Setting: Medieval "Europe". Typical technology, swords, armor, bows, catapults, cannons, all that good stuff.

Magic: The ability to control the elements. Similar to the popular show Avatar, some people are born with the ability to control the elements; water, fire, earth, air. The magical being controls the element by manipulating the energy within it.

Background: After a long war between these benders and non magic folk the benders lose. Instead of exiling them, the winning side decides to use the benders to their advantage. The agreement made at the end of the war was that the benders now belonged to their enemy government, which they would be used to advance technology and power. Examples: Used in mines, on boats, forging, mills, etc.

The Problem: Of course there would be a resistance to this basically slavery life. However my story takes place many, many years and generations after the initial end of the war. These benders are still lower class and used to power the government. How would generations later of benders still be able to be controlled?

Question: How could a government of non magic users control these benders?

What I'm Looking For: Ideas of possible control mechanisms and/or how governments have controlled their people in history. Of course any other ideas are welcomed.

  • $\begingroup$ This looks like a question about a story in a world, not a question about worldbuilding. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Commented May 9, 2017 at 4:25
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Hi Rosa! Welcome to Worldbuilding! There isn't a whole lot of detail in your question so the range of options for possible answers is really broad. Also, I'm kind of confused how a group of magic users would just lose to non-magic users. Could you clarify how the benders lost? $\endgroup$
    – Green
    Commented May 9, 2017 at 4:28
  • $\begingroup$ Green, they were largely outnumbered and the benders didn't have as good of strategies and leaders. $\endgroup$ Commented May 9, 2017 at 4:34
  • $\begingroup$ Sphennings, my question is referring to how a government in my world can control magic users. I simply added the background and story detail for a better understanding of the situation/conflict going on in the world. This very much is about world building. $\endgroup$ Commented May 9, 2017 at 4:38
  • $\begingroup$ The government could have gotten really powerful magic themselves. Maybe they can control the elements at a higher rate and amount then the benders. $\endgroup$ Commented May 9, 2017 at 4:42

3 Answers 3


The same way slavery was managed large scale in many places.

Make the strongest and most powerful do the work, keep the rest too busy and too weak to rebel. Consider an overseer, he's also a slave, but he has an easy life much better than your normal citizen, money, power, prestige. In return he whips the slaves, finds the dangerous ones and makes an end to them.

Then you watch the overseers carefully, they will be corrupt, they will be all sorts of things, give them free rein until they go to far and then replace them with others. They're both your whipping dogs and scapegoats you can feed to the masses if things go wrong. They will take the brunt of the discontent.

Then you have trained military forces available to deal with uprisings nearby if necessary.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This. Make sure that the benders understand four things: 1) In an all out uncoordinated rebellion, the benders will probably lose again, and lose horribly. 2) The opposition for any small scale rebellion among low caste benders will not be weak "regular" humans, but elite benders. Thus the rebels will not have any advantage against the policing force except maybe in number. 3) There is a career path for low caste benders to high caste. That includes keeping your head down. 4) If this system fails, the bender elite goes down with it. $\endgroup$
    – Guran
    Commented May 9, 2017 at 10:38


In the Wheel of Time series of fantasy novels, the nation of Seanchan has basically achieved this through the use of magical items that can be used to directly enslave mages.

The working of the item, in this case a collar, is never truly explained as far as I know, nor how they are made. Only the effects are given:

  • The mage can never open a collar, not their own nor anyone else's
  • The mage cannot hold a weapon
  • The mage can only cast a little bit by themselves

So to a large degree, it's very much a Handwave, as in, it just works. But it could be useful inspiration.


I could think of it as the way the Dragon Age series handles it. So this answer will be heavily inspired by that.

Magic there is seen as a kind of curse and children with those abilities are taken away from their families and then put into special mage towers. There they research stuff. Only under special circumstances are they allowed to leave. Bad behaviour can be punished by severing them from their dreams. That removes magical ability and all emotions. During the series there's however a rebellion and they kinda break from this.

This would also be against their usage on ships etc. Maybe only those who are trained well and have good behaviour? the hope for maybe a better life than being caged in makes them try hard to fit into society. They are being told they are dangerous for their whole life, they probably believe it themselves. So they want to repent.

If however it is not a problem for you to give some of them an equal stand in society you might want to consider giving them the possibility to have a good life as a mage. Maybe make them overseers or give them high positions on their jobs. Satisfaction with life reduces the chance to rebel. Why would they if their life was good? Then make those oversee the other mages. Maybe they got a special magic to keep them down.

Another way would be like again in Dragon Age, a way to cut them from their magic. If you possessed such a technique they would be afraid of that. It should maybe also come with another severe drawback, maybe going blind or loosing another sense.

As for how they controlled the mages all this time. Make examples of mages that did not obey. Harsh public punishments. Maybe also punish their families. So unless a mage submits himself freely their families are executed or such things. They could also loose their jobs/positions/home if you don't want death sentences.

Lastly you could train a caste in your society whose sole purpose is the hunting/observing/punishing/controlling of mages. Maybe they are mages too, maybe they got a special weapon or item that renders magic ineffective or weakens it. In Dragon Age they create phylacteries for mages from a drop of their blood to be able to track them anywhere in the world. This is collected upon taking them to the tower. This kind of binding makes them afraid to run and gives their watchers a great advantage.


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