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A war-mage named Alexander Oluchenko Cornelius has aspirations for ruling the multiverse, invading world after world to conquer territory and expand his empire. The technology of this vast army is based on mana, which is needed to fuel its capabilities. This fuel is taken from the inhabitants of subjugated nations, who are rounded up to be "processed" by machines known as excruciators. A person is placed into one of these machines, which painfully extracts the mana from their bodies, leaving them desiccated husks. The husk can then be resurrected to serve as a mindless foot soldier in the army while their processed mana is used as fuel for the growing military industrial complex.

The problem that AOC faces is that this formula has great repercussions for the progress of his war machine, including time, cost, and effort . Excruciators slowly extract the mana from individuals over the course of thousands of years, slowing down the rate of conquest by millennia. In addition, the process is highly inefficient. Excruciators are unable to completely capture all of the mana being extracted within its chambers. This causes mana-runoff, as the mana leaks out of the machine and into the environment, causing massive amounts of pollution and ecological damage. This ultimately turns a world into a hellish landscape, unable to produce any resources of value and completely ruining the whole point of the invasion. Soldiers in the army refer to these dead worlds as "Hell", as hundreds of these worlds litter the multiverse landscape.

As a forward thinking mage concerned with the impact a conquest makes on the world's environment, it is important to be socially conscious of the ecological footprint that one leaves behind. AOC has therefore set his scientists to task building a more efficient machine that is environmentally friendly and less wasteful. This has met with success, as the next-gen model of the machine can extract mana from its subject far more quickly, providing for full extraction in decades rather than millennia. It is also built to prevent mana-leakage, allowing the machine to capture every drop of fuel from the individual. However, after this model was put into regular use, the sheer rate of return of mana from a machine is far less than before. The process of slow extraction over the course of millennia by the more primitive versions of the machine was far better at its job than its updated, higher quality model.

How can the net gain of mana be far less than before despite the improvements made to technology?

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    $\begingroup$ Just a curious question, but why not have "extraction worlds"? They are already hellish, so just keep on trucking on those worlds while saving others of the same fate. $\endgroup$ – Trioxidane Apr 18 at 11:21
  • $\begingroup$ Extracting power directly from people and then reanimating them already sounds like a more blatant thermodynamics violation than most magic systems... Are you just looking for a narratively appropriate answer? $\endgroup$ – Dragongeek Apr 18 at 11:23
  • $\begingroup$ I can't help but thinking of mana in terms of blood-types, there are different specific types fitting for different purposes, mix them and you lose effectiveness - it becomes dangerous to transfuse. The same thing would go for the chemical effluvium from factories, each spill can be cleaned up with its own strict procedures, however mix spills together and you've got the generation of seriously toxic and difficult to deal with results. Can mana be dealt with in the same way? Can there be pure mana of certain types, which are fine to deal with on their own, but a nightmare when mixed? $\endgroup$ – A Rogue Ant. Apr 18 at 12:49
  • $\begingroup$ @Dragongeek mana might also be a completely different energy source with completely different rules in their world $\endgroup$ – Ekadh Singh Apr 18 at 13:46
  • $\begingroup$ It seems a phenomenon specific to Incognito that many answers are offered but few upvotes. If it is good enough to answer it is good enough to upvote all of you all! Have I written that before? $\endgroup$ – Willk Apr 18 at 18:18
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Because every living being still generates mana, as long as it is alive

Whatever is living, for the same fact that it is alive, accumulates mana. The old machines kept the beings alive for thousands of years, which means that it could extract whatever mana they had at the beginning of the process, plus whatever mana they could generate (of course a smaller amount than in free life) in the course of the following years.

Say that a being has 1.000 mana when it is captured. An amount of 2 mana per year is extracted from it, but in the meantime, it still could generate 1 mana per year. This means that you will need about 1.000+t-2t=0, so t=1.000 years to be depleted, while the evil lord has gained a total of 2.000 mana. Part of this is leaked, let's say 10%, so that the net amount is 1.800 mana.
If the new model can extract 100 mana per year, the time for a full depletion will be a little more than 10 years, and the lord will gain 1.010 mana (without leak).

So, at the beginning, the evil lord will be happy, because he will see an improved flow of mana, but when the process reaches its operating speed, he will discover that the average amount has been basically halved...

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Efficiency at cost

Sometimes Efficiency can be gained by putting in extra energy. Imagine a solar panel that can generate more electricity from the same solar rays, only an electromagnet is needed to keep all foto electrical cells aligned and at full efficiency. Potentially the gain is lower than the cost of the electromagnet.

Your mana collectors can be much the same. Mana is used for higher efficiency, thus lower leakage. But as mana is spent on the process the gain is lower. Same for the speed.

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The new machine itself uses most of the mana.

Prior methods: 60% mana extracted over 1000 years, 30% leakage over 1000 years. 10% remains in husk or unaccounted for. That is a return of 0.06% / year on each individual over 1000 years.

Current method: 20% of mana extracted over 5 years, 1% leakage. 79% unaccounted for. That is a return of 4% / year / individual over 5 years.

The 79% unaccounted for turns out to largely be fueling the process as was the 10% in the old method but that does not matter.

It is a question of short term vs long term. Overall the new method is like slaughtering herds of buffalos for their tongues, leaving the rest to rot. Very productive, but inefficient and poorly sustainable. It is good if you have unlimited buffalo and limited time. It can be sustained if you are confident of acquiring new sources of mana. The old method extracted more value per subject but took much more time. It is better if you must be conservative of resources you have because the prospect of getting more is uncertain.

Relevant variables are mana needs / time period of the empire and the available population (present and future) for mana extraction.

I should add that your war mage is called "Corny" by his mage-school mates.

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Crisis of Rising Expectations:

This isn't so much an issue with the process as it is with how the excess of mana completely changes how the empire functions, thereby causing a crisis where demand for mana explodes. Your empire has always functioned like a virus, but now it is trying to truly live.

You've already established that your empire is attempting to change how it has always run conquests, transitioning to a more sustainable system that leaves planets as a renewable resource. There are a wide variety of consequences for this.

  • Absorption vs. Consumption: Simply marching your armies of zombies onto a planet and capturing everyone is straightforward. It might happen so fast, the locals don't know what to do. Resistance collapses, and they may not even know how bad things will end up. Conquering a planet and sustainably harvesting 45-50% of the populous each generation requires you to organize a system of occupation, get locals to cooperate, maintain infrastructure, and all the little things that keep a society running. Notice how easy it was for the USSR or the USA to invade Afghanistan, and how hard it was for them to hold? In the long-term, sustainability will keep the empire functioning once the universe is yours. Short-term, it's a project that eats resources.
  • Transitional Growing pains: As you switch systems, the old and new systems are not compatible. Mana harvested in the new way may function differently than that collected in the old way (the less efficient method may mean higher purity, less residual emotion). The two manas both work, but may not work well together. Two separate kinds of equipment are needed, like diesel and gasoline engines. Mana supply for the old equipment may be drying up, and production of the new mana is still scaling up to meet demand.
  • Non-military demands: The excuse was always that the empire needed all mana to support invasions to supply the mana needed for invasions. Now there is clearly enough mana to supply generals and priests, temples and brothels and every other wicked source of depravity with mana-powered stuff. Even the cruel and rapacious want to indulge in the joys of power. Now slaves are in demand because there is enough mana that some people can be kept for the joy of personal brutality. Sustaining worlds with inhabitants means the infrastructure itself is consuming mana for things like lights and constructing gladiatorial colosseums.
  • Changing resources: As your empire expanded, it conquered the worlds rich in mana resources. The peaceful people of Joyworld and Blissatron didn't fight back and were super-full of mana. As these easily-harvested resources dried up, the empire began to realize that rich worlds wouldn't be there forever to maintain infinite growth. Just as the easy oil deposits disappeared and more and more challenging deposits had to be drilled, your remaining worlds are less spiritual, more angry and better armed. They've gotten the word about your empire and are united in fighting them. Extracting these resources simply requires more investment for the yield, even with more efficient infrastructure.
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Mana energy capacity is inversely related to the distance from the natural mana density

Mana is a part of the soul of the universe and the person it is being extracted from. Because of this the mana of an individual is interlinked whether it is subtracted from the person or not. The mana of a person is in an optimal density configuration and in this natural state it has the maximum energy capacity.

With high extraction rates the mana is compressed and does not have the optimal energy capacity of its normal state. The mana density is of course the density it possesses on the astral plane, not the physical density in the container.

To reach the optimal energy capacity of the mana the mana density should remain the same. With old fashioned extraction process the mana flow rate was by coincidence quite close to the optimal flow rate that preserved the natural mana density of the person.

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Mana naturally flows into anything that is natural, like trees, animals, rocks, rivers, etc.

Disturbing its flow to extract it is something against nature and perturbs it, being therefore inherently non green.

As a consequence, any green approach to do the task is necessarily less efficient.

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The process itself uses up mana. A LOT of mana. It takes two or three (ten? a hundred?) units of mana to prevent the leakage of one. There is speculation that the high leak rate produced a saturated environment and so without it, the effort to keep it in is enormous.

There is also speculation that the slow process allowed mana to grow during the harvesting process, though someone has to discover a way to test this.

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Old machine created a feedback loop

Long ago, in the primordial day, beings had no mana. As they got intelligent and started to settle they created pollution.

Over ones life this pollution accumulates in bodies and the dissonance of the primordial state against the polluted state creates mana. As the extraction technique created more pollution it created a feedback loop that increased the dissonance, such that there was enough mana to trickle tap from a being for a thousand years (it regenerated just under the tap rate). When they cleaned up the system, the mana generation correspondingly dropped and there was very little regeneration.

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