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A world without bows and arrows

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Boiled Water, Nov 10, 2015.

  1. Boiled Water

    Boiled Water Dreamer

    Hey my first post!

    I'm dealing with a fantasy world with roman era-level technology, where the use of ranged weapons is extremely limited. Bows and catapults have never been invented. Throwing spears and the use of ranged magic attacks are rare but optional. How do you think defense structures would be designed? If you were a ruler, how would you defend your city using only physical barriers and infantry? I'd love to hear any ideas!
  2. X Equestris

    X Equestris Maester

    So why, exactly, have bows never been invented? After all, they're fairly basic weapons, and they've existed in our world since the Stone Age.

    I'm also not clear why throwing spears (another common and old weapon type) are rare. Are slings rare as well?

    As for defence, that's a relatively simple matter. Building a wall would be sufficient, especially without ranged siege engines to bombard the walls with. Sorties to destroy rams, siege towers, or blockades would be an important facet of siege warfare, since you can't attack them from your walls in this scenario. Still, I find the idea that ranged weapons would be rare kind of implausible.
  3. Boiled Water

    Boiled Water Dreamer

    There is lore explaining the absence of ranged weapons in early human development and why it is frowned upon in this society. I just didn't want to go too deep into explanation. I have heard that some early central american civilizations built corridors to encourage and control close-range combat. I'm not overly concerned with how realistic it is but I would love to hear some creative ideas on potential strategies such as this.
  4. X Equestris

    X Equestris Maester

    A stigma, then? That's more plausible.
  5. Boiled Water

    Boiled Water Dreamer

    The stigma is what prevented the invention of complex ranged weapons such as bows or slings. I can't decide how I want to handle thrown objects.
  6. Zadocfish

    Zadocfish Troubadour

    How would I defend against a primarily-melee army in a world without bows? That's easy! I would invent bows and use them. I would likely go on to be king of the world. The bow is about as basic to humanity as, say, the fire-hardened pot. They were both, by some accounts, invented around 30,000 BCE, or the Upper Paleolithic. The oft-used modern-ish design for the bow is about 10,000 years old. Bows have pretty much MADE military preparation for... ever. They had an impact on the design for armor, shields, and all sorts of things, really.

    I spent so long researching bows for this post that someone made the point before me, killing most of my post in the process...

    But yeah, if it were only a stigma, no. Someone would be eeeeeeeevil enough to rise above the stigma and use the banned weapons anyways, because bows are popular for the simple reason that they are really, really good at killing stuff. Evil people like killing stuff.
    Last edited: Nov 11, 2015
  7. evolution_rex

    evolution_rex Inkling

    Without long range weapons existing, I imagine war would be much more ceremonial. Perhaps conflicts are solved by getting on warrior on each side and then seeing who wins rather than a whole war. Or a group of them.
  8. psychotick

    psychotick Auror


    Like the others I find the idea implausible. No slings even? What about spear throwers?

    Having said that it just means that defensive structures don't have to counter arrows and bolts etc. The most formidable attack a castle wall would face would be a battering ram or trenching. Infantry armour could be much heavier since people don't have to move so quickly to avoid being mown down by a hail of arrows as they cross the field of battle.

    Cheers, Greg.
  9. MineOwnKing

    MineOwnKing Maester

    Water barriers would be the most practical.

    Heights,-- many old castles were built high up on hills.

    Resources,--store enough grain, etc, to outlast an invading hoard.

    Hot oil.


  10. Russ

    Russ Istar

    Build some walls and go to sleep behind them. Sieges would be super boring without missile weapons.

    No reason to think infantry would be any different than say hoplites or pikemen or whatever.

    And why would I only defend my city with infantry? Is cavalry a taboo as well?
  11. DMThaane

    DMThaane Sage

    Unless the God of Melee Combat was personally smiting everyone that picked up a bow it would seem pretty hard to keep cultures from adopting ranged weapons in order to kill each other slightly more effectively. Even the Romans, the definitive heavy infantry army (take that Spartan hoplites) used slingers, archers, an impressive range of artillery pieces, not the mention equipping most soldiers (depending on the period) with pila. And even the Spartan's used skirmishers.

    As for defence, well, a big wall would be useful although the Spartan's mostly got by without one. Water barriers would be less useful as they could be filled in or pontooned, especially without ranged weapons to harass an attacking force. I'd defended my city by subduing surrounding territories and establishing a series of border forts, primarily based on the roman model. In war my camps would be fortified with trenches and spike pits. The idea would be to exhaust the enemy at every step of the way, falling back on Fabian strategy if my border forts were compromised. I'd also tell all my soldiers that javelins are technically not ranged weapons but melee weapons that are perfectly fine to throw. After all, throwing you sword doesn't make it a ranged weapon. Eventually I'd conquer the Mediterranean (or excavate a Mediterranean and then conquer it) and start wearing lots of purple.
    mecg_romancer likes this.
  12. Creed

    Creed Sage

    The role of honour in one of my cultures, the Faddrin, has prevented any widespread use of bows and has in a way formalized and ceremonialized warfare like evolution_rex suggested (outside of the civil war, in which peasants killed aristocrats any which way they wanted, but the monarch supported them).

    The pre-civil war Faddrin often used a style of combat where the elite rushed in the vanguard on horseback or chariots, jumped out, and essentially duelled the enemy elite one at a time. Javelins were the only acceptable ranged weapon. Obviously this was a cultural understanding, so the Faddrin didn't do this with other nations.

    They had no restrictions on catapults, though.
    Boiled Water likes this.
  13. Tom

    Tom Istar

    Sorry, but this is not going to work. Gotta be a pretty backwards world, as the bow was one of the first ranged weapons to appear, along with spears and slings. It's also one of the most primitive. It's been around since the dawn of ancient civilization, and almost all cultures of the world have created some variation of it.

    I have a hard time believing that a culture that hasn't even invented the bow could possibly be as technologically advanced as the Romans. Archers were an indispensable component of the Roman army, providing their foot soldiers with ranged cover. Plus, most hunting at that period was with bow and arrow. Slings were too limited in range and could only take down smaller animals such as rabbits, etc, while throwing spears were nearly obsolete, being far too unwieldy and inaccurate.
  14. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

    To try to salvage this, what if the society's primary threat comes from monsters that are heavily armored/scaled? If you want to push swords as a popular weapon, monster hide could be difficult to pierce but easier to cut. Otherwise, weaponry might focus on alternative tactics according to whatever actually hurts monsters. (Though if they bruise at all, slings might still catch on.)
  15. Zadocfish

    Zadocfish Troubadour

    Flaming arrows would still be effective against armored monsters, though. And ranged weapons would allow you to attempt combat with the monster from a long distance. Also, stuff like catapults would be of incredible use against such a critter.
  16. Oomatu

    Oomatu Closed Account

    One word:
  17. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

    Sling and bows are complex? How about the atlatl? There really just isn't a way to get rid of them, except to say a suitable material simply does not exist, and what kind of world would that be? A desert? And that couldn't eliminate the sling. Even the basic crossbow is so simple it's ridiculous. Some later crossbow tech could be considered "complex" as well as compound bows.

    Basic defenses would be mostly the same. One could argue some changes, for varying reasons... would the walls be as high? as thick? no crenelations on the walls from a design stand point?

    A culture with a ranged weapon stigma probably wouldn't last long, LOL.
  18. Zadocfish

    Zadocfish Troubadour

    Exactly. A culture without the stigma would be objectively superior in military force than one with it...
  19. vaiyt

    vaiyt Scribe

    That gave me a mental image of someone bringing a ballista to a duel...
  20. arboriad

    arboriad Scribe

    If nothing is thrown in this world, not even rocks, then I don't think much else changes. If your world is a Roman-era, that was the height of military and technical development in its day - we are still learning the genius of crowd control tactics as developed by Roman legions, and their incredible ability to build nigh on a hundred-mile aqueducts underground.

    Sieges and attacks would warrant all the same defences - walls, ladders, group shields. Perhaps similar to the Maya, or Iroquois (my knowledge is limited!) where scalps or heads were a premium, then facing down the enemy and bringing back the most number of personal kills contributes to social honor.

    I have a novel where mice are unable to use bows, and so the world is similar to what you're describing - but that's because mice are myopic. Those who can see great distances are - as Zadocfish pointed out - capable of ruling the world.

    If your world has this limitation on it, then I can see three options for its reason, and they provide interesting fodder for story creation:

    1) it is divinely mandated. The gods forbade that man should throw anything, perhaps because it is a simple action reserved to divinity alone - the ability to effect things distanced from one's self. Those who are Throwers are pretenders to divinity, or rebels, and social outcasts. If it is logically possible to throw things, but legally and religiously mandated against, then legions would still be armored against arrows in the event that their enemies don't attend the same temple.

    2) There is a physical condition that restricts man's ability to throw anything. Perhaps some curse has befallen the peoples, crippling their hands, or a muscle, or the ability to throw anything over a couple of feet. Again, anyone exempt from the curse, or perhaps using magic to overcome it, has the potential to shake the world. Perhaps the curse was enacted because some men attacked the person of a god, or defiled a temple. If that's the case, I still can't imagine anything that would stop them from creating catapults - short of a moral restriction.

    3) the world makes it impossible to throw things. Perhaps they are underground, or have great forests, or crumbling Greek mountains with limited area, or they are myopic.

    As others have mentioned, this is a tough one to rationalize, but if you can figure out the why, I think that some immediate tensions become apparent, and the ability to create characters living in the different modes of life to explore how these limitations affect them and their goal.

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