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Old 11-01-2014, 11:06 AM   #1
Arith Winterfell
 
Join Date: May 2014
Location: Indiana, United States
Default Social Conflicts in a Mage Heavy Society

I'm working on a fantasy setting, but I've found myself hitting a bit of creative snag. I've noticed settings like Transhuman Space make use of a lot of social and ideological conflicts in order to set the stage for adventures. I'm looking to do something similar in terms of creating social and ideological conflicts for a fantasy setting (not necessarily using Transhuman Space themes).

The main society of the setting called the Asarlay, is a culture dedicated to education and wizardry. In this setting I've split Magery into Mage Sense which represents Magery 0 and further represent being born with the innate ability to sense magical energies. Hence there is an element of being born into having the ability to become a mage and not just anyone can learn and cast magic. Magery 1+ are replaced with Magecraft 1 or more representing mage training and general learning about the nuances of magical studies. For reference we are using the basic setting spell system. Overall the government of the society is a council of mages who function essentially as an enlightened oligarchy ruling over the city-state.

Now my problem is figuring out / coming up with ideas for social and ideological conflict that is going on in Asarlay society. I'm currently drawing a blank and could use suggestions and ideas.
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Old 11-01-2014, 11:32 AM   #2
Nereidalbel
 
Join Date: May 2013
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Default Re: Social Conflicts in a Mage Heavy Society

Magical ethics are always a thing. After all, what ARE the ethics of zombie slaves working the mines, instead of risking human life?
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Old 11-01-2014, 11:41 AM   #3
johndallman
 
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Default Re: Social Conflicts in a Mage Heavy Society

Firstly, the powerful magicians may well form factions that quarrel amongst themselves. Those may well take sides in other social conflicts.

Next, you have the classic social conflicts: rich vs. poor, church schisms, a neighbouring state that wants to expand its influence, and so on.

That enlightened oligarchy of mages will inevitably have to take some decisions that disadvantage somebody. So they'll have a motive to change things, and may well try to recruit members of the council to their cause.

Finally, there seems to be a potential conflict between the magically talented and everyone else. If the talented are seen as getting benefits, some people will consider that unfair. “No matter how subtle the wizard, a knife between the shoulder blades will seriously cramp his style.”
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Old 11-01-2014, 12:02 PM   #4
whswhs
 
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Default Re: Social Conflicts in a Mage Heavy Society

There is some discussion of this in GURPS Fantasy, and rather more in GURPS Thaumatology: Urban Magics. In the latter, Chapter 1 discusses different organizational styles for mages, from traditional mages' guilds to factories and think tanks, and Chapter 7 lays out eight campaign modes suited to a high-magic city—everything from superheroes to police procedural to urban sophisticates using magic to buff their lifestyles.

Bill Stoddard
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Old 11-01-2014, 07:30 PM   #5
The Colonel
 
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Default Re: Social Conflicts in a Mage Heavy Society

As per GURPS Magic - "everyone messes with the weather, but no-one ever talks about it": being able to meddle with reality creates whole new dimensions of "division of the commons" issues.
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Old 11-01-2014, 09:14 PM   #6
Peter Knutsen
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Default Re: Social Conflicts in a Mage Heavy Society

Quote:
Originally Posted by johndallman View Post
Finally, there seems to be a potential conflict between the magically talented and everyone else. If the talented are seen as getting benefits, some people will consider that unfair. “No matter how subtle the wizard, a knife between the shoulder blades will seriously cramp his style.”
One thing that I'll be going into in rather a lot of detail, but which I haven't started on yet, in the Magocracy of Bretagne in my Ärth historical fantay setting, is the question of inborn magic potential and how/whether it is discovered. Obviously, as anything else that is genetic, it tends to run in families, but sometimes it's not there when one would expect it, and at other times it appears where it isn't expected.
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Old 11-01-2014, 11:41 PM   #7
Culture20
 
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Default Re: Social Conflicts in a Mage Heavy Society

The Principalities of Glantri and the Empire of Alphatia from the Mystara setting of "That other game" might offer some insight into how common use of magic might create rigid class divisions. Likewise with Moonshade from Ultima 7 part 2 (Serpent Isle).
Fire Sea, from the Death Gate series of novels, discusses Nereidalbel's ethical quandary throughout the book.
The social and ideological conflicts could also be totally orthogonal to magic. An example from Gulliver's Travels: The dominant religion states a hard boiled egg should always be broken on the convenient end. Which end is convenient?
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Old 11-02-2014, 09:20 PM   #8
Dangerious P. Cats
 
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Default Re: Social Conflicts in a Mage Heavy Society

It's going to depend very strongly on how magic works in your setting, but what I would suggest is that you build your magic around the conflicts where you can. Magic can be a lot of things, it could easily solve all the world's problems or it could create more of them, make sure your magic creates problems where it can. The thing to remember is that conflict need not be military. Diplomatic or internal societal political conflicts can be just as fun to role-play.

Also think about what causes conflicts in the real world and then apply those to magic. Often very different wars have common causes be they control of trade routes, conflict over resources or even religious or cultural clashes. What's more is that even though they have common causes what the war seems to be about will be very different. A large part of the American Civil War was the economic differences between the north and south, even if the stated reason for going to war was slavery. Here's a non-exhaustive list of what causes conflicts either between or within a society and how it might apply to magic:

class conflict
Does magic create distinct classes of people? Where do they fit within society? Are mages the rulers of society by virtue of their great power or are they controlled by another group? If we imagine that mages are the ruling class you could have resentment between mages and non-mages about their role within society. Imagine a world of sprawling urban slums where there are few jobs available to non-mages, or if you're less morbid a setting with a conflict similar to the first season of Legend of Korra with small scale resentment leading to an equivalent to the Equalist movement trying to undermine the influence of magic users. Alternatively you could have a setting where mages as a group are subject to tight control by either religious or state authorities who seek to ensure that the magical class does not undermine their power.

resource conflict
This can be a difficult one since magic is notorious for being able to create something out of nothing. You need to assume that magic requires some kind of fuel to work at all, so how mana works in the setting needs to be well defined. Where does mana come from? If it comes from select sites those places will be fought over. If it flows like great winds changing currents would lead to territorial disputes as peoples try to position themselves inside the mana flow. Also can mana be traded? If so you will have conflict over securing supply by low mana areas.

environmental damage
Perhaps using magic comes at a cost or has side effects. Does using powerful magics drain the land of life and cause crops to fail? Does it cause demons to bleed through from the realm of nightmares? If so think about how society might respond, does it try to deal with the symptoms or are mages themselves blamed? Also how do people react, do they try desperately to hold onto using magic as much as possible or do they try to regulate magic somehow with a cunning few trying to work around the regulations?

Hope that helps.
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