Guns, Elves, and Fireballs

Who needs a gun when you can summon a demon from the Abyss to crush your enemies?

November 30, 2011

It’s no secret that I like me some fantasy. I started out and still love science fiction, though, and you’ll find most fans have a nice overlap in their tastes like this. Sword and sorcery is awesome, especially if I can make it part of an Saturday RPG session. However, one thing that’s always bothered me is the lack of guns in fantasy.

Please note that I am not advocating gun use or gun control or anything like that. I’ve always just wondered why fantasy in general, even in stories set within a medieval time period where gunpowder could exist, shy away from firearms. Science fiction isn’t shy about including “magic” like the Force, so why is fantasy afraid of technology?

Historically, firearms have existed in one way or another for hundreds of years. Everything from single-shot hand-cannons to rocket-powered arrows made a bang on the battlefield, even if they weren’t primary weapons. Most of us probably know early firearms as the slow-loading muskets and flintlocks from old Revolutionary War movies and Three Musketeers. For most fantasy stories, a bow or a crossbow will do.


Dragon’s Breath Crossbow by ~orcbruto on deviantART

There’s something elegant about an archer with a bow, so I can see why a black powdered-fueled firearm seems clunky and overtly modern. Even a crossbow looks too much like a gun. Some writers and players want that feel of agelessness that bows and a gun-free world evoke. Imagine the elves in Lord of the Rings wielding muskets or shotguns instead of bows and arrows. It might look awesome, but it would also be noisy and time-consuming to shoot and reload.

There are valid reasons for not using firearms in fantasy, though. Some people believe they led to the death of the knight and all those wonderful medieval combat clichés we’ve all come to know and love (they didn’t, but contributed). Say goodbye to shining armor and clanging swords. Who needs those when you can shoot a .70 caliber ball of lead at your enemy from fifty yards away? There goes the one-on-one duel. Likewise, firearms are more closely tied in with modern times. Even though gunpowder and gunpowder-based weapons have been around since the 14th century, we still mostly associate them modern war. Of course, all this is moot if, in your fantasy world, magic has advanced to the point where wands and spellcasters can rain eldritch homicide on their enemies. Firearms maybe accessible… but why use them?


Vampire Hunter-Gun by ~Maury73 on deviantART

But that doesn’t have to be the case. Plenty of fantasy uses firearms. Urban fantasy justifies it by usually being set in a modern world. The Harry Dresden series, for example, has the titular wizard carry a gun to deal with threats magic can’t handle or if he tires himself out. Likewise, Final Fantasy hasn’t shied away from guns, either. Stephen King’s The Dark Tower has the main character be a gunslinger who would be right at home in an old Western (except for the whole End of the World and different realities thing).

It just depends on flavor. For example, in my own Dungeons and Dragons game, I’ve always been interested in introducing firearms, but making them one-shot weapons that have to be reloaded more slowly than a bow and arrow. I don’t want to get rid of the sword, shield, and bow and arrow, but I want to show a world in transition. Eventually, I’d like to actually have something like the Old West… but not yet.


Fantasy Pistol 01 by ~TypoCity on deviantART

Besides, it’s FANTASY. If you want to have samurai swords and revolvers next to each other, why not? If in your world, dwarves use shotguns heavy enough to double as warhammers, what’s going to stop you? Me? I’m thinking of actually writing up rules for firearms in 4E in maybe selling that pdf at some point. Don’t hold your breath, though…

In the meantime, let’s enjoy a trailer for a movie that takes this kind of genre-bending to heart, shall we?

The Luck o’ the Skittish

It's real because I say so.

June 15, 2011

Careful readers may have noted how I tend to knock on people who hold outrageous beliefs for the sake of tradition or comfort. Think gays are committing a sin by loving and existing because the Bible says so? Do you think that America was founded on Judeo-Christian principles despite the Bible being entirely opposite to what the Bill of Rights guarantees?

Guess what? You’re a moron for ignoring reality.

On the other hand, it’s comforting to believe in something that has no basis in reality. It’s yours. It’s personal. Conspiracy theorists work this way. They see themselves at the center of some unimaginable tangle of powerful beings and organizations that can somehow control everything from the political landscape, to the progress of technology, and yet cannot catch these desktop detectives as they unravel the web of deceit.

And yet you and I are much too smart for that, right?

Well, I got to thinking…


Tempting fate by ~jsings on deviantART

How different is superstitious thinking from fanatical religious thinking? Not that far off. We had people who believed, who genuinely believed, the world was going to end last month. Some people, even if not religious themselves, will cross themselves before entering a Catholic church, just in case. My sister refuses to shuffle cards a certain way when we play poker because it will disrupt her card-ma.

Yes, “card-ma.” Her word, I swear to Bob.

I have a Dungeons and Dragons player who insists her dice rolls don’t count if the die touches an object before it comes to a standstill. While I don’t think she really believes it, she insists that touching another object throws her off. In fact, gamers are finicky when it comes to their dice. Some dice are just “lucky.” Of course, gaming dice aren’t tested for balance like casino dice, so there very well might be lucky and unlucky dice.

Everyone’s done these sorts of things, and I tend to laugh when I see them or hear about them.

I believe in chance and choice. I believe there are things I can and cannot control. The things I cannot control are the events that are beyond my grasp, the choices others make, and the totality of existence. I can’t tell lightning where to strike. I can’t make others think what I want them to think. I can’t luck out and hope a publisher sees my work online and offers me a contract.


love is chaos by ~parasite3 on deviantART

I can, however, choose to not stand out during a lightning storm while wearing a tin foil hat. I can learn how to put together a coherent argument and make my point as persuasively as possible. I can make my work the best possible and look for ways to advertise and get the word out.

There is nothing that says charms, spells, or even good luck rituals work for us, and yet so many of us really do cling to these beliefs. I know someone’s going to fire back with, “But that’s the die I used when I slew the vampire king! It’s lucky!” or “I was wearing this shirt when I met the love of my life. It’s my lucky shirt.”

Well, show me the study where we discovered luck. Show me equations. Prove to me that our lives and random events around said lives are controlled by invisible force fields and I’ll eat my words!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go do laundry and make sure I have my gaming shirt for this Saturday. When I wear my Star Wars shirt, I KILL!


Old school gaming by ~Kiaaaa on deviantART

And now, for your viweing pleasure, links.

  • And finally, I have to say that while I’ve never heard of or tried this beer, this commercial alone makes me want to do it. it’s over the top, obviously conscious of its own absurdity, but it owns it like a boss. Enjoy, and I’ll see you Friday.