The Ninth Circle #17: Firearms and Fireballs


Firearms and Fireballs

A little while ago, I ran a series of articles called “Designing Diablo III.” It laid out a few ideas of mine for things that might be included in any sequel to the game that brought us all to this website.

Of all the ideas I laid out, it was the subject of guns that proved the most controversial. Many of you felt that were guns wrong for Diablo, and wrong for fantasy of any kind. A few people thought that by ‘guns’ I meant “start with late 20th century tech, then improve.” There were complaints of being ganked, Quake-style, by a quincannon from three screens away. I, on the other hand, have some historical knowledge, so when I mentioned guns, I meant guns as they were in history.

Modern fantasy settings tend to draw on history from a period roughly from the 10th to the 17th century. Some go a little further forward or back, but that?s basically it. To take the Eurocentric view, fantasy settings cover a period from the hundred years leading to the Battle of Hastings, up to the Thirty Years? War. Different setting may emphasise a shorter period of this time, but almost without exception, they fall into this area.

Fantasy holds a distorted mirror to history though. It adds to the mix different creatures, orcs, goblins, and so on, as well as magic. The addition of magic and non-humans is what makes fantasy different from history, and from historical fiction. Some fantasy settings might emphasise one of these over the other, but will contain both in some way.

Historically, guns existed alongside armour and crossbows for quite some time. In fact much of the equipment often seen in fantasy games postdates the invention of firearms in human history. Guns were around from roughly the mid-thirteenth century, and cannons appeared at the same time too. So while Vikings and the first Crusaders didn?t carry guns, Conquistadors and Samurai did. They quickly became a feature of the European battlefield too.

Ease of use was the main reason that led rifled weapons to take over from bows and crossbows. That and the increased lethal range offered by even the earliest guns. A few marksmen could make a longbow shoot further, but these people were few and far between, and it took years of training for even the best to reach that level. Most had no access to training.

Now, at the end of Diablo 2, magic’s presence in the world is severely limited. When I thought about the design of it’s follow-up, I asked myself a few questions. One of these was “how would people living in a magical world react when their magic was suddenly removed or weakened?”

One of these answers is that they would turn to technology. This is why guns are there. I would not have expected them to be used any more often than heavy crossbows are used in D2 right now, as they would all have a very slow attack speed. They are there to indicate that many people are turning their backs on the magical and embracing the technological. This is what the guns represent. In my design, players aren’t forced down this route, and there are magical characters, or character who can develop non-gun shooting skills (the gladiator and shade), but guns were there to show a world changed from Diablo 2.

What applies to Diablo does not necessarily apply to other Fantasy settings, however. You rarely see cannon or guns of any kind in fantasy. Yet you will often find other technological inventions that post-date guns in common use.

The reasons for this are varied. With magical bonuses game systems offer, you can makes bows crossbows, and even the humble sling a rival for even a modern firearm. We don?t have those problems, and when you roll a dice or click the same mouse button to do anything, there is no ease of use issue. Given the choice, fantasy game players are more comfortable using bows and crossbows.

The gun seems so out of place in fantasy because it is so uncompromisingly historical. It can be jarring to come across one in a game, or in a book. For many people it breaks the suspension of disbelief. If you can pull out a gun and shoot someone, who needs to spend hours pouring over old spellbooks or brewing up potions? I?m certainly not sitting here insisting on absolute historical accuracy from any and all fantasy settings, but I do feel there is room for guns here and there.

Like any other aspect of a well-constructed fantasy setting, guns must have a logical reason for their being there. For example, in a world ruled by bickering mages, people may well find technology gives them a way to fight back against their magic-wielding oppressors.

Firearms and fireballs can be mixed in fantasy. The fireball will always have the upper hand, otherwise it wouldn?t be fantasy.

Disclaimer: The Ninth Circle was written by Lorelorn (David Kay) and hosted by Diii.net. The views expressed in these columns are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Diii.net.

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