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In a magic/fantasy world I am building, the main type of magic, magic has this limitation: that after using it, if someone uses it at a pretty normal rate, they become a lifeless, mindless body after some time of using it. For the average magic user, this time is about a year and a half. The stronger you are, the longer you can last.

In this world, the use of magic is controlled by a select group of people in the government who are not the nicest. These people cannot do magic themselves, but they comb the world looking for magic-users and force them to use the magic to their own benefits and to be safe for the rest of the world. How much would magic influence the world?

NOTE: magic can be used easily to levitate or move objects a small distance, like opening a book, throwing a rock at a window, or opening a door; but larger material things are almost impossible and might kill the user much earlier, like knocking over a small house or throwing a table at a wall. Things in the spiritual world are easier, like making someone less tired or making a ward against evil, but things like possesion and influence are still substantial. Lighting fires, making light and illusions are pretty easy also.

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    $\begingroup$ Interestingly the "So you want to be a wizard" series is sorta like this, only the stronger you are the faster you burn out. The short end of the stick is usually still about 20 years though. $\endgroup$ – Draco18s no longer trusts SE Jan 28 '16 at 16:11
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    $\begingroup$ "magic can be used easily to levitate or move objects a small distance" - so can picking them up and carrying them, with much less risk of harm. Other than a few specialist uses for this telekinesis (moving things into/out of dangerous locations), this seems very limited. Are there any clearly valuable abilities that would clearly offset the risk? It is your magic system, so if you need help understanding the implications of this high cost, you need to describe the benefits in more detail. $\endgroup$ – Neil Slater Jan 28 '16 at 16:17
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    $\begingroup$ This is way too broad. Please limit the amount of questions per question post, and clarify what this magic system can do. For example, are there any limits to how many objects can be moved? Please define a "small" distance, and "small/large" materials. Does a massive hollow car sized paper box take the same amount of magic power as lifting a car? Is it a weight limitation for moving distances? What else can this magic do? How accurate can it be, and at what distance can it be used? For example, can I use it to unlock a door without a key from 30m away? 50m? $\endgroup$ – Aify Jan 28 '16 at 16:49
  • $\begingroup$ It would work fine. $\endgroup$ – Serban Tanasa Jan 28 '16 at 16:54
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    $\begingroup$ What can the magic do that a pair of hands cannot? If the answer is nothing then nothing. If not then is that more valuable than a human life? $\endgroup$ – Tim B Jan 29 '16 at 15:45
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But what if the magic WAS addictive? What if, when learning magic, it became like a drug and you slowly wore yourself out by doing it? What if the people controlling magic knew that but kept it a secret? Also, maybe think about what happens when the witches die. Does the government have to replace them? Is there magic therapy? I guess I'm posing more questions than answers, but I think these are important things to think about for your story and may give you some ideas.

EDIT: Alright, so I did pose more questions than answering yours, but the point is to make you think. So for the sake of argument, I'm going to say magic is addictive and the government knows this. They, however, are greedy and try to use magic for themselves. I would assume they actually have an academy for recruited talents to show off what they can theoretically use or to do magical exercises. It's a really great opportunity for talented, aspiring witches to go to this academy. The government could pay them or have some sort of incentive for the witches as well. However, once they arrive at the academy and become addicted to magic, they can't (and don't really want) to leave. The government owns them now, essentially. That actually would end up being the reverse of a therapy/addiction center, which definitely interests me. So your task now would be to figure out what happens there and how the government covers up the deaths/brain deaths of all these witches.

Therefore, magic would end up being very important because it is saving the planet. However, everyone is oblivious to the fact that the cost of saving their world is some very talented individuals. What you do with that information is all you.

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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Worldbuilding! As you already figured yourself, these are more questions for clarification, rather than answers. Try to answer the question, and expand your post. You can also post a comment if you want to give input for clarification, as soon, as you have the reputation needed. As it stands now, your "answer" is likely to get deleted $\endgroup$ – T3 H40 Feb 3 '16 at 3:45
  • $\begingroup$ That's much better! And your questions provide the OP the opportunity to enclose his very broad question. Good answer! $\endgroup$ – T3 H40 Feb 3 '16 at 7:03
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I think people would react negatively to magic. Sure discovering you bend the laws of physics has its perks but realizing that people would hunt you down to use you for your talents is a huge downside. Given your prereqs, people with magical abilities would go underground or would keep their skills a secret. Even if there were no organization hunting for them, magic would essentially be a curse. People would generally avoid using it in order to lead a regular life span. In this scenario magic becomes a cultural taboo, like heroin or crystal meth. The only difference is magic is not addictive.

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  • $\begingroup$ @DKNguyen No it would exist, it is just that people assume that power corrupts when they see their friends use power negatively instead of knowing their friends were already corrupt.Absolute power doesn't corrupt, it just reveals what kind of person you really are. Scientists have done studies that show people who are given powers act in a moral way if they already had a high emotional intelligence and act corrupt if they were already selfish to begin with(slate.com/articles/technology/superman/2013/05/…). $\endgroup$ – Tyler Mc Oct 16 at 11:06
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It would only be useful as a surprise, e.g fighting an enemy then unexpectedly pull a nearby sword to your hand. Otherwise it is basically taking a drug which gives short term ability then kills you.

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A lot depends on the social power dynamics of the world. And it would be handled differently both between cultures and regarding different types of magic. There definitely be an elite magic academy like you describe for people who were members of privileged classes. But whomever was in charge of the society would NOT want people with powers to be roaming around outside of their control. Magical ability is a finite resource, and they would want to get the maximum benefit from it with minimal risk to themselves.

It's worthwhile to compare applications of magic powers to real-life professions that are deadly, or result in deadly health problems.

If a job, or application of magic, is necessary but low-status as well as high risk, then people who do them will likely be directly or indirectly coerced. I'm thinking of jobs like coal mining, certain types of fishing or maybe manually harvesting crops - very hard on the body, absolutely necessary for the economy in general, but the people who do the work usually get the short end of the stick in a big way. For mundane professions this is often enforced indirectly, through economic and legal structures. For magic users you'd need to be more proactive about oppressing them. Maybe they're threatened with execution if they refuse to conform. Maybe various governments have elite magical enforcement janissaries who are allowed to use their powers sparingly, in exchange for employing those powers to keep "disposable" lower status magic users in line and punish those who rebel.

Then again, you'd have applications of magic that work more like American football. The people who do it are very likely to develop deadly health problems. But during their time in the spotlight, they are given high social status and significant financial rewards. And although the rewards these mages receive are still a tiny proportion of the profits made by the organizations (or in the magic world, governments) they work for, it allows them access to a brief taste of the good life, which the low-status mages in the previous paragraph could never hope for.

The absolute best fictional treatment of a similar situation I've read was N.K. Jemisin's Broken Earth trilogy. The orogenes had tremendous power, but were still an oppressed class, their lives constricted by the powers that be so their only choices were between bad and worse and unspeakably much worse.

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It depends. If someone had very little magic they may not last long. People could be separated into different classes based on their amount of magic they hold and its power. What type of magic is it? I made a magical fantasy world where witches used magic to regress adults and teens into babies and toddlers. There are many factors to think about. These are just a few.

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  • $\begingroup$ Can I hire one of these witches? I'm not as young as I used to be... - Some random guy $\endgroup$ – Xandar The Zenon Jan 31 '16 at 21:23
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I think you should focus far more on the illusory capabilities of magic in this case. Faking deaths and such would be extremely useful. Even disguising body doubles would become easier. Making illusions could be one of the most effective and developed bits of magic available to magicians. But that depends on if you mean illusions or hallucinations. If when you mean illusions, you include hallucinations, we can include the possibilities of torture as well as pleasure.

The next best thing is the fact that this would put an actual demand upon magic users as they could tailor hallucinations/illusions to their targets. Essentially they would be the agents of the government which captured them and they would be massively effective if they were properly brainwashed.

However, it does beg the question of why not turn on the people who kidnapped you. But whatever.

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The Levantine Approach

And if all other plans fail, why not sacrifice yourself for the cause? Your life for his. Before Altair, that was the Levantine approach.

That is my favorite quote from Assassin's Creed Unity. And it makes sense historically: the real world assassins are mostly known in the west because of their branch that specialized in conflict. They were called the fedayeen, which according to Wikipedia is:

a term used to refer to various military groups willing to sacrifice themselves for a larger campaign.

You say that:

(...) if someone uses it at a pretty normal rate, they become a lifeless, mindless body after some time of using it (...)

But if you are going to die in a suicide attack anyway, why not go with a bang and invoke a pillar of exploding fire from the sky? You can go well above and beyond what you could do without magic.


By the way, this is almost verbatim an answer I used for a non-related question (If guns had a 50% chance of lethally backfiring, what would they be used for?).

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