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Author Topic: A World Where Gunpowder was Never Invented [More Alt History Help]  (Read 413 times)

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Offline InkiduTopic starter

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A World Where Gunpowder was Never Invented [More Alt History Help]
« on: September 04, 2016, 08:01:36 PM »


So I watched the above video and it has me thinking.

Exactly what the world would look like?

I mean, does the lack of gunpowder actually preclude things like airplanes, bombs, and splitting the atom? I imagine that you could still have air guns, and if the world still had an Age of Steam compressed air guns could be lethal. What would 21st Century combat look like? Could the world still have space travel? Gunpowder is such a small thing. So what would the implication for the world actually be?

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Re: A World Where Gunpowder was Never Invented [More Alt History Help]
« Reply #1 on: September 05, 2016, 11:31:45 AM »
I'm not at all sure that airplanes would require the existence of gunpowder to be desirable/viable.  The first airplane was motor-less, after all (unless you count bicycle pedals).  Certain bombs (possibly deadlier) could even be made without the typical 'explosive charge', as they rely on chemical reactions that produce large quantities of (usually toxic) gas, which would cause a pressure-based explosion.

Offline InkiduTopic starter

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Re: A World Where Gunpowder was Never Invented [More Alt History Help]
« Reply #2 on: September 05, 2016, 11:53:08 AM »
It's a funny thing to think about isn't it. I mean other than firearms what has gunpowder actually done?

I mean would the lack of blackpowder preclude the invention of nitrocellulose (smokeless modern gunpowder)? Assuming it does, the preclusion of fire arms doesn't seem to actually change the world that much. Maybe chemical physics takes a back seat. For something that changed so much it's removal seems to actually change very little. 

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Re: A World Where Gunpowder was Never Invented [More Alt History Help]
« Reply #3 on: September 05, 2016, 12:31:20 PM »
It's a funny thing to think about isn't it. I mean other than firearms what has gunpowder actually done?

Well, there is the original usage.  XD  Not that this is a particularly 'useful' purpose, unless you believe that it scares away demons.

Offline nonniemouse

Re: A World Where Gunpowder was Never Invented [More Alt History Help]
« Reply #4 on: September 05, 2016, 10:33:33 PM »
Might be a bit of a dodge, but the Austrians produced the Windbüchse, a military pneumatic rifle.  Rounds are gravity fed and fired using a reservoir of compressed air.

Also, gratuitous video of Mythbuster's steam powered rocket (residential water heater).

Offline Turtler

Re: A World Where Gunpowder was Never Invented [More Alt History Help]
« Reply #5 on: September 13, 2016, 06:02:42 PM »
Welp, unapproved (as of yet) history nerd chiming in. And to be honest, I do think the effects on the world would be EXTREMELY drastic, but one has to control for what that would means, because I find there is a tendency in alternate history to iether make things much more dramatically different from the real world than what is probably merited, or much more so.

I think the former is the key one. Particularly because this video manages to overplay the dominance of hand to hand combat before the introduction of gunpowder and its' effect on ranged combat. This is pretty damn impressive because it Really Really Really WAS important, but it still managed it.

To say the least, ranged combat was incredibly important even before the rise of gunpowder.  Just ask the Mongols. In fact, there were already weapons that largely inhabited the role that the first infantry guns (like the arquebus and musket) would come to dominate. And that would be the crossbows. Which the Chinese had used since antiquity itself (we know they were contemporary with both the time Sun Tzu is claimed to have been written, and the time that it was probably Really Written) and which was generally the go to ranged weapon for most societies that had the technical know how and economic base to do it. And they had already proven their potential against things like men at arms in plate armor; in fact the Lombard cities (and particularly Genoa) had grown famous for soundly thrashing Imperial armies trying to subjugate their communes in battles like Fossalta and Parma, which were just one part of the demonstration that crossbows could make pretty much every form of armor vulnerable to Some Degree.

The key thing that limited their use was the fact that they are complex as heck to construct. And compared to gunpowder weapons- even the crude smoothbore ones- they have a much shorter effective range and much less punching power. Which means that while they COULD beat their way through even plate armor, they could not do so quite as reliably as a gun. Which is NOT something you would want to have to deal with if Ritter Johann von Lanz is charging at you with his lance. So ultimately they proved much more economical than crossbows.

In the absence of a gunpowder alternative, that goes by the wayside. But you probably would still see crossbows and other weapons like them, which Are capable of serving as sort of second hand guns. Less powerful and easy to train on the whole but still fitting into the general niche early guns occupied IOTL. And still capable of turning the tide of battle. So I do figure that you would see pressure to make steadily more and more powerful crossbows to counter the more effective armor.

Secondly, the cannons in the 14th century had actually come quite a long way compared to what had come before, and they were already game changers. Particularly compared to the non-gunpowder siege weapons like trebuchets. So if anything I would say the more immediate change would be on that; it would in effect radically change the layout of siege warfare as we know it and basically keep us in something closer to a medieval level. Which is not to say it would all be similar, but this is a big change. it would resemble siege warfare more familiar to the early Hundred Years' War or Medieval Italy/Germany. And if there is one thing noting about that, it is how mind bogglingly difficult that is. So you would probably see conflicts drag on well beyond what we see historically as disease, hunger, and thirst remain the primary weapons of the besieger and they are a very double edged sword.

Thirdly, you do see a much heavier emphasis on how you take the technology of the military gentry and aristocracy- particularly armored soldiers and maybe skilled archery/crossbowmanship- and democratize them. Because ultimately it will only benefit you if you have more of those on the field, but there is nowhere near such a powerful leveller as gunpowder to do it.

And Fourthly, I do think that ascribing all the technological advantages Europe had to gunpowder is deeply wrongheaded. In particular, even before the rise of gunpowder in the West European smelting and armor making was still immensely superior to that of much of the rest of the world, if not all of it. As a re-enactor i WILL say that full plate armor in the medieval/Renaissance fashion will protect you against pretty much anything on the medieval battlefield better than any competitor. So you already see this powerful advantage in metallurgy, armor, and defense. Which in the absence of gunpowder would actually be more powerful, not less. Battles like Mohacs would have probably not happened in any form we'd recognize today, and if they had (because somebody derped) 0the battle would probably have gone the other way.

On top of that, you have advancements in shipbuilding like those that were pioneered by the Portuguese, which gave us Caravels and Galleys that were much more suitable to long voyages and exploratory efforts than what had come before. They also turned out to be much better in utilizing the weapons of the gunpowder age and this would not be an advantage for them- and that would make the logistical bite that much harder- but the other advantages still stand. In fact, I find it DEEPLY amusing that they used a stylized art work of the conquest of Ceuta by Henry the Navigator and his family while talking about European use of cannons, because Ceuta was conquered by a surprise attack by Portuguese/Christian men at arms against an unsuspecting garrison. An escalade, if you will, where Portuguese lack of cannons would not have helped the defenders. Particularly as Portugal in this era was not a big center of gunpowder anyway.

This is not to say that it would not hurt the Europeans, it would. Particularly in how they largely mastered the craft of gunpowder artillery and later gunpowder infantry weapons being butterflied away. But I do think that we would still see European colonialism and exploration touch pretty much every part of the globe, even if lack of success makes so much of that more indirect. This is something to keep in mind with a fictional world and particularly what technologies would influence it.China and other parts of the world definitely had the resources to make many comparable ships, but they pursued them with less vigor. So I still think that chances are the West will still dominate the Americas, at the bare minimum.

Fifthly: Gunpowder did not give the West a trade advantage over China, or at least not initially. The West suffered a crippling trade deficit with China basically until the early 19th century, WELL into the age of gunpowder (in part because the Chinese practiced a very crippling form of mercantilism). It was only the first Trade/Opium war that changed that. I think we would see a similar trend here.

Sixth: the Japanese were already impressed by Western technology even before the gunboats. In fact, they so impressed the Japanese it was a reason WHY the gunboats had to come centuries later. Because Western know how- and particularly shipbuilding and mechanical prowess- had impressed the unifiers and Western Japanese statelets (though not as much as guns) and the trade they conducted with the defeated Western Japanese lords after Sekigahara so alarmed the Shogunate about the prospect their old rivals would rise up again after being strengthened by trade with the Occident they basically closed the country outside of a strongly controlled port at Dejima.

Without gunpowder weapons, it is probable the Japanese would instead by offset by European metallurgy (which is still head and shoulders above their own) and particularly armor making.

And Seventh: the idea that cavalry would die out like it did in our timeline strikes me as extremely wrongheaded. Cavalry had been armored for hundreds of years and while they certainly were more vulnerable to arrows than the people riding on them that was not saying much. That coupled with their utility in transport and other things and the advantage they offer in CQC makes me think they will have a long, long life in the ages to come.

But before I get into that, there are still some big honking issues. As a generalization it does its' job well, but some issues get my history nerd riled.

Eight, I think part of the issue with ideas like air guns as alternatives is not just the fact that they are so expensive, but also the fact that they relied so heavily on expertise and craftsmanship that had been practicing with plain old gunpowder weapons for centuries. Which would not be so forthcoming. It is still possibly they could be invented and used, especially if properly industrialized. But it would be a much more costly process.

And finally, without gunpowder there is a much higher premium placed on military age male fighters, who can have an advantage in a bloody slogging match in melee compared to the average woman, old men, or young boys. That is not to say that skilled fighters in those categories could not exist, they had in our time line and would again. But they would still be at much more of a disadvantage physically.

Now for some of the miscellaneous things that tweaked my history nerd. I think on the whole it did a good job for overalls, but some things just make me...yeah.

A: The Swedes did not solve the problem, at least as they outlined it. I know because I've been playing and testing games in that era (particularly Pike and Shot: Campaigns, which gives you a Very good education on the end of the medieval era and the Renaissance just from playing it). So for one, it was the Dutch who came up with the "wall of bullets" idea.

And secondly, even they didn't have the option of relying on bullets alone at the time. They usually mixed their troops up with pikemen so that if knights charged and tried to trample the poorly defended musketeers, the pikemen would brace and set things up so that the knights would skewer themselves. The film Alariste shows this dynamic pretty well. Which is why this was called Pike and Shot. People only dropped the pikes after the invention of bayonets and the flintlock allowed musketeers to defend themselves effectively from heavy cavalry and close quarter melee infantry.

Thirdly, the Conquistadors did not benefit all that much from guns. They were long ranged and had a heck of an intimidation factor, but they were also slow and few. So only a minority of the Habsburg troops would ever have them. And the Habsburg Troops were a *small fraction* of the force Conquistadors used since they typically needed a lot of native allies.

If anything, I would say that the Conquistadors' most powerful weapon was the cauldron of diseases they brought with them (which had already rendered Mesoamerica basically post-apocalyptic by the time they made contact), and that they benefited far more from things like the finely honed scientific approach to siegecraft they had, which allowed them to do things like command a coalition of anti-Aztec cities and tribes to successfully grind down Tenochitlan.

And thirdly: the idea that war is less devastating in scale makes me laugh. Especially since they mentioned that one of the key cornerstones of the spread of this technology Westwards was the Mongol war Machine. Which did use gunpowder to extremely devastating effect, but which already was quite brutal about it anyway and whose victories had led to things like the death of millions of Chinese in the Jin and Northern Sung dynasties as well as well Khwarezmia without significant use of gunpowder. Ditto things the An Lushan Revolt, which- even if you shy away from the extreme numbers- was one of the most devastating conflicts in history even without the use of gunpowder, and Cannae trumping every other battle in terms of one day mortality for centuries.

Now people might say that these are incredibly brutal examples and outliers. And to that I would say yes they are. But so are the World Wars.

And it is hard for me to understate just how long and devastating pitched pre-modern battles could be. Especially when the technology does not offer itself to quick resolutions like blowing a hole in castles from well away. The absolute horror that was France in the Hundred Years' War, Germany in the Interregnum, Japan during the Onin War, and China during its' periodic partitions would not go away without gunpowder, it was never dependent on it in the first place.

So I would expect wars to generally last longer, for the targeting of civilian populations and common lands to be more common, and for states to be weaker than they are now or were in the Renaissance period on. 

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Re: A World Where Gunpowder was Never Invented [More Alt History Help]
« Reply #6 on: September 13, 2016, 06:39:44 PM »
If I'm remembering my history correctly, the Mongols managed to conquer Russia (in winter, no less) with an army of mounted archers - something that Napoleon and Hitler were both unable to accomplish with gunpowder.

Offline Turtler

Re: A World Where Gunpowder was Never Invented [More Alt History Help]
« Reply #7 on: September 13, 2016, 06:42:57 PM »
If I'm remembering my history correctly, the Mongols managed to conquer Russia (in winter, no less) with an army of mounted archers - something that Napoleon and Hitler were both unable to accomplish with gunpowder.

They did manage to conquer Russia, though it took a lot longer than one winter and it wasn't nearly as thorough an occupation as it was. Which is one reason why I mentioned the incredible destruction that could happen even without gunpowder (or while it was in a subordinate role). The Mongols destroyed something like half the great cities of traditional Rus, including Kyiv.

However, it's worth noting the results. What a lot of people forget when citing Russia, Hitler, and Napoleon is that the Central Powers- the German Empire and its' allies/puppets in WWI- DID manage to conquer Russia at least as cohesively as the Mongols ever did using gunpowder. In fact, I find that is one of the great forgotten feats of military history.

Offline InkiduTopic starter

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Re: A World Where Gunpowder was Never Invented [More Alt History Help]
« Reply #8 on: September 13, 2016, 10:38:06 PM »
The mongol ability to take was impressive their ability to conquer is actually less so. Conquering entails holding what you take and the mongol empire didn't last a generation before reverting basically all of Temuchen Khans' holdings to conquered. It had a far reaching influence, but mongols probably would have never made it into Europe proper where their hit and run tactics would be hampered by the varied and less-than steppe-like terrain.

As for crossbows in warfare. I think what you would see is actually inversely what you'd see with gunpowder weapons. Crossbows became bigger and badder requiring braided wire and cranks to pull back making the cross bow as a handheld weapon woefully outclassed by armor. So the crossbows would become like two-man bazooka teams instead of guys holding rifles.

The crossbow wouldn't become viable as a one man weapon until modern metallurgy and carbon fiber most likely.

As for horses. I'd still think they'd go out. This scenario doesn't necessarily preclude the invention of the internal combustion engine. Motorcycles don't need to be fed or walked and can carry a lot more armor without complaint.

This leads to an issue because no man-portable crossbow could really reliably hope to stop an armored car packed with knights. Maybe if you shot directly for the tires or treads with a heavy steel bolt, but there would be a greater disparity assuming that no gun powder means no dynamite, which would mean less focus in the world of explosives in general. In fact chemical and biological warfare might reach horrendous used in this world as it's hard to make battle armor that can last against it until some kind of modern bio-hazard gear is invented.

Offline Turtler

Re: A World Where Gunpowder was Never Invented [More Alt History Help]
« Reply #9 on: September 13, 2016, 11:16:45 PM »
The mongol ability to take was impressive their ability to conquer is actually less so. Conquering entails holding what you take and the mongol empire didn't last a generation before reverting basically all of Temuchen Khans' holdings to conquered.

I agree, they certainly did not consolidate power in a lasting system as neatly, and compared to their prodigious ability to seize territory it falls short. However, while the united Mongol Empire lasted a generation or maybe slightly more (Genghis was fairly long lived), I think judging the empire by this alone is unfair, particularly since the Mongols and other peoples on the Eurasian steppes tended to partition their empire among different children rather than going for a united inheritance. This is pretty much what happened when Genghis died and you had the Yuan, Blue/White Hordes, Ilkhanate, and the like. And I think it is worth noting that most of these states tended to remain successful and stable for at least a generation further, and  in several cases well beyond that. What else can we make of something like the Golden Horde or the Central Asian Genghisid successors, who lasted well into the modern era?

So on this front I think it is worth noting that their ability to conquer is still more impressive than that description indicates, given the relative success of the heir states. Though it still fell woefully short of what was necessary in the long run.

It had a far reaching influence, but mongols probably would have never made it into Europe proper where their hit and run tactics would be hampered by the varied and less-than steppe-like terrain.

I think part of the issues with this are twofold, though this raises several good points.

A: How do we define "Europe proper" in this sense? Since the Mongols did invade well into Hungary, Poland (which reached much further West in the medieval era), the Order State, and in one memorable case chased King Bela of Hungary all the way to the Adriatic. Certainly they had a much harder time of this than many think (the Battle of Mohi in particular was much more costly than is usually portrayed and nearly ended in defeat), but they showed a decent ability to do it.

B: I agree the hit and run tactics would be hampered by the terrain and the insane degree of fortification that was present, but if the Mongols had been totally incapable of coping with these challenges they never would have subjugated the Southern Sung. Who after all were a highly organized rump state with a formidable navy, natural defenses from the river lines, and fortresses. The Mongols showed an admirable ability to assimilate technical expertise, including siege work, and the danger of horse nomads bearing siege engines in Central Europe had been shown by the Maygar threat a couple centuries earlier.

I don't mean to pooh pooh European defenses or military abilities or engage in Mongol wank, but I do think that even outside of their natural environment the Ordas were still one of the most adaptive and formidable military forces on the planet at the time, as well as probably the best informed in terms of politics and strategy. I do not think this would be an easy fight. I do think the Mongols would have been unable to sustain the conflict so far from home in the end, but they could certainly cause in ungodly amount of damage (as they did in Poland and Hungary).

As for crossbows in warfare. I think what you would see is actually inversely what you'd see with gunpowder weapons. Crossbows became bigger and badder requiring braided wire and cranks to pull back making the cross bow as a handheld weapon woefully outclassed by armor. So the crossbows would become like two-man bazooka teams instead of guys holding rifles. 

A very good point, and you are certainly correct that as the demands of warfare shifted people got a bit desperate about how to store more and more force in a crossbow before a shot.  And one of the ways they did it was desperately trying to find a way to make it bigger. The issue I have with this interpretation is twofold: one being that in some ways they already had gone to the extreme of making it bigger (as we see with Ballistas, and I remember this one drawing of Leonardo da Vinci's where he proposed an even larger one), and we see a step back from that. Though partially because of the introduction of gunpowder.

And secondly- and likely more importantly- the reaction many people seem to have had to this was not making "Crossbow Teams" but trying to find ways to help make it easier for a single soldier to do it. One of these ways was the many intricate mechanical ways they used to create tension, but another was providing protection for the crossbowmen as they reloaded individually; this is where the idea behind the Pavise. This is not a perfect solution, obviously these wound run into issues if you tried to use them in the equivalent of an 18th century musket formation or against horse archers like the Mongols, but those could be compensated to some degree (such as experimenting with mixed formations like what Pike and Shot ultimately led to, or positioning them in cover).

Though on that note, since larger pavises tended to feature two people- a Crossbowman and this "squire"/groom to lug the shield- that might lead to what you describe.

The crossbow wouldn't become viable as a one man weapon until modern metallurgy and carbon fiber most likely. 

I disagree, especially given how there isn't really a better option on the table for portable anti-armor firepower (however imperfect it is). And the performance of groups like the Genoese and the Hussites show that it could certainly be effective against well equipped Renaissance men at arms. It is certainly less powerful and thus less safe than a whole lot of muskets, but if you have to make do it isn't that too bad.

This video does a decent-ish job of it (though the way it is just propped up isn't great).



A few things are worth noting: One being the overall durability and protection of this thing, which is formidable indeed. But secondly the damage it Does take.

Now imagine you have this skirmish line or so with maybe half a dozen or so people firing at it and you can imagine the kind of damage this *could* do. Again, not something that could never be overcome (as the Imperials showed several times, ditto English cavalry), but it is enough to make me think this is a valid weapon even before the development of modern tools.

As for horses. I'd still think they'd go out. This scenario doesn't necessarily preclude the invention of the internal combustion engine. Motorcycles don't need to be fed or walked and can carry a lot more armor without complaint.

Hm, a good point. Though they also tend to have poorer balance as they're made today, especially if we decided to tilt with a lance in full plate. So I would imagine the bikes of the future would probably be heavier in military use. Which also means they might be able to be outmaneuvered (if not necessarily defeated) by scouts or skirmish troops on ponies or the like.

Still, I do imagine that this would be welllllll into the future, well after what we saw IOTL because of the close relations gunpowder and gunpowder weapons had to the technologies that historically kindled the industrial revolution and the ICE.

This leads to an issue because no man-portable crossbow could really reliably hope to stop an armored car packed with knights.

Agreed. In which case your best bet would probably just to throw up your hands, say "Screw This", and try riding back to your castle/walled commune and hope just staying clear would be ok.

Or maybe try and smash it under a big rock like what you'd get from a catapult or its' cousins. But in any event, not the best countermeasure.

Though this might be counterbalanced by your side having armored cars as well. And it does make me wonder about some kind of crude attempts to use ICEs or similar devices as substitute projectiles (like trying to rev up an ICE and fling it at a castle wall in the hopes of damaging it?).

but there would be a greater disparity assuming that no gun powder means no dynamite, which would mean less focus in the world of explosives in general.


Agreed, no contest.

 
In fact chemical and biological warfare might reach horrendous used in this world as it's hard to make battle armor that can last against it until some kind of modern bio-hazard gear is invented.

Agreed. This was something I considered raising in my first post; that biological warfare becomes that much more common and deadly. We know crude attempts at it were used throughout history, what with the poisoning of wells and water bodies and firing diseased bodies into besieged targets. It seems like the Mongols did this particularly at Caffa. And in the lack of some kind of cannons, I can imagine it being looked at more and more intensely as human understanding of disease goes on simply because there are so few great options to knock through competently built fortifications in this setting.

So gunpowder is out, plague is in?

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Re: A World Where Gunpowder was Never Invented [More Alt History Help]
« Reply #10 on: September 14, 2016, 12:13:46 AM »
This leads to an issue because no man-portable crossbow could really reliably hope to stop an armored car packed with knights. Maybe if you shot directly for the tires or treads with a heavy steel bolt, but there would be a greater disparity assuming that no gun powder means no dynamite, which would mean less focus in the world of explosives in general. In fact chemical and biological warfare might reach horrendous used in this world as it's hard to make battle armor that can last against it until some kind of modern bio-hazard gear is invented.

I'd probably turn to the ballista or even an oxybeles against an armored car.  If it's got a radiator, that would be another good target, considering that even a 'backyard construction' can pack a punch.  (That looks like it's made with a truck leaf spring and launching steel pipes against a household oven.  I was hoping to find a trial against an actual engine block.)

Offline InkiduTopic starter

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Re: A World Where Gunpowder was Never Invented [More Alt History Help]
« Reply #11 on: September 14, 2016, 06:15:34 AM »
I'd probably turn to the ballista or even an oxybeles against an armored car.  If it's got a radiator, that would be another good target, considering that even a 'backyard construction' can pack a punch.  (That looks like it's made with a truck leaf spring and launching steel pipes against a household oven.  I was hoping to find a trial against an actual engine block.)

I just don't think you could make a crossbow of anything less than a siege caliber size to take out a tank, and barring the main turret they could still have tanks though they'd be more like armored APCs really.

And a large fixed weapon like a baliista would be terrible at hitting any kind of moving target.


I'd also think that they're right on the front of the fighting getting more thand to hand because the lance is going to fall out of favor once horses retire. You're not going to try and couch hit someone with a lance from motor cycle that can get much fater than a horse. You'd hurt the rider more when the motorcycle flipped. So I think what we'd see is a return to early chariot warfare: Rush in disgorge your fighters drive out and prvoide harrying fire.

If anything I think APCs would look a lot like snow plows in that you tried use a wedge to split a formation to break it up like  a cavalry charge and you'd see whatever passed for a spearman or pikeman on the battlefield trying run in and jam it up so that they can arrest the giant man plow. It'd get really interesting in modern warfare (an equivalent of today) because I imagine there would be a couple of contractors tooling around with the idea of powered exoskeletons a lot more than we are now to return mobility to the heavy knights. A world without gunpowder might have better battery tech by virtue of needing it.

Offline Hunter

Re: A World Where Gunpowder was Never Invented [More Alt History Help]
« Reply #12 on: September 29, 2016, 09:38:15 PM »
Just as a note, the Chinese had an enormously effective repeating crossbow and black powder rockets when Europe was still in the middle ages.

Offline InkiduTopic starter

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Re: A World Where Gunpowder was Never Invented [More Alt History Help]
« Reply #13 on: September 30, 2016, 06:25:23 PM »
Just as a note, the Chinese had an enormously effective repeating crossbow and black powder rockets when Europe was still in the middle ages.
Yes, the chu-ko-nu repeating crossbow.

Unfortunately, if this gunpowederless world continues to up its armor thickness or strength then a repeater like that would be grossly inefficient. It already lacked killing power against the armor of the time in China. It also had a shorter range than single-shot crossbows, which were already shorter range than drawn bows.