How would paleolithic combat work in a world where you have instant, and permanent mastery when you hold any tool?

Weapons are limited to stones, slings, clubs, and stone-point spears, but any tool or implement is available for mastery.

The "Instant Mastery" operates when a user thinks of performing an action, like "I want to throw this stone to over there.". If it's possible, they immediately know how to throw it, and if it's impossible, they also know that too.

However, it's total mastery for every use. If they want to use a spear as a hammer. They'll get precognition on that too, for example.

  • $\begingroup$ Does this apply only to offensive use of tools, or to any use? $\endgroup$
    – o0'.
    Sep 5, 2015 at 15:14
  • $\begingroup$ @Lohoris - Any use. $\endgroup$
    – Malady
    Sep 5, 2015 at 15:28
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    $\begingroup$ Presumably the "instant mastery" would extend to shields as well as weapons. So combat would become a test of strength and stamina rather than a test of skill. $\endgroup$ Sep 5, 2015 at 15:30
  • $\begingroup$ @KillingTime - Yes. ... Gtg, so if you want to edit it in, go ahead $\endgroup$
    – Malady
    Sep 5, 2015 at 15:30
  • $\begingroup$ What does "mastery" mean? Are the only limits one's current unaugmented bodily capabilities? Often people can use multiple "tools" with a synergistic effect, like using slings to throw stones. So if I pick up a stone and decide to throw it, will I know how to make a sling? $\endgroup$
    – zeta
    Sep 5, 2015 at 18:02

4 Answers 4


Community wins

The first group to successfully build a community wins.

Why? Let's explain step-by-step:

  • this mastery, as you explained, is also valid with non-offensive use of tools
  • this means that anyone could use tools to build better tools and items and stuff, i.e. anyone would become a very proficient artisan.
  • progress! The more talented people, i.e. those that posses creativity and intelligence, would suddenly be able to express them, and improve the tech level
  • better tech level --> better weapons --> (you already have mastery) --> you win

So the key is not to die long enough to advance the technology a bit, and to do that, you have to build a community of people who protect and feed those who are instead busy creating.

  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Presumably these communities wouldn't stay paleolithic (technologically, at least) for very long. $\endgroup$ Sep 5, 2015 at 16:22
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @KillingTime correct. $\endgroup$
    – o0'.
    Sep 5, 2015 at 16:25

The warrior-troubadour would rule the world

This mastery approach you describe has three limits. The first is the obvious strength and stamina tests that KillingTime mentioned in a comment. The second is their own imagination for the creation of an imagined action to do. An individual that cant think beyond, "Ogg stole my stick. Make Ogg's head have 2 more lumps than it used to." will rapidly find their creativity is too low to permit striking the more creative individuals, who have taken the time to shape more efficient ways of defending themselves. This leads to the third limit, the imagination of others. Creative use of a spear can accomplish a great many things if one is nimble and quick, but once someone has decided to engage in a defensive action, your options to strike with become limited.

Accordingly, those at the top of the "food chain" would be the warrior-troubadours, the warrior-poets, and their kin. They would have the imagination to figure out how to use that perfect mastery to accomplish ever more nuanced goals, as they refine their arts. In our earlier example, if Ogg has already begun working with the stick to protect himself, he'll probably find a way to take 2 lumps... but small ones. And, in exchange, he might disarm his opponent, and maybe even woo his opponent's wife away with the beauty of his actions. Lose your wife to a warrior-troubadour once or twice, and you'll learn not to try to put lumps on their head very quickly.

Creativity could literally rule the world.

  • $\begingroup$ On the short term, I agree with you, this is a very nice point. On the long term, however… $\endgroup$
    – o0'.
    Sep 5, 2015 at 16:40
  • $\begingroup$ In the longer term, these warrior-troubadours would use their wits to become the community leaders...combining the two answers $\endgroup$ Sep 5, 2015 at 18:42
  • $\begingroup$ NO WAY...no way is anyone able to be a master of an act IMMEDIATELY!! Holding a tool in one's hands does not a master make! As physically able as I am (lots 'n lots of viable physical prowess) no way could I take up a spear and use it without lots of practice!! And I am genetically anyhoo a HUNTER. $\endgroup$
    – stormy
    Sep 5, 2015 at 20:28
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @stormy: presumably this is a fantasy setting. Would you object to, say, Harry Potter because NO WAY could waving a wand around and saying funny words make things happen? $\endgroup$ Sep 5, 2015 at 21:38
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @HarryJohnston I wouldn't say that. It makes actors really rich, which is a thing. $\endgroup$ Sep 5, 2015 at 22:05

Let's start with defining what Mastery is NOT

Mastery does not Guarantee Perfection:

A master stone napper can usually craft an arrow head to within 1-3 millimeters of an intended shape, but lacks the sensory and motor control faculties to shape it with machine level precision. A master still makes mistakes, but very much more rarely. Also, a master is still limited by his materials; so, if you want to make a bow, a master can make a one to the exact dimensions he intends, but can not necessarily know if the wood will split or hinge due to an unforeseen defect in the wood. A master is still limited by scarcity; so, he may do something sub-par simply because of time or cost constraints, but has a better idea than a novice about what he is trading off.

Mastery does not Guarantee Organization:

Being an expert at using the weapon in your hand does not make you a tactical genius. A well organized phalanx with very little combat experience can easily wreck a disorganized mob of masterful warriors. This also applies too tools. Just because you can make every detail that goes into building the Colosseum does not mean you have the ability to do it yourself or the ability to coordinate with enough other people to do it.

Mastery does not Guarantee Technological Advancement:

While others have speculated that instant mastery would make technology advance faster, I suspect it would actually have the opposite effect. Necessity is the mother of invention; so, the more you can do without inventing new things, the less reason you have to innovate. Let's take the wood lathe as an example. Somewhere in history, someone decided that it was too hard to carve a stick into a uniform pole; so, they invented a machine to help them do it, but if you came out of your mother's womb able to carve a perfect pole, then you would never have nearly as much of a need to invent something to do that for you.

So how would this all effect Paleolithic warfare?

The general factors that determine the effectiveness of an army are their tactics, training, technology, & moral.

Since your warriors have no special mastery of tactics, it means that good leadership will just as important as ever. With no major differences in the skill of warriors, being able to put them in the most opportune positions on the battlefield will be very important when it comes to gaining an upperhand.

To this end training will remain just as much of an X-factor in your world as it is in ours. You may not need spend time to learning how to use your weapons, but you do need to learn to move in formations, follow orders, and you need to condition your body to be strong and endurant enough to wear your opponent down until he can overwhelmed despite his skill level being about the same as yours.

As I mentioned before, technology will not progress any faster, but it may progress differently. Since a masterful warrior can more easily target the gaps in your armor, armor may be less favored. Instead warriors may prefer to just use a shield and weapon which will allow them to match skill to skill without weighing themselves down needlessly. In the stone age, armor was not that common anyway, but this is something to consider. Bows will likely become far more pivotal to warfare since an expert archer is such a dangerous adversary. Since your warriors are so accurate, longer ranged bows will be extra important; so, this is one area where technology will certainly not stagnate. I would expect your warriors to focus especially on range and arrow speed; so, they would probably adopt some kind of compound recurve bow similar to a Mongolian or Hunnic warbow, environment permitting, or a Yew or Osage longbow if the climate is no good for composites.

Moral is also actually going to be an important factor in your warfare because you stated that "If it's possible, they immediately know ... , and if it's impossible, they also know that too." The more an individual soldier understands his odds of success, the more his moral will be impacted by the knowledge. Normally when a battle take place it is because you have two armies of people who engage one another believing they will win and that they will live. But, if you have two armies where each side can make very accurate predictions about their own strengths and vulnerabilities, it could mean that most soldiers will make their own predictions about if a battle is won or lost before it begins. This means that armies could be very easily routed, either fleeing before a battle begins, or very shortly into the fray once the enemy's capabilities become apparent.

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    $\begingroup$ Ooh! This is a good analysis of Mastery! $\endgroup$
    – Malady
    Dec 15, 2020 at 17:53
  • $\begingroup$ I wonder if their own voice counts as a tool... $\endgroup$
    – Malady
    Dec 15, 2020 at 23:23
  • $\begingroup$ The ability you are asking about would probably have to be rooting in having exceptional body control paired with exceptional spacial & sensory awareness. So I would say such a person may be very good at controlling their voice, but not necessarily any good at using it to be more manipulative, a better leader, etc. since social skills and physical skills often do not go hand-and-hand. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Dec 16, 2020 at 16:07

Those who manage to obtain a staff would rule the world. This instant-mastery has just got to be magical, so if magic exists, logic follows that staffs and wands would also exist. And since any 'tool or implement' is available for mastery, the instant someone gets a staff, they'll know how to use it.

In order to balance this, staffs or wands (wands are really just a small staff, right?) would be made of exotic and/or hard to find elements like 'driftwood from the Arctic Sea' or 'the oldest branch of the oldest tree on the entire Earth." However, that still leaves the fact that anyone who manages to create, steal, or otherwise obtain a staff would be limited only by their imagination, not to mention whatever limits you decide mages have in this world.

  • $\begingroup$ Assuming magic not in evidence. Sorry. $\endgroup$
    – Malady
    Dec 15, 2020 at 14:51
  • $\begingroup$ It's okay. It was a good idea anyway. $\endgroup$
    – Alendyias
    Dec 15, 2020 at 14:52
  • $\begingroup$ Wait, if magic isn't involved, then what makes this weapon mastery possible in the first place? It's either achieved through magic or sophisticated technology otherwise it's impossible. $\endgroup$
    – Alendyias
    Dec 15, 2020 at 20:30
  • $\begingroup$ Well, there's obviously magic, just not any other magic. $\endgroup$
    – Malady
    Dec 15, 2020 at 21:16
  • $\begingroup$ Ah, that makes sense. I still like the idea of cave mages though....and it must be pointed out that this weapon mastery will apply to any tool or weapon, including alien weaponry if they can get their hands on it $\endgroup$
    – Alendyias
    Dec 15, 2020 at 23:00

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