They say that the best weapon is the weapon you don't need to fire or you only need to fire once.

Firepower has always worked as a deterrent... but why is it so effective and how can you employ it the same way in a medieval fantasy world without the direct use of magic?

The situation

  • The empire

    The adversary is an empire with known land superiority over any other sovereign that can muster more than a million professional soldiers of its own, 4 million levies and another 2 million mixed of professional and levy soldiers from its vast vassal states. Economic wise, they are very sufficient and can maintain a standing army indefinitely. They also deploy land battleships with no gunpowder but with numerous ballistas and formidable magicians that serves as the battleship's main weapon. The empire is not festered by corruption and uses divide and conquer tactics to subjugate adversaries.

  • The smaller kingdom

    The other country is a kingdom protected by mountain ranges and known for its formidable and numerous: dragon knights, wyvern riders and griffin knights. The kingdom also have many magic knight orders and a well equipped professional army of 100 000 with an additional 400 000 levy that can be called upon but those are very ill equipped.

Slavery is allowed except for the beastmen confederation and dwarven communists.

The protagonist

  • The hero can use magic, which is limited to time-space manipulation, rune crafting and spellarms. He is from our world and was whisked away but was prepared for it beforehand.
  • He is a newly crowned baron of the border between the empire and the kingdom.
  • He brought firearms and needs to demoralize the enemy and the whole world on the effectiveness of his weapons: "Peace through superior fire power."

The goal

  • The goal is to shock and awe the empire without destroying their military in fear that the beastmen federation and dwarven communist would invade them.
  • The kingdom must have a deterrent against any other foreign threats.
  • This will prove the hero's usefulness to the royal family despite being a newly crowned baron.

I need the psychological aspect of this saying and be able to employ it at that situation.

I don't know if gunpowder firearms (Guns, howitzers, mortar, bombs and etc) will work as deterrent but I know mostly it won't.

I think flying ships will do (Kirov from C&C games) but I don't know how I will be able to employ that psychological impact with the flying ships.

If all else fail, I will have to resort to magic that employs matter/anti-matter reaction or matter to energy conversion and be done with it but that won't be fun to read.

I will take any suggestions!

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    $\begingroup$ Without any weapon of mass destruction or at least huge area effect, you'll never do a impression lasting enough for enemies to surrender, I'm afraid. No, a bard with a voice so cruel-some your enemies kill themselves to prevent hearing it would not count. At least, tell more about the situation in your hypothetical fantasy realm please. $\endgroup$ Dec 9, 2015 at 14:14
  • $\begingroup$ @ConfusedMerlin i have edited the first post. hopefully it will explain the situation. Why the necessity of it. $\endgroup$ Dec 9, 2015 at 14:44
  • $\begingroup$ The idea isn't that people are afraid of fighting the war, it's just they realize that even if they fought, they would still lose. It's not so much psychological as it is logical, there's just no point resisting when resistance is absolutely futile. $\endgroup$ Dec 9, 2015 at 14:51
  • $\begingroup$ @DaaaahWhoosh thats what i want to do! but i dont know what kind of startegy to employ to simply put in the heads of anyone that fighting the "baron" will lead to total loss with negligible loss on his side. and i need to do it without directly being aided by magic $\endgroup$ Dec 9, 2015 at 14:57
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    $\begingroup$ As an aside, you can get away with magic not being magic as long as you don't let your readers think of it as magic. Its the corollary of Clarke's Third Law: any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology. $\endgroup$ Dec 9, 2015 at 15:24

5 Answers 5


It all really depends on your version of a sans-magic medieval fantasy looks like. If there's only a single passive group of people that have, say, Dragons, they would largely be left alone by anyone who does not have dragons or methods to effectively beat them. If there's only a single aggressive yet savvy group of people that have Dragons, they could act in a similar manner to an organized crime syndicate, extorting goods from the local area. The mere thought of silent-flying fire-breathing beasts would make most municipalities shake in boots, but they only need one town to be burned to ash to show they're serious.

That's a nice town you have there, it would be shame if something happened to it

The "realistic" version of that in a generic pre-industrial age would be the reign of the Mongols or the Pax Romana. The superior army of both of them had a military that was aggressively mobile - The Mongols through being nomadic and having no "set location" (and thus could be anywhere at any given moment), while the Romans had a system of roads that they could deploy legions, even on foot, typically faster than anyone else could organize. And both would opt to obliterate all the people in an area or town rather than sow the seeds of rebellion... at first. History shows us that once both cultures expanded so fast, they would rather tax and wage-enslave other cultures, which eventually spiraled to their doom.

Post-OP-Edit: The current iteration of this saying is the idea of "Rapid Dominance" or, in the US-Middle East Conflicts, "Shock and Awe". The concept is to use "overwhelming power and spectacular displays of force to paralyze the enemy's perception of the battlefield and destroy its will to fight". The most modern examples of it working correctly were in WWII, with the German Blitzkrieg of Eastern Europe and the Bombing of Hiroshima & Nagasaki.

Your situation is basically similar to the dragon example above. Using the details of the scenario, the best thing to do would be to use Airships and Superior firearms in those shock and awe tactics. This could be "dirty" fighting, including focusing on rifled barrels to create sniper rifles, eliminating officers, leaders and magicians at long range; or obliterating a medium-sized town then having everyone in the capital awaken to an armada of airships overhead, with a rock placed at each doorstep with a sticker that says "Boom!", showing that the Protagonist COULD HAVE destroyed them in the dead of night, but chose not to.

Of course, you can opt for explosive runes instead of actual explosives, or tanks instead of airships, but the general gist would be the same. Show that the Protagonist could easily defeat any of the opposition, but actively chooses not to.

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    $\begingroup$ German Blitzkrieg of Eastern Europe? When did France become Eastern Europe? I mean in Poland it didn't really work that well, and German forces were already slowing down when the USSR joined the battle and helped them secure the victory. It is in France where blitzkrieg really worked as intended. $\endgroup$ Dec 30, 2019 at 0:30

The scariest threat is the unknown one. He should use his gunpowder and whatever other technology he has in a demonstration to envoys of the empire and then offer them a deal that allows them to save face without needing to invade them - and without showing what the limitations of the weapons may be.

For example set up a cliff face with demolition charges, bring them along, wave your hands around, say some magic words, blow the cliff. Say "this is what we do to mountains that get in our way". Don't tell them anything about the weeks it told you to set up the charges, how long it took to work, etc.

Make up some mystic woojoo and also tell them that it only works within a certain range of your kingdom. This will make them see it as a serious deterrent but without being scared you will use it to attack them.

Maybe use some simple chinese lanterns to fly lights into the sky, show off a few other flashy things and hint that you have access to more.


Who wants peace, prepares for a war

Imagine a medieval country where:

  • All citizens have access to armor and sword
  • Every bigger village has at least one or two knights as "police on duty"
  • Every single village is well connected through network of fast messengers
  • Castles are build by every river crossing and guarding every field
  • That country has big and active army, which is constantly training
  • Has dedicated blacksmiths to provide armors, swords and other war related tools
  • Has biggest supply of catapults and other heavy stuff
  • Has the catapults placed near strategical landmarks
  • Has happy citizens and well recognized king
  • Has fair rule of jurisdication

Would you dare to attack such country? I do not think so. That is how you estabilish peace for the country for quite long time

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    $\begingroup$ We dare not invade them; there would be a crossbow behind every blade of grass. $\endgroup$ Dec 9, 2015 at 15:13
  • $\begingroup$ We don't need peace. We need a deterrent. Enough to use "Speak softly carry the big stick" diplomatic approach kind of deterrent $\endgroup$ Dec 9, 2015 at 15:16
  • $\begingroup$ @micovillena - well, this approach will do. If approached by the king who wants to trade with you, or sign peace pact, will you say no? $\endgroup$ Dec 9, 2015 at 15:18
  • $\begingroup$ @PavelJanicek unfortunately, the hero is no king. He is newly established and barely has any military force and a decrepit fortress that was handed to him when he was given a barony. What you are saying can be done given time but the hero needs it in immediate future $\endgroup$ Dec 9, 2015 at 15:20
  • $\begingroup$ Castles, armour, catapults, trained knights, a big army - these things would all cost huge amounts of money to build or train. Where would the money come from? What would the economy of such a country look like and would it be sustainable? I think to sustain that level of investment in military preparedness the country would end up being the medieval equivalent of North Korea or the Soviet Union or run up massive amounts of debt. $\endgroup$ Dec 14, 2015 at 0:10

Yes and no.

There is a limit on what you can do in such a situation. You have a limited number of weapons(not even a whole army) and you a limited number of bullets. The United Kingdom and other European country were able to subjugate large parts of the world because they had fully trained armies using these weapons and with a steady supply of ammunition. Normally, when you encounter these weapons, generals will use the tactics they are familiar with. The will attack with the infantry and your gunmans are going to get butchered.


It could be interesting to investigate magical effects that don't rely on physical destruction, since the baron has much fewer forces than the factions he wants to impress. And since you want a psychological effect, maybe that's exactly where you should look. For instance:

  • An area spell that breaks down the individual mental barriers of its targets. People become temporarily mad from sharing thoughts, the deepest secrets are revealed, people commune with animals and forget they're humans...

  • A curse that makes everyone doubt of the reality of everything and that generates random illusions (or make something look like something else in the area).

  • A paranoia spell that would wreak havoc on any power structure or army, turning allies against one another.

  • A temporary spell that turns anger / bloodlust into poison.

The interesting dramatic property of this approach would be that opponents of the baron could still act at the individual level, maybe by sending people trained to resist such effects.

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    $\begingroup$ Magic could also be used indirectly to produce items that would undermine the enemy to the point where it would lose the ability to sustain a war e.g. a magically created rodent or insect that destroys all the crops in a defined area, magic super-termites that devour all wood etc... $\endgroup$ Dec 14, 2015 at 0:22

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