In this world, magic is real, and absurdly powerful. Its sole wielders are the mages, control the world with the power coursing through their blood.

They are organized according to Bloodline: Dragon, Devil, Angel, etc.. Because the magic is in their blood, many of them belong to the same family as well, but not all member of a mages family will inherit those power. But once they are confirmed to have magics, they are basically a one-man army; as powerful as a D&D Sorcerer, or a mid-high-tier Marvel mutant, but limited to a theme (Fire, Ice, Blood, etc.). And yes, they do rule (or have a high position) in most of the world.

Among the mages though, there are the very peculiar magicians:

  • Instead of recruiting from known magical bloodlines, they go out, find the brightest willing person, then "train" the magic out of them (which is nonsensical, but only the most learned sage know that)
  • Their "magic" is not limited to a theme, as long as they can prepare, they can do pretty much whatever they want. Unfortunately, that magic is not very strong (fireballs that don't burn people, work more like flashbangs than fantasy fireballs)
  • Their "magic" are not hindered in magic-null zone, or countered by other mages (this will be a plot point later on, when a magician is locked in a magic-null prison, and proceed to hypnotise the guard to let him go free). They are also immune to many problems mages face.

Of course, the truth is that they don't have a drop of supernatural blood in them, the "magic" they practice are just stage tricks (boosted to Now you see me level, using gadget of their own devise), but still mostly work as distraction and confusion rather than direct damage.

On their own, no problem, few can tell the difference. But if any mages decide to challenge them to open combat, they are as good as dead (party trick << bending the rule of the universe). Their only chance is to escape (they can do disappearing tricks mid-fight, also like in Now you see me, but there have to be a realistic way to do it), catch the mage off-guard and go for their weakness, which they have to figure out or research beforehand (each bloodlines is weak to different things, and that is not open knowledge).

The question is: With all those skills and gadget, they can do all sort of things: toy maker, thief, information broker (from their research). Why pretend to be a supernatural being when there is a real chance said supernatural being can come and squash you?

EDIT: About the in-universe magic system:

  • A mage get a set of power following a theme from their supernatural ancestor (for example, a Giant mage grow larger, get super strength (even when taking account of size), armored skin, etc.). As they become more powerful, they existing magic increase, and get new power, still from that theme (so when our Giant mage get more magic, they might get a earth-shattering roar, hurricane breath, but he will never get teleport), and become more dependent on magic (if the Giant mage suddenly lose his magic, he get all the problem of the Square-Cube law: bone pain, difficulty breathing, even to out right collapsing on himself. And that was still better than the Specter mage, who wink out of existence without magic holding them together)
  • On the other hand, magician is 100 % not magical. Their only advantage over us in this world is that they can do stuffs we consider "action movie stunt". If a person want to become a magician, they have to do it the same way our magician do: find a teacher, devoted time and effort to perfect their craft until they can do stuff David Copperfield would have approved
  • The "problems" that mages faces here is basically a mundane way to make them lose their power that is not magic-null zone (which can only be created by high level magic or occur naturally). So for example, still using the Giant mage above, his weakness is, say a shattered ankle. Not exactly easy, but if you can smash a steel-reinforced battering ram through their ankle (remember, at this point the mage is basically a human-shaped mountain), even if the injury and the shock don't kill him, he will still die from the aforementioned Square-Cube law. Obviously this is a closely guarded secret among the families, even the fact that they have the weakness at all. To 90 % of the world, they are demigod. The magicians are regular people with homemade gadget, so magic-null zone is a non-issue, and even if they lose their tricks, they are still more athletic and skilled than most people
  • Most members of a magical bloodline are just regular human, who are still nobles, doing most of the management jobs, while the mages are Duke/Duchess, Price/Princess or King/Queen. They cannot blow people up, but their cousin can, and family are more trustworthy than strangers, right?
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Feels like two separate questions: A) Why would a person use parlor tricks to imitate a real magician? and B) Why would a person imitate a real magician if real magicians might come kill them for doing so? My answer to A: fortune and glory. My answer to B) run and hide. $\endgroup$
    – Len
    Commented Mar 1, 2018 at 18:03
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ How "Rare" are the Mages? 1 in 100? 1000? 1,000,000? If they are sufficiently rare, then the Magicians could fill a gap in simple man-power numbers... $\endgroup$
    – WernerCD
    Commented Mar 1, 2018 at 19:11
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Why do people pretend to be gangsters, soldiers, police, martial artists, ect. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Mar 1, 2018 at 20:06
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The premise of pretending to be a magician in a world with real magic reminds me of the young adult novel "Mairelon the Magician" by Patricia C. Wrede, if you're looking for some inspiration. The particulars are different, though: a real wizard is hiding in plain sight masquerading as a magician, because no self-respecting wizard would cheapen his magic to such an extent. Could be an interesting dimension to add. $\endgroup$
    – Mikkel
    Commented Mar 1, 2018 at 21:05
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @NamNguyenHoang just FYI in the book series the Dwarves, a stage actor has props to fake spellcasting for when he has to play a mage, when they get waylaid by bandits he uses those same props to pretend to be a mage(there are only about a dozen in the whole world) to drive off the bandits, potentially getting murdered by a real mage in the future is a small risk compared to getting killed by bandits right now. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Mar 3, 2018 at 3:53

8 Answers 8


There is a Russian fairytale about a guy who beat a giant with superpowers in a game of throwing giant hammers up. He won the contest by stating that he's waiting for a cloud to come closer so he can make a hole in it. The giant is scared of this vision of such power and folds.

So this is basically a coach story of fake it till you make it.

Or how would youngsters put that: A story of victory

Basically to call someone's bluff of being a powerful wizard you either:

  1. need to be such a wizard yourself
  2. be very confident in yourself because angering a real wizard with such an accusation would end up in you being dead.

AND even in the first scenario the real wizard can miss his shot, deplete his mana and be slapped with a pimp hand into oblivion.

OR the wizard with the power of fireballs would have to watch the "faker" start chanting "Super Extra Mega Soul Fire Spear of Ultimate Destruction". As the comic stated "you ain't gonna fuck around and see if he could".

Also I think it's a trope that somebody wins be sheer accident against someone powerful so everyone is scared of them because he beat the master and so he must be better than the master.

  • 6
    $\begingroup$ I remember a tale: a teenager manages to kill 7 flies in a single strike, and is so proud that he has his belt embroidered with "7 in 1 strike" (gotta keep it simple for embroidery). Soon, he is asked to take care of giants by the king; after all, he killed 7 in 1 strike right? $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 1, 2018 at 19:17
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ @MatthieuM. To be fair, that giant fucked right off when the kid threw one stone (a bird) over the horizon and squeezed water out of another (a sponge). $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 1, 2018 at 20:35
  • $\begingroup$ @MatthieuM. There was a Mickey Mouse cartoon like that tool. $\endgroup$
    – Tin Wizard
    Commented Mar 1, 2018 at 20:43
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ @MatthieuM. teenager? Interesting adaption. That would be the tailor from the Brothers Grimm fairytale Das Tapfere Schneiderlein. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 2, 2018 at 0:28
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @leftaroundabout Grimms fairytales are just a collection of local stories. So they may a lot of variations between regions and in time itself. I've read Grimm book where all the "nasty" things were cut out. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 2, 2018 at 8:22

Real mages are rare, powerful, and have important stuff to deal with. They might not like fakers, but they've got bigger things to do than chase them around and beat them up.

Quite simply, fake magicians are generally beneath the notice of real mages and are therefore not in any real danger. The prospect of making easy money by captivating gullible audiences is therefore worth the minor risk of just happening to run afoul of a real mage in disguise.

Of course, if any fake magician gains significant political power that threatens a real mage's goals they'll be in trouble, so they should limit themselves to street performances or swindling ignorant peasants.

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ they should limit themselves... or... Real mages are rare, powerful, and have important stuff to deal with. - the Magicians become the Lieutenants to the Mages General. If the Mages are "rare enough", then why wouldn't they use Rank-and-file magicians to take care of the day to day deeds and dirty work? IE: Vampires have humans to offset their weaknesses and makeup for their lack of numbers. $\endgroup$
    – WernerCD
    Commented Mar 1, 2018 at 19:09
  • $\begingroup$ Another take on this: maybe mages eventually become powerful enough that they no longer need to use magic, like a doctor or programmer becoming an administrator/manager and no longer needing to practice. Being a magician is the equivalent of getting an MBA and skipping all of the boring magic part right into middle management. $\endgroup$
    – Mikkel
    Commented Mar 1, 2018 at 21:08
  • $\begingroup$ @Mikkel Due to the way magic works in my universe, a mage becoming more powerful involve becoming more and more like his/her supernatural ancestor (the most powerful Draconic mages, for example, practically become Dragons themselves). So that person will become even more dependent on magic, not less. In fact, it can get so bad that they will die if they lose their magic (the same reason why flying, fire-breathing Dragon don't work in the real world) $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 2, 2018 at 6:20
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @WernerCD The mages mostly use their regular human relatives (most members of a magical bloodline are non-magical) as middle management. They can't blow people up, but they know someone who can $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 2, 2018 at 6:40

Why pretend to be a supernatural being when there is a real chance said supernatural being can come and squash you?

If you can pretend that you're very powerful, you can become someone very powerful.

Like you said before,

[Mages] do rule (or have a high position) in most of the world

If a magician can trick peasants to think he's a powerful mage, they will let him be their king. As long as he's not discovered, he will have a good life.

He can also become advisor for a king, he knows magic so he should be wise and helpful, right?

Or he can become a mercenary and gain a lot of money, he's still more powerful than common people.

  • $\begingroup$ Actually, they do hire themselves out as mercenary, it's just that being a soldier of fortune is just a side hustle from pretending to be among the most powerful beings on the planet $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 2, 2018 at 6:14
  • $\begingroup$ And by "mercenary", I mean more "Hassassin" than "Landsknecht" $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 2, 2018 at 8:37

Evolutionary game theory explains why different behavioural strategies can co-exist in a population. Initially developed by John Maynard-Smith & George Price, it was used to address the existence of non-lethal aggression: why should an animal display but not fight over desired resources? This is the 'hawk-dove' model, with two strategies: "hawk", which means fight until the opponent withdraws, and "dove", display, but run away if attacked. Bypassing all the analysis of this model, the outcome is that both hawks and doves can exist in a population if the cost of fighting is higher than than the value of the resource, and the particular values for cost and value determine the stable proportion of hawks and doves in the population. https://web.stanford.edu/~jhj1/teachingdocs/Jones-ess-notes.pdf. Note that at the stable proportion, both strategies do equally well.

(for a recent treatment of hawk/dove models: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-04284-6)

Applying this to the question, we can consider "Mage" and "Magician" as two genetically-encoded (inherited) strategies (making the reasonable assumption that "bright and willing" intelligence/personality has a genetic component). By analogy with the hawk/dove model, Magicians can only exist if the costs of 'fighting' are greater than the value of the resource over which two individuals might 'fight'.

The question suggests that status is the resource, and Mages can be extremely lethal if it comes to a contest (whether this is toe-to-toe fighting, attacking from the shadows, or something more subtle). Mages always win against Magicians, so Magicians should always beat a hasty retreat if they come across a Mage (or at least conceal the fact they are Magicians).

So the evolutionary game theory answer to the question is that Magicians exist because this is an equally successful strategy to being a Mage. The only issue that needs to be determined is what proportion of Mage vs Magician is stable!

Of course, things are slightly more complicated, because the population actually consists of three genetically-inherited strategies: Mage, Magician, and 'Normal' - 'Normal' loses out to both strategies - but the basic conclusions remain: at some proportion, being a Magician is just as successful (in terms of producing 'descendants', here, more Magicians) as being a Mage is at producing more Mages, and that is why there are Magicians despite the existence of Mages.

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868
    Commented Mar 2, 2018 at 4:27

Numbers Game

As I asked in comments: How rare are the Mages?

If they are rare enough, then you would want helping hands to take care of dirty work (Who wants to talk to... mortals? Really?), grunt work (Clean my cavern Magician...) and other necessities (Cooking, cleaning... accounting)...

Caste System

Also... if you think of it as a pseudo caste system - Ruling Class, Upper Class, Middle Class, plebs... the Mages could easily fill the Ruling and Upper classes and the Magicians would find spots in the lower-upper and middle class.

If paired with the Mages needing numbers and the Clan System below, you can be a lowly mage working for a Magicians clan and, despite not having "real" powers - you'll have the weight of the clan behind you.

You mess with one of us... you mess with all of us...

Clan System

Not all members will inherit the powers

Just because you are born without the spark, doesn't mean you aren't blood. Kin. Does that mean they get cast aside into the nothingness that is the under-class? Normies? "Muggles"? Not necessarily.

In Harry Potter for example, there are more than a few "magic born" muggles. They can't cast but are useful for tasks that need that skill set (IE: Spying on muggles).

But once they are confirmed to have magics

At what age are they "confirmed"? 2? 5? 18? 35? If it takes long enough, the family should be sufficiently "attached" to the children and have a strong desire to keep them around. Why can't the kids be useful? What kid doesn't want to help the family - and being able to cast in "Null Zones" and make up for some of the Mage's weakness?

Make me proud son...

Recessive Genes and Breeding Odds

How many of a Bloodline has the trait vs doesn't? If Dad/Mom has the trait and I don't... does my kids have a chance of getting the trait still? If I'm the kid of a Mage without the power, does that increase the chances of breeding another Mage?

2 mages have a 50% chance of "breeding true"... 1 Mage has a 25% chance... 2 non mage mage-descendants have a 10% chance?

If so, then their is power in keeping me around and gainfully occupied to get more chances at the recessive genes. It becomes VERY important on keeping track who is "Of the Lineage" to give better odds of breeding true.

  • $\begingroup$ I guess my answer doesn't approach why to "pretend" but more of why Magicians would be an acceptable part of "Society" $\endgroup$
    – WernerCD
    Commented Mar 1, 2018 at 23:18
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, this answer is exactly what I was planning. Superpowered demigods as rulers, their less competent family member as middle management $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 2, 2018 at 6:45
  • $\begingroup$ But no, magician don't get their power from anywhere. They are normal people (ok, action heroes, but that still only count as "muggle" in this kind of world). If a person want to become a magician, they have to do it the same way our magician do: find a teacher, devoted time and effort to perfect their craft until they can do stuff David Copperfield would have approved $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 2, 2018 at 9:39

The real mage is busy at the moment, performing complicated rituals on the top of his tower involving blood of virgins to get into the good graces of ancient gods and stuff.

Therefore, they would recruit the fake magicians and hire them as delegates or ambassadors, and probably even provide them with kick-ass enchanted magical items.

Everyone wins. Mages don't need to waste time with commoners, they get to surround themselves with an aura of mysticism... And magicians get a job, plus fame and cool gadgets. It's a symbiosis really.

I mean, your average medieval Joe won't be able to tell the difference, and the almighty mage sure isn't gonna waste his time and precious mana to show off and impress a bunch of peasants. A magician shooting bits of sparkle will do nicely.

It gets interesting when the mage dies, or runs away with a girl, or gets otherwise incapacitated, and his staff of fake magicians decide to not tell anyone and keep pretending they still rule.

  • $\begingroup$ No, all of the magicians' gadgets are not magic, just regular slight-of-hand prop like our magician use, but boosted to action movie level. In fact, this is the main difference between them. If a mage get his magic removed, he became powerless (at best) or out right die due to whatever his ancestor is cannot exist in our world. A magician losing all his trick is still a athletic, skill individual $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 2, 2018 at 6:36

Maybe they used to have real magic. Then it dried up, and now they have to fake it or get Game-of-Thrones'ed.

  • $\begingroup$ No my friend, if a powerful mage lose their magic, they are incapacitated or die $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 2, 2018 at 6:47

What are the chances that the mage gene gets passed down; can a non-mage but some mage bloodline born a mage child yes or no? If yes then some mages could be outcasts or be a lost bloodlines (hedge wizard) then the risks are very real that some random guy in the street that's says he’s a mage could very well be the real deal. And therefor even confronted by a mage of the bloodline hes faking may not know if he’s a liar, so if one of your fakes has done his homework he could pretend to be one of these lost bloodline mages I speak of and even get away with it (would be funny if he gets recruited by a mage family being a really good fake)

  • $\begingroup$ Yes, yes there are hedge mage in this world, but i think it would be more of a magicians' problem than mages', since most magician know to not pull any trick on a known master, while there are a chance that the regular audience may not be as regular as they appear $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 2, 2018 at 8:30
  • $\begingroup$ That is not to say there are no hedge mage that is also a performer in this world (being supernatural do not help your financial decisions), so sometime an arrogant mage may be in for a nasty surprise too $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 2, 2018 at 8:34

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .