The year is 1,000 BC

The Rock Tribe, apart from liking very loud music, makes war by throwing rocks. In close combat they can use rocks as primitive (non-handled) clubs.

The Scissors Tribe naturally use scissors of varying sizes. Scissors can be thrown or used for hand-to-hand combat. These scissors are primitive, made of bronze and have a maximum length of about 1ft (30cm).

The Paper Tribe. Uh ... They make paper.

At one time or another any two of these tribes will be in dispute with one another. This causes them to go to war.

How can I save the Paper Tribe from getting massacred?

Ancient scissors:

enter image description here

  • 19
    $\begingroup$ ever had a papercut? $\endgroup$
    – A.bakker
    Sep 27, 2020 at 19:24
  • 31
    $\begingroup$ Does it have to be literal? Paper, after all, is very powerful in the form of books, trade-agreements, intrigues... $\endgroup$
    – Dhara
    Sep 28, 2020 at 7:58
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ @Dhara That's worth an answer IMO: expand on how the Paper Tribe specialises in playing politics without having a strong army, maybe keeping the other two tribes at odds with each other. $\endgroup$ Sep 28, 2020 at 8:37
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ How realistic are we going here? You could have the paper tribe all be wizards, since spell books and scrolls would be written on paper. I'm just not sure if you're allowing magic in your world or not. $\endgroup$ Sep 28, 2020 at 13:24
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ If you have any interest in anime, look for the movie "Read Or Die". The protagonist is one of the most powerful super-powered individuals in the world, because she has the ability to manipulate paper. $\endgroup$ Sep 28, 2020 at 13:40

5 Answers 5


Paper Armor

enter image description here

Believe it or not, this was an actual thing; the Chinese used it for nearly a millennium as one of their main types of infantry armor. In addition to the obvious decreased cost factor, it also is much easier to repair (you just sew on replacement wads), and is much lighter than metal armor.

Here's how it relates to your problem:

While it's extremely effective against being beaten over the head with a rock, it isn't as effective against stabbing weapons. As a result, while it is a superb defense against the Rock Tribe, the Scissors Tribe will have a much easier time murdering the Paper Tribe. This keeps the traditional balance of power in Rock-Paper-Scissors intact.

  • 35
    $\begingroup$ that is surprisingly perfect +1 $\endgroup$
    – Topcode
    Sep 27, 2020 at 19:59
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    $\begingroup$ I find it amusing that you bring up paper armor, Ash brought up Mythbusters, but no one mentioned that the Mythbusters did an episode on paper armor. $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Sep 28, 2020 at 12:21
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    $\begingroup$ @NomadMaker I did not say plate armor. I was referring to chain-mail and scale armor. $\endgroup$ Sep 28, 2020 at 16:57
  • 12
    $\begingroup$ Unfortunately it doesn't fare so well when the Fire Tribe comes along... $\endgroup$ Sep 28, 2020 at 18:20
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    $\begingroup$ @R..GitHubSTOPHELPINGICE Fire Lizard burn paper. Paper disprove Spock. We're good. $\endgroup$
    – Madlozoz
    Nov 12, 2020 at 13:33

You have a few options

The Millwall Brick
enter image description here

A type of brass knuckles made with folded and rolled newspaper. Often used to beat up your opponent's fans at a soccer game.

Paper Mache Cross Bow
enter image description here
As tested by Mythbusters. Paper and things availing in maximum security lockup only.

Paper Mache Shank
enter image description here
As made by a prison inmate. This is solid toilet paper dried into a solid shaft. This looks pretty solid and beefy.

Paper mache club
enter image description here

Minor technical note
The paper tribe won't exist for another 1025 years after your setting. Paper was first known to be made in about 25 AD.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Can’t work out why this has so few upvotes; it’s not quite as cool as the other one but it’s also really clever. $\endgroup$ Sep 29, 2020 at 3:03
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Now I'm really worried about what prisoners would do with scissors $\endgroup$ Sep 29, 2020 at 19:00


The paper tribe has developed written language, which they have used to record their history and collective knowledge in books or scrolls. What the paper tribe lacks in materials, it makes up for with brains, experience and cunning.

Some general ideas:

  1. Perhaps they have mastered the use of fire in warfare, paper does burn very quickly.
  2. Paper is light, and they too might be a very mobile tribe. It is hard for an enemy to attack you if they don't know where you are.
  3. The production of paper is dependent on various crops and plants. Which means agriculture, which can give them a huge numbers advantage, as they can support a much larger population. Even if they don't have weapons, it's hard to overcome a 10:1 numbers advantage. (this is on theme for them being able to "Cover" rock.)
  • $\begingroup$ But why would they win against rock, though lose against scissors? $\endgroup$ Sep 29, 2020 at 23:48
  • $\begingroup$ That point isn't within the scope of the question, just keeping them from being massacred is the question. You could just as easily ask why stone clubs beat metal scissors. $\endgroup$
    – Mathaddict
    Sep 30, 2020 at 14:54

Ash mentions at the end of that answer:

The paper tribe won’t exist for another 1025 years after your setting. Paper was first known to be made in about 25AD.

To make it era-appropriate, consider making the "paper" tribe a "Papyrus" tribe.

It could used similarly to paper for making shields/armor — as mentioned in another answer — that renders the rocks ineffective, but, being a bit tougher than paper, it could also be weaponised e.g. fashioning some kind of spear/javelin from it... although still not nearly as effective as the (metal) scissors.

Papyrus in its raw (plant) form has the fibres naturally aligned, so keeping them aligned would make construction of a weapon shaft easier than starting with something paper-like.


Paper covers rock...s expenses. They use paper money and contracts and treaties to blackmail powerful foreigners and hire mercenaries. They fight with their wallets and as such never enter battle directly. If the scissor tribe goes to war with the paper tribe, they find themselves fighting rock warriors and vice versa.

It is in the interest of both the rock and scissor tribe that their valued trade partners in the paper tribe are not wiped out by their enemies.

  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Only one problem: the paper money is not valuable in and of itself; the paper tribe cannot enforce the value of a fiat currency. The only way their paper money will have value is if they are promissory notes, in which case the other tribes will attack the paper tribe and take away the assets which hold the real value. That being said, having the paper tribe be politicians is a good idea. $\endgroup$ Sep 28, 2020 at 15:06
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @TheDaleks I agree completely that the paper currency itself isn't where the value is, but having the paper tribe be valued trading partners of both the Rock and the Scissor tribe ensures that neither the Rock nor the Scissors tribe can attack the Paper tribe without having to fight the third tribe. $\endgroup$
    – YoungJohn
    Sep 28, 2020 at 15:12

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