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Magic is just another skill, like welding or juggling, that can be learned and mastered by just about anyone. However, this is not widely known because spells require a lengthy build-up before being cast.

Anything is possible with magic (absolutely anything) but the bigger the physical change to the real world, the more magic 'potential' energy is required before casting.

Scenario

Evil warlord assumes control of a small city state by walking into town and obliterating the governor's office with a wave of his hand. Everybody flips out and surrenders to his power, because nobody knows that it took 6 weeks of meditation and intense concentration to store enough energy to case that spell. Beyond fear, and the implication of a repeat incident, how does the man keep his position of power and prevent people from realising he's really quite puny and not much threat?

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    $\begingroup$ It sounds like you have a severe mismatch between attacking and defending capabilities in your world. May I recommend tweaking your magic system to permit one to hold magical potential in a sort of limbo until you know the right way to use it? That would permit the city state to defend itself. Otherwise, I fear the answer is simple "live by the sword, die by the sword." $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Jan 30 '17 at 1:30
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    $\begingroup$ Of course, all the other magic-users in this world will know all about this. probably, a reasonable number of non-magic users too. It would be nigh on impossible to conceal something this forever. Or even long enough for someone to pull a stunt like this. $\endgroup$ – a4android Jan 30 '17 at 3:00
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    $\begingroup$ How advanced is your world? I'd guess this is for a medieval type world. In a modern world, since magic is a skill, governs would know what this evil warlord did and just send a taskforce soon after, before he could meditate again $\endgroup$ – BgrWorker Jan 30 '17 at 11:33
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He doesn't need to keep power through magical means. You said that the threat of another destructive incident is enough to keep the people subdued for a time so that is a good place to start. If he is a warlord, the sorcerer surely has followers already so the best thing to do would be installing them in positions of power in the city. If he has a stranglehold on guards, food, money and other necessary resources, he's already won. If there are any swordsmen or warriors, creating an oppressive force similar to a city watch should be enough to quash any rebellions.

After this transition phase has passed, fear really won't be necessary to keep commoners in line. Historically, as long as they're left alone, they don't care who is ruling. The main rebellious class will be the highborn who were in charge previously. If you still want to do it without magic, simply exiling from the city them will work for a time. No upper class, no upper class rebellion. Otherwise, turning a few to the sorcerer's cause, perhaps with promises of wealth or more power, will give him spies with which to keep control. It is hard to plan an uprising when any of your co-conspirators will rat you out.

A rotating set of mages could keep meditating for magic to be used when needed. If it takes six weeks to gain enough power to obliterate a building, but most people don't know this, then the intricacies of magic don't seem to be widely known in your world. In this case, three or four mages under the warlords control, by alternating who mediates and when, could keep a small city in line. Even if the warlord is not one of the mages, he would still have at least one mage with a fortnight of power stored. Depending on how much this is worth in your world, a fortnight's worth of power could be more than enough to remind people of the warlord's power. This way, you can conceal the weakness of magic's long charge time.

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to WorldBuilding! This is a well-done first answer. Hope to see more of this quality from you in the future. $\endgroup$ – SRM Jan 30 '17 at 5:01
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    $\begingroup$ Great answer. The rotating mages could be made more effective (image wise) by having them impersonate the warlord (like Saddam Hussein's body doubles, or just having the standard villain mask and robe outfit). $\endgroup$ – Lu22 Jan 30 '17 at 5:42
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    $\begingroup$ The body doubles and mages do not even need to be magical. As long as the population believes them to be magical. If the Evil Over Lord has no mages he can just establish an order of secret police (mages) who are not so secret. And he periodically dress like one and does something flashy. Order through Fear. If attacked, no need to defend just escape to reclaim. $\endgroup$ – user2259716 Jan 30 '17 at 22:00
  • $\begingroup$ I've accepted your answer, mostly for the first point. I didn't make it clear in my question, but magic is not widely known and mages are few and far between so having local toughs reinforcing the threat of another 'incident' is probably the angle I'm going to go for. Thanks. $\endgroup$ – Wompguinea Jan 31 '17 at 18:47
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Dictatorship

It seems unlikely that he is the only one who knows how magic works, so he needs to create a dictatorship of sorts with other trusted mages and keep a tight grip on the city because someone else will definitely meditate long enough to explode him.

Just like Serenical said you could have a set of rotating mages and you could even train more mages to protect your dictatorship and instill fear in the people. You can accomplish this by regularly arresting people that speak badly of you, censor media and art, and other stuff that dictators do.

Stable Dictatorship

You could also try to take a different approach by promising people you will protect them and saying you will bring them wealth and power with your magic, and if you don't trust your people enough you can have some mages meditate in the meantime to cast a large spell to control the people and make them think you're a great leader.

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Brainwash people

Brainwash knights to be completely loyal to you and protect you with the sword.

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If anything is possible with magic I agree that brainwashing is your best bet.

Or, if "anything is possible" only means physical changes: Use your magic to cause very small "physical change", which still is immediately fatal. For example: Letting a bloodvessel in their head explode, or stopping their hearth.

But I think this kinda circumvents your system of "slow" magic. I think you have to change the rules a bit. For example: Magic can not directly affect other living beings, or it takes alot of "energy" to go through their innate protection.

Edit: It also seems unrealistic that a citystate would not atleast have one mage themselfes. That mage doesn't have to share the "trick" with anyone. But he would defend the city with his own stored up power, or could even tell the townsguard: "I have supressed his magic, he can't do much now, kill him!"

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Sounds like an interesting idea, why not have a set of spells you can apply different skills to, like long casting, or overload casting.

You can cast a wind spell that becomes a storm with overload casting, or a wind that blows for days with long casting.

That way you can plan a strategy with long casting spells, and use normal casting for getting you there.

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