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How would a group of elemental mages defend against guns and artillery of late WW1?

War rages between two nations. Both have basically the same tech level, but one doesn't use hand held guns. This is because of how common elemental magery is and strong discouragement from the upper and warrior classes. They still have tanks and artillery, but nothing small enough that a single person could carry into battle.

The problem with element magic is its limited rage. It has an effective range of 50 to 60 ft (15 to 18 m), but at that range you're really only taking large chunks of earth, fire, water, air or lighting and launching them at the enemy.

To use elemental magery with full versatility and accuracy you need a range of 10 to 20 ft (3 to 6 m).

In this case the elemental side is holding some trenches and their scouts have informed them that they have a day to prepare before the other army arrives. How could they arrange their defense to negate or at least mediate the enemy's range advantage?

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    $\begingroup$ Do they have an uranium elementalists? $\endgroup$
    – John O
    May 24 at 18:37
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    $\begingroup$ Would they even still be hung up on outdated infantry tactics in late WW1 as if it were early WW1? Many mages must have been gunned down early in the war and the infantry side must have learned charging mages and fighting them close quarters was not a good idea. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    May 24 at 18:48
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    $\begingroup$ @BryanMcClure They never knew that there were mages on the other side and therefore couldn't adapt prior to the war? Is it because it's some kind of stargate or GATE anime situation where a new world with weird physics suddenly became within reach? $\endgroup$
    – Tortliena
    May 24 at 19:06
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    $\begingroup$ No they know but there are very few mages on the other side and there and not nearly as powerful. And they're not typically used war except in very specific situations. They know about mages the way the French knew about machine guns pre ww1 $\endgroup$ May 24 at 19:12
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    $\begingroup$ I would imagine the Earth mages could be used for defense; raise up a big rock, and use it to cover your soldiers as they cross no-man's land. $\endgroup$
    – alexgbelov
    May 25 at 18:51

13 Answers 13

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They Don't

The effective range of a WWI-era bolt action rifle was theoretically over 1000 yards, though most men didn't actually engage at ranges exceeding 300 yards. A machinegun could use "indirect fire" out to about a mile. The general field artillery of all armies was several thousand yards, and the heavy artillery even longer range. Mortars/Minenwerfers had ranges in the hundreds of hards, and were indirect fire. As described your mages are dead loooong before their abilities come into play. The best they could do would be to have your earth mages create the mother of all tank traps (say 30-40ft wide and the same deep) to prevent the enemy actually being able to attack you. Then you pull back out of field artillery range and laugh. Until the enemy combat engineers come up and bridge your tank trap. You can't really stop them, because you'd be under fire for ages before your mages could get into range.

At best you could perhaps use your earth mages to sap towards the enemy. But unless this is completely silent and very rapid the WWI force will detect them coming. At this point "counter-sapping" happens, probably via blowing up your mages with explosives powerful enough to do their job while staying out of mage-range.

Your water mages aren't much good, despite the modern image of Tommys in waist-deep mud/water in their trenches, that was an early war (and largely british) problem. By mid-late war trenches drained pretty well, except in certain areas of the british lines where the water table was too low. But even then it's not like you could get close enough to do good work without being shot on the way in, and as those trenches were actually built above ground you couldn't just flood them with water manipulated on your side of the line.

Fire mages are essentially flamethrowers, and by late war your WWI opponent not only has an equivalent but also knows how to deal with them. Turns out flamethrowers aren't super effective weapons and a fire mage with 10-50 meter range is basically a flamethrower.

Air Mage is iffy, because I'm not sure on their powers. But again it comes back to only having a 50 meter range. Sure they can suck the air out of the lungs of anybody that close, but when they get machineguned at 1000 yards then shot at 200, that's not very likely.

Lightning-callers would be useful in denying the enemy air cover/observation balloons, but that's small comfort to an army that has no way of fighting back against the enemy until they're right up on them.

My suggestion would be to either give your mages longer-ranged abilities, your mages' support troops actual weapons (check out Into the Darkness by Harry Turtledove. It's the first book in his Magic WWII series for examples of magic-equivalent WWI/II weapons) or give your mages some truly ridiculous defensive capabilities such that they're immune to artillery/rifles/machineguns outside the range of their own abilities.

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    $\begingroup$ Excellent first post, welcome to Worldbuilding Dario. (From review) $\endgroup$ May 24 at 19:47
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    $\begingroup$ If the water mages can hold a thick enough screen of water they might be bullet proof, probably does nothing for artilery/explosives though $\endgroup$
    – jk.
    May 25 at 6:58
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    $\begingroup$ I don't know... while it's obvious that the enemy can use use long range artillery to shell the hell out of the warmages trenches, WWI proved that you could bomb a position for years and being unable to take it. In the end, if you want to end the war you have to send the infantry, and whenever they reach the barbwire the warmages are going to kill them all. $\endgroup$
    – Rekesoft
    May 25 at 8:22
  • $\begingroup$ At best, fire mages can throw fireballs. Just like grenades, still below 50 metres. $\endgroup$
    – Clockwork
    May 25 at 17:16
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    $\begingroup$ Can't air mages take advantage of the use of chemical warfare? Seems like that could be useful. $\endgroup$ May 25 at 18:29
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It depends on how versatile the magic is

Magic by definition is a power to do things that aren't normally possible. The number of possibilities is how much your system is willing to allow. If the only application of magic is to throw bolts of it 60ft then they are screwed. That kind of ability is near useless against a modern army. If these mages have more nuanced elemental powers, then the possibilities are near endless. The following suggestions are based on the assumption elemental magic is more nuanced in controlling the elements.

Sight Denial & Distortion

Information is the key to warfare, and Visual Senses are the most important sense to every human. Relatively long range, no latency, with very high quality in preserving details. There is no radar, no infrared, no sonar, no tripwires, only mark one eyeballs on the WWI battlefield. The guns of WWI are highly dependent on sight. Bolt action rifles are very accurate and powerful, but rather poor at delivering indiscriminate fire because of somewhat low rate of fire and low ammo capacity (around 5). Machine guns are much better in this regard, but overheat and can't move very well. Artillery need spotters either in the air or on the ground to direct their fire.

Now how can magic remove sight? There are a bunch of options if you control the elements.

  1. Literal Fog of War - If you can control water, fog is probably the easiest thing to conjure. With as many casters as you need, you can simply shroud your positions with a deep fog. The enemy won't even know if you are there under the fog or not, allowing units to rotate or redeploy completely unknown to the enemy. This eliminates the threat of prescison attacks by snipers and rifle fire, while lowering the strength of machine guns and artillery bombardment. If they fire into the mist, they risk firing all their ammunition at nothing. This of course doesn't work if you only keep a cloud over your exact position, they will know exactly where to shoot. The fog needs to be long and thick.
  • For positions everywhere, there is no reason for the water mage to just stand up on the surface to get shot or blown up. You can easily stuff them in a nice bunker 20ft deep courtesy of the earth mages and send fog up through a pipe. These pipes can be placed well to the sides or rear of a fighting position and shifted regularly to confuse the enemy. This can help overcome the limited range of magic. This will also protect against aerial photography and bombing campaigns, as fog floats above the ground.
  • Artificial wind. Depending on the density of the fog and the speed of fog generation, you can blow the fog with air mages. Air mages must be able to move air after all, this seems logical. This can not only keep the fog bank from being shifted away by the wind, but also allow you to creep it forwards, sideways, or wherever you want eliminating the range problem of magics. You can use a windblown fog to cover an attack from enemy sight or make fake attacks to control the enemy. They can fire at the creeping fog with all the firepower they want, but finding out if there is anything inside to hit is much harder. Use of multiple fake attacks to lower the vigilance of enemies is an ancient tactic, after the 3rd or 4th time their vigilance is lowered or their stamina depleted, making an attack easier.
  • Fog the enemy lines so they can't see anything. This also has a multitude of other effects. Dampness is bad for guns and their powder, making them degrade faster due to rust or being unable to light. Dampness also spreads disease and mold, something that claimed the lives of over 2 million people in the first world war. Prolonged fog can seriously lower morale; not knowing what's out there, getting no sunlight for vitamin D, being under the influence of enemy powers, and its other aforementioned affects can cripple the fighting ability of enemy soldiers with no powers at all.
  1. Earth Mages moving dirt - what can dirt do for you? The easiest application is digging and fortifying trenches and bunkers. This has been mentioned many times, suffice to say it lowers casualties from bombardment and makes the troops feel nice and safe. What else can you do with control of dirt?
  • Make the mud work for you and you alone. Charging through mud is tough going, not just in a shitty trench but also in the crater strewn middle ground. If the creeping fog is on most of the war, the ground will become very damp and the mud will never dry. Now, if an earth mage can change the density of dirt and move it, they can create temporary walkways of dry land on which attacks or tanks can be taken quickly to attack the other side. Shrouded in fog, the enemy may be slow or even unable to react to attack units traveling much faster than their own.
  • Tunneling. Sappers were well known to dig tunnels and fight other tunnel digging units trying to place explosives under enemy lines or channel troops into them. If you can control the earth, there is basically no way you can lose the war of the sappers. You can perhaps sense and collapse enemy tunnels. You can dig faster, bigger, and tougher tunnels by compressing the earth around it. You can even get air ventilation from air mages. Digging under enemy lines and collapsing their entire frontline bunkers and all is possible with earth magic. You can also tunnel troops and even tanks to the enemy artillery batteries given enough time. Plus, every single tunnel dweller is safe from guns and artillery.
  • Anti-Tank defenses. I don't know if you can make stones, but if you can making a lot of small ones shouldn't be hard. Tanks hate tough gravel. It gets in their treads and busts the pins holding the tread links together. A gravel pit can also mire a tank and cause it to sink into the gravel. Other tank defenses like dragon teeth, large concrete spikes that block tanks can be installed across the battle lines semi-remotely. Being 40ft away in a trench is more than enough to install such defenses. How can this deceive though?
  • Quick defenses. The power of water mages to move water can dry concrete quickly. Combined with earth mages, they can build solid fake or real defenses overnight to bamboozle the enemy in the rare moments the fog lifts (on purpose or not). Tank traps, bunkers, and other concrete defenses usually made weeks beforehand can be dried in a day akin to modern quick dry concrete. Most of these will be decoys to save cost, but real ones can be made inside or at the same time to give the mages more teeth. A mix of fake and real tank defenses like dragon's teeth, gravel pits, or ditches can make tanks avoid areas that are otherwise vulnerable. It also serves to extremely intimidate the enemy. After every artillery barrage, the defenses return within the week just like new. The massive number of trenches, bunkers, and traps make the lines seem magical and impregnable, crippling the will to attack them.
  1. Flashes in the Dark - Fire mages must be able to make fire of some sort. But who can tell what is real in the fog of war? Fire mages can be tasked to create what are essentially fireworks, or the flashiest but least powerful explosions possible. Why is this useful? You can easily thwart artillery spotters, who can only see flashes in the deep fog or night. By timing them with enemy shell barrages, you can totally misrepresent or scatter the barrage by making fake shell impact explosions 60ft in some direction. The gunners will constantly think their shells are coming in short or long and adjust their guns off target. Or you can detonate the fireworks on top of your own lines to make the enemy think most of their shells are landing home when they are really landing in the flanks where you fired fireworks last time. Artillery with long range and power is useless if it doesn't hit anything. If the fire mages have problems lighting up in the fog, just get an air mage to clear them a bubble of dry air.
  • The fake campfire ruse. An age old strategy, manipulating the number of cooking fires has long been used to deceive. By lowering you fires, you look like you have less men. More fires, more men. Fire mages can basically start as many of these as they want from a decently safe distance. They can probably also cook food with a controlled smokeless flame, even inside a bunker. This can mean hot, cooked meals in the safety of a bunker with the help of air mages for ventilation. Every military strategist knows how much cooked food means to a soldier, but usually it isn't safe to cook with a fire as it makes you a target. Magic is great. By blowing the smell of cooked meals and igniting fake campfires all over the place you can totally infuriate the enemy. No matter how many fake campfires they shoot at, the smell of cooked food won't go away. More morale on your side, plummeting morale on the other. Stacks with above effects as well for true magically induced misery.
  1. Unknown Advanced Applications

I really have no idea what your mage's spell grimoires look like but some spells applications might be pretty useful if they exist.

  • Thermal vision: some sort of heat sensitivity in fire or air mages might make finding targets in the fog easy. A spell imitating the heat receptors on a snake would do as well.
  • Sonar: sensing vibrations in the air or ground would be useful in the same way
  • Water sense: people are made of mostly water. A water mage would most likely be able to sense water?

Sounds of Victory

The magicians of many elements should be able to produce sound. Lightning magic for magnetic speakers, air mages for sound wave creation and amplification, fire magic for explosions, etc etc. In a world of fog, sounds suddenly become the only thing soldiers can cling to. Fake voices, screams, explosions, orders, officer whistles, you can wreak havoc on the enemy. With both sound and vision under magical control, you can just play the powerful but magically weak soldiers in the palm of your hand.

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    $\begingroup$ If water mages can control bodily fluids, earth mages can dig tunnels under the enemies camps and water mages can just kill people in their sleep by manipulating blood or even directly destroying cells by manipulating water in them. The enemy will never know what happened to them. It will probably look like a poison attack. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    May 24 at 21:51
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    $\begingroup$ Excellent answer, it brings up most of the points I thought of, but you missed one application of the air magic. Poison gas is bad to use because it can go back on your troops if the wind shifts. That's no longer a concern, so you can just poison gas for hours or days at a time and keep it pointed directly at the enemy. $\endgroup$ May 25 at 16:10
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    $\begingroup$ Safely cooked food will have a huge impact on anything that "marches on its stomach." Flashes in the Dark is a masterstroke. But I suspect the best killer here is rapid restoration of all territory-denial defenses: every day's effort and ammo rendered a waste overnight; an opponent trapped in that cycle must quit or be annihilated. I would also use earthworks plus air magic to direct constant booming thunder at the enemy, like the shelling of Guadalcanal in WWII. Constant bombardment is hell on the psyche. $\endgroup$
    – Tom
    May 25 at 17:44
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    $\begingroup$ Concrete doesn’t dry, it cures (a process which requires water). If you’re water mages pull the moisture out of your concrete as it is curing, then it will be weaker (possibly to the point of being useless). $\endgroup$ May 26 at 16:54
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    $\begingroup$ This is cute and all, but I still don't see how the mages are actually going to defend... The enemy will quickly be frustrated by the fog and artillery not hitting anything, and simply give the command for waves of frontal attacks. And since the mages won't be able to inflict casualties on the advancing enemy they'll simply be overrun in close-quarters through weight-of-numbers and the enemy having firearms... $\endgroup$
    – fgysin
    May 27 at 7:35
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Bucket brigade

The Earth mages have most of the fun. The first one scoops up a ball of stone and soil 20 feet wide and propels it to a receiving area. Then he strolls with practiced ease into the hole and does it again, while the second mage takes up his original position to pass the ball onward. So it goes, to the slow beat of the drum, a choreographed symphony of stone and earth balls rising from the soil, as the Mage Army walks into the ground at a fast march. They are followed by engineer mages who smooth out every last detail and ensure the road is foolproof before the regular fighting troops follow.

As for the balls? Well, the Earth mages have most of the fun. But once the excised chunks of stone reach the receiving area, it's the job of the Wind mages to give those babies wings and set them to flight! They call it the Five Hundred Yard Trebuchet based on back of the envelope calculations about the size of the equivalent siege engine to have such an effect. The enemy will be softened up substantially, and the noise of the terrific impacts will help guide the Earth mages to their goal.

Once they arrive, and establish a grid of passageways under the hated enemy with frequently spaced skylights at the ready to be punched through, it is up to the Fire mages to light that oven and cook until well done.

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Magic potentiated machines.

Your mages have tanks and artillery. Use the magic to augment the machines. Clever merging of earth magic with tanks result in very fast tanks. Mergers of fire and air magic with artillery result in artillery with much farther ranges than unmodified guns.

And make more awesome machines: hydraulic WW1 mechs powered by elemental water magic. Enormous high altitude fire/air zeppelins that shower lightning down on everyone. Shoveltanks using earth magic to move along 10 feet underground then emerge in the enemy trench and open up with the fire magic flamethrowers.

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Against small-caliber firearms, no problem. Your Earth mages just interpose earth or rock as "movable walls", providing quite adequate cover. This will even work fine against massed machineguns, as their penetration ability is quite minor and even just a 2-foot earth wall will absorb. Air and water mages can summon fog to hide themselves. Lightning mages could counter attack, just imagine how electrified the enemy become when you zap their barbed wire barricades, and the metal of their rifles. Typical WW1 firearm engagement ranges were tens of meters only, well in range of your Mages.

Against large-caliber direct-fire weapons, like cannons, you can do the same thing but with a lot more effort. To stop a 155mm HE round from a cannon will just turn a 2-foot earthen wall, or even a 10-foot thick wall, into a destructive blast. So the Mages could only defend by hiding underground, in deep trenches, or by not being where the enemy is targeting (via stealth, misdirection, false images, etc.) In other words, the Mages are not much better off than mundane soldiers on the battlefield, they can just dig their trenches much faster. Cannon and mortars would engage at ranges of hundreds of meters, well outside the range of your mages. They could not counterattack, just defend.

But the killer: Indirect-fire, long-range artillery bombardment.
The only way to protect themselves would be to burrow deep under ground, or cower in trenches and hope the artillery does not land in the trench. Exactly the same as the poor normal soldiers. Illusions or fog will not hide them, because the artillery is not firing at a target but at a location on the map. Air will not protect them, because there is no ways to detect, target and divert an artillery shell approaching at more than the speed of sound. Artillery engages at ranges of kilometers to tens of kilometer. Your mages will not be able to engage, indeed they will not even have a means to detect just who/where is shooting at them. They can just defend, and either withdraw or hunker down and hope the enemy runs out of ammo.

At least, with both Earth and Air mages, you can tunnel all over the place like rabbits. This will make escape much easier, and there is the potential to tunnel towards the enemy and bypass their frontline defenses. This, combined with their excellent defense ability against small-arms may be very valuable in a battle.

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Depends heavily on the environment

The best defence is a good offence. Your mages should have no problem wrecking the enemies. Defence is the mages weakness to be exploited, so they should enclose and engage.

First of all, is there a large body of water near? Then have some mages make it so water goes down to the enemy. When they arrive, be in your own trenches and just start chucking water. With enough mages you van both put an enormous amount of water in the direction of the enemy and keep it from seeping back to your own positions. No trench warfare can be had by the other side if their trenches are full, the ground is too soggy to sleep or even make a potty hole. They'll die of disease from being in water and their own filth if they aren't easily gunned down by the mages. Also don't forget! Even an unaimed lightning strike can do lots of damage if the enemy is basically in one big pool of water!

No body of water? No worries! The earth mages can handle it. With 10ft (3m) full control they can just dig a tunnel to the enemy. How can you fight an enemy if parts of the land are pushed up, while others sink with devastating consequences, all the wile not showing a single enemy? Even if you stay above ground you can use the earth movers to move a big chuck of earth forward as a shield, allowing the fire and lightning mages to come close enough for their magic. Even the earth and water mages can slam or suffocate people, but fire and lightning really bring a different level of fear.

Fire and lightning aren't as useful. They still are, as they can provide light in the trenches and battlefields, obfuscate movement and positions and allow for more easier fear and despair scenarios, but they aren't as good with utility.

Defences

The defences itself shouldn't be neglected. Fortification of the trenches like normal can be done, only with mage power behind them. Use earth and implant wood for quick roofs and walls. Sheltered walking areas for supply or retreat. Possibly the earth can be packed so tight it is waterproof, allowing water to be used on top of roofs or in between walls to further dampen explosions and impacts. Remove as much advantage of the enemy by both using resources like trees and to burn the rest to a crisp. Move as much water away, or on purpose into the ground to make it unsuitable for trenches and heavy weapons to move. Not only will a few lightning struck trees and a wasteland of coal and dirt, with soot filled air be devastating for the morale of the enemy, they have little resources to use and no cover but natural hills.

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Fly over or Burrow Under the Trenches

One way to overcome a WW1 army is to either burrow under (Earth Magic) or fly over (Wind Magic) their defensive line and then attack their supply lines or capital city directly.

One way to defend yourself is use Earth magic to hide undergound. The enemy cannot find you, and you can detect tremors in the ground to know when they have passed.

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Inspired by the Answer by yolo man:

Classic trench warfare heavily favours the side with the guns and longer range. So, don't do that.

Make classic trench warfare as hard as you can with your mages - as mentioned by yolo man, you can use fog to prevent aimed shooting, mud to prevent people with shotguns running up to you and blasting you with them, and if your earth mages can build better fortifications than people with shovels, nice.

When you want to take the fight to the enemy, well - your mages are most effective at almost melee range. So get into that range. Fog up the battlefield in as wide a range as you can (so they don't just spray into a 3m/10ft area of fog and hit you anyway), have your earth mages dry out paths for your small strike teams, and storm the enemy trenches. Have mages with defensive abilities (earth armor? water shield?) jump in first to absorb any shotgun blasts. Or crawl up to the trench and have the fire mage stick just his hands over the edge to fry those covering inside. If any earth mages are powerful enough to push a small hill of earth along with them to cover behind, even better.

You'd still take a lot of losses during such offenses, especially if machine guns are already in play. But by magically armoring up and preventing enemy fire from being concentrated on your charging troops thanks to the fog, charging the enemy lines is at least a less bad idea than it was for actual WW1 troops. Who still sometimes did that.

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How fast do your spells move through the air? If they move fast enough, your mages are a game changer for the air war.

Aerial gunnery, the weapon of dogfighting, is difficult. If the gun is fixed to the airplane, then the airplane must be maneuvered to bring the gun to bear. Since bullets take time to fly through the air, the pilot also has to lead the target. All while flying an airplane with many constraints on how it can be maneuvered: Not too slow or you stall, not too fast or the wings come off. Not too many G's or the airplane breaks.

For a passenger with a swivel gun, aerial gunnery is still difficult, because of the difficulties with leading the target from your airplane which is probably maneuvering.

And don't forget the target is also maneuvering. A gun solution may only last for an instant.

However, if your spells move through the air very quickly, then they eliminate or reduce the problem of having to lead the target. The pilot flies within mage range of the target, pointed any way you like that keeps them out of the enemy's gun sight. Your mage looks at the target, launches an instantaneous or nearly instantaneous spell, and the dogfight is over.

In addition, airplanes of the age are fragile. Your mages will probably be able to do enough damage from the very edge of their effective range.

The introduction of this into air combat will cause an engineering war to see who can have the faster airplanes. The enemy so they can stay away from your mages, and you so you can get your mages close to the enemy. But even if the enemy manages to keep his airplanes away from your mages, you have a powerful tool to shape the air war in your favor.

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  • $\begingroup$ Am I getting this right - the point isn't so much that the spells could move faster than bullets, but that the gunners can aim only forwards while the mages can aim anywhere they can see and don't have to turn the plane? $\endgroup$
    – A. B.
    May 27 at 10:03
  • $\begingroup$ @A.B. It's both that the spells move faster than bullets (if indeed they do), and the mage can aim mostly anywhere they can see without the pilot having to turn the plane. These things together render aerial gunnery trivial. $\endgroup$ May 27 at 13:06
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Easy, they use earth magic to build a tunnel all the way to the enemy lines then they blow them up from below using a combination of earth, water and fire magic to create pressure. Or they have a guy that can summon wicked thunderstorms from a distance.

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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to the site snerfeldung, please take our tour and read-up in our help center about our ways. There's a system which automatically flags short posts like this, if you fill-out the post a little and add more details, you may be able to avoid deletion. What you have here is the good basis of an answer, but it needs more to work here. Enjoy the site. $\endgroup$ May 25 at 14:19
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The wind mage generates a strong enough force of air to send the bullets back towards the ones shooting the mage. I would assume wind that strong would be dangerous on its own, but lets assume its dissipates quickly due to magic. Imagine the case where the more you attack your enemy the more ammunition your giving them to throw back at you. You may decide its easier to shoot someone else.

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Earth mages could create and move/carry defensive bulwarks with them. This should protect your infantry against small and medium arms fire. Earth mages could also add temporary extra defense to tanks by building dirt/rock walls in front of them, or over top of them.

Air mages could swat any grenades that get lobbed over the defensive dirt/rock bulwark. And as others have said, fill the field with fog with water and air mages.

When you get to the enemy, the fire and lightning mages can wreak havoc on the infantry. Also, the earth mages could dump dirt on the enemy in their trenches.

I am assuming that the infantry are all mages since they refuse to carry handguns.

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Your magic is long ranged bayonets or grenades essentially. Depending on the front line most people wouldn't want to go on ground in daylight snipers would take you out if not the machine gunners.

Night raids were common in WW trenches that's when you got out of your trench and crawled to the enemy praying they didn't see or smell you till you got to their trench then you could encounter the stories of a single woman taking prisoner 300 men with only a grenades in her hand or he had a pistol with 2 bullets in it! (both true trench seizing tales).

Your mages would then be effective and problematic at the same time what spells they cast, how they cast it, along with what is in the trench can be an asset or an utter wrench in their gears by blocking paths or blowing up ammo stores (fire) but they would also gain fear from your enemy in that a mage maybe able by presence alone to convince enemies to surrender under penalty of spellcraft death.

The other more effective strategy you will hold is surprise from behind & closing the distance. Your mages must get close and still then it's luck if your enemy doesn't have brass balls to rush or fire upon them anyway, if not then they'll be fine.

But under normal war conditions of WW1 & 2 your mages do not stand upto the guns and distance you need them to cover. Unless you have elemental shields that will blind their own path like fire shielding that can burn so hot it'll melt high speed bullets but can they deter all the bullets in a machine gun? If not that mage is dead. The shield also singles them out for all the gunfire (which could also be used as a sacrificial lure for others benefits) so this could be both a boon and loss.

You've created a scenario like Flora Sandes encountered in WW1 she signed up with the Serbians who used pistols, mix material uniforms, and horses for their military's might. They rode on horseback against tanks and it was very miss rather then hit they took some out, it was ballsy but it was all they had. Your the horses it's not wise to not have legit side arms when everyone else has them in trench warfare. But you have many tales that still kept traditions alive with unique sword arms or appearance during both wars.

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