[several of the posts to follow, including this one, were written on my plane trip back from Madrid...they reflect my musings during a period of near total exhaustion, so be warned!]
Although I don’t have access to the internet right now (I am currently on a transatlantic flight back to the States), I’ve finished reading both the novels I brought with me and find myself wanting to blog a bit. This post (or series of posts) will go up sometime after my return; I certainly found plenty of food for thought during my two weeks in Spain.
For instance, why the hell aren’t there firearms in D&D?
Oh, I’m aware that the arquebus (isn’t that a kind of primitive pistol?) made an appearance in one edition or another…either 1.5 (Unearthed Arcana) or 2nd edition. But if memory serves, that’s it, and it has (as far as I’m aware) not been in any of the WotC+ editions, unless in some supplement book or campaign setting.
Why not? Because gunpowder isn’t “fantasy” enough? Because it would somehow upset the balance of power in a game? Because “hand crossbows” are cooler?
While my baser, inflammatory nature prompts me to write “GARBAGE” in big bold letters, please humor me as a normal person asking an honest question: why isn’t gunpowder and primitive firearms a part of the fantasy world?
I mean, I can offer up a couple-five theoretical answers myself, but I am curious as to what people think. Let me offer a couple observations on the matter:
- Armor in general has been developed as a defense against the weapons of warfare. Plate armor, while present in Roman times (the lorica segmentum or whatever it was called), but that’s not what most people are thinking about that’s a very different thing from “plate and mail” the kind of armor most folks associate with 14th through 16th century Europe. And the supplementing of mail with fitted steel plates is something done in response to the excellent penetration abilities of weapons like the crossbow and firearm.
- Now, that being said, the crossbow (present in D&D) was used side-by-side with the firearm well into the “plate and mail” armor period. In many ways it was more accurate, easier (or as easy) to load and fire, and had just as good penetration. Prior to “rifling” technology, the range was probably better as well, depending on the size of the comparative weapons. The crossbow collection in the Royal Palace of Madrid is quite extensive and was a significant part of the armory, side-by-side with the handgun (which appear to be prized as highly for their decorative potential as for their use in combat).
- THAT being said, it should be noted that the development of plate armor WAS effective in stopping shot from firearms…plenty of real breastplates on display exhibited dents from actual shot that had been deflected, saving the lives of their wearers. Yes, plate armor was no match for cannon fire…but plate armor would be no protection from catapult shot either (and catapults and trebuchets were still being used in the 14th and 15th centuries alongside cannon also).
So why exactly is it that D&D…a fantasy game of archaic weapons and tactics…does NOT include firearms? After all, it DOES include “plate and mail.” Is it just that one wants to have the image of the “knight in shiny armor on horseback charging the dragon with lance”…and no pistols in the scene? First off…um, when does such a thing ever occur in D&D anyway (that fighter is generally going to have a supporting cast helping him handle the dragon including a wizard with plenty of cannon-like firepower)? And second…just because firearms exist doesn’t mean you don’t still use a sword and shield.
Look, in Spain (let me note once again: gold mine of cool info, folks)…in Spain, the army in the late 15th or 16th through the 17th century divided its troops into four parts:
- the artillery (the dudes with the cannons)
- the cavalry
- the musketeers (rifleman)
- the pikemen
Of these, all but the artillery guys (and maybe even they) were carrying swords as standard weapons, not decoration. They used a four pronged approach to warfare that served them quite well for several centuries…after all, Spain WAS a major world power up until the 20th century (and who knows…they DID just win the World Cup this year…). All these guys would wear some form of breastplate (at least) with the pikemen (natch) wearing near full plate armor…and swords were standard weapons for melee fighting (the pikes were for breaking up and defending against cavalry and other pickemen).
You don’t lose your small scale, man-to-man combat with the invention of firearms. Masses of English longbowmen didn’t render the blade obsolete either…and they were plenty effective (if not moreso) than guns for several centuries.
So why not include firearms in D&D?
Here are some possible theories, off the top of my head:
1) Not true to D&D’s “literary roots.” You generally don’t see firearms in “sword & sorcery” stories. Conan doesn’t use guns. Elric doesn’t use guns. Fafhrd and Mouser don’t use guns. Of course, those stories generally take place in some “primal age” before the sinking of Atlantis or the 4th Age or whatever. Of course, with the exception (perhaps) of Elric, those guys don’t wear plate armor either. ALSO, being “primeval” they exist long before the Christian-mythos inherent in the hodge-podge that is D&D (i.e. “no clerics” in sword & sorcery).
2) Historical Laziness. Plate armor without firearms based on poor research/knowledge. OR poor understanding of how firearms would affect the game (issues of “game balance;” thinking they would somehow render other weapons/equipment moot).
3) Design Laziness. Throwing up their hands at the thought of creating “accurate” rules. Or figuring out how much such weapons would cost. Or how much damage they’d do. Or figuring the equipment list is already plenty long. Or something.
4) Guns aren’t “magical” enough. In a game where magic is an accepted part of life, the “science” of gunpowder/chemistry seems out of place. Alchemists brewing “potions” with eye of newt? Yes. Mixing up saltpeter and sulfur? No. The Age of Reason leads to the end of the Age of Magic or something. And can a magic-user craft a +2 Blunderbuss or a Pouch of Endless Shot or something?
5) Inertia. D&D doesn’t have guns. So D&D doesn’t have guns.
Now I recognize that there are other fantasy RPGs of the sword-swinging variety that tackle the whole issue. Warhammer FRP DOES have firearms AND plate armor. Ars Magica is set in the 12th-13th century and has neither. Pendragon, set in the middle ages ALSO has neither. And certain genre-specific games (like ElfQuest and Stormbringer) only have the technology portrayed in their respective Intellectual Properties (plate armor SANS firearms, though only in specific circumstances/cultures).
Here’s the deal folks: that last tactic may work for other games, but D&D has (historically speaking) NOT had a specific IP associated with it (much as WotC may trademark otherwise). This was always one of its strengths…that it could be adapted to any type of fantasy, small combat, explorative adventure setting.
And IF your conquistadors are hacking and slashing their way through the jungle, despite the sun beating down on their steel plated armor, THEN WHY NOT allow them to carry a musket or two or a brace of pistols?
Because it’s “too useful?” Um, all damage does 1D6 in B/X (and even with variable damage charts, I wouldn’t have a gun do more than 1D8, or whatever a crossbow does).
Because shot is “too cheap to produce?” Um, it’s little easier to smelt musket balls than it is to fletch arrows, and putting powder together in the right proportions is a lot trickier…and as with other missile weapons, ammo is going to be a lot harder to come by once you’re out on safari.
Because it’s not “magical” enough? Good. Fine. Not everything need be magical. Magic arrows are a lot more common than magic bows (and is there even such a thing as magical “shot” for a sling? David and Goliath might say so)…and magic swords are much more common than those. Rightly so…when it comes to combat, D&D has always favored the sword over the arrow anyway…why should pistols be any different.
Because I don’t have an accurate price list for guns? Um, D&D has never been incredibly accurate with regard to pricing. Use historical values or your own fantasy economy and “wing it.” I prefer something like comparative costs in Mordheim (the Games Workshop game) for this type of thing.
Honestly, I see no reason not to use firearms in D&D, unless you’re really big into having light catapults aboard sailing ships (which I always thought was a little ridiculous) or use a lot of siege warfare and feel D&D castles wouldn’t stand up against cannon bombardment (not with the Rules As Written, certainly). But I know A LOT of folks never explore that far into the game rules anyway; i.e. most folks aren’t doing naval or siege warfare in their D&D campaigns. So why not throw a pistol or two into the mix. I’d rather see THAT, than a standard party of adventurers carrying “hand crossbows” purchased using the Unearthed Arcana rules!