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Can ice, without the use of major magic, be used as an effective, easy to produce weapon?

On my story's fictional planet, overall technology level comparable to late medieval Europe, I have a nation that is living in an icy desert, surrounded by extremely tall mountains, leaving only one small passage to leave the area.

The people have adapted to the harsh conditions (average temperature of −25° Celsius, not a whole lot of edible things to choose from). They are a peaceful bunch, never had they needed to defend themselves, as no-one dared to set foot into this incredibly awful place. Now they need to defend themselves though, as an Evil-Overlord-of-Doom-and-Destruction is coming. With thick fur-coats and enough food and water for his small, 3000 men army, that carries swords, bows and shields.

a few important points about the soon-to-be-invaded ice-people:

  • they do have access to iron and stone to some extent.
  • they are completely self-sufficient, no need for imports from outside their land
  • they have some tools, mostly to prepare their food
  • they do not know how to make fire, only exception is in the next point
  • a few of them are capable of perform minor magic, such as tiny sparks and flames, levitating lightweight objects for short periods of time and so on
  • population: ~8.000

There will be a warning, prior to the invasion, so the people will have some time to prepare. Currently I am thinking about 2–3 weeks. But how should/can they prepare?

Can they use their abundance of ice to craft weapons or generally use the ice as a weapon? If not, are they basically doomed?

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    $\begingroup$ average temperature of -25°Celsius and unable to make fire? how do they survive? $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Jun 2 '17 at 6:55
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    $\begingroup$ Does General Winter count as a weapon? $\endgroup$ – nzaman Jun 2 '17 at 7:21
  • $\begingroup$ @nzaman no, as mentioned, Evil-Overlord and the gang are well prepared. $\endgroup$ – Olaf Klausson Jun 2 '17 at 7:51
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    $\begingroup$ You would need to explain why the Evil want to go into those lands. He need ice for his drinks? Or he need to start a campaign against whole tribe because he want an artefact that would be easier to just steal? $\endgroup$ – SZCZERZO KŁY Jun 2 '17 at 8:36
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    $\begingroup$ Can you explain what do they eat in -25°C cold at mountains (specially while not able to use fire)? I'm asking because population of 8000 people would consume a lot of food daily and I don't see how it's possible with no aggro culture $\endgroup$ – NoOorZ24 Jun 2 '17 at 8:39
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Err.. Sort of...


But I would recommend to use:

Traps

Since your country is on the defensive, I suggest going to a more defensive style of fighting. I don't know what do you mean by weapons made of ice. But since the magic powers are limited in your world, I don't know how ice-smithing (if such a thing exists), really works.

Therefore, Traps would be perfect in this scenario.

For instance, your people can make

  • Pitfall traps that are made from thin sheet of ice that utilize Iron Spikes or
  • Ice spikes in conjunction to pitfall traps
  • For indoors, Stalactite style traps - your people can cast their minor levitation skill to attach them to the ceiling and put some kind of trigger to release it
  • Trap doors made of ice (works like pitfall) - but manually triggered to open with help of levitation skill, or some minor fire skill, etc.
  • Blizzard - if your people can cast flame spells I assume they can also cast ice spells. I assume there's always snow in your country but if you could somehow make man-made blizzard it could also work.

Edit:

  • Avalanches as @Nicolai suggested, could also be taken advantage of based on the terrain.

I'll try to edit this post if I could think of more.

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  • $\begingroup$ Since they are in a mountain region, it should be easy to cause avalanches and use that as a trap for the approaching army (like i mentioned in my answer) $\endgroup$ – Nicolai Jun 2 '17 at 6:57
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Can they use their abundance of ice to craft weapons or generally use the ice as a weapon?

In principle yes, with the stated average temperature ice should be a viable material to make weapons out of. Using their (limited) magic they should be able to directly form the ice (or use small fires to melt it into forms), so no restrictions there. If you want, you could implement this technique as part of their culture (usually applied to make art or something like this), which would explain how they can quickly turn to make weapons with it. Apart from a bigger conceptual problem, the main problems I see with ice as a weapon are:

1) Ice - while considerably strong and heavy - is still not stronger than iron, so your people do not get any advantage from this (though its still better than nothing).

2) Weapons completely made from ice, would start melting once held, unless you insulate the grip with leather or furs. Additionally the could break easily, which could be counteracted by encasing wooden cores into the ice weapons.

Now to my bigger point: Why would your people even want to make weapons out of ice?

Per your description, they never encountered war and usually rely on their tools for hunting. Without contact with other civilisations, I would even argue that they never before heard about weapons or even war. But even if they know war, there is no real incentive to make weapons and directly fight against an invader. Instead they really should take advantage of the territory of their homeland. Even if the enemy is prepared for the weather and not prone to the problems people invading Russia had, tall mountains are hard for any army to march through - even more so if its cold and icy. The enemy will have to pass narrow mountain passes or other points, well known to your people, just because the rest of the terrain is not suited to march through. It should be relatively easy to set ambushes and traps (I'd say avalanches) at these points. If time correctly your people can even separate the enemy army from their supplies, which will quickly end them in the cold.

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  • $\begingroup$ with luck they could bring avalanche and bury all the army at night camping $\endgroup$ – ADS Jun 2 '17 at 8:31
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    $\begingroup$ Not to mention that ice is hard, so is, very fragile. A blade made of ice will shatter into a hundred pieces the first time it hits anything. $\endgroup$ – Rekesoft Jun 2 '17 at 12:22
  • $\begingroup$ @Rekesoft I'm actually not sure about that. As long as the temperature is low enough (below -10°C or so) and the ice stick/weapon is not too thin, I don't think it would directly shatter. But yeah, iron would be able to break it at some point. $\endgroup$ – Nicolai Jun 2 '17 at 12:35
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    $\begingroup$ Target the army's food supplies and then run away. Let them try to chase you without food. Better, run away until they can't make it back home after you destroy their food. Better still, steal their food. Give them a reason to chase you further into the cold. $\endgroup$ – ShadoCat Jun 2 '17 at 18:11
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The best way to use ice against this invaders is à la Game of Thrones: build an ice wall around your town. It doesn't need to be 300m tall and 50m thick. A simple 3 to 4 meter tall, half a meter thick would suffice. The invaders won't have enough wood to build ladders or make a fire big enough to melt it, it's too slippery to climb and with -25ºC you can pack and press snow against the inner side of the attacked point to automatically "heal" the wall and reinforce it. Then wait for them to starve. No matter how many food they carry with them, they don't know the place, don't know how to survive there and will start freezing to death soon. Russia is far less hostile than the environment you are describing and it has defeated the most powerful armies of the world with the help of General Winter.

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  • $\begingroup$ for 2-3 weeks building such wall is possible only with magic which not so powerful accroding OP $\endgroup$ – ADS Jun 2 '17 at 8:34
  • $\begingroup$ You think so? I think it coul be built overnight. The wall is made of compressed snow, maybe adding some straw in it, if there's any available, stacked around some sticks planted in the soil. It's not that high, so you don't need special machines to build it. It all depends on its perimeter, but the longer the perimeter of the town, the more people lives in it and so more workers for the night. The roman legions used to erect walls like that (wooden pallisades, not ice) in a few hours. $\endgroup$ – Rekesoft Jun 2 '17 at 8:51
  • $\begingroup$ wooden pallisades are light enough. I has built igloo several times and this is hard work. For example, brick of firn with 0.5*0.5*1 m in dimensions is the maximum for single man could carry. This man is stronger than common office employee although not a bodybuilder. $\endgroup$ – ADS Jun 2 '17 at 8:59
  • $\begingroup$ Wonderful. I expected to be much lower than that. The poles the romans used for the pallisades were too heavy to be carried by a single man alone (trunks are heavy). Building an igloo is hard work, I'm sure, but it's nevertheless the only kind of building that can be constructed by a couple of man in a short time. Try to build an igloo-sized cabin out of wood or brick-and-mortar by yourself and tell me how much time did it took - specially if you want it to be half as sturdy as an igloo is. $\endgroup$ – Rekesoft Jun 2 '17 at 9:07
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    $\begingroup$ I never said that the wall will defeat the attackers, only that its best use against them is building a wall. Trying to use it to make weapons (ice swords, ice arrow points, ice maces...) or just throwing it at the attackers is going to be much more inefficient. At best, you could try to use as much snow as possible to build the wall, not only making it bigger and stronger, but denying its availability to the attackers. If they make an slope or climb the wall, they are still on top of a narrow, slipery shooting range for the defenders to shoot at, or they can jump and break a leg in the fall. $\endgroup$ – Rekesoft Jun 2 '17 at 12:20
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Ice could be used like very brittle obsidian, but it would not make robust edges or weapons.

Your people should do what Eskimo's Inuit etc,. did for weapons, use bone and antler if available and other animal products like teeth. If they hunt they should already have weapons of some sort.

If they have a professional experienced army heading their way that is prepared for the terrain and conditions I would think they'd be better off investing in running shoes. Unless they are in mountainous terrain (where they would have an abundance of stone) guerrilla warfare is probably not a viable option.

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Ice is too brittle and two slippery to effectively use as a melee weapon, however as Bwrites says, traps are definitely an option.

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Like already said previously, ice weapons are not par with their iron ones, so there's no real incentive to go that direction. Building an ice wall is vulnerable to besiegers building a ramp over it in the same way. Traps may be a nice idea, but it's still not specific to the particular environment, but more to the correlation of forces sizes. Their only chance in victory probably lies with using the harsh environment to their benefit; General Winter as has been aptly noted.
But how?
By dispersing themselves so that the invaders never find them to subdue them!
They disappear, in little groups and companies, as far away from their center of civilization (that the enemy will try to besiege and conquer) as possible. Then, with the help of the harsh environment, make the enemies' lives miserable and their conquest hollow. In the end, they will up and go, to cut their losses - because even if they wanted something from that inhospitable land, they'd need locals to get it.

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They're DOOMED! A culture - less developed, less armed, less trained - has little hope of defense. The scenario you describe puts them at a significant disadvantage.

However, as you describe, they are self sustained and there is "only one small passage to leave the area". Is this also the only entrance to access the area? If so, destroy the path! Use the ice to seal it - not just a wall but the entire path! Or depending on how the path lays, wait for the army to enter the path (or tunnel) and then seal it.

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