Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
– Arthur C. Clarke
There are two planets, A and B. A is a global state with little conflict, while B is a medieval warlord state with constant conflict. A has advanced technology, while ~0.1% of B has 'magical' powers. These magical powers are limited to unnatural luck, unnatural persuasion ability, and manipulation of energy (fire, lightning, etc., however, leaves the user exhausted).
A is attempting to take over the natural resources of B. However, they don't want to do so by force, so instead they give 'gifts' to the warlords on B: nuclear power plants, cruisers, tanks, etc. They brand it as 'magic' and have their own specially trained mages maintain the large machines. The few plant overseers are the only ones who actually know how it works: most are only versed in a very specific portion of the machines and rely on mystic chants and curses to guide the machine (they work, but it's because of the technology).
An envoy from A has approached Alice, a warlord in an island archipelago, about giving this 'magic' for the cheap, cheap price of one month's supply of food for one million. Alice cannot refuse, as all her warlord neighbors would be happy to take over a country with their new weapons. However, she has deduced that this is no magic and simply a trap to get her country dependent on A for maintenance of the machines she is buying. How can Alice accept this proposal but avoid becoming dependent on A? (Her advisors estimate it will take fifty years at the current rate before her country is completely controlled by A, so Alice wants it done within 40 years)
At her disposal:
- Population of 250,000
- An army 12,000 strong
- A corps of about 500 military engineers
- About 250 trained mages, of which only 12 are masters
- About 160 academic fellows (read: scientists) trained in the newly developed scientific method
- The answer gives a plausible way that people can 'break open' the systems of their technology and plausibly reverse engineer it within forty years without magic. The tiebreaker is time. Remember: They are trying to bridge an ~800 year technology gap in forty years. This is hard.
- The answer gives a plausible way that people can 'break open' the systems of their technology and plausibly reverse engineer it within forty years with magic. The tiebreaker is time.
- The answer gives a way to turn the mages into allies and get them to explain what the enemy's devices work. Remember: Few mages know how it actually works, most only know the mystic chants to get it to work. Also, imprisoning a mage without just cause is a casus belli for war. The tiebreaker is the use of magic, then the number of mages needed to be captured.
- The answer gives a plausible way to maintain their technology without the need for the mages provided by the enemy, either with or without magic. This change must occur within forty years. The tiebreaker is if it uses magic, then susceptibility to sabotage by an enemy, then time.
- The answer is none of the above.
The reason that I use magic as a tiebreaker in so much of this is that they only have around 250 mages, total, and their mental strength gets sapped up pretty quickly by using any ability.
Background Information (optional)
This is in a solar system orbiting a K-type star with about one-tenth the luminosity of the Sun. There are two planets in the habitable zone (ultraviolet and water), let's call them A and B.
Planet A: 0.9 times the size of Earth, orbiting at about 0.35 AU, this is a hot planet with large amounts of what we would call desert or steppe climates. At this point in time, they are a flourishing civilization but they are running out resources on their already resource-poor planet. They have technology similar to us today, maybe a little more futuristic with reusable spacecraft that can travel the 0.1 AU to planet B (think space shuttle with a payload capacity of the BFR).
Planet B: 1.3 times the size of Earth, orbiting at 0.45 AU, this is a cooler and much wetter planet than planet A, with large forest-like biomes and pronounced subarctic/arctic climates. There is much less desert, and it has much more resources than planet A. However, life has developed slower here, and its civilization is at an early medieval stage. Think around 1200s-ish, with the infantry revolution just beginning to occur.
Alice's archipelago: Made up of two main islands and a few dozen smaller islands about 60 kilometers from a major continent. It enjoys an oceanic climate and the separation from the mainland, combined with a strong surface navy, has kept the island safe from invaders for a while. However, civil wars were constant until 16 years ago, when Alice united the archipelago for the first time in 200 years. She has the power to rule as a dictator but generally allows a council of elected officials make decisions. She has a modern army (from a medieval standpoint), emphasizing the infantry and navy, supported by archers, engineers, and mages, paid regularly and highly disciplined.