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Making modern weapons/tools feel 'fantasy'

Almyrigan Hero

One of the central premises of my fantasy setting is that there were - for lack of a better term - serial apocalypses. The cause isn't terribly relevant to this particular discussion, but they involve geological upheaval among other things, and have caught humanity at varying stages of development. The thing is that some of these stages have neither been primitive, nor mystifyingly futuristic, but fairly modern. As a result, along with some of your typical wondrous relics of an ascendant humanity, spelunking for treasure might net you, say... an electric toaster, or a tommy gun.

In written form, this works well enough. In a setting where things like flintlocks and muskets are established, just saying something to the effect of "his strange, angular handgun fired pellets with frightening rapidity" checks out well enough. The character is an artifact hunter, and ancient, powerful weapons are also established fairly early on. When I actually envision an illustration of an age of discovery bandit holding an uzi, however, the mental image... falls apart, somewhat. It's consistent with established logic, but the concept inherently looks silly in my head. At the same time, though, imagining a past modern society stylizing its weapons to look 'fitting' with the particular time period in which my story takes place feels equally silly.

Really, it's not that pressing of an issue. I simply needn't actually draw any such scenes until I'm ready, nor describe the appearances of the items in great detail, and I'm definitely not expecting a movie adaptation anytime soon. I do feel like this could prompt interesting discussions, though, so let's hear some thoughts.


Out of Placers, Daughter of the Lilies and Zoids: Genesis all have settings like this. The nice thing about books is that if you don't describe things in exacting detail, your readers' imaginations will fill it in in ways you could never imagine. So the gun you imagine being exactly the same as a modern gun might look totally different to a reader, or steampunk, or fantasy-y. So don't be afraid to lean on that.

Different cultures will have different aesthetics, so that's something you can go with. Like our guns are dark because that is very cool and serious, but maybe ornate designs, contrasting patterns or bright colors is what's normal for military things in one of these different civilizations. Something like dazzle camoflouge.

A. E. Lowan

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We have various and sundry named weapons, weapons imbued with great power, destined for legends. One of them is the named revolver Agmundr. From our first book, Faerie Rising...

Next came his thread-bare t-shirt and the gun rig that he never went without. Embroidered leather nestled well-worn against his chest, covered in runes that gave him a sidhe’s speed and strength. Some might call it cheating—Etienne called it making up for his mixed heritage. And in its underarm holster rested the venerable six-shooter, Agmundr. The Gift of Terror. Etienne had served a century among the dwarves in exchange for the rig and the named weapon that it carried. Agmundr and the enchanted bullets it used could bring true death to any sidhe dealt a mortal blow. Etienne had originally bargained for twelve bullets—he had seven remaining. Most sidhe now gave him a wide berth, just as he wanted.
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While it is more extended on the timeline than what you are aiming for, the "Old Earth" type of book has always drawn me in, and I plan to craft a world along these lines, though not on Earth. Here I reference Wolfe's Sun and Urth cycles, John M. Harrison's Viriconium, as well as Vance's Tales of Old Earth and even to an extent his Tschai series, which blends advanced human/alien mech with regressed civs. The Numera game goes very far into the future as well, never touched on the TTRPG lore of Numenera but I'm sure there's juicy ideas there. Numera are, in essence, artifacts of forgotten ages, their original uses forgotten. For instance, the garbage disposal device used by a restaurant a hundred thousand years back, ie. a portal that opens into the void, becomes something far different in the hands of an assassin who knows how to activate it.

As examples, Wolfe has 'flyers' in employ of the Autarch, Vance's demons are hinted as being leftovers from past highly-advanced civs and their dabblings in tech and one wise wizard hints that all sorcery flows from the magic of mathematics, Harrison has brain-stealing robots, a dwarf in a mech suit and other marvels on display-all in what one would call a Fantasy setting. The fact that specifications are kept vague in many cases, ie. that the tech is either rudementarily explained or not all, adds to the milieu. I'm sure one can do so for tech that is more contemporary as well; indeed, much of what we take for granted today would be seen as witchery by those living centuries in the past, or as divine magic.

Now, as stated, some of your civs have been hit in a stage comparable to ours - so, how many years have passed after the apocalypse? Do the civs still have production facilities for toasters, or does the common citizen know of their use? If so, it's quite easy-those more primitive cultures are, ofc, mightily impressed and awed by the tech while others see it as their heritage, and more commonplace. If many years have passed, and the parent culture has denigrated far from its previous level of development, then they can still have some words for some things-after all, objects do get passed from generation to generation, books surely exist and oral recountings of things before the fall aught to be common. Give it, say, a thousand years, and the denizens might be far more ignorant when stumbling into the ruins of their ancestors. Give it ten thousand, with said culture still existing in a retrograde state, and the yet unlooted ruins will be talked of as myths, or places of great magic or fell magic or sanctums of the gods-that-were-before or whatever.
Just throwing a few ideas in here, much depends on culture/preservation of infrastructure + literature/general setting.
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Almyrigan Hero

Chronologically speaking, the timeframe between 'eras' isn't that vast. Most are somewhere between two and four thousand years long, generally with an interim of a couple centuries. The actual apocalyptic force does, however, tend more to bury things deep than to merely ruin them; and the monsters that accompany it make a direct effort to destroy records and spread misinformation to prevent humanity from ever truly being prepared for the next disaster.

People aren't so much unaware of the objects as they are ignorant of and confused by their nature. Between scarcity of working samples, difficulty of obtaining (especially since you have to dig for them, which tends to result in monsters leaking to the surface through your tunnels,) and the enormous gulf in power and complexity between each 'remnant,' there's a lot of paranoia, disagreement, and stigma surrounding them. Legends of kingdoms going up in mushroom-shaped fireballs because someone got a bit too curious with a rusty metal shell certainly don't help.
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