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Dear Royal Council Member,

It has come to our attention that the natural sources of magic are starting to dwindle, and as a result we will start to phase out our reliance on magic. Before long, magic will be outlawed completely to try and preserve whatever magic is left. We will be pushing the development of steam-based technologies. During the shift, any magic that is deemed necessary will be permitted, to expedite the progress.

You have therefore been summoned to the court, to help give some insight into what repercussions we should prepare for in the coming years, as we push this change to society.

With kindness,

Queen Mary the Everliving, Ruler of the Human Empire


What happens when you force out an existing technology, that remains available, but illegal, and replace it with a different one?

I'm hoping to get some interesting ideas about what to expect from a societal perspective from the changes. Some people will barely be affected and some people will be more affected, but I'm not sure how. Will this start an arms race between other nations? How will magical societies, like entertainers, magical merchants and religious sects adapt? Would secret magical sects start to form? I'm currently looking at what to expect in a long period like 400-500 years.

Society/Setting

This is set in a generic medieval fantasy setting. Although magic isn't rare, it's also not something the common people rely on. They're still using conventional medieval tools to do their jobs. Higher class people are much more used to magic.

Magical Technology

Magic is used in a wide variety of situations, ranging from combat to entertainment and quality of life.

In combat, it is manifested as spells that make a small group a very maneuverable siege engine. Training a group of casters for this purpose is time-consuming and expensive, so conventional siege engines are still used. They are unparalleled in their utility in overcoming obstacles, easily conjuring temporary bridges or removing dangers. Magic will still be a part of army combat, so there won't be many changes here.

In entertainment, magic is primarily used for the illusional effects, aiding in telling tales and acting out plays. There are also specific spellcasting arenas for magic duels.

In everyday life, magic is used primarily by the higher classes, as a utility to help out with things like cleanup, keeping things fresh or even hiding the scent of the medieval streets.

Conventional Technology

Metallurgists have access to metals that are both more durable and stronger than conventional metals, but iron and steel are still the most commonly used metals. There is another land that offers crude oil in trade, although its uses haven't been explored much yet. Alchemists also know how to make gunpowder and crude bombs, but due to their unstable nature and the fact that a trained spellcaster can cast a fireball spell much safer, they haven't been explored much either.

Political

There are nations of Kentaurs, Elves, Gnomes, Humans, Dwarfs and some less pleasant races. Most nations agree that it appears something is wrong, but there's one nation of magical beings that are unwilling to follow with the changes, and will openly continue to rely on their magical powers. Aside from The Big Bad Guys Nation, there is currently mostly peace between the rest of the nations, and almost all have some kinds of trading agreements with each other, but everyone also still keeps active armies.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is my first Worldbuilding question, and I'm not 100% sure if it fits. Please let me know what I can do to improve the question. $\endgroup$ – William Mariager Mar 1 '17 at 15:41
  • $\begingroup$ This is pretty broad, friend. Some might vote to close it. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Mar 1 '17 at 15:56
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    $\begingroup$ Awesome first question! Could you expand on how magic is used? $\endgroup$ – PatJ Mar 1 '17 at 16:15
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    $\begingroup$ Technology is magic $\endgroup$ – Zach Saucier Mar 1 '17 at 20:16
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    $\begingroup$ FWIW this is exactly what's happening to petrol based technologies so it's a good opportunity to make this a commentary on peak oil and/or climate change. Currently when our "magic" (oil) is running out we see lobbying and sometimes even outright bribing and assassinations by oil companies and political meddling and even outright war by countries that rely on oil $\endgroup$ – slebetman Mar 2 '17 at 7:50
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The problem with this scenario is that you can't force everyone to cooperate. It's not in their best interest.

Let's imagine for a moment that all your top advisers, which include some very powerful mages, agree that "natural sources of magic are starting to dwindle". And they also agree that some steps must be taken to preserve this most valuable of resources.

1) Availability of services

Your average every day person doesn't use magic. They might, however, pay a mage for the occasional healing, or help in solving an issue. These services are about to become unavailable forever, and that won't go over well!

Where there' a healthy demand, a supply is sure to follow. If you cut people off from a whole gamut of services they feel they strongly about, then what's most likely to happen is that a black market will spring up, offering those services for very steep prices. (think along the lines of the USA's Prohibition).

More importantly, however, magic was most likely used quite extensively in government projects and military applications:

  • Oh, the King wants to know what's happening on the frontier? Let's communicate with the local commander via magical means, or teleport some official over there.

  • We need a sturdy bridge built in a hurry, for our army to cross this ravine? Magic to the rescue!

  • A large group of orcs is about to overcome your garrison? A handy fireball will save the day.

Suddenly removing these elements from society will severely damage your government, and erode your power. Which brings me to my next point:

2) How will you convince others to give up magic?

You listed quite a few races which coexist on your world, and, presumably, there's more than one human kingdom around as well. You may choose to limit your use of magic in order to preserve it for future generations, but who's going to get all the other kingdoms and races to agree?

Worse, even if they verbally agree to cut back on magic use, how can you ensure that they will actually do so?

I'd like to draw a parallel to the many environmental agreements which our leaders have signed: It's not much use if you convert your entire industry to be "green", incurring high costs in the process, and damaging your economy, if your neighbor will continue to dump toxic waste in the water your countries share.

3) Resistance to change

Let's face it, magic is awesome, and asking everyone to give it up is a bit of a tall order. Luxuries which the elites are accustomed to are going to dry up. Some of these powerful lords, whose lives have maybe been significantly lengthened, or otherwise enhanced by magic, will resist your efforts to cut them off from it.

Most likely with violence.

4) Can you reach a consensus?

Even among mages and nobles there is going to be a debate whether magic is really running out, and at what rate. Humans are not well known for our ability to plan for the far future.

Think fossil fuels, deforestation, and climate change. You could tell everyone that oil is running out, and that in the interest of future generations we should all give up our personal vehicles, implement extensive public transportation networks, and replace any remaining combustion engines with electric ones. How many nations do you think would pay lip service to your noble goals, and how many would try and implement it?

Magic is in a similar category. Many mages will see this as an attempt to limit their influence and power. Many nobles will see it as an attempt to monopolize the use of magic for your own use (the government's). Other races may see this as an attempt to weaken them economically and militarily.

There's little chance of a consensus here.

5) Conclusion

What you're proposing has enormous military, economic, and social ramifications. It will most likely lead to civil unrest, and war.

You should probably start by convincing some very powerful mages that it's in their interest to help you restrict the use of magic (promise them privileges, access to magic sources, positions of power, etc.). Have them form a "Society for the Preservation of Magic", and start pumping out propaganda about the dangers of wide spread magic use, etc. (get the population to move away from it).

In parallel, have these powerful mages start shutting down the projects and practices of weaker mages, slowly cutting them off from magic sources under various pretexts such as "unethical use of magic". These lesser mages may need to be bullied into submission, jailed, or maybe even executed.

You will also need to meet with other heads of state, and try to get them on board with your plan. Your coalition will have to bully other kingdoms and races into adopting your practices, and you will most likely have to go to war with those who refuse to adopt them.

Of course you will also need to start training up engineers, doctors, etc. to replace the magical services you're cutting off. Some institutions will need to come into being, such as the Guild of Engineers, Guild of Doctors, etc.

Over a decade or two you should be able to achieve your goals of making magic a very exclusive, and hard to access resource.

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Peak Magic

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. — Arthur C. Clarke

If magic is a measurable resource, and its uses are something that you can learn and exploit, then what you have is not magic; it is a natural resource being used to affect and/or power technology. Sure, you can name it "magic" if you like, but for all practical intents and purposes, it is fuel that powers technology.

What happens when your technology relies on a resource and that resource is running scarce? Well... no-one knows for sure because we have never experienced that scenario for real. The closest we can get is Hubbert's Peak Theory.

This is your first question on Worldbuilding and due to rather arbitrary reasons I will grant you a little bit of leeway, and not vote to close, since I could give you a sort of answer. But do know that your question here is extremely broad; the number of possible outcomes is vast. Therefore I am giving you this broad answer:

Apply Hubbert's Peak Theory to your world, and try to create scenarios from that.

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Building on one aspect of AndreiROM’s comprehensive answer, I am reminded of The Space Eater by David Langford, in which

  1. Mankind creates some colonies in other star systems, and then loses contact with them.
  2. Earth scientists discover a field of technology called “Anomalous Physics,” which features such staples of sci-fi as wormholes, matter transmission and matter conversion.
  3. Earth scientists discover that the use of Anomalous Physics (beyond certain constraints) damages the fabric of the universe.
  4. Earth military scientists discover that one of the colonies is using Anomalous Physics recklessly, apparently not yet having discovered the risks.

So the military sends emissaries to the colony to get them to stop.  Using a classic iron-fist-in-a-velvet-glove approach, the emissaries start with diplomatic persuasion, but they have a Plan B: a weapon that will destroy the colony if they don’t cooperate (which, of course, they don’t).

In real life, there is a similar situation: the politics of greenhouse gas emissions.  As far as I know, that’s still being addressed by peaceful negotiations.  But, when snow becomes a thing of the past, temperatures of 100 °F become commonplace, and coastal cities start being submerged by rising sea levels, somebody might start thinking that the third-world countries that are still burning dirty coal really need to have nuclear power delivered to them.  By missile.

So, yeah, the nations that agree to phase out the use of magic are probably going to come into severe conflict with the nation(s) that don’t.

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  • $\begingroup$ Flattery will get you everywhere. +1 $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Mar 2 '17 at 16:30
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Here is my main question to you:

Is Magic a local or global resource?

If it is local, the problem will solve itself; mostly. If a nation refuses to limit its use, it will burn though the magic available in its land (like over farming does). Then they would have to be mobile. They would have to conquer the lands around them and move into those. The defense against that is to use magic to defend those lands heavily enough that you burn them out and make them useless to the would be conquerors.

If magic is global, it is in the best interest of every group to use as much magic as possible to achieve as many gains as they can before it is gone. Yes, magic will burn out faster but if your people are in a better position for a "post magic" age, then you won. Everyone would have to get together to defeat the "cheaters" while, themselves trying to not get caught cheating. In this situation, I would use as much magic as I could to secure the resources and manpower my people needed to survive.

On another note, technology requires a cultural change. You need to go from a knowledge hoarder culture to a knowledge spreading culture. Everyone needs to know the basics of tech in order to grow it quickly. The problem with that is that there will generally be guilds or other groups whose power base comes from restricting knowledge from the general public. Those power bases will oppose any spreading of knowledge/power.

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Worst case scenario: war. Those whose wealth or power comes from magic would lose their wealth and power if magic suddenly became illegal. Depending on how many people these are and how powerful their place in society is, this could lead to civil war.

Plus remember people tend to dislike change and be suspicious of new technology when it comes out.

How will magical societies, like entertainers, magical merchants and religious sects adapt?

That depends on how reliant they are on magic. You can definitely expect some kind of push back. Riots, sabotage. And in extreme cases, war or terrorism.

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So you have a measurable amount of magic. Let's call it "mana". So the main problem is - how to figure out the mechanical way of achieving magic outcome.
For example: flying brooms and carpets are common way of personal travel. Try to swap it for something technological. You either conclude that is not possible or you use magic to explain how the oil/steam powered machine can do the same thing.

Or how to put it different way (and I know it's not popular opinion) Steampunk is just magic but in Brunel tophat.

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