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In Katy Towells Short story, The Winterlord, a warlord is able to take over the whole world. He is apparently able to do this because he has a telepath on his side. She is able to predict with 100% accuracy what his foe is planning on and thus able to plan ahead.

If a warlord in the medieval age had access to a person with telepathy, would they really be able to take over the world?

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    $\begingroup$ Aside from the telepath, what other possibilities does the warlord have? $\endgroup$ – enkryptor Aug 17 '16 at 17:25
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    $\begingroup$ For the record, "defeat a foe" and "take over the whole world" are very different things. $\endgroup$ – enkryptor Aug 17 '16 at 17:26
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    $\begingroup$ @enkryptor As many as you would expect a warlord to have. For the sake of clarity lets say they have the skills and resources of Vlad the impaler. $\endgroup$ – TrEs-2b Aug 17 '16 at 17:26
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    $\begingroup$ Both Miyamoto Musashi and Sun Tzu would likely say something about picking your fights; but, to paraphrasse what enkryptor said, winning a battle isn't the same as winning a war, certainly not every war. Basically telepathy is just really good intel, in this case. Intel is nice, but it can only take you so far. i.e. it doesn't matter if you know exactly when/how/where the 10K warriors are going to attack you, if you only have 100 guys, you will lose. Telepathy is not the same as knowing the future either, no plan survives contact with the enemy, they can always change things mid battle. $\endgroup$ – Seeds Aug 17 '16 at 18:35
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    $\begingroup$ @Jeff.Clark: "know exactly how the enemy will react to those traps" => Nope. I don't know today how I would react tomorrow to a given trap. It's something that will vary widely according to circumstances. You may have a general idea (and statistics on your side), but you cannot accurately make such a prediction. $\endgroup$ – Matthieu M. Aug 18 '16 at 1:48

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Having a telepath would be a great advantage, but it does not guarantee victory. The same dangers that all wars face apply here as well.

For instance, even if you know what your enemies are going to do, you may not know who your enemies are. If your warlord isn't careful, they could easily walk straight into a trap set by an unknown foe. Assassins would still be a threat, because even if you know an assassin exists, you may not know who they are, or where they are, or when/how they will strike. You could tell your telepath to focus on this, but then they may not have time to focus on helping you in battle.

Also, nature has no mind, and no plans, but wrecks humans' plans all the same. Storms have wrecked armadas, winters have stopped armies in their tracks. You can plan for this, but a telepath won't help.

Also, your warlord needs to know what to do with the information he's given. If he has too much confidence in his forces, even if he knows the enemy's plans he might not think they'll succeed- until they do. Similarly, if he's too timid and doesn't hold his ground when the enemy plans to attack, he won't ever be able to hold the entire world.

TLDR: It'll help to bring a gun to a knife fight, unless you shoot yourself in the foot, and either way you can still get hit by a bus.

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    $\begingroup$ I really like the TLDR. $\endgroup$ – Wojowu Aug 17 '16 at 19:44
  • $\begingroup$ Re nature: "And when Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept for there were no more worlds to conquer." OK, the quote is dubious, but Alexander was really that good. And he was probably killed by typhoid or some similar disease. The Spanish Armada was pretty much screwed after Drake and co stomped them, but you're right that the weather then turned a defeat into complete annihilation. $\endgroup$ – Graham Aug 18 '16 at 9:35
  • $\begingroup$ @Graham The way I heard it, that's a really bad misstatement, and the truth is more along the lines of "And when Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept for he knew that he would never be able to conquer everything else." $\endgroup$ – Mason Wheeler Aug 18 '16 at 21:01
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I'm going to ignore the telepath because on that scale she's largely redundant. Power at a point is good, when you have a target you wish to use it against, but here we're talking about the whole world so:

No

Simply because the technology at the time would not allow for the logistics required to run an empire on that scale. By the time you've taken your telepath out to Bolivia to crush the rebellion, New Zealand and Scotland have declared independence. While you've solved the communications issue, your telepath knows they've declared independence rather than taking 6 months for you to get the message, you now need to move an army to each location without Madagascar and Greenland deciding to go their own way.

What you end up with is really good intelligence on battles too far away for you to do anything about it before the situation goes rapidly downhill.

Even if the plan lasts long enough for you to counter it and win the battles, you're not going to be able to gain adequate control over the whole world to be able to declare that you've won the war.

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  • $\begingroup$ Not to mention people in the medieval age didn't even have a way to transport an army to the other side of the world at all. The telepath might win a war against the neighboring kingdom, but never the whole world. $\endgroup$ – Vincent May 12 '18 at 3:57
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All the other answers, and the OP, are looking at the military and logistical applications of telepathy. I propose two additional areas:

  • diplomacy
  • recruit talent

Diplomacy

The Europeans dominated the world for centuries thanks to a combination of superior military technology and shrewd diplomacy.

Tone down your military strength. Your telepath can revive old wounds to set your enemies against one another (it shouldn't be too hard in the Balkans). He can fabricate conflicts from deeply buried anxieties (the government wants to take away your guns!). He can stir internal conflict and civil war (the Greeks aren't very fond of the Ottomans, now's a great time for a unilateral declaration of independence). He can negotiate advantageous alliances (Portugal will help you fight Spain if you promise to give them some islands). He can feed intelligence to sway someone else's battles (reveal to the attackers the secret tunnels into a heavily fortified castle, avoiding months of siege).

Talent

Your telepath should also be able to identify the really skilled officers, the unshakeable soldiers, the skilled treasurer, the most trustworthy bodyguard, the most charismatic rumor monger (to exaggerate and spread stories of your greatness). This is a meritocracy like the world has never seen.

Military applications

Also, I think you underestimate the military force multiplier. A pitched battle is not the only way to destroy an army. In a pitched battle, your army of 1000 doesn't stand a chance against an army of 100 000. But the telepath can spot the weak points in their supply lines. He can identify spies at a mere glance and influence what your enemies think of your forces. He can bluff his way through any national border and perform sabotage behind enemy lines, poison wells, assassinate VIPs, etc.

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That's not just telepathy. That's clairvoyance. And the range is pretty large. You've asked if it's possible. Of course it is, but I think it involves a lot of luck. There are lots of ways to defeat this.

1) General Indiana Jones Plans are all well and good, but they never survive contact with the enemy anyway. This General does it all on the fly. And he's brilliant. Even if psychic lady can predict it, there might not be enough time to do anything about it.

2) Numbers. Predicting is all well and good, but if there are enough people on the other side, it doesn't matter.

3)Training & Equipment If the enemy is better trained and equipped than you are, then...sorry.

Lots of medieval battles had nothing at all to do with tactics, or holding back men to the last minute, as the movies would have you believe. Mostly, you met with your enemy in an empty field somewhere and killed each other until one of you was the victor. Or you ran inside a castle and holed up with supplies.

In order for the warlord and the the lady to win, they would have to have 2 & 3 already, and they would have to never run into 1. It is certainly an advantage, but it is not all, and the warlord would definitely have to already be good at his job.

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    $\begingroup$ "2) Numbers. Predicting is all well and good, but if there are enough people on the other side, it doesn't matter." it does because you can perfectly evade them and take them out anytime anybody leaves the main group. Though it all depends on how the clairvoyance works. $\endgroup$ – David Mulder Aug 18 '16 at 13:23
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidMulder and if those numbers surround and take your capital, no amount of avoidance is going to stop that fall. you can turn to guerrilla warfare, but that is not a tactic for conquest, rather a tactic for resistance. $\endgroup$ – Mr.Mindor Aug 18 '16 at 15:13
  • $\begingroup$ @Mr.Mindor Sure they would take your capital for a few weeks, but if you can take out their entire army (possible with clairvoyance) through guerrilla warfare then it seems quite doable. The problem with guerrilla warfare is normally it's inefficiency as far as time goes (you spend a lot of time just waiting around for a good chance to be in the right place at the right time), but with clairvoyance you're always in the right place at the right time. $\endgroup$ – David Mulder Aug 18 '16 at 15:17
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    $\begingroup$ An additional problem comes up with how a single telepath can relate all of this information quickly enough to be useful. Can your telepath keep track of and tell you about every last group of enemy soldiers so thoroughly that you can pick off an entire army without being caught? Even if you can keep track of everyone, how do you pick off an entire army? Even knowing everyone's location, there's a limit to how much you can do to an entire army if they maintain proper guard and partrol practices. And do you dare risk sending the telepath near the enemy where a stray arrow could kill her? $\endgroup$ – zstewart Aug 18 '16 at 15:45
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    $\begingroup$ @LordFarquaad With a psychic, if you know the force is overwhelming and you have to leave the capitol, you've still lost. $\endgroup$ – Erin Thursby Aug 19 '16 at 15:09
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Not unless the are also immortal.

The main foe is time. Well used telepathy will prevent assassination attempts and prevent capture. While telepathy will not guaranty victory it will grant a huge advantage that will add up over time.

There are two problems movement and communication speed.

As the empire grows there will be more and more wars happening in different places at the same time. The telepath can only predict so far into the future due to random factors that add uncertainty to her predictions as she looks farther forward.

Messengers or carrier pigeons only fly so fast so soon a significant number of battles will have to be fought by the general's aids without access to a telepath.

Given a huge amount of time you could teach all your neighbors that if they attack the telepath will eventually come for them, some violent version of "banisters always pay their debts".

Also a conquering army has trouble moving faster than the speed that a soldier can walk, it would be difficult for 1 person to walk to / conquer the whole world before they die of old age.

War is not Chess

The main problem is that there are many factors that decide a battle beyond the decisions of the commanders.

Some are predictable but unchangeable, "we really can only muster 2000 troops period"

Some are unpredictable "what will the exact wind direction and speed be, and so where exactly where these arrows hit?"

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I cannot say for sure, but there are cases where knowing you are doomed does not help stop you from being doomed.

If your army is too small or too far away to react to a raiding party, there is nothing you can do.

If you know of two armies that are going to attack you at the same time from two different sides, and you can only successfully protect against 1, there is nothing you can do.

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  • $\begingroup$ Telepath: "Master, the US and Russia have just launched all of their nukes at this location. They will impact in 3 minutes". Warlord: "Crap". Of course if the telepath can perform this feat days or weeks ahead, the warlord may be clever enough to circumvent the events or flee. $\endgroup$ – Steve Mangiameli Aug 17 '16 at 17:09
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    $\begingroup$ @SteveMangiameli Performing the feat ahead of time requires a precognitive not a telepath. Unless "it's USA & the Russian Federation are planning to launch their ICBMs in three days". Precognition does have potential causality problems. $\endgroup$ – a4android Aug 18 '16 at 5:08
  • $\begingroup$ @a4android, I understand that, but I was commenting based on the OPs phrasing. He didn't really go into the procognitive abilities other than to say they were accurate. $\endgroup$ – Steve Mangiameli Aug 18 '16 at 15:06
  • $\begingroup$ @SteveMangiameli Me too, but I used your comment as a springboard. $\endgroup$ – a4android Aug 19 '16 at 2:07
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TL;DR. One person doesn't turn the tides of war. Not even a warlord and his telepath.

I think we need to define 'the whole world' first. So let's assume we're talking about Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa (given this is the middle ages you're talking about). Then we need to assume the limitations of the telepath. Let's say she can pick up the thoughts of say ten people simultaneously within 50 km of her current location (and frankly I think I'm being generous here).

Now, let's look at our Vlad's resources. I'll ignore initial numbers, because he could 'recruit' from acquired villages and cities as he goes. I'll assume his forces can produce enough food to sustain a healthy diet, given their high calorie output (they are soldiers fighting a war, after all). And I'll even assume his forces can procure enough resources to arm and armour his forces properly. In other words, my analysis will be based on an ideal state of affairs on Vlad's side.

I feel it can be reasonably inferred that our warlord (heck, I like calling him Vlad now) can take over a country. Let's be fair and say he takes over... France (the French love conquering anyway). So Vlad starts his conquest in France. He's high king of the Gauls, and they are quite proud of it!

Map of Europe circe 1740

(the map is here to show just how much 'borderland' you'd have to defend with a country the size of France circe 1740)

Now the neighbouring kings are starting to take notice of this upstart. After all, he was just a warlord before, now he controls a country! Spain and Portugal to the south, Switzerland to the south-east, and some almost inconsequential lands to the north-east (who cares about them anyway?!)

Here's where things start to get dicey. Because other countries (other kings) have taken notice, they will decide they don't like you on principle alone. After all, how can a mere warlord dare think he can just invade their sovereign state! Let's not even get started on the mentality of the age about only nobility being allowed to reign as king.

So you have enemies on all sides (trying to conquer the world will do that to you), and you don't even know yet what the other countries further away think (your telepath isn't onmipotent, after all).

Let's say you decide you want to take out Spain and Portugal first -- it removes the plausible enemies to the south. So you send your telepath down with a sizable army, but Spain decides to send word via the sea route to Sicily (the king has a cousin there), and the Papal State of Rome (you know, the funny guys with hats that can deny you Divine providence if you don't ask for their permission to invade Spain first?)

Now word gets out that your telepath is down south, so England and Switzerland decide they don't want to be next and start a preemptive attack. After all, what kind of warlord-turned-king doesn't tell his army what the grand scheme is? The trope of the evil mastermind telling his master plan is there for a reason, and it wasn't because of authors and playwrights.

How long do you think one warlord can keep this up, if he relies only on the powers of his telepath? And how long before the enemies he creates decide that taking out said telepath is in their best interest? It's pretty much onbegonnen werk (an impossible task) to try take over a world that is filled with people just as ambitious as you are.

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  • $\begingroup$ I love how "Onbegonnen werk" ≈ "Ain't be gonna work" ≈ "Isn't gonna work." $\endgroup$ – Lepidolite Mica Aug 17 '16 at 19:15
  • $\begingroup$ @LepidoliteMica I'm glad you like it ^_^ $\endgroup$ – Fayth85 Aug 17 '16 at 19:20
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    $\begingroup$ An impossible task maybe, but it was done several times - Ghengis, Alexander, Xerxes to name a few. I think the key in this regard is to define what the "world" is; known world, part that anyone cares about, the whole world? Each of earth's empires continued to spread until they imploded under their own weight socially and politically. And none of these had a telepath guiding their campaigns; at least none we know of. $\endgroup$ – Steve Mangiameli Aug 17 '16 at 19:56
  • $\begingroup$ @SteveMangiameli Perhaps, but that is exactly it. In the 'perfect scenario' as presented, one army would have trouble defending one country from enemies on all sides. That's why I carefully pointed out that 'the world' in this scenario refers to three continents. And why I carefully explained the limitations of the telepath. It's to show that one person cannot tip the scales, it takes armies. $\endgroup$ – Fayth85 Aug 17 '16 at 20:01
  • $\begingroup$ And what I'm saying is it was the individual in command that made it happen. Armies aren't any more a guarantee of success if wasted or used improperly. On the other hand, as you mention, the nature of this scenario vs the short story the OP references is quite different in that there are more enemies to be concerned with. $\endgroup$ – Steve Mangiameli Aug 17 '16 at 20:34
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Taking over the whole world might not be possible at least in the One generation if the warlord some how married his telepath and had telepathic kids then it might be possible that Empire ( or more likely Empires) made up of a telepathic ruling family could eventually take over take control over the whole Earth.

The trouble with one world order taking over the whole Earth is he just doesn't have enough time. ( I'm assuming medieval level technology). Make no mistake you he could carve up a very wide Empire but a horse can only move so fast and if he's constantly at War it's a good chance he might be killed. Even if he is not, he only has the most 50, 60 years conquer every single country on Earth. Not in his lifetime but maybe his great kids or grandkids might succeed. That after all was the plan of Genghis Khan, conquer a large percent of the world and then let his sons and grandsons finish the job.

The trouble there with Worldwide Empires is it they become too big to defend and rule over practically. This however could be fixed two ways 1. Advancing technology your story could start out with Middle Ages Tech but over time advancements could be made such as the steam engine or the telegram this could make communication easier and a worldwide Empire more practical. 2. I split the empire into several Allied Empires ruled by different members of the same family or ruling class. This was both that Mongols and the Roman Empires solution to the problem of an oversized Empire.

Something also to keep in mind as mentioned in the earlier answers having a telepath gives you a huge advantage but that is not equal victory. No matter how reliable is telepath your warlord is going to lose at least one battle. This is because a lot of things are battles are unplanned, like the weather for example a sudden and unexpected change in weather can mean the difference between Victory and defeat. There is also other things to consider like communication often in battle one side win not because it better generals but because those generals had better Communications Network and could communicate with their troops on the front lines faster.

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No

There's a difference between what people think, what they believe, what they present... and additionally, what's true. Your telepath may be able to pick up on one or maybeso two of them, but the last will trip them up hard. Honesty, loyalty, competence, and effectiveness are not synonyms. Your warlord is dealing with people, and people - are just not simple. The previous differences will make a huge difference in deciding who to trust, who to listen to, and who to believe (and yeah, those aren't the same thing either).

His enemies' plans will also not be 100% set in stone. They should be calculating a lot of possibilities based on what they know, assume, see the warlord doing, and have lots of contingency plans. The telepath might see some of those plans - but everyone involved will be plotting lots of plans, and since they aren't "decided", who can say which will end up happening? There will be more than one person he is acting against in each situation (kings, generals, army leaders, advisors), they may or may not be in agreement (and if they disagree, he has to decide which plan to counter). If someone changes the plan in the middle of things, that will not be available in advance. How the enemies will react once the warlords' plans go into effect is also up in the air, they may react in unexpected ways and without time for the warlord to react to those changes. If someone on the other side doesn't inform people of the whole plan, but just parts - the people in range on the battlefield can't betray it to the telepath.

Anyway, set that aside and let's say your telepath knows when someone is lying to them. Handwave away, for the moment, all the limitations on how many can be picked up at a time, if one person can be picked out of a crowd, how deep the deception goes before it can't be picked up (because the person is lying to themselves...). He asks - can this be done? and gets answers of yes, no, if they do it this way, if you do it that way... and even if they all think they're telling the truth, who can say who is right? Or, if one was thinking about spending the coins he would get rather than filling his head with the reasons for his recommendation - did that make his answer wrong? What if one was planning to betray him - but maybe was giving good advice in the meantime, so to have a better situation to "inherit" from him? Will these things make your telepath not believe them, and what happens then if one was right, and your telepath listened to an honest fool instead? Your warlord may lose everything here, and this is not even about knowing his enemies, it is about his own soldiers, advisors, generals, and allies!

And even if the telepathy has given some game-changing secret, the warlord dare not forget that he needs the loyalty of his followers, and the agreement of his allies - expecting none of them to object (or not ally with him) because of telepathy being used on them is not likely, and just as problematic is them seeing him acting on information that they don't know where its coming from and it doesn't make sense to them, listening to people (or not) on what seems a whim, and knowing he doesn't trust them with the reasons why. Will they believe the game changing secret? Will they believe the telepath is loyal to the warlord? Do they know that's where the information comes from? Do they believe what he does based on the telepathic information is done because of facts, not whim?

Telepathy seems easy, like a shortcut. Telepathy seems useful. That's why it is a trap for your warlord. Because warlords and generals have been fighting without the advantage, and there are plausible ways, which let the greatest make themselves successful, to root out disloyalty or treason, judge which of several options is wisest, to look at ideas as more than the person who offered them.

And it would be so easy, to lean on telepathy instead, and forget (or let dull) all those necessary skills. It would be easy to pick someone enthusiastic over someone competent, to favor someone obedient over someone effective. It would be easy to favor ideas based on who is loyal and honest, or overlook ideas from those of more... ambiguous loyalties, instead of judging the ideas themselves for what will work best in a situation. Easy to believe that knowing a secret is true (via telepathy) doesn't mean having to justify it, or risk losing the faith of those who follow him.

And, yeah, in the end I think the telepathy will make it far to easy for your warlord to fail.

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    $\begingroup$ And this doesn't even account for your enemies knowing you have a telepath, in which case you can intentionally have your generals prepare lots of alternative plans while you've actually sent a minor messenger along with your real plans in a sealed envelope which he's instructed to give to your general just before the battle. And which contains other envelopes which the general is instructed to open as the battle unfolds, so even he won't know what is going to happen. Such a method of sealed envelopes is used at one point in the Codex Alera to outwit a mind-reader. $\endgroup$ – zstewart Aug 18 '16 at 16:07
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    $\begingroup$ @zstewart - excellent point. They don't even have to know its a telepath, specifically, just that the plans keep leaking, and take measures to limit who knows what and how far in advance, which will limit the telepath's effectiveness. And if they do know there's one, then they can figure out all the limitations and play with them. $\endgroup$ – Megha Aug 18 '16 at 22:04
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Between equal foes, telepathy will provide a huge advantage

but in a case where one foe has telepathy but is far weaker than the other, then unless the stronger foe really messes up, the telepathy enabled opponent won't win. While it's true that knowing what an enemy commander is thinking would be a huge advantage, I'm not convinced that it would bestow a universal and unassailable combat advantage.

Mongols vs Warlord

Let's take for example this warlord vs the Mongols at their peak of power in eastern Europe. Even someone who knows where the Mongols will be and how they will act are going to have a crazy hard time overcoming the mobility, weapons, discipline and sheer ferocity of a Mongol horde. (Seriously, I don't know of an army until Nazi Germany at the start of WW2 that could match them for mobility and firepower advantage over their foes.)

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    $\begingroup$ The Nazi world domination campaign does not begin to hold a candle to the Mongol conquest of the world. If Genghis Khan, like Hitler, had had modern rather than medieval technology, we'd be typing this in Mongolian. $\endgroup$ – AgapwIesu Aug 17 '16 at 19:44
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    $\begingroup$ Honestly, if Genghis Khan had DNA paternity testing, the world would probably be a lot different too. Or a better succession policy that would allow the conquests to continue without calling the generals home to pick a new Khan. $\endgroup$ – Green Aug 17 '16 at 19:45
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    $\begingroup$ The Nazis didn't want to dominate the whole world, just a huge chunk of Europe. And the Mongol Empire was unsustainable in the long term, no matter the succession policy or the leader's military genius. There was an interesting discussion about it on history.se (why the Mongols conquered more territory than what they could settle or control) $\endgroup$ – vsz Aug 17 '16 at 21:12
  • $\begingroup$ @vsz - "just a huge chunk of Europe"??? - What about North Africa and Russia. I realize Russia spans Asia and Europe, but do you really think Hitler would have stopped halfway through the country? I suppose at the time there was not that much east of the Urals, but I still think Hitler was bent on taking as much as he could. He did consider his race to be meant to be supreme. He gave a whole new meaning to "manifest destiny" - in his eyes, it was the right of the Aryan race to rule the world. $\endgroup$ – AgapwIesu Aug 17 '16 at 21:33
  • $\begingroup$ I don't think conquering the Americas, China, Indonesia, Australia etc. had anything to do with their plans in the foreseeable future. Sorry about North Africa, indeed that was an exception. $\endgroup$ – vsz Aug 17 '16 at 22:10
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Is it possible, yes. Is it probable, no.

Consider Genghis Khan. He started out as a peasant within a clan, watched his father killed by the warlord of an opposing clan. But he was the most successful conqueror in history. Became the warlord of his clan, united the clans more and more, and eventually formed an army and set up an empire that was pretty much unstoppable. He conquered more of the world than Alexander the Great. His empire was larger than any other empire in History.

And he did this without a telepath.

A telepath would help, like any other (admittedly powerful) resource or intelligence source would help. But like others have pointed out, it would not be the be-all-end-all that some might think. Just a tool.

So possible, again, yes, if you are a Genghis Khan. But such men are few and far between. So, probably... not.

But then again, most good stories are built on the seeing the improbable and unique and hyper-talented come to life. And this all means that whether the warlord can conquer the world or not rests a lot more on his personal genius, people management skills, and drive than on any one specific individual under his command.

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The biggest problem is keeping this ability/knowledge a secret. If the enemy learns of this ability, then there's almost always a way to defeat it.

As such, the warlord has to allow some battles and plans to fail so the secret isn't discovered. Alternately they have to make it appear that they have spies throughout their enemy's command structure so the enemy destroys itself from within trying to ferret out spies that don't exist.

But even if those needles are threaded, resources can still trump knowledge. It could take years, decades, or longer for a single person to take over a small country even if they know their opposition's plans and future activities. Some will never be taken because the plans and activities will always prevent enemies, even ones with foreknowledge, from winning.

There's this concept in many cultures that if you know the future with perfect clarity you can beat anyone, but what this actually amounts to is the idea that "security through obscurity" is successful. Security researchers know this isn't the case, and it's worth exploring this in terms of clairvoyance.

What you're really asking is, "Can a base/country/home be defended if the defenders publish every aspect of their base, their schedules, numbers, weapons, plans, response plans, etc?"

In many cases, sure, but in some cases the time, effort, resources, etc to enact such a plan are greater than the attacker can manage. Safes are rated not by how "unbreakable" they are, but by how long it takes to break them. You protect things with a safe that takes long enough to break that it's not worth the effort of the attacker. So even if they are a perfect safe cracker, the reward isn't worth the effort.

Similarly, good security plans actually assume that the attackers know the people, plans, and place, and the plan is developed so that even with perfect knowledge it takes more resources to attack than it's worth.

As such, I don't believe they'd be able to take over the entire world. By the time they succeeded in smaller countries and started working on the larger countries, it would take decades to perform the political and other maneuvers necessary in order to bring down even moderate sized and defended countries, particularly as they saw the smaller countries fall. Even if they started off with a large country, say China, with lots os resources, and even with perfect knowledge of the future actions of Russia or the US, it would probably take more than this warlord's lifetime to take them over.

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In the Foundation series by Isaac Asimov, a single telepath known as The Mule is able to conquer most of the galaxy. He uses a simple form of mind control that makes people loyal to him.
He goes from world to world and takes them over with minimal bloodshed by posing as the jester of the infamous warlord in order to gain access to more and more powerful individuals.
Even an assassin whose mission to discover and kill The Mule was transformed into a permanently loyal subject. As for how he was eventually defeated, I won't spoil that for you.
Others have already clarified the difference between telepathy and clairvoyance, but I would say that anyone with access to either would have a serious advantage over those without. If allowed to advise the military, they could know exactly when and where to strike enemies as well as preemptive knowledge of the outcome as well.
One thing you did not consider is that depending on the strength of the person's abilities, it would be the psychic using the warlord to advance their agenda, of their powers being a tool for their warlord's unfeasible desire to rule the world.

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yes, with loyalty and assassination. all he has to do is use his telepath to screen the lords of each target nation for sympathy to his cause. then he sends assassins in to kill anyone unsympathetic to his cause. then he offers to "help" end the assassination epidemic by letting the target nation join his empire. once the lords agree to join the empire, he installs someone excessively loyal as the local king of that nation. lather-rinse-repeat.

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Media, nationalism, Spies, Propaganda. Spies have been providing that advantage as long as history can recall. Nationalism, religion and such tend to make folks rather predictable. (i.e. Make a t-shirt if a picture of Muhammad and go backpacking through Pakistan, you'll get a predictable response, just like burning a flag at an NRA gun swap). I once read of a war starting between two English lords because one of them implied that the other was more prone to violent, ungodly behavior where his chattel servants were concerned.

My take on this, especially as a social scientist, is that people are terribly predictable and easily corruptible. I doubt in all honestly that telepathy would make a massive difference in the grande scheme of things.

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