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Witches are broken down into three classes. Class A have a limited supply of Mana, and must work in tandem with other witches to combine their power in order to pull off many spells. However, their spells can be done quickly, and their Mana recharge rate is fast. This allows them to do multiple spells a day. On the other side of the spectrum is Class C, which have a larger supply of Mana than normal. This allows them to perform powerful spells singlehandedly. However, their spells take much longer and their recovery rate is very slow. This affords them only a handful of spells a day. In the middle fall the vast majority of the population, class B, who have a general mix of both affinities.

For centuries, this has kept different classes equal with each other in the magic system. Powerful witches didn't become broken character badasses that could dominate everyone else, weaker witches would not get pwnd, and most would fall somewhere in between. However, the March of technology has led to a new product becoming available: synthetic Mana. This is an artificially created form of Mana sold in the form of potions. This has managed to revolutionize witchcraft.

Synthetic Mana doesn't add power to the witch, but rather recharges an individual's Mana after being used. This returns a person to their original state by bypassing their natural recovery rate, allowing them to return to full power in a shorter amount of time. Artificial Mana was at first difficult to produce, as it required massive machines with expensive batteries. Today however, it is cheap to manufacture and easily produced in high quantities. This has allowed society to enter it's industrial revolution phase, in which items can be easily made much quicker and cheaper than before, making them relatively inexpensive for the average consumer.

A powerful individual with a high Mana account can buy these potions in bulk and use it to return to full power quickly, overcoming their disadvantage and disrupting the balance of power that the magic system has created. How can I prevent this from happening to keep the system stable ?

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  • $\begingroup$ Did you ask a similar question about artificial mana a while back? I remember I said artificial mana batteries should weight several tonnes, and the machine for processing the mana should be equally huge and expensive. $\endgroup$ – Daron Sep 20 at 14:06
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    $\begingroup$ One problem is that economies of scale do disrupt systems. Look at the industrial revolution. $\endgroup$ – NomadMaker Sep 21 at 9:51
  • $\begingroup$ From your description it seems like Class A to C all have nearly the same absorption of mana, but have different storage capacities. Everything that a Class A can do a Class C should be able to do equally well. $\endgroup$ – Phil M Sep 30 at 0:48
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1: Potion Abuse.

At the moment being a Class C witch with potions is strictly better than being a Class A witch. Especially if the potions are cheap enough to chug one, cast Create Lace, sell the lace, buy another potion and repeat.

To keep the balance you need some extra downside to Class A + Potions. I suggest potions are damaging in the long term. They clog up the leylines with articial mana that takes a while to declog. So you get a short term boost but then there is a recovery time. If you chug too many then you might ruin your leylines completely.

It's similar to sugar addiction. You get a burst of energy in the short term but then you crash. Overuse leads to obesity and diabetes. Inabulity to produce your own insulin/mana. Also both compounds are addictivee, and this leads to a stigma on overuse.

2: Potions are Produced by Class A Witches.

Class A witches are still valuable because they are what produce potions in the first place. These witches have a small mana pool. Once the pool is full they start leaking mana into the environment. This mana is harmless but can be harvested: Each Class A witch carries an amulet that absorbs the overflow mana. From here it cannot be used directly. But the amulet can be cheaply processed by grinding it up into a potion.

3: Class C need more Training.

All people produce mana at the same rate. The difference is their ability to hold it within their body without it leaking out. Class A witches can hold onto some mana and release it by casting spells. Class C can hold onto a lot of mana but this makes it harder to release the mana since their body naturally wants to hold onto it. Thus they need more training but have higher potential.

Don't even ask me about Class Z witches. . . .

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    $\begingroup$ "chug one, cast Create Lace, sell the lace, buy another potion and repeat" reminds me of Runescape... $\endgroup$ – user253751 Sep 21 at 8:33
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Few ideas:

Artificial Mana is, cheap, mass produced, available everywhere, but also pretty heavy.
A dose suitable to recharge a C back up to full mana would weigh about 40kg. But for an A it's only about 4kg. You can realistically only carry so much with you at once.

Using a spell on mana causes it to explode violently, so no "Bag of Holding" or "Wingardium Leviosa" to help with the extra weight.

This puts an upper limit on how much you can carry into battle, but you can still use it in factories for your industrial revolution.

Artificial Mana is fragile in high quantities
Your society only has fragile glass to store the potion in, meaning you can't easily keep 50 in your backpack and expect them to still be when you look later.

The potion is highly acidic and needs to be stored in glass or plastic only.

Or it could be like plutonium, where if you put 10kg of it together it blows up.

Artificial mana has a short "Use by" date
Once you get it out of the shop, a bottle only last a few days before it decays. Perhaps its the UV light. Perhaps its the loving surroundings of the factory which made it. Maybe it needs refrigeration? Who knows?

But if you bring 100 bottles of mana into a battle and only end up using 5 of them, you're going to end up pouring 95 of them down the drain, at considerable expense.

Diminishing returns
Your bodies mana system gets less and less efficient at absorbing the mana. The first bottle gives you 100 mana. The second 99. Then 97. Then 94. Then 90. Then 85. Etc. Eventually you get nothing from them. The only way to reset the counter to 100 is to wait 24 hours for your body to break the cycle.

Its a weak poison
Acetone or Methanol is part of the ingredients. Your liver can metabolise it, but only at a limited rate. Drink more than a few mouthfulls per hour and you'll get sick.

Its intoxicating
Its only absorbed when mixed with high proof alcohol. A shot of vodka-mana will recharge a C's mana, but 3 shots and you'll be unable to aim, and 10 shots and you are going to wake up with a magically-sharpied-face. A's only need a tiny sip to fully recharge.

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Why would it make it better for the class C witches? Its the class A's that will benefit!

A class C witch not only has a longer recharge rate, it also has longer times to cast spells.

A class A witch has short spells and short regeneration.

Lets say class C witches require 10 potions to refill their total mana pool, and a class A witch could do it in half a potion. The class A with is still able to cast faster and regenerate faster than a class C witch.

Then consider having to down 10 potions in quick succession, assuming one potion is the size of a drinking glass (about 300ml where I'm from) you've now downed 3 liters of potion in a short time! That's not going to be a pleasant experience any day. Even if you assume the mana component is absorbed, any residue will remain in your intestines.

Results:

  • all class witches can drink about the same maximum mana per hour as their bodies have to deal with the residue and absorbtion rate.

  • the class A witches can regen fully and cast spells many more times a day similar as before as they reach full mana more quickly.

  • after the mana chugging match the witches all rely on their natural regeneration rate again.

  • class C witches still have the same long duration spells keeping them from dominating.

  • class A witches working together can combine their mana-chugging rate, giving them the ability to absorb much much more mana per day than any class C!

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Taking Artificial Mana is Like Taking Anabolic Steroids or Opiates:

In biology, you can produce all sorts of compounds that miraculously allow people to make their bodies do what they normally do, but on your own terms. Opiates to relieve pain, estrogen to overcome shortfalls, erythropoietin to stimulate red blood cell productions, ect.

So why doesn't everyone take this stuff constantly? The body is lazy. If you give it tons of something it normally produces on it's own, it stops producing it. Or it becomes insensitive to what you are adding because it increases the number of surface receptors needed to activate for an effect, or decreases the number of receptors to make your cells less responsive. Excess testosterone is broken down into what is functionally estrogen, leading to feminization.

The body seeks to maintain itself as a system at homeostasis. Medication at it's best adjusts for a failure of homeostasis, or compensates for an acute crisis the body can't deal with on it's own.

The exact way your witches respond to overwhelming synthetic mana could vary, and most of these answers touch on them nicely. The opiate model is one where the body no longer produces enough opiate to give an appropriate physiological response compares to synthetic. A person can no longer even feel normal without the synthetic opiate, requiring it to do as well as they did before. Your mana users would stop regenerating mana on their own all together, so your C class witches would come to be dependent on potions. Your A class witches, with little benefit from potions, would not use them and would be like they always were. B class would fall in the middle. This fits well with the model where some people are naturally prone to substance abuse, while others are relatively resistant.

The hormonal model would be like taking anabolic steroids. You push the performance of your person, but unintended side effects occur as you twist the bodies natural homeostasis out of whack. Things in your body (like behavior) you may not want altered are altered, and your body trying to restore homeostasis and deal with unwanted excess may fight your intended effects and result in paradoxical effects on the body than those intended.

So look no further than how the body deals with drugs for a model of synthetic mana. Be sure everyone reads that long list of side effects carefully. Hey, what's this about anal leakage, bleeding, and increased risk of cancer?

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Look at similar situations for an answer.

Looking in non-magical terminolgy, it feels like "recovery" can be very similar to the rcovery period atheletes must undergo between periods of training to recover their strength.

There are natural differences that allow some people to recover more quickly than others. And there are synthetic solutions, steroids, that allow consumers to bypass their natural recovery limitations for faster artificial ones.

Why aren't steroids used more often?

Actually, in medicine and under physician control steroids are used a lot to quicken recovery following surgery or to help fight off infection.

In private use, theres an entire market for unregulated or loosely regulated steroid-equivalents that help recovery. Protein shakes, protein bars, power drinks, and similar kinds of products. These are giving a lot of people who want an athletic lifestyle, but lack the time and money to exercise as a day job, access to that way of life at an almost-competitive level.

Even professional atheletes have been given access to a range of performance enhancement that is deemed legal or legal by each sport in a variety of contexts. The principle that seems to guide making a boost illegal is discovery of some terrible long-term health effect.

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Using too much mana in a short time is dangerous

The reason Class C witches don't regenerate mana very rapidly is a form of natural protection their body has evolved to protect them. Channeling a large spell puts strain on the body (and/or mana system). Due to natural selection, the mana recovery time roughly equates to the minimum time needed for the body to recover from the strain from casting a large mana-intense spell.

Artificial mana allows the witch to bypass this limit and refill their mana reserves instantly, allowing them to cast large spells repeatedly in a short period of time. Unfortunately, this can cause major damage to the witch if done too frequently, causing injury in the short term, and possibly killing them or rendering them unable to cast magic if they persist.

A rough analogy might be a strained leg muscle, you can continue walking on it, but if you try running or doing any heavy exercise with it, you're likely to damage it. Artificial mana might be a local anesthetic (or steroid, as others have proposed), allowing you to work through the pain, but it doesn't actually heal the muscle, and you can cause major (potentially permanent) damage if you don't let it rest.

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Stability is unlikely

It is exceedingly unlikely the balance of power around "mana recharge time" would stay at the same stable point after an industrial revolution scale change in how mana is recharged.

Any mechanism would have to be extremely contrived.

It would be like the balance of power between ranged and melee combat being maintained after people invent the AK-47 (or even a more primitive firearm).

This doesn't mean that the system will become unstable; the system will find a new stability. The transition period will often not look very nice.

Warfare still exists post-AK-47, it just doesn't look at all like pre-modern warfare. And people still own melee weapons. For the longest time they even mounted them on their ranged weapons. But the pre-gun balance between melee and ranged combat is completely gone.

Now, in that bloody transition, a form of stability could occur, where both sides still have weight. Inertia is a strong thing.

Real-world example

We can look at the industrial revolution itself. Prior to it in Europe, the primary wealth production was by a plague-ravaged depopulated populations with subsistence peasants whose surplus was harvested by the ruling classes. On this surplus the rest of the economy floated.

Stability was produced by the Malthusian trap, where more peasants increased production but produced less food and surplus food per capita.

The plague depopulated lands had a higher per capita surplus, allowing greater non-farm worker populations, and efficiencies of various non-farm productions grew (the practice effect, basically).

Land owners, able to produce almost as much food with fewer peasants (or other resources; highland grazing of sheep, for example), and with demand for production in urban areas, would kick the peasants off their land for them to migrate to the cities and join the industrial efforts and/or starve.

Over time this did lead to increased agricultural productivity per unit land and the increasing urban industrial productivity led to higher standards of living, but in the short term it was a bloodbath.

Fictional world effects

We'd expect a massive shift towards the economic power of class C witches, which often results in a shift in political power. Such a shift is resisted, leading to a bloodbath of violence. Either class A surrenders, or class A sees this coming and contains class C before it is too strong to stop.

This may not play out as class warfare, but as a proxy; sub-societies that that values C over A or A over C will have their relative power shift pretty rapidly.

As an example, suppose you have a country where all 3 classes have equal power, and a backwater where C has more power for legacy reasons. In the before-revolution, the first country is 3 times more powerful than the 2nd, and the 2nd only holds on because of geographic advantages of its position (defensive ones), or is a client state.

Then this revolution occurs, and the economic strength of the 2nd nation starts growing year after year. At some point is starts to enter into the same "class" as the first nation.

The first nation will have placed restrictions on the 2nd nations powers (colonies, resources, whatever). The 2nd nation will chafe at these, and start violating those restrictions. The first will respond. And the conflict will escalate.

Typically it comes to a head with violence; the first nation will draw a line in the sand, the 2nd will cross it, the first will back down and draw another. Eventually the first nation will hold its ground and conflict will result. If this happens early enough, the first nation will win (at political cost). If it happens too late, the second nation will win (and treat its former oppressors impolitely).

If the 2nd wins, we have a new dominant power, and the world switches over to its economic model.

If the 1st wins, we instead get a period of brushfire oppression, as other areas start mimicing 2nd nations economic model and out pacing the 1st nation's "balanced" approach. It then has to go in and smack it down.

Odds are a 3rd party nation, with a "balanced" approach, will be less zealous about maintaining its "balance" between the 3 classes of witches. The 1st nations adventures in oppressing class C-dominant witch societies will drain it, and the 3rd nation's relaxed approach to its society leaning towards class-C dominant will strengthen it.

Eventually the 1st nation falls apart from its failing economic performance, or there is a war between the 1st and 3rd nations over the 1st nation's over stretch, and it collapses.

(Alternatively, the 1st nation ends up stealing the 2nd nation's class-C dominant economic model over time, "becoming what they fought to defeat").

Pseudo-stable possibility

Now, in a story, you could maintain "balance" in a period after the first war above.

The 1st nation was the dominant one prior to (or in the initial parts of) the technological revolution, where all classes of witches are equal. Call this one Empire.

The 2nd nation was a "dark power" whose "cabal" tried to take over the world with "dark magic" fueled by mana potions. In this nation, class C witches are dominant (Propaganda or not, this is what the 1st nation would claim in order to encourage sacrifice). Call this one Upstart.

Empire wins the war over Upstart, oppressing the "class C first" dark magic philosophy of Upstart. Since then, they are fighting "dark witch" infestations world wide, and even domestically, as people start using the "dark magic" fueled by mana potions to generate more economic power (cast by class C witches).

Empire has no problem with the "grey magic" that class C witches can cast; this is the traditional balance, where class C witches cast different kinds of spells than class A witches. That grey magic is the things that class A witches cannot (who cast what I'll call "white magic"). It is only when the class C witches use mana potions to replicate class A witch magic -- what the nation calls dark magic -- that they step in and stop it.

What they call it exactly doesn't matter. In order for you to have a pseudo-stable situation, you need a force suppressing this new, economically powerful strategy of replacing class A witches with class C witches + mana potions. As there was a war against an Upstart regime that used this tactic, they will have villianized it somehow (to justify the costs of the war), and continue after the war.

This results in a social structure backed by violent oppression that maintains the monopoly of class A witches on a certain kind of magic. By blocking class C and B witches from doing that kind of magic, we maintain that class A witches have unique economic value. This preserves the balance between A and C (and hence B) witches.

The class A witches are the majority of the dominant countries population, and control a lot of the economy and politics. So this state-enforced monopoly is popular, and justified by claiming that the "dark magic" is evil and wrong.

The oppressed "dark magic" witches (in country) are forced to act like a criminal organization; sort of like drug dealers, if you are divorced from the enforcement mechanisms of the state, you have to do your own brutal ones. Every such "organized dark magic" crime is more evidence that the state is right in killing/imprisoning every dark magic witch.

(Any powerful economic activity, like class C witches replacing A with cheap mana potions, is going to generate a black market. If it is officially illegal, those doing it will form a criminal organization in order to enforce rules and protect themselves from the state. The worse the oppression, the bloodier the criminal organization.)

Overseas, Empire will support nations oppressing dark magic, and overthrow nations that are soft on it; in many places, the penalty for even reading about it is death or worse. If they don't, dark magic economies will grow and overthrow Empire; they have to be burned out before they grow.

Meanwhile, experiments in dark magic are done in controlled fashions, or hidden, at various institutions within the Empire; dark magic is going to be economically powerful (hence useful) and probably able to do things that conventional magic cannot.

A rival similar-scale nation to Empire is probably going to experiment more with dark magic than Empire is. Rumors about it will swirl, and the villianization will raise tensions. (This is one of the reasons why this isn't a stable situation, even with really brutal oppression; but you can pull it off for a medium long period of time).

And meanwhile, the bounds of "grey magic" leak into dark as the state uses it to maintain its power (against internal conspiracy and external threats).

Characters in your fiction, even the "dark witches", might take this framework as a given; that "dark magic" is evil. Despite there being noting "inherently" evil about dark magic. Many of its practitioners will be doing horrible things in order to form the required social bonds while being treated like criminals, which in turn is used to justify the oppression, which feeds back on itself.

TL;DR: A Solution

The main power of your world engages in violent oppression of class C witches who infringe up on a monopoly granted to class A (and B) witches. This violation was only economically feasible after mana potions existed.

This monopoly maintains the economic balance between A B and C.

Those that openly violate this monopoly are villianized and delt with extremely hashly. Nations that don't maintain this monopoly are invaded, overthrown, and (as a last resort) destroyed in righteous fury.

All powers actually violate this monopoly, because the economic advantages are large enough, and there are going to be strategic applications of mana-potion fueled class C magic that no state can afford to ignore. Each top-tier power has rumours (believed by their enemies) that they are engaging in the oppressed form of magic. Meanwhile, "edge cases" are moved from unacceptable to acceptable in some areas, backlashes occur, and blood flows everywhere.

Presuming mana potions continue becoming more efficient, the pressure to contain the new advantages class C witches have will eventually grow to the point that entire social structures crumble. But in the meantime, you can have a pseudo-stable situation.

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I'm not sure I have enough information on the setting itself or the narrative purpose you're after to provide the most well-rounded answer, but I'll offer a couple of possibilities that seem reasonable in your setup:

1. Regulation

This is a pretty easy an plausible one, depending on a few broad assumptions about your setting. Some person or group with the ability to enforce regulation of mana potions chooses to design and impose such regulation. Their reasons don't really matter, only the will to do so and the ability to follow through. By controlling the production, distribution, and/or use of the potions the regulator can establish a balance of power to their liking-- including maintaining the balance that existed before.

2. Class takes a backseat to potion access

Before the potion industry existed the most meaningful distinction of witchy-ness may have been the class rating system described in the question: how much mana can you make use of at once, and how much time needs to pass before you can do so again? Since these are directly related to one another, it appears to me that the operational distinction is how much magic can you perform per day?

Potions don't change what you can do per application of magic, they only change how many times per day you can apply your magic. If the potions are cheap to produce and generally available, there isn't much reason to think that their use won't scale with magical ability as well. For example, if Class A witches can cast 10 small spells per day and need one potion to recover their power, while Class C witches can cast 1 big spell per day and need 10 potions to recover their power, they might consume the potions at proportional rates with proportionally similar results: Class A people drink 10 potions per day and can therefore cast 100 spells, while Class C people drink 100 potions per day and can cast 10 spells. It's the same ratio of 10:1 all the way through.

The efficiencies the potions offer just make their consumers more productive than they would otherwise be. Total magical output increases, maybe a lot, but relative output between groups doesn't. Or at least doesn't have to.

To the extent that things are unbalanced, it seems more likely to me to be due to potion access. A Class C person and Class A person, neither of whom can get potions reliably, might have more in common with one another than with a person of the same magical class that does have easy access to potions. It's the lack of relative productivity that divides them, not their inherent properties-- they aren't any stronger or weaker than before, they just fall behind.

So there isn't any unbalancing with respect to magical capacity or application, though there is social and economic division relating to the new key constraint on magic-applied-per-day. It's like a print shop that employs calligraphers to hand-produce books versus a shop that has a newfangled printing press.

3. It's all about what you can efficiently do that others can't

Conversely, society is going to care about what witches can do with their powers more than anything else about them. If 10 Class A witches can produce the same effects as a single Class C witch, and vice-versa, then the potions are likely to be seriously destabilizing. Class C people used to be rate-limited in what they could do, regardless of other factors, while Class A people do not have that limitation (and can work together to overcome their lack of power relative to a Class C witch? I don't know the details). So Class A people could work faster, and accomplish just as much through working together as a lone Class C person.

The potions would disrupt that, because the rate limitation that before really only applied to Class C people no longer matters. If both classes of witch can do the same things, this is a massive advantage for Class C-- they can work more quickly, perhaps as quickly as a group of Class A witches, but without any need to coordinate with others.

But that disruption might play out in ways other than an emerging overclass of Class C witches. If each extreme class enjoys a different comparative advantage, their activities can differ without diminishing either group. It could easily be the case that Class C people were sometimes "wasted" on small tasks, and large groups of Class A people were cobbled together to do something big because there weren't enough well-rested Class C people around.

With the potions, those inefficient situations can be less common. Class C people specialize in big magical works, while Class A people corner the market on smaller-bore tasks. It's not a direct competition, it's a more efficient application of magical ability that makes everyone better off (in aggregate and on paper, at least).

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