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I am writing an urban fantasy story set in the late 90s/early 00s revolving around the societies of magical immortal beings that secretly live amongst the human race. Despite their magical genetics being completely passed down even to children they have with humans, these immortals have consistently remained a 1-in-1000 minority amongst humanity, rather than displacing it, due to a quirk of how my world operates that creates consequences for immortals when they get too numerous in an area. However, I recently realized that this quirk needed major modifications, and now that I have made them, I've realized this causes problems for some of the settings I have already created and which now must be revised.

The New System

Unbeknownst to the human race, there is a secret 25th hour, the Witching Hour, which occurs once a day when it's approximately 3 AM in Ireland. During this hour, all time stops for anything and anyone non-magical, before returning to normal at the end of the hour. Under normal circumstances, that's all that happens. However, the Witching Hour is considerably complicated if too many immortals are concentrated in one area.

As far as immortals currently understand it, immortals seem to produce a sort of "magical exhaust" as a byproduct of their magical abilities and existence. This is measured in fels, where one fel is defined as the amount of magical exhaust produced by one immortal in one day. The planet absorbs a minimal amount of this exhaust (one fel per day for every 300 square miles), but humans seem to absorb a great deal more (1 fel per day for every 1000 humans). As long as the immortal population in a given area remains at or below 1 immortal for every 1000 humans, the area's fel count remains at zero and the Witching Hour is normal. But if they go above that, the fel count in the area begins to rise, and this has massive consequences on the Witching Hour.

For reasons unknown, when the Witching Hour arrives for an area with too high of a fel count, for the duration of that hour reality begins to warp in dangerous and unexpected ways, frequently described "as if the planet itself is having a nightmare". Anything with a fel count above 50 is considered extremely dangerous, and there isn't a single known, confirmed case of an immortal surviving the Witching Hour in a place with a fel count of 100 or greater. In addition, once the fel count in an area exceeds 120 or so, it caps there and any additional fels begin to spread out into adjacent areas.

The Problem

Long story short, the previous system, among other things, had the dangers of high fel counts be a monthly occurrence rather than nightly, be far more predictable and realistic to mount a stable defense against, and return the fel counts to 0 when they were over. Under that system, I had developed the PRISM Consortium, the center of magical commerce, business and trade (as well as its most shameless wellspring of mercenaries, prostitution and narcotic potions), where the secret immortal population was run by an extremely libertarian organization whose attitude towards the monthly dangers was to rely on privately-owned safehouses that sheltered people from the dangers of the Witching Hour for a price, let the fel counts rise as high as its people could afford to survive in, and let the weak, foolish and/or unproductive be the first to be culled when the population gets high enough that people start dying.

That attitude might have "worked" under the previous system, but it's completely unsustainable now. Now, even if you let nature run its course and let a population reach "equilibrium", the fel count will stay at that dangerous level, and now the only reliable protection that money can buy from a place with a high fel count is "not living in one". The PRISM Consortium needs a reliable strategy for keeping its fel production at a net neutral or negative, or it will become unlivable in a matter of months to days.

The problem is that I still want this to be a society that's big on individual liberty and free markets and small on social safety nets and public services, to contrast with another society in my story which lies at the opposite extreme. But it seems like every societal solution I can think of to keeping fel counts low involves some form of telling people where they can and can't live and travel, which not only feels entirely antithetical to the society I've envisioned, but also highly problematic for a place that prides itself on being a megahub of trade.

To be clear: the solution doesn't have to be pretty, as the previously-planned "solution" illustrates. This isn't a dystopian setting, but its intended to be imperfect and flawed and have serious problems with it, just like every other society in my setting to varying degrees. The solution just has to work enough to prevent societal collapse.

How could the PRISM Consortium keep its fel counts from getting out of control without micromanaging where its people and visitors can and can't go?

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  • $\begingroup$ Do safe houses still exist? If individuals accumulate too much power, other individuals might decide to create a safe house in their area, and packing the area with fel to make things difficult for their opponent. If not, then you get suicide bombers paying a visit to the powerful person's domain. Any libertarian ideal depends upon cooperation, and falls apart in adversity. $\endgroup$ Jul 13, 2023 at 19:33
  • $\begingroup$ Also, what is the propagation speed of fel? Could a few hundred immortals hang out in a city for a day, then run to less congested spaces for the witching hour? $\endgroup$ Jul 13, 2023 at 19:36
  • $\begingroup$ @RobertRapplean Safe houses probably still exist in some capacity, but it's a lot harder to guarantee the safety of a safe house when it's no longer solely a question of keeping dangers outside it from getting in. Now the danger can potentially come from inside, or even BE, the "safe house" itself. As for propagation speed, the current concept is the Earth is invisibly divided into 200-400 square mile segments by things called ley lines, and the magical exhaust tends to propagate quite rapidly, but only within the confines of these segments until it reaches overflow levels at 120 fel. $\endgroup$ Jul 13, 2023 at 20:21
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    $\begingroup$ @Rekesoft That is a LONG time to go without procreating. Your immortals would need an exceptionally long Pon Farr style sex cycle. For this to work, you'd need to also factor in attrition rates like accidental death, illnesses, acts of God, etc... but to get a 1:1000 growth ratio means you are at a razor's edge for population replacement which makes extinction through minor fluctuations a major risk $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Jul 14, 2023 at 13:44
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    $\begingroup$ ... as for extinction. My point was that immortals are not really immortal. Population collapses will happen every time humans do something unexpected like catch the plague or go to war, illegalize fertilizers, or decide to do a witch hunt. They will need much more than a 1:1000 growth ratio because they need to be able to reproduce fast enough to replace losses from one population collapse before the next one happens. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Jul 17, 2023 at 15:42

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They Sell the Information, they Don't Give Orders

The PRISM Consortium is a conglomerate of information brokers. They pull from a wide range of census data, public housing records, missing person reports, news articles, internet search histories, travel agency records, moving company records, etc. to create the world's most comprehensive and up to date predictive models of where people and magic beings are going to be.

The PRISM Consortium's power comes from running several major for profit services. By selling this information as a service, they help magic folk avoid Fel risks, they stimulate the economy, and they give the people the freedom to make informed decisions for themselves.

The Fel Almanac

Muggles use almanacs to predict storms made of wind and rain, but this Almanac predicts Fel Storms caused by changes in human and immortal populations. It lets you know that a lot of mortals are about to leave your quite little town for a few weeks on spring break so that you know it will be best to get out do town too. It lets you know that central park is a major fel risk every full moon because of the local werewolf population, and it gives suggestions about other parks nearby that are more safe to wolf out in.

It can also give overall ratings of different cities and towns letting you know what places are dangerously close to thier fel capacity, and which ones have plenty of capacity left. So when you make the choice to move, you can educate yourself about if it is going to be a good idea or not.

In short, no one has to buy the Almanc, and no one has to take its suggestions, but many magical beings will choose to buy and use it because the natural consequences of not using it could be your own life.

The Fellow Pages

In the early 2000s, most people still used phone books like the Yellow Pages for looking up local business's contact info. With your magic people being more spread out, but still needing to procure each other's unique services, they would publish thier own phone books. But instead of for a metropolitan area, a single phone book could have the contact info for all of the published magic businesses in your entire country.

Through the wonders of telephones, faxes, email, and long-range telepathy, there is very little need for your magic folk to congregate to do business. The dangers of the fel taught them by 1920 the merit of doing business remotely in a way that we normal folks did not figure out until 2020.

25th Hour News

The witching hour is a bad time for magic folk to be out and about... but if you're going to be at home anyway, you might as well watch the news. While humans are all stuck in time, the magic community has one hour where they can take over the airwaves and broadcast whatever they want without breaking secrecy. 25th Hour news tells you things in real time that the Almanac might not cover like how a hurricane has displaced people and magic folk. Or how an economic crises is forcing thousands of local humans to sell thier homes and move out of your neighborhood.

Fel.com

By the early 2000s, the internet was just beginning to challenge the dominance of books. Being masters of data, PRISM would also likely have a subscription website that gives the users all the same stuff you'd find in the Fel Almanac and Fellow Pages, except with more up-to-date information, and current news articles. By 2000ish most people will not have yet adopted the internet as the defacto way of doing things; so, the paper books and news shows would still have thier place for another 10 years or so, but fel.com will certainly be a preferred resource among younger magic folk.

Reasons why the PRISM Consortium is stable

Freewill makes one more adaptable to a region's carry capacity

Enemies of the Consortium will criticize them, saying that thier free thinking ideas are just one idiot's recklessness away from oblivion, but the lack of central control is precisely what will allow the Consortium to thrive. In a centralized authoritarian system, you will have warlords trying to build up and consolidate power to be able to push other immortals out of thier territory, but large powerful groups are extremely risky.

Fel capacity is mechanically similar to the Carry Capacity of a natural environment. Alpha predators maintain a fixed ratio with thier prey because any time they slowly exceed the carry capacity, the weak die off naturally. But, if you suddenly throw an extra 100 predators into a small forest, they will eat up all the food, and the whole population will spontaneously collapse. The consortium follows this basic principle.

In a typical free society, people immigrate 1 family at a time. People are born 1 baby at a time. So, when you do something to tip the scale of Fel capacity, it will become slowly obvious that something is off, and someone will choose to leave before things get too bad... or some sick or weak magic being will be culled in an early, lesser fel which balances the scales. So, while there is no real way to fully use up a region's fel capacity without strict control and census data, free individuals can mostly use up an area's capacity (sometimes going just a bit over or under) without triggering a total collapse.

In contrast, wars and authoritarian rulers can cause mass refugee movements. If for example New York City is contested by a few authoritarian factions, and one is defeated and driven out of the city, they could over night blow way past a smaller city's carrying capacity, and if they fail to kill off enough local immortals before the witching hour, the refugees could completely wipe out an otherwise stable region in a single night.

Libertarian societies are more successful in a supernatural war

Military history consistently shows that soldiers who exorcise blind obedience to a central command structure are less effective than soldiers who are generally free to make time-critical choices on the battlefield based on thier own abilities and observations. This truth is amplified when each solider has a truly unique set of magical powers that the central command structure may know nothing about.

In a Libertarian society, each immortal will be used to having conversations about how to synergize with others and using thier powers when and as they see fit; so, on the battlefield, THEY will be the ones calling the shots as needed. While they will have commanders giving strategic objectives, actual real-time tactics flow much better for Libertarians who know they won't get exiled to the Fel for throwing a class-3 fireball without signed orders from thier commanding officer.

In this way, even if the Libertarians don't outnumber another society that uses a strict structure to live on the very edge of thier carry capacity, they will still have a much more effective military.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 for the excellent Pun of the Fellow Pages. $\endgroup$ Jul 13, 2023 at 20:31
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    $\begingroup$ Military history shows that soldiers who are members of a military that observes a hierarchy and have a designated command structure vastly outperform those who don't. A libertarian military is more fantasy than a race of supernatural creatures. $\endgroup$ Jul 14, 2023 at 18:43
  • $\begingroup$ @KeithMorrison Libertarian does not mean no command structure, it just means that the government does not interfere in matters of individual rights or the free market. Nations throughout history that have held these values like the Roman Republic, 20th century United States, etc have generally done very well on the battlefield because of differences in how they command troops. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Jul 14, 2023 at 20:46
  • $\begingroup$ The Roman Maniple system for example allowed legions to out maneuver phalanxes by giving individual field officers authority to deviate from thier battle line to respond to weaknesses, threats, and terrain issues that thier higher officers may not have been aware of as they saw them. Many of America's mid-late century military successes come from field officers having the authority to call in air/artillery strikes without having to wait on higher up authorization which gave them a significant advantage when facing more authoritarian style militaries like Nazi Germany and Iraq, etc. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Jul 14, 2023 at 20:46
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    $\begingroup$ ...So, yes, you are correct that Americans and Brits did not invent it, and there were times in history where where the Germans used it. I never claimed anything different. What I am saying is that in the time period of WWII, the Germans followed a very strictly Command Tactics doctrine and the Americans and Brits followed a Mission Tactics doctrine, and in wars like WWII or the Samnite Wars where battlefield uncertainty is higher, Mission Tactics have a much better track record throughout history. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Jul 18, 2023 at 2:55
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Your main problem is with scarcely populated areas. If you are in big cities 1000 people is what you find in a metro, in an office or in a mall.

If you are instead on a remote atoll in the Pacific or on a flight across the ocean the story changes.

Luckily for you, it's easier to control when your subject are in a scarcely populated area. It can be done with simple norms of proper education, common sense or taboos, which forbid being out of crowded areas during the 25th hour.

A restriction is easier applied if it implies a minimal inconvenience. Nobody would like to sit in a 1 x 1 m box 24 hours a day, away from prying eyes, but nobody has a problem doing it only for the time it takes to do business number 2.

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    $\begingroup$ As I understood the system, a immortal does not only produce his 1 fel during witching hour, but through the whole day. So "forbid being out of crowded areas during the 25th hour" would not help much. $\endgroup$
    – datacube
    Jul 14, 2023 at 6:46
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25th hour becomes a time of magical war. The permanent effects of a growing fel count provide a great incentive for each immortal to drive the others out, as a precaution if nothing else; due to the cumulative nature of fel pollution, the potential cost of being tolerant must be avoided at all costs.

In which case, a libertarian approach breaks down. Instead you end up with what is effectively a red queen race, where fiercely territorial groups of immortals forever struggle to be stronger than their neighbors to avoid being overwhelmed; those unsuccessful are driven out into the countryside, which they promptly pollute with accumulation of fel and die out. This of course continuously shrinks the habitable area, which causes the territorial conflicts to become ever fiercer. Since having greater numbers is the most consistent source of military advantage, the successful groups will tend to grow their population as close to the carrying capacity as possible, in turn causing internal conflicts as they approach it because the cost of exceeding it is so great. All this taken together will favor those organisations (we may as well call them states, which they essentially are) that can most effectively centralise control over their immortal population, and are more ruthless at nipping all threats both internal and external in a bud, because all these threats are existential.

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    $\begingroup$ "the successful groups will tend to grow their population as close to the carrying capacity as possible" <- this sounds like a sure fire way to collapse. Your immortals need to have a margin of error, because if a single clan of 100 immortals wonders a bit over a boundary line, the whole region implodes and everyone dies. Instead smaller groups of 2-5 immortals could cross over a line. See the fel building up in the area and move on. Smaller clans may not win many wars, but they will be who is left to take over when the larger clans self-destruct. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Jul 13, 2023 at 21:41
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    $\begingroup$ +1 this is the result of the situation. There are very few thinking beings who will hold to their libertarian (= suicidal) principles when those principles make it a crap shoot whether they will make it through every single night. The immortals in a given area must keep out visitors/refugees/immigrants unless they are certain of staying under the danger level. The OP may want a certain type of society, but the conditions described do not allow it to exist. $\endgroup$ Jul 13, 2023 at 22:48
  • $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki, thank you. Definitely, smaller groups of immortals will cross the boundaries all the time - but as raiders and/or scouts sent out by a larger organisation, because those larger organisations will tend to survive. A clan of 100 can lose a raiding party of five and recover; a clan of five risks being wiped out in every single battle, and eventually will be. Meanwhile, staying close to carrying capacity also works as a sort of area denial: if an attack big enough to be successful will also irreversibly pollute the area gained, why even bother? $\endgroup$
    – ihaveideas
    Jul 13, 2023 at 23:35
  • $\begingroup$ @KerrAvon2055, thank you. Actually, a (sort of) libertarian system might eventually emerge out of all this fighting once the state boundaries become stable and all competing states run so close to the carrying capacity as to make successful attacks impractical. Then they could stay within this limit by practicing live sacrifice of whoever among them cannot afford to avoid being sacrificed, much like he describes PRISM functioning under the previous system. $\endgroup$
    – ihaveideas
    Jul 13, 2023 at 23:57
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Someone would have figured out a way to measure it. For highly populated areas, they would be monitoring the nightmare level on a nightly basis. The immortals would then have to work out a scheme for who gets to stay and who has to leave.

Each zone has "fel drainage" as a resource. The novelty is that nobody can truly monopolize fel drainage without putting up Eastern Block style walls, so this would be a much more common sight in your world. Groups would likely accumulate populations under their control, too, and would need walls to keep those people in, probably packing them tightly and building natural barriers along the ley lines.

Each zone would have independent strategies for managing the allocation of fel drainage. If there isn't a very large population, then the higher levels of organization would be unmaintainable.

Structures

Every government in history has been a mix of these. In order of "libertarian purity":

Survival of the fittest

Everyone for themselves. If you can't take the heat, get out of hell's kitchen. People who wanted to stay in an area would freely hunt competitors. The rumor mill would rank the immortals, and areas would probably accumulate "minimum power level to stay here" rankings.

This would be the preferred organization for those with strong power, but poor social skills.

Feudalism

Similar to the above, but factions form, and the strongest faction gets to decide who stays and who goes. This would result in each quad becoming a police state, where the bullies hunt down anyone who isn't given official sanction to stay there.

High lords would gather multiple zones under their control because that's just how people be. High lords would fight over who gets to control each zone. The "justness" of each zone would be measured by the policies of each high lord.

This would be the preferred organization for those with mediocre power but strong social skills.

Oligarchy

The wealthy would cultivate fel drainage, and buy and sell zones. This is no different from feudalism, except that bankers would replace warlords. They would still hire jackboots to kill anyone they don't like.

Democracy/republic/bureaucracy

A central agency tracks the coming and going of individuals. The agency would also track the nightmare level of all zones in their control, and require people to leave zones that are overcrowded.

They would control a squad of dedicated enforcers.

The difference from feudalism or oligarchy is that the people at the top are appointed by others, and regime change is possible without violence, even if it's unlikely. This is the preferred organization for those who get sick of people constantly trying to kill each other.

Commonalities

Whichever group was in charge would serve three purposes:

  1. Track fel levels
  2. Kill/deport those they don't like
  3. Act as a mediator (and possibly arbiter) for those that might want to buy/trade/fight their way into a contested area.
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Libertarian ideas focus on property rights. Individuals own property and have the right to control who can be on that property and what they can do there. In a minarchist libertarian society, the state enforces those rulings. In an anarchist libertarian society, individuals have the right to use force to enforce their control.

As such, the libertarian solution is that different areas are owned by different individuals or entities. Those owners have the right to control who lives there and is allowed to use force to enforce that control. Other magical beings would have to pay rent to the owners for the right to live in the area under the owner's control.

If an owner allows too many people to live in their property, causing an event, they'll mostly damage their own property. Insofar as there negligence causes damage to other owner's property other owners can sue them in magical courts for the damage they've cause to other people's properties.

What you are describing is effectively a particularly nasty form of pollution. If you search online, you'll find plenty of libertarian theorizing about how to deal with pollution along the lines I've outlined here.

The outworkings of this would be that magical beings who don't own property and cannot afford rent would be forced to go elsewhere. Some might try to encourage the human population so as to be able to collect lucrative rents when that allow more to live in an area. Many would voluntarily refrain from having offspring because they know they won't be able to afford to rent for them.

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Make your magical humans able to "feel" fel levels in the area.

They can decide if they want to risk (for whatever reason) or leave in a hurry.

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Immortals are dependent on rare foods, herbs, and magical goods to survive.

It's quite hard for a large community of immortals to just set up somewhere. If immortals don't eat they can't produce Fels or use their powers. This ties down the power of immortals so it's harder for them to just suicide bomb a district.

These rare foods and herbs and such are mostly owned by the mega rich, who can use them to somewhat control the poor immortals.

The mega rich will price the goods depending on the local demand for an area.

If more people are demanding an area the mega rich will charge more for the goods. This means it's much more expensive to live in an area with a higher fel count.

They'll hire immortals to monitor the fel level, and if it gets too high bribe humans to move to the area- they might set up events, hire people for jobs, organize religious movements to migrate. It depends on their influence. They'll also jack up the prices for food.

The witches want some mandrake root wine? Gotta pay. The centaurs want some pegasus truffles? Gotta pay.

If people set up independent food sources or start stealing food, then they'll get desperate.

The food is their method of control. If people start breaking that and their libertarian society risks breaking down, they'll summon the Black Immortal strike breakers to handle it.

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I agree with Winston about property rights being a realistic, libertarian solution. On top of that, some desperate people might band together to create turfs. Any magical loiterers get the boot either through the locals or the private law enforcement hired by the property owner(s).

Lastly, an additional idea addressing the need for concentrated population centers needed for mega corporations & trading hubs would be public places people commute to & from to avoid the hell hole those areas & their surroundings become during Witching hour. Some of these places might be companies that can pay off/defend against the angry population around these centers that regularly have to absorb excess fel, while public centers might naturally balance out since you would have to drive longer & longer each day to escape deadly fel levels, until enough people would wait out the extreme fel levels that the area can revert back to natural levels again.

The closer immortals homes are to these public areas, the cheaper they would be. The immediate areas surrounding it would probably be worthless, but also the only place vagrants without a home have access to without trying to squat in private property, regularly resulting in high death tolls during particularly busy seasons either due to vagrants being killed due to fel or as a result of territorial disputes between the homeless & locals of surrounding areas. That would also keep the population in check.

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