Created By: SharleeDJanuary 29, 2012 Last Edited By: SharleeDJanuary 30, 2012
Nuked

Giving Boomsticks To Barbarians

Visitor from advanced civilization or time introduces gunpowder to natives

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Whether in a well-meant attempt to improve their technology, a sneaky way to even the odds for their badly-outnumbered allies, or simply as a way to scare the crap out of medieval screwheads, gunpowder seems to be the favorite thing for visitors from higher-tech societies to introduce to primitive ones. No sooner does a time traveler, space explorer, or Human Popsicle find themselves among folk unfamiliar with Stuff Blowing Up, than they reach for the sulfur, charcoal and saltpetre and start mixing up things that go bang, either to give to the natives or to use against them.

Subtrope of Giving Radio To The Romans. If gunpowder is being re-introduced after civilization's collapse, it's a Lost Technology.

[[Just to be clear, this trope is only for the introduction of gunpowder and its use in guns and/or explosives, not other sorts of weaponry.]]

Examples:

  • In the Icerigger trilogy, it's the second weapon Williams introduces to the Tran for use against the Horde, right after the crossbow.
  • One of an alarming number of weapons brought to Pellucidar by the outer-world visitors.
  • In Transformers G1, time-traveling Decepticons resort to mixing gunpowder when their lasers run out of charges. Subverted in that it turns out a local wizard already knows how to make black powder: he just thinks of it as "dragon's bane".
  • Averted in the animated film Wizards, in which Black Wolf dug up his knowledge of gunpowder from long-lost records of ancient times, rather than being taught to use it by a living visitor.
  • Spellbinder, an Australian TV series, has a teenager go to a parallel world. While they have some technology (specifically, an electric-generating shirt), the visitor mixes up gunpowder, then pulls a My God What Have I Done when the villain learns how to make "bombs".
  • A sketch on Dave Allen At Large: An explorer is trying to buy a bunch of land from some Indians. He offers trinkets for wide swaths but they balk. They say they'll give all of the land he asks for in return for his "stick that goes boom." He says he's not supposed to, but after the offer of all of the land he relents. Then the Chief shoots the explorer and takes all the trinkets, leaving the gun.
  • Villainous example: The first innovation given to the Plated Folk of Spellsinger by an otherworldly military computer is the means to blow a warmlander city's defensive wall to smithereens, probably with gunpowder.
  • In an episode of Star Trek: TOS ("A Private Little War"), it's discovered that the Klingons are giving guns to a primitive tribe so it will dominate another. Kirk promptly evens the odds by giving similar weapons to the endangered tribe.
  • Literal example: Zardoz begins with the eponymous flying stone head/demi-god spitting guns at the feet of a pack of barbarians.
  • In the Doctor Who story "The Time Warrior", an alien stranded in medieval England gives a bandit gang guns in return for their assistance in repairing his spaceship.
Community Feedback Replies: 16
  • January 29, 2012
    Rognik
    Spellbinder, an Australian TV series, has a teenager go to a parallel world. While they have some technology (specifically, an electric-generating shirt), the visitor mixes up gunpowder, then pulls a My God What Have I Done when the villain learns how to make "bombs".
  • January 29, 2012
    randomsurfer
    • In the Marvel Universe backstory this is why the Watchers became Watchers. They were the first civilization with interstellar technology; they gave advanced tech to another planet and then saw them blow themselves up in a world war. Then the Watchers decided on their Alien Non Interference Clause.
    • A sketch on Dave Allen At Large: An explorer is trying to scam a bunch of land from some Indians. He offers trinkets for wide swaths but they balk. They say they'll give all of the land he asks for in return for his "stick that goes boom." He says he's not supposed to, but after the offer of all of the land he relents. Then the Chief shoots the explorer and takes all the trinkets, leaving the gun.
  • January 29, 2012
    zarpaulus
    Not sure if this is covered by Low Culture High Tech.

    • In Mass Effect Mordin Solus described the "uplifting" of the Krogans as:
      Like giving nuclear weapons to cavemen.
  • January 29, 2012
    dalek955
    • Mr Welch has been forbidden from doing this, although being Mr. Welch he tried it on a much grander level.
      863. Even if there is no alignment in Traveller, giving feuding TL-1 tribes TL-12 weapons and putting the results on PPV is just wrong.
  • January 29, 2012
    Stratadrake
    Needs A Better Title ... and laconic. Avoid naming a general trope after a specific example of itself.
  • January 29, 2012
    SharleeD
    Actually, I'd meant for this trope to be specifically about gunpowder, not any and all cases of upgrading natives' weaponry. Radios To The Romans already covers other forms of introduced technology; this one's for the single high-tech invention that every time-traveler or otherworldly visitor tends to resort to in a pinch. (Mostly because most people don't have any idea how hard it is to get the formula of black powder right, let alone put it to use without blowing yourself up.) But thanks for the suggestions, guys.

    Randomsurfer: Was it gunpowder that the Watchers introduced, or a whole range of technological advancements? If the latter, then that's Radio to Romans instead.
  • January 29, 2012
    OmarKarindu
    Live Action TV
    • A gunpowders-specific example occurs in an old episode of Star Trek, where Kirk must intervene on a primitive world because the Klingons are giving guns to one tribe so that it will dominate another.
  • January 29, 2012
    CrypticMirror
    In Star Trek TNG one of the Insane Admirals of the week did something similar to the TOS example, only he armed both sides himself with WMDs (he was blackmailed into arming one side, but on his way out the door he armed the other side out of either spite, or a desire to keep things balanced, depending on who you believe). The result was a forty year campaign of near mutual genocide.
  • January 29, 2012
    AP
    • Zardoz begins with the eponymous demi-god literally spitting guns at the feet of a pack of barbarians.
  • January 29, 2012
    Stratadrake
    @Sharlee: Oops, looks like I misread the title when I was skimming the YKTTW. (I was previously thinking "Broomsticks ... what?")
  • January 29, 2012
    Rognik
    If this trope is based on how hard it is to actually make black powder, I should probably point out that in the Spellbinder example, the hero was shown making gunpowder in his science lab earlier, so it's justified in his case. (Still kind of a dumb move, introducing gunpowder to a culture that already has would-be dictators abusing their powers.)
  • January 29, 2012
    PaulA
    • In the Doctor Who story "The Time Warrior", an alien stranded in medieval England gives a bandit gang guns in return for their assistance in repairing his spaceship.
  • January 30, 2012
    Arivne
  • January 30, 2012
    randomsurfer
    "Randomsurfer: Was it gunpowder that the Watchers introduced, or a whole range of technological advancements? If the latter, then that's Radio to Romans instead."

    Miscellaneous advanced tech including weaponry. Not gunpowder. So I guess it's Not An Example.
  • January 30, 2012
    LarryD
    I'll point out that, if you know the proportions and the process, gunpowder is easy to make in a low-tech environment. Charcoal is straight forward to make, provided wood is available, saltpeter is messier, sulfur can be real hard to find.
  • January 30, 2012
    SharleeD
    ^ True, this trope is easily justified if the inventor actually knows the proportions that are necessary, as well as the use of damp to prevent premature ignition. OTOH, if they have no clue except a list of three ingredients, they're probably more likely to get burned experimenting than hit upon the right ratios by chance.

Three days must pass before this YKTTW is Launchworthy or Discardable