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Consequences of rare guns in a middle ages setting

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Electric Bone Flute, Jul 16, 2021.

  1. Electric Bone Flute

    Electric Bone Flute Troubadour

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    This setting isn't post-apocalyptic, just a low middle ages fantasy. However, aliens left behind guns, and very rarely one might find them. They are very rare and expensive to obtain. They are not-really-ergonomic (they were for the original users) laser rifles that don't seem to run out of power. Its blast creates a small explosion where it lands, and fires once per three seconds. Now this is just a bit of roleplaying game mechanics, amounting to "rarely, there are guns," but I want to know what effect such a thing would have in a setting where not even trebuchets exist.

    Who would use the lasers, trusted knights skilled in aim, only nobles, maybe their bodyguards? Under what contexts would they be used, for just any battle, or only for grave use for fear of its capture? How useful would it be? Would it win battles by default, or only be as useful in effect as adding a few more soldiers?
     
  2. Stevie

    Stevie Minstrel

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    If there is only one or a few, then its not a battle winner. Its not going to cause a huge amount of casualties with a three second rate of fire, even if it does have the effect of a grenade or mortar round. Not on a battlefield of thousands. In a much smaller conflict it could be decisive though. The other reason its not going to be a battle winner relates to things like flamethrowers. They make great targets.

    Use by the royal guard makes much more sense. A weapon like this in a fantasy setting is akin to the special forces of today (SEALS, SAS etc). Very specialised use, highly effective in small combat situations but not going to turn the tide of war.
     
  3. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

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    I'd need to know a bit more about them...
    How powerful are they? How big is the small explosion? Could it knock a rider off their horse? Kill a knight in armour? Punch a hole through a wooden wall? What is their range? Does their power lessen with range? How accurate it is?
    Could you sit on a hill a mile or more off and kill someone?
    If it is long range, fatal, and accurate, I could see Sniper becoming a very valued skill.
     
  4. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

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    Not knowing the technology, this would seem not much different than magic, or a wand of fireballs. Who would use such a wand? Anyone who had it, and could. If they were known to have limited charges, then I would guess they would be used more sparingly.
     
  5. Chasejxyz

    Chasejxyz Sage

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    The reason why guns suck is because you need to do a lot of mantinence on them, and even still there can be issues with them (guns always jamming at the worst time for our hero in action movies, for example). That's why mass shooters have a dozen guns on them, they don't want to stop in case one of them suffers a mechanical failure.

    Your alien guns are probably going to be in some ruins or underground or in a cave or something. Is there really no degradation from that or from lack of maintenance? Even if that happens rarely, it's possible that one such gun had a catastrophic failure and took out the entire army of the guy who was using it...so now the people who DO have them (lords, kings, whatever) only use them as weapons of last resort, since they don't want to blow up themselves, since they don't understand why that happened or how to prevent it.
     
  6. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Sage

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    Well, the first question would be, how do you use it? Presumably there are no manuals that anyone can read, so its a question of trial and error, a process in which either the user, those around or the weapon itself (or maybe all three) might get destroyed. That process might be enough to discourage people from using them. Secondly, how do the religious authorities see these weapons? Perhaps the religious authorirites declare the weapons heretical - then, no-one will touch them with a barge pole. Thirdly, what does the King think of this? He's likely to want these weapons for himself, which means that anyone finding one and then not handing it over is likely to die an unpleasant death if they get caught.

    If the weapons are accepted enough to be used in battle, then they're likely to be regarded as magic. That might enought to scare the ordinary soldiers, but given the rate of fire there is a risk that some glory hunting knight or man at arms will be able to dive in and kill the user then capture the weapon. Unless you have a lot of these weapons and know enough to be able to use them in a coordinated manner then you'll be using them piecemeal and that makes them vulnerable to capture. Single weapons, or weapons used in an uncoordinated way, don't give you a decisive advantage on the battlefield, certainly not if you're up against a commander who can think on his feet and work out how to neutralise the weapon.
     
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  7. Almyrigan Hero

    Almyrigan Hero Scribe

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    Technological artifacts in a largely 'medieval' world are one of the main... I'd say three-ish underpinnings of what I'm writing right now, so allow me to offer some insight.

    Now, a laser - assuming we're talking a literal laser - is actually a very interesting case. A small explosion every 3 seconds isn't going to win you a war on the battlefield, but the interesting property of light is that its range and accuracy are basically unlimited. Five guys surround you, you're probably dead (especially considering the risk of self-injury from using an explosive weapon at close range,) but if you climbed on top of the highest mountain in all the land and just started shooting down at an army 300 miles away, you would absolutely devastate them. The fatigue alone (how are they supposed to camp and sleep through random unanswerable death beams?) would probably do them in, and that's assuming they don't desert before sanity fails them completely.
     
  8. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    Well, if it has a thousand meter range in a medieval setting it could sure as hell win battles, or for that matter a war… The King is dead, long lie the King! If given the ability to surgically remove commanders from the field, ugly things will follow. Not to mention assassination to end a war.

    But all and all, the effect would vary widely depending on many factors.
     
  9. Vaporo

    Vaporo Inkling

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    I would like to contest this point. What is essentially a hand grenade that could explode anywhere behind enemy lines with no warning every three seconds would be a game changer.

    First of all, OP said that these are specifically laser RIFLES, so I'm assuming that they're fairly accurate long range weapons being wielded by an expert marksman.

    Assumptions: Unlike arrows, this weapon would A: Likely penetrate and/or destroy shields and other conventional attempts to block it. B: Have practically infinite range and near-perfect accuracy. And C: Never suffer from any physical wear or damage, requiring occasional cleaning at most.

    Let's say that each explosion is large enough to disable (kill or critically injure) an average of three people per shot in an army using typical tactics and formations. That averages to losing 1 soldier every second, or 3600 soldiers every hour. In medieval terms, an army of 3600 is pretty impressive. That's one guy who can take out an entire army. In one hour. If you have such a weapon on your side, all your own soldiers have to do is hold the line while the sniper decimates the opposing forces.

    Of course, the opposing army won't just stand there and let the guy shoot them. They'll change tactics, spread their formations out to minimize the damage he can do with each shot. Their focus would shift to trying to locate and take out the sniper.

    The front lines would probably be relatively unaffected, since the sniper wouldn't want to risk hitting his own soldiers by accident. The sniper would probably focus on disrupting the back lines, taking out the fresh soldiers coming to reinforce the front lines, and applying additional pressure whenever it is needed. And that's not to mention the psychological effect that such a weapon would have on the soldiers! Knowing that at any time you may be spontaneously ripped to shreds by otherworldly forces would be devastating.

    At minimum, the enemy will have to drastically alter their tactics to contend with such a weapon. Even if you assume that each shot takes out one soldier, that's still 1200 soldiers gone per hour. Still more than enough to turn the tide of an otherwise even battle. It wouldn't be able to win a battle on its own. You'd still need a proper army to protect the weapon while it does its work. However, its composition could be different. Less focus on direct offense and more focus on defense and stalling.

    If a city happens to hold such a weapon, it could render besieging it near-impossible, depending on the surrounding terrain. If the besieging army could say, hide behind a few hills, then the weapon wouldn't be terribly useful. If the city is on a hill surrounded by a relatively flat plain, a sniper could pick off enemies from atop the walls with relative ease.

    Now, as for who would use them: These guns are rare and exceptionally powerful. Now, let's say I was a noble who owned such a gun. It's likely the basis for my political power. I'd treat it with at least as much care as I would my own child and only heir. I wouldn't want to risk it falling into an opponent's hands. I'd keep it locked deep in a hidden vault until it was needed, and even then only let someone I trust implicitly handle it, such as a loyal knight or family member.

    If I had multiple of such guns, I could afford to be looser with how I hand them out. Rather than a single trusted knight, I could instead train regular soldiers to use the weapons and create elite squads with highly trained snipers. I probably wouldn't send them out on regular patrols, and would instead use them for critical missions, where they serve as the core of an army or something similar.

    Practically speaking, they probably wouldn't be very weapons for bodyguards, since the explosion would risk injuring me or a bystander. However, the sheer prestige of having a few laser guns in my personal entourage may very well be worth it to some individuals.

    It might be useful for assassinations as well, owing to its long range. Although a simple defense against long-range hit jobs would be to have any exposed balconies be thoroughly surrounded by trees.
     
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  10. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

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    Just need to keep ones armor very polished.
     
  11. Electric Bone Flute

    Electric Bone Flute Troubadour

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    Wow, you put a lot of thought into that, Vaporo. I don't think I thought through how big a game-changer it would be.
     
  12. Stevie

    Stevie Minstrel

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    There's some good points here but how has this weapon acquired near perfect accuracy? As the OP says, its basically a very powerful rifle. Not designed for use by humans. So our sniper is not going to have a 100% hit rate. The sniper also has to be able to see the enemy, so needs to be in an elevated position. Now there might be some handy high ground or a tree nearby. Or there might not. Or it might be raining. Or foggy. Or smoky. You could argue that with a blast effect, the sniper doesn't need to be that accurate, just find a group of people and fire into the middle of them. Still, that 1200 per hour might be difficult to achieve...

    It's probably worth pointing out that lasers are pretty rubbish weapons when fired through air. Too much energy is lost to that surrounding air.
     
  13. S J Lee

    S J Lee Sage

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    Let's break this down into two main chunks:
    first - "Can a laser rifle REALLY do all that, never need ammo or maintenance or parts, be mastered and maintained and used long-term by uneducated people who haven't a clue what it really is..." I'd say the rifle not being designed to fit human hands would be the LEAST of the problems, but I am not advanced laser engineer/scientist, so I won't bother arguing.

    A lot of readers will say this sounds like a "cargo cult" and would degenerate into a farcical "religion" - you can research it for yourself
    Cargo cult - Wikipedia

    BUT let's say the weapons are entropy-proofed (Arthur C Clarke's "The City and the Stars" had convenient "eternity ciruits" that magically let machines maintain themselves for all eternity - so let's solve this with handwavium, ok

    So we have basically "cave men who find a small box of AK 47s + ammo" - COULD cave men use AK 47s, IF someone showed them how just once? probably, until the ammo ran out, and AK 47s are fairly low maintenance ...

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    Second problem - if they ARE so devastating, and people know you have them, you seem to assume the enemy will just keep on charging in and get slaughtered. Check out eg Quick History — Battle Of Gate Pa Maoris with a few shotguns beat a British regiment by using zig zag trenches and luring the enemy close.

    IF you are going to have a second level of handwavium "No, the laser beams ALSO go through all cover and slice right through earth and stone and even bend the beams around corners and home in on body heat, the AI bult into the rifle will do all this for you,if you tell it, AND it can translate your instructions into Alienese with its advanced translating software ..." you will lose some readers at that point, but let's keep going

    During the war of the 6th Coalition (Napoleon getting beaten after the Russia Invasion, 1813-14) there were BIG armies fighting in multiple parts of Germany at once ... the allies decided "Napoleon himself is worth 10 000 men on the battlefield" - they decided they would RETREAT if NApoleon himself led the army against him, and only fight his subordinates, on other fronts.... and only gang up on N himself with an overwhelming force. It worked pretty well.

    I'm guessing The enemy would avoid "one big battle" and retreat / dig trenches and wait with loaded crossbows / melt away into a forest or the villages, and regroup later....while their allies advance on your capital from the other side...

    AND of course - how would you guard against treachery? Who guards the weapon during peacetime? Stealing the weapon / bribing the guards would be a huge part of any strategy. The king himself guards a fancy rifle chained around his neck? Who watches over him while he sleeps? "Aha, but you wouldn't dare steal it, the penalty would be death..?" I'm afraid that if the rifle was so lethal, you wouldn't be afraid of the consequences. Once you rebelled against the king, the guardian would be invincible. You can hardly say the rifle makes you invincible and then say it doesn't...?


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    other thoughts - have you read Moorcock's "The Swords of Corum" - a book I love, and the "elvish" hero (used to sword-fighting) IS given a fancy gun to kill the evil human raiders by his tech-savvy elvish kin, returning from their quest to find the right components in the nick of time. It worked pretty well as a story, but it was only a DETAIL - the real problem was the evil humans were only a pawn for evil gods - the gun was useless against GODS.

    Just think it through and ask yourself - "so what will my enemies do NEXT? Nicely line up to get killed?" the right answer will make your fiction much stronger. Good luck with it!
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    All this fancy tech, and no one is scared of the aliens returning? It's just a convenient superweapon, and all the aliens are conveniently gone? Not everyone will buy it.
     
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2021
  14. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Sage

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    Hate to say this, but you've got your basic laser physics wrong. Range is not unlimited. Far from it, atmospheric dispersion and thermal blooming put a limit on the distance over which you can keep the beam focussed enough to be useable (i.e. to do damage). A big laser weapon (say 60kW) has an effective range of perhaps 2km. Power is the other range limiting factor - without a big enough power supply you won't get much range from your laser, and 60kW of power isn't something you can generate with a battery. The lenses and mirrors you need to focus your laser beam are also fragile - break any one of them or get them knocked pout of alignment and your laser weapon won't work.
     
  15. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Sage

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    Er, no. A long range laser rifle? Yes, I know we've all watched Star Wars. But in reality, laser rifles (and there are a few prototypes around) have a very limited range - maybe 200m. The problem is power - you can't carry a power supply big enough, and the weapon itself becomes very big and heavy when you're trying to produce a powerful focussed beam using lenses and mirrors.

    Second, atmospheric dispersion and thermal blooming mean that unless the target is close to the laser rifle there is a good chance that the beam won't penetrate - particularly not armour or a big metal shield. Any dust or smoke of the battlefield will make the dispersion worse and further reduce the range of the laser rifle. At long ranges your laser beam won't penetreate wood, and maybe not even a canopy of leaves.

    Laser weapons are not in any way maintenance free. They rely on lenses and mirrors for focus, and those have to be kept aligned. Knock the weapon, or damage it in any way, and at best you will reduce the effectivess of the weapon. In the sort of setting we're talking about, damage is likely to render the weapon useless.

    Quite honestly, in the setting we're talking about a long bow will be a more effective long range personal weapon than a laser rifle. And in reality, there are good reason why the military don't use laser weapons much - the maintenance requirements and the size of the weapons make them a bit impractical.
     
  16. Vaporo

    Vaporo Inkling

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    Aaaah. Y'all are thinking about a REALISTIC laser rifle. Yeah, that's a bit different. Although OP called them "laser rifles," they also said that they never run out of power and that their effect is to cause a small explosion wherever they hit, which indicates to me that "laser rifle" is just a colloquial, easy-to-understand name for the weapon they want.

    On the subject of maintenance and power supply... Well this is alien technology, after all. OP did say that they never run out of power, and in a medieval setting repairing such a weapon would be impossible simply on account of the fact that nobody knows how to do it.

    Electric Bone FluteElectric Bone Flute Are you looking for a realistic take on a laser rifle? If so, disregard most of what I said. A real laser rifle would function very differently from what I described.
     
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2021
  17. Electric Bone Flute

    Electric Bone Flute Troubadour

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    It's funny that you mention that, because in my setting, the aliens really are completely gone... They were chased out by more powerful aliens! Haha! The driving force of the setting is the more powerful ones.
     
  18. Electric Bone Flute

    Electric Bone Flute Troubadour

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    No clue. I just wanted players to have a cool endgame weapon, so not only am I trying to balance it, I'm trying to think of the consequence of its existence in the setting.
     
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