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I have an idea for a Young Adult fantasy, a small number of teens are visited by characters from 'fantasy' world, at which point they learn that most of our fantasy worlds exist and that magic works in our present world. They are attacked by a few people selected by an enemy as their opposite number, also empowered by magic.

My big problem is guns getting in way of a more magical & sword vibe I want to go with. I'm okay with guns being present to some degree, but I don't want them to be the main characters primary weapons. I also don't like how instantly fatal they are. I want my heroes to be strong enough to have a significant effect in the world, but it doesn't matter how much magic they possess if a single sniper rifle can stop them effortlessly. Thus I would like to come up with some way of justifying the limited use of guns or cut their ability to completely neutralizer the protagonists.

The Premise

It's a pretty straightforward plot as described above, other than the fact that it's going to have some actual death involved. In some ways, it's a partially deconstruct the standard YA magic hero story. The sudden presence of magic can't stay a secret and ends up being national news and even starting battles. The heroes can't resolve things without the use of force, there will be a need for some to be willing to fight and kill, and at least one of the heroes and some of their fantasy guides will fall in the fight. I'm not going entirely gritty deconstruction, some of the general YA optimism will exist and the teens won't be completely destroyed emotionally by the need to fight, but I am trying towards a more realistic Reality Ensues story while still keeping some of the YA tropes and general fantasy.

Lots of the fantasy guides are from Eastern Style RPGs, so think of any Final Fantasy to get a general feel for what the combat should be like. Lots of magic and swords and protagonist with a bit of Charles Atles Superpower when it comes to their skill with melee weapons.

The heroes all gain some level of enhanced physical fighting ability (the ways very, but generally fit under 'knowledge of fighting magically bestowed upon them' or 'prior training in actual martial arts or fencing, but with their magic abilities used to enhanced their physical skills'), with two characters playing the 'pure mage' role of no physical fighting skills.

One of the 'enemy' teens has a gift for bringing in people from other fantasy worlds. He declares himself the president of the US and starts bringing in the military from a fantasy world to enforce it. This military goes up against both the disorganized US government's military and our heroes as sort of 'mooks'. Generally, they're treated as less dangerous then our present military, but they have numbers.

My problem is that I want to try to justify a group of a few dozen, at most, heroes, all either larger than life fantasy heroes or teens with powerful magic, going up against a larger force of 'mook' soldiers. I want a real fight scene, so saying the teens just nuked everything with fire before the enemy knew what was happening is not really a possibility. the teens can do lots of 'weak' attacks, maybe toss a lightning bolt that zaps 3-5 soldiers at once, but they can't just nuke everything at once. I want a real challenge in such fights.

The enemy force consists of soldiers from a world that is a little past fantasy, but where swords and magic are used as often as guns. I'm going to claim that military tradition causes them to frown on guns and that a combination of limited gun crafting ability and armors that are effective against guns but not close range weapons all combined to lead to an emphasis on close range and magical fighting with guns used only to supplement the main force. However, OUR guns are still powerful, and it wouldn't take long for the enemy forces to realize they can go out and buy better guns at the local shop, or hire soldiers & mercenaries. How can I either limit adoption of our weapons or create a believable way to limit the power of adopted weapons?

The Magic

The premise of this world is human belief in something can make it happen. The fantasy characters that come to our world to meet with the heroes come from real worlds that mimic popular literature because of the combined belief of people reading these literary works, and allowing themselves to imagine them as being real, was sufficient to make these worlds actually exist, giving life to the characters within them. The reason that our present world doesn't see any magic is that we all collectively believe magic shouldn't exist, and our collective belief in magic not existing keeps it from happening. However, if one person believes hard enough in something magical happening their one strong belief in something occurring can be enough to overcome the passive disbelief of others long enough to make the magic real.

The protagonists do not know this, they simply know that people showed up that shouldn't be able to exist and tried to drag them to a meeting without explaining why; only later did they discover they could work magic (having been inspired to believe in it by the sudden presence of so many other fantastical things). They were each selected by their creativity and ability to believe, effectively they were chosen as the teens most capable of using magic, but the fact that they don't know why they can do it limits their belief in their abilities and thus the power of their magic.

Each hero's magic feels very different because they each believe that magic should work differently, and each subconsciously places limits on what they can do because they believe those limits should exist. The enemy has been told how magic actually works and as such they better believe in their magic without limits and are therefore individually stronger than the heroes.

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    $\begingroup$ This reminds me of the Matrix trilogy, to be honest. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Mar 25 '15 at 17:38
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure how much of a gritty deconstruction you can do when "You can do anything you put your mind to. Just believe in yourself." is basically how magic works. $\endgroup$ – KSmarts Mar 25 '15 at 20:18
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    $\begingroup$ @oldcat I want there to be a very real threat, and will demonstrate it more then most YA books. However, I want it more in terms of melee fighting, dodging fire balls, and more 'shonen' like fantasy combat. Bullets are no fun to fight against, you hide and poke out long enough to shoot back, it's a boring fight scene. Plus in reality there is no way my heroes could do anything openly (non-guerilla war) when a single sniper can stop them. Threat is good, but they have to believable stand some sort of chance. $\endgroup$ – dsollen Mar 26 '15 at 15:06
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    $\begingroup$ Gotta start somewhere. I did the same thing, just not a forum. I'm currently rewriting my first novels because they were horrible. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Mar 26 '15 at 16:31
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    $\begingroup$ Does it matter what others believe? That is, if the sniper is convinced by magical weirdness or whatever that he is unlikely to hit the mage, does that magically alter the shot? What if bystanders believe that heroes are invincible--does that help make it so? If the heroes don't really understand all this, then surely they're going to start trying to figure out why they never get shot, leading to their figuring out the big secret.... $\endgroup$ – CAgrippa Apr 14 '15 at 20:58

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There are a lot of things that could be done here...but here's an option for you that I think plays well thematically with how you describe magic working. In short, belief-based probability bending... aka, your main characters literally have belief-induced plot armor.

People believe that heroes don't just go down in a hail of gunfire. We see this in film and literature all the time. Batman flips his way through gunfire all the time and is generally unscathed unless he needs to be injured for a plot related reason...and even then, it's seldom a debilitating injury that causes serious damage. And James Freaking Bond...heaven only knows how much lead has fruitlessly been fired at him.

This is something well engrained into culture and into the human mindset. In reality, a few targets against many with guns ends in a hail of lead. But a hero has plot armor. Bullets simply fail to hit him, explosions knock him away instead of pulping his innards, and so on.

It is that belief that protects the heroes. Sure, in close combat against a few enemies, they can be defeated...in a duel they can be killed...but against a hail of lead from faceless mooks? Meh. Against a cheapshot from a sniper? He'll miss and shoot the glass out of their hand instead.

It's not that they are messing with the aim of their enemies...it's that their 'plot armor' basically bends bullets around them to protect them.

Maybe this is a little too meta for you...but hey, I thought it was fun.

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    $\begingroup$ I do like this idea allot, but implementing it in the story that doesn't frustrate the audience may be difficult. The big reveal that magic is based off of belief and that the limits to each person magic was purely self-imposed doesn't occur until the end. So even if this technically worked I don't know how to convey to the audience "wait, I've justified this" from the beginning. A justification only after all the insane stuff is over seems to defeat the point of justifying it. Still, I do like the concept if I could make it fit the medium... $\endgroup$ – dsollen Mar 26 '15 at 14:42
  • $\begingroup$ @dsollen This might be a separate, writing question, but perhaps a couple of throwaway lines or subtle references to Hollywood cliches would do the trick. Readers who know their stuff might chalk it up to "author research failure", because that's what they expect. $\endgroup$ – Mike L. Mar 26 '15 at 20:23
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    $\begingroup$ I also like this answer. You can show that this things happens apparently by luck (The sniper narrowly misses because the protagonist move because he think that eared a noise) and in the end you can explain that this were not so luck but magic. And also this don't make they invulnerable as we don't think that a hero can get in front of a tank and don't get injured. $\endgroup$ – PhoneixS Mar 27 '15 at 9:19
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    $\begingroup$ I'm thinking of combining this with Erik's answer. The protagonists are all given some item which is suppose to help protect them from bullets, in a manner similar to what Erik described, but which isn't nearly as effective as they all believe. They learn that it was their belief in the item itself, and general hero cliche's, which helped to protect them at the end. So we have a justification at the start of the story, and this as a reveal later. Of course that sort of makes it unfair that I can only select one of your answers as correct. Go upvote his question for me or something ;) $\endgroup$ – dsollen Mar 27 '15 at 15:35
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The latent magical fields that surround spellcasters have a weird, sort of dampening effect on ordinary matter. Almost as if the caster is incased in a sort of jello. While the effect is fairly weak, anyone non-magical moving near a mage can feel the drag. You move more sluggishly. Your arms feel heavier. Your punches swing slower. The more powerful the magician, the stronger the effect. The lighter the object in question, the stronger the effect.

So yeah, a competent mage getting shot at? You can visibly see the bullets slowing down as they approach and bounce into the magical field around him. He can dodge them by stepping aside. If he gets hit, he'll have maybe a bruise. An arrow, being much heavier, can still have enough stopping power to kill, although most mages are quite capable of sidestepping those as well. Or take the time to cast a spell to block them. A sword to the face would still hurt, although the stronger the wizard, the harder you have to swing to be fast enough to wound him.

Other magical fields seem to ignore the effect completely; a magical sword cuts through even the most powerful mage's field with impunity. A magical arrow flies in at ordinary speed. A magical bullet... well... it would kill a wizard easy. Only problem is; magically enhanced materials are much harder to work with during smithing, are ridiculously expensive to obtain and almost every part of the proces has to be done by hand. There´s simply nobody in the world who has the kind of resources to build a factory that produces magically enhances rifles. Crafting a modern gun by hand is hard enough, but using a magical material to do it? You simply cannot work it well enough to make such a device. Maybe a primitive gun, if you try really hard, but even those are probably no match for tossing a lightning bolt, so none are known to exist.

  • Yes, this is just making plot armor an inherent property of magic.
  • Allows sudden, enhanced fighting ability for mages
  • Bullets are useless against mages
  • Arrows are not
  • A magical artefact gun could still be a potential threat, but it'd be a major plot point
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  • $\begingroup$ I really like this concept, and it does a good job of meeting my simplified question of limiting the power of guns in urban fantasy. It doesn't work quite as well with the concept of magic in my world, since magic works the way the teens expect and none would expect this unfortunately. However, I may still use part of it; if I can justify it being some magical or technological defensive device given to them by their 'guides'. I'll have to think a bit about rather I can shoe horn it in this story, but If nothing else I'll save it for another story :) $\endgroup$ – dsollen Mar 26 '15 at 14:50
  • $\begingroup$ I ended up choosing guildsboundty's answer as correct, but the truth is I'm using a combination of ideas from both their and your answer; see my comment on his question. I selected their answer because it's more in keeping with the final explanation, but I owe at least as much of my solution to this question, so I feel sort of bad I can't also reward you for it. In any case thanks for the answer :). $\endgroup$ – dsollen Mar 27 '15 at 15:37
  • $\begingroup$ Your thanks is reward enough, don't worry about it :) Good luck with your story. $\endgroup$ – Erik Mar 27 '15 at 23:07
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Guns have no defenses against magic and lots of fiddly little moving parts. This means that you could have it trivial for the heroes to disable the enemy guns with a simple spell or ability.

Snipers are harder but defenses could still be put in place. For example being able to detect hostile intent/an attack even without needing to see the attacker.

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A little precognition could go a long way. Not even that much or that specific... 5 seconds of a bad feeling would be more than enough.
Sniper pulls the trigger, the hero senses it and moves 3 inches to the left until the bad feeling goes away, and the bullet goes whisking by.

This wouldn't be plot breaking because enough bullets, or being distracted and ignoring the feeling would prevent the hero from dodging.

Also, not all the heros need it, just the ones you don't want to get shot.

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  • $\begingroup$ One of my heroes explicitly has magic precognition, it's what makes him capable of fighting on par with other more skilled swordsmen with just a few years of fencing practice. Another can make bullet blocking magic shields easily as part of his defensive magic emphasis for that matter. Unfortunately that means I can't have the others using similar approaches without taking away the uniqueness of these two protagonists. Still, this is a good idea if it wasn't for the fact that I already am kind of using it elsewhere :) $\endgroup$ – dsollen Mar 26 '15 at 14:45
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    $\begingroup$ Hmm, well, maybe. You could still solve it 3 ways. 1) Precog guy warns others before they get shot. "Bob, get down!" Bob ducks, bullet misses. 2) Precog has powerful precognition, but the others have a very weak version, like a spider sense. "Somethings wrong, but I don't know what or why. I feel like I'm being watched. Better duck." 3) By chance snipers just don't target the non protected heros. Lots of soldiers go to war and don't get shot because no bullets hit them. Basically just ignore the issue. This actually works with your belief system. The young believe they are invincible. $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 Mar 26 '15 at 14:58
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This is a two-part answer.

As you said, magic can be influenced by the subconscious. This means that the reality bending magic of your world would in fact make it totally plausible that if a character believes he or she is the hero of the story, bullets can't touch him or her. The subconscious then acts to make it so.

If you're asking for a non hero-armor answer, guns are very... delicate. Take for example the protagonist of The Irregular at Magic High School, he can disassemble most guns with a sweep of his hand or a simple spell. Guns are at an almost irreducible complexity level. Undo a few screws and viola the gun is no longer operational. This would also keep archery to a minimum as bow-string are easy targets for cutting spells. Also, if the magic user is at all good with fire, seeing a gun's magazine would allow them to ignite all the bullets in it at once causing much damage to the gun and whoever had the gun.

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A difficult question. I can only think to solve it in 3 ways.

  • Why you want a pistol if your magical arrow can hit the target behind a wall? This have the problem than then how you protect them from magic.
  • The use of advanced weapons is dishonest and enemy society is very honourable and prohibited it clearly. (about this). This is very strange in a "evil" society.
  • They are protected by magic of another powerfull (and provably ancient) source like a wizard or a prophecy that must happen.
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Depending on how you WANT your magic system to work, this could go MANY different ways.. But I think you underestimate just how much of an impact a so-called "weak" attack like a lightning bolt that zaps 3-5 people at once really would have on a real-world situation.

A lightning bolt is an INCREDIBLE amount of energy packed into a compact space. Therefore, your protagonists are already not "weak" by any stretch if they can manifest such amounts of energy with little to no effort. Guns work and are effective because they are a quick and easy way to mimic the effect of putting a lot of energy into a relatively small space.

Eastern style RPGs VASTLY underestimate the effect guns would have on a battle. Even steel plate armor was insufficient against medieval guns, therefore armor is out of the question. Especially if you are talking about defense against MODERN guns. In a story that tries to mimic real-world battles, guns will ALWAYS win against swords. And, honestly, no military leader worth anything would frown on guns, unless those guns were INCREDIBLY expensive or otherwise not worth the cost...

However, if your protagonists can cast an enchantment that, perhaps, creates a magnetic field or energy shield around themselves, such that the bullets are deflected or stopped, that would work even against things like grenades or other small arm explosives.

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    $\begingroup$ Steel plate armour was, in fact, more than sufficient against guns. It used to be tested against guns, which is where the term bullet-proof comes from. Even 19th century muskets could only penetrate it at short range, and where modern weapons are concerned, you're going to need an anti-materiel rifle to penetrate it, or a battle rifle caliber at the very least. Handguns are not likely to do much. Also, a magnetic field powerful enough to deflect a bullet mid-flight would wreak all kind of havoc on any metal objects in the vicinity (look up MRI accidents and multiply that by 10 at least) $\endgroup$ – Mike L. Mar 25 '15 at 20:36
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, I know all of that. But "bullet-proof" was done using a black powder pistol, which wasn't nearly as powerful as a musket. Furthermore, guns are light, cheap, and easy to use, whereas armor (especially armor thick enough to stop bullets) is expensive, heavy, and required training to use effectively. Doesn't matter if you have 20 guys with full armor if you have 200 guys with guns. The armor loses... $\endgroup$ – m t Mar 26 '15 at 13:35
  • $\begingroup$ @mt I quoted 'weak' because I know that's hardly worthless, but against mooks that outnumber you significantly it's enough to give you a chance without being game-breaking. I agree our guns are so strong that it's hard to justify their not being used. I can have the enemy start out without a real tradition due to their having worse guns, but the question is being asked because realistically they would start using guns soon. I'm toying with magic defenses that work kind of like what erik suggested, still have to figure out how to get them in-story in a way I like. $\endgroup$ – dsollen Mar 26 '15 at 15:13
  • $\begingroup$ @mt Well, sure, steel plate armour would not be invulnerable and would most likely lose at the odds you present, but it isn't worthless either; a replica plate armour made of modern steel would turn away any common handgun round, and rifles would have to hit dead-on an either have large enough caliber or point-blank distance. Furthermore, steel is really cheap. Of course, historical plate armour doesn't provide full coverage and has other issues, which is why modern militaries use different materials for personal protection. It's not automatic bullet immunity, but it is a force multiplier. $\endgroup$ – Mike L. Mar 26 '15 at 20:18
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How about inverting your basic premise: "human belief in something can make it happen"? So, within the vicinity of your magic-wielding teens, guns don't work because the bullets travel so fast that they are invisible. And if it can't be seen, it can't be so. Swords work, axes work, arrows work (sort of) armor is impenetrable because it looks impenetrable - but bullets and explosions simply don't register.

This will have other implications, and require careful handling. Tanks, for instance, can still crush people, even if they can't shoot them.

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Well, most gunshot wounds are not in fact immediately fatal or incapacitating. That's why stopping power is a concern for weapon users.

Usually if you need to immediately kill someone, you need to shoot for the brain, and landing such a hit on a moving target is so difficult that most military and law enforcement professionals are trained not to even attempt those shots. If your magic is based on willpower and clap your hands if you believe principle, then you could have the heroes simply shrug single gunshot wounds off as "just a flesh wound", action hero style, and magically heal them after the fight.

This gives your heroes/magic users a superhuman capability to withstand gunfire. Guns are, however, still somewhat effective - if a gunslinger can land a headshot with his handgun (a really exceptional feat), a sniper can get a headshot in (pretty tough to do - real snipers don't generally attempt this) or someone can manage to hit the hero close in with a shotgun, they can kill them. They have to fight for it though; either they need to get close enough for the heroes to fight back with magic, or need to be really elite. This might or might not fit your intentions.

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  • $\begingroup$ I do believe that my heroes are going to get shot, and heal the wounds later, on more then a few occasions. It helps bring home the real danger of death if they sustain serious wounds often, even if they can be healed I can emphasis just how devastatingly painful they are, and that healing is not instantaneous or assured to arrive in time, to show vulnerability; while having readily available magical healing (that WILL run out eventually, magic isn't limitless) can have the heroes keep fighting after their serious injuries. $\endgroup$ – dsollen Mar 26 '15 at 15:16
  • $\begingroup$ However, having the heroes constantly sustain serious, but NON-FATAL, injuries and heal from them can only happen so often. Eventually it either makes guns feel to weak (without proper justification) that the bullets never kill, get's boring to keep happening. I had a real hard time justifying my white-mage character because he only worked well if he often had people to heal, and I realized quickly constant healing of wounds like this because rather annoying trope after awhile. So in short I agree with what you said and will use it, but think I need more then just it as a justification. $\endgroup$ – dsollen Mar 26 '15 at 15:20
  • $\begingroup$ ps. My healer character ended up also getting magic shields, to be more proactive in saving others, and more importantly the ability to buff someone's speed and endurance, particularly his own. He became more of a paladin, one of the best front line fighters due to his massively boosted speed; protecting others by drawing enemy fire, so hes not a boring passive healer waiting for someone to be injured. he lacks killing power as a martial artist who doesn't kill (goes against the desire to protect that fuels his magic), he's more Tank then DPS. I liked him the most once he was finished $\endgroup$ – dsollen Mar 26 '15 at 15:25
  • $\begingroup$ @dsollen Well, what I was proposing was saying something to the effect that magic actually makes Hollywood action hero myths real, because your heroes think of themselves as heroes And because they act like it, others will too. So a small number of bullets is always "just a flesh wound" and can be shrugged off, more or less. $\endgroup$ – Mike L. Mar 26 '15 at 20:21
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First off, limiting of spells. In order to receive assistance or not arouse the wrath of some governing authority, the kids must sign the "Covenant of One". After they do, no single spell can help or hurt more than one person at a time. This creates single combat situations, and a the all-too-human search for a loophole.

Next, guns. In Dune there was a personal shield that slowed things down, like bullets. This prevented lasers (which would cause the whole block to explode, killing shooter and target). It meant that they practiced knife combat a lot. Maybe there is a shield spell that slows all rapid objects down if they approach the body, permitting an adept to dodge. It will still allow air molecules to enter, allowing breathing, but it would make the air frosty after awhile, because all the warm molecules would be kept out but the cold ones admitted.

More about guns. Another approach is to fire the O'Reilly curse: the "No-spin zone". It prevents bullets from rifling as they exit the gun, increasing friction and making the bullets veer off after they leave the barrel. Or an anti-fever spell that prevents anything from getting hotter than 98.6, which prevents ignition of the bullet's propellant. (To cast this spell, you need more cowbell.)

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Kinetic energy shields such as those featured in the 'Dune' series by Frank Herbert. The shield could be a protective amulet or a spell. It would also give you a reason for using swords and stabbing weapons in the modern era.

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They get magic rings, bracelets or necklaces to wear, these are specifically crafted to protect against anything traveling more than X feet per second, and if it does, it is slowed to that speed.

The slowest 22 bullets travel at about 500 feet per second (340 mph). The fastest thrown baseball was 105 mph (154 feet per second), which is also (logically) about the limit of how fast an arm can strike. I am not sure what damage a bullet (with much less mass than a baseball) would do at 150 fps, but I should think it is not much unless it is sharp and lucky (in the eye, in the carotid artery, etc). for the most part it would scratch muscle and bounce off, and light leather armor would stop it.

The protagonists do not have to know it works because they believe it works, they just believe it works because they SEE it work, either in an explicit demonstration by a helper, or in battle, people with the protective device are effectively protected in a hail of bullets, others without it get slaughtered as they would expect.

Of course, knives, swords, spears, mace, or a board with nails in it all continue to work normally, being human powered they don't exceed the speed limit. Arrows may be slowed a bit, but with greater mass than a bullet could still be sharp and lethal.

The excuse for not having an even greater restriction is that the wearer is subject to the same limitation within the field generated by the object, so to fight effectively the field cannot slow them down, and thus cannot slow projectiles down any further than how fast a human can move.

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