Assuming you had two cities, one of them an average real world City, and the other identical in every way, except that it's technology cannot advance beyond steam power (Cannot use combustion engines, guns, electricity, etc) And it has magic. These two different cities, both specialize in manufacturing and are trying to outpace each other. There are three main types of magic used by the Magic City:

Elemental Magic Allows the manipulation of elemental forces, the closest fictional comparison for overall power level I can give would be Avatar: The Last Airbender. training: it takes 1 year of study to be proficient in one element. It takes 4 years of study to be proficient in all four.

Body Magic(Necromancy) Allows people to summon the undead, and give them basic programming-like commands. They are minimally intelligent and non-sentient, but can be made to do repetitive tasks nearly indefinitely unless the body rots beyond usefulness or is damaged. These zombies are slightly weaker than an average human, but do not get exhausted. If the summoner of a zombie dies, their summoned zombies default to attacking the nearest living human. training: To summon one permanent zombie, it takes about two years of intense study of body magic. For every 2 years of additional study (equivalent difficulty to taking a college engineering class) you can summon an additional zombie.

Dimensional Magic People can create personal pocket dimensions for storing objects. These pocket dimensions have a maximum capacity in weight equal to a persons maximum lifting capacity. People can create portals from one place to another within line of sight, although this takes a lot of focus, and does not allow for any other tasks while holding a portal open. If a portal is closed on a non-living object, it will slice it through with a flawlessly smooth cut. Living objects are gently shoved outside before it closes. Portals can be enchanted on identically sized openings in such a way that the portals will be active perpetually, and can be moved, but will always be oriented in the same direction. Training: It takes 2 years of study to make dimensional portals of a consistent size and duration. It takes 8 years of study to be able to make permanent enchanted portals.

The Questions: Would these types of magic,while being restricted to steam power allow for the magic Powered City to outpace our Real World City in total manufacturing output?

What advantages and disadvantages would these types of magic provide?

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    $\begingroup$ How tiring is the casting of magic? For instance, how may portals could a Dimensional Magic user make in a day? How many hours in the day could an elemental magic user practise before they have to rest? How many magic users of each type do you have available? Can anyone learn or is it a question of affinity? $\endgroup$ – Ieuan Stanley Nov 21 '16 at 11:06
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    $\begingroup$ What exactly are they manufacturing? For an elemental mage after training would they have absolute complete control over said element and related elements (earth-metal-lava, fire-lightning, water-ice)? $\endgroup$ – depperm Nov 21 '16 at 15:40
  • $\begingroup$ @I_Stanley 1. Magic use is non physically tiring up to a threshold marking a person's magic stamina. After reaching this point, magic use will be mentally and physically draining. 2. A person can sustain a single portal as long as they can stay awake, although it requires concentration and makes multitasking difficult. Sustaining two or more portals takes constant effort, and will drain a person's magic energy within an hour or two. Opening a portal has an initial magic cost based on distance, and will usually take up to a quarter of a person's magic reserves. $\endgroup$ – Jonathan Nov 21 '16 at 22:13
  • $\begingroup$ @I_stanley 3. The number of magic users available would be the entire population, although skill beyond parlor tricks takes dedication and study. A person can be proficient in multiple types of magic, it just takes longer to train in multiple magic types. 4. Anyone can learn magic, although people tend to favor one type of magic over the others. This is based on personality as each magic type appeals to different people. $\endgroup$ – Jonathan Nov 21 '16 at 22:14
  • $\begingroup$ A heat engine has certain limits thanks to thermodynamics, and costs to build and operate. What are the equivalent features for the maguc generes? $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Nov 22 '16 at 0:00


Given the things you listed, I would like to propose that magic wins in the short term, but the city wins in the long run depending on which way advancements go.

In The Short Term

Elemental Magic

Allows for more control over elements than modern day machines as people can manipulate it by will rather than with other mechanisms, which are sustainable to malfunction.


Allows for more manpower and less reliance on actual humans having to do the work, which would allow people to do more things.

Dimensional Magic

Gives more physical space, with each person having the capability of storing items somewhere other than the current plane that we live in.

Long Term

Now it wasn't specified if the cities had the capability of advancing to civilizations, etc... If that is the case then unless the magic gets further developed, technology will outrun magic. With us almost being able to go to other planets in 2016, say in about 100 years, magic would stay with the stuff you listed while technology could spread throughout and maybe even outside our solar system.

  • $\begingroup$ In a way I can see it kind of being like a slave owning society. IIRC, before the American civil war the northern states were progressing technologically much faster than the southern states because while the southern states had cheap manpower to do things like pick fields and stuff, the north had to make machines to do it instead. So the south had an advantage at the beginning, but later on the north was able to keep progressing while the south mostly stagnated. $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 Nov 21 '16 at 18:02
  • $\begingroup$ @AndyD273 The civil war comparison isn't that great unless you also differentiate the tech and magic societies economic output. For example, the South was agrarian while Northern factories produced manufactured goods. And technology, like the cotton gin, is what blew up the cotton plantations, requiring lots of slaves. The two concepts were interlinked. $\endgroup$ – Jason K Nov 21 '16 at 20:31

I'm reasonably sure that the Magic city could outperform the non-magic one indefinitely. But in the long run it would probably be most efficient for both of them to specialize. If you don't want that to happen, you might have to explain why it doesn't happen. On a different note, since this is all basically manual labor that can only be performed by academics, education would be a huge part of the magic city. Because of the limitation on numbers of zombies you stated, most of these academics would probably be necromancers.

Elemental Magic: Can't think of anything new for this one, but you mentioned Avatar: The Last Airbender. I haven't watched a lot of that show, but as I remember they did a great job in exploring the potential of their magic in the show itself. So maybe a fan can help out here or you could (re) watch it yourself.

Body Magic(Necromancy): Especially in textile manufacturing there is still a lot of manual labor today. Considering that the zombies would probably be cheaper than the cheapest manual labor, while still able to perform the same tasks, there would still be a market for its wares even today. You could also produce energy by putting zombies in treadmills, although human zombies might not be the most efficient option here. For this to be reasonably efficient you need a steady influx of corpses. You'll need a lot of embalming substances and insecticides to keep the corpses fresh for long enough to be useful. This would probably be an industry in its own right. I'm assuming the type of civilization is such that they can't outright mass murder people on a regular basis (if you do want that, I think doing it for religious reasons "Aztec style" would be the best way to go). Also, if they just outright kill people it's doubtful that they would get anyone to work there in the first place. Thankfully, the zombies could themselves be the solution to this problem: just having them work alongside the regular workforce would probably create hygienic conditions so horrendous, that life expectancy would plummet. Think regular outbreaks of cholera, bubonic plague, etc. The factory owners would consequently have a huge incentive to prevent advances like the invention of antibiotics, or at least to prohibit their use in the city.

Dimensional Magic: This is the biggie. As far as I can see, this allows you to break the law of conservation of energy. You wouldn't even need steam power – just raw clockwork will do. You could just have a heavy metal object (or a series of objects) eternally falling along a rail between two portals and turning wheels as it goes. The turning wheels can power anything you like. No steam necessary, no coal required. This would make them a lot more cost-effective than anything else in the Industrial Revolution. Also, the skies would be clear of smoke. Once you move past the Industrial Revolution, the city could start exporting its raw energy: you could just have a piece of metal with a large surface area falling between two portals. Eventually it will start heating up by friction with the air – you can then transfer the heat to a substance with high heat capacity (say heat up salt until it melts) and export the heat to wherever science starts working again. You can then evaporate water with the heat and drive turbines with it.


Your magic society would do quite well until the tech society decided to put a stop to it.

Why? Look at your magic users. They are all the result of YEARS of effort and study. So in a war every magic user lost in battle would represent the loss of both a person AND their skill/work output. While for the tech side the factory workers themselves can be relatively unskilled and easily replaced, so if they die in battle it is just a personnel loss, the machines back home can be run by someone else with just a little on the job training.

So in a magic using society the people ARE the industry, while in the tech society the machines are independent of the people, so it can sustain war losses with less of a drop in economic output. Thus I predict that in your competing city scenario the tech guys will eventually decide to wipe out the magic users if they are in direct competition.

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    $\begingroup$ Well, if the magic users are smart, the tech guys would have no chance in a war though. Portal to anything within line of sight? say, about 500m above the city (which according to a quick google would put a human at almost terminal velocity, so it should work for rocks too) - Just drop any big ol' rocks through there and get a cheap, fast, bombardement that'll utterly destroy anything that's UNDER a place in the sky that you can see. $\endgroup$ – Syndic Nov 22 '16 at 10:50
  • $\begingroup$ @Syndic you've basically described what conventional artillery has been doing for 500 years :) $\endgroup$ – Jason K Nov 22 '16 at 13:26
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, but I'm reasonably sure that conventional artillery requires a bit more ressource investion than "teach a guy to make portals for 2 years, and have a rock and a guy to push it into a hole handy". So magi-city would have VERY VERY cheap artillery with a range of "the target needs to be under a patch of sky that I can see", which is... rather far ;) $\endgroup$ – Syndic Nov 22 '16 at 13:32
  • $\begingroup$ @Syndic true, but once you build the artillery it can be fired by a teenager. Your magic artillery mage requires YEARS of study. So if I kill him, you lose both the artilleryman AND the artillery, while a factory can keep on cranking out guns to be used by (mostly) unskilled labor. Thus the tech society wins the war of attrition. $\endgroup$ – Jason K Nov 22 '16 at 13:35
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    $\begingroup$ @Trevortni WW2 german production persisted even under intense aerial bombardment. I think you guys are WAY over estimating the damage a falling rock can do versus an explosive. Even if a mage can portal drop rocks several hundreds of times a day, that still can't really compete with modern artillery which can include chemical and nuclear rounds. Modern warfare is won by logistics, and that is something the tech city will have in spades over a magic one. $\endgroup$ – Jason K Nov 27 '16 at 14:56

I do see one basic flaw in your reasoning. By the time we had steam power, we had guns. If you are looking at the level of tech needed for steam power, look to this link: http://science.howstuffworks.com/steam-technology.htm and notice that coal mining has to happen, and fire is involved.

Steam engines are external combustion engines, and you've said no combustion engines, which leads me to believe that you need to look more closely and research all that steam can do.

We had steam powered cars! And if tech is stalled at the level of steam, then the other type of engine (internal combustion) will never be developed, and this WILL be. So congrats, you'll have cars, and trains. The only reason why steam cars are not common knowledge is that the electric or internal combustion engine replaced them BEFORE they could be on every road.

What I have to say to you, is this: go back and research the advent and the development of steam and what the tech level actually was at that time. Even in the nascent days of steam tech, there were guns. They weren't very good to begin with, but you have to realize, steam really picked up steam around the Civil War and after, and guns were pretty common by then . We even had them in time for the American Revolution--and we're talking more than just cannons here (see the Second Amendment). Without steam, the Industrial Revolution never would have taken place--and in England by Dickens' time, it was a world of coal and factories. So read some lit and history from that time so that you can get a better handle on the tech level of the day. Gas lights were everywhere by this time as well, except in the country.

There are questions that have to be answered before moving forward. Like: can anyone do magic as long as they have training? How rare is it to be able to do? What is the cost of training these mages and does that cost outweigh what the tech place has to pony up? Magic users, who have to have this level of training are more expensive really, than tech users, who can build stuff and stick unskilled workers in to do the task with a minimum of training.

EDIT: There's another issue at play here--and that's the question of why these cities are isolated from each other and there isn't a cross contamination of ideas. If it's cheaper and better to use magic--people will. If it's cheaper and better to use tech, people will. If the common people can't access magic or there aren't magewrights that make the magic equivalent of a cell phone useable by all the people--guess what--tech wins. But if they are isolated, then, going to say that at first, magic will advance things a little further (if things are more common or cheap enough) but anything magic can do, you can bet tech people will be looking for ways to do it without magic--and in fact, the magic may cause science to be jumpstarted in the tech city. And, I'm going to say, vice versa. Once science starts pulling ahead, you can bet mages will be looking at the principles applied and the things that can be done and will be working to make a magical cell phone....

Elemental Questions: Can someone with elemental training capture and set an elemental to autopilot? If not, they will be in demand as specialists. Can only one elemental be controlled at a time? How much energy does it take?

Body In this case, it really looks as though an orphan on the assembly line is less trouble and $$ than a zombie. Orphans for the win! The Workhouse for the Win! You'd need a pretty high death rate and I would guess---people cool with you using their dead family members to pay off debt..

DimensionalThis seems like a lot of trouble to go to in order to carry an object from one place to another within sight. However, you can use the falling motion as a source of power, clockwork or steam as the Second to Last Unicorn said in their brilliant answer! I will say that as a way to cut things precisely, this will be a boon. Again, the cost may be higher here than it would be for tech.


Assuming it is a Build Off and each city has access to the same amount of raw materials, then without question the magical city wins.

The ability to harness levels of production close to the factory line methods of the Modern city means a lot. Steam power allows for pneumatic machinery(and hydraulics!) and that level of technology was the mainstay of the industrial revolution. The fact the magical city does not have to contend with a workforce outside the trained magicians is another huge bonus(undead workforce).

Probably the most significant part of the advantage of the magical city is the fact that elemental magic would be used in conjunction with dimensional magic to mimic the foundation of steam technology. Heating a pocket of dimensional air would be quicker and safer especially if the portals were controlled by dead person hands. If magic stopped right at this point the city would have an advantage of virtually zero operating costs.

The modern city would take just as long to set up as the magical one. Engineers are notoriously educated nearly as long as the magical ones seem to be yet the modern engineers will be limited by modern society where the magical one clearly will not(the modern city is reliant on the global economy).

The after effect of lower production costs and overhead would allow the pricing out of any competing goods from the modern city. Not to mention transportation costs would be lower as well.

If an established school of education is formalized to the point it seems to be at, it means that an apprentice would have at least two production units upon finishing basic training. It would be the starting point of every magicians entry into magical manufacturing. Necromancy. Elemental. Dimensional.


It's hard to say since the capabilities of the Magi society will depend on magic output per person per day (after training). There is also debatable 'manufacturing efficiency'. This could refer to 'time to refine raw material into finished products', 'raw material not lost in processing', 'cost to process raw material into products', or just '# of products produced per day'.

Tech City

The tech city has the advantage of automation. Once built, as long as there is enough raw material, they can just keep pumping out goods with minimal maintenance. Of cause, this is only a small advantage if you factor in that most things are built in batches, and then production stops (like phones).

Magi City

The Magi city has the ability to 'create space' and 'reduce distances', something completely out of the tech realm. This allows the magi city to develop setups like perpetual motion factories and cut transportation times.


You should also consider the threat of a mag-tech city appearing. If profit can be made using the strength of both societies, you will need a good reason people don't exploit it. For example, using tech level measuring precision with magi level cutting precision. Or if the zombies can be configured to follow orders from a monitor, equip zombies with AI monitors for AI intelligence and zombie robustness (with maybe a kill switch to terminate the zombie in case the summoner gets hit by a bus)


The catch is it's one zombie per 2 years of necromancer work. So lets say a preserved zombie lasts 20 years, that's still only ten times as long as the necromancer spent creating them, and the zombie is weaker and far stupider than a human doing the same job.

The magical city just won't scale, it will do fine at first but as soon as things like mass production start happening none of the things you suggest can keep up.


A Magic City like you described couldn't outpace modern technology unless you made some alterations

  1. Instead of learning to control one zombie they can control hundred this would give them a large Factory Workforce a Workforce with no need for fuel or electricity to keep them running a Workforce that could be always on.

2 Dimensional: can open portals and leave them open without having to constantly concentrate on it. This would allow them to use portal base highways where are your car or truck would drive from portal to portal which would allow for better transportation which would make better production.


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