Magic and Warfare (Shadwolf)

Obviously, real life battles did not involve magic, but stop to think what would have happened if they did.  Archery replaced javelins because it was more effective.  Guns replaced arrows because they worked better.  A fireball seems a whole lot more effective to me than an arrow.  Why then would you have this older technology around when it was obsolete?  The answer to this is that mages are rare and anyone can learn to use a bow.  Unless you have some way of keeping every single player from making some kind of mage variant, however, this argument fails.  How about the ability to summon creatures behind the enemy flank?  Or the ability to feed an entire army with magically summoned food?  If magic is to be used in any sort of viable yet interesting world, it must be limited.

In personal combat, this is doubly so.  Asheron’s Call annoys a lot of people, but it is the logical progression of magic as a technology.  If chainmail is lighter and stronger than brigandine, everyone who needs armor will try to buy that.  If all armor is not as effective as a buffed robe, everybody will be a mage.  If there is any one combination that is superior, everyone will use that combination.  Add to this the idea of a world in which the most profitable job is killing things and there is an endless supply of stuff to kill (stuff that doesn’t get any smarter), then this is what people will do.

8 Responses to “Magic and Warfare (Shadwolf)”
  1. Just out of curiosity, have you ever read the works of Brandon Sanderson? He’s probably the only fantasy author I’ve encountered that really takes magic into consideration. Hell, I’m fairly sure that the first thing he writes in a new universe is the magic system, and then he builds the story around that.

  2. I don’t think I have, will check it out. The Magic Goes Away series isn’t terrible in its treatment of magic as a finite resource, although it’s only tangentially fantasy.

  3. > How about the ability to summon creatures behind the enemy flank?

    Can only be a harrying action because the summoned creatures are stupid and weak.

    > Or the ability to feed an entire army with magically summoned food?

    Bags of holding. So no, not interesting.

    > A fireball seems a whole lot more effective to me than an arrow. Why then would you have this older technology around when it was obsolete?

    1) because fireballs travel more slowly?
    2) because a wizard can cast much fewer fireballs than an archer can shoot arrows?
    3) because fireballs only SEEM a whole lot more effective to YOU and really AREN’T.

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with magic as a technology. Asheron’s Call doesn’t invalidate the concept anymore than its hyperinflation invalidates the concept of having an economy. Oh and you are a fucking idiot for thinking it does.

  4. Wow! I don’t even know where to begin.

    I guess I’ll start with “There is absolutely nothing wrong with magic as a technology. ”

    Yes, there is. King ARthur held the mighty Excalibur in his hand, a sword of divine creation that held untold powers and identified him as the the one true king. That makes for an interesting and, dare I say it, “Magical” element to a story. King Arthur held in his hand a +4 Vorpal sword which he had just purchased from Kmart for half off. Maybe, if this next raid went well, he could afford to go down to Nordstrom’s and buy one of the new laser guided “This is the new l3wt of the month” sword. This is somewhat more crass and un-magical.

    On to the rest of your points. There is no need for me to number and address them one at a time (except for #3, which I will get to). They all get the same answer – yes, if you tone them down, they become more balanced. That just brings them to alternate explanations for shit you are doing anyway. “Ooh look, you can only throw flasks of burning oil, while I can shoot fireballs that do exactly the same thing.” Let me pause here and answer your counterpoint before you make it: When you proceed to show how the fireball could somehow be different from the flask of oil, you are not addressing the point. The point is that non magical powers give you a variety of straightforward attacks that have varying stats in terms of Speed, targets affected, Range, Damage, etc. If Magic is different only in that those stats are different, why bother? Why can’t magic do something else other that simulate nonmagical attacks (same arguement for healing, travel and training).

    On to point number 3. I apologise if I overestimated the power of a giant burst of flame. I was only making a broad assumption based on the fact that area of effect flame weapons have been one of the primary points of research of every army in history and that every flame weapon ever invented, from Greek fire to the Garandes and burning hoops used by the Turks to Flamethrowers and incendiary bombs (to name a few) has proven to be a devestatingly effective weapon and become feared by all who face them. But, now that you mention it, I am certain that a giant ball of magically summoned fire would be now more effective than an arrow which hits only one target and is rarely fatal. (Go ahead, start a thread about Agincourt and how the longbow is the greatest weapon ever invented, I dare ya!)

    Finally, I have to speak to your closing statement.
    “Asheron’s Call doesn’t invalidate the concept anymore than its hyperinflation invalidates the concept of having an economy.”

    WTF??? Asheron’s call doesn’t invalidate anything. I never said it invalidates anything. There is a fundamental problem with peoples thinking. You like the current system of magic – fine. I said there is a problem with it. Alarm bells went off – I just insulted your favorite thing and you must rush forth to do battle with the Heretic. So you, with your obviously limited reading ability, saw my comment about Asheron’s call and assumed it was somehow the key to my whole arguement. To review the point more carefully:

    “Asheron’s Call annoys a lot of people, but it is the logical progression of magic as a technology.”

    I pointed out that there was a problem with magic as technology. I further went on to say that Asheron’s call is not an example of them implementing that system of magic badly, but rather the natural result of that system. It’s like this: dogshit doesn’t invalidate pet ownership, but if you have a pet, you are going to clean up shit. Similarly Asheron’s call doesn’t invalidate Magic as a technology, but every game that treats magic as technology is going to suffer from the same problems that AC does.

    What is that problem? You have a choice of two weapons. They both do the same thing, but one is faster, has a longer range, does more damage and is harder to resist. Which one do you use? Obviously the better one. In this regard, non magical attacks suffer the same problem. Ultimately there is one item/spell/power that is better than all the others and everybody ends up using that same thing. (i.e. Mattekar Robes becoming the only armor) If you develop items/spells/power that have different functions you can avoid this issue because each one has a different role and yet is equally usefull.

    Or, if you you prefer, “you are a fucking idiot for disagreeing with me.” Nothing more annoying than an illiterate fanboy.

  5. P.S. someone should write a concerto about dogs shitting.

  6. There is absolutely nothing wrong with magic as a technology.

    He never said there was a problem, just that if it is easier to use fireballs than arrows, people will be using those. Most fantasy settings try to have it both ways, with the medievalesque weapons and magical artillery, even when it doesn’t make sense.

  7. @Shad

    Despite the crass approach of Mr. Kulisz, he does provide a good point beneath the surface of his post. It’s up to the developer to ensure plausibility where necessary, regardless of the setting.

    Written by Dr.Shad:
    “What is that problem? You have a choice of two weapons. They both do the same thing, but one is faster, has a longer range, does more damage and is harder to resist. Which one do you use? Obviously the better one.”

    Well, who’s to say one MUST be faster, farther reaching, and harder hitting then the other? Anyone with any common sense and knowledge of game imbalances would see that this idea is counter-intuitive to balance. Yes, if something is better in every respect, it will take over. It’s the job of the developers to balance all aspects into a worthwhile format. Just because most developers neglect many issues of balance, doesn’t mean all will, nor that it’s unavoidable. This entire site is riddled with the rantings that are based on a broad assumption that mechanics that have been botched by developers always WILL be botched, and all attempts to attach them to a real-game scenario almost ALWAYS point to Asheron’s Call.

    It seems that in some areas, both Mu and Shad seem to feel that their idea is “how it should be”, close-minded. No intention to see outside the box, that some ideas must be avoided simply for the sake of prudent marketing to ensure the game is hitting a successful market and maintaining it’s customer base over time. As a direct result, many things AREN’T limited to prevent the feeling of favoritism. Many things ARE black boxed to simplify them, even if they lie outside the scope of reality. There is nothing wrong with this. The ultimate problem of almost every thing these rants complain about is either poor action/direction or even inaction on part of the developers. I hate pointing to WoW, but it is STILL one of the most successful to date simply because developers continue to attempt efforts to rebalance aspects of the game, beyond just content-expansions. Despite some bad decisions, Blizzard still moves foward. (And no, I don’t play WoW anymore. I have my own pet peeves with it’s mechanics which I loath.)

  8. Let’s take a stab at what happens if:

    1) Mages can summon creatures at flanks of armies
    2) Mages can feed armies
    3) Mages can cast fireballs

    What happens if mages can summon creatures around the flanks of armies?

    Can those creatures be slaughtered for food? If yes, see the next question first.

    The premier military tactic for much of antiquity was the phalanx. In some form polearms survived up until Napoleonic times although their military usefulness waned after gunpowder became more common. A polearm is a strange weapon in that a lone footman is almost useless. But mass a lot of men shoulder to shoulder, close enough that their shields cover each other and suddenly you have a nigh-unpenetrable wall. Historically there were two common ways to defeat a phalanx. Disrupt it via a shield push, break the wall, and phalanx becomes once again a collection of individual men. Or if you had well trained fast troops you could circle it and attack from the flanks or rear. Even a small attack ripples through the entire formation as individuals in the phalanx cannot see beyond a few men in their front. Maneuver to turn the entire formation around was virtually impossible, never mind parts of it. And in any case as a part of the formation is weakened it becomes susceptible to shield pushing.

    A typical phalanx was eight men deep. Even weak creatures can force the last two or three men to turn around and not lend their mass to the push. Once they don’t the front line breaks, phalanx is breached and shields are no longer overlapping. This leads to defeat. What does this mean culturally? That

    - the typical image of hero is no longer a spearman. Valkyries no longer carry a spear, they are wizards who summon monkeys.
    - all military formations must out of necessity resemble legions or Gallic loosely organized but dynamic groups. In societies which require strict chain of command (f. ex. ones which grow rice!) this becomes a paradox that is likely to result in coups, societal upheavals and collapse of social order.
    - no one in their right mind buys or manufactures spears. People use individual weapons in close combat. Only group weapons that are commonly seen are ranged weapons with emphasis on weapons that allows the user to switch quickly to a melee weapon and shield (ie. javelins, pistols).
    - military is even more concentrated in the hands of powerful, wealthy individuals who can afford to hire wizards and equip their fighters with the best stuff available.

    The resulting “most common” civilized society around the world resembles Sparta. A powerful military upper class which exists for war only, with great slave class that is regularly culled. The society is constantly at war with itself and with others, war being a way of life and necessity to survival.

    What happens if this sort of society can feed its armies reliably?

    Historically castles were well-protected supply dumps for armies. They are centers of power for this exact reason. A chain of forts which can house warriors force the invader to besiege or conquer them or risk getting cut off from their homeland once the army must turn home. There are no supply lines in this age so much as supply trains which travel with the army. Forage is an important means of feeding the army. Once fall arrives men want to go home to their crops lest they starve during the coming winter.

    If wizards can reliably create food out of thin air the entire problem of supply becomes moot. It is likely a better idea to never let the wizards leave castles. Let them create food for the families of warriors, allowing them to spend long periods of time knowing full well their beloved are well taken care of. This also means you never have to risk your most valuable assets. Wizards are also immune to raiding if they never leave the castle; fields can be burned by raiders, granaries sacked by soldiers foraging, but killing a wizard requires an entire military campaign.

    And if the king decides to bring a wizard with him, he becomes their most valuable asset. Risking a man like that on the battlefield is completely out of the question. Instead he will be with the supply train, always guarded by elite soldiers, constantly filling the wagons with mead and mutton.

    Suddenly the castle becomes a much less attractive proposition. What good is a great defensive position if the enemy can simply bypass it with no threat to himself? After all, with unlimited food supplies both on the campaign and at home the army can spend the winter on the move. As coordination between the armies is still difficult, castles also have the downside of splitting up your defensive forces. Much better to concentrate troops into one big army and defeat the enemy in one blow. The only castles are those that are required to protect the mages.

    What does this mean?

    - castles as we know them cease to exist. Forts are built to protect important people in times of crisis which makes complex tunnel systems much more attractive. Evasion and stealth become more valuable than defensive value.
    - large parts of the society suddenly become jobless. Why bother building expensive irrigation? Why bother with a peasant class in the first place? Either the result resembles Rome (if citizens are fed) or becomes a hotbed of warring (if not).
    - wizards are extremely valued assets, jealously guarded. While they are well cared for, they are virtual slaves with no say in their own life. Their place in society resembles that of princesses quite accurately: valued and well protected but only for their value in furthering the aim of the ruler.
    - military becomes strategically massively more mobile. Having access to horses (assuming the wizard can feed them, too) is the premium way of waging war. This once again drives the pressure of building armies consisting almost completely out of elite forces with best equipment, unless…
    - .. the jobless people are drafted into an army. A society which is all teeth and no tail has never existed, due to being an impossibility in the real world.
    - since there is no value in farming, societies which settle down may never exist in the first place. Civilization may consist of caravans eternally roaming around, trading and fighting whenever they meet other wanderers.

    What happens if mages can throw fireballs?

    Depending on the details, it may once again be more valuable to keep the wizard involved in civic works. Can the mage power a steam engine by himself? Can his fire replace a waterwheel? If it can, this may drive a society to industrial age much before it historically would become possible. Does the fire burn hot enough to forge advanced metals? Once again the wizard becomes state property. Historically the mass production of arms and armor has been jealously guarded by monarchs. Smuggling has carried high penalties, up to death if merchants attempt to sell armor to anyone except the ruler of the land. Risking such an asset on the battlefield seems foolhardy; peasants cost virtually nothing, send them instead. Can fire be used to burn-clear forests away more efficiently? Kingdoms become vastly larger and wealthier as arable land is easy to create virtually anywhere.

    But let’s say a wizard who can cast fireballs enters the battlefield.

    Most people and animals have an innate fear of fire. Being burned creates a panic reaction which can be impossible to overcome. A lone fireball can disrupt mass formations, giving significant advantage to one side. Fireballs are even more powerful way of disrupting a phalanx, leading to even more pronounced effects discussed earlier. Cavalry becomes unviable; horses are social animals who react to their herdmates becoming panicked. If fireballs are powerful enough to replace siege weapons, castles may suffer the same fate as they did when cannon became commonplace.

    What does this mean?

    - militarily wars are rarely fought between large groups of people. Guerrilla tactics, ritualized warfare and duels of champions become commonplace. An age of heroes to an extent; on the other hand, subferfuge, sabotage and underhanded play are how large-scale conflict is resolved.
    - societies may rapidly become significantly more advanced. The advances in metallurgy alone usher a new age. Who bothers with triremes if you can build the Yamato?
    - the value of non-food animals drops consequently. Horses especially disappear, replaced largely by oxen and mules.
    - the entire society puts a significant weight on fire and fighting it. Fire myths are commonplace, temples and shrines to the gods of fire litter the landscape. Every town has a well trained and equipped fire brigade. Cityscapes look completely different, as buildings are built longer away from each other. All large cities exist near large bodies of water with additional projects guaranteeing the availability of free-running water everywhere around the city. All other attempts to build a city have been burnt to the ground by invaders.
    - the wizard is a respected tradesman in society (comparable to a smith or siege engineer). As such, wizards who can work as engineers on the side are especially valued. All rulers vie for the best ones, rewarding them well.

    What happens if wizards can do all of these things at the same time?

    In a world where significantly fewer physical limits exist, wizards would be the most valuable asset bar none.

    If they were rare, wars would be waged over control and access to these people. Existing wizards would be prisoners in golden cages, with great influence but no freedom to decide on their own fate.

    If they were common enough, the world at large would be completely unrecognizable. Wars might not exist at all; risks would be too great for any ruler compared to simply growing your own economy at astronomical speeds. It’s hard to imagine what a “hero” would look like in this sort of society. A wandering adventurer might exist because why not? There’s no real risk of starvation (people would freely offer you food wherever you go), there’s no real need to work (due to overabundance of food). Priests, spiritual leaders and other such unproductive positions would become common. Certain aspects of ancient Egypt would show up, especially the questions of life and death in a wealthy and lazy society.

    Personally I’ve always thought the most interesting question is what happens if wizards can control very minute amounts of elements (fire, cold, electricity) rather than relatively large amounts. Would we get a fantasy world with techno-wizards who wield unlimited control over their zero Kelvin cooled quantum AIs? And how does this fit into the typical mishmash of medieval fantasy society MMORPG?

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