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The concept of Fantasy Gun Control is a pretty familiar one: for various reasons, stories set in a typical medieval fantasy setting generally don't have guns or people fighting with guns. But if your fantasy world isn't going to stay at a medieval level forever, eventually technological progress will occur.

The Gods of Mundus don't really have anything against technology, but they have a serious problem with using it to make it easy to kill lots of people very quickly. Therefore, they've issued "Thou Shalt Not"-level prohibitions against the development of gunpowder and other dangerously explosive substances, and they really mean it: try to build stuff like that and you're likely to get yourself and your (highly explosive) research struck by lightning or other expressions of divine wrath. (It goes without saying that nukes are right out!)

As time goes on, how much is this prohibition going to hold things back? Obviously with no knowledge of explosives you can't build rockets and visit the moons or launch satellites, but it seems to me that it would be perfectly possible to build most of modern technology, including satellites, long-distance communication including both broadcasting and networks, skyscrapers, and electronics, vaccines, pharmaceuticals and antibiotics, all without any knowledge of gunpowder or explosives. But I could be missing something.

What non-obvious developments in technology would be cut off by a strongly-enforced blanket ban on explosives?

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    $\begingroup$ So I assume steam power is out too? That can get pretty explosive if you don't do it right. $\endgroup$ – DaaaahWhoosh Dec 7 '15 at 19:47
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    $\begingroup$ It sounds like you're not just banning "explosives" but violent chemical reactions. If I don't have access to gunpowder I can still create dangerous explosions or mass-casualty inducing concoctions -- just pull up any number of videos with people throwing blocks of sodium into a pool. Trying to ban the substances that can interact with each other violently won't leave much left. $\endgroup$ – Avernium Dec 7 '15 at 20:09
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    $\begingroup$ Progress could proceed as expected as long as the overlooking gods are willing to fill in the gaps created by their prohibitions. "Dear Divinity, Since I am not allowed to blow things up, please lift this satellite into orbit..." $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Dec 7 '15 at 20:33
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    $\begingroup$ Would the gods allow combustion for peaceful purposes? $\endgroup$ – Mikey Dec 7 '15 at 21:51
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    $\begingroup$ Guys, how did you all miss this? We now have an alchemical mixture for incurring the wrath of the divine. The next thing I'd be researching is time release capsules. $\endgroup$ – Sean Boddy Dec 9 '15 at 10:13
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I wonder how much these gods take intent into account.

For instance, if you mix up gun powder (few non violent uses) they look at that and intervene. But something like steam or internal combustion (many non violent uses) then they might sit back and see where it goes before stepping in.

Some other things that would play a factor:

  1. How all seeing are these gods? Could a resourceful person fly under the radar long enough to do the research needed? I could mix sulfur and charcoal for a new line of medicines, then add salt peter later, all without drawing much attention.
  2. If someone starts to stray into a forbidden subject by accident, what's the first sign that they are crossing a line? Cease and desist letter delivered by angelic messenger? When the sky begins to rumble?
  3. How legally minded are these gods? Say they made a "thou shall not mix gun powder" commandment, but then someone makes some nitroglycerin in their lab, which there is no commandment against.

The other side of this, is that if a lot of chemists get smote by lightening, then people will stop becoming chemists. Even non forbidden work will stop, and anything that looks like science will stagnate.
The gods may be ok with that, or they might see it as a problem.

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    $\begingroup$ Not to mention the query, "If scientist A makes an engine, then scientist B uses that to make a vehicle that can go really fast, then crazy guy C uses that to kill a bunch of people, committing mass murder...at what stage do the gods step in? Why then?" The thing about tools is that tools are not evil. $\endgroup$ – Draco18s Dec 7 '15 at 21:48
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    $\begingroup$ @Draco18s Right. And also what qualifies as mass murder to these gods. If running over 10 people with a car is mass murder, then what happens if I use a sword to do that? It wouldn't be all that hard. What about non explosive things, like poison gas. A massive number of people were killed in concentration camps by gassing them. And a lot of poison gasses are naturally occurring. At what point in the collecting/making gas to using it on people are the going to show their displeasure. $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 Dec 7 '15 at 22:04
  • $\begingroup$ Lord of Light delves into what happens when the gods interfere with technology. I will not spoil such an excellent book by explaining what Roger Zelazny does with a similar premise to this question. $\endgroup$ – Michael Shopsin May 10 at 14:55
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Obviously with no knowledge of explosives you can't build rockets and visit the moons or launch satellites, but it seems to me that it would be perfectly possible to build most of modern technology, including satellites

What good is a satellite if you can't build rockets to launch it?

How do you build long distance communications with sailboats? I'm assuming that the internal combustion engine is out of the question. As 9/11 proved, fuel tanks are quite explosive.

Even your skyscrapers might be hard to build if they are constructed entirely with hand labor.

Nitroglycerin has medical uses. Presumably these are lost too.

Biological and Chemical Weapons

You say that the problem is

The Gods of Mundus don't really have anything against technology, but they have a serious problem with using it to make it easy to kill lots of people very quickly.

You spend a lot of time talking about gunpowder and explosives, but these aren't the only kinds of mass killers. What about biological and chemical weapons? Biological weapons are especially problematic, as they take no technology. As the Aztecs could attest, they are damaging even when released accidentally.

The Gods could resolve this by wiping out disease. Then you lose vaccines and antibiotics.

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On a more meta level, banning gunpowder isn't really the answer. Killing masses of people became relatively cheap and easy with the "Infantry Revolution" starting in the 1400's, where weapons and tactics were developed to allow masses of quickly trained people to successfully take on fighting men who had spent entire lifetimes learning and perfecting their fighting arts. A peasant in the field or scullery maid behind the walls of a castle would be able to successfully engage a knight if they were armed with a crossbow, for example. Masses of men armed with pikes and polearms could be quickly raised and trained, able to defeat or neutralize even "battles" of mounted knights or Samurai.

This implies organizational ability rather than technological prowess, and realistically, if gunpowder weapons had been developed and introduced before the "Infantry Revolution", history might have taken on a very different direction. (Guns, although rather expensive, are very effective against all types of military formations and classes of fighting men, and people can be trained to use firearms relatively quickly; the real reason firearms were so enthusiastically adopted everywhere).

In a "non Infantry Revolution" world, firearms might become something like bespoke duelling weapons, so rare and expensive that only aristocrats could afford to carry them into battle, and generally reserved for climactic moments of battle, i.e. when opposing commanders come into contact, or when dealing with a monster (The King draws his pistol and takes aim at the Dragon...).

So I would look at the social and cultural factors in your world. If there are pressures to put large numbers of people into the field, or perhaps large numbers of people feel oppressed by knights or longbow men (another class of fighting men who needed a lifetime of training), or "middle classed" people like merchants are trying to assert their independence from Royal or aristocratic authority, then the conditions which gave rise to the "Infantry Revolution" are there, waiting for some unknown genius to develop simple to use weapons and tactics to take advantage of the manpower, vs the expensive knights and men at arms who need lifetimes of training to become effective.

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A lot depends on the definitions and how the rules are enforced.

Explosives have lots of peaceful uses. If explosives are out, I take it that means no rockets. So yeah, you could build a communications satellite, but you have no way to get it to orbit.

Mining and construction routinely use explosives. Yes, you can still build things. The Egyptians built the pyramids without explosives, etc. But it's a lot more work.

As @Aurast asks, Can you build internal combustion engines? What about jet engines? If not, transportation is severely limited. You can walk or ride an animal. What else?

Presumably you could have electricity. And there are ways to generate electricity without combustion, like hydroelectric dams. But presumably coal and oil fired plants would be out. I guess nuclear is out too. There goes about 90% of current US energy production. Methods that don't rely on combustion tend to be very limited by environmental factors: You have to be near a big river or there has to be a lot of sunlight or wind, etc.

I presume that if people were laboring under these constraints, there would be creative geniuses who would find ways around them. Maybe they'd find ways to solve these problems that our society has never thought of because we haven't had a need.

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  • $\begingroup$ Interesting. How would you build pyramids today, with explosives? $\endgroup$ – Mason Wheeler Dec 7 '15 at 23:43
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    $\begingroup$ @MasonWheeler -- the key difference is in obtaining the stone -- you'd use drill-and-blast quarrying instead of the manual methods the Egyptians used. $\endgroup$ – Shalvenay Dec 8 '15 at 0:29
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    $\begingroup$ @masonwheeler I'd use explosives to quarry the rocks. Then I'd wheel them into position and get a mason to shape them. :-) $\endgroup$ – Jay Dec 8 '15 at 5:10
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    $\begingroup$ Threaten the aliens with my explosives, to get them to build faster $\endgroup$ – Nahshon paz Dec 8 '15 at 14:30
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    $\begingroup$ Everyone here has it wrong, you just pick a sufficiently large mountain and blow up everything around it until you have a nice pyramid shape on a flat open area =P $\endgroup$ – Culyx Dec 8 '15 at 19:24

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