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I'm writing a low fantasy fiction in a XVIII century-tech kind of world.

The reason of the setting is that I love early modern muzzleloading weapons, and I think guns can make fantasy more interesting.

So, in my world, an analogue of Qing China decided to embrace flintlock technology, starting a gun race against the other empires of the world, even considering colonialism. This take the gun to a whole new level, with gunsmiths being a profitable and honorable profession around the world.

Suddenly, seven big asteroids impact the northern hemisphere of the world, bringin years of cold temperature, some animals extintion and famine. Empires are triving to survive, and some just move to their colonies because the weather was better to rise crops. With the asteroids came some fantasy terrors that bring some flavor to the mix. A hundred year later, in a new world with new customs, my fiction starts.

I was traying to make it as realistic as possible... for a fantasy... But then I find something that make me want to apply the "rule of cool", just because is cool.

I'm talking about Combination weapons!

Gun-axe combination, sword-axe combination, spear-gun combination (well, a bayonet), dagger-gun combination, gun-mace combination.

They look beautiful! Just look at this indian thing!

enter image description here

It has some ups and downs. The more you make a gun-sword to shoot, the less a sword it is. The handling is weird, the weight is weird. And is heavy to aim with one hand. That's why everyone use a sword in one hand and a gun in the other. Gun-axe, nevertheless, was used by Swedish army. Specially the navy. It has a good handling, a great carbine and a great axe at the same time, ready to break open ship doors with it!

If I want this cool and impractical thing to be kind of widespread and mainstream in my world, I would like it to be with a "reasonable excuse" behind. And I can't find one...

How can I make combined weapons widespread in my world?

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    $\begingroup$ sometimes its better not to try and justify something in a story. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Nov 15, 2022 at 0:47
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    $\begingroup$ I'm assuming bayonets are uncool? $\endgroup$
    – user86462
    Commented Nov 15, 2022 at 1:11
  • $\begingroup$ One way for combination weapons to be less inefficient would be for each function to serve a different purpose. Assume a cestus with a gun in it. Perhaps the only way to kill some horrible fantasy beast is with a silver bullet. But that's expensive, so your common bandit gets the blade. $\endgroup$
    – Tony Ennis
    Commented Nov 15, 2022 at 16:02
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    $\begingroup$ Is magic allowed as an answer? You can justify anything by saying magic helped to sort out the parts that were impractical in real life, but i'm guessing this is not a heavy magic setting? Perhaps claiming the meteorites brought some miracle metal that was more practical for making combined arms would also help, but I'd need someone more familiar with smithing to say if one could justify them via making special property materials available in your world well suited to the weapon of choice. $\endgroup$
    – dsollen
    Commented Nov 15, 2022 at 20:46
  • $\begingroup$ I think @SeanOConnor has it - bayonets are a very well-defined combination weapon. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 16, 2022 at 13:25

6 Answers 6

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For a whole planet, getting anybody to agree on anything will require that it be practical, and besides bayonets of various types, few sword-gun combinations are going to fit the bill.

For a single country, however, you can get all the gunswords you want using cultural factors.

The easiest way to get the largest number of people to do slightly impractical things is to make doing the slightly more practical thing illegal.

For example: the law permits only aristocrats to own "swords and firearms", but it creates a carveout for firearms with permanently fixed bayonets - these being indispensable for the militia. The letter of the law is nebulous as to what constitutes a bayonet, except that it has to be large, prominent, and effective. Gunsmiths promptly start building combination guns of all types, and swordsmiths start hiring gunsmiths to put guns on their swords so that they become "bayonets" and can be sold on the civilian market.

A historical example of this phenomenon: in early modern Germany, laws made the sale of swords legally difficult. Smiths promptly started making new weapons that were all but identical in form and function to the region's most popular sword, except that having riveted handle scales instead of a hilt that encircled a tang, they weren't swords at all, but 100% legal knives according to the letter of the law. enter image description here This is a knife.

enter image description here This is a sword.

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    $\begingroup$ Alright, alright, you win. I see you've played knifey-swordey before. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Commented Nov 15, 2022 at 12:51
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    $\begingroup$ I remember hearing that the German sword/knife thing was also related to guilds: Only members of the weapon smiths guild were allowed to make swords, but the knife makers guild could, naturally, make knives. So there may also have been some inter-guild politics and monopoly busting involved. $\endgroup$
    – Frodyne
    Commented Nov 15, 2022 at 13:17
  • $\begingroup$ @Frodyne thanks for the correction. $\endgroup$
    – g s
    Commented Nov 15, 2022 at 18:21
  • $\begingroup$ Just FYI looks like both your image links are broken now. Which is a shame, usually links stay good for at least a whole day :P $\endgroup$
    – dsollen
    Commented Nov 15, 2022 at 21:52
  • $\begingroup$ I found the link to where I heard this: youtube.com/watch?v=ZWyXhaHOq7Q&t=856s - Shadiversity: What were Medieval Guilds really like? $\endgroup$
    – Frodyne
    Commented Nov 16, 2022 at 7:53
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There are a lot of reasons why weapons become popular or not. Things like ergonomics, cost to acquire, range, speed, and... the rule of cool!

For instance, the Indian Pata very likely followed the rule of cool. Yeah, it's a sword gauntlet and it looks crazy when wielded. More weapons and other practices exist simply because they were cool. Wavy blades, etching designs on blades and armor, polishing swords to mirror finishes, wearing feathers, and more happened because it was cool. Admittedly, a lot of these things may have had other benefits and purposes, but those are not always as obvious as how absolutely awesome it looks.

Simply saying that these gun-and-melee weapon is the style and these societies have the means to make them could be enough to justify this for people looking into your world. Worse things happen in very successful worldbuilding projects than a lot of firearm/melee weapons.

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  • $\begingroup$ I like this because of the parade of progressive wilder more amazing and less practical weaponry which will appear over the course of the story. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Commented Nov 15, 2022 at 22:35
  • $\begingroup$ @Willk Very yes. tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/SerialEscalation $\endgroup$
    – PipperChip
    Commented Nov 15, 2022 at 22:42
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A good reason for people to adopt "gunswords" is because of the historical unreliability of black powder weapons, as well as the slow reload speed. Get them wet, miss a shot, or face off against more opponents than you have loaded weapons, you're going to be in serious trouble. This was the reason that muzzleloaders had bayonets, and also one reason why the Bowie knife commonly carried, in addition to single-shot black powder pistols. (the rise of reliable black-power revolvers reduced the need for a knife somewhat) There are also knife mounts made for modern pistols, so the idea hasn't exactly gone away.

With specific regard to combination weapons in a fantasy world, the historical reason for a bayonet on a muzzle loader was to be able to engage in armed combat once conditions on the battlefield called for it. Now, let's say that a school of thought has likewise developed in you fantasy world where the limitations of black powder weapons are realized, plus people want to be able to engage in melee immediately after firing a shot. Or, perhaps they want to be able to stab their opponent and fire a shot, or use a single shot as part of their manual of arms in a swordfight. Parry an opponent, fire when their sword has been deflected.

It is a different approach from developed historically, but is probably not any less valid. The same could be true of a larger polearm, axe, etc. The downside is that it isn't going to be very accurate, even by smoothbore standard, as shorter barrel lengths are more likely. This is because the extra weight of a longer barrel would make the weapon even more unwieldly and slow to use. The upside is that the weight of a weapon would mean that less recoil would occur and a larger bore would be possible. Another consideration is that the trigger or firing mechanism would be to be built in such a way that a user would not have to abandon the melee use of the weapon to fire. A couple of idea there would be a way to activate the gunpowder weapon when the melee weapon strikes, or a trigger built into the guard on a rapier or backsword. The use of the gunpowder weapon has to be as natural as using the blade, and both parts have to be integrated, both in construction and operation. If this isn't done right, people will likely be reluctant to adopt them. (if these sorts of weapons are still relatively new, there would be the possibility of rival designers trying to develop a better weapon, while using demonstrations or even duels to prove their weapons superior)

As long as all of those considerations are covered, it's likely that people would be more willing to adopt weapons like this.

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to the site! Though I'm afraid I need to nitpick your claim. We've tried combination weapons a few different times in history, every time they ended up being subpar to having two separate weapons, a gun and a sword. Either you focused on the sword angle and it was nearly impossible to reload in battle but still weighed down by the gun, or you focused on the gun and got Bayonetts. Bayonetts existed because they were the most effective compromise between the two options. short of literal magic (always a possibility in a fictional world) it's been demonstrated their not practical. $\endgroup$
    – dsollen
    Commented Nov 15, 2022 at 20:43
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We have a precedent for them: the bayonet.

We use to have gun lines for offense with pike lines for defense. The bayonet meant that everyone could get a gun and increase the total number of shots per minute that a formation could throw downrange.

As hillbilly_coder mentioned, black powder guns make the bayonet much more useful.

Another thought is that if this is a Mad Max kind of world, people might be nomadic. That would mean when you have to grab and go, grabbing two weapons at once is better than grabbing only one of the two and, possibly, grabbing the wrong one.

Note that any combo weapon will likely not be as good at either job as two specialized weapons. The sword will be heaver and not as balanced as a dedicated sword. Etc.

However, if only the wealthy can afford combo weapons, the wealthy will have combo weapons. The not quite as wealthy would have cheap knock offs to appear more wealthy. Combo weapons would spread downward through society over time.

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Combination weapons have been tried in real life, they were generally impractical. Expensive to build, able to fire only one bullet with poor accuracy, and too heavy to be used as well as melee weapons. You basically got one weapon that didn't work well at range or melee. Bayonets' are the only really effective form, thus the reason they are the only ones used in real combat, but I assume you want something more interesting then that.

I consider combined weapons hard to justify, but I can come up with a few possible justifications. I'm not convinced any of them are enough to justify combined guns, but perhaps they could work when used in combination with each other and/or other answers (I honestly really like GS' answer).

Magic:

Magic covereth for a multitude of sins. You can make up any kind of rules you want for a magic system, it's entirely possible to come up with some that allow magically made combined weapons that otherwise wouldn't be practical. I won't elaborate too much on this though since I get the impression this is a low magic world your envisioning.

McGuffin Mineral:

The main problem with combined guns is that guns are heavy, and if you try to make them lighter the barrel warps from the heat of the gunpowder. If, however, there was some super metal, one that is surprisingly light and, most importantly, can stand up to the high heat from a gunpowder explosions without breaking or warping without needing to be as thick or heavy as guns otherwise are you could better justify fitting a barrel into an otherwise normal melee weapon without the melee weapon suffering as much from the combination. There are still practical issues with reloading such a weapon without accidentally cutting your foot off with your swordgun, but the right material could make for a more viable option.

Since you already have meteors striking earth, and super powerful 'sky metal' is a standard trope in fiction I'd suggest if you went this route the material you need actually came from the same asteroids as your fantasy horrors. That would suggest mining them for metal may be a bit hard, making such weapons potentially expensive. That could work though considering another option...

Status Symbol:

Swords use to be carried by generals long after the odds of needing a sword in combat were slim. The swords weren't there because they were a practical and required combat weapon, they were there as a status symbol. They said "I'm rich and important enough to be able to afford my own sword, this is why you should trust me as your leader.'

Your combined weapons could be similar, though I'd probably go in reverse to make having a mythical gun, mostly lost technology, be the status symbol not the sword part. The rich commanders carry their combined weapon less for it's practical use in combat and more to impress those they are trying to lead and as a symbol of their worth as 'leaders'.

Intimidation:

Otherwise impractical guns could make sense if legends and myths about them had instilled such a fear that your enemy is afraid to charge them or otherwise allows their fear of the weapon to prevent them from fighting as well as they otherwise would. Even if the weapon logically isn't otherwise as practical in a fight as a traditional melee weapon the moral advantage gained by having 'legendary' weapons could more then makeup for their otherwise impractical design.

So the weapon I'm envisioning would be primarily melee weapons, not long range ones. They would be able to shoot one shot, maybe two, but the reload times would be far too impractical to try in battle, it's a fire and forget thing. The focus is on making them viable melee weapons, not practical guns. They may have terrible accuracy and/or range due to similar sacrifices. The gun parts are in a sense an afterthought, the goal is to make something that works almost as well as a normal melee weapon but can still fire a bullet.

The main reason for this is because the enemy fears them. You don't really care if you even land a kill when you fire the weapon, the real victory is a how the sudden coordinated firing of dozens of feared weapons on the battlefield affects your enemies moral.

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Religion

Carrying more than one weapon is taboo. Religions aren't necessarily logical.

So people tinker at the edges, with combination weapons, reconfigurable weapons, Swiss-army-weapons, ...

The same religion is seriously impeding the development of firearms, because each bullet can kill a man, so each bullet is clearly a separate weapon ....

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