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Introduction

In a quite a lot of games swords, bows and so forth exist on a regular basis alongside guns, and often are as powerful, if not more so, than firearms. In a realistic, non-magical setting, the plausibility of such thing ranges from "maaaaaybe it can exist", due to some weird reasons, to utterly ridiculous. But a fantasy setting things can be much more interesting, because now there's magic in the equation. Unfortunately, more often than not such things are simply handwaved with magic, and not explained, hence my question.

The Question

What I'm looking for is essentially a way to balance reality using magic, because let's be honest, having swords and not crappy guns alongside is a rather significant boost to the "coolness factor". The whole question (because title space is limited) is as follows:

How hard magic could, directly or indirectly, interact with bows, crossbows, slings, blowpipes, and throwing weapons as well as all types of swords, axes, spears, staves and other white weapons that pre-date firearms to make their usage viable alongside non-primitive firearms, whilst still affecting the latter but not rendering them useless in majority of the cases?

Possible solutions

I do, however, have some answers to my own question, which mostly touch on already existing firearm weaknesses.

Lack of resources - Sufficient explosive materials could either be rare, or entirely nonexistent and instead replaced by magical means. One of the downsides to that solution is that it would heavily rely on the setting.

Chaotic magic - The existence of magic introduces additional unpredictability, which could have an accident rate in grow significantly with the complexity of the weapon, due to more components being prone to failure. As of now I'm the most inclined towards this one.

Decentralization of society - This one is quite unique, because it relies on the production of a firearm. In a highly decentralized, from whatever reasons, world, where individuality is more prized, the production of weapon parts would be more difficult, because of lack of standardization (no manufactured goods, protected knowledge, higher unpredictability and impact of individuals if paired with Chaotic magic)

Those are the three possible solutions I came up with, and while I quite like them, I don't think that's enough

Additional notes

  • I am working with a hard magic system
  • The closest image to the setting I have in mind would be the overall view on the period from mid-medieval era to 1700s
  • If something wasn't stated in the text, then all assumptions are viable
New contributor
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    $\begingroup$ What do you mean by "hard-magic"? What is this system about or at least what are your intents regarding this? When talking about magic, you should always detail a little, otherwise due to its unexplainable nature, a lot of answers can be given and none would be able to be considered as better than another :/. $\endgroup$
    – Tortliena
    Oct 10 at 13:11
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    $\begingroup$ When combining magic with warfare always remember Napoleon: "The amateurs discuss tactics; the professionals discuss logistics." Often the biggest contribution of magic is secondary roles such as scrying enemy location; creating or purifying food and water (no need for supply trains); or simply enchanting the wagons to be 10% faster than your enemys' wagons. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Oct 10 at 14:51
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    $\begingroup$ @Tortliena by hard magic I mean that the magic system has rules set in stone and which are always obeyed by any magic. As for the rules itself, I haven't settled down with all of them, so there's quite a lot of fluctuation yet in that field. I'm also designing the system to be very flexible despite its hard nature, so if I'm given any type of answer I can modify some of its "variables" without changing the idea. $\endgroup$
    – acki02
    Oct 10 at 17:15
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    $\begingroup$ Decentralisation of production precludes precision firearms (e.g. rifles) and anything with an interchangeable magazine, but not stuff like muskets or blunderbusses. Decentralising knowledge isn't stable but metallurgy is hard, so perhaps there's a route to weak firearms that are inaccurate and only good for short ranges $\endgroup$
    – Chris H
    Oct 11 at 10:14
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    $\begingroup$ 1700 century fire weapons are by no means primitive but do not hold the comparison of later or even modern one. What kind of firearms are we talking about? What is the technologies level of this society, everything like the 1700, except that magic exists? $\endgroup$
    – RomainL.
    Oct 13 at 0:22

24 Answers 24

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Melee Weapons -- Shield and Teleport

enter image description here

The era of gunpowder is also the era of the pike-block and cavalry charge. Cavalry beats musket; Musket beats pike; and pike beats cavalry.

The reason melee disappears is because firearms become so effective that that cavalry is no longer a counter. Once cavalry disappears, there is no need for pike blocks. So all melee weapons are gone, and the battlefield becomes two armies shooting each other from far off.

To keep melee competetive, you need to use magic to replicate a more effective version of the cavalry charge. The swordsmen want to get inside the musket formation and chop up the musketeers without being shot on the way there.

They need some combination of speed and defense. Either +5 boots of speed or a Ladle of Teleportation to go fast; and a Deflect Missiles spell for defense. I suggest all three. At long range the swordsmen use Olivander's Aura of Not Die. The spell is energy efficient at long range, since it deflects bullets rather than stopping them; and at long range only a slight deflection is needed to make the bullets miss. Once they get to short range, the aura is no good, so they activate the Ladle and teleport into the middle of the musket formation.

This will change the battlefield dynamic. These super cavalry will lead to the invention of super pikemen whose job is to protect the muskets from teleporting swordsmen. This might be as simple as regular nonmagical swordsmen interspersed with the muskets. Since magic users are rare, the teleplatoons will be small and you can just outnumber them with nonmagical troops. Then we need a way to defeat the super pikemen. Expect load of interesting developments.

Bows -- Enchanted Arrows

enter image description here

The reason bows stick around is simply that they use larger projectiles. It is easier to enchant a large arrow than a small bullet. For example you want your Explosive Arrow to explode when it hits the enemy and not in your quiver -- the long arrow gives you room to arrange the different parts of the enchantment to prevent this happening. There is no room on a musket ball.

Popular enchantments include, Thundering, Smallpox, Flame Burst, Multiplying, Freezing, Love Potion, Time-Control, Extended Range, Email-Deleting, Sore Knee, Entropic, Demoralising, Ostrich, Summon Locusts, Meme Review and of course Anti-Magic.*

In particular Extended Range allows archers to safety fire on a group of muskets and then retreat. The downside of course is that the archers are harder to train, and the magic arrows are in limited supply, since they require mages and often exotic components such as butterfly testicle powder.

This means magic archers do not replace muskets. But they remain on the battlefield and this hugely influences tactics since you never know what might suddenly come out of the ten enemy archers on yonder ridge.

*Have you ever tried to put cast a combination Flame Burst and Anti-Magic spell on a single musketball without accidentally dispelling itself? It cannot be done!

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    $\begingroup$ I suggest you read some military history before making such claims about pikes and cavalry. Pikes mostly disappeared because having more musket men with bayonets were superior to a mix of muskets and pikes, despite the bayonet being inferior in melee. Cavalry were quite a vital part of warfare well into the 20th century as even lancers (guys on horseback armed with a pointy stick) were still effective in the first world war (it was barbed wire and trench warfare stopped them on the western front while the eastern front still had plenty of cavalry action). $\endgroup$ Oct 11 at 12:34
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    $\begingroup$ @pluckedkiwi The point remains that pikes disappear because firearms become more effective. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Oct 11 at 12:38
  • $\begingroup$ I know they're taboo, but for historical purposes, there's also the enchantments: "Browser History Publicizer" and dreaded, "Social Media Bomb" arrows as well. $\endgroup$
    – Blerg
    Oct 12 at 0:09
  • $\begingroup$ What guide is that wikihow image from..? $\endgroup$
    – GammaGames
    Oct 12 at 15:57
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    $\begingroup$ @GammaGames I think it's from this article: wikihow.com/Survive-a-School-or-Workplace-Shooting. Though they changed the image after it became a big meme: i.kym-cdn.com/photos/images/original/001/114/432/873.png captioned with "Nothing personnel kid". $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Oct 12 at 16:23
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Spells that attack gunpowder

If you have fire magic, you can set off the powder in the gun or in the ammo pouch, thus making them a greater danger to the person with the gun than those he would shoot.

This can range from "idiocy to use guns" through "guns are useful when you know that your opponent doesn't have magic" all the way to "guns are more expensive because you must protect your gunpowder so that only you can set off the gunpowder."

For a means of just disabling the gunpowder, water magic. "Keep your powder dry" is a requirement. As with fire magic, it can be a crippling limitation or a minor nuisance requiring counter-magic, as needed.

Both could be used in different situations for plot purposes.

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    $\begingroup$ Let me point you at The Magic of Recluce for the one of a book series which has exactly this first point! :-) $\endgroup$
    – Rycochet
    Oct 11 at 9:57
  • $\begingroup$ Frozen Dreams is another such story. $\endgroup$
    – Mary
    Oct 11 at 22:28
  • $\begingroup$ A simple rain dance is deadly to all gunpowder $\endgroup$
    – Hobbamok
    Oct 12 at 10:53
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    $\begingroup$ Nah. There are things you can do to protect from the rain. Otherwise guns would not have developed in a soggy place like Europe. $\endgroup$
    – Mary
    Oct 12 at 12:07
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    $\begingroup$ @Michael It would probably take a lot less energy to explode a weapon filled with gunpowder than it would to damage a bow. The temperature required for combustion would likely be lower if we were just considering them sitting on a table, and the addition of pressure reduces the energy you'd require even more. Then consider how making firearms or ammunition stockpiles explode could potentially create a lot more panic and injury than burning some bowstrings. You've more than just rendered their weapons useless, you've essentially turned some of their own firepower against them. $\endgroup$ 2 days ago
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For this to work, magic must provide some benefit to archaic weapon users that it can’t also provide to firearm users. Perhaps bows, crossbows, and swords are much easier to enchant than guns are, for whatever reason?

Alternatively, enchanted firearms might be too dangerous to use, due to the way gunpowder interacts with your magic.

Regarding swords, you may not need a great deal of magic involved; swords were still used in warfare to some capacity well into the age of firearms.

(Also, a side note that may be relevant: guns and crossbows require only a week or two of training. However, a war archer must train for years to effectively use a war bow.)

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Firearms are super useful and deadly.

Anti-Firearm magic is super cheap, low level, and widespread. Bullets work on rapid burning fuels, there's a first level spell designed to fight forest fires that snuffs bullets over a large area. There are expensive high level spells designed to resist those low level spells.

Battles become a duel of logistics and who-brought-what. Everyone brings guns because if the other side fails to snuff them then they'll rule. Everyone brings gun suppressing magic. Everyone brings swords because you know they'll work.

It gets super complex. One group might hide a team with firearms out of sight and try to sneak them in so they can do their thing as a surprise. Another group might have super expensive anti-magic to protect their guns, and anti-anti-magic so the other side's guns won't work and so on.

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    $\begingroup$ So basically, complicated things lead to overcomplications, and a sword bash is a sword bash? :b $\endgroup$
    – acki02
    Oct 11 at 20:52
  • $\begingroup$ @acki02 Yes. Swords always work and guns are so nasty serious players have to put a lot of effort into shutting them down. Now you can also make magic swords and so on, but whether or not guns work is where a lot of the thinking/money gets spent. $\endgroup$ 2 days ago
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Magic is a universal catalyst

In conventional fights, guns beat older weapons handily. No one in their right mind would field archers and swordsmen against a platoon of musketeers. But add some magic to your troops (in the form of mages or enchantments) and your gunners run a real risk of disappearing in pretty fireballs as soon as the magic starts fizzing.

You see, while mages are pretty good at focusing their craft into the desired effects, there is always some bleed-through of energy or mana. Normally, this does not matter too much. Nearby objects might get rattled or even thrown around a bit ("No casting" rules apply within libraries!), candles burn a bit brighter and the air around you might get a bit warmer on average. But in the presence of objects with a high-energy density (such as gunpowder), the bleed-through might just be enough to spark a reaction that becomes self-sustaining. Boom.

Don't try to cast on top of an oil field, please! Or inside a nuclear reactor (setting permitting).

The effect on warfare is that generals need to choose between non-magical troops with guns or archers and melee combatants supported by mages and enchantments. It is vitally important to keep these two separate if you want to avoid fireworks.

If the bleed-through effect is concentrated near the caster of a spell (instead of its target) and falls off rapidly with distance, enemy casters are not particularly more dangerous to your gunners than to any other soldier, apart from the fact that the former cannot afford much magical protections. Just watch out for suicide-mages that sneak/teleport/charge into your firearm platoons before detonating everything around them.

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Cost Effectiveness of Powerful Enchantments

Let's say your setting allows you to enchant weapons to have powerful magical effects upon contact with the target. That could obviously make swords and bows strong enough to deliver as much of a punch as guns. But of course then comes the obvious question: why don't you enchant the guns in a similar way?

Simple: while technically possible, it's going to be a while before anyone in your setting has the resources for it to be remotely worthwhile.

Nearly all of the older weapons you list have one thing in common: the thing that's actually delivering the hurt is reusable. You can use a sword again after you swing it into a warg's hide. You can use an arrow again, usually, after you shoot it and retrieve it from the target. Put powerful enchantments on a sword or an arrowhead, and you'll get plenty of use out of that enchantment before the object takes enough damage that it needs to be reforged and, of course, re-enchanted.

Bullets, on the other hand, are another story entirely. When you shoot a bullet out of a gun, not only will it be warped beyond recognition by the time it's finished delivering its payload of destruction, but it couldn't immediately be re-attached to the rest of a new cartridge even if weren't. With that in mind, sure, guns might be pretty effective even without enchantments, but enchantments would be almost out of the question, because unless you had a frankly psychotic amount of resources, why would anyone enchant a bullet when they could enchant an arrow? The difference in the force the physical projectiles hit with is kind of meaningless if both of them would then proceed to call lightning down from the sky. They'd have basically the same end result, except one is massively more economical and convenient. Seems like an easy choice here.

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In Frank Herberts "Dune" combatants are protected by a "force field" that does not impede low speed motion but which slows or stops objects attempting to penetrate the field. A gun or bow is ineffective - a knife strike is slowed.

Similarly here, by tailoring the "magic field", objects with high velocity or energy or other characteristics or some mix could be rendered harmless.

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  • $\begingroup$ I think this is a good generic answer for "why guns aren't as effective around magic." I like to use the example from "The Laundry" book series: enough bullets will kill a magic-wielder, but most moderately skilled magic users can create a pretty good armor against non-magic weapons. And yes, you can enchant bullets, but they just can't hold as much magical energy as other weapons. $\endgroup$
    – Eliot K
    2 days ago
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The material has to hold the magic.

Magic must be contained in the object. Sure, the firearm itself has a lot of material in it, and maybe many of them have various magical components, too, but bullets are too small to pose a significant magical threat despite significant physical threat. A sword on the other hand, gives a lot of material (compared to bullets) that can contain magical properties. Maybe even maintained contact to the weapon allows for even more magic to be used. This is admittedly also a little bit of a nock against bows, crossbows, slings, and the like. Arrows end up as a middle ground, still having the advantage of range, but they carry more magic than bullets tend to. (slings and blowguns might be left behind from this)

Magic helped defenses keep up with weapons, specifically firearms.

A major reason firearms took off as a dominant class of weapon, rather than an option of a weapon, is that they did a better job of dealing with armor than anything else could. Now if they only did a comparable job of dealing with armor compared to other weapons or if armor came in different types that had trade-offs relative to the attacker's weapon, then non-firearm weapons become more appealing. One of the reasons firearms may become less effective than alternative weapons could be that bullets carry a property the magic defenses do a good job of dealing with. As others have mentioned, in Dune the shields stop things moving too fast. To address why they wouldn't just stop everything, it could have to do with airflow. There may be some rate of movement that must be admitted to adequate airflow for both respiratory and thermal dissipation reasons. Or it comes down to kinetic energy rather than specifically speed (which bullets have a lot of compared to bows or swords) (Wave your hands about why you might not just double up on magic armor that stops bullets well and traditional armor that stops melee weapons or arrows well).

Magic changes what you tend to be shooting at

If magic tends to bring life to objects or dead things, it might change the dynamics of combat significantly. Guns would be less effective if your only real means of stopping your enemy does not involve exsanguination. Swords do a much better job of dismemberment to incapacitate a rather durable foe who could be a construct, a magical undead, or a person with magically healing wounds. Firearms may do damage, but less lasting or less effective damage to magical foes for a number of reasons. This is related to improved defense with some nuanced differences. It also relates to the logistics of large scale combat.

Magic is cost effective compared to firearms.

First, this line of reasoning is largely logistical, if the desire is for a story and character driven reason than can make [protagonist] great on their own. Firearms are better and you could spend a small fortune on a gun and plenty of money on shooting it or you could outfit an army with swords. Even into the Korean war (1950s), strategies were used that would have allowed melee weapons to be viable and necessary. If lives (or summoned/raised minions) and non-firearms are cheap enough, you overwhelm the gunmen with numbers (more logistics oriented than character and story driven). What is someone with a firearm supposed to do if they run out of ammunition. Specific to bows, maybe magic can make a stick an arrow a lot more easily than it can make _____ a bullet. Now a bow becomes viable when ammunition becomes a constraint, even though they would be a comparable and worse technology in our world.

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Caste based descrimination

Only certain people are allowed to have weapons of any kind - those people make up both the elite, and cannon fodder, troops. The elites are perfectly happy with those old fashioned weapons. Their mages can produce fireballs that can level a town - who needs a little pop gun?

Probably best to keep the plebs from having anything that can equalise their force of arms.

Perhaps warfare is ritualised, simply a way to demonstrate one's tactical prowess while ordering one's plebs about; for the plebs its a way to demonstrate bravery, with casualties being relatively low. This form of warfare has been practiced in societies in real life.

So, maybe a few local terrorists get hold of guns, or make them, but they never manage to challenge a standing army. Meanwhile, magic is constantly under development to the point that its is "almost nearly as good" so, nothing needs to change.

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  • $\begingroup$ The problem with this one is not getting trampled by the neighboring kingdom, which does arm the lower classes with guns. Not an unsurmountable problem, but a problem. $\endgroup$
    – Mary
    Oct 11 at 22:28
  • $\begingroup$ @Mary The system here only works if neighbouring kingdoms are of the same culture - - people further away, maybe from a different continent with a different culture, are a threat though. Something else with real world parralels $\endgroup$ Oct 12 at 5:09
  • $\begingroup$ The culture has be specific. Many neighbors have shared a common martial culture l $\endgroup$
    – Mary
    Oct 12 at 12:04
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  • Energy density. If magic stores much more energy in a fixed space than explosives or gunpowder, these chemicals have little purpose.
  • Guided munitions. Most magical missiles are content to cruise slowly over the battlefield, taking a few seconds to find some unguarded resource or orifice. The arrows don't need to be fast, because they can propel themselves, but they also don't want to be fast.
  • Security. A barrel of gunpowder or an old-time nuclear weapon is a traitor just waiting for someone to say the right magic word. The magical items can have loyalty and surveillance data for their creators built in at every step and level of their construction, like a modern day computer printer that would rather destroy itself than print a letter without authentic quantum tracking dots registered to the electronic signature of the purchaser.
  • Simplicity. Given the other factors, the importance of the magical component, and the difference of those skills from ordinary mechanics, the question isn't why they don't use guns instead of bows, but why they don't use thrown pencils or thumbtacks instead of bows.
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I think on a basic level, you can do this by making magic a foil to many weapons. Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn saga is a great example of this. Specifically, when the world reaches its industrial era, the magic system Allomancy is still quite relevant, even in combat.

Although firearms have gotten quite advanced by this point, where they have revolvers, rifles, etc, an allomancer could just exert a force on the firearms, and have them fly out of the enemy's hands, or be yanked toward the allomancer.

In response, many well off combatants will have guns made out of an aluminum alloy, as in the magic system, aluminum is allomantically inert, thus firearm wielders cannot have their weapons simply cast aside. Allomancers though can still cast metal objects towards combatants at the speed of a bullet, so are still in the fight.

This is the kind of thing you want to consider - a matter of push and pull. Research the specific kinds of non magic tech you want to use. Find what it's weaknesses were. Then give magic advantages. As you compound pros and cons to each side, you then can start assembling interesting battles - and as a by product, it can even help with worldbuilding.

In Mistborn, because of aluminum's value in being nonreactive to magic, it has become extremely valuable. Changes like this can really flesh out your world.

I hope this was of help. I found this more to be a logic based question, on the principles of worldbuilding rather than a technical one, as magic can be adjusted to fit whatever you want in confronting realistic weapons.

I highly recommend looking up Sanderson's Laws of Magic - and take note of the "zeroeth law" - err on the side of what's awesome.

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Enhancement Magic is Easy

There are of course mages who can summon lightning to strike the battlefield, and to a greater extent, men with the ability to fling balls of flame from their fingertips. But for many, their greatest tool is the ability to cast small enhancements on their weapons and armor. A quick cast of Sharpness allows their sword to slice through un-enchanted wood and metal. A little extra power channeled into their boots can give a strong push off, allowing them to run faster and jump farther, darting across the battlefield. They are certainly better off than the average warrior. Unfortunately, even the most clever soldier can be caught unawares by a well placed rifle shot. If they can interpose their shield between themselves and the musket fire, the bullets will likely ricochet off, but the impact of a rain of musket fire will certainly force them back. And if a single shot makes it through, it could disrupt their concentration. Once they lose focus on their enhancements, they'll be peppered endlessly.

Lead Munitions

Magic is great, but even the toughest mage's shield is like paper to a lead ball. They can't be fired far due to their weight, and the balls tend to be a little expensive, not to mention toxic if the holders aren't careful after using them, but there's no arguing with results. These rounds can't be used effectively for ranged combat against another rifle brigade, but can certainly help repel a group of magic-weapon wielding foes, provided you can keep your head down. Of course, this all depends on your being lucky enough to avoid being hit by a wave of thunder dashing you against the wall at your back.

Gun Hunters

Gunfire is all too common of a risk to mages. No matter how big your spell, a single round through the skull will put a stop to the casting. A few mages have taken exception to this, and instead seek to alter the course of a battle by removing their most deadly opponents. The best of these are not great archmages, but instead function as small units of guerilla tactic-employing warriors. Using magic to create a dampening aura, they stamp out the ignition of sparks with their presence. This means, of course, that they are unable to create any flames or gunfire themselves, but this doesn't matter to them. They're much more comfortable with eliminating groups of riflemen with a short-sword. A job made much too easy by the foolish reliance on working firearms, with only a silly little bayonet to protect them from these squads.

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  • $\begingroup$ ... promptly followed by a everybody issuing their troops each a BB handgun. $\endgroup$
    – William
    2 days ago
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The manufacture of gunpowder remains a secret, thanks in part to magic.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silk#China

Despite the popularity of silk, the secret of silk-making only reached Europe around AD 550, via the Byzantine Empire. Contemporary accounts state that monks working for the emperor Justinian I smuggled silkworm eggs to Constantinople from China inside hollow canes.

In this world the inventors of gunpowder (and silk) are even better at keeping their secrets. Gunpowder is a rare and valuable commodity. It has ingredients from its heritage as a component of firewroks including metal powders that cause the burn to be colored green, red or blue. Each color also contains ingredients intentionally included to confuse persons trying to duplicate it, including szechuan pepper and other spices, small hairs, tiny crushed dried insects and the like.

The role of magic is strictly to confuse the origin of gunpowder. The makers can afford some high end sorcery and this is applied to make it nearly impossible to reverse engineer the stuff.

Firearms are rare, high end products because only people rich enough to afford gunpowder commission firearms.

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  • $\begingroup$ Silk really isn't comparable. It depends on getting live silkworms (or their eggs). Then there a bunch of "secrets" - accumulated technology on how to raise the silkworms & get silk from the coccoon - but that knowledge could be completely open and not do you a bit of good unless you have the worms. But with gunpowder, the components are readily available. Black powder is simply a mixture, so given basic (al)chemistry, it should be fairly easy to determine the actual components. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    2 days ago
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    $\begingroup$ @jamesqf, jamesqf. Jamesqf. All that you say is true and that is how it went down in our mundane world. But you are forgetting about the powers of MAGIC to obfuscate and dazzle! That is what this question is about! That is how they hide the nature of gunpowder. "True, true," you say. "I always forget about the powers of MAGIC. Here is my sweet jamesqf upvote after all." $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    2 days ago
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Magic is short ranged.

Magic isn't very good at influencing things a great distance away. It's great at personal enhancement, and enhancing materials.

As such, you can enhance melee weapons, and thrown weapons, but it's quite hard to enhance guns or materials more than a very short distance from your skin with magic.

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Wood

Channeling magic easily requires contact with wood. It can be done with your hands but it's more difficult and requires greater training and dedication, hence wizards. The wood makes it easier like a tool. Wand or staff anyone? Whether or not you want to use a tree as a giant focus for ritual magic I'll leave up to you.

But what about the swords and bows and axes and shields and stuff?

Wooden handles and wooden shields. You could give a soldier the minimum required training to make his wooden shield hard to damage from all sources(including firearms), or make fire be emitted upwards from a sword's handle for a flaming sword or have a wooden bow or crossbow shoot elemental lances instead of arrows or bolts.

Due to wood making magic easier to perform you could have the relatively average joe be capable of it to enhance their own capabilities if they go through the training like they would anyway with combat drills, etc.

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    $\begingroup$ This wouldn’t work, as many early and mid firearms have wooden stocks. $\endgroup$
    – Globin347
    Oct 10 at 11:49
  • $\begingroup$ And you can duct tape a wand even to a modern laser rifle or gatling gun. Or carry them separately if the metal gets in the way of magic. $\endgroup$ Oct 10 at 11:56
  • $\begingroup$ @Globin347 True, though you have to consider the ammunition factor. They've not said anything about magic itself needing to be a limited resource, only that it's a hard magic system(which implies set in stone rules, which may limit the amount but they've not mentioned it being limited). Once fired/out of ammo a firearm is little more than a wand or staff, and I doubt a sharpshooter will be as trained with wizardly magic as wizards will be. $\endgroup$
    – Hearsay
    Oct 10 at 11:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Globin347 The wood part of most firearms is mostly non-functional though. It's just how you hold and steady the weapon, sometimes merely decorative, and has nothing to do with the mechanics of firing it - those parts, including the ammunition, are all metal. Maybe the wood has to be in direct contact with the "business" part of the weapon in order to work? $\endgroup$ Oct 11 at 13:44
  • $\begingroup$ @Darrel Hoffman the same is true of many crossbows... and swords, too, come to think of it. $\endgroup$
    – Globin347
    Oct 11 at 17:24
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In what context, and what level of gunpowder tech? If you're not looking just at warfare, bows are absolutely relevant today: just ask any of the about 4.6 million (per Google) bowhunters in the US. Likewise, swords could be relevant as personal defense weapons if they weren't illegal* to carry and more difficult to conceal than pistols.

*In most if not all US jurisdictions. Don't know about everywhere else.

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  • $\begingroup$ In NZ when dressed in Roman 1st Century AD garb with sword I have been stopped by Police and had the sword checked for sharpness and then allowed to proceed with their blessings. A blunt edged Gladius could kill with ease. $\endgroup$ Oct 12 at 21:57
  • $\begingroup$ See also yesterday's news (October 13, 2021) from Norway: cnn.com/2021/10/13/europe/kongsberg-norway-attack-intl/… $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    yesterday
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Allow for tiny enchantments

Mix the skills of a Jewelry carver and and a Rune enchanting dude, and voila! You have someone that can apply little engravings on projectiles such as bullets using magically imbued mini-chisels that are used to enchant weapons. A lot like a clock-maker except for magic weapons I guess? Anyway, the downside with enchanting bullets is they won't carry as much magic and its enchantments won't nearly be as a great as swords, arrows, and crossbow bolts.

But the good thing is, it can still produce the desired magical enchantments regardless, like say, an incendiary enchantment to the bullet, where when the bullet comes and hits a target after travelling in high speeds, it will make a small but a definitely real explosion, causing your target to ignite. Kind of like a mini-delay fuze but its for magical bullets.

Or you can add an enchantment of barrier piercing that will do more damage to magical barriers than regular bullets. You can also give them an enchantment of formidability that makes them very hard for mages to deflect through magical means, but also add some downsides.

They need to be primed or activated beforehand for them to work. I was thinking for you to introduce a magical "conducting" material that can transfer magical energy to magical items in contact with it, and a magical "battery" material that can store magical energy so a mage can imbue magic into it and it can absorb it, with a limit of course and will run-out overtime when being used or not being used (greater tech is needed to improve the battery) so it needs to be replenished after several shots. These magical conducting materials can activate and give off a "kick-start" to the enchanted items that it comes in contact with, thus making the enchantment work.

The magic battery and magic conducting material can be a good addition to enchanting bullets because, presumably not all riflemen are mages or people that can magically be adept enough to activate the enchantment.

I was thinking, for the magical enchantment to be activated, the bullet needs to pass and come in contact with a magic-activating material in the barrel, probably located somewhere in the middle and is near the muzzle but not at the muzzle. Perhaps they can coat the already enchanted bullets with another metal that can "conduct" magic so the activator can reach them, while also allowing it to be a more "streamlined" spherical bullet.

Also have the ram-rod with insulating magic material so the bullet doesn't come into contact with the activator.

You now have a pretty useful (For the common non-magical people) long-range, early muzzle loader gun that won't be OP but can still do pretty good damage to magical adversaries.

Problem would be logistics of these materials so yeah...

Here's an attempt of mine lol

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Bullet proof magic armor

Sure you could make a full suit of armor out of the stuff, but have tried to carry that much metal? Until someone invents the "make things lighter" spell its still going to weight alot. Also it acts more like todays body armor in that it stops a bullet piercing your skin but your still going to feel the force of the bullet, and if you get knocked off your feet in a full suit of armor then your going to have a hard time getting back up.

Instead people equip themselves with small pieces of magic bullet proof armor (like today maybe just something for the chest and head) or Wonder woman style with magic bracelets to try and deflect the bullets when pared with a super fast reflexes spell. So in this way your magic users get some protection from bullets (especially at range) but they are not invulnerable killing machines, enough fire power will still stop them. Battles look like people with guns trying to concentrate enough fire to stop the magic users before the magic users get close enough to use their swords.

Why don't magic users just use magic guns? Magic only works when in contact with the magician/living things, so once you fire a gun and the bullet leaves the barrel its no longer magic. Swords on the other hand are still in the magicians hands so they can stay enchanted. Bows and arrows work as they are made of wood (and thus living) and can hold a "magical charge" keeping the enchants going once they have been released.

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Make your magic life-based. Thus iron and other metals cannot be enchanted, only things once alive or still alive: wood and other plant-based materials, like clothing and paper and food. Additionally, water can be enchanted, especially if seeds are put in it. That allows magical hydraulics (with metal parts, but it is the water that gets powered), like steampunk.

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There is a very simple magical spell that absorbs energy around the spellcaster, which is controllable as to what level of energy it will absorb.

Casting the spell with the threshold set at a high level will stop all energetic reactions nearby; fires stop burning, gunpowder doesn't ignite, anything moving too fast will slow down. This simple spell makes any type of firearm, or even cannon, useless near a magic user.

Trying to set the threshold low enough to stop slower moving arrows or blades will also stop the chemical reactions required to sustain life, killing everything in the area (including the wizard). This might make a great weapon of last resort, but most mages don't see suicide as an acceptable cost.

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  • $\begingroup$ the beauty of firearms is I don't need ot be near you to kill you. $\endgroup$
    – John
    2 days ago
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The Dune way:

Magic shields which block fast projectiles. You need relatively slow arrows or melee weapons to pierce through the shield.

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There's a widespread trope "You can't magic iron" which might come in useful here. You can make enchanted arrows and spears (wood), swords (bronze, not steel), armour (leather, not steel). You can't make an enchanted firearm (for some reason, magic can't help improve the bursting pressure of a non-ferrous gun barrel). Wooden canons might still be in use in this world. (They were in ours, until steel-casting technology advanced sufficiently).

You might also have "you can't miniaturize magic (well)". So enchanted arrows, swords, spears are more easily made and more enhanced, than enchanted bullets, simply by virtue of being larger. This will also help reduce the effectiveness of crossbows and other small-projectile weapons.

I can't help thinking of the shields in "Dune" which protect against fast-moving small projectiles but not (so much) hand-wielded ones. Any sufficiently advanced technology ....

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  • $\begingroup$ 17oo's bronze and brass pistols did exist, you don't need iron to make 1700's guns. $\endgroup$
    – John
    2 days ago
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See Magic as a kind of fluid...

It can stick to slow objects like a sword or an arrow but the velocity of a bullet is too high for it to remain in place.

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Defensive spells work both ways.

Magic shield spells exist to stop bullets exist, they are simple and stop bullets reliably but they also stop you from using bullets, it stops anything moving fast enough. likewise the spell that stops lower speed weapons also stops you from using low speed weapons like arrows and swords. If you use both you also can't attack well. Using both weapons also means going defenseless. you could even make it a tree way competition with guns, bows, and melee. But the kicker is not everyone on the battle field has magic, so there are always some people vulnerable to your weapon.

So you end up with a constant struggle between which is more common, as soon as guns dominate bullet-shield users have a big advantage, as soon as sword users dominate arrow/sword-shield have a big advantage. So you end up with a constant struggle that will not let any one group of weapons dominate, you have sword and bullet-shield users, gun and arrow-shield users, people who forgo defense for attack and even a few that forgo armed attack for double defense (excuse for martial artists on your battlefield) .

in biology we call this a set of evolutionary stable strategies. Both type of weapons work as long as it does not become a majority. No one type can dominate.

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