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My world (actually worlds) has a multiverse that has two empires at war with each other. They travel through universes via portals built by an even older multiverse civilization, which was destroyed in unknown circumstances.

One civilization is machine based and the other is magic based.

The first civilization has a military much like ours, but with some exceptions.

  1. They aren't as developed in their understanding of biological as we are. (about 50 or 60 years behind us)
  2. They have more advanced AI than we do.
  3. They don't have any nuclear weapons.

Their ground military is made up of lightly trained units for large operations, and more highly trained scouts and special forces units for operations requiring a delicate touch.

In addition to this, they have a robotic mobile artillery walkers and an Air Force entirely made up of drones.

The other is magic based - everyone can use magic but it requires specialized training.

First, they have the regular infantry with little to no training with simple medieval weapons and no magical enhancements. However their officers are required to take at least a two-year course to learn how to control one of the 4 elements (earth, fire, air, water). The ratio of officers in the infantry is 1 to 50.

Second, there is the cavalry. While they don't have magic, their armor and weapons are magically enhanced. The enhancements make their armor bullet-proof and their weapons able to slice through almost anything, and they also enhance the strength of the wearer.

Third, there are mages (not to be mistaken for the officers who only take one or two years magical course to learn how to control one of the elements). To be a mage, it can take up to 8 to 10 years training and most armies only have one or two Mages in them.

Types of Mages

  1. Healers capable of healing any injury, and even raising the Dead to an extent.

  2. Storm singers capable of controlling the weather.

  3. Summoners capable of summoning magical spirit creatures into these worlds. Spirit creatures can be injured but not killed - the only way to get rid of them is either to banish them with magic or kill the Mage who summoned them. Your average Mage is able to summon up to 30 lower Spirit creatures( think unicorns,lesser Fae), up to 10 mid-level Spirit creatures (think werewolves and vampires).

  4. Necromancer mages - mages who can turn the enemy dead on the battlefield into Undead hordes loyal to the mage.

For this particular story, both sides prepare to invade what they think is a defenseless world whose inhabitants lack both technology and magic.

Unfortunately, it turns out that both portals take them to the same open field with only about half a mile from each other. This forces them into an unexpected conflict with each other.

Note: the portal was built by the ancient civilization, is only about twenty feet across, and both sides have an equal number of troops.

My question is: this in this circumstance does one side have a clear advantage over the other? And if so, what can I do to make them more evenly matched?

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  • $\begingroup$ @NicolBolas lol I'm using my phone to type this. stupid autocorrect I usually catch it when they change what I typed but I must have missed that one. $\endgroup$ – Bryan McClure Jul 14 '16 at 1:47
  • $\begingroup$ @NicolBolas problem fixed $\endgroup$ – Bryan McClure Jul 14 '16 at 1:48
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    $\begingroup$ Do they necessarily want to fight? Most of the time, you offer the invaded an opportunity to surrender. $\endgroup$ – PatJ Jul 14 '16 at 1:49
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    $\begingroup$ Wars are never balanced. Ever. If your story requires evenly matched foes, my recommendation would be to work backwards. Instead of developing all of the theorycraft behind both sides, and then figuring out how to balance it, start from square 1 with the pure intent of balancing both sides. Doing so would stop the obvious exploit that Aify pointed out: that you gave one side an I-Win button and can never possibly ever balance it. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Jul 14 '16 at 2:07
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    $\begingroup$ @BryanMcClure I meant a bit more concretely. What, if any, rate of fire with an assault rifle will keep a spirit creature down (aimed at hip bone maybe)? How long does it take for them to heal if they are effectively atomized by 10 kg of TNT (unless they are somehow immune to being blown into pink paste)? What if you put them in a pit, keep shooting of they try to get up, and just keep adding napalm to keep them in ash-and-smoke composition? You need to decide what kind of answer you want to these queations, so your story works. $\endgroup$ – hyde Jul 18 '16 at 4:40
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Your two armies are matched if you say they are matched.

If you are defining your magic system, you can tailor it to your needs. If for some reason you need an even fight (which never happens in a real war), you can tune the magic accordingly.

For example, you have mages that can control weather. They have an airforce. You can tune that matchup simply by adjusting the abilities of how much control those mages have. Can they create puffs of wind, or category 5 hurricanes? You pick based on what you need the battle to behave like.

However, you should balance this as part of your story, since your story is dependent on it being balanced. Wars never try to balance themselves, so you will have to be very careful while building your story to create an artificially balanced war.

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Conflict Isn't About Direct Strength

But rather about making the other side give up. The reason to bring this up is that even if one side is clearly stronger, capable of protecting itself from harm and harming the other side, it might still choose not to fight. Usually this is due to one side being more willing to commit 'atrocity' - that is, acts that the first side find so problematic they choose not to provoke the atrocity.

The school of thought behind terrorism falls into this category, as does hostage taking. In this case the hostages could be the most vulnerable and important members of the opposing but stronger side, or it could be their doorway home, or something else.

Conflict Isn't Necessary

Typically it would be very strange for a military force to immediately engage another military force it wasn't expecting to find, flying a flag it didn't expect to see. As Sun Tzu belabored in The Art of War, intelligence and information are critical to winning a battle: if you have none and are in an area where you can both maneuver a lot, you are on 'open ground', and 'blocking the enemy's way' is a bad idea.

Neither side is aware of the capabilities of the other: forcing a fight is the sort of decision that leads to disaster. In this case, given that one side has bullets and the other is explicitly bullet proof, it is a disaster for them. But they can be balanced by behaving in a way that is superior, and thus not picking a fight until they learn something of the enemy's vulnerabilities or maneuver to a position where a stunning ambush and defeat can be delivered (for instance, Red Wedding-style).

Even Matching

The question in the scenario proposed is 'what would cause the two sides to come to a standoff?' It is clear one side has greater direct strength, but it is unclear if either side would provoke or be easily lured into conflict. Given that they are, the hows and whys are critical: the weaker side would clearly need to create an advantage to cause a standoff, which would require them to act more quickly, more viciously, more deceptively or in some capacity that the magic-based side chooses not to fight.

In short: there is not enough information to know if they are evenly matched. In terms of direct strength they clearly are not, but a lot of the other elements that control the situation are not detailed.

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  • $\begingroup$ I good point, but remember that only the Calvary have magically enhanced armor, the rest just have regular armor. Also weapons more powerful then guns can hurt them. There armor is really tough but not invincible $\endgroup$ – Bryan McClure Jul 14 '16 at 2:48
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    $\begingroup$ @BryanMcClure You also indicated that the portals are 20ft wide and open into the same field. How long does it take to deploy more than a handful of troops into such a situation? There is a real bandwidth problem there, and the first forces to contact each other are unlikely to be the big guns. That said, this is an even greater disadvantage for the machine race, who have no way of making vampires appear and have to send all physical material through that small aperature. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Ford Jul 14 '16 at 2:58
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The thing is, in modern army, every soldier is probably (unless you explitly decide otherwise, but why would you if your goal is balance) in many ways better than the low level mage (rate of fire, range, amount of ammo). And the heavy weapons have similar advantage agains higher level mages. Not to mention, how quickly you can manufacture guns and train soldiers to use them, compared to how quickly you can train mages.

To make it balanced:

  • magic world infantry is basically irrelevant for balance, they'll be mowed down by automatic weapons, especially since they don't have any training against them. They can play a part in holding ground, but their attack value is minimal. Same with undead hordes, they're just too fragile and stupid to stand up against modern weapons of an army equipped for a war.

  • While doing a cavalry charge, magic world cavalry would be invulnerable to basically everything coming from front, and also able to pass through barbed wire. This allows most of them get to the enemy (few will be taken out by mortars and grenades exploding behind them). But once they are there, and lose their momentum, they and their horses are vulnerable to flame throwers and grenades and falling and being shot at with light anti-tank weapons (12 mm? 23 mm? 40 mm? doesn't really matter much except to give some flavor) and getting a bullet to the eye hole. So you would have some tight close-quarter fighting.

  • The summoned creatures get injured and incapacitated, but will reform themselves if summoner concentrates on it. So shooting at them will keep them down, but after shooting stops, they will get up when the summoner gets around to thinking about it. However, the summoner has to have the line of sight to do this. They could maybe unsummon spirits without line of sight, if it makes some difference. Also they would have only limited control without line of sight, they'd basically have to give them instructions in person, then let them charge forward, if they want to stay out of sight. So the spirits would tie down resources and deplete ammo, but would not otherwise be especially effective at killing the modern enemy.

  • Destructive power and fear factor on enemy morale would be about equal between magical destruction and modern mortars, RPGs, heavy machine guns, artillery.

  • Magic makes the aerial drones almost useless. Total air superiority is automatic victory against an army, and AI controlled battle drones would be totally untouchable by anything, except magic. Blasting them out of the sky is better than only making weather too bad to fly, because modern army is a lot better at dealing with bad weather (think of Gore-Tex, thermal sights, radar...), and also some all-weather drone models could perhaps hide in the storm. Just having a single drone high above the enemy (altitude of several kilometers for example), and being able to direct artillery barrages with high accuracy (using IR and radar to hide in the clouds), would be enought to destroy anything that stands out even a bit.

  • Mages would be vulnerable to snipers (no magical shields making them invulnerable), but would quickly learn to stay out of sight or disquise themselves as ordinary infantry.

  • To make things even, you might have to give mages (perhaps after a delay, due to research time) some way to counter artillery, such as ability to create artillery proof shields (but how many hits would they last?) or, better, ability to do counter-artillery and send magical blast following the trajectory of incoming grenade.

  • Both sides are equally fast to adapt new tactics. For example entire magical infantry would not be killed before they learn to dig in, and the technical army will learn the best way to avoid magic attacks before they're all electrocuted or whatever (but they're probably pretty good at this already, they've trained what to do under artillery barrage etc).

  • Reinforcements would heavily favor the modern side (able to use trucks to bring in troops and material much faster than what can get through the portal). You could add some magic teleporting of troops for the other side, but better would be to have the portals just stop working at a convenient (for the story) time, so neither side can get reinforcements. Or perhaps just one side can't get them, and they have to dig in and hold out and hope reinforcements start coming before they're all picked off by sniping / run out of ammo. This allows you to tune the amount of troops to what makes it plausibly balanced. And if one side is not getting reinforcements, you can make them stronger/other side less strong, if you want to get some real carnage. Also, if portals keep working, then both sides would only send through elite troops with the best equipment, because the limiting factor would be the portal. So if you want to keep the lower value troops in the battle, you have to close the portals before both sides realize this.

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Uh, yea. The side with the summoner wins.

You say they can summon Godzilla sized spirit creatures, which can only be injured and never killed? And you gave that side MULTIPLE MAGES?

Forget even having a single mage who can do that, and your battles will start getting a bit less skewed.

The problem you have with the armies is that you gave one side invincible creatures and didn't give the other side a way to kill those creatures. Of the possible ways to kill the creatures (banishing via magic or killing the summoner), only one is viable for the other army since they don't have access to magic. They MUST kill the summoner. But how do they know who the summoner is or where he is? All the army with magic has to do is hide and protect this summoner, and let the spirit beast do all the work.

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  • $\begingroup$ so your saying that I should limit the army to one mage to make it equal? $\endgroup$ – Bryan McClure Jul 14 '16 at 2:02
  • $\begingroup$ People who can create an army from nothing vs. people who have to use finite resources to fuel their army isn't really a fair fight. $\endgroup$ – Nicol Bolas Jul 14 '16 at 2:02
  • $\begingroup$ @NicolBolas there is a limit to the amount of creatures a mage can summon. and if you kill the mage then the creatures is banished. $\endgroup$ – Bryan McClure Jul 14 '16 at 2:05
  • $\begingroup$ @Aify I made some changes to the rules is it more balanced? $\endgroup$ – Bryan McClure Jul 14 '16 at 2:11
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    $\begingroup$ @BryanMcClure Yes, there is a limit. Your army with 4 mages can only summon four Godzillas at one time, and they can be killed merely by getting behind enemy lines to the single most protected region of an army (because they know these summons are overpowered). If I were to balance that out, I'd probably start at about 6 million special ops trained to at least Seal Team 6 level... and even then I'm not sure if they'd have a chance.... on yeah, and of course if they do kill a mage, they might be brought back to life too... $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Jul 14 '16 at 2:12
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Let's boil this down; what's really being asked here is 'Is Magic More or Less Powerful than Technology?'

The thing is; Magic IS Technology, just in a form not readily understood by the other side. You're asking whether the side with X capability would beat the side with Y capability in a fight and that's completely the wrong question.

Wars are not won with combat or destructive capability. They're won with superior strategy. Better supply lines, more accurate and complete intelligence, and the ability to pick the weak point in your enemy's strategy and exploit it. In the case you describe above, both sides have lost because both have resorted to combat; assuming combat is inevitable, the side that would win is the side with the superior commanders. The ones who know their own strengths and weaknesses well, know the enemy's strengths and weaknesses, and have the intellect necessary to exploit both their own strengths and the enemy's weakness.

In a world where one side has a massive magical capability and the other side has machine intelligence, the right way to 'defeat' the enemy would be to use those skills to undermine the society of the other. The former might use weather summoning skills to impact the crops of the latter, and the latter would use their AI to manipulate the stock markets and other economic management systems of the former. It's about limiting the ability of your opponent to act by limiting his access to certain strategic options.

Of course, getting caught doing this could lead to all out war, but this is (arguably) already happening in the world today if all the talk of 'state actors' in the cyber-security space carries with it any evidentiary merit. In that case, the day will still be carried by those with better intel and superior strategies rather than those with the best weapons.

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Depends on cast speed, it doesn't matter if you have a full horde of necromancers ready to summon the second coming of the frozen king if they need 10 mins to cast the spell, while a machinegun fires fast and relatively precise just needs some bullets(there is a reason why armored(which actually could to some extent be considered bullet proof in some cases) troops whent extinct when machine guns appeared[*]).

Based on your description on both sides i'd say the mechanical forces have the upper hand in most situations: AI weapons react far faster than a human could ,the stress of an actual battle may hinder the casting proficiency of the magic users ,while a rifle if cleaned and maintained properly will be 100% reliable 95% of the time and lastly it doesn't matter if your armor is bullet-proof if they use a gas based weapons(chemistry has some basic things that were understood from long ago : if it melts things it can be used to melt my enemy)?

To balance the scales add incompetence to one side ... go for the they are so trusting on their actual power that they belittle the enemy approach, that should put things on par ... but from the description of both sides one has the clear superiority.

[*] Even if a bullet doesn't pass through your plating that doesn't mean you won't feel the impact , at one point they can die from the mere shock of so many impacts.

Edit: As pointed out before my post by @Tom attrition helps out even more the technological side , for how long will a barrier be sustained under full aerial bombardment + machine gun fire ... to recharge stamina takes hours , to recharge a gun seconds even if not fully trained.

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The mages would curb stomp the tech army

But only because the mages have OP summoners and the lack of biological understanding on the tech side, so nerf the summoners or increase the tech sides medical capabilities... Or both!

Why? Well you mentioned that

"Summoners capable of summoning magical spirit creatures into these worlds. Spirit creatures can be injured but not killed - the only way to get rid of them is either to banish them with magic or kill the Mage who summoned them."

You also mentioned "Your average Mage is able to summon up to 30 lower Spirit creatures (think unicorns,lesser Fae), up to 10 mid-level Spirit creatures (think werewolves and vampires)."

After inspecting the quote I don't see any restrictions against unicellular beings.

Sure you could easily incapacitate a dragon or a unicorn with a gun or an artillery cannon, but what about e coli or small pox? It's hard to slow a virus with 1960's medicine, experimental anti viral drugs ain't exactly wide spread and even then, it was only against herpes (non existent if they were behind 60 years ago)...

Assuming that a human shaped being counts as a lower spirit creature and a single mage could summon 30 of these. A single mage could summon a being of 3.72 × 10^13 roughly translating to 37200000000000. At full capacity they could summon 1116000000000000 of these cells... Also because these are complex cells they could cast even more bacteria and viruses...

source: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.3109/03014460.2013.807878

And this is a single mage mind you, in a war there would most likely be thousands of these mages!

Also because the disease won't die the tech army's immune system's can't handle them and they would start dying by an incurable super disease. They can't do anything against the disease because it can't die so not even antibiotics could save them and they lack the biological understanding to slow it.

All the mage side has to do is infect the tech army with these, tell them the disease won't go away until they surrender then hide somewhere until the tech side dies off or surrenders.

Oh and it becomes even worse if Necromancer mages are involved as they could make the undead spread the disease even faster or just use their tech against them essentially making mid and late war a tech army vs a tech and magic army so nerf them as well. (though the zombies could die, unlike the disease), the navy and air force would have to come into contact with the army eventually and then they would get infected themselves and as smart as the AI is, they won't do much if their batteries are empty.

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In your specific situation, as already mentioned you can simply tune the power of magic to create an even battle.

In a war, however, technology will win over magic for the same reason it won over knighthood in the real world: War is primarily about attrition. If you can replace your losses better than the enemy, you have a very good chance at winning. If it takes years to train a mage, but months to train a soldier, sooner or later the magic side will run out of mages.

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