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So. This has been something I've been tossing up for a long time. Let's say you have a world that has a broad availability for magic power and mages are a normal part of life. Like DnD 3.5 worlds or what have you. Not everyone has magic, but you'd know someone who does to some extent.

This includes stuff like telekinesis, teleportation and stuff like that.

Realistically speaking, wouldn't most magic combat in a world like this be instantly over the moment one magic rips the hearts of the enemies out of their chests with a small telekinetic pull, or incinerates their lungs, or reverses the electrical polarity of their brains, or makes all the water in their bodies jump one centimeter to the left? Human's are fragile, and in these worlds people through incredibly deadly powers around like hotcakes.

So my question has always boiled down to. Wouldn't all combat involving even minor powers be a MAD scenario. Where you either defend with shields and magical shielding or kill everything while they kill you. (In life or death combat that is. I know people can be sensible and do mexican standoffs). So as a result, wouldn't shielding be a major priority in almost all spheres?

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    $\begingroup$ Applying D&D rules to real life is silly. It's never meant to be a reality simulator. Same with most RPG. But think that way: we can rip someone's heart with a flip of our fingers, a thunder rod and a little piece of lead. Here, in real life. It's called a pistol. So what would magic change? $\endgroup$ – Mołot Dec 1 '16 at 7:15
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    $\begingroup$ Now now. This is a hypothetical. Let's play nice. Magic vastly increases the number of people capable of instant kills without requiring weapons, at long range and without warning. $\endgroup$ – Mugluck Dec 1 '16 at 7:22
  • $\begingroup$ That depends. In many D&D worlds % of magic users is smaller than % of gun owners in USA. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Dec 1 '16 at 7:24
  • $\begingroup$ Only in the USA, where I live in Aus, % of gun owners is low. It's the same with many other parts of the world. But this is getting a bit off topic, you do bring up a point. Magic's effect on combat may very well have been the same as the gun's effect on historical combat. Though with vastly more varied effects and consequences. $\endgroup$ – Mugluck Dec 1 '16 at 7:31
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    $\begingroup$ Regrettably I don't know d&d and had shamelessly used it in my posts on many occasions but if we can wear thick clothing for extra protection wouldn't it be possible to say enchant the same clothes as a precaution against spell or curse? Just because every households keep knives doesn't mean everyone is a murderer, there's a law in your case a sheriff riding on a magic carpet. $\endgroup$ – user6760 Dec 1 '16 at 8:16
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A world like that would already find its balance. I mean, if magic users are around like hotcakes, there would be an animals/ prehistoric animals in that world somewhere on its branch of evolutionary tree that lead to homo magiens that can use magic. When there's a zebra that can do instant teleportation the lions in that world would develop something to survive. Same situations would be developed in its human.

Lets just say that their magic attack happens instantly without drawing symbols on the ground, saying spells, or waving a wand. Although the magic user still minority it would be expected that the rest majority population would evolutionary develop some kind of defense while it can stay a subtle one.

Maybe you got a tingling sensation (like spiderman have) in your head every time there will be a magic cast to you on a minutes in the future, just an ability like this would increase survival rate of the population and bring some balance in nature.

If all of the above didn't occur, and magic user just born randomly like x-men mutant. We will have a society that kills or isolate them from infant stage.

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    $\begingroup$ I can just imagine David Attenborough saying "The lion must approach within 20 feet of the zebra because that's the limit of its teleport range" $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Dec 1 '16 at 8:24
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    $\begingroup$ +1 for David Attenborough reference. I'm picking this answer because it poses an occam's razor answer that can be holistically included throughout the world as a core mechanic.Like a field that repels magic and operates similar to a magnetic field, can be induced and is common to nature. $\endgroup$ – Mugluck Dec 1 '16 at 14:52
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    $\begingroup$ +1 for you too @Mugluck refresh my memory about law of parsimony. And for a nice reading (watching) a real plasma force fields that still being developed right now youtube.com/watch?v=WJ3isx3VRxM One nice thing about it is unlike in startrek movies, the force field won't be deployed everytime, but instead it tracking its surrounding for attacks, calculate its coming angle and then deploy it on the area.. that way it can reserve it energy eficiently. $\endgroup$ – Hariz Rizki Dec 1 '16 at 18:21
  • $\begingroup$ One small issue. "the lions in that world would develop something to survive" Well, either that or go extinct. And as the saying goes, 99.9% of all species which have existed are extinct. $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast Feb 17 at 20:39
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As you cited D&D, here are some classic limitations used in role-playing games and medieval universes overall.

  • Line of sight. In order to use magic, you need to see your target. This limitation will exclude all of your examples of unpleasant things a mage could do to internal organs.

  • Magic costs a ressource. It can be time (think about magic in Pratchett's universe: the time to learn the spell is equivalent to the time you need to so it by normal means). It can be energy (using magic is extremely tiring, drains the lifeforce ...). It can be an outside energy that you need to channel to cast a spell (which is not always available).

  • Finally, magic can be ruled. There could be some kind of broad ban on "brutal" combat magic, and anyone who would use specific kinds of magic against man would be prosecuted and sentenced to death. This would be akin to Geneva's convention on chemical weapons, middle-age version.

Any of these limitations would mean magic is not allmighty, and would make classic combat legit, not only defensively but also offensively.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is a good conventional answer, but doesn't take into account the 'exception becomes the norm' deal. Magic cost is common, but hard to justify when a cantrip can kill even with the LOS limitation - which is invalidated by scrying. The geneva convention though... is a good one. It can be extrapolated. $\endgroup$ – Mugluck Dec 1 '16 at 8:18
  • $\begingroup$ On the subject of scrying, I suppose it's typically up to the author but I do not believe scrying typically grants line of sight; it's equivalent to looking at something through a camera/video feed, after all, albeit without any significant latency. I might rule that it is possible to "simulate" line of sight via scrying but to do so requires knowledge of exactly where the scried location is relative to the caster and a significant time investment to calculate offsets. $\endgroup$ – Passage Dec 1 '16 at 16:27
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Of course there would be a lot of defensive magic. As there are bulletproof vests and armored cars today.

First, let's assume that "killer magic" is common, but not commonly used. Because in that case the rules of society would no longer apply. So if i rip a shopkeeps heart out because he charged me 2 silvers more than i liked, i am still a murderer, and will still be prosecuted.

Then, let's assume there are powerful mages in some kind of police force that WILL bring you down most likely. Only the most legendary, powerful mages should have the power to "do as you please" without consequences.

So even if killer magic is common (like.. guns in some countries, or knives or fists), 99% of the time people won't use it because it's against the law. I was in the military for a while, and we sometimes did security for festivities, and i was walking around with a loaded submachine gun. And i still didn't shoot anybody. Because: a) why should i? b) it's wrong. and c) there would've been negative consequences.

Now let's take this to the point where lethal conflict is ok. Law enforcement or wars. In that case, yes, a lot of magic will be defensive. You will have shields and absorption and magic resistance spells, while trying to remove the enemy protection and blasting them to hell. And everyone who is not capable of magic will try to stab or shoot you to death before you can magically spread them across the room like marmelade on a toast.

But both forms of combat have something in common: you plan and prepare for it. Magic users will be a 100% requirement for armed forces, be it only to protect against low-ranking hostile mages. But i see no reason why there shouldn't be several mages in a team, some defensive, some offensive. Or why a single mage couldn't upkeep a shield spell while blasting fireballs at the enemy (that's what you do in D&D). But since combat is so deadly, once i break the enemy defense, they are instantly dead. If my shields hold just a tiny bit longer than theirs, i win, no MAD.

So, to sum it up and give an answer: No. Defense will be very important to keep the combatants alive, but a difference in skill and ability will allow one party to win by breaking enemy shields and killing the enemy.

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