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The big Empire in my setting has some inspiration from the pre-Islamic Persian Empires, and thus they really like Fire. They were the first to develop fire-magic and all of their priests are educated in the art. These mages use their magic primarily for religious rituals, but occasionally also hygienic purposes for the very wealthy (only rarely because it's kinda dangerous). The fire is manipulated via magical energies and it looks like the magi are making the fire move on its own.

This has massive implications for their religion, they see fire as the arbiter of all purity, justice, order, and truth in the world, and the source of all light as well. Thus it is used as a potent symbol for entire empire.

The problem is that I really don't want there to be Fire Breathing warriors in the military, I'd prefer to keep it more low fantasy in terms of tone and I really don't want to make a rehash of the Fire-Nation, but I can't figure out a good reason why they wouldn't include it. Fire is just SO powerful.

I'd also prefer if you try to come up with a more interesting solution then "it's really expensive/hard to train people in it".

Thanks a ton.

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    $\begingroup$ Great first question, welcome to the site! I'm relatively new myself, and I can tell you, this is a great start! Also, I hope you find my answer helpful. $\endgroup$
    – Alendyias
    Commented Nov 6, 2021 at 21:34
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    $\begingroup$ Would you be willing to accept a few fire mages in the army, performing a mostly symbolic role (i.e. frightening enemies / boosting friendly morale, but not expected to win any battles on their own)? Because that seems kind of hard to avoid in the setting you describe, at least unless there's some kind of a blanket prohibition on military use of fire magic. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 7, 2021 at 13:55
  • $\begingroup$ How about some sort of struggle of powers? Or, the army could decide not to accept any fire mages because they see it as a threat to the whole country, if these mages are trained in fire magic, and also know how to use arms? $\endgroup$
    – user613
    Commented Nov 8, 2021 at 9:35
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    $\begingroup$ @IlmariKaronen Yes that's already a thing! $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 8, 2021 at 17:15
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    $\begingroup$ @EricBrown-Cal In the real world Europe was a Christian place. But they didn't listen to the Church when they tried to ban the crossbow in warfare, $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Commented Nov 11, 2021 at 20:50

22 Answers 22

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Loads of reasons. But which ones are any good?

We can invent any number of reasons. It would help if you first nail down how powerful is the fire magic, and what you DO want the fire to be used for. Then you can root out which of the following are unsuitable.

(0) The church forbids it. All the warring nations follow the same fire religion. Hence the church is the most powerful single faction in the world -- the only one that can mediate between the different nations. All mages are priests with allegiance only to the church and not to any one nation. The church is powerful enough that all branches of the church have agreed to sit out wars. This is accepted by the nations as it means they cannot field fire mages but neither can the enemy.

(1) Fire is seen as a holy object and it would be sacrilege to use it for violence.

(2) Fire is seen as a holy object and it would be sacrilege to stain it with the blood of the unworthy. Of course our enemies are all unworthy.

(3) Manipulating fire can only be done at short range. Shorter than the length of a spear for example. So the guy with the spear will defeat the mage nine times out of ten.

(4) Fire is less dangerous than sharpened steel. Burns hurt and all, and prolongued exposure can kill. But it is safe to sweep your hand through a small flame from a torch for example. So sweeping a flame over someone does similarly little damage.

(5) Fire is really fast and powerful. A fire mage can easily defeat 5 trained soldiers. But a fire mage costs as much to train as 10 soldiers. Since warfare is about logistics no good general will field fire mages.

(6) Controlling fire requires a huge amount of concentration and mental serenity. It cannot be used on the battlefield with all that shouting and running and jumping and dying.

Bonus: If concentration is lost fire mages might become more dangerous to their friends than foes. They are known to explode or set their own troops ablaze.

(7) Mages are rare. Very few people can be trained to become a mage at all. They are more useful in non-warfare or at least non-battlefield positions.

(8) There is a lot of time and preparation to cast a fire spell. Lots of drawing circles and smearing of expensive incenses. If you are cleaning a villa you have a lot of time to set up. Not so much when the other guy is running around trying to get you.

(8.5) The flame must be carefully prepared. Mages typically take their fire from the sacred flame in the central temple as this flame is particularly easy to use. They are much less powerful if they have to start a new fire on the march.

(8.75) The magic becomes easier the older the flame has been burning. The flame in the central temple has been burning for centuries.

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    $\begingroup$ "(1) Fire is seen as a holy object and it would be sacrilege to use it for violence." Alternately, "Fire is seen as a holy object, and it would be sacrilege to use it for violence, so the fire magic stops working when abused like that." $\endgroup$
    – nick012000
    Commented Nov 8, 2021 at 6:58
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    $\begingroup$ (5) I would say that even if that was the case, a general might add a few fire mages to their army for increased morale and/or decrease the enemies' morale. $\endgroup$
    – GFA
    Commented Nov 8, 2021 at 7:53
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    $\begingroup$ This is a great list, but I don't think (5) is true; in real life, militaries invest in things like tanks, which require a lot more resources than a soldier. Plus, if the fire mages are that good, they are far less likely to die, so over the long run the investment will pay off. $\endgroup$
    – alexgbelov
    Commented Nov 8, 2021 at 15:06
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    $\begingroup$ @alexgbelov I agree we could come up with reasons (5) is false. But we could equally use our imagination to come up with reasons (5) is true. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Commented Nov 8, 2021 at 17:39
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    $\begingroup$ On top of 6, there's a risk that the fire mage loses control over his fire should his concentration falter, scorching the friendly nearby soldiers as he turns into a fireball himself. $\endgroup$
    – user50849
    Commented Nov 8, 2021 at 18:07
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They're good for shock and awe, but not tactically useful

Consider elephants. Every nation with access to elephants has made use of them in war. The trouble they've all had though is that elephants are almost as much a threat to your own side as the enemy. They can't tell friend from foe in a melee, they're prone to panicking, and if they run away then they're charging back through your own troops. They're great for terrifying the enemy, sure - but if the enemy hold ranks then they can easily take it down with arrows or spears. And you may need to keep your other troops at a distance when you're moving, otherwise you're going to lose men from random stomping/goring en route. So in practise they stopped being used seriously.

Or consider biological warfare. All major countries researched it pretty heavily in the 20th century, and collectively they all discovered that there was no realistic way to stop any pathogen from coming back to kill them too.

Your fire magicians might similarly have the problem that they're just too powerful.

Perhaps they release magic in their sleep which can randomly scorch the area, so you need a good half-mile distance between the magicians and the main camp - and possibly between magicians too. In their magic schools, each magician sleeps in their own little compound with high, thick stone walls and no roof, so they can flare safely. This is going to be harder to achieve on the march. Naturally this leaves them open to death-or-glory assassination attempts by the other side; or possibly a "suicide bombing" assassination, if killing a fire wizard causes a much greater explosion that'll wipe out everything for a couple of miles, including your army.

Or if you can get them to the battlefield, perhaps they just don't have fine motor control of the fire, so there really isn't a safe place to be on the battlefield when their fire is turned on. Or perhaps it's really hard to turn the magic off once you've started, so they might start by burning up the enemy but then turn on you.

And however it goes, they're only one man. If the enemy don't just turn and run, a good volley of arrows or scatter-shot could take them out on the spot. For opponents who've faced them before, they're a known hazard and there are known ways to take them down.

Given all this, it's likely that they'd mostly be considered a defensive weapon. Suitable berms or walls could keep the other defenders safe, whilst a fire wizard sits out on their own in front of the city. They'll always be the first person to die in any attack - but they'll do enough damage to the enemy that their city will likely be safe. As such they'll be seriously high status individuals with near-religious levels of admiration and fear.

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    $\begingroup$ "Or perhaps it's really hard to turn the magic off once you've started" I like this one. Fire has a tendency to spread. The mages can create and generally control, but they cannot extinguish. Eventually, it will spread to everywhere, not just the enemy. And generally, if you're fighting over land, you probably don't want it razed to the ground anyway. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 8, 2021 at 15:45
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Maybe it turns out that most fire mages are radical pacifists, since their training in fire conjuring requires them to live an ascetic life, and to transcend worldly desires. Thus, it's rare they are involved in war in the first place.

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    $\begingroup$ Or they're simply unable to hurt others and just self-immolate when used in high-stress situations, like on the battlefield. $\endgroup$
    – Nelson
    Commented Nov 8, 2021 at 6:13
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Water is a hard counter to fire magic.

Theologically there are several explanations to this. Perhaps the marriage of the fire deity to the water deity means they cannot harm them? Perhaps water produces a mana that is opposed to fire? Perhaps there's some chemical cause?

Regardless, water is excellent at stopping fire magic. Not just putting it out- if the moisture in the air is high enough, it doesn't work. If you have a large quantity of water near the fire magic, it won't work. Even blood can nullify fire magic if outside the body.

This means that on the battlefield fire magic is mostly useless. The enemy will normally counter your fire magic, and outside of specially prepared areas rain or water will often nullify the fire magic.

Of course, people would try to make counters, but the accepted wisdom by most would be that trying to use fire magic in a military manner isn't worth it in any circumstances. It's too easy to nullify, and too often collapses when needed.

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  • $\begingroup$ I was going to put something similar, but from the theological angle. Fire is holy, so the priests don't want it to be known that water would counter it. Normal fire spells aren't countered, but spells in battle. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 9, 2021 at 3:52
  • $\begingroup$ This might be less useful in a desert situation in which water is very precious. Also opens the door to "what about water in the blood" or similar questions. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 9, 2021 at 22:04
  • $\begingroup$ If you don't have water in deserts, your army isn't going to be marching. I also answered about blood, saying it can nullify fire magic if outside the body. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Commented Nov 9, 2021 at 23:57
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Fire is a test of purity. A test your holy warriors can pass.

If your empire is the only one with this religion, this is a problem. But making warriors fireproof is (a) really useful and (b) a potent symbol. So armies in your world make a show that they are fireproof as frequently as soldiers in this world hoist aloft a flagstaff or banner adorned with some variant of the Romans' pagan eagle.

So long as a warrior is pure of heart and of body, dedicated to his cause, impeccably loyal to his superiors, and full of patriotic sentiment down to his bones, the fire will not harm him. And if he says a Cantrip of Fireproof while being none of those things, the fire will not harm him either. Their mages have long since figured out fire. But if a soldier goes around bragging that he's impious but fireproof anyway and people should know better than to follow the government's silly orders, then some sneakily invisible and inaudible secret police mage will dispel that cantrip when he least expects it, turning the warrior into an object lesson in the dangers of impiety. Possibly also dinner, depending which way you want to go with that.

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/occasionally also hygienic purposes for the very wealthy (only rarely because it's kinda dangerous). /

Using it for military purposes is even more dangerous.

I am not sure exactly why hygienic fire is dangerous but I bet you know because you put it in the OP. Probably people and pets catch on fire more than they are supposed to. Maybe the fire users catch on fire too. Fire danger generally relates to things catching on fire. In any case, whatever the risks are for a hygiene fire, they are way more if you are trying to use it to burn enemies - which really is a sort of hygiene thing too, in a way. Kind of.

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    $\begingroup$ Congrats on 1k bronze badges! $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 7, 2021 at 17:59
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    $\begingroup$ @RedwolfPrograms - thank you. I have welded them into a fetching codpiece. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Commented Nov 7, 2021 at 20:07
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Flames are just not that dangerous. There's a reason soldiers carried expensive metal weapons instead of cheap torches.

The most dangerous thing a fire mage can do is set things on fire - which isn't a novel or exclusive ability. If you limit their abilities to little more than what can be done with torches and fire arrows, armies will probably stick with torches and fire arrows. And most of the time prefer their spears and swords to those.

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Make magic require more preparation and complexity when performed

This can be summed up with this scene from Game of Thrones season 2 episode 5 which talks about "wildfire".

Take note of what Bronn says as objection to the suggestion to just launch the jars of wildfire with a catapult:

I don't know if you've seen a real battle, old man, but things can get a bit messy. Cause while we're flinging things at Stannis, he's flinging them right back at us. Men die. Men shit themselves. Men run. Which means pots falling. Which means fire inside the walls. Which means the poor cunts trying to defend the city end up burning it down.

So, wildfire is a bit like the fantasy equivalent of a fire bomb. Very dangerous, as it can burn you as easily as the enemy. Battles are so hectic, that you cannot even use these fire bombs lest they detonate on your side.

The same might apply to fire mages - they can easily end up scorching your side because a stray arrow hit them and they lost focus. Or maybe the arrow fell next to them. Or maybe something else. Battles are hectic, keeping concentration on delicate magic seems hard.

The solution in the show and books was to use the wildfire as sea mines. Put them in the water before the battle and then ignite them when the fleet arrived. This cannot really work with fire mages. They are not a pot of explosive substance to be left for the enemy to stumble upon. They have will of their own and most likely would not want to sacrifice themselves for your side. In fact, suggesting this would be a very good way to earn their enmity.


The wildfire is based to an extent on Greek fire, which can serve as additional source of inspiration. Greek fire is not just a fancy ancient world Molotov cocktail. Greek fire was more like an ancient napalm flamethrower. You had to get in close to deploy it by pumping the flaming substance towards the enemies. This was done only defensively, as the substance was again too volatile to be used offensively. For largely the same problem as Bronn suggested - it can very easily end up burning your side.

The way Greek fire was used was:

  1. Only in defence.
  2. At sea.
  3. Under favourable winds.

The substance would be prepared and put on boats, then those boats would sail right next to the enemy fleet and light them up in unquenchable fire. This was done because:

  1. You have easy access to Greek fire from the defending city. Rather than try to prepare and transport something from afar which involves all sorts of problems like being seized by the enemy or an accident burning down your shipment.
  2. While Greek fire reportedly only grew hotter by pouring water on it and it even on the sea, deploying it in naval warfare still limited its destruction if it spread out. On land, you might win the battle but end up burning your surrounding lands.
  3. Even with precautions in place, you still want to be extra sure that the fire you throw at the enemy will not come back at you and destroy your boat. With that said, under favourable winds, this was still dangerous as your boats have to get to right next to the enemies ones. At the very least, however, you do not need many boats with Greek fire, you can afford to lose a few.

These are more considerations that can inspire limitations to fire mages.

  1. Fire mages might need something from their home. Or wizard tower. Or wherever it is they dwell in. So just shipping them off to war does not work. Might be some substance (spell ingredients, perhaps), might be something more esoteric as a particular meditation spot attuned to the individual mage. Maybe they just do not like marching with the troops and get grumpy. Whatever it is, it might limit their effectiveness as a mobile flame weapon.

  2. Fire magic is still dangerous. There are very good reasons to not deploy it even if it is technically possible. If you are conquering land chances are you do it because it is useful to you. A piece of scorched land likely is not. If you are defending some place, that is still because you need it. That is likely where your crops are which feed your armies and your cities. You really do not want a hungry army. Just ask the Roman empire.

    Note that if you do want to deny your enemy some resource and literally deploy scorched earth tactics , you still do not need a fire mage for that. Just some regular old fire. And even if you have a fire mage doing the scorching of the earth, that action is not done during battle anyway. They are the equivalent of a guy with a torch. Something that already exists.

  3. I am sure that fire magic is impressive when done indoors. Where there is no wind. But does it really work that well outdoors when a stray gust can fling your flames right in your face? Even if fire magic is the equivalent of a flamethrower, you still need to approach the battles tactically to still have your fire mages after they do their magic. And that might be hard to do. If there are all the other limitations I have mentioned above, then what happens if you are attacked and the winds are not favourable? You hold off on deploying the mages. Or they end up destroying your army. Too much hassle to just keep them around.

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First of all...is there a problem?

I can understand where you're coming from, and I am biased in this area, but in my mind, ATLA is low-fantasy. Remember, low-fantasy is when a world has magic but otherwise follows natural law. In Avatar's case, one can bend the elements, but natural laws still apply to those elements-when Azula struck Aang with lightning, he ended up with a scar on one foot from the lightning following a path to the ground and coming through his foot in the process. That said, it's your call where you want to go, so if that's what you want, why not just balance the magic.

Magic, in just about every setting, has rules and therefore limitations. So where are Fire's limitations? Perhaps Fire magic, like real fire, easily goes out of control, and have a painful tendency to spread, meaning Fire spells naturally dissipate, limiting them to short-range attacks and making any focused Fire attack lose cohesion quickly.

It could also be that Fire magic is inherently difficult. It represents order? Perhaps it can't be used when one's surroundings or emotions are out of order, making use of it on the battlefield extremely difficult or flat-out impossible. And since it represents purity and justice, perhaps one cannot use it without pure intentions, or it can only be used justly.

Even better, perhaps magic requires balance. In Avatar, fire has a dual nature; it represents life and destruction. This is a common theme in fire mythos, by the way. The Dragon Prince followed a similar avenue for its Sun Elves. However, let's say this magic has a cost.

Every act of healing requires an act of destruction, which usually ends up as some sort of sacrifice on the user's part. And every act of destruction done with Fire magic demands some sort of payback, like a portion of your vitality or an act of nurturing or healing, directly proportional to the act of destruction.

Thanks for your question, I find this really inspiring myself, and I hope this helped!

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Would it really be low fantasy? Sun Tzu talks about using fire in battle in chapter 12. It's one of the things that have been tried throughout history but never really worked out. Greek fire might be more potent than many fantasy fires.

Fire is fairly weak as a ranged weapon. What's worse, an arrow or a blob of fire? Both can be blocked with shields and metal armor. But a fireball loses potency and accuracy over range.

It's only practical to light an area or a camp with fire. But as Sun Tzu says, water may be more practical. The purpose is to reduce control within enemy ranks. Once you light an enemy area on fire, many generals tend to attack immediately, which might be poor timing. Or an enemy could just not be fazed by fire and it dies out.

Wet weather might also simply put the flames out.

These drawbacks of fire might also seem disrespectful to the sacred fire. Imagine worshipping fire and it turns out to be less effective than your standard arrow on the actual battlefield.

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Fire mages are dangerous to your own side

As a fire mage gets more experienced they start to imbue themselves with the essence of fire. When a fire mage dies they release this essence of fire, or as normal people call it they explode. Thus the mages would be just as dangerous to their own side if they where killed at range, with say an arrow, as they are to their opponents.

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I’m surprised this hasn’t been suggested yet, but:

Just ban it by international convention.

This is essentially what has happened in real life. The primary relevant treaty is the UN CCW Protocol III (formally the ‘Protocol on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the use of Incendiary Weapons’), which limits when you are allowed to use incendiary weapons (mostly not at all if there are any civilians around unless it’s stuff like tracer rounds or smoke grenades which are not designed to light things on fire), but there are other restrictions in place as well (for example, you’re generally not allowed to use white phosphorous as an incendiary weapon for a whole slew of reasons). Similar treaties exist for numerous other things considered to be inhumane in some way, such as restrictions on what types of land mines are permissible and how they may be used, rules that any intentionally generated shrapnel from a weapon must show up on an X-ray, prohibitions on the use of hollow-point rounds and similar expanding munitions, and numerous prohibitions on chemical and biological warfare.

There are three specific criteria that need to be met for such a treaty to originate:

  • The people in charge need to recognize what you want banned (in this case, use of fire magic for offensive purposes in warfare) as being inhumane or undesirable when used against their own forces.
  • The people in charge need to be smart enough to recognize that giving up on using such things themselves is a reasonable trade-off to ensure they do not get used against them.
  • There needs to be enough cultural maturity among the leadership of the world to accept agreeing on this even between nations that are ‘mortal enemies’.

In practice, the tricky part here is those last two points, not the first one. Humans tend to very readily categorize something as inhumane or undesirable when used against them even as they merilly do the same thing to other people, but they have trouble giving up a perceived advantage even when doing so is actually beneficial to them in the long term and they tend to disagree ‘on principle’ with those they see as actively opposing them.

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"Arbiter of all purity, justice, order, and truth" If fire is seen this way make it so. the control of the magic can't debase its self to so low of level of conflict. And besides, if fire is so scared and final. It cannot have it self seen defeated on the battle field.

Id think the wielders of the fire magic would hold some political power of their own as well. Perhaps fighting against their own would be forbade?

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  • $\begingroup$ "It cannot have it self seen defeated on the battle field." that is great, but not only that, consider that it cannot have it self seen as causing collateral damage $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 9, 2021 at 19:19
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Balance

It's something you've neglected in your development of a weapon.

Swords were effective, so people developed armour against swords. Small arms neutralised the armour so armoured vehicles took to the fore. Anti-materiel rifles brought upgrades in vehicle armour. Personal body armour brought armour piercing ammunition for small arms, which in turn brought ablative plates for the body armour.

This is of course a simplified version of the process, but for every new weapon eventually comes a defence against it and for every new defence a new weapon. This is one of the great cycles of military technology and it's been ongoing for thousands of years.

In your consideration of the fire mages as a weapon you have neglected the other side of this cycle. For every mage using fire to attack, there will be a mage or engineer working on defending against fire.

There will be periods in your world where fire mages on the front line are an overwhelming force, much like the first tanks or fully automatic weapons to take to the field, and in turn there will be periods where they're nothing more than special effects or night lights as everyone is wearing asbestos or enchanted fireproof armour.

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Interstate treaties

There are several empires (or at least meaningful states) which are fire magic capable. They may consider it holy while recognizing its potential in the battlefield as a WMD. Thus, to protect fire magic from profanation by weaponizing it, they agreed not to use it in warfare. Moreover, they agreed that if one state uses it, then all others will turn on the perpetrator and literally obliterate it which would be considered an act of holy war. That way, no side is interested in being the first one to break their agreement.

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There are a lot of great answers here. I want to add a couple points:

International convention would probably not work to control fire magic if it were a useful battlefield strategy. There's a reason that international convention (effectively) bans the use of landmines, chemical and biological weapons, and nuclear weapons, but not uranium-tipped bullets or firebombing. Which is that the advanced nations discovered that landmines, chemical and biological weapons, and nuclear weapons aren't actually that useful for them. They have so much other capacity for violence that these things that can backfire aren't that useful. See: Collections: Why Don’t We Use Chemical Weapons Anymore? - Bret Devereaux

There have been many efforts to get religious or cultural limitations on violence, and they can be intermittently helpful. But if a fire mage were as good as a tank with no side-effects, then no amount of religious prohibition would be enough to stop their widespread use in combat. Warrior monks are very much a historical trope for a reason.

So the trick is going to be what many have suggested; make them not actually that good for battle. Yes, fire magic may be useful for incredible healing, but that doesn't translate to incredible offense. After all, surgeons are not unstoppable blademasters in battle, despite being about as skilled with a [different type of] blade as it's possible to be.

Addendum: I would be wary of any solution where a firemage can lose control of her magic and cause a massive explosion. That seems like the type of thing that would breed a sort of last-ditch suicide attack strategy from the mages themselves.

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The thing is, fire already was used in war. It happened many hundred years ago, and the stories of the destruction it caused are still told. The empire barely survived it, civilization was brought to a hold from all the destruction it caused.

And when things finally had cooled down again, all magic users swore a pact, never to use fire in war again. And anyone that tried it would immediately be sought out by the priests of the empire, and incinerated for their crime.

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It's redundant. Naffatun brigades already have flame throwers and Naptha bombs:

Like it or not, history is full of cart-mounted flame throwers, handheld flame throwers, ship-mounted flame throwers, and flaming naptha in jars. Fire is already prominent in warfare. It is available to everyone, regardless of mage status.

In fact, the sticky combustibles used in these weapons is more effective at killing people. Mages make flame that burns at that instant. Naptha clings to enemies and roasts them alive.

Further, your fire mages need a combustion source for their magic. What's the best war combustible? Naptha. Sure, a mage who wants to make a fireball can send out a squad of guys who fling flour in the air, then BOOM. But is that really a useful task? A well-trained guy with a flame thrower is just as practical as a mage pumping naptha at the enemy.

Mages excel at starting things on fire. That makes them good at relatively few things on the battlefield. A well-organized army facing mages doesn't carry easily combustible materials. fixed things (like wooden gates) are vulnerable, and traps can be arranged, but a mage only has a slight advantage in igniting clothes or bow strings. Certainly not enough to make it profitable to field them as any significant portion of your army.

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It's not actually very practical

Being able to breathe fire or cast it from your hands is pretty cool, and certainly intimidating, but the reality is that it's not actually very useful in war.

You have limited range, and limited endurance (how long can you exhale fire for? I imagine only as long as you can personally breathe out, so about 20 seconds maybe?)

So in a combat situation, you have a fire-breathing cleric facing a group of soldiers, those soldiers meet a stream of fire coming the other way, they back up, maybe one of them is immolated before they get out of range..
Then 20 seconds later, the cleric is getting his breath back and getting ready to flame again, and a couple soldiers dart forward and stick him through the lungs with their swords.

There aren't really any other battlefield uses for breathing fire like this, so Fire-breathing is not a practical weapon of war.

Hurling fireballs at long range is somewhat more useful, providing you get the high-ground so you can see your targets.

But when it comes down to it, a group of archers with fire-arrows can accomplish more or less the same thing and do it over walls and barricades if needed!

The major advantage of the fireball therefore is that it can explode, where a fire-arrow simply lights a fire where it hits. So there's an element of shock-and-awe as well as splash-damage to be had.

However Fireballs are generally portrayed as fairly slow moving compared to arrows or others. A slow-moving fireball you can feasibly dodge is probably not a very effective weapon against human targets. Perhaps against siege engines or such, but then a fire-arrow is just as good against those.

Ultimately, Fire-magic is Awesome But Impractical, and more mundane weapons do the job just as well if not better.

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Fire magic makes you hungry and tired

In temples, and in civilian scenarios, fire mages eat BIG meals before doing their magic, and have a good night's sleep.

Even so, they're good for 30 minutes of flame time, tops, before their blood sugar level is dangerously low and they're exhausted. They usually work in teams of two or three for this reason.

On the battlefield, that's not practical even in a defensive siege. On long marches with potentially disrupted food supplies? Forget about it.

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The Phantom Menace

The enemy has fire magi of their own. Throw a moving wall of fire at them, they will just make it do a 180° turn very easily.

The more magi involved in both sides, the more powerful and hard to control the fire becomes. In the end fire is a weapon of mass and mutual assured destruction, as good as nukes - very imposing, but you don't want to use it.

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Climate and conscious conservation of water

The dry climate of an area can lead to uncontrolled use of fire: if a fire starts, it is often difficult to control.

The elusive wind as a climate factor: if an area is covered with elusive wind in daily life, it is critical to be careful with the use of fire. The fire can spread in the direction of the wind and the uncontrolled wind can put the fire operator at risk of being burned by the fire itself.

Conscious conservation of water. For example, some Australians are brought up with the consciousness that Australia is a water-shortage country. When a forest fire breaks out, there is a tendency to leave it burning for six months or more without applying relief measures.

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