In most urban fantasy, powerful wizards and other magical creatures form their own societies with their own governments and politics (The Magical Congress of America, for example). They seem very interested when it comes to controlling their own kind, but they never seem interested in ruling over Mundanes. Despite being very powerful, they never try to take over any nations, either directly by force, or indirectly by taking control of the nations' leaders. In my setting, how might I explain this?

Things to note: in my setting powerful magic users live in secret among us, their powers include.

Controlling the elements, summoning magical creatures, mind control (Can only be done on one person at a time and if the same person is mind controlled several times or for long periods he will develop a resistance to mind control.), weather control, shape-shifting, and also constructing wards that will keep a specific person or groups of people out of a certain area.

This is an urban fantasy world so its tech level is about the same as our own. And at least at the moment most of the World does not know about magic.

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    $\begingroup$ If magic is known, being a mage might be considered an unfair advantage, like doping in sports. If a mage did want to enter politics, they'd have to prove they weren't casting glamours on them self, or illusions on their rivals. $\endgroup$
    – aslum
    Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 20:24
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    $\begingroup$ Possible duplicate: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/q/45854/20345 $\endgroup$
    – ZeroOne
    Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 21:11
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    $\begingroup$ Same way you stop very rich people from taking over the government .. wait. $\endgroup$
    – Euphoric
    Commented Jul 27, 2016 at 6:02
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    $\begingroup$ @Euphoric meant as a satirical joke, but actually a good explanation. The richest people in the world are not in government, they control and influence politics via various means, but live in an exclusive society. - becoming President yourself is so much hassle and work, when you can just hire lobbyists to make the current one do what you want. I imagine Wizards are the same, if they want a legislation changed, they influence the powers to do it, no reason to go into politics yourself! $\endgroup$
    – Falco
    Commented Jul 27, 2016 at 11:41
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    $\begingroup$ Much like in the Potter Universe, why couldn't they have their own "shadow government" that sits beside/behind the "normal" one? $\endgroup$
    – WernerCD
    Commented Jul 27, 2016 at 13:24

14 Answers 14

  • They are busy doing research: Becoming a all-powerful mage isn't that easy you know! The magical world is incredibly complex and requires years of research.
  • The normal world is boring: Would you prefer learning magic, or wasting time in the normal,boring world?
  • The normal world cannot provide what they need: They need magical items for their research. Even if they have tons of money in the real world, there isn't anything that can be bought for research (somewhat implausible but still. The normal world does not have 'magical substances')
  • They have to follow the rules: The all-powerful Council of Mages has decreed that no one can influence the mundane world directly or indirectly, and have special enforcers who will not hesitate to kill those who don't follow this. Punishments range from having your magic bound permanently (so you cannot do magic) to death. Or worse ..... being expelled.
  • Generations of magic: For generations your family has been in the magical world, why would you be different? Especially important for those of 'noble' lineage, who will not want to shame their families by not becoming a mage.
  • Reduced Strength: Most of the areas in the normal world are very weak 'magically', meaning mages will have greatly reduced strength. This is very disturbing for a mage, as they are losing something they had from birth. There are rumours that spending too much time in the normal world can cause one to lose their magic permanently. This stops mages from forming attachments to the normal world, or trying to influence it. (Only the strongest mages can resist this).
  • General Attitude: Why would anyone want to be near those filthy muggles? The magical world has long been persecuted by normal people, and therefore the prevailing attitude is to stay away from the normal world. Also, mages are generally arrogant, considering that they can use magic while the muggles can't. This keeps away almost everyone from the normal world, as they do not want to get their family members killed in a 'witch hunt'.
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    $\begingroup$ I really like the Research aspect. Generally, you can stop most of it in its tracks by making magic power and skill based heavily on research, so much so that only those more interested in researching than conquering can become powerful enough to conquer, with on a few, interesting exceptions for plot reasons of course. $\endgroup$
    – Ryan
    Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 16:04
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    $\begingroup$ Fourth bullet point punishment list are out of order. We may be killed or worse: expelled - Hermione Granger $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 17:13
  • $\begingroup$ They already did take over. Most leading politicians are animated golems created and controlled by their masters. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 19:31
  • $\begingroup$ @Mindwin : Damn, I can't believe I forgot that one! I'm adding it in :) $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 27, 2016 at 3:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Ryan : Technically, the research aspect is the most common one (mages spending all their time researching). $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 27, 2016 at 4:39

The answers given here so far are what I was thinking, but let me add to the mix. First, not all fantasy settings have wizards apart from politics. Sometimes they are deeply involved and sometimes they are kings. The Wheel of Time series does have magic users set apart, but they are also deeply involved in politics. Sometimes they are the advisor to the king. I can think of several fantasy settings where the chief advisor to the king is a mage. The Legends of King Arthur is but one of those.

But here are some reasons why not, adding to the others outlined here.

Numbers. Even in high fantasy settings, mundanes outnumber magic users. You can only use spells for so long, and an arrow will still kill you. Thus the secrecy.

Distrust of Magic. Mundanes could deeply distrust mages, so even if they did seize power, they would not hold it for long. If a mage did try to take over an area, the mundy king might hire another mage to help combat this wizard or keep a mage on as an advisor just in case. (This doesn't work as well with magic being a secret).

Laws. Magic in the blood may even discount someone from ruling because of the past history of the land (ie. a very powerful mage who devastated the landscape 400 years ago). This can be true even if it is a secret, and the wizards enforce it.

Mage Culture Wizards may find mundane concerns to be beneath them. They are delving into the secrets of the very universe. Unless they need a country's resources for their experiments, there's no need to bother with that kind of thing.

The Masquerade Following along the same lines as laws, mages really do not want mundies to know about them, so as a society, they enforce non-interference.

  • $\begingroup$ The OP has stated it is 'urban world' , meaning their won't be any kings. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 14:43
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    $\begingroup$ @Kingofsnakes England still has a monarchy. And few other nations still do as well $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 14:58
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    $\begingroup$ @BryanMcClure : shrugs I put a answer for modern world. This answer is also fine. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 15:07
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    $\begingroup$ @KingofSnakes It can be urban and still have kings. Urban does not mean modern. We've HAD cities for a couple of years here in the real world. London was an urban setting long before the Industrial revolution. Eberron's Sharn for example is an urban setting in a fantasy realm. This isn't our world, I just drew on fantasy traditions. Replace king with ruler or president if you like. The question does not directly address the tech level or what the government will be like in her world. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 15:44
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    $\begingroup$ @ErinThursby : Ok ok! I was just pointing out that he said urban. For me, that means our current world. Your answer is also good, I just pointed out a word , your answer is not wrong in any way. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 15:45

Generally, answers that depend on internal mechanisms (decrees from the High Wizard, religious taboos, lack of interest) tend to fall apart pretty fast as soon as you start trying to work out what lots of different characters with their own, individual motivations might do. All it takes is a SINGLE rogue wizard who doesn't care what the High Wizard thinks, is NOT bored by the "mundane" world, or doesn't subscribe to their wizardly taboos, and poof, there goes the entire "normal" world!

In any kind of setting that combines fantasy elements with the modern world, the biggest problem you will face is keeping these elements under wraps enough to maintain the beleivability of the mundane world. As someone who has GMed RPG games in similar settings, I can tell you it is not easy to keep magically enabled characters secret if they believe there is something for them to gain by becoming public.

Answer: go back to classical political theory. The US founding fathers set up a competitive system where each branch would constantly be competing for power with the others and they would each keep the others in check. They were COUNTING on politicians being power hungry. Systems that work in this kind of a genre usually rely on an opposing mystical group/force that ALSO wants to remain secret, which is the enemy of the first group, and which serves as a counterbalance. Why don't the wizards just take over the government? Because if they tried, the vampire clans would go into all-out war mode to stop them.

If you look at urban fantasy settings that work very well, you usually see a pattern like this. Demons vs demon hunters, vampires vs werewolves, etc. Give both (or multiple) sides areas of influence that they have some covert control over, but make the rules of the game that if one side steps too far out of their "turf" (ie: vamps run The Fed, wizards control NASA) the other side steps in. If anyone starts to become too publicly visible, everybody stands to lose and their friendly side will stop protecting them, so the enemy side will take them down.

  • $\begingroup$ Well it's true that a rogue can choose not to listen, which is why the dreaded Enforcers will sort things out. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 27, 2016 at 5:38
  • $\begingroup$ @KingofSnakes: Umm... and when a Dreaded Enforcer decides to go off to rule Europe as a magical Caesar? What then? $\endgroup$
    – JBiggs
    Commented Jul 27, 2016 at 13:56
  • $\begingroup$ Like I said, even if one person goes off to rule over the mortals, the rest don't want that. And they can cover it up anyway, deadly plagues in the past could have been a result of mages fighting each other :) $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 27, 2016 at 14:45
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    $\begingroup$ Magic is not an unlimited resource. They aren't gods. We can just as easily say that all it takes is one person, in the right position, with enough power, magical or not, to make things horrible. An individual might step out of line--and that could make for a great plot. In my answer I said that a mage had in the past, which would be a great motivation to enforce non-interference. That doesn't mean no-one will ever interfere, just that it's less tenable--even more so if there are other supernaturals enforcing it. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 29, 2016 at 1:25
  • $\begingroup$ @ErinThursby : That's what I said. The other mages will do everything they can to keep things under wraps, so even if one mage manages to cause damage anyways - the mages can cover it up as something else. The Dark Ages could have been mages squabbling a lot before things got settled, the smallpox plague could have been a Dark Mage trying to cause a lot of dmg, etc. One Dark Mage can do a lot of damage (especially if things are planned out) , but he's up against the entire magical community. The Enforcers are trained for this sort of thing. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 29, 2016 at 5:55

Wizards know that involvement in politics drains the life and soul from people, absorbs peoples humanity, and all of these are needed to be a powerful magic user.

Likewise, governments are mainly put in place to help manage internal and external threats (invaders, hunger, taxes, the poor trying to rise above their stations, etc) and the wizards don't see any of the mundane threats as important enough to worry about.
Worrying about getting votes on a budget committee just seems like a waste of time when you can turn lead into gold and there's a possible outbreak of creatures from the dungeon dimension.

So long as the mundane government ignores the wizards, the wizards are happy to let the mundane government keep the normal people in line.


Two more issues:

Magic Static

If mages took control of governments, inevitably the knowledge of magic would spread. A tenured professor of archaeology might be able to cancel appointments for a week and go fight demons, especially with the help of a mind control spell, but a political candidate cannot. Questions would be asked. A wealthy investor might be able to build a magic circle into the floor of his office, but a president cannot. Again, questions would be asked.

And if knowledge of magic spreads, people will take defensive measures. A horseshoe hanging over the door. A protective charm. A warding gesture. These are somewhat effective in the setting, even for muggles. A powerful mage might be able to make a cop forget the speeding ticket, but it won't be as easy as it was before.

Magical Power is Personal, Administrative Power is Impersonal

A political leader rules through law, policy, administrative regulations. Millions of public service workers turn her wishes into reality. If the president sets the first stone of a new building, that is entirely symbolic. You won't see the president storming the beaches of Normandy.

By comparison, mages act personally. The archmage at the head of the Magical Council is not just a policy maker, he casts powerful spells. The vampire exchanges witty quips with the slayer.

That means a mage who seeks political power finds it an awkward fit.


Magic depends on belief

Everything that happens is an act of magic. Everything that happens is a magical act, where the mind of the people exert effects on the physical and psychological worlds.

Mages can do fantastic things because they have lifted the barriers from their minds that keep other people from performing what they call "magic".

Since everyone's minds are acting on the world at the same time, and since the smashing majority of people do not believe in the fantastical, for the most time nothing out of the ordinary happens.

When a group of mages are alone by themselves, they can fly, shoot lasers from their eyes and so on... But the closer they get to regular people, the weaker their magic becomes, because of the strong programming of the minds of the normals. Magic becomes feeble when normals are around, and fails where it can be seen by the normals.

To connect this with the question: the more powerful you become in a government, the more high-profile you get. If mages and other magical beings do control the government, it will be indirectly, in a way that they cannot exert their full will on the happenings of the world.

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    $\begingroup$ Other side of this, as expressed in Charles Stross' Laundry series: mundanes are the weight keeping a thin blanket of coherent reality over the all-consuming chaos of the multiverse. If they start believing in magic, reality itself falls apart. $\endgroup$
    – Tacroy
    Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 16:43
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    $\begingroup$ @Tacroy And that is why science keeps changing; one person believes hard enough while everybody else hasn't a clue, convinces fellow scientists of it with the beauty of the mathematics, then when they finally make the observations, they confirms the hypothesis. (Also why the Higgs Boson only appeared after the press documented the LHC's search for it: the general public's "knowledge" overwhelmed many of the quantum theorists' other theories.) $\endgroup$
    – wizzwizz4
    Commented Jul 27, 2016 at 16:23

There's only two reasonable explanations:

1) Wizards simply have no interest in our society

This secret world which hides within ours is infinitely more interesting than our own dull, mundane one, so for a wizard the thought of getting involved in politics, and arguing with politically correct idiots on camera is simply appalling.

They might intervene when one of our decisions threatens their own interests, but otherwise choose not to involve themselves in our boring ol' lives.

2) Wizards police themselves

The other possibility is that wizards do get involved in our affairs. Whether because they think they can "save us from ourselves", or simply desire power, they get involved in our politics, and economy in various ways.

At this point the wizarding community would have to reach a consensus on what level of intervention is acceptable, and found an agency which would enforce their policies on the wizarding world.


Magic is Addicting - Nothing Else Will Do!

Once you've gone magical, you can't go...um, back-igical.

The sensation, satisfaction, and sheer pleasure of magic has no rival in the mundane world. No drug can begin to compare. While experienced wizards have become generally accustomed to the raw thrill and excitement and aren't running around like giggling juveniles, and have a more refined and calm demeanor...deep down magic just does something that nothing else does. It scratches an itch so deep that you didn't know it's what you've been wanting all along.

All else is...well, not magic. If the mundane doesn't help you get more magic, what good is any of it? Any man could be driven to burn the whole world to the ground to get an ounce of it! Luckily for the world, burning it down wouldn't actually let them get more - so there's really just no point.

Purity of Magic Is Diluted By The Mundane

Why are wizards always trying to do their magic in hidden isolation? Well, why do chemists do their work in carefully controlled, clean-room laboratories? If the mundane contaminates pure magic, then the greatest magic is only possible if well isolated from the mundane. You have to focus and purify! Idle chit chat will spoil the whole thing!

Wizards know the peasants and aristocrats are so very nosy they'd never be left alone if the filthy lot knew the truth. So, there's a variety of methods to deal with them.

The simplest, most humane method is to just hide away and do your work in secret. Now, logically there should be some crazy group of psycho wizards that think the far better solution is being rid of the trash entirely - perhaps cleansing just a wide-area, or perhaps believing that total annihilation of all that is mundane is the path to the truest, most pure magical power imaginable.

Or, if that sort of story isn't your thing, then perhaps magic relies on the mundane so destroying it would be counter-productive - and thus only hiding away and being un-involved will work. If that's the case, there would indeed be a very strong reason for everyone to tow the line and remain out of touch with daily politics and mundane struggles.


The answer to why wizards and magical creatures don’t take-over nations should not be one-size-fits-all, such as “busy doing research.” Character conformity should be avoided.

Wizardry is a practice of the occult, a religious occupation. The reason any particular religion doesn’t conquer the world is that another religion prevails. In reality, different religions have different beliefs and rituals (“powers”), and different religions do certainly have control of different nations, controlling much of our modern world.

In fiction, especially in Urban Fantasy, any magical/supernatural being can (and should) have a crippling kryptonite, and the prevailing religion of the land can (and should) keep metaphorical warehouses full of it.

If your characters are indeed too busy doing research, for example, then it should be for the sake of removing an imminent threat: the prevailing power.


I've run myself in circles thinking about this, so here's a wall of text.

First assumption - Wizards would be able to (openly) rule the world if they wanted to

Okay, I guess I can see how this might have been true in the middle ages when someone basically being a walking Howitzer was totally OP. But now we have Howitzers, and things better than them, so they aren't more powerful. One mage might be better at being "all-knowing" if he has scrying spells but now we have military satellites, cell phones, GPS and more. Okay, so one modern human + gadgets is still potentially better than one mage. If your mages can live a really long time, I guess he might be wiser than a normal human, but wisdom only counts for so much. So...unless your wizards are crazy OP, modern technology should provide a decent challenge for them to keep up with. Given your description at the top, I'd assume a wizard to have power equivalent to two or three Spec Ops teams which would be enough to inconvenience a country but not to hang onto a country.

Second assumption - Wizards want to rule the world

Alright, people with power maybe want more power. But if they can't be a dictator in a country, there might not be much in it for them, as politicians in a democratic country tend to have relatively little power by themselves. It seems like maybe they'd be better off starting a cult if they wanted to control people. Maybe some do?

Third assumption - Other wizards would care

So...say a wizard does take over a country or something. Do other wizards care? If that person interferes with their goals, probably. If we make the assumption that institutionalized faith organizations have some branch that deals with wizards, they would probably be against a wizard taking over a country and then preventing them from operating there. Maybe their magic is more/less powerful depending on the strength of belief in their religion so losing a chunk of believers is a considerable hit. Okay, so now we've established that large magical organizations probably care and individuals might care.


Assuming there are magic organizations, they likely have people in positions of power, or at least connections with them, in order to push for the things that matter to them by working within the system. It also seems possible that dictators of small countries could be mages (or shamans, w/e) that use magic in less obvious ways to divert the occasional bullet or something and make themselves into powerful warlords without having to directly confront everyone that challenges them. Others might create living cults (if they use ritual magic), some maybe death cults (binding the souls of the dead cultists to use their faith power eternally) while a bunch of others may rely on natural forces (ley lines and such). Clerics and priests may tap into the power of faith.

TL;DR Overall, I guess I would say that mages wouldn't rule the world because hanging onto something like that is hard, so aside from an occasional nutcase they probably have better things to focus on. These 'better things' would mostly relate to where their power comes from.


I've always explained it thus:

  1. Magic is fairly difficult to learn, and takes lengthy study. In an urban fantasy setting with hidden magic, this tends to mean dropping out of society and working for years at something that isn't socially rewarded. Magicians are geeks.

  2. Geeks aren't usually interested in ruling lots of ordinary people. It just isn't interesting enough. They prefer to stick to their preoccupations, and play status games within the people who participate.

  3. The ones who are interested are usually a bit crazed. It's thus in the interests of the saner ones to restrain their crazier brethren, so as to maintain the secrecy of the order.

  • $\begingroup$ If you rely only on internal mechanisms within the faction to control itself, all it takes is one wizard sufficiently powerful/crazy and the entire world premise falls apart. $\endgroup$
    – JBiggs
    Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 17:07

Consider how we prevent powerful elites from taking control of societies in the real world:


Throughout most of history, most peoples have been ruled by leaders who came to power either by seizing it through superior use of force (despots), or by inheriting it from a parent (kings). If magical aptitude is your fictional universe is genetic, it might lead to a monarchical form of government. If anyone can learn magic, but some are better than others, then the resulting forms of government might correspond more closely to despotism.

Over the last few centuries, the spread of democracy throughout our world has been slowly but surely unseating many, many despots and monarchs. It might be expected to serve a similar function in a magical universe. Little by little, the powers of government are decentralized from members of the elite to the populace at large, and legal safeguards are put in place to prevent the powerful from seizing too much control again.

This process is not perfect, of course, nor is it easy. Like they say, the price of freedom from tyrannical wizard-kings is eternal vigilance, assisted by a educated and knowledgeable electorate, as well as possibly some floating, glowing, lidless eyeballs with the power of clairvoyance.


The mages are too busy trying to magically fight against each other. Having control over the mundane world would not help them as much as it would divert their forces from controlling other mages or magical self-defence. And there's also no need to take control of the normal society now, as they know quite well that if it should become necessary, they could do it quickly with almost no effort, and the only thing that could stop them is other mages, which is one more reason to concentrate on those other mages.

So as long as the normal society leaves them alone, they also leave the normal society alone, and instead use all their effort on fighting other mages, and on defending against other mages.

Also, mages are generally extremely paranoid against other mages, which means mages almost never work together. On the other hand, they cannot imagine that any non-mage would be able to seriously harm them.


I have a couple possibilities I'll throw in the mix.

First I'll ask "Why take over the government?" The main reason would be to gain some kind of advantage. If magical beings are beyond the rules of mortal man and gain little benefit in furthering their power (particularly among the magical or in use of magic), why bother? Perhaps making strong influence of government persons is a mark of magical immaturity (acting as a source for some of the silly things you see in politics as it is).

Now assume they do gain some kind of benefit. It would seem reasonable the magic folks are as factionalized as normal people are. Why would that matter? Because they have taken over the government. Or rather, many factions have tried. As you said, mind control is limited in how much it can be performed on a person. High position in office may have selected for politicians who have already been imparted with a very high resistance to mind control from exploitation in their lesser positions. Alternatively, the magical beings have recognized the potential for this problem and set up wards to prevent magic beings from entering centers of government so they can collectively step in when it really does matter (and they can agree, which seems unlikely).


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