she knows ponies would use them to preserve harmony if they had them.)

Because few mind control spells are permanent, I think ponies have basically no hesitation about using them. Want It Need It came with no ethics warnings to tell Twilight not to use it; I'd bet you that Want It Need It, when cast by a much less powerful unicorn, is a sales tactic. (It drove half of Ponyville nuts because Twilight is an enormously powerful mage and put too much oomph into it. And Big Mac still owns Smarty Pants because wanting something that badly can cause imprinting, and he's a sentimental stallion; he's no longer under a spell, but he associates Smarty Pants with strong, almost desperate feelings of protectiveness and possessiveness, like a child would have over their own stuffed toy, so he feels toward Smarty Pants as if she had been his childhood doll rather than Twilight's.) There's a natural barrier toward the widespread misuse of mind control spells in that they're hard to learn to do, but Twilight can learn anything.

This, by the way, probably plays into the group's willingness to forgive Discord, overall. Humans perceive that kind of mind-mucking as a horrible violation, akin to rape, but ponies simply don't. What was bad about Discord's mind alterations was not that they were mind alterations but that they were done for malevolent reasons and they created disharmony and unhappiness; if Discord went around using his powers to make emo ponies bright and cheerful like Pinkie, ponies would actually think he was using his powers for good, although we would still perceive that as unethical and wrong. So they don't perceive Discord as having raped them; it's more like he punched them, and they retaliated by throwing him in prison for two years, so they feel like they're more or less even. (Except for Applejack, who in my fiction does feel violated, because of the importance of honesty to her, but the others don't quite get that.)

2296836 I. ...yes, exactly, I agree on every point. I want to add that I think the corollary is ponies are quick to forgive any kind of crime if the individual was under mind control. Trixie was wearing the alicorn amulet? We forgive enslaving our town. Twilight made us fight to the death for a doll? Lingering effects of being Discorded, everything's copacetic.
I think a big part of the reason everypony's so willing to accept Luna back as co-ruler (besides Princess Celestia said so) is that, even if your canon is that she just went crazy and didn't get possessed/corrupted by dark magic, most ponies ASSUME she was. After all changing your name and wearing a ridiculous costume is probably a huge warning sign in Equestria that someone is under the effects of malevolent mind control.

Someone just pointed this out to me and bravo, I hadn't even thought about the psychological treatment applications of magical enchantments. That "High-level" Conform seems less of a troublesome enchantment because it really does leave their original selves intact, if suppressed. The worst thing about it I think you're implying is that unlike other enchantments, it cannot ever be broken?

Now I'm thinking about not just abusing these spells, but how they might be twisted to terrible effect. I saw a story once that was based on burning out a pony's mind and replacing it with cult loyalty. It sounds a lot like that high level Conform, albeit without the possibility of somepony left trapped inside it. Similarly you could use "Be Your Worst Self" to induce ponies to commit extreme acts of malice, and "Addiction Maker" well that's just Want It Need It. And imagine what an evil empire could do with an Anti-Empathy spell, to keep their jailors from sympathizing with the rebellion.

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