Hello! Is there any way I could combine swords, technology, and magic, while overcoming the problem of guns/why they haven’t been developed/why they aren’t around? Thank you!
Hey Pearl, thanks for writing in!
Unfortunately, there’s no good explanation for why swords would coexist with advanced technology as a primary weapon. The mechanics of it just don’t work. However, this is a very popular trope, so it’s possible to create a scenario where the audience will accept it, even if it doesn’t make sense. Let’s look at a few options.
Guns Are Outlawed
You could construct a world where firearms and other similar weapons simply aren’t allowed, and so characters fight with swords and other weapons. Gun control is a real thing, so this scenario isn’t completely outlandish, but it does have one problem. If the government is powerful enough to actually keep guns out of people’s hands, it’s probably powerful enough to be an issue in the story, and it certainly has guns of its own. It’s also unlikely that any gun control would be 100% effective, especially if the characters have resources and really need guns.
You could construct a situation where two groups of people with vastly different tech levels meet. One of them has guns, the other doesn’t. This is what happens in The 100 between the Grounders and Skaikru. There are two issues with this scenario. First, you’ll need to work hard to make the people without guns relevant in violent conflicts. The 100 does this by making the Grounders better trained and much more numerous.
Two, in any rational world, the lower tech people will start using guns pretty quickly. The 100 tries to put this off by saying that the Grounders have a cultural taboo against guns, but it doesn’t really make sense.
Guns Don’t Work With Magic
This one is pretty easy to accept on the face of it. Swords, shields, and plate armor can be enchanted by magic, and firearms can’t. That will make other weapons much more capable and provide a decent reason for choosing them over guns.
The main problem here is that it’s very difficult to explain why magic works on, say, a crossbow but not a pistol. If you’re pressed to explain it, that explanation will probably feel contrived, so it’s best not to dwell on the matter.
Guns Were Never Invented
I’ve seen storytellers try this one before and it’s just hard for readers to accept. It works up through the Renaissance era of technology, but go any further, and it feels silly. Readers will have a really difficult time accepting airplanes in a world without guns.
Although, for the Age of Sail at least, you could employ steam cannons rather than gunpowder. These weapons use steam pressure to launch a projectile, and can be really powerful, but there’s no practical way to make them hand-held.
Magic Instead of Technology
A final option is to use magic to replicate the functions of technology. Instead of cars, you can have stone platforms kept aloft with levitation magic. Instead of computers, you can have knowledge spirits bound to a special box. You can see some of this in the Discworld books, where Commander Vimes has a box with an imp assistant in it instead of a smartphone.
This allows you to have a world with similar dynamics to our own, but where swords still make sense. It’s just easier for readers to accept that swords exist alongside magitech rather than regular technology. The main downside is that this won’t work for a story set in our own world, so it’s best used for second-world fantasy.
We also have a post about bringing swords to a gunfight, but those solutions still depend on a lot of handwaving.
Hope that answers your question!