A recent question asked what weapons a society would use if magic (specifically a mage) could stop the ignition of gunpowder and similar explosives. It was a different spin on a popular type of question...

You find yourself on a world with no gunpowder...don't ask why...or how you know that there is no gunpowder there just isn't any available to you. (Source)

Over the years we have frequently hosted questions about how to prohibit a branch of science from developing or about the consequences of a branch of science having not developed. It's almost always gunpowder, but let's set that aside for the sake of this discussion.

Because we tend to answer questions from a very heavily perspective (even when the tag isn't used...), our first reaction is often to point out that you can't have a modern society without the branch of science in question. Yes, we could (and probably should) simply take the OP at their word and just answer the question as if it could happen. But that's another story that's been discussed before.

It's also worth noting that in some instances (probably many) either the need for the prohibited branch of science or the consequences is a function of narrative necessity, meaning that the goal is often a reflection of the needs of a yet-to-be-written story and that the answers the OP are seeking would or should be derived from those needs. Nevertheless, it's frequently true that those needs are not explained in the question, making it more difficult to sensibly answer.

Question: What advice can we give to worldbuilders trying to build a world that is crippled by the loss of a specified branch of science?

Possible advice may include, but is not limited to:

  • What consequences can be expected when trying to remove a branch of science?
  • Can an intelligent species find a way around the lack of a specified branch?
  • Does the lack of a specified branch change how people think or behave?
  • Does removing a specified branch create an imbalance in the believability of the story?

1 Answer 1


It's Your World, You Do What You Want!

I've seen this as a comment on scores of queries over the years. As a way of 'answering' someone's question, I find it a reprehensible way to dismiss someone's creative work and to provide an extremely inhospitable environment for creativity to take place.

However, I would turn that maxim back on the community in this case and remind them that, yes, indeed, the OP is making a fictional world, and they can do what they damn well please. If that means "no gunpowder", then that's the rule. I think it falls to all respondents to become more mindful that it's not us building their worlds or writing their stories. We don't bring our own preconceived notions or expectations to the table. We're just professional counsel providing our collective wisdom.

In addition to the four pieces of advice, or questions to consider, given by JBH, I'd only add these consideration points:

  • What is the cosmological nature of your world? (e.g., is it chaotic, is it dependable, is it reliably understandable)
  • What is the philosophical foundation of science in your world? (e.g., is it making sense of chaos, is it orderly, what forms of thought are required to do it, etc)
  • If "no gunpowder" is to be taken as axiomatic, and "science" is to be taken as axiomatic, how have you solved the conundrum? Science is explanatory (to a point) and it is also predictive.

These are sort of deeper considerations than JBH presented, but I think it's important to know how well the OP has considered the ramifications of a design choice like "no gunpowder". I concur that such a rule screams "narrative necessity" as it will be the ultimate plot driver for a story. But I think it's also fair to question the OP about what JBH characterised as a crippling of a world. This should not be our total focus, however.

I'd argue that we can propose such pieces of advice for the OP to consider, but ultimately, the world in question belongs to the OP and it's simply not our place to tell the OP "you can't do that". It's our job to work with the conditions that the OP sets. If we decide we can't work with that kind of restriction, then we should choose not to engage with that particular question.

I say these things from the perspective of a worldbuilder whose focus world lacks easily obtainable iron and lacks "science" as we understand it, even though the same basic building blocks of science exist in both the real and fictional worlds. I certainly wouldn't want someone to tell me "you can't do that, because that doesn't happen in the real world"! I'd much rather work with respondents who can accept the conditions I set out.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .