In my question In a world with magic, who would govern?, I asked who would govern that world, magicians or mundane warlords/nobles.

Now, suppose that exactly the same rules I described in the previous question apply in this question, with the following addition:

Use of magic is limited. The world is blanketed by magical auras, and using magic in an area (say about 10 square kilometres) reduces the strength of that aura. The weaker the aura, the harder it is to do magic. The more "active" the magic used, the more the aura is degraded. Magicians might be able to light a hundred or so campfires, or blast a couple of armies with arcane fire before an area's aura was degraded to the point of complete uselessness. Doing things with less tangible effects has far less impact - it might take hundreds of huge illusions or scrying sessions to have the same effect on the auras.

The auras are replenished slowly from surrounding areas, and some areas (outside the realm under consideration for this question) are effectively sources of magical power, so magic will not go away permanently. It is quite easy to degrade an area's auras to the point where only the most powerful of magicians can cast only the weakest of spells, if they can do even that, at which point it may be years to decades before the auras had restored themselves.

However, studying magic does not degrade the auras, only active use of it. In fact, studying is even more important, since spells and enchantments can be optimised (with effort) to have less impact on the auras in which they are used/created.

So, we have a realm where magic can be used, but must be used circumspectly so that magicians can continue to use magic.

Does this change the answer to my former question? Who would govern such a realm?

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Bioware nerfs mages again! $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 8, 2015 at 2:06
  • $\begingroup$ More seriously, you have to be more specific. "Quite easy to degrade the aura" -- is that after lighting a campfire or casting a simple illusion, or after nuking an entire army with hellfire? Are we talking local depletion (a few dozen square meters) or massively nonlocal effects (hundreds of sq. km.)? $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 8, 2015 at 2:08
  • $\begingroup$ @SerbanTanasa, I've edited my question to be a bit more specific. $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild
    Commented Jan 8, 2015 at 2:15
  • $\begingroup$ I bet they develop a way to store the magic energy in some kind of magic battery. Goverments go around sucking up any auras that appear. Then only the governments get to use magic and control the mages. $\endgroup$
    – cmd
    Commented Jan 9, 2015 at 16:08
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    $\begingroup$ Note the extreme potential for externalities. Anyone using magic in a way someone else doesn't want them to, would be easy to stop, simply by sending your own mage over to waste magic nearby, doing frivolous crap and intentionally using spells not optimized to have less impact. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 10, 2015 at 2:47

5 Answers 5


Fun question. I'm guessing it would be a sword-fest, since you can easily render mages powerless.

Why? You can always get a rival mage (or even a near-talentless squib) to flare out the mana in a region, and then you can safely go climb the tower, grab the uppity mage by the collar, and introduce her to your more stabby friends.

The only way around that would be if mages were endlessly wandering, more like Tinkers than kings. At first glance, that could create a hell of a roving bandit problem, i.e. you'd get Genghis-Khan mages, who ride into a region, storm the forts, raid the vaults and move on.

But better organized areas could of course have constant aura-flaring to prevent that, again sending the mages to the outskirts of civilization.

So most likely you'd have quite powerful trickster roaming mages in marginal areas of wilderness, and powerless squib mages flaring out magic in "civilized" areas to prevent raids. Alternatively, instead of useless flaring, you can have roving craftsman-mages that use all the aura up for enchanting items as they move from city to city. So in conclusion Swordfest, with a bit of flaring/enchanting.

Ok, so we now have non-magical kings and merchant princes firmly in control. What if they do want to make use of magic, for important state business (c), like, for instance, temporarily lifting an island off the sea-floor for their daughter's 10th birthday. It would take a team of dozens of mages months to plan out the cast, work everything out theoretically as much as possible, minimize the aural cost of each component, weeks to create a secure casting framework of supporting guide-spells, and then perhaps a single mage-architect with a dozen support-mages would actually use this combined effort to direct a Weave of the aural flow into this hypercomplex casting framework and get a floating island with purple roses and gold-brick roads.

Or perhaps you can have depletable auras, but persistent imbued magical items. I think it's a very fun setting, if done carefully.

  • $\begingroup$ Won't depletable auras and imbued items essentially render the magical system a mixture of normal (with aura) and Vancian (without)? $\endgroup$
    – March Ho
    Commented Jan 10, 2015 at 10:22

The most valuable spell to learn in this world would be one which allows you to move available magic potential into some form of storage device such as a bottle. Magic users could then travel the land, looking for recuperated auras and gathering the healing shreds into bottles. Then when the stabby friends arrive, its time to uncork a bottle of hellfire on em!


I concur with Serban. **

I esp. like:

"...grab the uppity mage by the collar, and introduce her to your more stabby friends."

** Meaning, please don't vote for my answer unless you've already voted for his. :D

Auras will be degraded. By mages who want to do things, or by stabby people for self-protection vs. hellfire. Esp. since it takes so long to regenerate.

Also, I disbelieve the ability to learn something that you can't use very often (once a decade? not happening). Learners aren't optimized and will make Sorcerer's Apprentice mistakes. Endless goto loops, for an equivalency.

Alternative idea: If it merely took days-to-weeks to regenerate, you'd still have some problems - but you'd actually get to see magic more than once a decade. You'd get first-to-shoot effects; unless you had a way to block other mages from using spells (or, to lock up the aura for a bit; "noise in the aether, can't spell right now"). Or block them as they cast/right after they've cast their (usual*) spells - so the mana isn't lost - ie: allowing you to actually have a wizard's duel, which your setup prevents from ever happening (or, happening for more than 1-3 shots). * Some spells might be instant effect, and unable to be blocked.

Back to your question:

Does detecting magic users (using a spell, which is the only way I assume you can accurately do so) seriously degrade the local area? That's the only way a council of mages could get control of an area; ie: hope nobody nerfed the aura, use magic to detect anyone who's magic-capable, and keep ruthless control with stabby friends and monitoring anyone who comes close to the area in order to get a place where you can do anything magical.

How big are areas? And do they overlap/spill into one another? ie: If you hellfire an army does it take out a bigger area - say, miles around (which is what I'm envisioning from your question) than just the one you had an army in (which I'd say is several thousand square feet (depending on how big your army is, of course))?

If areas are small enough to be protected, and powerful enough to do stuff - then you might have some interesting effects: ie: if a mage can defend his tower, and his work-room is an 'area' that has enough power to do stuff, that can't be taken out by someone two blocks away deciding to light his cigar with hellfire... then it might be possible to work a story/campaign with this and have mages be something other than meat-sheaths for our stabby friends.

Thus, in most cases as this question describes - this setup probably means mages won't be the ones in control - they'll be working for someone who can command the area. Maybe they could charm the king... but I suspect that wouldn't work out (assassinate the king, and the next guy who can steal the throne puts all the mages under lock and key).

Also, no magical items (sucktastic)? Any magical creatures? Wandering undead, golems? Unicorns, Dragons, Magic-wielding Orges?

This is pretty much the setup for AD&D: Dark Sun, except even they allowed the land to be reconditioned.

I'd recommend against this as it's a pretty horrible world. :P I'd go for some way to recondition the area, improve auras (if they're not already degraded), and something for magical items and more powerful magic - even if you don't want tyrannical mages from your former question.

Also, you need to explain why mages would stay in the magic-poor areas, instead of seeking the source of magic (and being able to do more magic, quicker in the fertile magic farmland of your world). If I were a mage, the first thing I'd do is go seeking a better place.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks! Appreciate the call-out! But I disagree, it's not a horrible setting at all. It's just that magic is the nuclear option, of sorts: if you want to do something, you have to do it right the first time since you get no do-overs, so Serious Grownup Magic probably takes a team of dozens of mages, months of theoretical leg-work, months of preparatory pre-casting. It's a nice engineering project. I really like this setting, actually. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 8, 2015 at 8:18
  • $\begingroup$ Not much fun to set a story in, however. $\endgroup$
    – user3082
    Commented Jan 8, 2015 at 14:10
  • $\begingroup$ @user3082, actually, I've been using this as an RPG setting for years, and haven't had any complaints at all, rather the opposite. The setting does have magic items, with the cost paid at creation. Along with this, no horses (as plague carriers they were exterminated) and no fast non-gaseous oxidisers were used as an impetus to develop mecha. $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild
    Commented Jan 9, 2015 at 3:05

The rule of this world would be far more of a compromise than in your other question. "Commoners", as others have said, would realise that they can study magic, not optimise it, and deplete the local magical aura. This renders the magicians powerless and it then comes down to normal ruling systems.

This means that while magicians would still have a prominent role in government as they are the most powerful people when the auras are up. However, the commoners wouldn't have trouble reminding them that they can still be punched in the face when there's no magic around.

On a planet such as this, therefore, there would be a ruling system quite close to medieval times, though perhaps without the king figurehead.


I think, people having real power is not always the people knowing the technology (magic). In our world, the politicans rule, they are mostly lawyers or economists, with only a very limited technological (magical) knowledge.

I think, the real power of a such world would be similarly in the hands of a nonmagician cast, whose professionality would be the manipulation of the society, amd not the magic.

The common society controlling techniques would depend on the technological (magical) development: if there were enough food, television (entertaining crystal balls?) for nearly everyone, it would be probably a society similar to ours. If not, I supposed a bloody empire similar to the roman empire or to the medieval Europe.


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