Suppose that, while the British were busy making their empire, someone in government discovered magic and let his colleagues in on the secret.

However, the magic they have discovered is fairly limited. There is no mind-reading, telekinesis is limited to small objects such as pens, and personal augmentative magic such as giving yourself super speed or strength is impossible.

What the government suddenly can do is two things:

  • Control temperature;
  • Repair objects.

For the first: they can affect the temperature of an area no bigger than a football field by no more than 30 degrees Celsius.

For the second: almost no limitations. They can restore any inanimate object to its original state after manufacture, no matter the damage, as long as they are close to the object. No sitting at home creating invincible armies, they have to be in the field. For the sake of quantification, I'll say the repair ability has a 10m radius. In addition, if an object has been completely destroyed (for example, burned completely to ash or completely dissolved), it cannot be repaired.

This is the first question in a series, and I'm going to focus on war: how would the various wars the Brits participated in (around the time of their empire) be affected?

Keep in mind that these are politicians. They live in London and are used to a life of luxury.

  • Those of us here in the New World (that is New England and the southern New France), like all other imperial subjects, are familiar with Garrett Randall's Too Many Magicians. Perhaps you should look it up. – Serban Tanasa Apr 4 '15 at 19:27
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    I would probably put some limits on your "no limitations" power. Example: while sitting in your chair at home, continuously cast the repair spell on all of your armies' equipment, including clothing. The instant a bullet begins to cut through a soldier's clothes, it repairs itself, turning it into a bulletproof vest. The same applies to planes, tanks, etc. Any bullets that you fire will pierce even tough armor, as the bullets (being magically repaired) will no longer deform upon impact. – 2012rcampion Apr 4 '15 at 21:02
  • Idea 2: cast the repair spell on all of your opponents, revering them to their original state after manufacture, i.e. birth: they are now all infants. This is probably a loophole you want to close fast, I suggest making it touch magic that works only on inanimate objects, with a finite speed of repair. – 2012rcampion Apr 4 '15 at 21:05
  • @2012rcampion Limited it, thanks – ArtOfCode Apr 4 '15 at 21:06
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    @Frostfyre Because they're 17th century politicians (read: selfish) – ArtOfCode Apr 4 '15 at 21:39
up vote 7 down vote accepted

I am both a programmer and a powergamer; my specialty is finding loopholes, and these magical powers are fertile ground indeed!. I suspect that a politician would make an even better rules lawyer than me, so if they don't take advantage of these loopholes there'd better be a story reason for it!

Repair Power

The rules as set forth by ArtOfCode:

  • Can restore any inanimate object to its original state after manufacture, no matter the damage.
    • Any missing parts are recreated.
    • Any upgraded parts are destroyed and replaced with originals.
    • Intended use like exploding bombs or shooting bullets doesn't count as damage and cannot be repaired.
    • If an object has been completely destroyed (for example, burned completely to ash or completely dissolved), it cannot be repaired.
  • Has a 10 m radius.
    • If any portion of an object is within 10 m from the caster, only that portion of the object is repaired.

I can already note a few problems. ArtOfCode explicitly allowed a part of an object to recreate the whole, even if other parts of that object still exist. This gives us:

Infinite Guitars Cheat

You need to sell your '58 Les Paul 'cause you're low on money, but you really don't want to. No problem! Take a saw (or an axe, it doesn't have to be pretty) and cut the guitar in half. It doesn't have to be exact, you just need to end up with two pieces. Now, repair each one of those pieces. Each one will turn into a full guitar. Not only do you get to keep one, but the other is now worth even more since it's factory fresh! You could do the same thing to one or both guitars, allowing you to make as many as you want.

This applies to "any inanimate object!" Want two cakes for your birthday? Save a slice and "repair" it to give you a new cake! Want more money? Cut a tenner in half, repair both halves, and now you have £20!

You don't just have to split objects in two: you can be much more efficient if you shred each object into tiny pieces, because each piece will become a new object.

In wartime, the ability to indefinitely copy any object would be incredibly valuable. Constructing objects in this way uses no resources, so there would be no shortages as there were during the World Wars. You could make a gun out of the most cutting-edge, impossibly valuable materials, using the most expensive and time-consuming methods, and then give two to every man in the army!

A 10-meter radius is pretty big. Assuming that you can set up some multi-level track system to push traincars of bits through a vertical 20-meter circle at 30 mph (and handle the logistics of such a massive flow of goods), you could generate on the order of 1 million tons of supplies per hour! Again, this applies to "any inanimate object," including weapons and ammunition, vehicles, food, etc. With essentially no limit on production, the Empire would expand unstoppably.

Rules Issues

There are a few problems with the rules as-is:

  • If I burn a piece of paper, but leave it untouched so it stays in one charred piece, I can repair it to its original (sans-writing) state. However, if I crumble up the paper cinder, it's now just scattered ashes, which cannot be repaired. At what point during the crumbling process does the paper become unrepairable?
  • I cannot obtain a whole grenade from a shrapnel fragment, however I can recover the wall that it exploded from a single piece of brick, due to the fact that the grenade was "intended" to be exploded but the wall was not. If I use a bottle as an improvised weapon and smash it over someone's head, can I repair it? The bottle was intended to be drunk out of, but I also intended to smash it. If I make an object with the intent of cutting it up to generate more in the method described above, can I repair it? What if I get a pacifist to manufacture my grenades, as he will not intend them to be exploded? What if a round cooks off and explodes without being fired? ("Intent" is really murky, and this was one of the big flaws in Aristotelian physics.)
  • I take a small piece of my crashed car and put it in a safe, or bury it. What happens when I try to repair the piece back into the car?
  • What happens to objects containing multiple components, or multiple manufacturing steps? For example, in the 18th century (1700's, the period I assume you mean by 17th century), guns were not mass-produced. The action had to be individually fitted to each stock. If I try to repair my gun, will it be restored as a whole, or will the parts no longer fit together, each being restored to their original state after manufacture?
  • What about objects that are not manufactured per se? Will the stock of my gun turn into a freshly felled tree (the point at which the wood became inanimate), a freshly resawn board as manufactured by the sawmill, an unfinished stock as manufactured by the woodcarver, or the finished stock as fitted to the action by the gunsmith? Where, exactly, does manufacture end?

These problems are mainly due to them specifying an intended effect instead of a mechanism of effect. To take another magical power as an example, a healing spell could be described thusly: "cures all disease in a target." However, there are a bunch of questions that we could ask, like, "does this spell cure inbreeding or genetic diseases? What about an infected wound? Will it replace a limb you've lost to gangrene?" We could answer all of these problems by tacking on additional specifications and restrictions. However, the description of the spell will quickly become unwieldy, since you have to specify its effect in every possible scenario.

However, we could instead describe the spell by its mechanism: "this spell instantly kills any living thing inside the target that does not match its DNA." Now we immediately know all the effects of the spell, even in edge cases. For example, it won't cure poisoning, however it will cure cancer (since cancer cells have mutated DNA). (Note that this would be a bad spell to use, since it would kill off your microbiome.) It still has a couple of problems, like, "does 'living thing' include viruses?" However, these are easier to fix. Note that the method to fix them should be clarifying or revising the mechanism, not by adding an exception or special clause. Take, for example, this revision of the healing spell: "destroys all DNA inside the target that does not match the target's DNA."

Thermal Power

The rules here are not very detailed. I felt like I might be ticking off ArtOfCode with all my questions, so I didn't push him further on this point.

  • Can [raise or lower] the temperature of an area no more than [6400 square yards (5350 square meters)] by no more than 30 degrees Celsius.
    • [The effect can extend no more than 120 yards (110 meters) from the caster's body.]

The parts in brackets are my additions. Although the story is stated to take place in England (albeit before the invention of football), the use of "field" instead of "pitch" leads me to believe ArtOfCode is referring to an American sportsball football field, whose area I've inserted. I also added a distance restriction (the length of a football field) in keeping with the intent of not allowing armchair spellcasters.

Rule Issues

  • Change the temperature of what? Just the air? Can I heat up someone's body to 67 degrees C (153 degrees F) to kill them?
  • Can the effect be sustained indefinitely, or made permanent?
    • If so, is the heat magically contained, or does it flow normally out into the environment?
    • Does a magically heated object traveling out of the AoE cool off instantly, or retain its heat?
  • 30 degrees relative to what? If you say the original temperature of the object...
    • If you heat your yard up to 60 degrees on a summer day, will it stay 60 degrees if the effect is maintained through the dead of winter?
    • If you heat 25 degree air to 55 degrees, can you then raise it again to 85 degrees?
    • If the heat instantly disappears when the spell is canceled, what if you have two spellcasters target overlapping areas? What if the first cancels his spell, will the temperature in the second spellcaster's remain 85? What if the first casts on the same area again?
  • What about height? Can the effect reach [120 yards] above and below me, occupying over a billion liters of volume?

Infinite Energy Cheat

This spell doesn't just break thermodynamics, it explodes it into a million pieces. Magically heating an area obviously violates conservation of energy. This is OK, but you should be aware that it will have... side effects.

The Newcomen steam engine was in use by 1712. It was one of the first heat engines, which generates useful energy by transferring heat across a temperature gradient. We can now make a 60 degree temperature gradient, on demand, with no fuel. This should not be too hard for a learned person to put together.

  • Love it. I had a feeling something like this was coming, and it nicely picks out all the loopholes :) Thanks – ArtOfCode Apr 5 '15 at 10:20

The British would have been a lot more dominant. The biggest problems that they will have is the politicians who know magic's reluctance to want to be out in the field and having to be fight a little sneakier than usual. Other than that, there won't be any different problems other than what they might usually face (men dying, infections spreading). I'll now go through how every power you mentioned will help.*

Telekinesis

This is all assuming the 10m rule

They can only control things about the size of a pen. You know what is close to the size of a pen. Bullets. Every time a bullet is line of bullets is shot, each politician can divert at least one (4 in total) away from either their self or one of their soldiers. Gun weren't so accurate back then, so saving 4 soldiers who would have been dead otherwise is big. Telekinesis could also help save up on bullets, because the politicians could go around, find bullets in the ground and trees, get them out, and repair them because of their repair powers. This power isn't as big a help as the other two, but it will still be a game changer.

As mentioned below in a comment, if the politicians are able to control many objects as once, then you can prevent possibly all of your soldiers from dying, as you can stop the whole volley of gun shots.

Repairing objects

As I already mentioned, they would be able to save up on bullets because of this power. Also, unlimited guns! This might not help the economy very much, as guns would not have to be produced anymore, but we won't worry about that now. You also don't have to buy clothes, which saves money. Infection be as big a problem for your army because you'll always have shoes. This is more beneficial than telekinesis, but not the most important.

Controlling Temperature

This is the most important power by far. But it is also the hardest to carry out. Back when the British empire was being created, infection was a bigger killer than wounds. If you could have 2 or 3 politicians follow the enemy as the march, then doing battle will be easy. The politicians following will have to hide a little, but it won't be very hard. Obviously this power will have a longer range than the other two, so they can set up their own camp hidden from the enemy. Now they can wreak havoc. Imagine it is fall going into winter, it's 10oC (50oF). Those politicians can lower the temperatures -10oC (-4oF). That is freezing and will cause any infections the enemies might have to be worse (you can also cause heat stroke by raising the temperature in the summer). Other politicians can use an opposite effect on their army's camp, preventing infections from the cold or heat strokes. This will give your army a huge advantage when actual battles come, and the British army will be almost invincible.


*All of this will assume you can get at least 4 politicians to go into the field

  • Nowhere is the telekinesis restricted to a single object at a time, nor is the amount or speed of application of force restricted. Why couldn't a single person stop an entire volley at once? – 2012rcampion Apr 5 '15 at 4:47
  • @2012rcampion Didn't think of that, Thanks – michaelpri Apr 5 '15 at 4:49

As you mentioned in the comments, you're looking for something around the 16th to 18th century. The first and most important war in the 17th century was the Thirty Years War.

A war created due to religious fervor. It could've been dramatically been changed by Magic. While the side the British supported could be considered victorious, both sides suffered enourmous losses (both in men and coin). Assuming ONLY the British knew about magic, and no one outside of the government would ever know about it, then here's what Magic could be used for:

Creating an Idol

Every single Faction in the world had a ruler (or sets of) that forced a religion on their citizens. Religion was used as a tool to force men to bend to the Church's or Imam's will and thus faking a god given idol to support the British would win them the war.

How would the British win wars by having an Idol?

Crusaders Mustered under Cross Standarts Jihadists Mustered under the Scythe Mongols were underdeveloped in technology (But had fiersome archers). Pagan Russia (ish) was Orthodox and followed an Arch-Bishop Latin Americans followed Pagan Sun Gods North Americans followed Spirits and Statues

Preparation

The British only had to create a menancing looking structure with some sort of symbol. Quite Possibly a Siege Tower with an animal figure and a cross. The Tower would've needed to be completly sealed, meaning that it had to be damaged to get people in it. It should also have a compartiment for an hidden politic (that could cast the magic without being revealed). Troops would be instructed to stay near the tower. The tower should also be equipped with archer port holes and a cannon or at least a balista. It should be slow, but menancing.

Tactically

Wounded soldiers would be safe from harm as the Tower would be impenetrable (you had to damage the tower to get in, but the tower self-restores itself, or so it seems). The sheer mass of people that would've heat the tower would make it extremely hard to stay inside, and the Magician would be able to lower the temperature of the tower (quite possibly after the troops are desesperating due to the heat so they rally under religious fervor). Telekineses wouldn't be a good thing to use , at least while showing yourself as that may turn yourself into a target. Having an entity that supports a nation that you can't see will strike fear. Having a man that you can try to kill (and you can succeed in doing that) won't be as impactful, unless he really does have extreme powers.

First War: Unifying Europe

A religious war is a touchy subject. The Holy Roman Empire and allies fighting for the Catholic Church and the Lutherans against it. Now have a structure that can damage your troops, destroy your walls and that you cannot damage? Put a few tales about it being a god's gift to the King of England and you just won the war. Add a few more tales about everyone having to submit to the British and you just got yourself Europe.

Second War: Solidifying the Holy Land

Always a complicated place, but very similar to the first war. Arabs fighting for their perception of god. Do exactly the same thing, and you just conquered the most important parts of the known world.

Expansion: Into the North and into South America

As with the Catholics, making the Orthodox submit to you would be a piece of cake. Add the fact that you can heat up your tower AND MELT THE ICE AND SNOW for bonus points.

The Aztecs would fall easily as they can't actually keep with an indestructible fortressd that is able to destroy their villages. That is, if they don't surrender as soon as they see you repairing the damage the fire pots they throw at you.

The Indians (North Americans)

This would be the actually worst part as they can poison you from the inside, so the turret isn't really a viable option, there is however a solution. Cannons. At this point you rule the world. There's no questioning that. Spending extra coin on a bunch of cannons can bring you the Native Americans to your feet and effectively get you all of the known world under your rule.

Maintaining the Empire This is actually the difficult part. Your powers aren't really that strong. I mean, while you can create indestructible fortresses, you don't have a lot more powers. Sure you can regulate the weather a bit, but still, that's not all that strong (unless you use it to generate revenue with steam machines, but that would turn your politicians into sweatshop workers, not rulers. Plus you'd already get a lot of revenue from taxes, plus you can just take ownership of what you want). Maintaining this empire would have to be due to fear of striking the wrath of god (Possibly having a religious police like in the Middle East would do the trick). Eventually, unless your rule is extremely appreciated you'll incurr in riots, where you'd have to deploy the tower, which would eventually evolve into a set of tanks (which would force politicians to be soldiers again, which is a downside) and strike fear into rebels.

Your empire would fall once acess to radioactivity and mass poison is achieved by rebels though, as you can't fight biowarfare with just repair powers (unless you fight with hazmat suits (but then it would incur in the major thing that you wouldn't want:)

Never turn your politicians into gods

The whole point of this strategy is to make people believe your troops are protected by someone who can destroy them within a second. If you pose yourself as a god and someone challenges you, you can't forget that your powers are really limited, while you can warm places, stop bullets and such, you are not invincible, and having yourself becoming a target would be the ultimate downfall

Telekinesis - rather limited, but many little things can be done with this. Including pulling a trigger on a machine gun while you kept your head down in the fox hole, moving a stick to trip an enemy, possibly deflecting bullets and shrapnel headed your way.

Repair - This is huge. One of the big things I think they would want to do is actually train a number of soldiers in this trick. Especially putting one on each attaching aircraft. If they can repair the plane as it get's shot by ground to air forces or other enemy planes it could keep patching itself up, and be able to risk more dangerous and possibly more damaging runs on the enemy. It would also encourage a redesign of airplanes to better protect the pilot and the 'mage', as long as they are alive they can likely return and land the plane.

Having one on ships would be another major coop, especially for the Brittish who 'ruled the seas' for a very long time. This would make it very difficult to sink the ships and remove much of the fear of the U-boats. Of course using it this way will not keep it secret, even if they don't teach others, but just the small cadre spreads out to protect key resources. Watching a torpedo hole close on it's own would have a lot of tongues wagging. It would also make these ships (and people if discovered) major targets for capture by the enemy.

If the enemy captured a person known to have this ability, they just need to put them on one of their ships, to survive the individual would have to repair the ship or die in the sea.

Temp changes - this is a pretty easy one. Fox holes are terribly nasty and uncomfortable, especially in winter or high summer. In winter keeping the temp just under freezing would be a big improvement over 'colder' weather for the troops, and in summer cooling by even 10F degrees could be a huge relief and save on troop moral and physical exhaustion.

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