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Suppose wizards are are very common, like 1 in 3 people. Magic ability is inherent, but basically useless without special (fairly expensive) training. Obviously the military would not ignore them. I am picturing a military similar in structure to the modern US or ancient Rome, in a medieval setting. My question is, how would they be used strategically?

I have thought of 3 main possibilities:

  1. The military would mostly not go to the trouble or expense of training them, so there would be some specially trained wizards while most are untrained and integrated with the rest of the troops;
  2. They would all be trained thoroughly, then integrated with the rest of the troops, so every unit has a few trained wizards;
  3. They would all be trained, but put in separate homogenous units, or a separate branch altogether.

Which of these makes the most sense strategically? Is there another option I have overlooked?

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    $\begingroup$ How powerful is this magic that they can harness? What's the effective force multiplier? The answer depends entirely on how dangerous an individual trained wizard is and whether their effects are scalar or multiplicative... $\endgroup$ – Isaac Kotlicky Apr 12 '15 at 5:58
  • $\begingroup$ More fireballs than nukes. They would be effective against strong warriors, even fully armored, but the main drawback would be the inability to focus on multiple targets at once. So they could be very effective against 3 or 4 enemies, but one wizard can't wipe out an entire battalion. As for multiple wizards, they scale linearly (twice the wizards, twice the damage) or slightly better for well-coordinated attacks. $\endgroup$ – evankh Apr 12 '15 at 6:09
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    $\begingroup$ one last question: what's the relative cost of this advanced training and how does it scale? 2x normal? 20x? 200x? The more costly it is to make a single effective wizard, the more important numbers become over individual firepower. Why train wizards when a single one costs as much as a whole battalion... $\endgroup$ – Isaac Kotlicky Apr 12 '15 at 13:07
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    $\begingroup$ If you already need fairly expensive training, why on earth should you limit it to "1 out of 3 people"? Just allow anyone to learn it, as long as they study it. You have already put a reasonable limit, it's senseless to put an extra one, which is arbitrary, boring, and one of the worst clichès in fantasy. $\endgroup$ – o0'. Apr 13 '15 at 21:06
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    $\begingroup$ @3C273 exactly. And that "spark" thing is one of the most silly tropes of the fantasy genre, it's never too soon to get rid of it. It makes zero sense, it's stupid, and it serves no purpose at all. $\endgroup$ – o0'. Apr 14 '15 at 8:16
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Having wizards and not training and using them is like having an armory full of muskets and not bothering to keep powder and shot. I think #1 is off the table that fast, if the military knows they have a large number

They will be weaponized, just like people always do in D&D type games. No one packs theurgic spells, only thaumaturgy that will increase the local entropy quotient!

Now, a great deal depends on what your wizardry is and can do. Maybe it's all informational type magic, but no fireballs and lightning bolts. You didn't tell us what "wizardry" is in your world.

I will suggest that you grade ability, so you do not have one regiment of three that are fireball spitters, as this will seriously imbalance challenging characters and make your plot-building difficult. That is, even when trained, most people start out with lower abilities, or different abilities, and it's a rare talent that can play human flame-thrower.

Of possibilities 2 & 3, it depends on how wizardry works. Can wizards be integrated in units, or is there something about mundanes that gets in their way? It's how you want to build it (me, I want weather wizards in my navy).

A problem also comes up with "a military similar in structure to the modern US or ancient Rome" in that those are two fairly different things. But I do take away that you're talking about a soldier army, not a warrior/hero/knightly kind of thing, despite the "medieval setting" (classic herofy tech level & costume & culture, I assume, w/o feudalism). A Roman army (or Chinese armies in most eras) had separate units of slingers, archers, mounted javelineers, crossbowmen, clibinarii, and so on, kept separate from the infantry phalanx of the regular legionaires. A modern army has high integration: in the 20th C every unit has its radiomen, one BAR for every so many regular riflemen, a certain number of scouts, and so on. That could be your telepathic wizards and the one who does fire rain or static crackle (if you've ever gotten doubled up by a good static jolt, don't underestimate it as a weapon) while his buddies use their spears, and the wizards who can magically locate things or far-see are the scouts.

Separation of units often had more to do with use (cavalry units do a whole different thing than infantry, and armored trench-attack units in WW1 only worked if they were a group that hit at once), sourcing (all your slingers come from Rhodes, and your archers from Crete, and firepower is better massed), or training and equipment (flame-throwers tended to be grouped, though one guy with the flame-thrower is supported by thirty regular guys, because flame-throwers needed all the same supplies to refill their tanks).

I'm also going to suggest that if magic is a thing, you are more likely to have female auxiliaries in that line. Human "radios" are too damned valuable to waste good ones! They are not likely to be in the front-line units but back in the command units. They may also be in home-defense units, if no one wants little Miss Lightning Bolt in the frontal assault. She sure would keep down the number of siege ladders on her part of the city wall.

Hope that helped!

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  • $\begingroup$ For the structure question, what I meant was smallish, highly disciplined units that have to work both independently and as larger groups. I'm probably misunderstanding one or both militaries. $\endgroup$ – evankh Apr 12 '15 at 15:19
  • $\begingroup$ As for the rest, I think it argues for option 2 in my context. They would be serving the same function as average soldiers, don't need special supplies, are sourced from all over, and aren't interfered with by mundanes. I will accept this answer after work unless someone else comes up with something genius. $\endgroup$ – evankh Apr 12 '15 at 15:24
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    $\begingroup$ " ...smallish, highly disciplined units that have to work both independently and as larger groups." <snicker> This almost sounds like the feudal lance, the independent small unit that combines with other into an army. It was the knight, armoured men at arms in the same armour on the same kinds of horse (and so, really, 4-7 of these knightly types), with some lighter armed and armoured squires, and their attendants on foot. $\endgroup$ – Zither13 Apr 13 '15 at 9:58
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    $\begingroup$ You're dealing with medieval tech + magic, which means travel is as limited, communications almost as much, but obviously with a much more robust monetary economy if you have a soldier army rather than a hero army. Might your units form as lances around the wizardly heavy hitters in the same way, train locally to be a tight unit that knows how everyone else reacts (incl. what tricks their wizards can pull) & has their own playbook of tactics, so that yelling "Alfred!" means "Close up! Barrier spell coming!" $\endgroup$ – Zither13 Apr 13 '15 at 10:03
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Oh this is just royal. One in three people if magic was that common, the social impact would be immense, not to mention the military. But as you asked about integration into the military I will do my best to answer that. First, the military would be composed almost entirely of magicians, with mundane people only as strategists. (Note that even in medieval ages the ratio of soldiers to normal people was significantly less than one in three. ) As we have almost independent units that can lock together into a cohesive whole much of my military would be 2-3 "elder" mages to about double that number of "novice" mages who would graduate to their own units when they reached sufficient mastery. This means that instead of training people with swords and spears and such, training is entirely learning and mastering new spells.

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  • $\begingroup$ How good are wizards in close quarters combat? Lure the enemy wizards to a pre-determined spot, where assassins can pop up from hidden pits. An assassin with a dagger could kill the main wizard in a surprise attack. Groups of assassins with long swords could kill whole units. Bribe "normal" units in the enemy's army to attack the wizards on their sleep, or poison them. Throw a massive cavalry charge at them, they will no have no buffer of "cheap" army to reload their spells or retreat safely. $\endgroup$ – Enric Naval Dec 21 '15 at 12:20
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    $\begingroup$ @EnricNaval Keep in mind there's no reason the the mages wouldn't also have non-magical combat training for such situations. $\endgroup$ – Vakus Drake Dec 21 '15 at 15:57
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One in three people is a lot of people with magical ability...I am going to estimate that as equal to the proportion of people in the real world who are "athletic". You could even use that as equivalent to the proportion of people in the real world who are "smart", or who at least demonstrate a level of intelligence that is at all noteworthy.

So as a quality that a third of the people possess, just like athleticism or intelligence, not everyone who possesses the quality would have an equal share. Some wizards would be "ordinary"...compared to everyone who has any magic. Everyone would be tested in school for magical aptitude, their test scores on file, able to be accessed by any government agency. The CIA would probably keep track of the top .1% of wizards, and of course try to recruit as many as they possibly can, same as any other kind of talented person.

Actually, with a full third of the population having any magical faculty whatsoever, you could extrapolate the patterns of how society would handle magic from how society handles any notable ability. Let's say, 70% are ordinary, 25% are notable (at least among family and friends), 4% are exceptional and work professionally, .9% are elite and hold extremely high positions in government/military/business positions, and the last .1%...are very hard for anyone to deal with.

What they do in the military depends on how you define the scope of "magic". Obviously you have to have fire and lightning just because...but is telepathy involved? Clairvoyance? Really, clairvoyance would be a whole field of study right there. Here are a few possible dimensions to only clairvoyance:

  • Breadth: varying levels of precision depending on timewise distance from the present (5 minutes from now is more precise than 5 days. This doesn't have to be linear...perhaps some wizards are better farther in the future than close to the present.)
  • Spacial: varying levels of precision depending on spacewise distance from the current location of the wizard (1 mile away is more precise than 100 miles. Again, not necessarily linear...perhaps some wizards have a spacial locus that is a loved one, or maybe the distance is relative to the location of Jim Morrison's remains, who knows.)
  • Scale: varying levels of precision depending on the physical scale of the event (tiny events may be more clear than large-scale events. Some wizards might specialize in predicting the patterns of the world economy, others might be very good at knowing whether or not the mechanism in one gun is going to jam on the 23rd bullet in the magazine.)
  • Meaning: varying levels of precision depending on the living subject (The wizard can predict personal events with greater precision than events in someone else's life. Or maybe a wizard has their meaning locus attached to a loved one, or a pet, or maybe their future sight is not oriented toward living things at all.)

That is just clairvoyance...and a third of the population has magic, you say...well, I would recommend a very strict definition of magic to make this all a bit easier.

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An incompetent king can have the most powerful army in the world, but he will be stomped upon by any rising military genius. See this example:

King Darius is a man of his time. He follows the current tactics of his time, without questioning their usefulness or the possiblity that they are outdated.

King Alexander is a genius of his time. He innovates, by creating new tactics and refining old ones.

Both Darius and Alexander train a number of highly trained wizards.

Darius creates a single unit that behaves in battle like a group of archers.

Alexander tests the strenghts and weakness of his wizards, and distributes them accordingly inside his army. He wins battles against progressively stronger enemies.

Alexander wipes the floor with the armies of Darius.

Alexander proceeds to wipe the floor with dozens of armies belonging to other kings.

Alexander dies of old age, and his empire is broken by disputes between heirs.

Everyone adopts the tactics of Alexander. The tactics are followed without innovations for hundreds of years.

Hundreds of years later, a new military genius is born, let's call him Julius Caesar. He innovates the tactics, wipes the floor with other leaders, etc. Rinse and repeat.

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Economic growth tends to foster more economic growth

Economies are like feedback loops going into a microphone. (I'm not a real economist, so this analogy will be a little strained. Bear with me.) As an economy heats up, it feeds back into itself, making itself heat up more. The people who are doing well have more resources to spend, and that tends to bring others into the web of activity.

(The reverse is also true: economic woe tends to sow more more woe.)

The ROI on training a mage is immense

You haven't outlined what kind of powers the mages have, or whether they can develop new techniques via research, or how any of it works. But in general, the value that the average peasant's work will generate before they become a mage is so much less than the value they will be able to generate afterwards, that it will easily dwarf the cost of training all but the most useless of them.

Profligate mage training kingdoms will outperform stingy ones

The more mages you have, the more new mages they can train. The more mages there are, the more leeway you have to do far-off deep research, the kind that only pays off when, after decades of failure, you finally figure out how to (oh let's say) heal a previously-untreatable disease, cause an earthquake, or set up a telecommunications network.

Paying for this training won't be as much of a problem as you may think. One of the natural side effects of having a huge supply of mages will be a huge stream of income as people hire them for all kinds of things.

Consequently countries that have very liberal mage training policies will tend to be richer and more powerful than those that don't.

To actually answer the question

Unless the discovery of magic is recent, the world will have probably already progressed into an age of sufficiently-advanced magic to be indistinguishable from technology. Armies will be full of mages doing all kinds of magecraft, and the only use for a non-mage will be as support staff, perhaps bodyguards, and probably also spying.

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