Thursday, October 11, 2012

A big bang: Artillery in fantasy

You don't really see it much in fantasy, do you? Artillery. Cannons, with the big booms and the big balls turning some poor bastards into a red stain and a column of brave soldiers into a slaughter house. Wow, that was a bit morbid, wasn't it? Well, in any case, it's a bit of an anachronism that you don't, especially since cannons existed during the middle ages. The Turks famously used them to batter the walls of Constantinople, ending the Byzantine and by extension, the Roman Empire. Indeed, according to Wikipedia, Europe started making use of cannons during the late middle ages, with the earliest one being something called a pot-de-fer, which debuted during the Hundred Years' War.

Granted, I'm still a relative n00b when it comes to fantasy fiction, so I'm probably generalizing. I suppose the reason you don't see them around in fiction is because writers are probably afraid of pushing the tech level to that point because where there are cannons, guns are sure to follow. I don't think that has to be. It would be simple just to BS an excuse for firearms not to exist in a fictional world, especially since the early ones were just godawful - literally just metal tubes mounted on wood.

Who wouldn't want to use this bad boy?

I think writers are missing a great opportunity by not including artillery into their worlds. Imagine writing a great battle - something beyond epic - and the enemy charges across the field with their cavalry and infantry. The other side doesn't move an inch. The enemy keeps coming and coming when suddenly, BOOM! cannon balls start tearing through their lines, stopping their entire force in its tracks as the barrage keeps going. When the bombardment finally ends, the enemy army is devastated and completely collapses after the other guys stage their own charge.

Of course, artillery would have uses outside of just fiction. In wargaming, one of the factions in Warhammer Fantasy, The Empire, employs cannons. The biggest problem facing other fantasy and medieval-based wargames would be the lack of rules and how easily they could be created and implemented. Hmm. For RPGs, things could get very exciting with the addition of cannons. Imagine players being faced with the task of infiltrating a castle or fortress in order to disable the mighty guns protecting it ahead of an opposing army arriving to besiege it. On the flipside, you could task your players with defending such a place by using those same cannons.
I've thought about what an artillery crew would look like and I've got a pretty good mental picture, so let me worldbuild a bit. These guys would naturally dress differently from the rest of whatever army they're in. Green pants and tunic with some sort of markings to distinguish themselves from the other units. Armor-wise, they'd wear leather armor, since it allows them freer movement and they're not expected to actually fight, being far enough behind the main body. Headgear has me tripped up a bit, because I can't decide whether or not an artillery crew would wear helmets (like the kettle hat) or just some kind of cap. As for weapons, probably a small axe or a hammer, since they would double as useful tools. I'd give them either a short sword or a long knife as a backup. No shields.

Artillery is definitely a possibility that folks should take a second look at.


  1. There are cannons in the Joe Abercrombie First Law books, specifically in The Last Argument of Kings (which is the phrase (in Latin) that Louis the XIV had written on the side of his cannons). They are a new and terrifying technology, naturally.

    1. Because I needed another reason to want to read Abercrombie's books. Thanks. :p



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