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"We need more power, Cap'n!"
—Scotty, Star Trek: The Original Series
Speculative Fiction and Fantasy have a great many devices, vessels, abilities, and powers, and they have to run on something! That is what this trope is about. Be it Dilithium Crystals, Mana, or spinach, there are many and varied Power Sources for a story's fantastic features to run on.
Power Sources have two basic characteristics: Nature (natural, scientific, magical; neutral, good, evil) and Replenishment (infinite, automatic, harvested, finite). In terms of Replenishment, some power sources are naturally replenishing and perhaps limited only to "needing an hour to cool off" or a good night's sleep. Others need to be harvested in some way, be it a vampire feeding off humans or a robot plugging into a wall. Other power sources are "always full," or "infinite", so a hero or starship never has to worry about refueling. This can remove a source of plot complications, and may seem a bit unfair when others get their Power At a Price. Thusly, these tend to get stolen or short circuited. A lot.
In terms of Nature, the sky is the limit. Two heroes with exactly the same power can fuel it with different things, or some can use exactly the same Power Source for two radically different powers. For an especially interesting dynamic, a hero and villain may be powered by mutually weakening energies, for example one using The Power of Love to fight a Hate Fueled foe.
This and How to Give A Character Super Powers overlap when without the Power Source the character has no powers... it's not the character needing the Power Source to fuel the powers, but the Power Source that also imparts the powers.
Here are some sample Power Sources.
Magical power sources include:
Science power sources can be:
- Plain old Electricity
- The Sun -- either as photo voltaic energy or as a mystical entity.
- Pure Energy.
Artificial power sources are usually:
Mundane power sources can be:
- Food -- They not only have a Hyperactive Metabolism, but need food for the energy to use their powers.
- Power-Up Food - Eating or drinking a certain food provides powers.
- Stamina -- The hero can use their powers with no real "fuel" limitations, only being limited by natural well being and endurance.
- Gasoline -- Or wood, there are steam punk suits of Power Armor.
Morality Neutral, Good, and Evil power sources may include:
- The Dark Side
- The Lifestream
- Powered by a Forsaken Child
- The Power of Friendship
- The Power of Love
- Deal with the Devil
- Living Battery
Some sample Replenishment for Powers Sources:
- Hour of Power
- Fuel Meter of Power
- Mana Meter
- Phlebotinum Battery
- Power Incontinence -- Always On, oh, are they ever "Always on!"