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Problem of Guns in Medieval Fantasy

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Aldarion, Aug 1, 2019.

  1. Aldarion

    Aldarion Minstrel

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    I had spent time thinking about whether to introduce gunpowder weapons to my otherwise-technologically-Renaissance setting or not. This article is result of that thinking. End result is: better not, unless you have a very good way of preventing any further developments of gunpowder-based weaponry, or are fine with relatively quick technological progression.

    Problem of guns in medieval fantasy
     
  2. chrispenycate

    chrispenycate Sage

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    Don't worry too much about it. By the renaissance, gunpowder had been around European battlefields and sieges for a considerable time. Sure, firearms were set to revolutionise warfare, but it took them several centuries to do so. Bombards, petards, maybe a few grenades that were more or less portable, dependent on having fire close to hand. It took many more decades of advances in metallurgy, and machining before practical field guns or even smoothbore, muzzle-loading matchlock muskets became practical, and even then the only advantage they had over their mechanical ancestors, the Roman catapults, onagers, scorpions ballistae and tormenta in the artillery, and the Welsh longbow and Mongol compound horsebow as personal weapons, was the relative lack of training required to operate them. As long as you're not introducing repeating, breech-loading rifles you shouldn't have too many problems. Actually, there are other possible technologies, such as moveable type printing, requiring less inventiveness to come to maturity, that would probably be more disruptive to a static society.

    Add the fact we're talking fantasy, traditionally associated with the technology of magic, and there'll be a fair number of disruptions in late mediaeval/renaissance society anyway (Just as ideas from fallen Constantinople fueled the renaissance itself).
     
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  3. Aldarion

    Aldarion Minstrel

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    chrispenycatechrispenycate The post above and the article I linked came about when I started thinking on the so-called medieval stasis that is typical in fantasy. So I thought about logical points where such a stasis could occur. Basically, you can - through magic or otherwise - justify stasis at some points, but once you have gunpowder, it is very hard to justify technology staying as it was in Middle Ages and Renaissance - you will be getting to pike-and-shot and eventually to Napoleonic line warfare.
     
  4. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

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    But is that change part of your story?
    If your tale covers 500+ years and black/gun powder is introduced on page one I wouldn't expect it to be the same world at the end. My tales are on a smaller scale.
    Tolkien has Saurman creating "blasting powder" halfway through LOTR. It plays a great role at Helm's Deep but the tale ends before we see its wider effect or even if anyone else knows how to make it.
    Technologies can be lost as well, maybe not forever and everywhere, but for a lifetime or two in a locality. So you could have calm eddies of stasis in a changing world if you wanted it...
     
  5. Aldarion

    Aldarion Minstrel

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    And that is my problem. I am not sure. In my world, technology level is about 1450s - 1480s, so plate armour would have reached its ultimate form. But I will likely have an overview of history up to that point, and I may write short stories set after the main story.

    Just as important problem I have with gunpowder in my setting specifically are strategic implications. In Renaissance, gunpowder led to introduction of cannons. This in turn made fortified cities much more vulnerable, thus making expansion easier. Now, strategic picture I have is actually that of 8th-9th century Roman / Byzantine Empire - a major power / superpower fighting against even stronger adversary. This means defense in depth, fortified strongpoints etc. - basically Fabian strategy. But would introduction of cannon and gunpowder mines make such fortified refuges too vulnerable for the strategy to work? Or adjustments to contruction - star forts and such - will be enough? But I do not recall star forts in Renaissance period.
     
  6. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

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    Then that is a circle you will have to square...:unsure: or maybe :sneaky:
    There is a huge lag between a new technology and its counter. And places like forts and castles would be a big investment in time, money and people. If you weren't certain that your next opponent would have cannon enough to destroy your existing fortification, why spend the money time etc to build a new one? That said, in some places [I can't remember where] earth ramparts were added to existing forts/castle to given better protection against cannon.
    Or just limit the supply of saltpeter or sulfur... Until relatively late it was saltpeter that was the limiting factor on how much gunpowder was available [at least in the UK].
     
  7. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Take a look at the Italian Wars. They'll give you exactly what you need.

    There's a long gap between the introduction of gunpowder in Europe and the development of star forts--about 300-350 years. Plenty of room in there to maneuver just the combination you want. But also, there's more to the equation that just gunpowder versus rocks. You have to transport the cannons, which affects how your army can move. You have to be able to keep your army in place long enough to conduct the siege. You have to be able to hold the place once you've taken it -- the other guy's got guns, too.

    You might also look to China and Japan, to see the effects of gunpowder on fortifications there.
     
  8. Aldarion

    Aldarion Minstrel

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    From what I remember about Italian Wars, French took several dozen fortified cities and castles in short order after they added wheels to their cannons. So I'm not sure they are the answer. I might be wrong, though. At any rate, I am basing my military model on Byzantine thematic organization. So I am not sure it would work with gunpowder weapons, depending on how much centralization gunpowder army necessitates.

    IIRC, initial response to cannons was to add rubble and stuff to walls so as to create a less-cohesive "ablative armour" in front of the main wall. That was followed by the addition of earthworks in front of the walls to protect the base, and then earthworks became the walls, albeit covered with stone. Then those walls received earthworks of their own.
     
  9. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Bert Hall, Weapons and Warfare in Renaissance Europe
    Thomas Arnold, Renaissance at War
    F.L. Taylor, The Art of War in Italy
    Gabor Agoston, Guns for the Sultan
    You probably have that last one, but I figured I'd throw it in anyway, for others on this thread who might be interested. Haven't read it myself.

    Hall is the best, imo. Arnold the easiest read. But there are scores of other works. This period gets studied a lot, and the whole topic of gunpowder and its effects on ... just about everything ... has been a constant for generations of historians.

    My own take is that gunpowder is but one variable among many, and that for the fiction writer there are more than enough historical precedents to establish believability for just about any scenario one could wish.
     
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  10. Aldarion

    Aldarion Minstrel

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    skip.knoxskip.knox Thanks. I'll give them a look. At any rate, how long could a city be expected to hold under siege in gunpowder era? Vienna held for few months, but Constantinople before the cannons withstood sieges in multiple years.
     
  11. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

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    It depends on how much either side wants to win and has the resources to achieve that.
    I don't think that gunpowder does not automatically shorten things, it just makes them potentially more destructive along the way. If both sides are evenly matched, then the siege will go on and on and on...
    Okay, not directly comparable to the Rennaisance I admit but in the 20C the Siege of Leningrad lasted 872 days, the Siege of Sarajevo 1425 days and there was plenty of good guns and explosives available to people then. Just not enough of something to make things decisive.
     
  12. Akira444

    Akira444 Dreamer

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    Wouldn't you have cannons first before moving onto guns? Anyway, having guns won't be a problem if you ease into their development and don't just have one nation whip them out on a whim. If you're setting is set in a time similar to the 1400s then I think you're good. No guns just yet.
     
  13. Aldarion

    Aldarion Minstrel

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    I meant gunpowder weapons in general, but yeah. I guess my brain just went "gunpowder weapons = guns".
     
  14. Aldarion

    Aldarion Minstrel

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    Siege of Sisak lasted from 15th June to 21st June. I mention it because IIRC Sisak was very close to falling at the time of battle:
    Battle of Sisak - Wikipedia

    OTOH, Siege of Koszeg lasted almost a month:
    Siege of Güns - Wikipedia

    EDIT: But main problem for me still remains military organization. Would thematic-like military model be possible with an army utilizing large amount of cannon?
     
  15. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Wouldn't a military history of the Ottomans answer that? Because I sure can't.
     
  16. Aldarion

    Aldarion Minstrel

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    I am not very familiar with Ottoman Empire; I do know some things about their military organization, but nothing that would have answered that question. But from what little I know, it seems that artillery production in Ottoman Empire was centralized, with main foundry at Constantinople. So the answer would seem to be "no" - you can have cannons, but not in significant numbers.
     
  17. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

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    Then you've answered your own question. But I can't believe that each theme as independent of every other theme and the nation-state for everything. There would have to be trade, trade-off, swaps and commerce between them. If you need cannon, then they could be one of the things traded. The centre supplies the cannon and gets protection because of that. It ensures it gets its protection by limiting the supply of powder...
     
  18. Aldarion

    Aldarion Minstrel

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    That is true. IIRC, logistical arrangements for military expeditions show that supplies were often shipped in from across the Empire.
     
  19. MrNybble

    MrNybble Troubadour

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    Guns are a technology derived from a need. That need being better ways to kill or defend. One question with importing our own known technology into a fantasy setting is this. What elements in this fantasy world (magic or otherwise) could make guns worth discovering? Just because we know about a certain technology doesn't mean that world would.

    Example would be if dragons (or other deadly creatures) could be trained for war, what need would there be for making siege weapons? If magic could be used to teleport things vast distances, would there be a need for developed flying machines? Any unique element in a fantasy setting could drastically change the way things work as we know it.
     
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  20. Insolent Lad

    Insolent Lad Sage

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    A rather long time ago as a world-building exercise, I played with the idea a world with very scarce metal resources.. A consequence of this scarcity was that firearms would be too expensive to develop. Indeed, so would metal armor. I posited an alternate development of 'plastics' of a sort, using both natural resins and those men eventually learned to create. These might be used for armor and, to a lesser extent, edged weapons. Black powder could be invented and used in other ways, of course. Some of that's still in my notes and may be used someday for something. Or not.
     
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