Guns versus Equestria

And next up we have a VERY silly question – but one that’s really all too common in one version or another. In this case it’s…

What if someone brought an equestrian dragon to Earth? It has to be very light to fly with those not-so-large wings, so it can’t be very dense or all that tough. Wouldn’t pretty much any kind of modern military weapon take it out instantly barring nonsense about super-tough polymers in their tissues or something? Even if their scales can take it due to some woo-hoo, the transmitted shock from a missile or tank gun should turn their internal organs into mush.

And I’ll answer it because “What if (fantasy/scifi monster of choice) was confronted by the modern military” is a popular question – and the answers are almost always subject to the same logic errors.

At it’s most basic, this question has a major underlying assumption – namely that earthly physics has something to do with fantasy creatures in general and Equestrian dragons in particular.

It doesn’t – and unless you go to a lot of trouble to come up some sort of compromise reality that adapts everyone who enters it to itself (in which case what various creatures can or cannot do, and how effective modern weaponry is, is entirely up to the rules you come up with and means nothing at all in any discussion) it won’t. Now if you just decide that cartoon dragons (or other critters) function according to their own rules, while the modern military operates according to the rules of conventional physics, then you can compare a few things.

Equestria does (very loosely) adhere to some rules about leverage and motion, since otherwise it would look really weird to the viewers. Ergo, it’s fair to guess that – since Spike is a dragon and Spike can hold quite a stack of packages out in front of himself – that he’s heavy enough not to tip over easily, giving Dragons a roughly normal-to-somewhat-high (possibly from eating rock?) tissue density.

Still, Equestria’s dragon’s don’t pay attention to conservation of mass-energy; they can gain or lose a great deal of mass simply because they got greedy or become distracted from being greedy. They can bite chunks out of rubies, sapphires, diamonds, and other gemstones, chew them up, and swallow them, without shattering the stone or injuring their tongues, palates, or throats. They have water-based tissues and relatively thin scales, but they can digest gems and bathe in magma without getting hot – violating basic thermodynamic principles. They breathe magic fire, or near-limitless amounts of smoke, with no apparent source for it. They (like pretty much every other flying creature in Equestria; just take a look at Bulk Biceps) pay no attention whatsoever to aerodynamics, lift, or weight-to-wingspan ratios. Any notions of “required wing area” are utterly irrelevant, as are ideas about how tough they are. After all, ponies say that Dragons are “almost indestructible”.

But just what does that mean?

  • Twilight Sparkle easily survived having a flower pot, a big anvil, a loaded hay cart, and a piano dropped on her head; she suffered rather minor injuries that vanished a little later from the incident (rather than winding up dead several times over like a human probably would). Yet she’s of the most physically vulnerable pony subrace, and is an unathletic bookworm with no combat training or physical conditioning.
  • Rainbow Dash survived performing a sonic rainboom directly through Applejack’s barn and into the ground. It’s hard to say exactly how fast she was traveling, but the writers and animators were fairly clearly trying to show her breaching the sound barrier and then achieving at least a two- to three-fold jump in speed – making it a minimum of roughly 2000 MPH. She hit the ground hard enough to throw up a mushroom cloud, produce the the sound of a massive explosion, and scatter debris to a depth of several feet over a radius of several hundred yards. What’s more, she can carry multiple ponies and execute sharp turns while traveling at such speeds. Evidently she can ignore inconvenient things like “inertia”, “conservation of momentum”, and “equal and opposite reaction”. She can generate lightning and create tornadoes.

And THESE are the creatures who describe Dragons as being “almost indestructible” and try to avoid confronting them at all costs.

Creatures from Equestria – like most cartoon and more than a few fantasy critters – get to opt out of physics in favor of plot, drama, and rule-of-funny. If you dropped a strategic nuclear weapon on one the result is going to be the same as it is in pretty much any other cartoon – a long shot of a great big explosion, widespread destruction of buildings and inanimate objects, and the creature at the center of the crater, blackened with soot, possibly furless if it had fur to start with, looking stunned, and blinking it’s (undamaged) eyes amusingly. In a scene or two it will be just fine again.

On the other hand, cartoon critters can still have trouble with a cloud of bees or shutting a door on one of their appendages. A sword fight may well work; it has plot, good visuals, and a good dramatic build up. A long range missile or a bomb however… will never work. They’re far too impersonal. Fortunately for the modern military, cartoon critters are often pretty ineffectual at attacking too – and can often be stopped by pies, policemen with whistles, or trash can lids – but barring such exploits, they will have quite a substantial advantage over conventional military forces.

Like it or not… reality is full of constraints. What makes things fantastic and wonderful is being free of those constraints. The more free of restraints a creature is – the less that is impossible for it – the closer it comes to omnipotent godhood.

Cartoons are a LOT less restrained than the real-world military. The only real chance of victory over such a foe is to find something that restrains THEM to exploit. Sure, “cannot ever catch the Roadrunner” isn’t likely to be THAT useful in a military sense – but “always waits for the dramatic speech to finish” may well allow a few thespians to hold off an entire cartoon army by simply continuing to talk as they relieve each other.

And that is why the answer to “X versus Y”, when X and Y come from different, and incompatible, settings pretty much always comes down to “what assumptions are we throwing in to allow this interaction?”. Are we doing Galactus versus Sheriff Andy Taylor from Mayberry?

  • Well, Galactus has vast cosmic powers, while Andy Taylor is a small town policeman who relies on being understanding and reasonable. If they meet in the Marvel Universe, Galactus wins – barring some absurd exploit during assistant editors week anyway. But those are generally out of continuity, and don’t count.
  • On the other hand, the only way that Galactus can exist in Mayberry is as one of Opie’s bad dreams – in which case Andy wins through some heartwarming father-and-son bonding moment and Galactus will be relegated to the trash can with the other upsetting comic books. The rules of Mayberry are the rules of a family sitcom.

It all depends on what assumptions you make. Once you start changing the rules that characters operate under, and putting vaguely-defined abilities against each other with no way of knowing how they’re going to interact, it’s come down to your personal opinion anyway. And it will remain your personal opinion, whether you get really elaborate and use a system like Eclipse or Gurps or the Hero System to build “faithful reproductions” of the characters to pit against each other or whether you just pick a winner.


One Response

  1. […] Guns Versus Equestria: Why physics doesn’t compromise, nuking dragons, Galactus versus Mayberry. […]

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