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This is a follow up to: How can society based on strict gender roles be "fair and balanced"?

Basically in this world, women have magic and men don't. In order for men to not be useless, males either must have an ability equivalent to magic, or magic must have strict limitations of what it can accomplish by itself. I want to retain certain things aspects of society like warfare in the realm of males. Based on the responses, it has been determined that magic must be slow and complicated, requiring multiple ingredients and rituals, instead of the fireball throwing, calling lighting from the sky type. However, the level of technology in this world must be taken into account.

This is a high fantasy world, which employs magi-tech in its daily life. In our world, technological advances in warfare narrowed the gap between males and females on the battlefield, first in bows and arrows, then guns, then bombs. Gone are the days in which physical strength and prowess mattered in order to kill people. Since the use of projectiles entered the fray, anyone can be made a legitimate threat.

I want to make this world reminiscent of medieval-style warfare, while at the same time have it remain an advanced technological society. The only way I can see to do this is by somehow decreasing or discouraging the use of projectiles like guns. However, this seems unlikely, as any nation with sense will use whatever advantage they have against each other. How can I get this to work?

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – Monty Wild Dec 13 '19 at 12:37
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I feel like this is pretty simple. Steal a page from Frank Herbert's Dune on this one. In the Dune setting, projectile weapons were rendered useless by the development of shield belts. The higher the velocity and lower the mass of the projectile, the more effectively the shield can stop it. This significantly reduces the lethality of bigger, heavier projectiles like spears and arrows, and renders gunpowder firearms completely useless.

In your setting this would be a result of male/female cooperation. The women make these magitech shields and the men wear them. A man is strong enough to push a sword or a spear through the shield and get to the opponent, but only in hand-to-hand where they can apply their full weight to it.

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    $\begingroup$ You might find yourself slowed down a bit by a mortar shell full of poisoned caltrops, or a nice spray of greek fire, shield or no. $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Dec 9 '19 at 15:23
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    $\begingroup$ @StarfishPrime Well sure, but that still fits the OP's requirements. It would certainly keep things looking a lot more like renaissance combat rather than twentieth century. $\endgroup$ – Morris The Cat Dec 9 '19 at 15:26
  • $\begingroup$ Didn't the renaissance mark the end of the medieval period, though? $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Dec 9 '19 at 15:28
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    $\begingroup$ Also, now I think of it, long-fuse explosive rockets and shells could be lofted into the air over a shielded formation and can still pass through shields just not with speed. They'll slow down enough in time. Pistols will still be very useful in melee against armoured opponents. Mines and other underground charges will still be lethal. Your shield may stop a cannonball, but you'll probably still be knocked back with deadly force, etc etc. Not that I'm saying this is a bad idea, just that (like Dune) it will not result in medieval-style warfare. $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Dec 9 '19 at 15:31
  • $\begingroup$ @Starfish_prime a shield, magical or otherwise, may deflect any projectile that is not moving directly towards the centre of the field, and that centre may be invisible, time-varying, and not at the same location as the target. So a fast-moving projectile slows down and then loses its aim, and a slow-moving one just loses its aim, unless somebody is steering it at its other end. $\endgroup$ – nigel222 Dec 10 '19 at 14:15
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You don't have a problem

  1. Your view that "physical strength and prowess don't matter in ranged combat with advanced weapons" is incorrect. They just don't matter in the same ways that they did when you just wanted to hack swords against each other. Sure they're not swinging swords, but they are doing a lot of running while carrying (sometimes heavy) weaponry.
  2. Military training matters a lot, and if the girls are busy doing magic and magic related training, the boys have a lot more time to do military training.
  3. Men are also more likely (due to testosterone and other factors) to want to fight, making them predisposed to want to do that kind of work.
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    $\begingroup$ Don't forget that the girls will be doing all the stuff they did before The Pill, automatic dishwashers, automatic clothes washers, driers, electric and gas ovens, refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, automobiles, paved roads, etc, etc, etc. Women were very busy back then!!! $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Dec 10 '19 at 16:28
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Make some sort of large area propellant cookoff effect a really cheap and simple spell.

That way firearms are more of a liability to the person holding them than they are to anyone in line of fire. It also means there's no point putting the effort into high powered firearms when someone can just make them redundant with the wave of a hand so while muskets or similar may exist, they won't be anything to write home about.

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    $\begingroup$ You'll be fine so long as magitech can't make a cookoff-proof propellant... $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Dec 9 '19 at 15:56
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    $\begingroup$ @StarfishPrime, and so the cycle of whether the weapon or the defence is more effective takes another step onwards, as it has for hundreds of years. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Dec 9 '19 at 15:58
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    $\begingroup$ And such is the futility of a) fantasy gun control and b) trying to balance somebody else's magic system ;-) $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Dec 9 '19 at 15:59
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    $\begingroup$ @StarfishPrime, balance is an illusion, it's like going for a run, you're metastable, but you can't isolate a point in the cycle and say it's stable here. You're always off to one side or the other. What's really being asked for here is a point where you're balanced in favour of defence, allowing melee weapons to be the dominant form. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Dec 9 '19 at 16:00
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You could discourage the use of projectile weapons by making combat a highly honorable and ritualized action, and use of projectile weapons would be dishonorable, or even evil (if such philosophies work in your world). (This actually has a historical precedence in our world, with attempts to ban the use of bows or crossbows occurring at different times. The Greek ban during the Lelantine War discussed here, and the papal edict discussed here)

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    $\begingroup$ Did any of those attempts end well for the people trying to enforce the ban? Or did they end up throughly perforated? (genuine question this time, not just grumpy rhetorical stuff ;-) $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Dec 9 '19 at 16:02
  • $\begingroup$ Working on adding sources for that, this question delves into one of the bans. $\endgroup$ – user2448131 Dec 9 '19 at 16:04
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks. Whilst I don't think anyone ended up shooting the pope, the good, god-fearing christian peoples of europe certainly carried on shooting up each other for quite some time... but then, the pope couldn't actually rain literal fire and brimstone upon lawbreakers, unlike the OP's setting. $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Dec 9 '19 at 16:08
  • $\begingroup$ @StarfishPrime it kinda works for us today with the Geneva convention, bans on landmines etc, and the general reluctance to start a nuclear war. $\endgroup$ – Dan W Dec 10 '19 at 15:01
  • $\begingroup$ @DanW one doesn't start a nuclear war because of the risk of terminal reprisals. Fighting back with eg. landmines or the threat of the Hague isn't quite in the same league. $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Dec 10 '19 at 15:25
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A fairly common trope is the idea that only certain materials can be imbued with magic. It makes absolute sense that the women would still play a role in war in the creation of magical objects, especially if magitech is already part of their regular lives. Historically speaking, a large chunk of technological advancement came from war technologies trickling down to the civilian population.

So with that in mind, let's say that medieval weapons and armor are simply better suited for dealing with magic. Supposedly witches were burned by iron, so maybe Iron armor was better for protection against magical affects, and iron weapons were better for defeating magical protections. Steel could possibly follow the same rules as it is an alloy of iron. Magic swords could be made sharper and more durable, and projectiles can be more easily defended against with magical shields, or wards that redirect incoming projectiles, maybe a charm causes arrows to always miss.

If you want arrows to still be a thing, then maybe make it a matter of production. The magical affect doesn't work on guns or catapults, it has to be effected on the actual impacting object. So even though you could make arrows and bullets that have magic to make them stronger, as they are only single use ammunition it takes too much time and resources to produce a useful quantity. Thus, while swords and armor could maintain the affect over time, bullets, and arrows simply wouldn't be cost effective to imbue with expensive magitech.

Also, if Arrows are less effective to begin with, it is much less likely that handheld guns would ever gain popularity if they were ever even invented. The follow up question would actually be whether or not cannons would come into play. They are more renaissance than medieval, but technically the Chinese had cannons for centuries before Europe.

Either way though, cannons, catapults and trebuchets basically follow the same rules as small arms, the weapon can't have magic, but the projectile can. That actually would probably lead to a greater prevalence of bomb production, as it is more cost effective to imbue magic into a large explosive than a single arrow or bullet. To counter that though, cities and armies would likely spend more time and resources in building magical defenses to counter, like a giant magic shield or something.

This actually brings to mind the Gungan army in The Phantom Menace. Big huge shield to defend against projectiles, large explosives as ranged weaponry, and then primarily spears and swords for man to man combat. This is when we get to the part where Star Wars follows Arthur C. Clarke's rule:

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

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Guns: the early guns were bad, but cheap to manufacture and easy to learn (when compared to pikes/swords/bows). So the kings could field a larger army of mediocre soldiers and win because numbers matter.

You cant remove the low price tag of a matchlock musket. If your society can manufacture plate armour it can manufacture gun tubes. Even if you don't have iron you can make bronze tubes.

You can't remove the ease of a gun compared to earlier weapows systems. There isn't much to learn about how to use a musket, the real training is the recharge drill, how to keep a combat line and obey orders.

You can remove the kings raising an army of cheap soldiers if the kings never successfully unified large territories because small demesnes will keep them paupers. That's easier said then done because the survival of the fittest among the kingdom's peerage will guarantee that someone with a rich demesne will end sitting on the throne. Also, kings can consolidate territories using marriages, (ie.: Phillip IV of France and the marriage of his sons with the burgundian princesses or the Habsburg consolidation of Austria and Low Countries via royal marriages). Also, the lack of unification may harm the technological development because the elite will have less money to throw around financing wisemen. And should Genghis Khan or the Turks of your world appears, they will devour your petty nobles and you will end with a unified kingdom with huge budget.

So, social solutions won't work. You need magical solutions. The first would be fire and water magic: gunpowder is flamable and if your witches can trigger it from afar guns will only be fielded when there are no witches around. They have to be able to trigger it effortlessly because if not it will be just a matter of fielding more musketeers. Water magic may be used to spoil the powder. Again, the same considerations.

Another possible magic is biological magic: spreading magical diseases among the enemy armies will hurt bigger armies more then smaller armies. So a curse of dysentery will wreck the musketeer army. You can also use magic to spoil food, not from the supply trains, that can't feed an army before the advent of railroads and trucks, but from the countryside the big musket army is feeding from, 1812 Russia style. The musket army will starve faster then a smaller sword and pike army and won't be able to exploit musket massed fire.

Doing that you may be able to restrict the use of the early guns and keep elite knight armies around for a longer time. By restricting early guns you will stunt the development of better guns, so it will take longer to something like a colt peacemaker to appear.

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resources

Resources can either be limited. This can be naturally or artificially. Or even if not limited in amount, acquiring these resources might be difficult to do. You can add an environmental aspect to your story. For me it seems popular these days.

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Projectiles exist, they just can't hurt anyone.

Centuries ago, an extremely powerful (but slightly careless) witch discovered that her (even more careless) son kept injuring himself on sharp knifes, corners of tables, doorknobs, falling down the stairs, et cetera.

As such, she cast a spell that would use his magic to infuse everything around him with an inability to cause harm. Foreseeing that this would preclude surgery or other healing in event of illness, this was limited to unintentional harm: the knife could only cut if that was the wielder's desire.

Unfortunately (she was, as I said, slightly careless) this spell was mis-cast not to affect only her own son, but all males. This is why men appear not to have magic: it is all being directed to maintain the "baby-gate" field.

A sword or a spear is wielded until it sticks in your opponent - it delivers intentional harm, and bypasses the field. A spell - fireball, lightning bolt, et cetera - is pure manifest willpower, and will deal damage if that was the purpose (this allows skilled witches to target specific people for harm with AOE attacks, and leave others unaffected)

An arrow or a bullet, on the other hand, will have its purpose "fade" or "eroded" in flight. An exceptionally focussed marksman can extend this distance, or a heavy arrow/cannonball can 'store' more intent, but a tiny bullet is only useful within a dozen yards - practically charging distance. Caltrops are uncomfortable to walk on, but otherwise harmless.

Until your world develops high-calibre rounds (to hold more Intent) and supersonic rifles (to maximise distance before the Intent is depleted), a gun is a novelty at best - fit only for shooting inanimate targets. However, without lower-tier guns being effective, there will be no drive to develop such a weapon.

On the plus side, chefs around the world are immune from stabbing or slicing themselves by accident.

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