I am making a world for a story and my question involves the displacement of a new technology to replace an existing one (magical). This is a medieval fantasy world with magic, but without demi-humans(i.e. no elves, dwarves, etc.)

Current level of magical technology involved the development of 'runes' to channel mana through (your standard floating magic circle with lightning shooting out of it). It can be used for a large number of mundane things as well as combat, but I will be focusing on combat. The magic circles are designed to control the flow of mana efficiently like a circuit, and manipulate it into the form the caster wishes it. Because these circles are built from pre-existing components that others have researched (requiring a lot of memorization), the flexibility isn't the best, but it gets the job done for most things. Mana circle is created by the caster on demand, and to cast magic like this requires a mana pool of a certain size.

  • 2 in 3 people generally have mana pools are large enough to use that to a minimally useful level within a population(stuff like cooling yourself with a cold wind on a hot day).
  • 1 in 3 people are capable of using it in personal combat to some extent (this can be very basic things such as summoning a gust of wind to throw dirt in your opponent's eyes).
  • 1 in 10 people have a mana pool large enough to cast decent wizardly spells in personal combat(small fireballs and the like)
  • 1 in 500 people are capable of launching magic over a long range, and are able to cover enough area to be able to hit multiple enemies (about 5 meter radius, at a distance of max 500m), these are the ones that generals consider to be of the 'mage' group in combat potential, and their general roles are usually to sit at the back and fire off artillery at the enemy ranks, while at the same time intercepting the same attacks from enemy mages when possible. Attacks are generally fatal for a direct hit, and about 30% death rate for those being splashed. 90% of those who survive generally are unable to continue fighting
  • Some of those 1 in 500 people decide to undergo special training to form teams of about 20 mages, in order to work together to fire off single extra large magical artillery (20m radius blasts at a range of 1km). Highly lethal within the inner 15m radius, outside is about same as the single shooters.
  • 1 in 1 million people are monsters that are blessed/cursed with great mana pools, that are capable of firing off 20m radius blasts at a range of 1km easily on their own

Generally, within the public, people require about 1.5 months of training (costs money for a tutor, or to enroll in an academy, standard education costs) to cast the most basic weak spells, about 6 months to have a usable spell for combat, 2 years to be able to use a single spell for the 'mage' group (generally you want 3-4 offensive and defensive spells for flexibility), and another 5-10 years to train together to form the single spell of the 20-mage combined magic.

Given that this is the current state of the world's magic, I want to introduce a new revolutionary technology into the world: a stone of crystallized mana, that can have runes engraved onto it, and used as a disposable 'bomb'. These are fist-sized stones that require about 3 days of training for your average peasant to learn how to activate them whilst not blowing themselves up in the process (results may vary). These stones on activation, have a fuse timer built-in (unless the craftsman who made it was having a bad day), which upon expiry, will detonate in about a 4m radius explosion for a decent stone. Varying qualities of stone can lead to varying degrees of destructiveness, from a simple child's toy to a blast that can wipe out an army. To create stones as a craftsman takes about 8 years of study, and a further 2-4 years of apprenticeship. Afterwards, the rate to produce stones (given that supplies last), is about 8 stones per day per craftsman, can vary up to 15 stones for the extremely skilled.

The technology will eventually become more advanced and have various other spells engraved on it for mundane uses other than explosions, and be able to eat the stone slowly instead of instantly, but on its introduction, this is what it does.

My questions are:

  • for this new stone to displace existing mages, and turn them mostly into a research type role, how cheap would it have to be to make?
  • How Abundant would the supplies need to be?
  • How easily accessible would those supplies have to be?
  • And, upon its introduction, how long would it take to displace mages to that point within the country of origin, how long would it take to dominate battles within the world in general, and how long would it take to completely displace all battle mages within the world?
  • If it is unlikely to displace current magic in its introductory form, what changes should be made so that it can?
  • Edit: Also, are there any special tactics that these stones can be used in other than having your basic farmer toss them at the enemy/strapping them to arrows?

Ideally, the answer should have the barest parameters for the displacement to occur (i.e. no free unlimited magic stones), and the longest reasonable time-frame for it to happen, as I want to write a story the occurs in the middle of this displacement.

  • $\begingroup$ Your 1 in 1 million mages are going to dramatically affect your world's politics as 5 of them working together is a practically unstoppable force, they have the equivalent power of a 100 normal mages. The larger a group of people is the slower it is to move as a cohesive whole so you would actually need an army comprised of several hundred if not a thousand mages to pin down and overwhelm those five monsters. Expect lots of casualties, this is like general infantry overwhelming a main battle tank by dog-piling it, sure it's theoretically possible but you're going to lose a lot of troops. $\endgroup$
    – Cognisant
    Commented May 16, 2018 at 7:09

5 Answers 5


It hard to give a definite answer to this but I'll try. When compare wizards with magic crystals. I would compare crossbows/long bows with muskets. Muskets required less training to use and were more powerful. Muskets first started to replace older projectile weapons in the fifteen century but for several reason (including the price of gun powder) muskets didn't fully replace the bows completely until the 16 century. So I would make it the same time frame for the crystals. At when first people start use them wizards are still used because there cheaper then crystals, but as time goes bye it becomes cheaper and cheaper until a hundred years later hiring a wizard is actually more expense.


From a military standpoint, I believe that true Mages would always have value.

A well armed fortress should be well stocked enough that they would have all the resources (runestones) on hand to defend themselves. The problem is that not all fights would be fought at a base or fortress. In the case of a small team going into combat, you can only carry so much weight and so you will have to choose what you bring. There are the obvious notions of bringing stones that have curative magic or offensive magic; however, what happens when you come across a raging river that you didn't expect or something else you did not prepare for occurs. Having a trained mage whose powers can be bent to the situation at hand will be indispensable. It is more likely that mages would see their purpose change rather than their purpose extinguished.

You haven't made an advancement that eliminates the use of magic (like gunpowder eliminated the use of bows), you have effectively made it more convenient (like a crossbow). Skilled archers are still better overall due to their versatility and intensive training (in the time period) because they know what they are doing. A peasant can be handed a crossbow and given a few hours with it but when something in the mechanism breaks, they are defenseless. A fully trained archer would know how to carry spare bowstring or know how to make their own arrows as well as a new bow if needed from their environment. I would pose the question of what happens when a runestone craftsman makes a mistake. Can it be easily seen or would you find out by using the stone? What is to be done when it is too late and the stone has been used? Having a trained and experienced mage on hand who can fix the issue would be very valuable.

Overall, I see that Mages would more take a backseat to the fighting and more serve as interventionists by using their power when something goes wrong or something unforeseen occurs. If a particular base or stronghold didn't have an extremely powerful Mage at their disposal, they would definitely have a team or two on hand that could be dispatched at need. Furthermore, if actual trained Mages got involved in the crafting of the runestones, would the limit of their potential increase?


There is potential for complications along the way. There is a technology quite a bit like this in Steven Brust's novel The Phoenix Guards, called "flash-stones" but it vanishes from the sequels. The in-world rationalisation was that someone found a magical way to detonate them at a distance, with sad results for anybody carrying one, so they were abandoned.

Also, what kind of world has magical combat as the major task of its magicians? It may be very important in adventure stories, but it's hard to believe that you can deduce the progress of a social change simply from that. It would be like assuming that you can understand the real world's metalworking technologies solely from the history of firearms.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The world I had in mind has nearly constant war. Magicians are also capable of more mundane things, but the required education to reach a decent usable level can be a bit costly, and thus mostly restricted to middle-upper class if the person wants to learn on their own. Most of these people see refrigerating fish for merchants as something beneath them, and would focus more on the glorious combat aspect, or supporting that otherwise. Mages that work outside combat are seen as charitable oddballs (they do exist), or are self-taught (inefficient) mages that don't follow the standard rune system. $\endgroup$
    – ArKain
    Commented Jun 25, 2016 at 15:27

This question is quite interesting. Here is my input:

How cheap would the stones be?

I think that this is what you meant by your first question. I assume that:

  • Each Mage earns the equivalent of $100,000/year
  • A mage can make 10 stones per day
  • Mages use our form of time, and work 250 days per year

That is 2,500 stones per year, or $40 per stone. That's a very reasonable number. Every Mage makes a handsome salary, and nobody will "Cheat" by using too many stones, since they aren't 10 cents to the dozen.

How abundant would the supplies have to be?

Fairly abundant. Assume that the population is big enough to have "one-in-a-million" type people, and you've probably got about a tenth of a billion people. That's 100 people who can possess such an amazing power as they do. With 100 million people, assume that people use:

  • 0 stones per month for kids/poor/elderly
  • 3 stones per month for farmers/laborers
  • 12 stones per month for peasant (Non-mage) soldiers

If these people are evenly spread, there are about 500 million stones being used monthly. If each stone is a fist-sized kilogram, then you will need a half of a Teragram of Mana...per month.

How easily accessible should these supplies be?

In order to extract this much material, 2.9 megagrams of mana should be mined per hour. If each employee can produce 100 Kg per hour, then 29,166 people should be employed in Mana mining. In order to extract 100 Kg per hour, it should be in huge veins, with billion upon billions of kilograms of Mana. These could be fairly deep and hard to access, and 100 Kg per hour would be most likely if it were mixed with other stones.

How long until Mages are displaced?

Well, I would place my bets at 200 years. Here's my idea of a timeline:

0-50=Stones are considered toys of little practical use

50-100=Stones have become popular as explosives, small arguments/skirmishes between Mages and stones have began

100-150=Stones are used often, but Mages are popular still

150-200=Stones have almost taken over. The occasional Mage still helps. At the end, Mages are gone

How will it become popular (Changes in introductory form)

The creators would create more spells on the stones, and a few small battles would be aided by the stones. Soon, military commanders would see their importance.

Special Tactics:

  • Using several stones, build small "contraptions", such as attaching a levitating stone to a bomb, and launching an air assault

  • Find several spells with similar runes, and switch between them (Like turning a grow-plants-better spell into a shoot-lighting-that-turns-you-into-a-frog spell)

I hope my ideas help!


There are two different real world analogies you can use:

1. Soldier:

We have had soldiers since ancient times and we still have them now. Science has evolved a lot during that time, and so have the weapons and strategies used by the soldiers. But the occupation of a soldier has never disappeared. Soldiers and armies in general have only gotten stronger as technology evolved.

2. Engineer/Scientist

The creators and researchers. They have been there since the beginning as well. As science and technology has evolved, they have used the existing science and technology to improve upon it more and just get better in general and understand more about the universe around us.


Since you replaced science with magic in your world, mages are not going disappear. They will evolve and get more powerful as the magic itself evolves. They will discover new nuances and applications of magic they did not know before. They will be able to go further faster than before. Communication speed will increase. The more menial / labor intensive work will become automated. They will create golems to do the simpler work for them while they focus on more intellectual / high-value work.

Maybe someday mages will even lead the civilization to space and beyond.

  • $\begingroup$ I can't see your comparisons here, you're comparing historic with current professions, you should be comparing the domestic maid with the microwave, vacuum cleaner, and washing machine. Yes some people have a maid, but most people now use the white goods. The tool that replaced the job. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Commented May 17, 2018 at 13:33
  • $\begingroup$ I am not comparing historic and current professions. I am simply saying that over time the occupation of a Soldier or Scientist has survived. Only, as science & technology evolved, the work they do has also evolved and is now completely different than what they did thousands of years ago. $\endgroup$
    – Paresh
    Commented May 18, 2018 at 6:13
  • $\begingroup$ As for the maid analogy, in the past they cleaned the house with their hands (cloth, broom, etc.). They do the same now, just with better equipment (vacuum cleaner). Have maids been replaced by vacuum cleaners? I don't think so. Those who can afford a maid, still employ them. Those who can't afford a maid, do the work themselves. That has always been the case. $\endgroup$
    – Paresh
    Commented May 18, 2018 at 6:19
  • $\begingroup$ They key was that once upon a time everyone had a maid, labour was so cheap that even a family living all in one room would have a maid who shared the bed with the master and mistress. Now everyone has a vacuum cleaner. Soldiers aren't replaced, only their tools are upgraded, engineers aren't replaced, their tools are upgraded, maids were replaced by tools, most bank staff have been replaced by ATMs, checkout staff have been replaced by self-service tills. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Commented May 18, 2018 at 6:50

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