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In the story I am writing has a person, let's call him John Doe, who has been transported to an alternate reality/parallel universe. This world is very magic dependent (he doesn't know this yet of course). This includes - but is not limited to - farming, cooking, logistics, war and construction, or anything major you can think of in this world is magic dependent one way or another.

John has been transported to a nearby village; the world has breathable atmosphere (otherwise it would be a short lived story) and the same gravity as Earth. They all speak the same language so that wont be a problem, and also eat and drink the same way we do, meat/vegetables water etc.

A bit on the world's magic background:

  • To learn magic you need to complete a trial (I wont go deeply into the details)
  • Trials can be dangerous/lethal, if you fail, any injury will be healed apart from death.
  • You only attempt a trial yourself unless stated other wise.
  • Magic is split up into different stages - Beginner, Intermediate, Expert and Master. A beginner cannot start a expert or master trial but can start a intermediate, though there is risk in doing this early.

  • After you complete a trial, the magic you have gained will be in its lowest state, as you use it more you will have a finer control over it or be able to control a greater amount. A beginner who has gained control of "Beginner Fire" will be able to make a ball of fire about the size of a golf ball, as the control becomes better they will be able to make more fire balls or make them bigger

  • Beginner are limited to the 4 elements, Fire, Water, Air and Earth, they will only be able to control a small amount at beginner level

Back to John, since he isn't from this world he cannot start or use any magic/trials.

Is it possible for John to survive without magic in this world?

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    $\begingroup$ You might want to read the webcomic Poppy O'Possum which is about the adventures of the opossum lady Poppy who is an antimagical creature in a world where magic is used by practically everyone to some degree. $\endgroup$ – Traubenfuchs May 10 '16 at 13:21
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    $\begingroup$ John Doe could find a position as a manager. $\endgroup$ – Cyrus May 11 '16 at 12:58
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    $\begingroup$ @Cyrus Im not intending for him to be that useless $\endgroup$ – Mr.Burns May 11 '16 at 13:23
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    $\begingroup$ For some ideas on a world where society and infrastructure are based around special powers - though the powers are totally different from the magic you describe here - you may want to check out Vernor Vinge's "The Witling". It depicts a world where almost everyone is born with powers of teleportation, and the events after some un-powered outsiders arrive there. $\endgroup$ – recognizer May 11 '16 at 18:09
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    $\begingroup$ @Mr.Burns You are aptly surnamed; that was a sick burn on managers everywhere. $\endgroup$ – TylerH May 12 '16 at 14:56

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Let's translate this into a certain other scenario. Let's pretend that John is transported to this amazing planet called Earth. This world is very technology dependent (he doesn't know this yet of course). This includes but is not limited to farming, cooking, logistics, war and construction, anything major you can think of in this world is technology dependent one way or another.

In order to learn how to use and maintain this technology you need to complete a college or university program (I wont go deeply into the details). These programs can be very difficult and are split into Diploma, Bachelor Degree, Master's Degree, and Doctorate levels. A beginner cannot start a Master's Degree program, but can attempt a diploma one. There is risk in doing this before you're ready to take on the responsibility.

And so. Could John survive in this world? Will he find employment? Will he manage to fit into society, even though he knows nothing about technology?

Yes, he will. Because as long as John is a hard working guy he will always find something to do.

In your particular scenario it will greatly help John is he uses his knowledge of Earth technology to innovate new and interesting things on the magical planet. Such as for example the concept of automobiles, or steam engines. Or simply of a take-out/delivery restaurant. Or even making something as simple as a bicycle can make him famous and rich.

With such a wealth of knowledge that he can tap into he will have no problem coming up with some inventive way in which to make money.

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    $\begingroup$ @AndreiROM The OP has already told us that anything major you can think of in this world is done by magic. He's even given us a list of manual-labour tasks which are all done by magic. If the OP wants to change the terms he's setting, that's his call. I can only go on what he's told us, and what he's saying is that every significant activity is done with the use of magic. $\endgroup$ – Graham May 11 '16 at 22:58
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    $\begingroup$ @Graham - "anything major you can think of in this world is done by magic" <- define "anything major". You're making a hill out of a molehill. We do "anything major" with technology as well, but that doesn't mean that you couldn't wash my windows using only a ladder and bucket of water. I'd pay you for it, then you'd buy food. Done. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM May 11 '16 at 23:12
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    $\begingroup$ "As simple as a bicycle" -- mate, bicycles are high-tech devices. Even primitive bicycles need relatively advanced metallurgy, good roads, etc. Unless John Doe is a mechanical engineer with a minor in mining, metallurgy and a hobby interest in "primitive" construction methods, "making something as simple as a bicycle" isn't going to happen. Heck, even something as simple as gunpowder needs them to have memorized 15:3:2 ratio and what the ingredients are to get started (nevermind purification etc), and gunpowder isn't that useful without metallurgy to make guns. $\endgroup$ – Yakk May 12 '16 at 14:29
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    $\begingroup$ @Yakk As an example: They do make things out of metal for use in their magically-driven machines, so they have the skill to make bicycle parts, but nobody's ever thought to make a mechanical conveyance not powered by magic for the same reason that engineers educated in our modern, electronic world insist on putting electronic control circuits in a coffee grinder when a simple, mechanical timer would be cheaper and more durable. (real life example.) A bicycle wouldn't make him rich, but the ability to spot the areas where magic isn't the best method might. $\endgroup$ – Perkins May 12 '16 at 23:23
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    $\begingroup$ To support the bike idea : I could drive to the office everyday (or fly by helicopter). This is the obvious technological solution. Yet I bike. Even though this means more effort, sweat, etc. Why? Because it is fun! And relaxing! $\endgroup$ – WoJ May 13 '16 at 17:30
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If John is the only person who can't do magic, he could leverage that to act as a curiosity/show.

Come one, come all, only 5 coppers to see a man cook without magic! Unbelievable I know. For a silver you can even taste his completely mundane cooking. Revel in how he manages to capture the essence of flavor without the aide of any magical capability.

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    $\begingroup$ this answer made me laugh when I read it. $\endgroup$ – Bryan McClure May 11 '16 at 6:11
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    $\begingroup$ aslum got a +1 from me, largely because @BryanMcClure pointed out that he deserved it (thereby making me think about it long enough to realize that aslum ought to be rewarded for my laugh) $\endgroup$ – TOOGAM May 12 '16 at 1:31
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    $\begingroup$ Lol this though $\endgroup$ – AndrewL64 May 13 '16 at 7:10
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On the one hand, poor Mr. Doe is pretty much useless. He'll be able to survive, though; there will always be a few people who flunk the Beginner trial, and they survive. If no one fails the Beginner trial, then what's the point of having it at all, right? He'll function roughly as a high-school drop-out; not a glamorous life, but at least he won't starve. They do have minimum wage, right?

On the other hand, depending on how magic works, John Doe may well be one of the most powerful people in the world. If he is truly devoid of magic, it may be that magic simply doesn't work on him; a fireball just whooshes right by, and even a Master-level windstorm doesn't muss his hair. He can walk through any magical trap, go completely undetected, and walk up to the highest level wizard in town and punch him in the nose without a worry of reprisal. High level magic users may not even see or hear him, as they might use magical sight or hearing; he could walk into the most secure facilities in the world without worrying about even being seen, let alone caught.

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    $\begingroup$ @see magician bink $\endgroup$ – james turner May 9 '16 at 21:27
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    $\begingroup$ A Spell for Chameleon by Piers Anthony $\endgroup$ – Paul Williams May 10 '16 at 19:46
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    $\begingroup$ Also, Joram from the Darksword trilogy by Weis and Hickman. $\endgroup$ – Zimul8r May 11 '16 at 10:27
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    $\begingroup$ The Darksword trilogy actually goes quite in depth into this exact scenario. I definitely recommend it! $\endgroup$ – XML Slayer May 11 '16 at 14:49
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Join the military, special ops/intelligence adviser!

Having no inherent magic ability, any weapons or devices he creates won't show up as dangerous (or at all) to magical wards, allowing him to be the equivalent of Q in James Bond. Also lacking a magic basis it will be easier for him to "think outside the box" and find alternate and unexpected ways of gaining surprise in military operations.

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  • $\begingroup$ This sounds like Hile Troy, Warmark of Revelstone. (From The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant.) $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor May 14 '16 at 17:46
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He can't be the only person unable to do magic. By your rules, children are born unable to do magic, so the world has to be safe and at least moderately navigable for them. And if there's a risk even in the beginner trial, then some people will fail it or simply not be able to face taking it. So some people won't be able to do magic. It might be a small minority, but they'll exist. Consider the minority of people unable to drive, for example - they have more obstacles in getting from A to B, but public transport does exist, and so do taxis and Uber and lift-sharing schemes.

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Assuming that magic is an addition to our own world's natural laws and not an outright replacement, John should be able to do anything he can do in our world. The world might not be as tailored for him as ours is, but he can manage to get by.

For example, if he needs to farm to live, he can always grab a stick, whittle it into a hoe and do some farming. Depending on his resources, he can even do some metalwork and make a really good hoe.

He wouldn't be able to compete with the people who farm magically, but hopefully he can manage his own subsistence. There's a chance that some benevolent villager takes him under his/her wing, too, and helps out or hires him in exchange for food and board. Not that he could prove as useful as a mage could, but I could see a villager adopting a "just give it your best" attitude.

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Wizard's Bane by Rich Cook goes in to this in some detail. He's doubly useless because he can't even weed a vegetable garden or chop wood properly; he's never had to do that sort of manual labor before.

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Another excellent resource that explores this is the Codex Alera series by Jim Butcher. Without revealing too much, the main character of the series has no magic in a society where everyone is expected to have at least a little after puberty. He is belittled and considered a freak by most. However, the character is a quick learner, and do to his unique perspective is able to find solutions to problems others within his society had never thought of. At times his rivals use of magic actually was a disadvantage when challenging him as they were often overconfident and arrogant in their superiority.

Using this model, my short answer would be "yes" that John would be capable of surviving and even flourishing. He would just have to find other advantages or be able to craft other solutions to the challenges he faces than what those around him might consider.

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everything is relative. some would say that your average non-magical human can't even make a "living wage" in this non-magic-dependent world.

also, physical skills are not the most important skills in a complex society. intelligence, temperament, and communication skills are generally what lead to success, not how well you light a fire (with magic or matches).

so, his ability to survive has more to do with the culture of the world he enters, than with the magic there. if he finds a world of ignorance, fear and superstition, then he will probably be summarily executed like any other stranger who teleported into town unannounced. on the other hand, if he finds a world with a complex society and effective communication system, his personality and business acumen should determine his financial success rather than his lack of magic. that said, even if he is a rude idiot, he should be able to feed and cloth himself entirely on the generosity of strangers in a sufficiently wealthy (and/or progressive) society.

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I wanted to post a much shorter example as a comment but I cannot do that yet.

There is an entire series of books that brings up this topic several times: the Xanth series by Piers Anthony. The very first book almost revolves around this idea.

When a person comes of age they must be able to demonstrate their magical ability or be exiled where they must leave Xanth if they are unable to perform magic. The main character is not able to demonstrate his magic and is exiled and there starts his journey to leave. He has to use other skills and make magic wielding friends to survive the trip. The series overall is light-hearted and based on puns but ultimately leads to further acceptance and inclusion of the characters. Every person has a unique magical skill and no skills are duplicated, ever. Waves of immigrants often occur upon which many of them develop magical abilities after time or their children have abilities.

Further books place the characters on a path to discover the source of all magic and even the complete loss of all magic within the region. As everything reverts back to no magical abilities they must figure out how to survive and complete their trip. Not that you should do that exactly, but everyone has something to offer and placing people in situations where magic cannot fully fix the problems or is even the source of the problems can shine a light on other abilities.

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Hmm. Others have mentioned the many ways he could be helpful on his own, but there's one admittedly unlikely scenario left: he fakes it. Can he bring technology with him? If so, a lighter could help with fire (or up to a flamethrower if you want to go big), and it can all be neatly explained to the local villagers as being a 'magical focus' or somesuch, and the reason he needs the focus and can only do fire magic is because he's from another world (or, if he's trying to blend in, because he's from some far-off civilization with really weird Trials.) If he feels he oughtn't use technology in public, then I suppose it would all depend on the nature of the Trials, and whether there exist any small, hideable technologies to imitate the Four Elements. (I am immediately getting mental images of him claiming a clown's flower-sprayer is water magic.)

Not a likely scenario, but it's there if it helps. Otherwise, I back the whole 'starts a technological revolution' thing.

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I would consider comparison to another disability. e.g., being blind.

Today, we have the Braille language, and taxes pay for social services which may provide a "seeing eye" dog that can serve the blind users.

In times past, they may well have been relegated to the fine industry of being a beggar, unless they were born in a culture that led to them being burned at the stake. Spartans who killed defective babies may have realized that eyes aren't tracking. Instead of being assisted, they may have been persecuted.

On the other hand, a person who lacks taste may be much less detected. I, myself, lacked a decent sense of smell for nearly my entire life. Yet that never got diagnosed as a child. As a child, I learned that humans had an inferior sense of smell compared to canines, and I didn't realize that my sense was notably inferior until I was in my 20s. Then I got the sense, and then started to lose it. And when I started to lose it, I didn't much even care. Smell just isn't as enticing as sight.

A person who is missing a basic ability may struggle to various degrees depending on a variety of factors, like how important that ability is, and how accommodating society may be for anyone else who lacks the ability (or has the ability to a diminished amount). Differences may exist between New York City, Beijing, Paris, and Glacier, WA (which is a tiny city that is so near a mountain that it lacks much technology infrastructure, to this day). Differences may affect some people (like urban inner-city dwellers vs. rural farmers, rich vs. poor, etc.)

Naturally, as the inventor of every society (and even the entire world) in your fictional setting, you get to make these decisions. You've got a lot of leeway to be able to play with.

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Larry Niven's short story "For a Foggy Night" goes something along these lines. There is a world that has telepathy/mental powers but are not as advanced in the "physical sciences". Character makes some money inventing clever things like the "zipper" and "stapler".

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