(I feel this is a topic for a meta question. I hope You agree.)

A common type of WB question is the "Could device X be built in time/culture Y" reality checks.

While those questions are certainly valid, the answers generally focus on the supporting tech level and infrastructure of the era.


Q: Could my time traveller build an assault rifle in medieval times? A: No, metallurgy and manufacturing were not up to the task, and you could not get working ammo back then.

Well, if the time traveller had knowledge and resources enough he could "invent" modern metallurgy, blast caps and manufacturing methods. It certainly would not be belieaveble, but not technically impossible.

So, shouldn't we either:

  • Recommend that such questions are rephrased as "What are the major obstacles if I want to build X in time/culture Y?" (Which would make the answers more clear)


  • Define some canon "feasability levels" ie
    • Protagonist can build device only given common knowledge from his own time.
    • Protagonist can build device given exceptional knowledge from his own time.
    • Protagonist can build device given above plus lots of time and resources.
    • Protagonist might build device given above plus trust and backing from some major authority of the time/culture.
    • Protagonist can ony build device given ridiculous handwaving.

3 Answers 3


I think an understanding of the common feasability levels is useful to those writing and reading the answers, without defining them in a formal way.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Yeah, I really weren't after a formal definition. More like a common frame. Sort of how any questions regarding "magic" is meaningless without some restriction of said magic. $\endgroup$
    – Guran
    Apr 24, 2017 at 8:45

I think this just comes under the general, and rather common, problem of questions with fuzzy edges. You get a lot of questions where the end result has been thought of (ie I want an assault rifle in medieval times) but the question doesn't solidly describe what is fair game to achieve this.

I agree there are questions which need stricter definitions but I don't know that singling out the Xth century questions would help. Comments are probably the best way to get this across an an individual basis.


Asking whether pinball machines could be built in the 15th century BCE and asking whether a time traveller could go to the 15th century BCE and build pinball machines there are two very different questions. The second question is essentially equivalent to asking whether a pinball machine factory could be built on the Svalbard islands: sure, why not, provided the funding is secured; it has nothing to do with the 15th century BCE.


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