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Guns in my Fantasy?! HERESY says my critics.

Discussion in 'World Building' started by AFistfulofBalderdash, Mar 14, 2012.

  1. Just a general discussion about the topic of firearms in fantasy. I've occasionally encountered the stigma from classical fantasy readers that the moment I mention guns in a fantasy setting that they write off any display of my talent or potential and say I should 'throw my world into the Generic Sea' and write sci-fi. Mostly because they can't take a world seriously that has projectile weapons a grade above a crossbow.

    Now, disregarding that harsh statement, let's have a discussion on this. A survey of attitudes if you wish. And a statement on what you think about guns in fantasy. And let's assume the fantasy is classical enough that it has some form of magic(no matter how inefficient or powerful) with distinct cultural differences across a world of varying geography.

    I'm also not limiting the range of weapons we're talking about either. From muskets to battle-rifles, all is fair game here. I tend to see that when the concept of guns are introduce, it tends to immediately color the person's perception and exceptions on what they'll see. Namely, they imagine the generic, snarky woman or man armed to the teeth with guns, doing trick shots as they kill orcs by the truck-load.

    Just to get the topic going, I'm using a small example from my world (no lore attached or anything). The reasons that firearms exist are tied deeply to the lore and because of that, one faction has advance 200 years ahead of anyone else. We're talking knights fighting against Napoleonic line formations with cannons in back and men carrying rifled muskets at the front. This of course should be a massacre in favor of gunners. But said knights are essentially super-human killing machines that can not only ignore most injuries that could kill a human instantly, but use "Hexerei" which for you uninitiated mates is "magic".

    The reason why I do this is to keep an equal but contrasting struggle between these two factions. Either one can win in the right conditions, and when they meet it tends to be a colossal rumble on both ends.

    This is one of the whole themes of my world "The clash of reality and myth". Guns are merely a symbol here, a symbol of the approaching industrial revolution that is encapsulating the world. The age of the knight is ending along with the Days of Yore. That time of mythic curses and ancient blades are fairy tales in this world quickly aging. Cold Wars and more modern issues take precedence over Dark Lords or marauding hordes. Even the knights who choose to use Hexerei are coupling it with guns instead of their crossbows.

    It is a way to show the reader that the romanticized glory days of this world are passed. That though swords, bear cavalry, and catapults are still used, those times when these elements came together on massive open fields are nearly a thing of the past. Heroes who sloughed through entire armies are depicted as retired, stubborn men that fall to their hubris. And weapons that once held so much meaning are bitterly clung to over the thunderous muskets.

    All of my plot-treads have some of this flavoring in them. The whole 'discovery' of guns (from the prospective of this knightly faction) was basically thirty years back which is the first time these two faction met. Before then neither had an idea the other existed and now both of them have to adapt to the other side's unorthodox approach to warfare.

    I use the gun as a symbol in this world, not just as a weapon. Wherever it is present in the hands of militia, the environment is safer, but far less mystifying. Those who carry these weapons deeply contrast their surroundings when they step into the unknown. The Gun (and by extension technology) is shown to be the death-note of myth but the cradle of a new civilization.

    To me, I keep this idea in the reader's head. From the onset, this is still very much a fantasy world you're reading about, but you know what the musket became.

    And funnily enough, the main plot has nothing to do with the struggle of technology and magic, it's just one of the many issues I use to color the world the main protagonist lives in. It's an issue I can write about later if I desire, but as a world-building element I think it adds a struggle into the very nature of the world.

    I'm keeping this as concise as possible since I do have a contest story I should be proof-reading :p. I just figured this topic would be interesting enough. Post whatever you think about guns in a fantasy world. Is there a limit where you no longer consider it fantasy. Or do you just hate the aspect of it in any form?
    Ayaka Di'rutia likes this.
  2. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    There are plenty of fantasy novels with guns in them. Look at the last two books of the Rigante series, by David Gemmell. Warhammer fantasy novels are another example in terms of the sort of traditional fantasy setting. When you get outside of that type of fantasy you've got all sorts of stories with firearms in them.

    So I have no problem with it, personally.
  3. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

    In real life guns were a game changer, they made just about everything that came before obsolete. The problem most people have with guns in fantasy is that it would likewise make a lot of the classic fantasy tropes obsolete. Of course, realistically, magic would likewise make everything that come for obsolete even more so then guns, but you don't see readers complaining about that so meh...

    I personally don't see a problem with guns in fantasy, but you need to put a lot of thought into it.
  4. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    They didn't at all. They made armor obsolete, not anything else, not even the bow which was more accurate and could fire much more quickly. It's true, penetration power was more important in Europe, as was the ability to use the weapon untrained. But the bow would have been the preferred weapon in guerrilla warfare if Europe had ever engaged in it. It was often preferred by Native Americans even when guns were available, and mounted archery remained a tremendously effective tactic.

    I use guns in my worlds at key moments because I think they make the danger feel more real. But they work differently and a single shot would be very expensive. That way I can use them for the effect I want without even taking armor out of the world.
  5. Amanita

    Amanita Maester

    I don't see a problem with guns in fantasy either. I'm having them myself but my world isn't medieval either, it's modern/late 19th level depending on the time, so it shouldn't be a problem.
    Given the large amount of thought you have given to this, I wouldn't recommend to do away with it, just because some people think it doesn't belong into fantasy. I might not be the right person to ask, because I have no intention of pleasing those hardcore anti-technology and pro-specific cliche people myself.
    I don't think they're a majority among potential readers either though. Those who want glorified wars with swords might not like your kind of story, but they don't seem to be your target audience either, at least that's what your description sounds like.
  6. TWErvin2

    TWErvin2 Auror

    I'm obviously for it, as my fantasy novels do contain firearms. And as was indicated, they've been around in fantasy for a long time. One novel that inspired, or provided the spark for my first novel (in addition to World War: Upsetting the Balance by Harry Turtledove--which was SF) was Roger Zelazny's The Guns of Avalon, second novel in the Chronicles of Amber.

    If a fantasy work has firearms, it's going to appeal to a slightly different audience. And in the end, it's how the author tells the story--if the author can get the reader's to suspend disbelief. Shouldn't be a problem with firearms, one would think, if the reader buys into magic's existance in the author's created world.

    But there's a reason why there are so many different kinds of fantasy novels out there. Just like there are various types of mystery and romance novels. Sure, there is crossover in readership. No reason a reader of High Fantasy couldn't enjoy Urban Fantasy or some version of a Dark Fantasy.

    That said, firearms will deter a segment of the fantasy reading population from giving a work (or author) a try.
    Nihilium 7th and Weaver like this.
  7. BeigePalladin

    BeigePalladin Sage

    I really feel people that put a book down because of guns are being incredibally judgemental/. Especially if they say not writing a LoTR clone is being generic :rolleyes:

    all I have to say on the matter, TBH. I see them as just another tool, and so long as their not just added anachronisticly for the sake of it, then claiming they ruin fantasy is making guesses without reading or being petulant...
  8. Well I'm already writing a bit niche anyways. Firearms are present in the arms of most infantry but it's not like shooting dudes guarantees a kill. This is very true since most of the races in this work can eat individual bullets to the gut without a problem... And I have my readers believing in that so I've never been worried about breaking suspension of disbelief.

    As for the deterred...meh this isn't a video game or movie, I'm not spending millions of dollars to write or to please anyone. I know I love my work and I know who to recommend it to.
    Nihilium 7th likes this.
  9. Hans

    Hans Sage

    Not even that. Firearms were invented after 1324, plate armor was in use until the 17th century. It became increasingly heavy to give adequate protection, until it became too heavy to wear.
    So medieval knights were less armored than renaissance knights. The later are typical for lots of phantasy fiction.

    For the question in the original post I'd say: change your critics.
  10. Yep, this man is right. The Hussars of European military were still wearing plate breastplates until the invention of rifling. A pistol and rifle were deadly in close-combat which is why they became more effective than pikes. At a distance a shot was either inaccurate or wouldn't pierce a well-forged plate.

    Rifling and improving munitions changed that, significantly.

    As for my critics, I always like to get something from everyone. I know I can't please everyone, but prospectives are an amazing thing to have.
  11. arbiter117

    arbiter117 Minstrel

    In real life, gunpowder was invented in the 9th century, firearms in the 12th (according to Wikipedia), so I see no reason why a "Medieval" world can't have them since it did.

    In fantasy, silver bullets kill werewolves right? How do they have bullets without firearms to shoot them?

    I think the big thing for me is the gun being used. If someone says they pulled a trick shot with a musket from 1 mile away I would think "what magic that person was using to make a musket ball fly that far and that accurately?" Also, if that gun is muzzle loaded, there should be no killing millions of bad guys with it. I think a professional soldier could squeeze out maybe 3 shots a minute, inaccurate and very tiring. That's why the French added the bayonet so the firearm was also a spear.

    Personally, I think the firearm only became popular because there wasn't much training necessary and because the boom was scary.

    If you want to use firearms, do a bit of the reading, or watch some deadliest warrior (it shows some of the effectiveness of weapons that you may or may not know exist).
    J. S. Elliot likes this.
  12. Reaver

    Reaver Kwisatz Haderach Moderator

    Well, Balderdash...if anyone gives you any further grief about using firearms in fantasy, just use the greatest example of just such: Army of Darkness.

    And I quote: "Alright you Primitive Screwheads, listen up!

    You see this? This... is my boomstick!

    The twelve-gauge double-barreled Remington. S-Mart's top of the line. You can find this in the sporting goods department.

    That's right, this sweet baby was made in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Retails for about a hundred and nine, ninety five.

    It's got a walnut stock, cobalt blue steel, and a hair trigger.

    That's right. Shop smart. Shop S-Mart. You got that?"

    'Nuff said.
  13. Ophiucha

    Ophiucha Auror

    I'll see your guns and raise you a modern - but not Earth - setting. Seriously, it's tough explaining to someone that you're writing a story not just with guns, but cars, skyscrapers, and phones that doesn't take place in our planet, let alone our universe.

    Anyway, guns are becoming more accepted in fantasy, if not by the mainstream (which hardly accepts fantasy to begin with), then by the fandom. I think we can thank steampunk for smoothing the gap. Fewer and fewer people see fantasy as *just* medieval England, and indeed, an acceptance of anything up to the Victorian era has created some acceptance for guns. People expect an explanation for it, which is hardly fair. They'll say, "why use guns when you can shoot fireballs?", to which I say, "why use swords when you can shoot fireballs?" The idea that you don't need guns - which are better than swords - because we have something better than guns is asinine.

    Of course, it won't fit every setting. The sort of person who is against firearms in fantasy is the sort of person who thinks "fantasy = Tolkien". And it's true. Guns wouldn't fit in to Middle Earth. They don't match the setting, they would have changed the story in several fundamental ways, and it probably would have ended with somebody trying to shove the One Ring down the barrel and firing it into Mt. Doom. But anyone who reads fantasy knows that it isn't all Tolkien, and it doesn't all need to follow his rules.
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2012
  14. TWErvin2

    TWErvin2 Auror

    Yep! :) Sadly when Sears and KMart merged they had the chance to become S-Mart and didn't jump on it.
  15. It sounds to me like you need new critics. :rolleyes:
  16. Saigonnus

    Saigonnus Auror

    Instead of powder and ball (bullet) style weapons, you could always make them developed through magical means... perhaps a wizard enchants a rifle-like weapon with a compact fireball or something that could be equally devastating. Doing this could make it a twist to the regular "guns". Perhaps those hardcore "fantasy" fans would be more forgiving of their inclusion. I personally think it could make thing interesting, especially when you take into account the fact that early guns had the bad habit of jamming or even outright exploding when not kept clean... that risk of physically harming the gunman might make them less appealing than crossbows or other ranged weapons.
  17. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

    dual-weilding wand-pistols for the win!!!1!
  18. Saigonnus

    Saigonnus Auror

    Doing it that way could even limit the number of times it could be fired before it needs to be recharged. Even if it recharges itself over time (say one charge/hour) it would still limit the exposure of firearms in the world. I had a thought of doing something like that a long while back, but never really went anywhere with it considering you could just as easily make a crossbow with explosive tips.
  19. Phin Scardaw

    Phin Scardaw Troubadour

    guns are just one more projectile weapon and shouldn't be seen any differently in the context of a fantasy story than a bow an arrow or a slingshot. some consideration are the other applications of gunpowder in society.

    i think the really fun part about introducing guns into fantasy stories is how one can use magic to alter or enhance them. for example: a spell that acts as a silencer. or perhaps magic bullets that never miss or can turn corners. or putting a curse on an enemy's gun so that it will backfire.
  20. Always good ideas, but I don't include magic sniping assassins since the period of technology I'm talking about is about 1873-1888 using our real world example.

    A gatling-gun firing exploding fireballs of death that summon inferno snakes that constrict men and burn them alive sounds a little...overpowered(and fun). Nothing ever stops me from considering an idea (mad Elven scientist parody of Dr. Strangelove creating Dwarf-firing cannon), but I would prefer to keep the believeablity of the conflict between these two factions without turning things too grandiose.

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