192 – Magic Weapons

The Mythcreant Podcast

Magic is cool, and weapons are cool, so you know what would be the coolest? Magic weapons, which is what we’re talking about this week. Despite being nearly ubiquitous across all genres of speculative fiction, magic weapons can be tricky to work with. What are they for? What should they do? Should it even be obvious that they’re magic? We’ll talk about all of that, plus examine what happens in stories when a character loses their magic weapon. Hint, they usually get it back.

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Opening and closing theme: The Princess Who Saved Herself by Jonathan Coulton. Used with permission.

Show Notes:

How to Bring a Sword to a Gun Fight





Tenser’s Transformation

Master Sword

Valyrian Steel

Demon Killing Knife

Magic Axe 

The Vorpal Blade

The Elder Wand

The Point of View Gun


Maui’s Hook

Space Sword

Trunks’ Sword

Dune Shields

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  1. Bryony

    The swords in Bleach are often more powerful than guns, but mostly because they transform into not swords.

  2. Fay Onyx

    Oren, I think that you might be overestimating the power of new technologies during the time period when they are new (especially in comparison to the mature version of older technologies they were up against).

    There is a lot of potential for debate of nuances, but iron does not make an appreciably better sword than bronze. It is steel that makes better swords. Perhaps you are assuming that these bronze age people can make steel or have the blacksmithing know how to create a steel edge on an iron sword?

    It also seems like you are overestimating early firearms. I totally get your point about ranged weapons in a scifi setting, but adding prototype guns into a medieval or fantasy setting doesn’t actually break things. Compared to the best bows of their time, early firearms were cumbersome, slower to reload, less accurate, and unreliable. This means that in magical settings, magically enhanced bows should easily equal or surpass early versions of firearms and even fairly well developed firearms.

    I will say that the guns people usually plop down into fantasy settings are more like modern guns than actual historic early guns (a lot of revolvers), but this doesn’t have to be the case.

    Of course, having magic bows with improved armor penetration does brings up the question of why anyone uses melee weapons in a fantasy setting either. That gets tricky and comes down to the specifics of how magic affects weapons and armor in the setting. However, modern people do tend to overestimate the importance of short-ranged melee weapons in medieval settings. Clearly they were used and significant, but bows and spears were a big deal. If I recall correctly, a Samurai’s most important weapon was the bow, followed by the spear, and then followed by the sword (feel free to correct me if you know more about this).

    • Michael Campbell

      Yumi. IIRC?

      Steel is better than iron (for most purposes*) but iron is better than bronze.
      Depending on what faculty of the sword’s abilities one is taking about:-
      Young’s Modulus is used for rigidity, when you parry.
      Impact Strength (which is a rare value and most engineers use one quarter of the Ultimate Tensile Strength**), is used to puncture through armour without damaging the sword itself.
      You generally find that as technologies advanced (hotter furnaces), then stronger materials were used. Stronger materials are notorious for their higher melting points.

      Iron swords are; appreciably better, perceptibly better, measurably better, than bronze swords. But in no way does that make the victory a mortal-lock.

      * Iron, particularly cast iron, is better for the purposes of casting from a mold, than steel. But ease of manufacture usually is a secondary consideration when your life depends on the thing working properly when needed…much like the price tag.

      ** Quick use of a search engine will find values when needed.

  3. Bellis

    Another reason not to use guns (apart from gun control) could be that they are dangerous to the user as well as the target. Say you’re on a spaceship and don’t want to shoot a bullet through the hull because you’ll end up killing yourself too. Or your phaser would ignite the athmosphere of this planet you’re on.

    Of course this would break down if a group of people had enough incentive (and some time) to invent a weapon that works around that, say an energy weapon that hurts people but not spaceship hulls. But if these types of fights are unusual, that could work, especially if combined with cultural, legal or economic reasons (maybe the kind of gun that would work exists, but is too expensive for your characters). Or those weapons are rarely useful and only clumsy prototypes exist.

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