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My medieval city, they’re having food problems. People just die on the streets clutching their bellies, children with skin sticking to their bones are a common sight, and there are reports of cannibalism in the darker areas of town.

The misuse of the land and the El Niño that comes every four years has rendered the crops useless. Any crops we had in the granaries were stolen last year by bandits.

Luckily, the town has come to be under new management. The top position in the town was just bought by some nice old man. However, what the people don’t know, is that this old man is actually a front for a large group. This group consists of people with modern knowledge, each person within this group specializes in a specific field. What this means, is that there’s a person on this group for every single field of science, technology, and politics.

The guy who specializes in farming took one look at the fields and went “tsk tsk”. He immediately had the leader of the town order the farmers to adapt crop rotation. He also started work on better farming tools, fertilizer and better irrigation practices.

Unfortunately, it still wasn’t enough. People were still starving even with the amount of food being even better than the last best harvest they’ve ever had.

Fortunately though, magic exists in this world. Enlisting the help of an elf who specializes in plant magic, they started work on a program to increase crop yields to modern day standards.

I just need a magic system that allows for medieval crops to be quickly developed into their modern counterparts. It mustn’t be too quick however, as that would probably make it boring.

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    $\begingroup$ Try using "croppus impruvus but not too fastus". Seriously, it's magic. It can do whatever you want and at the speed you want. What is the worlbuilding problem? $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Apr 4, 2020 at 10:08
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    $\begingroup$ (1) Modern crops cannot be grown with medieval agricultural technology. (2) What are those farmers doing in the town? That is not how medieval agriculture worked. (3) You'd better have the specialist in chemistry develop semi-modern fertilizers (ammonium nitrate, urea, phosphate), or else have the specialist in trade find a source of guano. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Apr 4, 2020 at 13:16
  • $\begingroup$ the Magic of GMO $\endgroup$
    – Li Jun
    Apr 4, 2020 at 16:57
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    $\begingroup$ modern crop varieties did not prevent starvation - global supply chains did. if it doesn't rain for 4 years in a certain county, it doesn't matter how good the crops are. also certain crops like corn continually have to be saved from their own "modern version" because monocultures are not resistant to pests and environmental changes. etc etc etc. nitpickers dilemma. $\endgroup$
    – don bright
    Apr 4, 2020 at 19:20
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    $\begingroup$ the simplest form of magic, travel, import better/unknown crops from other places, look at the humble potato which allows for massive crops yields and comes from a little part of south america. And remember it is possible to buy seeds from other towns. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Apr 5, 2020 at 18:20

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You only have crazy mutation magic.

This is not unlike what was done back in the Seventies to Italian grains. We irradiated seeds with neutron radiation and bathed them in ethylmethylsulfonate, then sat back and watched them grow. It took some years, but then a mutant strain took which had several desirable qualities. It was called "Creso" (after the Lydian king Croesus).

You can do the same using magic. Mages will concentrate a mild killing spell on a batch of seeds, not enough to really kill them all. To speed things up, other mages can try and make the seeds sprout faster.

Depending on luck (are there spells for that?) and green-thumb magic, you can go through six to ten generations within one year, then you have to let it go to seed and then you're in business.

Also, lots of interesting side effects, both wanted and unwanted, can come out of this approach. In the case of durum grain, for example, some suspect that the higher gluten content of the mutated grain, and possibly a slightly different gluten composition, might be at least in part responsible for an observed increased frequency of coeliac disease cases.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 for the crazy mutations. To force them and select the best yield is your bet approach. However I should note Coeliac disease morbidity isn't a thing. Gluten intolerance is very easily diagnosed and next to never fatal... $\endgroup$
    – Plutian
    Apr 4, 2020 at 12:48
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    $\begingroup$ @Plutian I was only reporting what someone is saying - but yes, coeliac morbidity is a thing. Maybe you were thinking of mortality? (For clarity's sake, however, I am replacing 'morbidity' with 'frequency') $\endgroup$
    – LSerni
    Apr 4, 2020 at 13:10
  • $\begingroup$ ah yes, you are right, I did confuse it for mortality. Thank you for changing it to make it clearer. $\endgroup$
    – Plutian
    Apr 4, 2020 at 13:44
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    $\begingroup$ @Plutian no, thank you - English is not my mother tongue, and I often have no 'feel' for what is clear and what isn't (and, needless to say, it almost always isn't :-) ). $\endgroup$
    – LSerni
    Apr 4, 2020 at 14:08
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    $\begingroup$ Bonus points: that magic was originally a curse which caused cancer... Usually used to cause people to day slow and ugly deaths. $\endgroup$ Apr 4, 2020 at 23:30
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Mutation magic combined with magical understanding of plants

LSemi gives a very good description of what you need to induce a lot of mutations in your plants. But mutating plants is only half the problem; you also need to choose plants which will grow well and produce large crops in this city's conditions. The plant magician might be able to study a seedling and learn what it will look like when it grows up, and how different conditions would affect it. The modern agriculturalist might know what properties to look for in a healthy plant.

Limited-scale growth magic for rapid testing

The other option is just to dramatically speed up the growth speed of a small number of plants, so that the team can see how the plants look when they are fully grown. The magic would have to be limited in some way, to prevent the growth magic being used for the whole society - maybe it needs constant attention from highly skilled mages (so the elf has to give up their other pursuits), or maybe it is really bad for the soil where it's done so it's frowned upon by other plant mages.

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  • $\begingroup$ Regarding the limitation: being “expensive” in any sense seems sufficient here. If the accelerated growing requires (say) ten to a hundred time as much manpower per acre as ordinary farming (whether from mages themselves, or less-skilled assistants), then it will be unfeasible for feeding the whole population, but quite achievable for a “Manhattan project” style breeding programme, with a few dozen scholars tending to a couple of fields of small crop plots. $\endgroup$ Apr 5, 2020 at 12:01
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My new novel War of the God Queen has a similar theme, with timeslipped women coming to the aid of a bronze-age society (which has a bigger problem with invading monsters too). Good farming practices and innovation in things like yoke design, plough design, irrigation and fertiliser use, use of biological methods to reduce pests etc will do it.

If someone can fly over to the New World and bring back potatoes they would have a quicker solution, or use time travel to bring back more advanced varieties that would do it. But if you have magic a 'create superior variety' spell should do it.

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Modern crops be dull. You can do better!

Boring is modern crops! Yes they feed the world but I think only a very select population revels in the coolness of crops. Make your magic crops AWESOME and a little creepy! They can be as good as modern crops at feeding, but magically weird.

Also then if you get one of the crop aficionados reading he will not be mad that you know little about crops. If you yourself is one, keep some elements of modern crops in your fiction - a tip of the hat to your fellow aficionado but you will not lose your audience of Warcraft fans.

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One of my world contains three planes, physic, magic, and aether. Magic is actually what bounds aether to physics. Aether is a place that is composed mostly of thoughts and logic. Physic cannot interact directly with aether.

Humans, animals, plants, stones, molecules, and atoms are physical, but they react to magic waves, and chemical/physical reactions create and modify magical waves.Plus, some magical waves will directly react with certain types of matter. (You can even make matter "disappear" by fully turning it into magical waves, and create matter "from nothing" using magical energy).

Some creatures and objects can live directly in the magical plane, mostly "eating" magical energy, but could use the physic and aether planes as means to create magical energy.

Aether is the realm of spirits, gods use special means to instantiate themselves into it, and human / animal thoughts and the law of physics/biology tend to create living thought forms in it.

Great human magicians are able to use magic to interact with the life forms in it, but also directly with the aether laws, using it they are able to create programs, send magical input into it, receive magical output. Some aether life forms are capable of storing information of events that occurred in the past, some might be able to predict roughly the future.

In such a world, one magician could theoretically use magic to simulate millions of crops breeding in the aether plane (maybe with the help of some kind of spirit that got created by the crops and thoughts of farmers combined) , select the ones that are okay, check which virtual crops made that, and compare them to the physical crops that are in front of him to accelerate the process.

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