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Ok, so this late-medieval fantasy setting in question has magic that isn't available to everyone.

A small percentage of the population is magically gifted, and only they can cast spells without the use of expensive magical items.

I've been coming up with some good ways to incorporate magic users naturally into societal niches that already exist, and came up with 4 basic ideas:

  • Formari Guildsmen - Essentially magical tradesmen, these are your typical peasants with magical potential and no formal schooling. They follow the classic apprenticeship structure and as a result their magic is highly specialized to the region their from and the difficulties in that region.
  • Alumni Practitioners - Learned scholars of magic who attend university. The old saying "knowledge is power" is incredibly relevant in the case of mages, and these mages are going to be the most versatile and well-rounded of practitioners. Obviously, this path is only available to the extremely wealthy, gifted, or lucky.
  • Warlocks - Essentially a magical Man-at-Arms. These practitioners focus their attention on learning combat techniques both physical and magical.
  • Witches - Women can learn magic too, but a patriarchal society can't have women doing men's work, so they get a class all to themselves. Witches function in much the same way as Formari Guildsmen with a societal push towards focusing on healing magic and midwifery.

In the primary kingdom that I plan on looking at, a handful of Alumni Practitioners travel around and test children when they reach the age of 13 for magical talent. Less than 1 in 200 pass the test. A child with magical talent is then usually inducted into whatever organization is appropriate according to their station and their parents' wishes.

As far as military applications of magic

There are essentially 3 types of magic that are relevant in the general melee:

  1. Physical enhancement - A skilled mage can enhance their own physical prowess in short bursts at the cost of feeling proportionally more tired later. This has obvious combat applications, and the average Warlock using nothing but this passive buff is considered a match for a dozen equally trained and equipped combatants.
  2. Magic Death Rays - Fireballs, Lightning, Sudden Poison Gas Clouds, a creative Warlock can kill swaths of unprepared soldiers in a variety of sudden and violent ways
  3. Magic Shields - A variety of magical countermeasures to Magic Death Rays have been created that are equally flashy, and reduce the effects of Magic Death Rays from army shattering to little more annoyance than a few dozen flaming arrows.

While I've been working on this, however, I started to think that I may have cranked up the value of mages in the military too much, and I'm having trouble thinking of a reason why any kingdom would NOT simply conscript all mages into military service.

Forced conscription is common throughout history, and considering that there's no additional financial cost to training a mage as opposed to training a generic soldier, why wouldn't every magically gifted individual be forcibly conscripted?

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    $\begingroup$ "Forced conscription is common throughout history": citation needed. What does the word "conscript" even mean in a western European medieval context? (Yes, they could call up all the men to join the army; but it was for a very limited time, not longer than a few months. No, they could not call up one specific person; it was either all hands on deck or else please pay me.) What western European medieval sovereign was even close to rich enough to afford a standing army of any reasonable size? Are you by any chance confusing the Middle Ages with the Early Modern period? $\endgroup$ – AlexP Oct 9 at 18:04
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    $\begingroup$ (And if you really like the idea of conscription you may want to move the story eastwards, where such rich sovereigns actually existed. See janissaries.) $\endgroup$ – AlexP Oct 9 at 18:07
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    $\begingroup$ @Alice: The Black Army of Hungary consisted of mercenaries. Nobody was "conscripted" into it. (And yes, at 20,000 men strong it was by far the largest standing army of Europe in its time.) $\endgroup$ – AlexP Oct 10 at 17:23
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    $\begingroup$ How does you coerce an individual who can use "death rays" into risking their life for your cause, in a way that allows you to look forward to playing with your grandkids? Surely such an individual does not take up that vocation with the intention of following more orders? $\endgroup$ – chiggsy Oct 11 at 7:00
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    $\begingroup$ Well, forcing death ray users into combat will create a population of people who kill with magic, so it's not like sticking a spear and some boiled leather into the hands of some sullen horse thief or mud farmer. What's to stop them from just switching sides, or waiting until after the war and overthrowing the government after being selected for via combat? $\endgroup$ – chiggsy Oct 11 at 8:11

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They take a lot of training to be useful in battle

They are equivalent to Knights or charioteers in medieval and ancient times: it takes years of training to develop the skills to where they are an asset in battle. The kingdom could never afford to fund the years of training required to become a knight, so instead they made each individual knight responsible for getting themselves trained and armed, and if they weren't properly equipped they wouldn't 'pass muster' when war was called and the army wouldn't accept them.

Your mages can work the same way: if someone with magic can get an apprenticeship at a magic guild, or get magic training from their noble house, they can pass muster and be accepted into the army as a trained mage, which is enough of a well-paid or glorious position to make it worth all the effort. The number of mages employed will then be determined by how much the kingdom has to pay them.

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  • $\begingroup$ I like this answer! Fits well with what I'm guessing is a similar medieval setting and quite simple as well. +1 $\endgroup$ – MarielS Oct 9 at 19:45
  • $\begingroup$ This aligns really well with the feudal/manorial system that most people picture as medieval anyway: you can be a vassal because you have horse and armor, or you can be a vassal in exactly the same way because you are a mage. Or both, given magic type 1. You would then presumably be expected to bring armsmen when called, just like knights might stereotypically bring spearmen, and those armsment might include apprentice or tradesman mages. $\endgroup$ – fectin Oct 12 at 15:53
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Because a rebellious and untrained mage is not worth the risk

Magic can be very dangerous when used incorrectly, both for the caster and those in the vicinity. If someone is not motivated to train for combat, they will not learn, and may cause a violent burst of raw magic which could kill or harm themselves and the other trainees.

Much better to have them apprenticed to the local Formari like they wanted and have a contributing member of society who doesn't ruin your other magical assets.

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    $\begingroup$ In addition to being dangerous during training, a resentful conscripted mage could cause tremendous damage as a saboteur. You REALLY want your mages on your side, especially in the heat of battle. $\endgroup$ – abestrange Oct 9 at 20:53
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    $\begingroup$ Most modern armies actually don't want conscripts of any kind, $\endgroup$ – DJClayworth Oct 10 at 19:09
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Either you can't, or you are nursing a snake to bite you.

If they are powerful enough to be useful in the field, they are powerful enough to object to being conscripted. They may not be able to escape, but they can do a lot of damage to your forces merely through being forced. Then you have a sullen and resentful conscriptee who needs constant guarding.

If they are not powerful enough to be immediately useful, you will have to train them. This puts them in a position to use their magic more effectively on you. They will also be part of the power structure and able to form alliances to leverage their power more effectively.

Wisest to attract them rather than conscript them.

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For the most simple answer, culture. What kind of culture exists and the government type makes a significant difference. For instance, in medieval Europe kings probably could have gotten away with forcibly conscripting magic users into their armies, but here in modern America if the government tried to force a specific group to all serve the state it would cause a lot of anger and backlash. And it isn't just a matter of being more "civilized" than they were, it is primarily because of our culture. You get to decide what the culture and government of your world look like, you can build one where it would create outrage for people to conscript mages by force.

If that isn't an option because you already have the government/culture set in stone and aren't willing to alter it, then perhaps an exterior mages guild of some kind? You've said that mages are really powerful, so people don't want to mess with them. If there existed a body of extremely powerful mages who didn't answer to any specific kingdom, and served to keep other mages in check as well, not only would the common folk have someone to complain to about any mages that went "rogue" and started murdering people, but anyone who went around trying to force the mages in their country to enlist could be risking the wrath of this entity.

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Because you don't need to

Armies are (and were) rarely lacking in young men at least somewhat willing to join up. "Willing" may have been an alternative to starving, or to being convicted of some crime, or being turned off your land by your local lord, but it wasn't the same as a full-on pressgang. Many more young men would bear arms because the winning side got to pillage the dead and loot any opposing towns, and that could be rather lucrative. And ex-soldiers had further career opportunities as guards, beadles, and so on - plus often first crack at the best-looking women ("all the girls love a uniform").

In training, your formalised system of magic use is very similar to how English kings made archery compulsory. Creating a decent body of archers for your army requires a generation to train them up, and the same will apply to magic. The point of mandating archery for everyone was not so you could conscript everyone, but so that the people who did join up (more or less willingly) were already skilled.

And war is driven by aristocrats who also fight

In the period you're thinking of, a knight on horseback is the equivalent of a main battle tank, worth dozens of unarmoured spearmen. Becoming a knight wasn't based on natural skill, it was inherited. Aristocrats trained from childhood in swordsmanship, riding, and generally using armour. Your average person simply didn't have a chance to learn that, because they were too busy farming. So your warlocks trained in fighting are also all going to be the sons of lords, the same as the alumni.

That means the two most potent classes of battlefield mages are also aristocrats. If the king says he's going to war, all his lords need either be going personally or they need to send a son. So they have even less choice than the commoners - refusing to go would lose your family your titles, lands and assets, and that would be unthinkable.

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They die.

prison

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0080801/mediaviewer/rm2007870977

The magic users have to be free to do what they do. And their grip on this world is loose. If you constrain them they start to shut down. If you imprison them, they stop eating and die. They have to be free.

You cannot force them to do anything. They have to choose to do what they do.

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  • $\begingroup$ I really like this idea! It super doesn't fit in the setting I'm going for, but I really like this idea! $\endgroup$ – SirTain Oct 9 at 22:01
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Magic guilds protect their members from being conscripted

Magic institutions (guilds, universities...) are not interested in having their gifted individuals forcibly conscripted. Most mages are not interested in being conscripted, either.

Conscripting a lot of magically gifted individuals inexperienced at war isn't too beneficial for the army, either (see other answers).

So, they have an agreement. Members of the guild/university are exempt of the conscription, but in exchange of those students not being conscripted the institution will provide 2-3 warlocks to the army (at a decent pay that was also part of the agreement).

The alumni don't need to leave their studies to take part in a war. The university or guild don't lose their pupils. The mages from the guild that do go to war are one that voluntarily choose to do that (mages that studied that field, and that will be properly paid for this). The army receives a few experienced warlocks, rather than a bunch of magically gifted yet inept recruits.

(This is inspired in how clerical orders would provide some chaplains in exchange of waiving the military service for their younger members)

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  • $\begingroup$ I actually really like this idea as well, and I think I will work to incorporate parts of it, thank you. $\endgroup$ – SirTain Oct 12 at 13:43
  • $\begingroup$ Glad to have helped, @SirTain :) $\endgroup$ – Ángel Oct 12 at 19:44
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Because Most Mages Can't Without Serious Problems

You have a lot of mages, but only a small percentage of them have the predilection for violence. The very aura of violent action is harmful to the casting and practice of mages. Even acting as support spell staff can be difficult and leave them physically ill.

Some mages are born without a conscience, and are unaffected. Others have suffered some sort of trauma in their life and now magic responds to their pain and anger. Either way, Warlocks are damaged goods and really scary to control.

And what's worse, the practice of violent magic tends to accelerate this violent tendency. Between battles, armies try to get mages to relax, meditate, and generally avoid confrontation. If they don't, the Warlocks grow more violent and unstable, eventually killing people impulsively out of rage and anger.

The nation that tries to draft civilians into an army must essentially traumatize the mages magically in a brutal process of "basic training" that leaves them resentful of the government and it's treatment. Throwing them into battle eventually causes them to lose control and become violent monsters. Perhaps such Warlocks fixate on brutalizing other mages to make them into Warlocks as well. This can cause a spiraling cycle of violence.

After the mages become Warlocks, they are prone to "post traumatizing spell disorder" (PTSD) where casting routine spells can trigger episodes of aggression and violence. Mages need to avoid magic after PTSD starts occurring. Now they are no longer useful for civilian wizardry.

So a desperate state can draft civilian mages, or a tyrannical one with no regards to safety. If you want your nation to function, however, you avoid doing so.

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Because a Mage's power is their own, not the governments

When you conscript people as regular soldiers, all of their ability to do harm comes form the swords, guns, and tanks that you give them. They cannot feasibly use them against you in a small scale, and the force is only given to them for small increments of time and for specific targets. However, a mage has the ability to use their power at their discretion, and you cannot take that power away (unless you want there to be a magical organ).

Unless the mage wants to work for the military, they will always feel resentment towards the command structure, and there is nothing stopping them from going on a rampage.

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Because society benefits from the magically gifted whether or not they fight in the army. Some magic users improve crop yields; some magic users make reliable tools and clothing; some magic users heal sick people; some magic users develop new techniques that can make other magic users more effective; all of them benefit their societies in concrete ways. Few societies will conscript all of their magic users into the army, because they know that that would be shooting themselves in the foot. (Even a society that's obsessed with war, to the point that it's willing to ignore other benefits of magic users, will recognize that the things I listed will improve the army's ability to make war: better crop yields let them feed more soldiers or feed their soldiers better; better tools and clothing let them equip their soldiers better; healing is obviously valuable for soldiers and potential soldiers; etc.)

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There are multiple options, and MarielS already covered a number of them. I'd like to focus on 2:

  1. Neutrality. Magical organizations (guilds) profess their neutrality. They are highly independent and influential. A king may contract a guild to fight on his side, but requesting this kind of services for free would be preposterous.

  2. Mages is a special caste. Mages have their own organization, which is loyal to the king, but their higher affiliation is with each other, not the king. This way the kind can ask mages to fight for him for free, but the organization would fight on its own terms, not mixing with the army.

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  • $\begingroup$ Basically an expansion of my suggestion about some sort of mages' guild or organization. These are a couple of good directions he could go with it. :) $\endgroup$ – MarielS Oct 9 at 19:03
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An interesting concept, sadly not explored nearly enough.

The answer depends on your setting, but probably boils down to how able your government is to force magic users to do their bidding. If the governing body is smart, they'll attract the most powerful mages to them.

Offer them generous salaries, many freedoms, plenty of resources. Basically, a really good job.

Then, have those mages be in charge of the magical part of your army.

They'd probably end up conscripting as many of the weaker mages as they can, having their own mages browbeat the slightly stronger ones into following orders etc.

Really, it isn't that much different from any skilled profession when you get down to it.

If you're searching for examples, The Malazan Book of the Fallen is a good place to start. Features a system somewhat like what you're talking about and might inspire you.

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Because of the still smoking wastelands where a city once stood

Years ago all the surrounding countries brought the mages into battle. They're so powerful you need to bring more than your opponent or nothing else matters, this means each army is full of so much power that the moment the power of one falters it is utterly obliterated. A magic shield shimmers over the city, all defensive mages concentrating their power on keeping it up as the barrage continues. Warlocks have been arriving for days, bolstering the forces of the attackers...eventually the shield breaks and the force of the concentrated magic is so great barely a stone remains whole.

You can add the fluff, perhaps the city was a holy one or perhaps it held the great library of magic. Mages looked on that destruction and decided, never again. There is an international guild of mages with an agreement that none will fight in wars.

If you want some to fight make it be through loopholes. Perhaps the definition of a 'war' is loose. Can they be involved in a skirmish? Perhaps they can protect their home town or be part of covert strike forces. People suspect a country is using magic but no one can prove it.

If a country is found, however, to be using mages then they have broken an agreement with the full force of the world's mages behind it (again, leave you to imagine what that will entail exactly).

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    $\begingroup$ Oh, I very much like this concept. It reminds me quite greatly of the way that nuclear weapons are handled in the Dune series. That's a little closer to a MAD kinda thing, but I think it falls under the same basic purview. I suppose it's very much like the way the Geneva convention (supposedly) limits heavily destructive weapons. And just like the Geneva convention being occasionally skirted, it would make sense for small numbers of mages to participate in battles occasionally with the hope that their nation has the political capital to avoid the fallout. $\endgroup$ – SirTain Oct 12 at 13:48
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It stops them getting uppity.

Or put another way, the process of creating a provably superior group, training that group for combat, showing them how easily they can dominate the battlefield and expecting them to keep working for you; that process is very likely to backfire. Even assuming that you get a significant number conscripted, trained and loyal, the process leaves a separate military class with reason to overthrow the current regime (if one of their own is not already in charge.) Even if they don't decide that the king doesn't rule them and turn to tyrants, they may see their own power as a reason to rule: they can fight well, so obviously they're qualified. (This does not work in the real world, and would likely cause some kind of famine or economic collapse.)

So to prevent this from happening, warlocks must be kept seeing themselves as not too different from anyone else, useful, but not gods.

Multiple Warlocks Backfire

Physical enhancements are unlikely to get in the way of each other, but when one person tries to shoot lighting whilst their ally summons a wall of water to defend the soldiers from a fireball, then the benefit of magic is somewhat inverted. Two dozen warlocks in one battle is suicide without expert coordination, and no one can get the chance to become an expert. Hence you reach the capacity for usable warlocks without conscription.

Warlocks Don't Cooperate

Something about warlocks, innately or through training, means that they can't stand each other. Maybe a handful of others that have bonded to them, for a little time, but forcing more than choose to work together to be a unit leads to violent infighting. You couldn't even get them through training before you lose so many of your conscripts that any gain you had is lost.

You just don't need that many warlocks

A warlock is game changing. More enhances the game. But you still need food, goods, midwives and the preservation and expansion of knowledge. Commiting all resources to war is a great way to make every other aspect of life suffer, and you just plain get more advantages with other uses of magic. Whatever wars are being fought are not so intense as to need more people than volunteer.

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Similar to @Kyyshak and @Gold Orchard's answers: quality over quantity.

Potentially, the best mages (maybe even the only good mages) are the ones who work extremely hard and apply a lot of energy and creativity to their work. The best way to get that out of them might not be by force.

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With such power, forcing conscripts against their will can end up with rebellion. You don't want this magically gifted individual run amok for being a tyrant and create revolution, won't you?

You may be able to bind them by making them into alumni practitioners though and brainwash them, unless that is privately owned, but it probably removes some of the caste there.

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Prejudice

I don't know how far ahead you are in the cultural/social aspects of your world, but if you are just starting to build it, consider this:

Humans have always been not too fond for the different. You can see it in X-men and The Witcher universes, for instance, not to mention real life examples. If magic is frowned-upon, your mages would be persecuted rather than conscripted.

Ok, I know this is a quite skewed idea, but it's a possibility.

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You gave the answer yourself already.

You cannot forcibly do anything when they're already concentrated and organised into powerful guilds. You have to negotiate with them, or it needs to be in their best interests.

In medieval times this is a no go. Other periods it would have been viable because in many cases every man has a stake in stopping the genocidal hordes sweeping towards them.

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  • $\begingroup$ The manufacturing guilds of Hamburg were very invested in the town defense. The brewers were partly responsible to fund a gate in the new wall at one time, and the accredited traders of Hamburg did stem most of the rest. Ok, all the guilds were on board because they feared the noble lords. $\endgroup$ – Trish Oct 10 at 22:11
  • $\begingroup$ Since free movement of populations is a very recent thing, it's a good investment to put a wall around your customers, I would think. $\endgroup$ – chiggsy Oct 11 at 6:51
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Your inspiration could be something like Mamluks in our own history. In your world magically gifted individuals at first could have been forcefully conscripted but over time their influence could have grown and they would develop a special caste. They could protect each other, perhaps in a way like modern trade union would protect its members.

Over time, when conscripted mages would gain in rank, influence, power and money, they could become a political power within the government.

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A novice warlock is extremely dangerous for your own troops

There is a war. The lord conscripts all men to fight for X reason. A farmer or a cooper would be given a sword (if not expected to bring their own!) and be told to the opposing army. A magically gifted individual, well, they would be expected to use magic to attack the other side.

The problem is, your conscripted mage may only have experience with spells dealing with e.g. farming. War spells are a completely different class, which they would not have learnt. So you have a lot of inexperienced mage soldiers. You try to teach them how to create Fireballs, Poison Gas Clouds, etc. for a few weeks before the battle (assuming you do have some weeks), while moving to meet the opposing army.

Ideally your mages would kill the leaders of the enemy army (ha! they would have professional warlocks shielding them) but you are aware their fireballs won't even come near. It's not a big problem, though. They don't need accuracy, just that their fireballs are thrown on the general direction of their soldiers. Someone will be hit. The problem is that the fireballs of some of your apprentice of warlock will actually explode before launching, killing the mage and all your soldiers around him. It's hard enough to create a fireball at your own pace, in a silent room. In a battle it would be hard to (a) achieve the concentration required by the spell and (b) sustain it so that the magic energy becomes a fireball sent to the enemy. Most of those forced warlocks would fail at (a) and turn out to be useless but a failure at (b) would be critical.

An experienced mage would know very well their own forces and avoid casting a spell they would be unable to finish. They would probably limit them themselves to spells they use daily and are very familiar with. Probably not the best suited for war, but unlikely to fail. In fact, they may fake being unable to create the war spells, and preserve their own energy.

But a young mage? They won't have that level of control, and when trying to casting those powerful spells at a battle (do note they don't need to cast one fireball, but one after another, for as long as possible) they are likely to... misfire.

Moreover, when a mage dies, their remaining magic gets freed. A burst of energy suddenly released, which will generally cause an explosion. Due to this, old mages generally set to live alone, and wizards try not to have much accumulated magic when seriously ill. But on a battleground, even with no magical misfeasance, some of your mages will die.

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Because warlocks run the government and they don't want to anger their vassals.

The way you've described warlocks makes them vastly more powerful in combat than mundane soldiers; an army with warlocks will always defeat one that lacks them, and the only counter to a warlock is another warlock.

As a result of their military power, they would naturally gravitate towards leadership positions in feudal societies; they rule over the non-magical peasants in exchange for magical protection from warlock bandits or raiders. The king would be a warlock, and so would his noblemen and his knights, and he would grant them titles and privileges in exchange for their military service.

As a result of this, trying to conscript magicians into military service would be a threat to the warlock rulers of the land, and would likely lead to coup attempts and/or civil war. If the King's recruiting a bunch of magical peasants into the army, those peasants might become threats to the position of the nobility.

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I would think gifted individuals (and their parents) would quickly learn to hide their gift.
Magic would become an underground skill, where nobody openly acknowledges that he has the skill.

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Magic is something siphoned of from a energy lifeform in ether, and while you do so, you become a appendage of said creature. And it hates the military, because it percieves other hiveminds as threat.

So joining any organisation by those already half made wizzards is a big no.

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Every living entity contains a certain amount of Energy that is neither destroyed nor created, and when certain anomalies in Physics, Nature begins to take notice, and nothing can have the potential to be more dangerous than Nature. Like Meteorologists who watch weather patterns perform on their screens, or economists take notice of trending activities, or like the commons full of (ig)noble guardians of these depositories of information, outliers tend to be targeted. It happens after localized attempts have been made, using similar anomalous methods of contact, and a sense of familiarity is brought to the table, that the wolves come out, and the vampires, or as Bob Dylan so rightfully put it:

"Now at midnight all the agents, And the superhuman crew[e] Come out and round up everyone That knows more than they do"

The only language for the unseen is Mathematics. Because those first ephemeral, fond, friendly hands cannot stay long, and must keep on "keepin' on"... and one in ten thousand, soon becomes ten thousand to one, and if you're new to the jungle (or to the zoo, or to the horse track) there's a lot of learning to it all, and no one is handing out the manual, and all that call themselves your friends are not, and every up is down, and you're serving them up your breakfast, lunch and dinner, and youre working for nothing, and you feel buried up to your neck in sand, but then the race horse can't run anymore, you're handed your dishonorably discharged draft card from the military you never volunteered for (and they've got to cover up their tracks, but that's not for today) and out on the street is where they've put you, but it's "dog eat dog", and it seemed generous enough, and you figure they must be a real estate agent the way they take business calls, and when you're around, you hear how loudly they roar over the phone that they "have a property you've just got to see" and their business assoc. come over and bring you beer, and talk about how lucky you are that "your realtor" could "sell cold to an Eskimo" and next thing you know and you've got a chain round you that you can't shake, and the day it hits you that only way out is gonna be to lose that leg, and you still don't know if you're going crazy or you're right, and you can't understand why anyone would talk the way they do (but it does make you learn to open your eyes, and shut your mouth and observe and never listen to a word that's said, and you go crazy running circles, and you unbury a bone and it's the beginning of your loss of innocence and beginning to think for yourself in this reality, and you bite the hand that's been feeding you pesticide... and it hits you.... the best people you've met on the road are the ones you don't often see, and those elusive friends travel light, and you go into the forest and you realize you're not crazy, you're kind of like a tiger in a people suit, and it would do you some good to sit...and you learn to be as still and thoughtless as a tree, and you learn about beehives and that kind of thing, and the sun and the rain are all you need, but even these visitors out here, they fill you with holes for their amber (so many holes...), and adaptation happens just as the last swing of the axe sends you to the floor, and in cold climates you tends to dry-out rather quickly, and if you're cut out for furniture.... there's the old mill, and pressure and blades hash you to pulp and apply more pressure than there are words for (and so at last, you pick up Mathematics)...and at last... you're paper...or a pencil... and they can send you to the Post Office, or they're either imprinting a log of military tactics.....

Because if you're an outlier (who knows how/why) whether you learn to fit in, or give in, or get in line, or buy or sell, there's only one way to live the life...

the hard way.

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Logistics.

One of the biggest limitations on medieval armies (and indeed on modern armies!) was their ability to keep soldiers supplied with food, water, clothes, weapons, ammunition, and (if applicable) medicine.

This is a really hard problem for several reasons:

  • You have to have the supplies your army requires
  • You have to be able to store them, without them getting stolen/rained on/eaten by rats/falling into enemy hands...
  • ...but they also need to be close enough to the action to get to your soldiers as needed.
  • You need the wagons/pack animals/etc. to haul these supplies where they need to be (often through difficult terrain, past destroyed bridges, ...)

And perhaps hardest of all:

  • You need the information systems to track what you have, what your forces need, and when/where it needs to be delivered. Even with modern computerised systems, inventory management is a hard problem that keeps a lot of experts gainfully employed.

If magic requires heavy/bulky/perishable spell components that can't easily be scrounged in the field, keeping wizards battle-ready can easily become a huge administrative headache. Sure that warlock can cast an impressive cloud of poison gas... but only when she has a live stink-bug. And stink bugs need the right food, and the right temperature... back home you might be able to just find one on any tree, but here in the Southern Lands, you'd better hope your quartermaster has made all the arrangements.

Oh, and the mistletoe that grows in the Southern Lands isn't the same kind that grows at home, and if you try to use the wrong kind with your spells, Very Bad Things will happen. Does your quartermaster know this?

Even if a warlock can match twelve ordinary men in battle, it may work out easier just to send the twelve men and not have to deal with all the challenges of trying to keep wizards supplied with a dozen different spell components.

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