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In my world mages are powerful and potentially game breaking in a fight. However, I want to limit them to being mostly used by the 'enemy' side, and until very recently it was quite rare for mages to team up to fight large wars.

I generally want to create a world where mages usually are self centred/power-mad/etc. and can't work together - but some decent mages exist. Thus, the act of becoming a mage can't require any evil action. I want to create a system where mages often turn on other mages, such that generally only those willing to fight and potentially kill enemy mages would become mages themselves. However, I'm having trouble fully justifying the level of in-fighting I had planned for them.

A quick overview: mages work by spending Mana to enhance and direct existing power sources. For instance, turning a small candle flame into a fireball and throwing it at their enemy. They generally lack subtlety or the ability to do any long-running magic. They're really good at making things go boom and other obvious, immediate applications of energy/force. Magic is good for little else.

Mages use a Crystal they attuned to to store Mana in. It takes some time to build up mana: a few days to a few weeks to go from 'empty' to 'full' mana reserve, depending on the skill of the mage and how much power their Crystal can store. When a mage uses his full mana reserve he can launch numerous extremely devastating and dangerous attacks, but are quite vulnerable without mana and so need to be careful not to waste mana and keep a sufficient reserve to defend themselves. The power of mages varies greatly with both natural aptitude, experience, and the quality of Crystal used. A mage also can not use a method of enhancing their physical speed/strength others use in this world so as long as they are using a crystal. Thus, a mage is going to be outclassed in any physical battle against soldiers, though their magic is considered far more devastating then any soldier.

I had intended to suggest mages often fight over the highest quality Crystals, to allow larger and more efficient magical reserves, leading to extensive infighting over crystals and often a kill or be killed mentality that comes with getting and holding on to a powerful crystal that other's want. However, I need lower quality Crystals to not be too rare, which would imply mages could exist without being targets of other mages so long as they're willing to settle for not having that powerful a Crystal: basically limiting their maximum supply of mana.

Thus I'm looking for some other options to encourage mages to often fight between each other, to the point that until a recent powerful leader allied them they rarely worked together. I want a world where generally only those with delusions of grandeur or the otherwise power-mad become mages (and/or only that type usually survives to magehood), to encourage a world where generally being a mage only appeals to the less benign individuals, even if the act of being a mage doesn't require any evil actions or intent itself.

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closed as primarily opinion-based by James Apr 16 at 5:18

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • $\begingroup$ For some reason The Wheel of Time comes to mind. Consider reading up on magic in that universe. $\endgroup$ – ricksmt Jul 14 '16 at 23:14
  • $\begingroup$ @ricksmt that magic system works very differently to the one described above, and the madness there was caused by a taint put on the source of the power though because of that there are some similarities. $\endgroup$ – Theyna Jul 15 '16 at 3:23
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    $\begingroup$ @Theyna Yes, I didn't mean to suggest changing your mechanics. What I really wanted to point out was the madness aspect, but I felt it was out of place without context. $\endgroup$ – ricksmt Jul 15 '16 at 6:00
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    $\begingroup$ Terry Pratchett: Sourcery. There is an answer :) $\endgroup$ – Crowley Jul 15 '16 at 8:01
  • $\begingroup$ Look to Sanderson's Steelheart series. I don't want to drop spoilers, but the mechanics of the Epics or some variant thereof could work quite nicely for this scenario. $\endgroup$ – SethWhite Jul 15 '16 at 14:19

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The most effective way to make sure they are cuthroat is to make the world they live in highly unstable. If you have lots of time to react to any stimulus, you can be calm and understanding to others. However, if everything you come across is a make-or-break issue that must be handled instantaneous or pay a dear price, you have to become less forgiving to the mistakes of others. Their mistakes could literally cost you your life.

One approach is to make their power very fickle. It could turn on them at any moment. Think of this power like a pet wolf. As long as you're watching it and careful, it can be your best friend. However, leave your child unattended near it for a few seconds, and the wolf's instincts may turn on you. A mage must constantly be poking or prodding their own power, making sure the mage controls the power rather than the power controlling the mage.

A natural result of such fickle power is that people will develop very sharp-edged rules for dealing with this power. These rules are set up to create intentionally weak points in the power they hold so that the mage can control that power. Shore up all the weak points, and you have no hand-holds with which to manipulate that power. The presence of such weak points leads rapidly to the development of cutthroat unfriendly individuals because they are now obliged to protect these weak points from others. The use of high quality crystals may be seen as a way to protect such weaknesses, like wearing body armor. Some of the most valuable crystals would be those which worked for every discipline, shoring up many weaknesses at once. Less valuable crystals might be helpful to a few who are willing to shape their weaknesses to line up with the strenghts of the crystals.

A few mages could seek to develop power without such extreme holds. Such power would have to be nurtured slowly and carefully. However, without weaknesses like the more rule-based powers, it would be much harder to oppose such a mage. If the power was cultivated to be in balance on its own, without the mage necessarily watching it every second of the day, they could afford to relax a bit and permit the kinds of interactions we associate with good characters.

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  • $\begingroup$ I admit I like this. Running with the idea, at the most basic level, just saying that many die when first mastering the basic of magecraft through mistakes etc seems like it would work pretty well also. Generally no one is willing to risk such self harm for a power that is useful mostly for blowing others up if benign... $\endgroup$ – dsollen Jul 14 '16 at 22:33
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    $\begingroup$ @dsollen True. The reason I like to add the concept of the power getting away from them is that it permits the reader to treat their power as an intelligent adversary. If it just takes time to master the basics without dying, eventually someone will write down a book about how to do it. However, if it takes time to master the basics, can be deadly, and you can't even write a book about it because the power changes to adapt to your book, that keeps magic locked down pretty tight $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Jul 14 '16 at 23:01
  • $\begingroup$ I like this too! Maybe add the fact that there exist some dark arts which allow mages to grow stronger quicker, at the cost of 1/ higher chance of being maimed and/or 2/ having to sacrifice innocents. Also, if killing another mage and stealing his crystal could enhance one's own mastery or max amount of mana (by combining crystals maybe?), the most power hungry mages will fight and kill to become even more powerful. $\endgroup$ – Shautieh Jul 15 '16 at 4:25
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In the same vein as Nex Terren's answer: make the use of magic highly addictive.

Once a person has their first taste of magic, they always want more. In the beginning they don't mind waiting until their crystal recharges, but after a few spells they have a harder and harder time waiting. So when their own crystal is 25% full, that 90% full crystal of that other mage over there starts looking mighty attractive. Of course that mage desperately wants to keep his crystal for his own next fix, so conflict is inevitable.

After a while, the lesser crystals don't do enough anymore and the mage really spirals out of control, needing always bigger crystals, always more crystals. This does mean starting mages with a small crystal nearby might suddenly find themselves safer than before since they're no longer interesting targets.

This spiral of doom for each mage will, of course, lead to them usually using their magic in order to get their next fix ASAP, be it through killing another mage, stealing their crystal, or whatever else they come up with in their withdrawal nightmares...

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  • $\begingroup$ This also leads to some interesting possibilities for the benign mages; e.g. people with an uncanny ability to control their addiction, or people who say have found some other type of magic or made some kind of sacrifice to keep their addiction in check (which leads to the possibility of e.g. the benign people becoming less benign if the source of their addiction-resistance is somehow disturbed or weakens over time or weakens due to say physical ailments, etc.). Maybe it even turns out that some mages who seem good are secretly doing something incredibly evil to maintain their self-control. $\endgroup$ – Jason C Jul 15 '16 at 21:41
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The most elegant answer derives directly from what you've already set forth: Mana as a fungible, transferable resource.

Mana is Transferable

When you have a resource that is slow to collect, but absolutely necessary to what you do, then any mage which has collected a large amount is seen both as a large threat and as highly rewarding if defeated, because they are a large source of the difficult-to-obtain resource.

By having both these qualities, you create a cutthroat environment all on it's own: those who avoid direct conflict with other mages deny themselves a viable source of magic, while still being a target. These mages are often winnowed out (though particularly cagey ones will likely survive - though the strategies to do so would be tough and may require a lot of teamwork and trust, making them an even bigger target for betrayal). Mages who are ambitious will always view other mages - even mages they work with - as potential sources of fuel.

Control is Transferable

While mana can be seen as 'fuel', control is the 'size of the engine'. By consuming the engines of other mages, you can make your own bigger. Specifically, if there is a methodology by which a mage can forcibly 'absorb' another mage's technique, either through ritual or simply by defeating them, you set up a situation in which mages are incentivized to 'eat' the other mages nearby - the more powerful the mage the better. There are lots of examples of this in literature and myth: eating the heart (or brain) of your enemy. The movie 'Highlander' is premised on exactly this sort of pyramid-scheme fighting.

Mages can be Dominated

Given transferable control, you can have a half-step that presents a similar situation: one where a mage can dominate another mage. While the dominated mage isn't killed, some of their control and the mana they obtain transfers to the dominate mage. Thus, a powerful mage can build a small cult of lesser mages that feed them power on a constant rather than one-time basis. The risk here is that if any of the lesser mages becomes too powerful, or takes advantage of a vulnerable moment, the dominate mage can be overthrown, enslaved and/or killed (and absorbed).

For this reason, it is often preferable to have only a single dominated mage (or 'apprentice'), who is as powerful as is safe to dominate. Examples of this are Emperor Palpatine/Darth Vader, Merlin/Morgan l'Fae, and many others.

Conclusion

Cutthroat environments require that there is power that is easily transferable, and where large amounts of it collected in one place becomes a tempting target. A good reference are mob movies: mob bosses divvy up territory, wherein the profits of crimes committed flow up to the bosses. But taking out a boss means you can assume control of their territory, and the profits from that territory. (Along with stealing whatever cash/valuables they have.)

This doesn't preclude teamwork, note: most teamwork becomes a game of Prisoner's Dilemma, though. The profit for working with another mage exists, but is limited. The profit for betraying them when they choose to trust you is very high. But if you both betray each other, then it's bad for both of you.

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    $\begingroup$ This is awesome. Would totally read a book where magic worked this way. $\endgroup$ – Jason K Jul 15 '16 at 15:47
  • $\begingroup$ This sounds very like "The Runelords" series by David Farland. $\endgroup$ – MT0 Jul 16 '16 at 0:16
  • $\begingroup$ I've not read! Will have to check it out. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Ford Jul 16 '16 at 0:25
  • $\begingroup$ @MT0 I got halfway through the first book of the Runelords. I found it a bit slow-going and put it to the side. You re-kindled my interest :-) $\endgroup$ – Tonny Jul 16 '16 at 15:58
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    $\begingroup$ Perhaps the OP doesn't want mana to be transferable in their world and that's why they accepted a different answer, but otherwise I think this answer is way better than the accepted one. In the real world all conflict pretty much boils down to competition over scarce resources, so expanding that notion to mages is a very elegant solution. $\endgroup$ – jhocking Sep 12 '17 at 18:10
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Generating mana requires sacrifice. Simple mages make do with a special mana-rich herb and meditation or similarly peaceful means. To gain more power though, a mage must sacrifice something more...alive. Animal sacrifice might looked down upon by society, but tolerated for special needs. Truly powerful mages though fuel their magic with other humans. This detestable practice is shunned by society, but the truly power-hungry still practice it.

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    $\begingroup$ If mages can "juice" more mana from stronger mages, then no mage will ever be able to trust his peers and they will kill each other a lot more :) $\endgroup$ – Shautieh Jul 15 '16 at 4:27
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    $\begingroup$ that's how you end up with the rule of two... $\endgroup$ – Centimane Jul 15 '16 at 14:47
  • $\begingroup$ +1. Anybody cheerfully willing to engage in torture/sacrifice/etc. to gain power is at least moderately psychopathic to begin with. Anybody halfway normal who engages in that sort of thing will be twisted by it. $\endgroup$ – Ed Plunkett Jul 15 '16 at 20:33
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In a similar vein to what Falc wrote but with the different details.

Manna is in limited supply.

The world has manna slowly welling up or raining down to the surface. A mage is someone who can take that natural manna and convert it into their own personal magic.

A single powerful mage can strip square kilometers of land around them of manna.

Manna is Heroin.

When a mage absorbs Manna they get a hit not unlike the effects of a dose of heroin. Less debilitating but far more addictive.

They need to absorb some amount of magic regularly to satisfy the addiction.

Once gathered and converted into magic reserves the manna no longer supplies the "hit".

Over time mages power and "reach" increases but they also build up a tolerance

A new mage comes into his power in an area without many other mages. He starts stripping the manna from his local farm and helping his family, his village etc. He becomes wealthy and influential and his power grows too. But each month he needs to pull the magic from a larger area. At first he only needed a trickle from the land over his families farm but after a few years he's pulling every bit of manna from everywhere within 5 miles.

When he can't he gets twitchy, he starts going into withdrawal and if he goes too long the withdrawl could even kill him. He can make do on less than his full dose of manna but it leaves him very very unhappy.

You may choose to allow manna to also slow their aging if you want a small number of scary-powerful mages. .

Implications:

Mages are likely to become powerful in their local community. Because magic powers. The older ones are likely to just look like local lords.

Mages will not want to gather together. Other mages nearby cut down on your personal supply.

Mages will be extremely hostile to neighboring mages. They know they're going to need more land in a few years and they know their neighboring mages will need more land so they know that conflict is inevitable. They know that killing their neighbor mages will allow them to stretch out and take as much manna as they really crave.

Mages aren't automatically evil but just as a heroin addict will steal from their grandmother to get their fix... well their priorities aren't the same after a while.

Young mages are going to be the least hostile and least warlike. They can either play nice with each other because they need far less individually and haven't built up the same kind of addiction.

Mages exist who, for one reason or another, understood what the addiction could do to them and always tried to limit their use of Manna. They're less addicted but they live life as a recovered addict who's stuck with an inviting supply just sitting in front of them within their reach every hour of the day.

War, with mages as the drivers. The world will be in constant war as every local lord tries to kill his neighours so he can expand his reach and power.

Good mages exist and lots of mages would like to be good but... well, the least ruthless are easy targets for their more ruthless neighbors and killing them frees up manna.

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One of your mages finds out how to acquirer large amounts of mana need to make super powerful spells in a short amount of time but it evolved kill another mage and taking his powers. After his notes were stolen other mages began to copy his work. Because of this most of weaker mages were killed by more powerful. As more and more mages die they began to see each other as threat, and rarely work with one another.

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  • $\begingroup$ I'd actually toyed with a variant of this idea a few times. I'm having a problem getting it to fit the 'feel' of the magic I had in mind, but I admit I keep coming back to it, I think it would be a great option if I could just fit it into my world better. $\endgroup$ – dsollen Jul 14 '16 at 22:30
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How about magic leads to certain types of mental issues/insanity like paranoia, mood swings, fits of rage, and sociopathic levels of reduced empathy? One could fight these effects, but it is hard and normally fruitless to do so, so even those with noble intentions often go bad.'

This way you can capture the mood of evil mages that you're aiming for, explain away the lack of good mages historically, and still allow room for good mages to appear.

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Make the access commands for your crystals audible, such that anyone with shouting range of a crystal can activate it if they know that particular crystal's verbal password. Furthermore, make that access command permanent to the crystal such that once it becomes public knowledge, the crystal owner can never again use the crystal with confidence about their exclusive access to its power.

Now mages have to remain solitary and be practically paranoid, especially when accessing their power, lest another mage overhear the password and later turn their own crystal against them.

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Mages don't like competition.

The current mages only tolerate each other because each is powerful enough to protect himself from the others on his own turf, and there is an uneasy game of politicking and one-upsmanship to fight for influence (and more crystals!) without risking open war (which would then leave the winner vulnerable to any of the neutral parties).

The one thing they can all agree on is that they don't need any new upstarts around to make competition even fiercer, or worse risk destabilizing the delicate balance that exists — consequently, only those ruthless enough to avoid detection and survive assassination or hungry enough for power to make the desperate attempt dare try to become a mage.

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Consider using a magic source, even in a world where you don't play with "MANA" of some type, you could have the one source of magics true power being the fabric of magic, or ley lines, or whatever you like. Then like suckling pigs, the toughest and the meanest get the most milk by stepping on their siblings, with this example, they build towers on nexus' they wall off ley lines, they horde knowledge and jealously guard their secret. Those unwilling to be stepped on, or crush others beneath them can still exist, by feeding on the spill over and remnants after the pigs are satiated, but could be choked out or even eliminated if the viscous ones at the top decide to not allow them even those scraps. I can see a world where ambient magic is all the lesser mages get to use, limiting their power, and forcing them to live nomadic or subservient. maybe even clusters of "hedge wizards" or tent city dwellers that live near the nexus towers, but as bare backed subservient, or indentured mageslaves.

or the option to make that energy limited, meaning that taking it , permanently removes it. the strong constantly seeking ways to harness and store, the weak constantly in fear for thier lives and closely guarded scraps of magic.

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The whole individualistic, cut-throat, power-mad dynamic you have planned mirrors a lot of real-world systems I can think of. (This sounds lot like politics to me. Or intelligence work. Or executive-level politics in the business world. Or crime in general. Etc.) Rather than reinventing the wheel, or coming up with specific reasons that this happens for mages in your world, I'd suggest setting up the magic system in your world to mimic the real world systems that also exhibit this dynamic.

In brief, these systems have a number of commonalities that encourage this dynamic. Broadly speaking, they all offer the potential for a lot of power (which attracts power-hungry people), generally high stakes, and select for ruthless, selfish behavior by making it more advantageous to compete and betray rather than cooperate and be loyal. It's self-evident why criminal organizations and politics and intelligence work (etc.) end up fostering this dynamic - success (and often even survival) in these systems requires this kind of behavior.

When you get right down to it, if you want to create or explain ruthless behavior in a system, there's no better way to do it than to have the system reward that kind of behavior. In the real world, that's something that is generally an unintentional byproduct of an organization or system. Having the advantage of foresight in fiction, it's not difficult to model your system off of real world examples that create the dynamic you're looking for.

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    $\begingroup$ so your saying most politics and intelligence workers are evil? Quick let me call the politicians that run the NSA and let them know. No wait I don't have to, their already wire tapping this message, pretty convenient don't you think? $\endgroup$ – dsollen Jul 15 '16 at 15:38
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Do you know of Jim Butcher's Aeronaut's Windlass?

In this world, those with "magic" power all end up mad. Not necessarily evil mad, but mad nonetheless.


So here is my proposal: mana burns.

The human mind is not meant to channel mana: any time an individual channels mana, it gets burnt in return:

  • the "burn" is proportional to the power used (quantity of mana/time)
  • being burnt hurt
  • burns heal slowly, and only when NOT using mana

A very reasonable mage might only use very small amounts of mana at a time, and always wait sufficiently to fully recover, still in the time it takes to heal, it would be a bit crazed.

Those who channel huge amounts of mana at once, or who do not observe the cooldown period, will however irremediably lose parts of themselves in the process. Those parts may be feelings (compassion, empathy, ...), sensations, memories, etc... and their loss invariably lead to some form of madness.


As for why mages would be so violent to each others?

Well, paranoid madmen attempting to protect themselves and the secrets they hold from others may react violently. Add in a dash of sociopathy/psychopathy (aka, they lost their "moral compass"), and here you go.

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  • $\begingroup$ "Moral" compass? $\endgroup$ – user2943160 Jul 16 '16 at 23:52
  • $\begingroup$ @user2943160: Indeed! $\endgroup$ – Matthieu M. Jul 17 '16 at 14:43
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If you may, I would like to suggest that, you give the mages more power, then to upgrade such power from their crystal, they have to kill other mages. For example, If a mage would destroy a horde, a town, kill a soldier or build something, they will cost mana, they will happen, but it would not enhance their power, But, if they ever manage to kill other mages, they would be able to "steal" the power of the fallen mage's crystal, AND increase the output of their mana as well. This would make them hunt mages, with the search of enhancement of their power. Put greed in the picture, it all makes everyone hunger for something without any satisfaction.

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Make magic illegal or highly regulated in your world. Therefore, only criminals will use magic. (and maybe some special law-enforcement forces created to fight them)

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A fantasy world where mages are generally power-mad but occasionally benign is Robert Howard's original Conan books.

The premise is that magic is not something intrinsic to humans, but is instead granted by dark powers from beyond. The ways to learn magic were studying the tomes of previous mages (who were in turn power-mad and possibly insane, therefore their writings could be quite demented), experimentation (dangerous, quite likely to result in insanity due to the mind warping effects of spells), or communicating with Powers from the Void beyond earth (who were definately not looking out for your best interests). The power of magic itself stemmed not from the magician or the world, but from the mysterious beyond. In all, being a mage required lots of discipline and sacrifice which can lead to insanity, or dealing with beings that are themselves insane.

To adapt this to your world would be pretty straightforward. The crystals could take the place of the powers beyond as either sentient beings or the semi-sentient reflection of some past powerful being (perhaps even an ancient mage!). The crystals would be both the source of knowledge (by trying to communicate with them) and the source of power (by commanding them to do spells). Since mages are generally anti-social, knowledge of what to do with a certain crystal is not retained well between generations, so that each new generations of mages has to spend time trying to relearn how to do the most powerful things. Any book written by a mage on how to use certain crystals would be immensely valuable.

This would provide a world where a.) mages are anti-social, disciplined, and (likely) insane, b.) there is an incentive to fight other mages to get access to the best crystal or the books that tell you how to use the best crystals c.) fighting mages with the best crystals is risky, and you probably don't know what the rewards are for victory, so a less risky approach is to study and experiment with the crystals you have to see if you can achieve a breakthrough.

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Make magic slowly effect the users mental state so slowly over time they become more paranoid and power hungry this makes it so even if a mage starts with the best of intentions he is eventually corrupted by his own until he is driven completely insane.

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You can draw inspiration from the Sith of star wars, where emotions contribute to an individual's abilities.

This would cause their lust for power to directly contribute to their strength

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Expanding Nex's idea, I like the thought of the source of magic being tainted. Those who consume magic are subtly warped by it to see other users of it as unclean, profane things that is their duty to wipe from existence. This push isn't generally overwhelming to begin with but gets stronger with the amount of magic used. This would create for an environment of extreme paranoia were aggression is quite common.

To generate your desired conditions an upset to the status quo (a threat to the source of magic) could allow for the source to allow them do be pushed to follow one leader in spite of previous inclinations not to.

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I think a taste of Highlander ("There can be only one") would help. Mages can become powerful the hard way, or the "easy" way by killing another mage and absorbing their power.

So you have good mages who just work really hard at it, but who on the whole avoid other mages because it's not unlikely that in a group of mages, one of them would turn on another to take the shortcut to power. Good mages could also gain power by killing evil mages in self defense -- but would on the whole just work long and hard to gain the knowledge and experience to be more powerful.

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The answers so far are good - but if mages were naturally cut-throat, but it was better for a ruler/army to have two mages rather than one, a ruler/army would stop them fighting. For example, by assigning mages minders to keep them out of trouble / keep them separated.

If you want to create the criteria for a really cut-throat environment, you need to create an environment where a ruler is served better by one live mage and one dead mage than by two live mages.

You could achieve that by mages having some sort of level or power amplifier that could only be taken from them in death; but that when taken and joined with another mage's amplifier became more powerful than the sum of its parts.

For example, two mages with 3x power amplifiers could work together and make 3+3=6 power - but if one mage kills the other, he gets 3*3=9 power.

That way, the powerful in your society will have no reason to stop infighting between mages - and may even encourage it.

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One word: Interference.

Mages don't work together, because they interfere with each other. Every spell you cast makes my spellcasting more difficult. Thank you, I'd rather work along.

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  • $\begingroup$ Ironically this is part of my world, but not for mages. Shamans work magic very differently, slightly altering natural flows of mana to get effects rather then collecting and forcefully shaping mana. Shamans never run out of mana, but shamans can cause 'ripples' in mana which interfere with other shamans spells if they don't work together carefully. More importantly, Mages cause such heavy interference with their spells to render it nearly impossible for a shaman to cast magic after a mage has, making shamans easily defeated by mages. Unfortunately that means I can't reuse the idea here $\endgroup$ – dsollen Sep 14 '17 at 13:23
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This is a variation on some of the other suggestions.

Mana can be relatively easy to leach from other mages, providing they are reasonably close - this cannot happen remotely. Strong crystals are good at resisting this, but become weaker the more mana that they hold.

Generally, empty crystals are very good at leaching mana from full crystals - a bit like the natural tendency of water to flow downhill. The relative strengths of the crystals affects this, but even the strongest crystal cannot stop it entirely if the crystals are sufficiently near to each other.

This is actually beyond the ability of mages to control, though many use this knowledge. This means that mages view all other mages with natural mistrust, if not outright enmity.

However, mages do often need to consult with, and sometimes work with other mages - such meetings need to be managed with great care and great thought is given by each side on which crystals to bring to such a meet.

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You could treat magic in your world like the Speed Force from the DC comics character, the Flash.

There is only one source of magic/Speed Force to go around and the more mages/speedsters there are in existence the less there is to go around.

This would lead to other mages/speedsters trying to kill you to increase the amount of magic/Speed Force that is available to them (see the many incarnations of the Reverse Flash)

Somebody might become a mage through random chance or through purposeful experimentation, but the more mages there are the less powerful they all are. (Coincidentally, this would lead to more interesting fights as all the mages would be on a roughly equal playing field power wise, with fights coming down to skill and experience.) This would also lead to older mages targeting younger mages before the younger mages can develop the skill necessary to defend themselves.

If you want to make this a little less violent, you can say that they only take magic from the source if they are actively using it on a regular basis. This could lead to many non-evil mages simply trying to discourage others from using magic by say, litarly discouraging them with belittling words, or by using some underhanded tactics to ruin there career prospects. Kind of turns into corporate politics at that point which can still be very interesting.

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  • $\begingroup$ I really like this answer actually. It sadly won't work due to details about the world/story I had in mind, but given the question it's a great solution. $\endgroup$ – dsollen Apr 16 at 13:24
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Make being a killer necessary to become a mage.

In the TV series Heroes, there was a character who had no powers of his own, but could take the powers of others by consuming their brain.

You could make it such that mages gain in power by destroying other mages. To gain power, you have to be willing to hunt and kill other mages. This should introduce a degree of the cutthroat.

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  • $\begingroup$ umm, I did say that the act of becoming a mage should not require an evil act. $\endgroup$ – dsollen Jul 15 '16 at 15:00
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    $\begingroup$ @dsollen Killing is not inherently evil. Under this proposal, someone who killed in self-defense could become a mage (having done nothing evil), but at the same time, you'd obviously expect your mage class to be made up primarily of people who had done evil by murdering someone for the express purpose of becoming a mage. $\endgroup$ – HopelessN00b Jul 15 '16 at 17:15
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To expand my comment in Kys's answer : What if mages' mana could be juiced out of them against their will?

If several mages can form a team and replenish the mana of a crystal quicker, then power hungry mages will want to maim competing mages and use them as mana sources for their shiny crystal. They could keep the slaved mages in cages or whatever (maybe after cutting their arms and legs so they won't be able to revolt easily and will be lighter for transportation...), and the more mages they can use, the quicker their crystals will become full again.

This will create an atmosphere of fear and doubt among mages, as well as making them start war between each other in order to avenge their captured friends.

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Magic is either only accessible to particularly unbalanced personalities (the opposite of "magic requires a pure hearth), or its use quickly destroys the equilibrium of the user's personality. Ie, either you have to be a psychopath to use/learn magic, or using learning magic turns you into a psychopath.

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