I've been working on a sci-fi/fantasy world for a while now for a series of short stories I want to write (and possible as an RPG setting), and I've gotten kind of stuck trying to make sure warfare in this universe is reasonable. I'm hoping I can get some review of this here to make sure I didn't miss some blatantly obvious consequences of the introduction of magic. Please bear with me, as the descriptions of both conventional warfare in this world, and how magic works are kind of long.

Just to clarify, when I'm saying 'magic' here is that 'magic' isn't explainable by science in universe. They've studied it, and the closest they've come to explaining it is replicating it, but even those who can replicate it can't explain how it works within the context of the rest of their scientific corpus.

The basics warfare without magic in this universe:

  • Very high density energy storage is both safe and ubiquitous. Essentially, there exist things the size of real-world batteries that can store hundreds of thousands of times more energy, safely, with the ability to be recharged. As a result, while energy is still a limiting factor (because you can only carry a finite quantity of these super batteries), it is far less so than in the real world.
  • Nuclear, biological, chemical, antimatter, temporal, and spatial distortion (think stuff like singularity bombs) weapons are heavily regulated (both in terms of development, and deployment).
  • Standard issue weapons for most soldiers and law enforcement officers are mostly compact mass drivers, but there is some usage of traditional firearms (albeit with case-less ammunition and electrical ignition being standard), and less commonly of air guns (or equivalent pressurized gas weapons).
  • Standard artillery is mostly ram accelerators, rail guns, and coil guns. The more exotic options include anti-gravity launched ballistic projectiles and de-orbiting kinetic weapons.
  • Plasma weapons exist (primarily in the form of plasma rail-guns), but are expensive to operate (there is no good solution to the wear on parts), and prohibitively large for usage as small arms. They constitute part of the primary armaments on medium to large spacecraft (the other part being conventional missiles).
  • Other energy weapons exist, but they're extremely expensive to produce and operate (on the order of 100-200 times the cost of an equivalent standard weapon). Primary usage is by special operations units only, with the most common case being snipers using microwave laser rifles).
  • Cyberwarfare looks pretty similar to what it is today (albeit much faster).

While I would love any input that might come in on the above aspects, the main question involves how well that balances out with the addition of magic to this universe, under the following constraints:

  • There are two types of magic: ritual magic (also called wizardry), and sorcery.
  • Ritual magic is very similar to magic as it exists in D&D or other tabletop RPG's, it requires time to cast (simple stuff that would be a few seconds in most games often takes minutes), requires material components (usually very expensive ones), and produces a easily detectable energy signature. It also takes years of rigorous study to learn (think like med school or law school on steroids), and casting has to be adapted to the exact situation under which it is occurring (a spell will always start being cast the same, but to get the exact effect desired requires the wizard (or wizards for big stuff) to alter the specifics of how they are casting it to match the conditions under which it is being cast, as the spell is being cast). For reference, the first wizards were scientists who were trying to figure out how sorcery worked.
  • Magic items can be created through ritual magic. Binding a spell into an item takes exponentially more resources than just casting the spell, and often results in something that only works once. To put things in perspective, a gun that used magic would be on the order of 5000 times the cost of an equivalent energy weapon (and thus 500000 to 1000000 times the cost of an equivalent conventional weapon), and would requires multiple hours of spell casting costing a sizable percentage of the original cost just to reload a single round. Magic warheads do exist, but they are insanely expensive proportionate to what they do.
  • Sorcery is a bit different. Unlike ritual magic (which can be used by anyone with sufficient training), sorcery is something an individual is born with. Sorcerers are generally viewed very similarly to superheroes in many comics (part of the public loves them, part of the public hates them, and governments are terrified of the possibility of them going rogue). They randomly started appearing a few centuries back relative to the setting I'd be writing in, and no reasonable explanation for why or how they started appearing has been found by this point. There are in turn three types of sorcerers:
    • Those with passive magic. This type is kind of like the classic meta-human in most comic books, they may move faster, be stronger, or heal faster than other individuals of their species. This type is the most common variety, but they are still reasonably rare, about one in a billion individuals on average (amounting to about one hundred million such individuals in known space).
    • Those with a particular magical affinity. Such individuals have such strong natural talent for a particular type of magic that it's intuitive to the point of not needing most of the work of the equivalent ritual magic to cast spells of that type. The affinity tends to be pretty specific though, so they are generally not very versatile. Examples affinities include things like pyromancy and healing magic. This type of sorcerer numbers about one in a trillion (amounting to about one hundred thousand such individuals in known space).
    • The third type have multiple magic affinities, and sometimes passive magic as well. These are the rarest, they number in the low double digits, and most intentionally hide their talents (or at least pretend to be one of the other types of sorcerers). Most of them also actively avoid involvement in warfare (for various reasons).
  • Magical warfare is held to the same standards as regular warfare (NBC weapons are out, as are antimatter, singularity weapons, and temporal weapons).
  • The closest thing to invisibility through magic involves using telepathy to block a target's perception of your existence. This only works reliably on sentient beings of the same species, and does nothing about unknown targets or machines observing you.
  • Other forms of magically powered psychological warfare beyond what is achievable with technology are impractical due to the resource requirements, and also functionally covered under the same laws that regulate NBC type weapons.
  • Teleportation is possible, but it also produces an energy signature for the duration of the casting of the spell at both the source and destination, and it can only relocate targets from where the caster is to another location, not relocate them from a remote location to the caster (which in turn means summoning is not possible).
  • Seeing the future isn't possible from a practical perspective (it's by this point in universe become pretty well understood that what is seen when trying to see the future is not what happens). Scrying (clarivoyance and similar) is technically possible, but is pretty easy to detect if another wizard is paying attention, and can only target a location (so it's pointless using it to try and observe things in deep space without help from technology.
  • Things equivalent to the spells Wish and Miracle from Dungeon's and Dragons are theoretically possible, but nobody has attempted them before (or they succeeded, and used the spell to remove evidence of it), and research into them is illegal for fear of what might happen to the universe if someone did cast them.
  • Mages are primarily constrained by power. They can regenerate their power over time, but it's not something that can be trivially restored by some mystical elixir, and there is a practical limit on how much power a wizard or sorcerer can provide to a spell at once. Running out of power results in mental exhaustion (possibly including unconsciousness) for wizards, and physical exhaustion for sorcerers.
  • Certain rare and extremely expensive materials can block magic. Areas completely surrounded with these materials are functionally dead zones for magic.

So, my primary question is: How is the discovery of magic likely to have affected warfare in this world? My first thought given the small number of individuals who can use it efficiently is that the primary effect will be on spec-ops units (because of the fact that sorcerers are very rare, and wizards aren't useful for much in direct combat because of how long it takes to cast their magic), but I can't shake the feeling that I'm missing something.

  • $\begingroup$ You already have magic in your story. A wise man once said Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. You are describing a world with faster than light travel, inertial dampening, and time travel. These are magic in everything but name. Having the ability to teleport be a "magic" not a "technology" doesn't mechanically change your world, just how you describe it. $\endgroup$ – sphennings Aug 21 '17 at 17:16
  • $\begingroup$ My point was more that there is no technology prior to this introduction of magic that allows it. Also, the usual distinction (in almost every story I've seen) between high technology and magic is that high technology can be explained scientifically (at least, in the context of the world), while magic can't. The semantics of the other items you quoted are even debatable in the real world (if a wormhole can connect distinct points in time, then time travel is possible, but not necessarily magic under the above definition). $\endgroup$ – Austin Hemmelgarn Aug 21 '17 at 17:20
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    $\begingroup$ Could you please explain what "illegal" means in the context of war? Is there some sort of referee enforcing the rules? Because in the real world what's legal and illegal in war is defined after the war by the victors depending on whom they want to hang. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Aug 21 '17 at 17:27
  • $\begingroup$ There was a time when predicting an eclipse was considered magic. Now we know it's just applied math. From the point of a modern audience the technology level of your society is indistinguishable from magic already. If your question is How would the discovery of magic affect the military? it might be a good idea to highlight that in your post. $\endgroup$ – sphennings Aug 21 '17 at 17:28
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP War is regulated, heavily, in much the same way as it is in David Brin's Uplift trilogies. Most of the laws regarding weapons concern R&D more than anything else, but the there are still heavy sanctions levied against species that deploy such weapons, irrespective of the R&D laws. $\endgroup$ – Austin Hemmelgarn Aug 21 '17 at 17:30

It's weird to talk about warfare in a situation where superweapons exist. In the present day we have nuclear weapons, and what that means is that we basically we can't go to war. (Because, obviously, if we tried to have a war we would all die.) Your scenario has much more advanced technology, including suitcase-battery bombs, antimatter, and relativistic-asteroid attacks. If a "real" war has broken out, then the planet is wrecked and the survivors all live on spaceships and mobile space stations.

Any serious combat between space vessels is going to involve high-energy weapons firing very fast from extreme range, and it seems unlikely that magic will be able to change the dynamic much.

If the people of your universe have managed to avoid destroying their planet, then magic is unlikely to change the can't-use-real-force detente that everyone has to stick to to avoid the apocalypse. Basically magic seems pretty irrelevant in terms of winning battles.

To find the way(s) that magic can change civilization, you're going to need to identify the things that magic can do better than science. Right now there doesn't seem to be anything that magic can do better than science, so it's not surprising that magic isn't changing anything.

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  • $\begingroup$ That also assumes one of two things: 1. That it's practical to accelerate a giant rock to hyper-relativistic speeds (while technically possible, this would be potentially a multi-year undertaking that you would have to keep secret, and FTL travel is traceable). 2. That you're coming from essentially in-system already (in which case you wouldn't be able hide your operation from a practical perspective). Excellent point about ship to ship combat though. $\endgroup$ – Austin Hemmelgarn Aug 21 '17 at 18:26
  • $\begingroup$ I've edited a bit. $\endgroup$ – Dan B Aug 21 '17 at 19:00
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    $\begingroup$ I'd argue that "can't go to war' and "can't bring full force to bear on an opponent' aren't exactly the same thing. Most of the countries in the real world are engaged in near constant cyber warfare, so war is still possible, it's just not practical via what people conventionally think of as weapons. $\endgroup$ – Austin Hemmelgarn Aug 21 '17 at 19:18

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