Putting the Gunpowder in “Gunpowder Fantasy”
The Gunpowder in “Gunpowder Fantasy”
After you’ve decided on which aspects of traditional Epic Fantasy you intend to include in your world, you can look to the things that you will be able to do differently.
Some “Gunpowder Fantasy” (A.S. Warwicks’ Commonwealth Chronicles, William King’s Terrarch Chronicles) lean more toward the early Gunpowder Era and maintain more of a Muskets and Magic feel.
Who has access to Gunpowder in your world? Is it a common technology that nearly everyone uses, or is it in the hands of the few? Is there widespread production of gunpowder or is it a rare, precious commodity?
Creating a world where everyone has gunpowder leaves your armies on a mostly even playing field. They all have access to similar weapons and have to make their advantages out of intangibles: strategy, tactics, etc.
A setting where gunpowder is used only by the few can setup a massive disadvantage for one side or the other. You can put power into the hands of the producers by making gunpowder a rare commodity; make the recipe a secret known only to a few.
The first, and probably the most obvious, element that is opened up when your choose to write Gunpowder Fantasy is the use of gunpowder weapons. From the arbuequs to the rifled musket, from simple smoothbore cannon to rifled barrels and siege mortars, the use of gunpowder weapons can have an effect that varies greatly on the path of your story.
The first form of gunpowder weapons to consider is the artillery. Where in the “Gunpowder Era” you decide to set your world will determine your overall tech level, but even within those bounds there are many different types of artillery.
Smoothbore cannons, mortars, howitzers and rifled cannon are all options for your world to employ in artillery. Each of these types will have advantages and disadvantages that will have an effect on your world if you choose to add them to your armies.
Howitzers, for example, are typically shorter barreled, used to lob rounds at a steeper angle while not suffering from the short ranged mortars. In the Griffins & Gunpowder universe, I decided to forego the use of howitzers and my armies have to fight their battles accordingly. Earthworks become more important as it is more difficult to get rounds to fall directly behind them. This makes trench warfare more effective.
Artillery can have an effect on the way wars are fought in your world; small arms will have an effect
Choosing an earlier type of man-portable gunpowder weapon (say, the arbuequs) will leave your world more open to traditional medieval warfare (swords, bows and arrows, etc). This would be a more ideal setting for a warrior-type main character, someone who is going to be in and among the fight. Battles will be long and bloody and involve a great deal of hand-to-hand fighting.
Later weapons, such as rifled muskets, will create a major shift in the strategies of your world and how battles are fought. Gone will be the days of constant close fighting, and in will be the battles of tight formations of soldiers standing shoulder to shoulder and firing volleys, skirmishers with long rifles moving forward ahead of the main body to disrupt the enemy scouts and skirmishers, and the compact carbines, for quick moving cavalry attacks. Commanders will rely on strategy and manuevering, rather than brute force and superior numbers.
Some of the accessories to small arms that you can consider bringing into your world are bayonets and looking glasses (telescopes). Both of these will create a twist in the way that firearms are used in your world. Bayonets make hand-to-hand combat more brutal and makes your infantry more powerful at repelling cavalry charges.
Looking glasses create the possibility of sharpshooters and skirmishers. Attached to a rifled musket, looking glasses make your shooters more accurate at longer ranges. Skirmishers can be used as assassins, ordered to target the officers and commanders of the enemy force before they engage the main body of troops. Or they can be used as scouts and screening elements, the eyes and ears of the army who harass the skirmishers on the other side of the field and prevent them from learning the strength and dispositions of the armies.
The last element of small arms to consider are the pistols and/or revolvers that will be used in your world. Like the other types of weapons, pistols and revolvers will be determined by the level of technology that you set for your world, but in the gunpowder era, revolvers and pistols were typically ahead of the curve.
There are two things to take into consideration when you’re planning out this part of your arsenal: do you want to use revolvers? If so, do you have these revolvers muzzle-load or use cartridges? Cartridge revolvers will increase the speed that the revolvers fire and reload at.
Pistols and revolvers were typically more expensive, which means that they were typically used only by officers and nobility. Whether you continue this into your worlds is up to you, but even an entire army armed with revolvers will have little effect on the flow of a battle until they are nearly too close to worry about reloading the weapons.
In the next article, we’ll talk about some of the other aspects of Gunpowder Era technology that can be incorporated into your world, including steam power and telegraphy.