So...I will first describe the world. The main difference is that it is populated by humanoid bears instead of humans, but the countries are roughly the similar (there are countries that don't exist in our world such as Medwedia, the main superpower, but China, Russia, Great Britain, the USA, Germany, etc... still exist). There are also small geographic differences (the Ural mountains are built slightly differently, they are much higher, more like the Alps).

As of 2015, the technology and society seems like a mix of different periods in time. For example, because Medwedia, the main superpower, is a very conservative nation, people still go out every day wearing suits and top hats. General technology is at the level of the 20th Century, but advanced computers (even better than ours) exist and a mission to Mars is happening likely before 2030. While we still have drones and stuff and tanks and planes, the infantry fights in formation, with the officer yelling "FIRE" and the soldiers firing their muskets. The marching still happens like with fife and drum, and all uniforms are still very colorful, as they were in the 19th Century. Also, the cavalry still plays a large role in battle, with dragoons charging at enemy tanks.

So...what could possibly lead to such a technological mix?

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    $\begingroup$ Large massed formation + large bomb = very small, very dispersed formation $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 16, 2015 at 16:25
  • $\begingroup$ Just curious, what do the humanoid bears ride into battle as cavalry? $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 16, 2015 at 20:33
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    $\begingroup$ @DoubleDouble: Other bears, obviously. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 17, 2015 at 6:00
  • $\begingroup$ Instinctive urge to commit suicide? Do a little reading about trench warfare in WWI. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented Feb 17, 2015 at 6:15
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah you can't have both tanks/planes and muskets...it makes absolutely no sense what-so-ever. Technologically speaking it doesn't makes sense, nor does it make sense tactics wise. $\endgroup$
    – James
    Commented Feb 18, 2015 at 18:00

7 Answers 7


If warfare is highly formal and ritualised, it might plausibly be restricted to archaic weapons and tactics. In this case war is like a large-scale duel, or even a sporting contest, used to settle disputes between nations. Stakes are limited, and the participants agree not to do anything too destructive.

A loose historical parallel would be the largely bloodless formal wars fought between city-states in Renaissance Italy, often with archaic weapons -- in this instance, knights instead of musketeers.

On the other hand, if warfare is a genuine struggle for survival, it's highly implausible that the participants will voluntarily avoid using machine guns, tanks, aircraft, and so on. If any of these are used to their full potential, then nineteenth-century style cavalry and musketeer formations will be immediately slaughtered.

(As pointed out in comments, the story of Polish cavalry charging German tanks in 1939 is a myth -- but the myth has stuck because it's such an obviously doomed and suicidal tactic. Short of super-technology or magic to level the playing field, your wish to have "dragoons charging at enemy tanks" is not going to work.)

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    $\begingroup$ Poles didn't charge at the tanks. People may be stupid, but they rarely are suicidal. They had anti-tank weapons. historynet.com/polish-cavalry-charges-tanks.htm $\endgroup$
    – user31389
    Commented Feb 16, 2015 at 21:27
  • $\begingroup$ @user31389: Fair enough, but the OP specifically mentioned this world should have "dragoons charging at enemy tanks". $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 17, 2015 at 10:19
  • $\begingroup$ @RoyalCanadianBandit Yeah, but that doesn't mean you can just say that's what happened during the German invasion of Poland - it didn't. That was just a piece of German propaganda. You might want to edit your answer :) $\endgroup$
    – Luaan
    Commented Feb 18, 2015 at 9:11
  • $\begingroup$ @Luaan: Strictly speaking, I didn't say that. But OK, edited. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 18, 2015 at 9:22

Not having a lot of large wars. Starting by skipping WWI and WWII. Maybe even skipping Napoleon and his rampage across Europe. If large scale physical confrontations are rare and only a few brigades ever engage each other at a time there is less reason to 'improve' military tactics. Being very conservative could also dramatically slow down advancements as long as they aren't getting thrashed by their opponents.


You've got two very conflicting styles / goals here and I'm unsure if they can be resolved. The reason tightly formed infantry units went out of style is a rather large advance in 'spray' weapon tactics.

Cavalry - These guys were useful up until automated fire really began to leave its footprint on the battle field. During times of muskets, the reload time between the infantry firing allowed groups of dragoons to successfully charge and overrun an infantry unit as they were frantically trying to reload. Early muskets also used 'plug' style bayonets that would permanently change their musket into a short spear and once plugged they couldn't 'unplug'. When guns became automatic and capable of firing more than one round in 10 seconds, a horse (or whatever your cavalry is riding) becomes a gigantic target with little ability to close in time. Machine guns made cavalry completely useless as machine gun fire could easily chew through a horse and the large side of it made it easy to hit. What makes a tank a different beast here is it's relatively immune to small arm machine gun fire that tear through cavalry so easily.

(edit to add...I should mention this doesn't mean the horse was instantly obsolete. They began taking support roles in logistics instead. People could still use a horse to get to the battlefield...but they would dismount prior to battle)

Infantry formations - These were decently widely used up until WWI when artillery started to be more and more commonly used. Artillery rounds were packed with steel balls and explosives that would spray the steel balls everywhere. It's estimated that just under 60% of all military deaths in world war I was directly caused by artillery fire...one round could completely decimate a tightly formed infantry group. Long range artillery fire put a quick end to formed infantry. Even grenades (grenadier) eventually had an impact in this domain.

To go a bit further...planes can have the same effect an artillery unit can have...dropping bombs that explode on the ground and launch steel pellets in all directions is a complete loss scenario for tightly formed infantry groups.

I'm having problems resolving this...it's a bit picky and choosy in a tech format to get the world you are asking for here. For tightly formed infantry and cavalry to be effective you need to explain away developments in automated fire and artillery. The biggest weakness of slow fire muskets was the reload time, so there is a very strong pressure to modernize muzzle loaded muskets into breach loaded weapons that can be reloaded significantly faster, and finally into automatic weapons that are reloaded by magazine. A single person with an automated rifle could easily devastate a formed group of infantry, and how you can be flying to mars but still reliant on single fire barrel loaded muskets is a bit beyond me.

(added as per Ghanima's comment) - It was the great developments in small arm fire that drove the need to make armour units (tanks) that could resist the small arm fire that devastated cavalry. Where would the need for developments in tanks come from if cavalry were still effective?

The other advancement you need to eliminate is artillery fire and explosives. In the line formation infantry days, cannons were in the beginnings of using 'grape shot' and other spray style shot (sorta the shotgun approach to cannons...grape shot is a bunch of grape sized pellets fired out of a cannon instead of one larger ball)...this was heavily employed on ship to ship warfare as small rounds wouldn't damage the opponents ship but would kill the crew. By the time world war one came along, we were launching explosive devices that would explode on impact that would spray small steel balls upon impact...no man in his right mind would intentionally stand in tight formation in battle again.

You also need a way of removing small explosives, in particular grenades, from ever being developed. A grenade of today would almost completely down a tightly packed group of infantry.

ANd theres where I'm stuck at...I have a problem seeing a society capable of flying to Mars be incapable of developing anti-personnel explosives, artillery, or even automated rifles.

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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for putting so much details to the answer "it won't happen". After that explanation only one thing could make line formations happen in such a setting: Zapp Brannigan! $\endgroup$
    – Ghanima
    Commented Feb 16, 2015 at 21:50
  • $\begingroup$ Since they seem to be ahead in terms of computer technology and behind in terms of explosives/gunpowder - maybe they developed upon a fuel source path such as batteries and such generated from non-fire related sources (water, geothermal, or solar power) as opposed to oil, coal, and such. This could explain the difference in technology levels if the tanks/planes and such are running on advanced battery technologies rather than oil/gas? Though, if wars are starting to be a thing I'd imagine they can quickly improve their "combustion" techniques. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 16, 2015 at 22:01
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    $\begingroup$ So they will be going to Mars on batteries? Highly doubt that. Other than that I doubt that tanks are invented without the need for them. So without heavy firepower (say machine guns) there would be no need for tanks. And in turn, with the arrival of tanks more firepower is needed and thusly developed. There's no likely path for the development of the given scenario. $\endgroup$
    – Ghanima
    Commented Feb 16, 2015 at 22:11
  • $\begingroup$ @DoubleDouble - oil/coal vs battery isn't really in this discussion...the actual resources between a musket to a breach loaded rifle to an automatic rifle aren't within the realms of oil vs battery. Warfare evolves...musketmen face danger while reloading, are inaccurate, and face risk in even using the weapon (barrel loaded muskets will explode and fail in rain). To resist the pressures to become faster, safer, and accurate weapons yet still advance in the technology to arm a tank...imagine living in straw huts, lacing the technology to build houses, yet somehow make towering skyscrapers. $\endgroup$
    – Twelfth
    Commented Feb 16, 2015 at 23:16
  • $\begingroup$ @Ghanima (and @Twelfth) - very true, I don't know what practical need there would be for tanks without better guns. The primary idea I was trying to address was how you can be flying to mars but still reliant on single fire barrel loaded muskets.. The idea was that maybe they developed a different form of propulsion, which could separate the two concepts (of burning/exploding something to push an object) - but in most cases you would then expect them to apply that form of propulsion to their "guns", so you'd have to have some severely limiting factor there. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 18, 2015 at 16:30

Maybe you're looking at the problem from the wrong side... instead of asking why didnt they develop effective artillery/automatics/tanks/bombs why not ask what development in massed infantry technology made the aforementioned obsolete.

Two narrative devices come to my mind, take them, leave them or develop your own.

1) A long range man-portable weapon that instantly detonates gunpowder/explosives. Combined with the advanced computing of your world (targeting) such a development would make high-cost pieces such as tanks/artillery a poor investment and magazines or grenades a greater liability to the carrier then the opponent. The tactics therefor revert to 'old style' man vs man where massed infantry and cavalry has its place.

2) A cheap, absolutely devastating weapon was developed that can wipe away entire civilizations or armies with no downside (like radiation). [Maybe something that rapidly corrodes all iron-based components]. Unrestricted use almost sent the world back to the stone ages as technology and cities were irretrievably lost... a more 'civilized' manner of warfare had to be developed and so they looked to the past. [perhaps backed by the powerful threat that in any extended conflict utilising these weapons the Medwedia empire would surely be the lone survivor]

In short, design the world you want. There are plenty of solutions to the 'technical' problems...


You have to get some effect that negates the effectiveness of the individual soldier/vehicle.

Unfortunately, the only way I see it developing is somewhat mystical... imagine that there is some invention that transform a kind of "aura" or "psychical energy" into some kind of force field that can be used to deflect conventional bullets (and make explosives explode well beyond dangerous range). The only weapons that somewhat work against this field are powered, again, from the same (or similar "aura").

Then, make the effects of the "aura" of a person extend beyond his body, and cumulative. So, if you have two guys together, each one's aura is a little more powerful than each of them separate. If you have one thousand of them together in a small area, they have a still stronger "aura".

Also, put some limits at how it extends, so benefits to extra big formations are not directly proportional, and offset by other disavantages. For example, if you specify that your area has an effect radius of 3 square meters, you get the following distributions

For one soldier, total power = 3 00100 01210 12321 01210 00100

For two soldiers, total power = 5 + 5 = 10

001100 013310 135531 013310 001100

For three soldiers: 6 + 7 + 6 = 19

0011100 0134310 1367631 0134310 0011100

For ten soldiers, total power = 6 + 8*7 + 6 = 12 + 56 = 68

00111111111100 01344444444310 13677777777631 01344444444310 00111111111100

At certain sizes, the increases of total "power" are almost lineal with the number of soldiers, and other factors (frontage of fire, maneuverability) would come into play.

  • $\begingroup$ This effect makes the front line the weakest spot of all. $\endgroup$
    – Oldcat
    Commented Feb 19, 2015 at 18:19

If most of the nations were extreme isolationists they may all have developed at very different speeds and largely ignored the technology and ability of other countries.

One of the most obvious cases where this happened was with Japan, which was using Samurai in a different style, but with manners similar to, medieval warfare up until about 1850's. (As opposed to 1500-1600s).

My own knowledge of this is very limited and comes mostly from wikipedia, feel free to expand with more specifics.

End of Tokugawa shogunate

Medieval Times


As other answers have mentioned, advancements in weapons technology made line infantry and cavalry obsolete. In particular, improved accuracy and reload speed of rifles, combined with mass-production techniques, made the main offensive advantage of line formations—volley firing—largely unnecessary, and made cavarly more vulnerable. The invention of the machine gun and the improvement of artillery made the tight groupings of line tactics a liability. Both line infantry and offensive cavalry were (mostly) obsolete by the end of WWI.

So, to keep these formations and tactics relevant, you need to either prevent or nullify these advancements. You say that technology is around the same as our 20th century. That still leaves a pretty broad range of time—the technology in 1901 was vastly different from the technology in 1999. So the simplest way to allow 19th-century tactics in 20th-century society is to make it the early 20th century. While military tactics were already changing at the turn of the century due to the Boer War and other events, small changes in your world's history and technological development would make it plausible that they were still the same.

Unfortunately, having your story in the early 1900's doesn't fit with your desire to have tanks and planes, let alone spaceflight and drones. So, you will need to go a little later. Both computing and rocketry were greatly advanced during (and because of) World War II. The first electronic programmable computer (Colossus) was built in 1943, and the first Turing-complete electronic computer (ENIAC) was made in 1946. The first artificial satellite (Sputnik-1) was put in orbit in 1957, and the first manned spaceflight (Vostok 1) took place in 1961. So, for more advanced computing and spaceflight to be plausible, the rest of the technology in your world should be around the levels of the 1950's or 60's.

By this time, automatic rifles, grenades, mortars, and bombers were commonplace in warfare. As Twelfth's answer states, it is extremely unlikely that a society or world could have the ability to travel to Mars without developing any of these technologies. They must be able to build pretty good rockets, so they should be able to make missiles relatively easily. You cannot reasonably deny your people the weapons advancements that made line infantry tactics or cavalry charges obsolete. If you want to keep them, your only option is to have other technological advancements the reduce or eliminate the advantages given by these weapons. In other words, you need to have the development of armor and other defenses keep up with weapons development. There are two general types of weapons that you will need to address: rapid-fire small arms and long-range explosives.

For defending against small-arms fire, you basically have two options: armor and cover. The use of cover is better suited for smaller groups like squadrons or fireteams, but can be used by larger lines (during the Napoleonic Wars, the Duke of Wellington would often line his armies on the reverse slope of a hill). If you have body armor that can reliably resist small-arms fire, then you can form lines against enemy infantry without worry.

This hypothetical armor would also do a good job of protecting soldiers against fragmentation bombs, grenades, or artillery, but explosive weaponry would still be a problem. To defend against these—artillery and missiles in particular—you will need to use some sort of active protection. Specifically, your armies will need hardkill measures that directly interfere with incoming projectiles, like close-in weapon systems(CIWS) that shoot down enemy missiles. If you can prevent your opponent's missiles and artillery shells from reaching their target, then explosions from those weapons are no longer a threat.

These technologies could be explained in connection with the society's emphasis on computers and space travel. The development of new rockets and spacecraft could lead to the creation of a new composite material that makes for very effective armor. Advanced computers make the detection and tracking abilities of a CIWS possible, as well.

These two defenses can also give you justification for the offensive aspects of your desired tactics. If your ordinary guns can't penetrate your enemy's body armor, your infantry won't keep using them. They will use something more powerful—maybe something like a large-bore shotgun, or even a 4-bore. Shotguns, especially the larger varieties, are less accurate and have shorter effective ranges than rifles. The high recoil associated with their power would also limit the practical firing rate. These two factors bring you back to something similar to 18th- or 19th-century muskets, where formation firing is the best way to inflict casualties. And if battle lines are still in use, flanking cavalry are still useful, too. (Fun fact: shotgun-like pistols called dragons used by cavalry are how dragoons got their name)

If you're going to protect your troops with a CIWS, you'll need to be able to move it. The lightest one that I've been able to find is more than 7,000 pounds, and most seem to be closer to 12,000 pounds. You'll obviously need a vehicle for that. If your enemy is using a similar system, you'll obviously want to destroy that vehicle. But normal anti-tank weapons, like rocket-propelled grenades, won't work because of the CIWS. However, because of the split-second of time the systems need to identify and shoot down a threat, they have a minimum effective range. So you can have your cavalry charge to get within that range, and then attack.

Now, you have infantry fighting in line formation and cavalry charging tanks all within the realm of (mostly) 20th-century technology! You'll still need some handwaving to explain why you don't use heavy machine guns like the Browning .50 Cal to beat the enemy's body armor, or other possibilities. Maybe the armor is even better than that, and all your infantry use rockets? I don't know, but I think this is the best you can do with this setting. You already have bear-people, so I think people could manage the suspension of disbelief required here.

  • $\begingroup$ Not quite sure if I could resolve armor that's effective to the extent needed here and still have lines of musket infantry somehow still effective. Also having problems with a CIWS (20mm vulcan gattling gun) existing without some hand held equivalent...even the threat at aiming the ciws at enemy infantry line formations should make the formation obsolete. Missiles but lack RPG and other anti-personnel weapons in favor of the musket too? I guess that's the heart of it...why would muskets and line formations be the best they could come up with in the face of all these other technologies? $\endgroup$
    – Twelfth
    Commented Feb 19, 2015 at 0:23
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    $\begingroup$ @Twelfth Well, there are missle-based CIWS's. I agree that it is unusual, and that a bit of hand-waving would be required no matter what. But if you want these tactics to be used in "real" battles (not formal and ritualized), I think this is the best you can do. $\endgroup$
    – KSmarts
    Commented Feb 19, 2015 at 14:50

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