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All individuals contain mana, the life force of a human that can also be used to power spells. People are born with various levels of mana, with some having larger pools than others. This determines the strength of their magic and the power of their spells. The amount of mana a person has also becomes rarer the larger it is, with a rare few having extremely high levels. This naturally makes them some of the most powerful mages in the world.

However, time marches on. magical and technological advances grew along side each other, eventually combining to form magitech. Society runs on magitech, leading to rapid innovation and the growth of civilization. There are now machines built to hold large amounts of mana, far larger than any human being can contain. This would allow for mages of various levels to use them as repositories to power their magic. With this development, the weakest mages can access the most powerful spells, making high level mages redundant.

Technological advances inevitably replaces jobs that were once considered essential, such as male dominance on the battlefield with the advances in weaponry. This is not what I want here. I need for high mana reserves to somehow remain relevant in a changing world, despite recent innovations. How can I make this possible in a world where everyone has access to magitech?

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    $\begingroup$ Technology exists for the sole purpose to make things easier that we are too lazy or too poor or born too physically handicapped to do ourselves. $\endgroup$ – Kay May 15 at 19:56
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    $\begingroup$ Everyone has access to magictech. Can you be more specific on this front? Do you mean the access and technology is equivalent to the modern day real world? $\endgroup$ – Daron May 15 at 21:38
  • $\begingroup$ Why do people study martial arts when firearms are readily obtained? Or practice weightlifting when there are such things as forklifts? $\endgroup$ – jamesqf May 16 at 4:24
  • $\begingroup$ Ad: say no to dozing off while levitating, introducing Flying Boots 2000 comes with built-in alarm clock. Batteries not included. $\endgroup$ – user6760 May 16 at 4:31
  • $\begingroup$ AWS's latest offering: The Mana Cloud $\endgroup$ – alexdriedger May 16 at 19:15

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The mana stored by the machines isn't quite the same, as natural mana has different composition better for spellcasting

In our world, we harvest the blood of horseshoe crabs, as it has special substances we use in the medical field. Now, why don't we synthesize these chemicals like we do with so many others? Simple, we can't. Some of the chemicals present in their blood simply can't be synthesized by technology.

Something similar can be seen in diamonds. Can we make them? Yes we can. Are the ones we make exactly the same as natural ones? Not by a long shot, to the point specialists can tell apart by sight (with the help of magnifying glasses, but by sight nonetheless).

Your mana follows a similar path. Mana exactly like that produced by humans can't be synthesized and are very difficult to storage outside of a human body. The "artificial" mana, while great for powering magitech tools and still usable in spells, is vastly inferior to the more refined, more energetic and more spell-efficient mana (think the relation between crappy alcohol and top grade gasoline). Fueling spells with artificial mana can be done, but requires amounts so high that it makes it cheaper to just hire a better mage to do it.

Summing up, the secret here is quality. I'd go with a society that has 2 types of mana: 1- the synthetic mana, which is easier to produce and store (therefore a more compatible energy source in a more industrial society which uses it on a daily basis) and is more compatible with magitech; and 2- the natural mana, naturally produced by living beings, much more powerful, trickier to extract and store, and, most importantly, infinitely more compatible with spellcasting.

That way, while it'll be true that low level mages will still be able to cast high level spells, to do so they'll need such a high amount of synth mana that it just won't be worth the trouble.

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    $\begingroup$ The best artificial diamonds are indistinguishable except by chemical testing. In fact the way to tell the difference was that the artificial ones were better quality crystals with fewer impurities and a more regular structure. The idea that natural diamonds are really different is just propaganda. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix May 16 at 21:11
  • $\begingroup$ The issue isn’t objective quality. Organic mana might sell well at the Whole Foods but the issue is what best fits the purpose. Mechanized mana can be preferable in certain situations. Doesn’t mean either is always better. But, as with anything new, it takes people awhile to realize that. $\endgroup$ – candied_orange May 17 at 14:52
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Mana batteries are Massive and Expensive.

You said everyone has access to magitech but the question is hard to answer without knowing how much access and what level the technology is at. So I'll just give one example. . .

Battle tanks are not used for personal protection. egg

Upsides: These things have loads of armor and heavy weaponry. It can move much faster than a person can run and is as all-terain as a land vehicle can be.

Downsides

  1. Expensive
  2. Probably illegal to buy or own as a civilian.
  3. I don't know how to drive a tank -- do you?
  4. Too big to fit in my driveway.
  5. Terrible mileage to the gallon.
  6. Main gun can't fire at anything less than a mile away.

Magic batteries are about the size of a tank. The military own a few that launch fireballs and have made staged battles obsolete. They also have a few that power large magical shields. There is a big one one in the centre of government buildings that runs the telephone system. Aviation companies have a few to power their airships, but they are subject to tedious paperwork and constant inspections. There is one in the hospital that safely teleports tumors out of peoples bodies. The blacksmith's guild jointly own one that purifies iron ore on an industrial scale.

Each battery does one thing and one thing only. The guild machine does not purify copper. The fireball machines do not launch lightning bolts. That's because the piece of machinery needed to channel the energy is just as big as the battery itself.

Got a job that is not on an industrial scale and requires some degree of flexibility, subtlety or cost-efficiency? Better hire a human.

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  • $\begingroup$ Re #2, if you happen to have the money (say $50K and up), it's perfectly legal to own a tank in the US, and in a number of other countries: exarmyvehicles.com/offer/tracked-vehicles/tanks $\endgroup$ – jamesqf May 16 at 4:34
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf: I will take your word for that but ask two follow up questions (1) Can I also buy the ammunition? and (2) Can I drive it on the roads without being pulled over? $\endgroup$ – Daron May 16 at 10:21
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf: Only fifty grand? That is quite a bit cheaper than a lot of cars! $\endgroup$ – Daron May 16 at 10:23
  • $\begingroup$ IDK about ammunition, but I think driving on the roads would be a no-no. Not because it's a tank, but because it's a tracked vehicle. Same as you couldn't drive your bulldozer on the roads - at least without special rubberized treads. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf May 16 at 18:10
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf : even if you could own one legally, it's not practical to be used in home defense. If a burglar breaks through your window, your tank in the garage or on the driveway won't protect you against him. A simple shotgun or pistol in your bedroom, however, could do the job. Some people wonder how flamethrowers and gatling guns are less regulated than full auto pistols or SMGs, but it's logical: a small full-auto firearm can be easily smuggled into a crowded place to start a massacre. But no one yet did a school shooting with a 20 mm autocannon (as you can't even carry it around easily) $\endgroup$ – vsz May 17 at 10:34
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Make the technological magic "batteries" very heavy. Yes, a lower mage can cast the same spells as an arch-mage, but only when he is plugged into his vehicle size magic battery. The arch-mage, whose natural mana reserves and recovery-rate are enough for all but the most powerful (tech-enhanced-only) spells, is more agile than his augmented counterparts. A ninja compared to minigun-totting Rambo with three porters to carry his spare ammo.

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  • $\begingroup$ A ninja isn't nearly as destructive as a minigun-Rambo... but just imagine being able to have robot arms that become mini-guns and a "bag-of-holding" ammo pouch with 10,000 rounds vs normal soldier with 3 support guys lugging 500 lbs of ammo. $\endgroup$ – Nelson May 16 at 9:11
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POOR MACHINE TO HUMAN TRANSFER (and good old economics):

Mana comes out of people easily, absorbing into matrices pre-designed to carry out highly specialized tasks. Any old mage using a computer can lift crates or run a magic car, or make a magiphone call. Users have enough training to do all the tasks needed to run and survive in a techno-magical society, but can't throw fireballs (that's what a staff is for) or mind-read (that's what a police interrogator is for) or fly (that's what a plane is for).

But while everyone can maybe warm their coffee with a routine warming spell, why heat a pool? There's a machine for that, and no one but a few quirky mages have that kind of juice on hand. You can't just transfer the power OUT of a machine, that's really hard, and painfully slow. Even if you could, you could only absorb a limited amount to do the magic anyway (unless you're one of those weirdos with huge capacity).

Furthermore, to keep their technological society running, everyone has mana drained from them in their sleep as a sort of tax. Sure, those quirky people with tons of mana are hardly affected, but the regular Joe can't do magic except with a device because he's sucked near dry every night. The weirdos with extra magic can use it at will, or sell the excess and get rich.

In any situation that requires flexibility, or advanced spells on demand, or independent functioning, powerful mages would have a huge advantage. The beat cop has a magic wand, but the powerful mage detective can cast a spell on the spot without any device and auger the direction the thief went. The magic soldier can carry a fireball staff, but when confronted with a fire-resistant dragon, the mage can shoot lightning or paralyze. At the least, there would be mage special forces, and most likely it would be a competitive advantage in most fields.

Finally, all that magic is expensive - both the mana and the devices. Mana costs, and the power company is a real racket (and monopoly). The self-sufficient powerful mage has more money because he can sell mana, but also because he doesn't need a mana-phone; he can just cast a spell for it. Teleporting to Hawaii costs thousands of dollars - unless you got that Mage-college education, and can do it at will.

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Versatility

Sure you can get a wand that throws fireballs and any clown can use it but what if you want to throw a lightning bolt instead?

The key is people can cast whatever spell they like while magitech is limited to the spell enchanted into the device at the time of creation.

Devices might be faster and more efficient but humans are still the perfect multifunction tool by being able to cast any spell they like.

Look at soldiers. You can fit them out with fireball wands but if they get attacked by something fireproof, those wands are useless and it's all down to natural abilities.

A wand can teleport you to a set location but only a human can teleport you to a custom location.

A wand is no good if you don't have the one you need, when you need it. You can't heal that person hit by a car if your healing wand is at home.

Natural abilities will always have a place in society.

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I do believe the answer here lies in the first sentence of your question:

All individuals contain mana, the life force of a human that can also be used to power spells

Magitech may have provided a means to store larger charges of that life force, Keyword being storage. Lesser mages may be capable of 'using' the charge, however, given how relatively common they are, it would be more appropriate if they were the ones to supply the life force to create the stored charge. The 'Greater' mages on the other hand, would be better primed to channel higher capacities of Mana without burning themselves out, as the result of their very nature.

For reference, consider Celia Friedman's Coldfire trilogy, In which the Fae (mana) is a natural resource that can be channelled by adept individuals, in addition to more common sorcerers, However the raw power of that mana varies and can burn out those who try to control power beyond their ken.

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People have mana capacities, not levels

Individuals with naturally high amounts of Mana are actually just bigger vessels and can generate/collect/however-your-folks-don't-deplete-their-life-force Mana more easily.

While the new mana storage technology allows for people of lower Mana capacity to cast advanced spells, they either take longer to set up, or can cause lasting damage to the user.

Think of people like pipes, better mages are simply wider pipes, which mean that when not casting spells (e.g. a "closed valve") they can store more Mana in them, but also means that while they are casting ("open valve"), they can channel a larger volume of Mana per unit of time.

By contrast, a bad mage is like a drinking straw, and can rupture from overpressuring it by tapping into a Mana reserve too large. Even worse, ruptured mages lose their "Mana valve" and end up unable to hold or control any significant amount of magic, leaking it into their environment and becoming a sort of "Mana-disability".

This better "Mana conductivity" means powerful mages are still very relevant, and actually made even more powerful by the advent of Mana storage, since now they can cast powerful spells even longer.

Whereas in the ages of old, it took hundreds of archmages to build the Pyramids of Giza in a year, nowadays a single mage contractor can telekinetically build a skyscraper in a week.

(of course, tweak the numbers to your liking)

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Machines with the power to deploy their own mana are very dangerous.

Anything with a lot of mana is potentially dangerous. But even with much mana, human beings remain human. Living beings are living beings first, with any magical changes overlaid on thought processes developed over millions of years of evolution.

Machines do not have that. A machine imbued with immense amounts of life force becomes something other than a simple machine. Maybe the life force itself takes control with Gaialike interests and goals. Or the machine becomes something alien and weird, with inscrutable motives but nearly infinite ability to attain them.

There are still some machines like this, built back before people realized the danger. Mostly people hope not to encounter one. Very occasionally, a person might seek one out.

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You stated

  • All individuals contain mana, the life force of a human that can also be used to power spells. People are born with various levels of mana, with some having larger pools than others. This determines the strength of their magic and the power of their spells.

  • I need for high mana reserves to somehow remain relevant in a changing world, despite recent innovations. How can I make this possible in a world where everyone has access to magitech?

    I have not fully understood the meaning which I interpret as people with the highest mana reserves.

A general considerations: who has access to the synthetic mana produced by technology, nonetheless has his own limits by nature. Technology helps to improve your limits, seldom changing the rules of ranking: in some cases it can be decisive the maximum quantity of mana you can access, in other the time needed to recharge or to recover, in other the capacity to focus and the endurance.

  1. Maximum mana allowed. The spell may arrive to use that maximum (the mage's one) and not more. Maybe it can be cast many times but each time with not more than that amount (even here the technology may help but within a fixed extent and not more).

  2. Recharge. Casting a spell may first deplete the caster mana reserve, that has to be replaced later by the synthetic one. The procedure can be time consuming, dangerous even if faster than the natural case.

  3. Focus. Mages must focus (concentrate) to control a spell. They could have all the magic fuel reserve you want, but without proper control it can be vain or risky.

  4. Endurance. Exceeding the magicians' resistance limits could lead to a lack of concentration then to fail the spell or to make the magician ill, to poison the used mana pool or to any other negative effect you can imagine.

  5. High competence. Some family of spells, the most high level of proficiency may be accessible only to the one(s) with the highest natural levels.

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Possible reasons:

  • stealth - small total amount of mana used goes undetected while properly directed can have huge impact
  • power is often less important than precision/speed/mastery (e.g. whether you are struck with 10kW lightning or 1000000kW lightning yields same result (unless you are prepared with a shield)
  • magic is an art - you could do more with more efficient magic (e.g. 10kW power heating 1sqrm produces more visible result than 1000kW heating 1000sqrm)
  • machine/artifact usage might be a double egde sword where enemy could tap into same power when close enough or channel is created in whatever way
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I can think of two reasons off-hand based on two reasons why one would have that in the first place. The issue is not coming up with a reason, but justifying it under the rules of the world.

If a person's capacity is to be relevant, then there has to be a reason that stems from either the progress of magitech, or from the laws of magic.

#1: Any One Battery can only hold one person's mana efficiently

While mana capacitors can be mass-produced and storage units are fairly common, people and businesses have run into the problem that after a person dumps mana into the device, another cannot efficiently add to it until the system has been emptied.

This makes some sense if you compare it to the physical world -- if you transplant an organ from one person to another, then there is the real likelihood of rejection. While putting a second person's magic doesn't cause a large-scale rejection, it does mean that an appreciable amount of power is spent making the new power compatible with the mana that is already there.

One could try to strip the person's life from the magic itself, but that leads to losses as well. It is a bit better, but not perfect.

However, if you have a person with an absurdly large natural capacity that refills fast ... then that person can fill a mana capacitor up fast with only one person's mana -- their own. There is no need to try to uses loopholes and workarounds in order to be able to get multiple people to fill up a reservoir.

No matter why this is, the point is that if one person can fill a tank of magical gas much faster than a team of two or three, then that person will be of value, if only as a better power outlet.

#2: Magitech still needs casters in some manner

This relies a bit less on raw inborn ability than it does for training.

While machines can laser-etch the appropriate circle on a sheet of purified copper, or precision burn the runes into an object, the root of the matter is that at some point a person has to actually cast the spells needed to activate the magitech. Once cast, a magical battery might be able to keep it going but the fact is that a battery for whatever reason cannot cause that initial ignition of a magical item.

For many mass-produced things like everglowing streetlamps, this might be done in a workshop/factory on an assembly line. Depending on the level of magic needed to actually initiate the item, having a large capacity might just mean that you can work for 8 or 9 hours safely as opposed to 4 or 5 for the average magitech technician

For this, by expending magic casting the initial spells, one is growing their capacity no matter how slowly it is happening. This would lead to some people having large capacities by the simple manner of working their magical abilities and getting stronger with them.

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Perhaps the amount of mana each person had was actually the same, but some people could use their limited mana much more efficiently, thus seeming like they'd have more of it. Now the mana stored in machines is indeed more than what's stored in the mages, allowing poor mages to cast the stronger spells. Obviously the efficient mages are still efficient, and now they can cast insanely stronger spells using the large mana reservoirs.

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Perhaps the magitech (I hate that word, I'd just use "technology" in a book) has made the archmage obsolete for most purposes. Any well-trained mage with a battery can outperform the archmage.

However, what happens when the story moves in a different direction? What happens, when for whatever reason, the magical technology is taken away. Then the archmage is useful again.

Why could it be take away? Well, this could be post-apocalyptic in that setting. It could be that the characters went on a three-hour boat tour, ran into a storm, and are now castaways on a deserted island. Perhaps they are in a war, and the batteries ran out of power at the wrong time (either naturally, or because the enemy figured out a way to drain the batteries).

In each of these possible scenarios, being a natural archmage would be very useful.

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So your world has magic batteries, essentially? Then wouldn't that mean that

  1. A person with more mana could fill them up faster, thus still having more frequent access to the same level of magic

  2. People can still get to different levels of magic until they need technological assistance, meaning they're less reliable

Additionally, interfacing with magitech could be more difficult than just using magic naturally, so it might just be more mentally draining to people.

All those things considered, someone with a high natural mana pool seems like the better person for almost every magic-related job. I imagine they'd get paid more because they simply get more work done, leading to more social status and so on.

Then people with less magic, making less money, could buy less high-end magitech equipment, further increasing the gap.

Realistically speaking, this could even lead to some hardcore social segregation based on magic potential, even worse than the things we've seen in the real world.

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You're asking something quite hard here. What you want to know is the equivalent of asking how to maintain your (pre-industrialisation) stableyard in a world of motorbikes. Regardless of how fit or fast your horses are, a motorbike is faster and has greater range.

Yet stableyards still exist in our world of cars and motorbikes, they just don't fill quite the same niche they used to.

The fact stableyards still exist gives you hope for your natural mana pools, but I suspect you don't want to be reduced to hipsters on holiday. I'm also going to make certain other assumptions here, the primary one being that the magitech is mature, there's no messing around with reliability, unstable supplies, or tedious compatibility isues.

Commercially

This is probably a dead loss. Your average Joe hooked up to the magical mains at a fixed point or on the office wifi. You're on hiding to nothing here, that's what I'm assuming this whole system was developed to cope with. Mains magic is just better.

On the other extreme:

Hipsters on holiday

I know I said you probably didn't want to be reduced to this, but it still exists as a theme. Wild country, no external power, reduced to your natural reserves and regeneration. Living the dream.

However this leads us down the recreational path:

Sport

A magical world will have some sort of magical sports, and external power supplies are obviously banned in any sporting event. This is where your high natural mana pool people will be able to make their fortunes.

Of course individual prowess has other uses:

Special forces

Out in the wilds for an unknown period in hostile territory, no option to replenish batteries, minimal resupply. The team will be asked to go up against fresh units with full logistical support, there's a real space for archmages here.

Search and rescue

This follows the general theme of isolation from a technological base. There's only so much power you can carry, so much each individual can draw on from a limited mobile supply. The more each individual team member carries personally, the more effective the team as a whole can be.

Perhaps rather than horses and motorbikes, the correct comparison is: "What's the point of being physically fit in a world of cars and electric wheelchairs?"

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Legend of Korra is the second season of Avatar the last Airbender an Anime which combines technology and magic.

In the second season we can see how the powerful mages in the show become basically slaves by producing electricity for the entire city with lightning magic.

Police enforcement is decided by natural magic, only those who can magically control metals get to be policemen.

And normal people in an effort to rebel and thrive against those born with special powers develop technology that makes magic useless and redundant and can sometimes even surpass the natural born talent of the great masters of magic.

The show has also a Chosen one archetype... Were a super powerful mage is born randomly and she or he is the most powerful human in the world... But people manage to beat their ass by developing greater technology.

I believe this is the natural course of situations like this and can't be helped, but also makes every story more interesting.

Who cares to read about how a guy born with God powers plays the world as he likes? Everyone cheers for the underdog.

And if you leave your system unbalanced, eventually the naturally born super mages will become the underdogs of your story in a world where technology stole their sole reason of existence.

If I made you curious, just trust me and don't watch the show, at least not the second season... It has good worldbuilding but the second season is basically rushed and made by a tumblr girl with 0 talent in storytelling and bad memory.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is off-topic, weirdly political, and inaccurate (it's a sequel series, and if it were the same series, it'd be seasons 4-6, not 2). $\endgroup$ – Matthew Wells May 16 at 8:55

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