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A society of wizards has a magical gene they want to spread on an otherwise magicless earth.

The magic gene is limited in total potency to any effects that you could produce with a million dollars. You can be as fast as a car, be as deadly as a machine gun, as durable as a steel safe through means other than being a car, safe or machine gun like running fast, having tough skin, or throwing fireballs. Weight can be a concern for some powers- having the armor of a tank power without a tank engine power may make them immobile.

They can each convert a human in about a day, with or without their consent or knowledge, and there are a few dozen of them.

They can generate basically any genetics needed for the gene- dominant, recessive, triggered by environmental conditions or stress, hiding in the genes for x generations. They can't produce a virus to immediately rapidly convert everyone to be a wizard, because their spells are also limited to million dollar costs.

How can they make most of the world's population magic users as quickly as possible? What power package should they give? What genetics should they have for their magic gene?

Ideal answers will give a clear plan to converting as many people to be mages as possible. They can obviously make a couple thousand of magic users a year directly, but ideally those magic users will make more magic users via breeding, so these genetics should boost their fertility rate somehow.

They also won't assume future technologies to be available. The wizards don't know how long they'll be alive, and could be killed or die of a heart attack in the future. They want to spread their legacy as much as possible, and while future tech may make this easier, it might not.

So, how would they spread magic genes?

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    $\begingroup$ Can they build this gene-altering virus step by step, one million dollars at a time? $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Aug 25 '21 at 20:01
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    $\begingroup$ A side note - after most of the Earth population is converted to mages, economies crash and US dollar undergoes hyperinflation. And as the value $1,000,000 goes below preinflatory 1 cent, we are all back to a non-magical world. $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Aug 25 '21 at 20:03
  • $\begingroup$ Humans spend billions of dollars on genetic engineering and don't know how to do this. I wouldn't assume people who are limited to million dollar spends would do better. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Aug 25 '21 at 20:03
  • $\begingroup$ "don't know how to do this" - does this magic has any power to do things that don't have a precise price tag? $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Aug 25 '21 at 20:06
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    $\begingroup$ creating a retro-virus would cost way less than a million dollars today. thanks to crispr altering an existing genome is not that expensive. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Aug 26 '21 at 14:09
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Magically create a virus that spreads easily, causes no lethal effects and affects the gonads by implanting the gene into the DNA of reproductive cells. They could start from some common flu virus.

Since the spreading to the offspring will be granted by the voluntary activity of the infected, that's not in the budget constrain.

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  • $\begingroup$ They don't have abilities beyond a million dollar spells, as mentioned in the question, and modern humans don't have the ability to do this. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Aug 25 '21 at 19:32
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    $\begingroup$ @NepeneNep modern humans absolutely have the ability to do this. and for a lot less than a million dollars. it costs less than a $100 to genetically edit an genome assuming you already have the gene in question isolated. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Aug 26 '21 at 14:13
  • $\begingroup$ They could edit the DNA of a virus, but they don't have a reliable way of making a worldwide plague that reliably spreads and doesn't cause health issues and reliably infects the correct tissues because humans can't do that. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Aug 26 '21 at 14:57
  • $\begingroup$ @NepeneNep They don't? Paste it into several varieties of the common cold. $\endgroup$ Oct 23 '21 at 15:12
  • $\begingroup$ That only works if the magic works by having genes in a small percentage of your upper respiratory tract. You need it to infect the right tissues, and to have a high rate of uptake, and to not kill the patient, which is tricky. Hence why it's hard with normal money, and their magic system is very dependent on what you can do with real money. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Oct 23 '21 at 21:28
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Why do the wizards need to bother with genetics at all?

If the initial few dozen wizards all have the ability to convert other humans into new wizards, then it seems to me like the new wizards that they convert should also have that ability. Maybe it's a spell that the new wizards would need to learn, but a wizard who knows that spell should be able to teach it to other wizards.

So here's my proposal:

The original few dozen wizards split up, spread out across the world, and set up schools in as many large cities as they can. Anyone who chooses to can step into one of these schools and get themself turned into a wizard for free, with no obligation that they ever come back. But if they do come back, the wizards would be able to teach them spells.

The goal of this training, of course, is to teach the muggle-to-wizard conversion spell. If that spell is very simple, then it could be the very first spell taught, the way that "Hello, world!" is used in most real-world programming courses. If the conversion spell is very complex, it could be used as a final exam: If you can successfully convert the next guy who walks in, congratulations! You've learned all that we can teach you. Now go out there and start your own magic school.

If magic is as powerful as you say, then there will be no shortage of people lining up to get magic of their own once the word gets out. The issue will be in getting the word out in the first place.

So, anytime a wizard sets up shop in a new city, they'll need to find some way to drum up a few customers. They might ask around at local coffee shops or pubs. They might place ads in local newspapers, or on local radio or television stations. If they can get on the local news, even better. In modern times, they'd most likely turn to social media.

In all cases, they'd want to stress that anyone can come in to get the ability to use magic for free, with no fees, contracts, apprenticeships, or anything like that. And that having the ability to use magic is perfectly safe, with no risks or hidden costs to the user. (Assuming, of course, that this is actually true- better to be up-front about any possible risks than to get sued later on.)

They'd also want to encourage doubters to come in and get the conversion treatment, to see the truth of the magic for themselves. Then, the wizards would encourage these no-longer-doubters to tell everyone they can about their experience.

There will inevitably be some people who refuse to get the conversion treatment, for whatever reasons; but by this method, I'll guess that your initial few dozen wizards may well be able to convert the majority of humanity in a matter of years. Perhaps a decade or two.

Converting the people who refuse- or ensuring that their children become wizards- will require another answer. Maybe include a gene drive in the conversion treatment? That would ensure that all children with at least one wizard parent would always grow up to be a wizard.

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  • $\begingroup$ They don't have the ability to convert other people into wizards. They can imbue a million dollars of spell into them. The cost to make new wizards with money would be probably in the trillions of dollars, and would be well beyond their spells. If they just went public, wouldn't there be a risk of the military/ government/ corporations just demanding they work for them, or fighting over them? They don't want to have to fight fighter jets. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Aug 26 '21 at 8:21
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    $\begingroup$ The third paragraph in the OP states: "They can each convert a human in about a day, with or without their consent or knowledge, and there are a few dozen of them." You're contradicting yourself. Based on your comments on the answers so far, it looks like the wizards' only option will be to have lots of children and try to outcompete baseline humanity over thousands of years. $\endgroup$ Aug 27 '21 at 2:10
  • $\begingroup$ They can grant people a spell via genetics, not the ability to use unlimited spells. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Aug 27 '21 at 7:58
  • $\begingroup$ @NepeneNep Middle of sixth paragraph suggests conversion is possible too: "They can obviously make a couple thousand of magic users a year directly," "Ideal answers will give a clear plan to converting as many people to be mages as possible". If 'Mages' and 'Wizards' were meant to be distinct and different the question was completely missing that detail. $\endgroup$ Oct 22 '21 at 18:35
  • $\begingroup$ The answer did note "The magic gene is limited in total potency to any effects that you could produce with a million dollars." I didn't note any ability to make people with the ability to cast unlimited spells. If you assume they have novel powers then the question is different. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Oct 22 '21 at 22:30
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DNA altering precision Bots. The bot does a couple of things

The first is insert the genetic alteration as a virus. The virus can only be built by the bot. It alters the genetics of the host. The bot is configured to be introduced at various points depending on what traits are desired. One key point is, of course, reproductive organs. This is so the patient will pass the traits down. At the same time, the bot will bolster the immune system of the patient

The second thing the bot will do is to replicate itself via available materials, like a Von Neumann probe. One bot per patient. This will give you a geometric progression of the number of bots available to alter existing humans. If one bot takes a day to do it's thing including replication, then it would take a total of 33 days to hit over 8 billion.

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  • $\begingroup$ They are limited to spells that cost a million dollars. They could certainly make a virus that replicated, or boost fertility, or the immune system, but modern science can't make von neumann probes, so they can't cost this spell. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Aug 26 '21 at 8:24
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"Artificial Insemination"

Assuming that your wizards are genetically compatible with non-magical humans... Artificially inseminating someone costs less than a million dollars. Just magically make a bunch of women pregnant with the wizards' seed - and continue doing that. If magic somehow has to be passed on by the mother, this can still be done with artificially implanted eggs, though that complicates things somewhat. (You might do some sort of wizard egg-implantation sometimes, even if it's not necessary, if you want to preserve non-wizard y-chromosomes for some reason.)

Presumably, if the next generation of wizards is interested in using the same strategy, you'll have exponentially more wizards carrying out the plan, generation after generation.

(This is a horrible solution from a moral angle - but is very pragmatic.)


Sidenote: if the power of magic is directly tied to inflation and relative dollar value, there would be incentive for wizards to encourage monetary deflation. This could even be used as a force-magnifier for whatever wizard-gene-spreading strategy is adopted.

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  • $\begingroup$ They are not genetically compatible with non magical humans, no. Also, they don't know how long they'll survive in the modern world. They could be discovered in ten years and then be vivisected by corporations, so they would prefer not to just try to have lots of babies and hope for the best. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Aug 26 '21 at 8:39
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Piggyback off of the annual flu vaccine, and use that vaccine to genetically mutate humans into wizards.

This may take more than one million dollar spell to get the full effort out of it, so we may need more than one wizard to be in on this operation.

But to take a slightly different approach than @LDutch's approach, we may not need a virus ourselves to get that genetic information into humans, and the costs of testing could be exported to humans safely.

According to the CDC themselves, vaccine variants for influenza is updated every year - this would give you a lot of time in a given year to work on getting this plan to work, thankfully, so that could help bridge some of these steps, unless the million dollar effect is a singular maximum buff for a person over a life - or that it's the maximum of the entirety of a single wizard's life access to spells, which sort of means this could increase the minimum number of wizards involved.

The trick is to offset the costs of the magic gene into that process, and may involve the following steps:

1.) Grant a wizard a PHD in medical sciences, specifically around virology, or specifically focused in influenza, to give them potential access to the CDC selection discussions (Average cost of a PHD is apparently $240000.00, so we can still get use out of this one wizard with additional buffs to grant CDC recognition, which would be kind of important here.).

2.) Make a magical spell to grant a discovery to how to make influenza A(H3N2) viruses grow better in eggs, and make that discovery involve the magical gene you want to give humans as well (Rest pf the spell above in research lab materials, or in getting grants for the materials needed). Alternatively, you could use a more general approach to boost people's immune systems with the magical gene in question, which would be useful, but the A(H3N2) virus was called out above the the CDC in the page I linked that, specifically, it was a harder vaccine to make due to produce candidate vaccine virus in time normally, and would be the easiest way to provide immediate value.

3.) Provide it, or the research involved (Maybe without being obvious about the magic component involved) to the CDC to themselves test, and implement into their influenza scheduling. Maybe with a million dollar powerpoint presentation to help convey the effects.

4.) Wait. No million dollar spell needed here, unless you want a million-dollar wine to drink while waiting.

Eventually, that solution would be implemented by humans without their knowledge, granting people magical power (With some people over a period of years getting double doses of magic, but hopefully that's okay), and you'd be able to essentially use the existing testing and budget of the CDC influenza vaccine schedule to do the "Last mile" work to get it done - and potentially lead to humans perpetuating the wizard gene stuff into other, unrelated vaccines without your knowledge.

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  • $\begingroup$ We don't have the ability in the modern day to make a mass produced virus that changes everyone's DNA to a particular form. They don't have sci fi powers. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Oct 22 '21 at 9:16
  • $\begingroup$ @NepeneNep: Are you planning to turn the adjust humans into wizards that can also reproduce with the other set of wizards? It might be worth considering the possibility of them not getting exactly identical traits - we're pretty close with mRNA - if we replaced that with mDNA, it...likely has odd side effects, and we intentionally avoid doing that. $\endgroup$ Oct 22 '21 at 9:19
  • $\begingroup$ To clarify, We have been able to clone sheep for a while now, and the main thing is that we have laws against cloning humans, so mDNA is very unlikely to become a thing humans use, even if it's within grasp of what we could, technically, do. $\endgroup$ Oct 22 '21 at 9:23
  • $\begingroup$ Sure, but their spells are limited to million dollar spends, not hypothetical future technologies that may someday exist. It would be like if I did a question about how to defend a medieval castle and your suggested answer was build a nuclear bomb- they can't do things vastly beyond their tech level. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Oct 22 '21 at 10:37
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Recruit a Poor Person to make you a Retrovirus.

Your magic system is similar to an equivalent exchange magic system... minus the exchange part. In a typical equivalent exchange magic system, you only allow spells to be cast by sacrificing something of equal or greater value to the caster. In these systems, you can see things like a person sacrificing the only photo they have of their dead wife in exchange for saving the life of a stranger. To anyone else, the photo is just a piece of paper, but to the caster it is immeasurable valuable.

Money, by its very nature, works the same way. It is only worth its perceived value so a perfectly serviceable 10 yr old sedan might cost \$5,000, and yet a vintage Ferrari can exceed \$10,000,000 not being able to actually go any faster. So when a wizard tries to cast a move as fast as a car spell, your magic system needs to decide not that something IS less than \$1,000,000, but that it is WORTH less than \$1,000,000. Since value is only what you would be willing to pay for something, you magic system can be manipulated a LOT by the perception of the caster.

Modern genetic experiments cost a lot because we use multi-million dollar equipment that is marked up WAY past the cost of materials, and employ subject matter experts that are paid way beyond a substances level salaries to do their work. So when this research costs us billions of dollars to do, it is because we perceive the research as being worth what we spend. In reality, we could make those machines much more cheaply, and employee slave labor to get all the work done at a tiny fraction of what you think it costs. But at the end of the day, nothing costs more than its price tag.

Another case to consider is that sometimes prices are set of a loss. A business who wants to monopolize an industry or clear out inventory will often sell products at a loss; so, if someone sell diapers at \$5 a box when it costs \$7 to make, it is still only worth \$5.

Your real problem here is that your wizards who want to make a spell to leave this global lasting legacy, but they could never cast that spell themselves because they already know in their heart-of-hearts that what they want is worth more than \$1,000,000...

This is where your poor people come in. Poor people think differently than these wizards. To them nothing is worth more than \$1,000,000 because it is already an unfathomable sum to spend on anything. If you tell a poor person a space shuttle costs less than $1,000,000... many of them will believe you. So, by finding a person to recruit who would never consider creating a retrovirus (whatever that is) to be worth more than \$1,000,000, then they would be able to cast the spell to make it.

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  • $\begingroup$ The magic system isn't based on the perceived value of objects. It's based on the recognized value of services, with some leeway for variation. If the poor people haven't historically produced and have the ability to produce future space shuttles, they're not useful for the magic system. If something is routinely sold as a loss, or they can massively decrease the cost the wizards can do a lot more with that sort of magic. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Oct 23 '21 at 13:43
  • $\begingroup$ @NepeneNep The problem is that money only has perceived value. It has no other meaning. Even if you average that perception across a civilization or even whole planet, there are many solutions to each problem. The poor and rich many want to move as fast as a car, but what car each envision will be very different based on their own bias. There are many people qualified to engineer a virus who flip burgers for a living, or even willing to work for free as a passion project. Depending on what path you envision to an end result changes cost by orders of magnitude. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Oct 24 '21 at 15:18
  • $\begingroup$ "If something is routinely sold as a loss" <- poor entrepreneurs often start up businesses with very little money by recruiting these burger flippers/and passion workers. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Oct 24 '21 at 15:24
  • $\begingroup$ Unless that perception has in the past led to purchases, and is likely to in the future, it doesn't apply for this magic system. It has some flexibility with clever use, but not to the point of a billion dollars of value of flexibility. As I noted in the opening thing, a million dollars is the limit. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Oct 24 '21 at 15:26
  • $\begingroup$ @NepeneNep I see what you are going for but it is a very unreliable metric for a magic system in a fiat economy. A few years back, my DM tried to pull off something similar in home brew table top game, and it produced incredibly broken results once it came into contact with human ingenuity. This system will likely leave your audience constantly asking why characters aren't smart enough to try XYZ to bypass any problem... or if it is for a game system, they will always be trying stuff to bypass any problem. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Oct 24 '21 at 15:52
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Step One: Get a job at a sperm bank. You have a dozen wizards so you can hit a dozen sperm banks. Step Two: Genetically alter sperm going in and out. Step Three: Profit.

If it takes a day to transform a fully grown person than it probably takes a lot less for sperm. It might be better to put some wizards in places that freeze and store eggs but in a decade when people start to notice there will be enough of a gene pool that it won't matter. Alternatively you could just alter repetitive sperm donors if it doesn't work on straight sperm. If all you want is a lot of people than it's best to go for sperm donors if you can't directly alter the eggs without them being in a person.

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  • $\begingroup$ That is something I hadn't thought about. They could probably convert a lot more people if they mass converted sperm, since sperm are a lot smaller than people. Solid idea, thanks. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Oct 22 '21 at 22:23
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I'm not sure it can be done based on the parameters of the question. Then again, I'm not a biologist so I don't actually know how much things cost when it comes to isolation and manipulation of genomes.

An issue comes from a comment another answer that states that these wizards are not biologically compatible with humans (preventing just making babies). This tells me that their magic genes would have to cross a species barrier to land in humans. This probably adds complications to simpler methods.

It probably also means that just splicing in their magic genes into a human is going to cost a lot. Probably more than if they were compatible humans. Plus do they know the human genome enough to just directly splice or add to it with enough precision to adhere to cost restraints?

Probiotics are Magic ... Maybe?

I'm pretty sure we already alter bacteria to generate useful drugs for us in the pharmaceutical industry that are then sold to customers after processing. A similar premise might be plausible to use on human gut bacteria to generate or concentrate the magic that a person will use for their spells. The main issue in this case is that it is not directly giving humans the power of magic -- they are granting it through an intermediary.

My gut tells me that the initial creation of the bacteria is over a million dollars, but once the new symbiotic critters are created, it's just a matter of keeping them in a healthy environment for them until it is time to transfer them -- something that could be done mundanely or with spells to make the environs.

If they are the feelers everywhere kind of secret society, they could probably use similar equipment that other pharmaceutical companies use to manufacture it, either by buying it with money or creating things slowly over time.

So long as these new bacteria integrate into the microbiome of us humans, they have a chance to be passed down to children through the mother, meaning that magic should propagate through lines.

Market it as a probiotic for the health nuts, or package with an herbal fertility treatment for a double whammy of plan advancement. If you want to incite nerd rage, market it as portable midichlorians -- That should go over well for the Star Wars fans. Perhaps different brands have different inborn magics built into them?

The Power Grab

As for powers, that is a tricky one. The wizards will have an interest in not granting powers that will lead to inflation when granted widely (or not care and leave it on their kids). However, they also need to ensure that their gifts are widely disseminated through the populous.

Improved health and fertility are two nice powers to have. Nothing too extreme if they want to evade notice from governments, but people not getting ill and surviving to have babies are good for their plans.

As for spell-type powers, I don't know. If not accelerating inflation is a concern, I would recommend a short list of powers that do not dump a lot of money into the economy. So no permanent creation powers for sure, and possibly not even temporary creation powers depending on how long the items last. The last thing they want is millions of dollars in rare metals flooding economies.

What powers granted probably depends on the other motives of the wizards and the world you are striving to create. I could see them seeding various base magics among the people and letting them mingle and mix together over the generations to create magic based on the lineage of the parents.

TL;DR: I'd try modifying gut bacteria, but that too is probably too expensive.

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  • $\begingroup$ Splicing a gene from one species to another is relatively cheap and simple, and within their abilities, for example when cats were made with glow in the dark fur. They can give people whatever magic genes fairly quickly. They don't have any sci fi ability to mind control bacteria and make them able to give people spells. They lack abilities beyond what you can purchase for today for a million dollars. Unless you have any ideas about it, I'm not sure making radio network communicating bacteria or whatever would be useful for making people magic. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Oct 23 '21 at 13:59
  • $\begingroup$ Not radio controlling bacteria. The idea is/was to modify human gut bacteria to produce the magic for humans, ultimately creating a symbiotic effect where humans give our gut bacteria a home and they give us magic. To use something that we humans already have and tweak it to be better. Plus, bacteria can be easy to reproduce en masse. The issue, I admit, is in the matter of determining spells. $\endgroup$
    – Haylen
    Oct 25 '21 at 16:41
  • $\begingroup$ They can make bullet resistant or able to create wine or whatever bacteria, but they don't have abilities beyond humans, like the ability to mind control bacteria to give people super powers. The bacteria could just go off and do whatever they wanted. Their spending limit is a million dollars. They can't do things beyond what humanity can do. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Oct 25 '21 at 16:45

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