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In an all out battle between two forces with one side having such advanced technology and weapons that they appear as magic (from now on called wizards) and the other side have nothing but spears and maybe basic bows(from now on called cavemen), could the cavemen still win if they outnumber the wizards?

Some more info on the wizards:

  1. They can throw fire/plasma
  2. They have firearms and bombs
  3. They have advanced knowledge of different sciences such as math and physics
  4. They are somewhat small in population, maybe with only 3,000 people or so.
  5. Their homes are in what appear to be modern (for our standards) houses and buildings.
  6. They have an extreme phobia of air travel so they have not invented planes or rockets at this time.

Some more info on the cavemen:

  1. Their most advanced technology comes in the form of sharpened sticks and simple bows. Some of the smarter cavemen have even started putting sharpened rocks on the ends of the spears and arrows.
  2. While they may seem incredibly stupid to the wizards, the cavemen have the potential to become quite smart, they just haven't reached that point in their civilization yet.
  3. They are pretty large in population, a low estimation puts them in the 300,000 range.
  4. They live in caves and mud hovels

Is there a way for the cavemen in this scenario to win an all out war with the wizards? The main war goals of both sides is to completely destroy the other. Peace is not an option.

Is the population of the cavemen large enough to eventually take over the wizards? Do I need more? Can I get by with less?


After trying to genetically engineer themselves to make them stronger/smarter/etc they accidentally unleashed a virus that affected the entire wizard population that makes it incredibly hard to conceive. They blame it on their desires to mess with biology and now most forms of biology are strictly taboo.

The wizards used to keep to them selves and were a peaceful people, the cavemen were jealous and afraid of the "magics" that they witnessed and decided it was an affront to their God so the cavemen decide to wipeout the wizards. The wizards, in self defense decide the only way to stay secluded and alone is to wipe out the cavemen.

The territory of the wizards is quite small, about the size of a small urban town in Utah: 16 square miles. The wizards are stationary and don't want to leave their home. The cavemen are nomads moving from place to place and that's how they happen upon the wizards.

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  • $\begingroup$ I hope my explanation for why biology research is taboo is realistic enough. I may have to ask another question on this site if it is not. $\endgroup$ – TaylorAllred Jun 24 '16 at 17:14
  • $\begingroup$ How they are located? Do the armies face each other, or does one army invades other's territory? How large is that territory? $\endgroup$ – user8808 Jun 24 '16 at 17:20
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    $\begingroup$ I think people using backward technology can beat people using advanced techonology, if the former can overwhelm the latter by sheer numbers. But I do not think that people as backward as your cavemen can be so numerous - or, at least, that they can be so numerous and have a unified political will. $\endgroup$ – Luís Henrique Jun 24 '16 at 17:41
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    $\begingroup$ Yes. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emu_War $\endgroup$ – JAB Jun 24 '16 at 18:31
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    $\begingroup$ I think it is a bit unrealistic to have such a large difference in advancement: Imitating a behaviour is much less expensive than doing empirical research to come up with it. Even if you don't have much information you can restrict the solution space a bit. (Think of having a vague food receipe and continually improving it) $\endgroup$ – caconyrn Jun 24 '16 at 19:01

10 Answers 10

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Possibly, some examples from history to think about:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglo-Zulu_War

British empire with rockets/rifles/cannons were initially defeated by the Zulus with spears using their superior numbers to exploit the British supply lines.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Little_Bighorn

Custer lost mainly by hugely underestimating the number of the enemy he was fighting.

Big picture a larger force can win against superior technology, but usually only due to errors or overconfidence on the part of the superior technological group. Having technology and knowledge does not automatically make them great strategists or tacticians, if anything it's likely to make them overconfident.

Second point to think on, technology can be captured and used by the savages. The Native Americans fighting Custer rode horses and wielded rifles.

Knowledge and intelligence are not the same thing. Your cavemen would lack knowledge not intelligence, when presented with the technological weapons attacking them they would quickly learn how they function, even if they don't understand how (i.e. when they raise the black rod it shoots burning fire to some distance). If they get into close combat or smaller skirmishes over time they could easily capture equipment and potentially learn to use it.

On the wizards side, use of chemical or radiation methods of extermination (gases/poisons) would be quite effective, because the cavemen wouldn't see anything they would just die, which you might want to rule them out for other reasons similar to the biological limitations.

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    $\begingroup$ Awesome, I love the real world examples. $\endgroup$ – TaylorAllred Jun 24 '16 at 17:51
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    $\begingroup$ When looking at the Anglo-Zulu war, keep in mind the casualty ratios. At Isandlwana, for example, the Zulus suffered three times as many casualties, despite a ten-to-one advantage and crushing victory. At Roarke's Drift, a 25-to-1 advantage resulted in a 1-to-25 casualty ratio and a decisive defeat. $\endgroup$ – Mark Jun 24 '16 at 20:40
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    $\begingroup$ Another real-life Eg is the Taiwanese. They experienced several more 'advanced' societies come and claim the island.In at least one instance got their hands on the islands gun supply and massacred a school sports meeting (justifiable to them). There is a 2011 Taiwanese film 'warriors of the rainbow:seediq bale' that shows what can happen over several generations. It had bows&arrows vs guns and steamships.Normally the larger numbers are only due to the advanced people just being a colony/exploring party etc. So while they might win 1-2 battles, they get obliviated during the advanced reprisals. $\endgroup$ – EveryBitHelps Jun 25 '16 at 16:28
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It depends on what the victory conditions are for each side.

If the "wizards" want to exterminate the cavemen Dalek mode, it is one thing. If they want to enslave the cavemen, or to establish themselves as the cavemen's overlords, then they will not want to kill all the cavemen, who will eventually find ways to circumvent the wizards' technological advantage, or to turn such advantage against their oppressors.

So, what exactly are they fighting about? Total control, genocide, enslavement, border security, trade rights, the control of sacred or economically important territory?

And are we talking about a war or about a battle? (I don't think, for instance, that Native Americans could have repealed British colonisation and kept their territory free from European invaders. But we do know that eventually Native Americans have defeated non-Native Americans in battle fields, as General Custer bears witness to).

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A lot of it would come down to the tactics used on either side. As mentioned above, if the wizards perfected the defense of the land they were guarding (i.e. castles or large walls, and using geographical features to their advantage), it would be tough for the cavemen to stand a chance. These obstacles would pose a serious challenge to the cavemen as they lack all of the required siege technology. There are, however, ways in which the battle could be more even.

If the cavemen were able to lure out the wizards by doing something like lighting fires around their camp, or attacking weaker parts of their society (like farms or small villages), the battle would be much more evenly matched. On an open battle field, early stages would look much like the beginning of a world war 1 battle: the cavemen, charging into the defensive weapons of the wizards, would get slaughtered. Much like WW1, however, as soon as the two sides get close enough to engage in hand to hand combat the tide would turn against the wizards. In a typical WW1 battle, with one side armed with machine guns and artillery, the attacking side could lose as many as 100,000 people in a day. As long as the cavemen don't get discouraged, they could potentially make it to the wizards front lines, where guns, bombs, and plasma have less of an impact.

Another interesting approach would be guerrilla warfare, a technique used throughout history by technologically outmatched forces. The Mongols frequently used a tactic where they would have a small force engage the enemy and then retreat, prompting their enemy to follow after them. Once the enemy was spread out, other Mongol forces would swoop in and attack them while they were exposed. In the forests the cavemen could use hunting techniques to find, follow, and kill or even capture wizards in small numbers, making the high-tech weapons less effective. They could potentially even taking prisoners, giving them valuable knowledge. If the cavemen were able to get the wizards out of their defenses into a forest or valley, the battle would be as good as over.

Overall there would be ways to get through defenses such as laying siege to the city, burning the crops around it, or launching a frontal attack, but most of these would fail. On an open battlefield or rough terrain the cavemen would stand a far better chance.

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Yes, the cavemen can win.

As mentioned by others if the wizards create a secure perimeter, and they have the technological superiority to create one the cavemen are helpless against, they will win by default unless they do something stupid. Sleep safe inside your secure area, go out hunt some primitives with high powered rifles, grenade launchers and set up explosive or poisoned traps, and then go back to safe and comfortable home. Eventually the cavemen would become scarce enough that you'd have to do longer hunting expeditions that set up or return to secure camp each night. Roman legions would have been able to do it, so your wizards should have no issue. Just keep it to hunting, not war, as wars are risky and unpredictable.

So why did I say the cavemen can win? Because it is not really necessary to wait and hope your enemy messes up and does something incredibly stupid. (That being the level of stupid required here for reasons explained.) Instead, if you can interact with them, you can directly fool them into doing any level of stupid mistake you need. Incredibly stupid will just take more work and time.

Basically, turn traitor to your own kind, make friends with the wizards and help them kill your friends and relatives. And once a degree of trust is established, betray them, kill them all, and steal their magic toys for yourself. If you also wish to set up yourself as a wizard you can keep some of the wizards as slaves to do repairs and training, but doing it safely adds to the effort and timing required to set it up.

Since others supplied historical references, I'll give one as well. Arminius.

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I think it depends of the initial defense of the wizards. If they posses the Chinese wall which is secured from the beginning, or know they will be attacked, they will probably win.

If not and the caveman will lunch an surprise attack, 3,000 people is to few to survive. If the caveman raided the village at night when everybody sleeps, there would be almost no resistance. Most would be killed in sleep or while waking up. The next big part of people die while in panic. The rest dies fighting or fleeing unarmed before they get any weapons. Only a few would be able to arm themselves and effective fight back. To few.

In the last scenario I assume the wizards have an open town design and almost no military facilities. Also normal people don't posses firearms. That what I would assume from an peaceful society. Additional from those 3000 people not all are able to defend themselves. They could be to young or to old. And if they have the correct age, they still cold be in a fitness state where they would be no match for an enemy.

The caveman on the other side have 100 people per wizard in addition they will most likely die younger and all young and adult men and woman would be stronger and tougher.

So for every wizard that can defend there town would be 120 or more attackers.

I could image 20 to 50 people to fend of the initial attack, get some firearms and regroup. Even if they use there superior firepower to kill enough caveman so they will retreat, the wizards would be as good as dead. Most likely all children and older people are dead, without some luck all women also. That would be the end.

The survivors would soon run out of essential stuff like weapons, food, fuel, medicine or something else. Higher advanced civilizations have an higher specialization of individual. It is not likely that the survivors will have the knowledge in all fields they need to keep on fighting the caveman.

Eventually they will get hunt down by the caveman.


There is an Anime where an fantasy army invades Japan and more or less gets anhilated by modern weaponry. It's called Gate maybe you can get some ideas from there.

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If I ruled the cavemen I would wipe out all the wizards within a year, without introducing any new technology, merely good command and control.

The plan is to create a massive fire that encircles and destroys the wizard town. Even today, using planes and thousands of firefighters, forest fires are very difficult to contain. Nothing in the wizard description suggests that they have magic anti-fire abilities.

Step 1: I would divide the cavemen into tribes of about 100 people. Each tribe would have a leader, a succession plan, and would operate independently. They would get instructions from me periodically by sending a runner to my personal HQ.

Step 2: I would send these 3000 tribes in all different directions, to chop down trees from far away and bring the logs to storage areas. These 3000 storage areas are all near the wizard's town, but hidden away. Some will be found by the wizards. What will the wizards do? First, they might not appreciate the purpose of the logs. If they burn the logs, they risk doing my job for me. They might carry them away using their trucks or whatever, but we have far more manpower and will be bringing the logs faster than they can be hauling them away. Further, if they just haul the logs down the road, one of my tribes might find them and bring them back.

Step 3: Once we have plenty of fuel, and the weather has been dry for a while, we light them up! 3000 huge bonfires, lit in a circle around the town, will immediately enflame all surrounding plants. The inferno will spread very quickly toward the center, leaving the wizard town in ashes. If I am able to time the fires to all light at the same time (e.g. at dusk on a particular day), the fire will be a solid circle around the wizards before they are able to find an escape route.

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  • $\begingroup$ The only problem with this answer: it assumes a much more logical understanding than you likely will find in the cavemen. It also ignores the sociological aspects. As such - totally not feasible. $\endgroup$ – TomTom Jun 25 '16 at 16:31
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    $\begingroup$ Well, the OP says that cavemen have the potential to be quite smart. Cavemen from human history understood fire, and understood pack hunting quite well (encircling prey, etc.) $\endgroup$ – Vadim Ponomarenko Jun 25 '16 at 16:48
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Generally, this depends on how many numbers you have and the level of technology difference, but in this case, the wizards will win with your current numbers.

Since they have advanced knowledge of different sciences such as math and physics, they'll be able to build armored cars and tanks through which they can stay inside, protected, and throw fireballs out of.

They can also build castles/bastions/bunkers/siege huts which the cavemen will never be able to break through, and throw fireballs/plasma over the walls.

Since they have bombs, they'll be able to set enough traps down to stop any advance the cavemen want to make while expending little to no effort.

They'll also be able to throw those bombs, causing widespread fear and panic amongst the weak race.

Of the points I've made above, if the wizards do even ONE of them, the cavemen will already instantly lose. In fact, you could send a squad of 5 wizards set up with an armored "vehicle" which have small grates on the sides for the wizards to spew fire out of into the enemy encampment and essentially wipe them all out.

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  • $\begingroup$ Dang, is there any way in which I can make the cavemen win? $\endgroup$ – TaylorAllred Jun 24 '16 at 17:19
  • $\begingroup$ I would agree that if the wizards focus on defense technologies they can't lose, you would have to have them go on a reckless offensive to lose. $\endgroup$ – Josh King Jun 24 '16 at 17:54
  • $\begingroup$ @TaylorAllred No, there is no way you can make "cavemen" win - especially since at that level of technology, it's also likely they know nothing about military tactics. $\endgroup$ – Aify Jun 24 '16 at 17:56
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    $\begingroup$ I think you are underestimating their intelligence, they would definitely hunt, requiring group effort, and more than likely engage in simple warfare among each other. They would know basic fighting tactics. $\endgroup$ – Josh King Jun 24 '16 at 18:04
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    $\begingroup$ Are wizards going to perfect defenses on day one? Are they going to live in tanks/castles 24/7? 5 wizards in a tank... what about the farms? at night? What about the forests around the castle? What happens when they burn and fill the town with toxic smoke? 1 Wizard dead is a bigger loss than 100 cavemen dead as reproduction rates are tilted to "Zerg"... Assuming they can't grow tomatoes inside (limits: Can they grow food ala Hydro and UV lights underground?) and assuming their defense isn't perfected on day one.... they are bound to suffer losses harder to recover from than the "Zergs". $\endgroup$ – WernerCD Jun 24 '16 at 22:04
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No , The wizards could simply create a virus that will wipe cavemen out of the face of earth in few days

Even if there were 10^100 cavemen for every single wizard they would still have no chance to survive against a powerful biologic weapon.

To give a small chance to cavemen you have to make wizards completely ignorant in bio engineering and medicine.

Ok since they can't use biological weapons Then if cavemen have enough knowledge of their environment they can easily take down wizards , the fastest way would be to steal technologies or attack in guerrilla or with kamikaze terrorists.

If wizards have a good enough defenses to avoid being destroyed from the inside then the war would be incredibly long and exhausting but eventually wizards will win since their civilians are safe.

Between the numbers are not in favor of anyone they are balanced for both sides since only a little portion of the population will become soldiers

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    $\begingroup$ If there were 10^100 cavemen for every single wizard, the know universe would be a black hole. $\endgroup$ – Shufflepants Jun 24 '16 at 19:06
  • $\begingroup$ if the cavemen are actually men of human size then yes probably .... $\endgroup$ – Threose Jun 24 '16 at 19:45
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    $\begingroup$ You don't provide a clear answer. Seems like you lean one way, then the other, then back again. $\endgroup$ – Martin Carney Jun 24 '16 at 20:20
  • $\begingroup$ is there a clear answer to predict an end of a war that could potentially last an entire century ? I listed different ways it would develop given different factors seen in our history $\endgroup$ – Threose Jun 24 '16 at 20:22
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The best example might be the Fall of Rome to the Barbarians. While some may argue that the Barbarians may have had some technology that the Romans may not have had, Rome may have fallen because it was such an advanced society. They had a mode of operation where they were highly regiment oriented. One commander on the ground taking orders from someone in a glass tower who doesn't see what is happening. Bureaucracy which is created by advanced societies remove the decision making power from the front line (in all cases - not just military) which slows down operations. As a result, another less advanced military can do well when they take advantage with lightning quick reflexes.

Another couple of examples might be the U.S. Revolutionary War and the Vietnam War. There were many similarities between these two in that they both were fought by one party on home turf and another fighting from overseas who had the superior technology/organization; both cases had interfering third parties that helped the "little guy" (France in America and China in Vietnam); and both resulted in the more advanced combatant losing.

In general, you might look at a few wars across history where this situation occurred and try to find similarities between them that you might apply.

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  • $\begingroup$ Rome fell to barbarians, not to Mongols. $\endgroup$ – Andrew Grimm Jun 26 '16 at 9:21
  • $\begingroup$ My mistake...I crossed the 13th century Mongul invasion of Europe with the Sack of Rome in my mind... $\endgroup$ – HighSage Jun 27 '16 at 5:46
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IMHO the "wizards" are a better hope for the future than the "cavemen" and I am more or less on their side.

The "cavemen" are described as a nomadic group that discovered the "wizards" on their travels and have a population of at least 300,000. I hate nomads.

It is more likely that "the cavemen" are not so much nomads moving around their territory but migrating in search of a new home for some reason and thus they discovered the the "wizards" in lands that they never visited before. "The cavemen" may be either nomadic or sedentary in their home territory but are searching for a new home territory.

Unless the land near the territory of "the "wizards" is incredibly fertile, "the cavemen" who are probably hunter-gatherers instead of farmers or herdsmen will probably live in thousands of small bands, each occupying a territory as large as the entire "wizard" territory.

So basically the conflict would probably start between the 3,000 "wizards" and 30 or 60 "cavemen" (including women and children) in the nearest band and spread from there. In order to gather a large group of warriors many "caveman" bands would have to stock up on food and send their warriors on long trips to reach the conflict zone.

Each band of "the cavemen" is likely to be politically independent of the other bands so it would take unlikely events like all "the cavemen" bands deciding to fight a holy war against "the wizards" to assemble a large "caveman" force of many thousands.

I can imagine that "the wizards" wipe out a "caveman" band that moves into their neighborhood. Then after a while another band moves into the area and "the wizards" wipe it out. Then after a while a third band moves into the area and "the wizards" wipe it out.

And the leaders of "the wizards" may decide that enough is enough. Instead of waiting for the fourth band of "the cavemen" to show up and wiping it out with ten warriors armed with advanced weapons, they are going to wipe out all the bands of the "cavemen", even if there are 20 or 30 such bands. So they arm and train a force of 200 "wizards" to fight using newer and deadlier and more advanced weapons than they have used before, and keep them ready to move out at a moments notice.

The plan is when a fourth "caveman" band is detected to wipe it out instantly and track them back to where they came from and slaughter the other bands in that area, even if there are 20 or 30 such bands.

Meanwhile all the "caveman" bands have decided on holy war against "the wizards". Volunteers have formed a decoy band to move into the neighborhood and attract attack by "the wizards", while tens of thousands of "caveman" warriors secretly march in and hide in ambush. When the ten "wizard" warriors seen by the survivors of previous attacks attack the decoy band the tens of thousands of "caveman" warriors will spring out of ambush and over wealm them with numbers.

So the stage is set for a battle in which each side will have shocking surprises and find the enemy much more dangerous than they dreamed in their worst nightmares. Who will win the battle, and who will win the rest of the war?

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