Modern Fantasy Is Sleeping On The Pike-And-Shot Era

Woodcut of the Battle of Dornach. Public Domain Image From Wikipedia

If you’re like me and spent far too much time on the internet, you’ve probably encountered the same question in SFF genre forums repeatedly. Why are so many fantasy works set in a “medieval” world? There are a few answers to this. One is tradition, Tolkien and other giants of the genre grounded their stories in medieval aesthetics. Another is that medieval settings are familiar to fantasy fans. An author doesn’t need to spend time on endless exposition if they can fall back on preexisting ideas already in their readers’ heads.

This is all well and good but inevitably these settings get old. Recent authors like Brian McClellan and Django Wrexler have made gunpowder fantasy popular. It’s fantasy, but with guns. This sub-genre draws on imagery from the Napoleonic Wars and similar periods. Like the medieval era, this period of history looms large in people’s minds. Unfortunately, this jump skips past an entire era of human history between 1400 and 1700 (approximately, I’m not a historian) when gunpowder hadn’t quite achieved supremacy and armored warriors and ranks of pikemen were still common sights on the battlefield.

I’m using pike-and-shot because fantasy books and D&D Campaigns tend to be rather violent, but this new mode of warfare was far from the only thing that changed. It was during this time that modern banking was developed and Europe and the idea of the state first arose. It was also a time of discovery when the scientific method was first conceived and the ideals of the Enlightenment were promulgated. All of these ideas are perfect for a fantasy setting. And to be fair some fantasy IPs do use imagery from this period, Warhammer Fantasy stands out among them. But it still feels that this period has been woefully neglected.

This was a period of immense changes in Europe and the rest of the world. Changes bring conflict and inspire all kinds of questions for a fantasy setting that authors and dungeon masters could seek to answer. What use is a wizard’s fireball when a row of arquebusiers can take out rows of spear-wielding infantry? What will happen when the king’s subjects decide not to pay their taxes until they get the services they are owed? What did that disgruntled priest just nail to the door?

The classical Forgotten Realms settings already verge on the beginnings of an early modern setting so why not move the clock a few years forward?

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