Making guns palatable in high fantasy [Design Theory]

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Still, what likely irks several people is that in the time period which is considered the basis for high fantasy, guns already existed.

Yeah, but you don't see King Arthur or Robin Hood depicted using them, do you?

steeldragons said:
And all I can think of, here, is...well...Why?

That's easy. You like guns in you're game, but have a buddy who doesn't.
 

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Ebonyr

First Post
Umbran has a good point.

IMC there is a group of orcs that have worked out how to turn sunlight first into a volatile liquid and then to refine it into "sunpowder". They have built muskets, pistols and cannons, all of which have a heavy fantasy feel, are tied to the campaign lore (the orcs learned the trick by converting to the worship of the sun-god Galador, which they did in order to get accepted as a civilized people so that they can get entry into the Free Trade Alliance, etc etc) and don't run into "real guns would x" problems because they are explicitly not based on our physics.

Great background info. Good job! ;)
 

Janx

Hero
Umbran has a good point.

IMC there is a group of orcs that have worked out how to turn sunlight first into a volatile liquid and then to refine it into "sunpowder". They have built muskets, pistols and cannons, all of which have a heavy fantasy feel, are tied to the campaign lore (the orcs learned the trick by converting to the worship of the sun-god Galador, which they did in order to get accepted as a civilized people so that they can get entry into the Free Trade Alliance, etc etc) and don't run into "real guns would x" problems because they are explicitly not based on our physics.

THere' be a good point there. In a world where magic works, comparing it our world where magic doesn't, why would you assume that physics, biology and chemistry work the same.

If we assume chemistry, biology and physics work along medieval theories, then you can justify any kind of rules. Including ones that aren't unbalancing, yet add flavor.
 


They're trained to shoot at the center mass. Easier target. If you don't want to kill someone, use a taser.

A leg or arm has lots of nerves and, more importantly for killing purposes, blood vessels. A limb is heavy, has a lot of active muscle, and that needs food and oxygen, carried by lots of blood, which of course means there's a lot to lose. Even worse is a shoulder shot; all those blood vessels and nerves passing through a small, fragile and complicated joint. Even if the victim lives, that arm might never work again.

(Related note: chopping someone's arm or smashing their shoulder with an axe would have a similar effect.)
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
Then again, they might be aiming at limbs instead of out right shooting to kill.

I may be mistaken about this, but it was my understanding that they're trained to aim for the body. In all fairness, given that their lives are likely in danger when they draw their firearm, it makes sense that they'd aim at the largest target (the torso).


I understand that some people have a disconnect when it comes to guns and hp. I admit I've never quite understood it myself. In my opinion, in the unlikely scenario that you found someone who could survive a dozen well aimed thrusts of a spear, that person should also be capable of surviving twelve well aimed shots from a gun. I've never found the idea of hp as actual damage (aside from bumps and scratches) to be very convincing. I grasp that there are folks who prefer it that way, but I find that that kind of narration jars me from immersion.

I don't have an issue with guns in my games. I don't include them in every campaign, but I like to do so now and again. I've never been shy about mixing themes in my games, and while I've used muskets once or twice, I prefer revolvers.

While it may not fit a high fantasy game in a real world chronological sense, I've always liked the thematic similarities between the western gunman and the knight errant. Then again, I grew up playing and loving Final Fantasy (a series that has rarely been shy about genre amalgamation), so that probably influenced my views on the matter. I realize that it isn't everyone's cup of tea.

In any case, I don't see anything wrong with having period appropriate, or fantasy guns. If your players disapprove though, I'd say the best approach would be simply to talk to them. If guns don't jive with what they like in D&D, it's unlikely that there's any mechanic that will make them feel otherwise. Discussing and addressing their issues with guns in D&D, however, just might.
 

Rechan

Adventurer
In D&D/Pathfinder...there is no need to develope guns because wizards are very good at blowing stuff up.
1) Logistics. Training someone to shoot a gun can take less time than it does to train someone to cast spells. It might be monetarily efficient, depending on available resources. Not to mention that the place that develops guns might have fewer wizards, have outlawed wizardry. Also, non-wizards might want to be bale to kill things like dragons. IT takes a HIGH level wizard to kill a dragon with a spell, but a canon ball would probably put a serious dent in a dragon. And anyone can light a fuse and detonate a bomb, but it takes individuals trained in Use Magic Device to use any sort of explosive magical item.

2) The world changed due to guns. Castles, for instance, changed when cannons could blast down their walls, etc. But the same would hold true for magic. Take for instance ye olde Castle with a walled courtyard. If a wizard can just cast a fly spell, if someone can get an item of flying, or any number of winged monsters could just drop down into the courtyard. THerefore, the nature of castles would have to change. They haven't, in response to wizardry. In fact most genre conventions are stuck in the medieval period, not responding to the advances of magic and monsters that would have changed those things. So, why would guns?

But hell, the invention of the Longbow was the trump card vs. full-plated knights, and changed the face of warfare. Yet if we can have longbows in a game with full plated cavalry, then we can have guns in a game with armor plated dudes.

Ultimately, the problem of guns comes down to a few things.

A) Balance. Because you have to say "Well guns are damaging and powerful, how do we prevent that?" "Well we can make them super powerful but we limit the loading time/cost per shot" "Or we could make them weak so that they are balanced with other weapons." "Damnit"

B) "Get your x out of my fantasy" Guns are like Psionics or Monks. Some people really like them. Other people just do not consider them fantasy at all. No amount of argument will win because it's a matter of feeling, not thinking. The only two choices is "grin and bare it because you friend likes it" or "Ban it from the game".

My solution?

Try to make guns feel fantasy-like. Instead of trying to say, create a powder that explodes shooting a metal ball down a tube, what about something that throws an alchemical grenade? Or something that sprays greek fire (like a flame thrower)? Exalted's Fire Wands shoot actual jets of flame, as opposed to lead balls. A javelin-launching potato gun should be easy to rig with lamp oil and a pipe.

And if you just want the feel of two-fisted pistol shooting, there are magical properties for ranged weapons that give them infinite ammo - so something that can just be held in the hand and launch projectiles without reloading could do the job.
 
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cignus_pfaccari

First Post
My solution?

Make guns fantasy-like. Instead of trying to say, create a powder that explodes shooting a metal ball down a tube, what about something that throws an alchemical grenade? Or something that sprays greek fire (like a flame thrower)? Exalted's Fire Wands shoot actual jets of flame, as opposed to lead balls. A javelin-launching potato gun should be easy to rig with lamp oil and a pipe.

Exactly!

It's not like most of us are doing a hard socioeconomic simulation, so there's no reason to bog ourselves down with realism that gets in the way of having fun. Especially when you're not applying that same level of realism rigorously to everything else that's unrealistic, like magic, or dragons, or undead.

Were I running a D&D game, my preferred "gun" would be roughly equal, mechanically, to existing bow-type weapons, so as to make the choice to use a "gun" a stylistic, rather than a mechanical choice. If your idealized picture of your character shows them using a "gun," then you could use it and neither be gimped nor be overpowered. More detail would vary based on the setting, though I have to say I'm particularly inspired by one weapon from Exalted, the Prayer Piece from the Unconquered Sun's section of Glories of the Most High.

Brad
 

howandwhy99

Adventurer
Of the top of my head i think of guns and explosives as highly variable in terms of damage. Hit points are not only about health and constitution, but also knowing when and how to dodge. Those fractions of a second to get one's head down or maneuver in such a way as to take the blow with a less vital part of the body. Also knowing how to fall.

Projectiles like a crossbow bolt can kill a normal person. A firearm could do the same in terms of flintlock types, the advantage is really in the time to reload. A contemporary automatic gun fires more often, so several shots could be grouped, so damage increases incrementally (i.e. 5 shots = 5d6). A machine gun with dozens or hundreds of rounds a second isn't so much a missile weapon as artillery. now we have a conical area of effect attack that deals a per target damage by how fast it fires. Ammunition probably doesn't have much to do with any of this until we start accounting for armor. Maybe that's magic resistance? I don't know.

Costs and benefits of these really come into play when we start to account for crafting guns and ammunition. Even today it isn't cheap, and in a magical economy it may have restrictions anyways. Arrows cost coin, so would bullets. Given how hard they are to craft for precision flight and firing I would say quite a bit more coin is needed.

So guns are kind of your pricey, charge-based magic items where gunpowder is the magic powder needed. What isn't exciting about them is, unlike wands, they really only fire metal bolts and that's it.
 

TheAuldGrump

First Post
Folks are going to go down the road of plausibility, realism, details of guns and armor. To me, that's a side issue. The real issue isn't historical or mechanical accuracy.

The real issue is genre. And fictional genre generally bears only a loose affiliation with historical, economic, political, and physical reality.

Guns aren't a typical "high fantasy" trope. If you just drop them into high fantasy, you'll find disconnects arise between your mechanics and your genre crop up all over the place. So, I say, it is probably unwise to do it that way. This is the way of, "Here are the mechanics of firearms, now what are the repercussions of those mechanics?" And the reasonable repercussions of the mechanics are usually going to be deeper than you wanted when you set out.

Instead, pick a gun-laden genre, and blend that with high fantasy (say, Three Musketeers, but with magic!), and the mechanical needs of your firearms will fall out on their own. The role and impact of firearms in your world (and thus, on the characters) will be well defined from the get-go, and you can design your mechanics to match.
I think that divide between guns and high fantasy is of relatively recent origin.

Back in the day (fifties, sixties, early seventies) there were a fair number of gunpowder fantasy writers - Hodgeson, deCamp, Tolkien (yeah, that guy), Smith, several authors named White, Burroughs, Norton, Howard, Kornbluth, Wagner.... Unknown Magazine had a large number of them.

After Tolkien (yeah, that guy, again) high fantasy became sort of stuck in the high middle ages.

I always thought that early blackpowder was part of fantasy. :blush: It is why I got involved with blackpowder reenactment.

The Auld Grump - Solomon Kane was my favorite of Howard's characters, not that thief from Cimmeria.
 

TheAuldGrump

First Post
In the campaigns in which I have seen firearms work, they were still very primitive and took forever to load. This seemed to minimize the possibility of them becoming overpowering.
That is a common misconception.

Early guns were faster to reload than a heavy crossbow, and much easier to learn than a longbow. They had a short learning period and an increased rate of fire.

Accuracy... not so much. :p A gunner typically closed his eyes while firing, to protect his eyes from sparks. Short ranged and fired in volleys, against ranks and battles of massed troops. Accuracy wasn't needed.

A cranquin on an arballista is much, much slower, but the crossbow is also much more accurate than an arquebus. For hunting the crossbow won out, especially in nations where freemen were allowed to have weapons, giving rise to the Swiss as premiere crossbowmen, and the legend of William Tell.

By the eighteenth century guns had become standardized, and the RoF of a skilled gunman using a Brown Bess was up to four rounds a minute - I can manage three with that same gun. I am not that skilled, but I can fire three times in the course of an AD&D combat round.... :p (I hated one minute combat rounds. No, really.) Accuracy had also much improved. The gun had become a hunting and fowling piece, not just a tool of war.

The Auld Grump, I wish that I still had my Bess. :(
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
Though I rarely use firearms in my fantasy, these thoughts recur to me each time I think about it:

1) historically, they existed in the time period echoed in most high fantasy.

2) gunpowder & firearms make Alchemists more viable as a standalone class.

3) Musketeers, and their fantasy firearm wielding analogs, can be fun.

4) Harry Turtledove's entire Darkness series is great fantasy- if you like real magic guns, check this series out.
 
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Relique du Madde

First Post
People keep forgetting the two main problems with early black powder firearms:

1) Water ruins powder.
2) Powder explodes.

Realistically, any army facing an army with a wizard / druid / priest would be hosed since every day of battle would become a perpetual rainstorm if they are lucky, or a fiery inferno if they are not.

That is assuming wizards did not devise means of protecting the firearms through spells or incantations. Also, I would expect wizards to use guns since it could save them when they run out of spells.
 

TheAuldGrump

First Post
People keep forgetting the two main problems with early black powder firearms:

1) Water ruins powder.
2) Powder explodes.

Realistically, any army facing an army with a wizard / druid / priest would be hosed since every day of battle would become a perpetual rainstorm if they are lucky, or a fiery inferno if they are not.

That is assuming wizards did not devise means of protecting the firearms through spells or incantations. Also, I would expect wizards to use guns since it could save them when they run out of spells.
You say that powder explodes like it was a bad thing. :angel:

It also leaves out the fact that blackpowder + fog = nasty, horrible, stinking smog that burns your eyes and your lungs, and clings to your clothes through a wash cycle, so you have to do it again. :) And the smog hangs low, hugging the ground, making it hard to see more than thirty feet if you are in a valley.

I love blackpowder. :)

I would suggest the creation of the paper cartridge to hold the powder in premeasured quantities, kept in a fireproof pouch, with a flap that covers the charges. Or premeasure the powder into ceramic bottles, that can be used to speed reloading, as well as protecting the powder from both rain and premature ignition... No magic needed. Yes, these were the real world solutions - the little ceramic bottles were called apostles - a gunner typically carried twelve of them....

Of the two problems, rain is actually the more difficult to handle.

*EDIT* Dampened powder could actually be reclaimed - wetted down more thoroughly, recaked, then run through the sieve again.

The Auld Grump
 
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Plane Sailing

Astral Admin - Mwahahaha!
Seriously though, I think Umbran nailed the real issue back on page 1.

However, on a more general point, it might be instructive to investigate and compare the relative lethality of spears and bullets, for instance.
 

Hassassin

First Post
Back in the day (fifties, sixties, early seventies) there were a fair number of gunpowder fantasy writers - Hodgeson, deCamp, Tolkien (yeah, that guy), Smith, several authors named White, Burroughs, Norton, Howard, Kornbluth, Wagner.... Unknown Magazine had a large number of them.

After Tolkien (yeah, that guy, again) high fantasy became sort of stuck in the high middle ages.

Regarding fantasy fiction in a post-middle age setting, the Temeraire series has been very enjoyable so far. Partly because I have a soft spot for fantasy without magic.
 

TheAuldGrump

First Post
Regarding fantasy fiction in a post-middle age setting, the Temeraire series has been very enjoyable so far. Partly because I have a soft spot for fantasy without magic.
Good series. :)

And my first thought on seeing the author was 'Nerd girl! :D ' - a glad cry, I assure you. There were nowhere near enough nerd girls when I was growing up. :) (My brother's memory and mine differ a great deal in regards to my adolescent years - I like his memories of my teenage days better, they have more girls in them.)

The Auld Grump
 

Derren

Hero
Regarding fantasy fiction in a post-middle age setting, the Temeraire series has been very enjoyable so far. Partly because I have a soft spot for fantasy without magic.

Agree with Temeraire. Great series. But it can't really be compared to D&D much as it does not invent a world, but instead takes real world history and just adds fantasy elements to it.

And some food for thought:
The "golden age" of full plate armor: 15th-16th century
First mention of a Bombard 14th century.
 
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TheAuldGrump

First Post
Agree with Temeraire. Great series. But it can't really be compared to D&D much as it dies not invent a world, but instead takes real world history and just adds fantasy elements to it.

And some food for thought:
The "golden age" of full plate armor: 15th-16th century
First mention of a Bombard 14th century.
Dardanelles siege bombard: 15th C. Last fired in combat: 1807.... They just don't make guns like they useta....

The Auld Grump
 

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