My world is similar to modern-day Earth, though with additional magical realms not readily accessible from the Rational Realms that are familiar to us. In this world, as many as ten people in every million have the necessary gift to become magi. To become a magus requires training from an early age, from around 5-6 years old, and training goes on for 12 to 15 years before the apprentice or student is considered to be a magus.

A newly graduated magus is not particularly powerful. If they had specialised in combat, they might be a match for a platoon of modern soldiers. However, an arch-magus, a magus who may have studied most of their life, could concievably be a nuclear-level threat if they specialised in combat.

Why haven't there been magical disasters? Well, there have been. Our world is broken into the rational realm and the many magical realms because two nations with powerful magicians went to war and the magics they used literally broke the world into many pieces. Why haven't there been more disasters since? That would be because in the 'old days', since the world was broken, the magi who trained apprentices used to look out for signs of instability in their apprentices, and if such signs appeared, the apprentice would not become a magus. If they were a sufficiently young apprentice without much power, they might 'fail' their apprenticeship, be told that their gift was somehow incomplete, and they couldn't be trained any further, and then abandoned, and possibly magically maimed so that they could no longer do magic. Other, more advanced apprentices who were found to be future monsters might simply be killed. In the old days, an apprentice had the same (lack of) rights as a chattel slave, and their master could do whatever they wanted to them, including killing them, on the understanding that the apprentice might eventually become a magus themselves and may wish to seek revenge.

Magi who complete their apprenticeships are made to join the brotherhood of magi, and swear oaths to, in essence, act in reasonably moral ways, primarily so as to not inconvenience their fellow magi or bring magi in general into disrepute, on pain of disciplinary action ranging from fines of magical resources, up to and including death for breaches of their code of conduct. The code of conduct includes a clause requiring magi who teach to ensure that their apprentice both does and will follow the code.

In the last 20 years, new discoveries in the arts of magic have been spreading through the world, and some of these new-model magi have begun teaching their own students. They have established a school where the gifted students are taught in a far more systematic manner, where the students are much less likely to suffer the abuses of the old apprenticeship system. The students there are treated with dignity, and are not supposed to be summarily crippled or killed on the whim of a sole master as once might have happened.

The new-model magi are quite capable of determining if a student is developing a personality that is likely to lead to their becoming a monster post-graduation (or even before), and these teachers are capable of rendering a student unable to perform magic, killing them, or re-writing their minds so that they would no longer be inclined to be the monster it is suspected that they might become.

My problem is that these teachers are using a modern 20th/21st-century upbringing and morality to judge their students and deal with the problems their training might cause.

Using a modern western nations morality, how might these 'future monster' students best be dealt with? It doesn't seem that there are any good solutions, when there are no certainties that a potential monster really will become a monster, and the means of ensuring that they probably won't become one are invasive, and if certain, are mentally crippling or fatal.

Since this is a question of the ethics of our own society (or one very similar to it), and WB SE users can be considered to be representative of our society, the most upvoted answer should be the one that would be considered to be the most acceptable - or the least unacceptable - to the greatest number of people in our society

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ That's one tough cookie to answer 🍪. Exactly because we are part of this society, it's going to be hard to be objective on what the majority of people would find acceptable. I don't think it's opinion-based, but please be cautious with close-votes going towards that reason... And be wary of answers, too : they can be marking one's opinion of it rather than something more constructive. $\endgroup$
    – Tortliena
    Sep 7 at 13:30
  • $\begingroup$ (Also, if you could consider asking about a more specific country. Even among only western countries, each one see civilians carrying and using firearms very differently for instance. I worry the same kind of variability will happen here). $\endgroup$
    – Tortliena
    Sep 7 at 13:33
  • $\begingroup$ @Tortliena I could make the nationality of the teachers in the question known, but then I'd be skewing the opinions of the users who aren't the same nationality by trying to get them to think like people of that nationality. I'd rather just have honest opinions. $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild
    Sep 7 at 13:39
  • $\begingroup$ That's a bit already the case; Western countries already has some strong biases, even among "westerners". By letting them choose the country, I believe it's a bit like you're increasing the target's size than actually improving the aim of your answerers. $\endgroup$
    – Tortliena
    Sep 7 at 14:39
  • $\begingroup$ Given that "the most upvoted answer should be the one that would be considered to be the most acceptable", you seem eager to accept an answer. $\endgroup$
    – Joachim
    Sep 8 at 10:00

7 Answers 7


I don't think this is so problematic.

  • This school expects an extremely high level of perfection and morality. Even a slight deviation would be ground for being expelled.

  • If you are suspected of evilness, you will be tried by N teachers, not a sole master (maybe the student can even choose who some of them are going to be, be represented by a "defending colleague...").

  • Reading your memories is expected to happen for determining if you are guilty. This is a robust way for coming out clean.

  • It is acknowledged that reading your mind is highly invasive of your privacy (even though the masters enquiring you are expected to refrain from going too far), and you may opt-out of it (albeit almost always that means they will not be able to certify you are free of those inclinations, and thus "lose" the trial).

  • If they are not convinced you are not going to be a monster, instead of killing you they will only erase from your mind¹ the years you have been studying there, which means you will be unable to do magic. They will also secure you a "muggle" job position somewhere.

    • This does not mean they will be mentally crippled. Their minds are fine, they are just unable to remember anything they wer etaught about magic, which pretty much takes away their ability to do magic.

    • They have lost a number of study years (maybe they get an implanted memory that they studied a dull subject, about which they then forgot everything?), but this also happens IRL. Getting you a good job should make up for this.

  • It is preferable for the society not to graduate anyone than graduating even one Dark Wizard. The damage to the society would be much greater than the good some wizards could do (not to mention the casualties of a war against a rogue wizard).

  • The students are properly explained this and agree to these discipline rules before joining this academy. If you want to get instruction here you need to follow their rules. And while they might seem tough, they are immensely better than other options for learning magic.

¹ I find erasing memories more ethical than changing the way someone thinks. It can also be somewhat justified as taking from you what you learnt here.

  • $\begingroup$ Personally, I'd give students sentenced to expulsion a choice: Lose the Gift or lose the knowledge, or both. Any way they choose, they won't be doing any more magic. $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild
    Sep 8 at 6:40
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Implanting a higher education and setting them up with a comfy higher-end "Muggle" job could help a lot in quelling resistance against expulsion $\endgroup$
    – Hobbamok
    Sep 8 at 9:13
  • $\begingroup$ "The students are properly explained this and agree to these discipline rules before joining this academy." What 5/6 year-old can reasonably understand and agree to these? $\endgroup$
    – muru
    Sep 10 at 4:07
  • $\begingroup$ I cannot think a way of how any kind of brainwashing could be morally right. I don't say your model is impossible in such setting, on the contrary, I think it is very well feasible. Yet, it is deeply immoral inside while seeming ok at a glance, and it will lead to a disaster in somewhat remote future. Which makes this model even better suited for a fantasy setting. $\endgroup$
    – legolegs
    Sep 10 at 13:58

Have your university frame potential "monster students" for, say, academic misconduct, then expel them and strip them of their magical powers. This not only stops the next Dark Lord in their tracks, but completely discredits the student so that no one would listen to a thing they're saying.

The crux of your scenario is that your university is essentially identifying evil magician students on a hunch, since definitive evidence for that sort of thing is pretty much impossible to obtain before it's too late. But the university is pretty skilled at these internal investigations and they want to act on their information.

While society may not approve of stripping someone's powers just for asking too many questions in Defense Against the Dark Arts, society definitely approves of expelling students for cheating. Just make stripping magic a blanket policy for expulsion of any kind, and the university now has free reign to get rid of whoever they want without raising eyebrows.

Would there be collateral damage? Of course there would, but that would happen with any other system as well. It's a calculated risk the university is willing to take, and society as a whole is none the wiser.

This has the side effect of making your university kind of evil, or at least whatever department is in charge of this, but that might be interesting to explore in its own right. After all, Lawful Evil is usually pretty good at forcing out Chaotic Evil.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ So, you'd rather falsely accuse such a student of cheating, strip them of their powers and expel them than, say, modify their mind to make them a bit more ethical, or just forget whatever is likely to make them into a monster? $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild
    Sep 7 at 14:23
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ You're looking for a perfectly ethical solution when you've already stated in the question that there isn't really one. Aside from the fact that faculty would essentially be wildly guessing what part of a student's psyche is causing evil tendencies, memory modification comes with its own host of ethical problems, since side effects would include markedly changing one's personality, and that's even assuming the teacher doesn't botch the procedure and lobotomize the poor kid. One scandal would be enough for a public outcry. If some level of secrecy is required, expulsion is the least invasive. $\endgroup$
    – hjk321
    Sep 7 at 14:37

There is a simple solution. Every magic user is given an object which signifies their entrance into the magical community when they arrive at a school. These tokens are magically bound to the individual for life. There is a hidden function embedded in the object. A magical council can, with a majority vote, use the item to completely block, or just limit, the magical ability of the wearer. This would allow a potential threat to graduate and even live a full life without causing issues, while providing a method of stopping realized threats. The general magical population would be ignorant of the true function of the token, and it would only be used if absolutely needed.

These tokens could be used as a method of protecting people against magi who go insane, start to decline mentally, or even if there is concern of a person abusing their power. Limiting their ability to use magic could be something the person just assumes is their natural limit. A student enters school and graduates but never becomes powerful. Not because they do not have the capability, but because it is being limited due to their violent temper. After a few years, I could even see it causing the belief that being angry or violent results in weak magi. Everyone “knows” that a violent student’s magical ability never advances very far. If they behave, or outgrow their violent nature, their abilities could slowly increase over time as the council relaxes the limitations.

You might include a beneficial function to help ensure general acceptance of the tokens. Maybe they could function as a magical energy reservoir which the wearer can draw upon when casting magic. If the token is used to block a person’s magic, it could continually drain their magic so that they never have enough to use. That energy might be funneled to the magical council, be used to cast a stasis spell on the wearer and freeze them in place, or simply release the energy into the area. Tailor it for whatever makes sense for the story and the magic system.

  • $\begingroup$ So a fancy kill-switch :) $\endgroup$
    – Joachim
    Sep 8 at 10:43

The most widely palatable solution will be to do nothing and accept magic casualties as a society. This scenario parallels gun control in the US - there are tools that can be used to identify and flag individuals who might be more likely to use guns for nefarious purposes, yet they are easily bypassed. More could be done to keep guns out of the hands of potential bad actors, but it isn't. It's difficult and controversial to punish someone for something they might do in the future but haven't done yet.

It's going to be a very tough sell to hand down harsh punishments and limits on freedom to individuals who haven't done anything wrong yet but are suspected to in the future. When deaths due to magic inevitably occur, the powers that be will shrug their shoulders and do nothing - in their view, the unfettered use of magic and personal freedom are too important to impinge upon in a pre-emptive manner.


Unseen University

After the last big magical war, the various mages of the world got together and formed institutions of magical higher learning to replace apprenticeships. In order to become anything more than a nigh-powerless hedge wizard, a prospective wage must attend one of these universities.

On the surface, there are obvious advantages to this system. Universities, with their structured curricula, large libraries, and hordes of resident subject-matter experts, greatly smooth the learning process for those who apply themselves. However, there are more clandestine motives underneath the surface.

By collecting students in only a few spots, the university system allows mages to keep a careful eye on them. Those with the potential to become exceedingly powerful and/or unhinged are put under the special mentorship of higher-level mages. In addition to teaching these students interesting specializations to keep their attention away from... unfortunate lines of thought, mentors also make sure to slip in object lessons about why becoming the next Dark Lord and shattering the fabric of reality is a horrible idea.

Once they graduate, these special students are encouraged to pursue research, teaching, and leadership positions at the universities. That way, they continue to be under the supervision of the other university leaders (ironically, other archmagi). As an unintended side effect, the resulting complex bureaucracy heavily prejudices archmagi towards pursuing power through clandestine assassination instead of world-shattering spellfire.

Because most archmagi are in the same buildings, any archmagus who tries to become a Dark Lord is immediately squished before he can do much damage.

EDIT: As I mentioned in a comment, not all (perhaps not even most) archmagi are going to stay at the university. The point is that there is (are) a large bloc(s) of archmagi and regular wizards who train the majority of apprentice mages, using their combined might to remove any individual archmage who gets out of line.

  • $\begingroup$ And if these potential future dark lords seem determined to become dark lords, despite encouragement to the contrary... and don't want to remain in academia? $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild
    Sep 7 at 13:04
  • $\begingroup$ @MontyWild Then he (or she) is squished. Quietly, but squished nonetheless. $\endgroup$
    – User70058
    Sep 7 at 13:07
  • $\begingroup$ This is where the study of magic is heading... but unfortunately they're not there yet. There is only one school, and all other magi-in-training are still apprentices, and most other arch-magi are elsewhere, doing their own thing. $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild
    Sep 7 at 13:44
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @MontyWild Ah. In that case, you'll still have some upheaval for a while. The important thing is to get as many of the current non-evil archmagi to support the plan as possible. $\endgroup$
    – User70058
    Sep 7 at 14:46
  • $\begingroup$ @MontyWild Also, while it would be optimal, it's not required that all archmagi stay at the university for their entire career. The point is to have a powerful bloc of archmagi that keep an eye on students and squish any that get too uppity. $\endgroup$
    – User70058
    Sep 7 at 14:47

Nothing much. They wouldn’t have the clearance.

The student would likely be shown the door, maybe put on a watch list, maaaybe given an ankle monitor.

After all, you say that the nuclear level magic threats come with decades of study and practice. Just like mundane nuclear level threats and knowledge, you need a background check to get at the high level spellbooks. Without it, they’re facing security on par with our own security around nuclear silos and labs - scaled to deal with the increased threat of rogue magi.


You can't accurately predict the future, so you learn from past mistakes

Disaster Avoidance Licence.

Every student that wants to learn new magic must obtain a Disaster Avoidance Licence (DAL). They can do so after passing the Disaster Response Test. If it's been more than 5 years since their last license attainment, they need to take the test again to continue using magic, even if they wish not to learn new magic.


  1. Obtain a licence to learn
  2. Renew licence regularly to be allowed to use what you learnt.

How do you obtain license?

Disaster Response Test.

A split is very bad. So bad indeed that along with the worlds that split and separate, there is a nodal world created, at and around the time of split. This world is stuck in time, perpetually reliving the disaster: over and over. A very terrible world to be stuck in indeed. It's called the bubble world.

What's more, all emergent worlds, i.e. worlds emerging from the split that are not the bubble, have clear visibility in to this bubble world. They can see clearly what originally transpired. Not just that, they even have limited influence. You can send a consciousness back to the nodal world and puppet anyone in it. Any alterations are consumed by the disaster, although its image is retained in the bubble, so the emergent worlds can see the actions taken by your consciousness.

So in a sense, a bubble is a fertile "simulation" ground for the future worlds, with no consequences for the emergent worlds. Poor bubble world.

A copy of student's consciousness are sent back in time. Into the mind of the culprit. This merges their consciousness with the head-space, knowledge and circumstance of the culprit. If this student possessed culprit repeats the disaster, the student immediately fails the test. There is a second test: The student consciousness is placed in the mind of the culprit immediately after disaster. And the emotional response is observed. If it's anything short of guilt and need for repentance, they fail the test.

On failing the test, their DAL is revoked. They can't learn more magic. They are also disallowed from using their current magic. (But not stripped of it, unless they show real world evidence of mal-intent, or mal-action)

How/Why does this work. ?

You can't predict the future. But you can learn from the past. Any student that does commit the disaster in the bubble, is a potential human monster. So they can't be allowed to gain power. Key focus on potential. In the current real world, they haven't committed the atrocity, so they are not punished. Just restrained. Thus avoiding unethical actions.

You need to retake the test regularly because people change. An idealistic, good intentioned student today might easily pass the test, but will the same person, weary and hopeless with experience of life in an imperfect world, make the same choice? Better test than to leave to chance.

Higher levels of magic thus also have a minimum age limit. And also minimum crisis experience criteria. You won’t teach your world splitting power level magic to someone with a cushy academic life. It is reserved for those that have demonstrated their ethics and tenacity in tough real world circumstances. Few ever reach this stage of attainment. Those that do are known world over and kept in check through close scrutiny of their choices.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .