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In fiction mages usually only hold wands, staffs, books or some magic orbs/discs floating around them and most of the time they run around empty handed.

How can it be justified other than the rule of cool when it makes so much sense to hold side weapons?

Harry potter double wielding a gun and a wand, Voldemort would have been killed in the first movie.

Or just imagine you are powerful mage and you are fighting another strong and evil warlock, he is about to cast a spell at 3 meters of distance of you, one Abracadabra and you are dead to the ground. It takes 1.5 seconds for him to cast the spell, which is not enough time for you to counter attack, what are you going to do, just stay here and die? Well you could simply grab a rock/knife/anything and throw it in his face breaking his teeth or nose, or simply quickly lunge at the enemy and stab him with a sword/spear while he is casting.

Having a weapon is just too convenient so why aren't mages using them?

Edit: let's just restrict this to medieval technology as it is the most common used in fantasy anyway, but instead of gun there still were repeating cross bows and daggers which only take a fraction of a second to throw so the harry potter example still applies, gun or dagger the difference is little they are both light, small, easy to carry and quickly kill someone.

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closed as primarily opinion-based by RonJohn, Mołot, Mindwin, kingledion, Ash Nov 5 '18 at 12:49

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ This might be more appropriately asked on writing.SE. And seems pretty opinion based, and thus subject to being closed. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Nov 5 '18 at 8:45
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    $\begingroup$ Thats a job for writing.SE $\endgroup$ – Jannis Nov 5 '18 at 8:47
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    $\begingroup$ In The Magic Engineer (Saga of Recluce) the reason for that is that magic wielders have strong "empathy". The more magic they are the more empathetic they are toward other beings. To the point that if they take another person life they would die themselves (or if they harm them they also feel it). So only the ones who can't feel it can use offensive weapons (but they also cannot casts spells). Staffs are defensive and used to knock out the enemy or subdue them. $\endgroup$ – SZCZERZO KŁY Nov 5 '18 at 10:05
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    $\begingroup$ "Harry potter double wielding a gun and a wand, Voldemort would have been killed in the first movie.". This is explained in the books. It would very probably not work. $\endgroup$ – Renan Nov 5 '18 at 10:39
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    $\begingroup$ Barbara Hamblys magic users are generally also considered masters with an edged weapon. It makes perfect sense given some of the things a wizard faces you'd be a fool to go near them without a couple of feet of cold steel in your hands. $\endgroup$ – Binary Worrier Nov 5 '18 at 12:47
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It's a tradeoff

You could have a wizard like Gandalf, sword in one hand staff in the other, or Mustrum Ridcully, who generally believed that if hitting it with 6 feet of oak didn't work the magic probably wouldn't either and carried a couple of loaded crossbows in his pointy hat, but these are the anomalies in the grand scheme of wizards.

Your average wizard is a classic nerd, a specialist not a generalist, whether of the type to live entirely on pizza, or the type to forget to eat for days at a time, they're generally not the type with the strength or agility to handle a non-magical weapon.


Fire

There are many reasons why a mage wouldn't carry a firearm, but the simplest one is probably the constant presence of fire around combat mages. Whether fireballs or fire shields, live ammunition and fire don't mix well.

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  • $\begingroup$ +1 for Terry Pratchet reference ;). Although I don't think that carrying live firearms is such a problem for mages. $\endgroup$ – Demigan Nov 5 '18 at 9:40
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The usual reason is likely to make mages less all-mighty and stories more interesting. In-world reasons include:

Magical gestures

Most magic systems include forming gestures with your hands or holding magical materials in your hand. That makes holding a weapon at the same time impossible and stowing them away before casting a spell increases the casting time.

Training

Mages need to stick their noses in dusty books all day to master the magic arts in a whooping 20 - 30 years of time. In order to effectively use a weapon to defend themselves, they need to invest time into regular weapon training. In the eyes of a mage, the most powerful weapon is magic itself, so any physical training is a waste of time.

Concentration

Waving your hand around while holding a sharp blade in the other hand is extremely dangerous. You have to either concentrate on not cutting yourself or on getting the gestures right.

The same applies to crossbows. Even if you don't need gestures to cast spells, you can either concentrate on casting or on aiming your weapon, but not both at the same time.

Physical strength

Most weapons get more effective the stronger the wielder is (including throwing daggers). Again, that contradicts spending as much time as possible learning the magical arts.

Even a crossbow that needs no more that the twitch of a finger to fire a deadly bolt needs to be redrawn before you can fire a second bolt. You need to either have the strength to draw the string or use a rather slow method like a wind to draw the string with less physical strength.

Any weapon you want to use in fight has to be carried to the battlefield. Casting 10 magical projectiles at an enemy doesn't weight anything, but carrying 10 throwing daggers burdens a mage with unnecessary weight.

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It depends on your magic system. But taking Harry Potter as an example, while you could theoretically use a wand and gun at the same time it's a multitask you cannot afford. The likelyhood of you making a mistake and the spell failing increases immensely when holding a gun as well unless you aren't using the gun at that point. You could put the gun in a holster though and use it as an alternate killing curse, but the HP universe has proven that all mages including Hermione who's supposed to be oh so smart are actually batshit insane. She's afraid of Voldemorts name after reading about him 5 minutes and this is something almost all muggle-borns do for some reason besides the broken monetary system, the unworkable Quidditch rules, nonsensical use of Time Turners and the general lack of social control rules. Avada Kedavra is forbidden but Molly the Housewife has no trouble turning Bellatrix to dust! More kills are made with other curses than the actual killing curse! /HP rant.

From what I understand in D&D type games you usually don't carry weapons as it takes mental effort to cast spells, and being as little encumbered as possible with as little hindrance is key to casting your spell effectively. Besides that most mages are often painted as frail and weak so it's more balanced with other classes and the mage will simply not have use for weapons (even though logically self-improvement would be one of the first magics that would get developed, screw throwing a fireball if you can make yourself sexy and well capable of surviving without one!).

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  • $\begingroup$ +1 for the last part, it actually makes to much sense.... $\endgroup$ – user56803 Nov 5 '18 at 9:42
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    $\begingroup$ @Eries it's one of my pet peeves. Magic would logically follow the same development as technology. First you will worry about food, shelter (clothes, living area vs weather etc) and sex+offspring care, and only after that a fireball becomes interesting (unless you developed it for instant-BBQ). Yet almost every magic system in existance is combat-oriented with precious little day-to-day spells. $\endgroup$ – Demigan Nov 5 '18 at 9:45
  • $\begingroup$ Damn, it must be the effects of too many video games.... $\endgroup$ – user56803 Nov 5 '18 at 9:47
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    $\begingroup$ You forgot the Hermione Granger Spell of the Week solution to every problem :) $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Nov 5 '18 at 10:17
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    $\begingroup$ Old D&D (2E) had "somatic components" that required the mage was free to make precise and accurate body and hand movements. This prevented mages from usually using most armor, shields and weapons while casting most spells. 3E added classes and feats that enabled armed mages. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi Nov 5 '18 at 10:17
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Material Reactivity

The metals from which most standard medieval weapons are made out of react negatively to magic, by destabilising any spell casting attempt when in close proximity to the mage, such as being carried on his/her person. No mage wants to commit magical suicide, so they go to great lengths to make sure they keep all such materials a safe distance away from themselves.

That doesn't automatically rule out all weapons of course. There's still the Stone Age classics, big rock and pointy stick. But to use such crude weapons in an effective manner requires a significant amount of training that magicians will lack as a rule because of the demands of their main job

Legal Restrictions

Sorcerers would likely be seen as powerful but yet potentially dangerous by the authorities, so they'd naturally seek to create a system of legal restrictions on spellcasters. Wizards can be forbidden from taking up physical arms by design as part of this system, and blacksmiths would likewise be forbidden to sell them weapons.

This doesn't solve the question by itself, but it's an extra hurdle you can add onto other factors

Arrogance

Pretty straightforward. It comes naturally that being able to wield magical power would lead to skilled magic-users developing an overinflated confidence, possibly even a God Complex. They could well look down on having to engage in physical labour/ combat as a result, seeing such activities as "for the unwashed masses and not us enlightened few"(or something along those lines). This arrogance would create a cultural blindness to the simple utility of having a sidearm. Novices who dare entertain such unworthy ideas of practicality would be constantly chastised and mocked at the tender age where they are most vulnerable to such social pressures, further squeezing this sort of unorthodoxy from the gene pool

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    $\begingroup$ I don't think this is a good answer. "You are dead because an enemy/friend got close with a weapon" isn't going to make for a very good story most of the time. $\endgroup$ – Demigan Nov 5 '18 at 10:02
  • $\begingroup$ @Demigan I think that speaks to a lack of imagination more than anything else. Also, the distance is negotiable. It could be close enough that the attacker is a split second from his knife entering the mage's body. Also, I added another component to my answer $\endgroup$ – nullpointer Nov 5 '18 at 11:03
  • $\begingroup$ I like this answer, straight to the point and makes sense... if touching some metals or close proximity has an adverse effect, the less you have around you the better. Most non metal weapons require a lot of training if you want to use them against a warrior. A stout staff is your best option, even better if it's an aide to magic or magical itself. Still a pointy end would be helpful perhaps. $\endgroup$ – Kilisi Nov 5 '18 at 11:09
  • $\begingroup$ This has seen use in some universes. Typically, it's close contact with (worked) iron that hinders spellcasting or prevents regeneration of spent magical power. $\endgroup$ – Ruther Rendommeleigh Nov 5 '18 at 11:32
  • $\begingroup$ @Demigan in the computer game Arcanum magic and technology react negatively to each other. People attuned to either magic or technology find themselves in a very interesting predicament - ones attuned to magic will be affected more by each spell but technology based effects are diminished on them. Conversely, a tech user will have magic protection. So a magician hit by a harmful spell might be crippled but a techn user would be unaffected. On the other hand, magic healing is impossible even friendly on technology users. The conflict between magic and tech is a central theme. $\endgroup$ – vlaz Nov 5 '18 at 11:44
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Mages are traditionally mystics and scholars, not soldiers. This has given us an expectation that they do not carry weapons.

When they fight, it happens with magic which we could not possibly understand. Perhaps a sort of argument, or pitting their determination against each other.

The actual arguments given against weapons, if any, will vary from story to story, but I believe the real reasons are just to fulfill an expectation and create drama.

That all being said, Gandalf had a sword.

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    $\begingroup$ Harry Dresden also carries a pistol often to the surprise of enemy wizards he encounters. $\endgroup$ – vlaz Nov 5 '18 at 11:32
  • $\begingroup$ A D&D starting wizard character has a dagger for when they run out of spells $\endgroup$ – Thorne Nov 6 '18 at 1:37
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Why don't soldiers use bows and arrows as well? Why don't modern soldiers carry spears as well as guns? They get trained in one discipline, and that does well for them. If you're already carrying a staff or wand, and everything else that goes with fantasy mage (generally potions and magical objects) where would you keep your sword? Not to mention magic is a ranged attack, and close combat requires some sort of armour - yet more weight. A better question might be "why aren't all fantasy characters spellswords?"

In the case of Harry Potter, however, guns wouldn't help at all, for two main reasons. As far as capable adult wizards go (not even just Aurors, but adults capable of fighting, which we see very few of) pretty much all magic outstrips guns. There's no ammunition, there's no extra carrying stuff, its much more concealable, and Avada Kedavra is unblockable and will kill straight up. Guns are heavy, guns require ammo, guns require care, guns can miss, guns can hit but not kill fast enough, guns are loud. You can incapacitate someone with magic without killing them in a matter of seconds, in ways you can't do without magic.

The other, most important thing about Voldemort in particular, was that he couldn't die. That was literally the entire point of the series. He had horcruxes, and with them, no amount of gunfire or magic spell would kill him.

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There's several examples of this trope being averted (Harry Dresden, Mustrum Ridcully, Belgarion, Sparhawk, Gandalf etc) but if we look at the more specific context in your question:

Edit: let's just restrict this to medieval technology as it is the most common used in fantasy anyway, but instead of gun there still were repeating cross bows and daggers which only take a fraction of a second to throw so the harry potter example still applies, gun or dagger the difference is little they are both light, small, easy to carry and quickly kill someone.

Repeating crossbows, especially not ones that can be used single-handed (pistol crossbows) aren't that common in medieval fantasy settings and without at least a semi-automatic mechanism they can't be re-cocked single-handed anyway so you're not much better off than a one-shot crossbow anyway. Accuracy using it single-handed isn't going to be great either.

As for knives/daggers - throwing knives quickly and accurately enough to kill someone is hard, and that brings me to perhaps the main in-universe reason why they don't use side weapons. To be able to kill or incapacitate any opponent with a mundane weapon reliably enough to bother carrying one around you need to be reasonably proficient with it.

Take your Harry Potter example.. just how proficient do you think an 11 year old school child with zero weapons training going to be with a pistol crossbow, dagger or even a gun for that matter?

Getting good enough with a weapon to use it takes practice, hours and hours of practice. And since in many medieval-esque fantasty settings so does magic then mages simply don't have the time to spare to train with mundane weapons.

Out of universe of course there's always the question balance to consider. You have a mage who can not only blast fire at you but is also a crack shot with a pistol crossbow or an expert knife-thrower then you risk them being a bit over-powered and boring. It can be done but you have to think of another way of making them vulnerable.

EDIT: Updated to respond to the comment below

How proficient? Kids carry guns and knives around all the time and plenty of people get killed. Even the most unskilled person can point a gun and pull a trigger or stab with a knife. Training will make you better at it but it's still deadly with zero training.

At three metres, with ~1.5s to react, draw, aim, fire and have a decent chance of hitting? Sure the real top-flight people can pull that off. Novices? No chance.

Let's assume they have the gun/pistol crossbow out, ready and aimed in the enemies general direction before the 1.5s starts (although if they had that much time advantage they could have started their own spell surely) then you have enough time (~0.25s to react and even at 100fps the bolt will cross the distance in ~0.1s), will it hit? Maybe, it's certainly not reliable though.

Untrained people are really not very accurate at all and would you trust your life to the idea of making that one out of one shot? Especially in a life or death situation with the time pressure on?

Kids in gangs or whatever carrying pistols aren't exactly comparing apples with apples either. It's a fair bet that they will at least have had some practice with it and even then the chances of them actually hitting what they're aiming at is slim. They are usually killing each other more by luck then skill.

There's nothing inherently wrong with the idea of equipping mages with mundane weapons - the proficiency angle was a way of explaining why the OP's notion that Harry Potter could have just solved the whole thing in Book 1 by the simple expedient of packing heat doesn't work.

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  • $\begingroup$ How proficient? Kids carry guns and knives around all the time and plenty of people get killed. Even the most unskilled person can point a gun and pull a trigger or stab with a knife. Training will make you better at it but it's still deadly with zero training. $\endgroup$ – Thorne Nov 6 '18 at 1:40
  • $\begingroup$ yep, even the biggest and weakest nerd on the planet knows how to throw a punch, now add that to that punch a knife and it becomes a lethal blow. $\endgroup$ – user56803 Nov 6 '18 at 15:00
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    $\begingroup$ @Eries Equipping them with melee weapons makes way more sense then ranged ones and you need much less training/practice to at least do some damage with them. Which is precisely why it's actually quite common for mages in fantasy to carry knives or staves and to use those in the sort of scenario you describe. $\endgroup$ – motosubatsu Nov 6 '18 at 15:10
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Weapons are kind of special case in that the weapons people are generally fairly optimized for their perceived needs and abilities. Very few people choose to have less than optimal weapons when their lives are at stake.

So if mages do not carry weapons that is because they believe that they have no reason to. They do not see carrying the weapon as giving them a benefit. There are several possible reasons and they do stack. So you want to have as many as possible of them in effect. It should be fairly obvious these have feedback loops between them.

Mages do not fight

Most mages are scholars or craftsmen and never need to fight beyond occasional bar room brawl. As such there is no reason for them to carry weapons. More importantly they are always better off learning magic than weapon skills, so even if carry a weapon for some reason they are more likely to hurt themself than the enemy. Unless the enemy laughs so hard they hurt themselves.

Mages have a specialized role in a fight

Fighting should be a team effort with eveyone doing their own part. Swordsmen are common and cheap, mages are rare and expensive. So whenever a mage is doing something that a swordsman could do as well, you are wasting resources. The mage should optimally always be doing mage things others cannot or preparing to do so.

This goes double in a fight since doing sub-optimal things might get you killed. Time spent learning weapon use is also away from learning fighting with magic which also makes you more likely to die. Just hire the mage a body guard or learn proper team tactics.

Magic is better

Mages simply think that magic is better than carrying a weapon. This is a combination of magic being fairly versatile, mages being much better with magic than weapons, and mages being stuck up people who think physical fighting is below them, an admission their mind was not good enough.

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