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In this world, mages can create a wide variety of spells, but they all have the same basis: creating or manipulating an element or both. They all also use mana. Mages are extremely common, as the vast majority of adults can cast using 2 elements. (The elements in this book are the standard fire, earth, water, and air). Mages can only create and control magic relatively close to them (for amateur mages around 2-20 feet), but can still cast fireballs, similar to throwing a ball. Also, mages do greatly vary in strength. Mages can also cast spells very often, but for how long mages can cast depends on the strength of spells.

So, in a world with this, magic can be used to attack, defend, and agument materials. Would battles in this world be similar to normal naval battles, with mages as artillery, or would there be a completely different interaction?

If there was a completely different interaction in naval battles in this world, what are some possible ways naval battles could work. The ships in my book would be mostly triremes but with sails, but things applicable to other types of boat warfare might also apply here. Also, this is during a mideval era type situation.

Edit: the answer by @ L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica♦ Made me realize I didn’t properly specify what I was looking for or the magic system. What I was looking for is wether certain elements of mages would have an advantage over others in this situation, and how such elements might be utilized in battles.

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  • $\begingroup$ How often can mages cast their spells, and how much time is there between their spells? You have a very different outcome if a mage can cast a spell a week than if mages can cast ten spells a minute. Also, if mages can manipulate air or water, can a mage manipulate the water under a ship, sinking it? Or suck the air from a ship, choking its crew? $\endgroup$
    – Abigail
    Apr 14 at 18:23
  • $\begingroup$ @Abigail mages can cast their spells really often (10-15 per minute unless using spells with a long charge up time), and they can cast until they run out of mana, normally a couple minutes. Manipulating water or air near an enemy ship will normally be out of a mages control range (2-20 feet) $\endgroup$ Apr 14 at 18:59
  • $\begingroup$ The question is too broad to be answerable because we don't know what the mages can do. Air mages might give faster ship movement or blow incoming projectiles away, water mages might fight fires (wooden ships are very flammable) or give faster ship movement or slow down other ships, etc. $\endgroup$ Apr 14 at 18:59
  • $\begingroup$ @GrumpyYoungMan mages can do all of those, I’m asking what would be something useful and efficient for mages to do in a naval battle and why. $\endgroup$ Apr 14 at 19:18
  • $\begingroup$ Triremes, ironclads or battleships? Ie what time period? $\endgroup$
    – Trioxidane
    Apr 14 at 19:38
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Probably battles will be more similar to WWI battles than sailing age battles

Note: many ideas rely on the assumption that mages can create continuous stream (and for a pretty long time) of their element, rather than in bursts

An air mage has too short range to influence other ships, but can give the best wind to his own ship, which means that the ships are no more constrained by wind and can move quite freely, like the ships of coal and diesel age.
This would render useless all naval doctrines about the use of the best wind to fight the adversary.
At the same time, I think that close combats, like rammings and boardings, would become too difficult: entering the range the enemy mages could be extremely dangerous (I think that at close range there are more offensive options than defensive ones): the ship could be hit by a 100 tons stone summoned by the earth mage, or a water mage could make disappear all the water on the side of the enemy ship, turning it upside down.
Basically ship would engage at distance, using dear old muggle cannons (whose range and could probably be enhanced by fire and/or air mages), but with an increased maneuverability.

But this is only the beginning. Your magic system can be used in a more creative way:

  • A bronze bell underwater, or even an entire hull. An air mage can create breathable air inside, while a water mage (maybe together with another air mage) can give it a propulsion system: you now have a submarine, which can attack a ship from below
  • Build a big kite. An air mage can create a wind sgrong enough to keep it in air and to also lift some weight. The mage can now fly on the kite and make recognition missions around his ship. If he can generate a strong enough wind, he could also carry a fire mage and launch incendiary projectiles against enemy ships from the air
  • Some strong water mages could summon water to create just enough pressure on the back of the ship to make it move. If they can endure creating this spell for a good amount of time, you can have a propulsion without sail
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  • $\begingroup$ These are some really interesting ideas, definitely using them in my book. $\endgroup$ Apr 14 at 21:12
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They would do the same things as real world sailors

If you check out this list of US Navy jobs, you'll see that many of them will still exist, even in a world with magic. Sailors spend a lot of time on maintenance, cleaning, cooking, and other mundane tasks. Maybe a mage who can manage water would make a great cleaner.

Even in combat, a ship full of mages would probably function similarly to a real world vessel. The mages might work side-by-side with traditional weapons. For example, it's not clear if a mage would be powerful enough to match the range and accuracy of a cruise missile that can hit a small target 1,500 miles from the ship. Combat mages might replace some of the weapons systems. I bet they would make for a terrifying replacement for a boarding team or sniper team. And the ability to conjure earth could come in handy in damage control (you could plug a leak with a perfectly sized piece of stone).

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    $\begingroup$ I agree with this one: have mages augment the typical things that happen in a ship of that tech level, during battle and also not. That makes it easier to write and also more exciting - augmenting a cannon makes it a supercannon while fireballs are just made up stuff. How would a mage augment a boarding party? Maybe no-one has tried, but your mage is going to try. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Apr 14 at 19:47
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It depends on how mages' power confront against each other.

If 1 mage is always sufficient to counter another mage, than who has more mages win: 100 mages casting fire on a ship will need 100 mages casting water to extinguish that fire, else the ship will burn.

If instead there is some level system, who has the strongest mage is at advantage, because their attack will be harder or impossible to counter, comparable to someone countering a tank with a mace.

Also the range at which the mages can cast their spell will affect if gunpowder is still viable or not, depending on their respective ranges.

None of the magic powers is inherently better than the others: ships can be set on fire, flooded with water, stuffed to the brim with earth or capsized by a tornado by any competent mage who can cast the appropriate spell.

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    $\begingroup$ I would add that the ability of mages to affect physical phenomena like incoming cannonballs would also affect whether or not they continue to employ cannons or mages or both. $\endgroup$
    – IT Alex
    Apr 14 at 18:07
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    $\begingroup$ @ITAlex Stick mages into cannons and fire them. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Apr 14 at 18:42
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Why bother getting up close? All the modern paradigms apply.

Make custom enchanted "magic-seeker" catapult rocks that fly up perhaps 10-20 miles and look for hostile energy signatures and drop down at hypersonic speeds using an unpredictable path.

Set up a ship as an "elemental carrier" solely for the purpose of housing summoned elementals that will be used to attack other ships outside line of sight.

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