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Old 10-29-2009, 05:41 PM   #1
Icelander
 
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Default Emerging smokepowder weapons in my fantasy

In my GURPS-powered Forgotten Realms game, the Tech Level is approximately TL4 for most human polities. In trade, communications, travel, sailing, navigation and architecture, the TL is quite advanced TL4 and may even range to early TL5 in narrow areas of clockwork engineering and sailing ship construction. In other areas, it is the High Medieval period, with full plate harness wearing knights dominating the battlefield for the most part, aided by the availability of magical charms that greatly favour the rich over a multitude of peasants.

Gunpowder is unavailable. Either the required materials do not exist in the setting or the physical rules are different so that mixing them does not result in an explosive substance. It is possible to make a similar substance to gunpowder, smokepowder, using alchemical means, but until recently, that manufacturing process was a closely guarded secret.

Fourteen years ago, the method of making smokepowder became more widely known. It is still far from being widespread and only a trained alchemist can make it, but the substance has still plummeted in price from the days where it was little more than an exotic curiosity.

It is still monstrously expensive. The materials cost of manufacturing a pound of it is $350 and to that is added amortization costs for an alchemical laboratory and whatever value the alchemist puts on his time. At present, those alchemists capable of making it are so few that they are selling it for as much as they dare. It is not unknown for the price to be over $1,000/lbs. This, of course, is about fifty times what historical corned powder cost.

As a result, firearms have not caught on as military weapons. Few kingdoms are rich enough to field an army with such weapons and even those who could are likely to prefer a larger conventional army to the dubious benefit of smokepowder weapons. Mages can blast foes for less cost than cannon, archers can rain missiles on their foes with greater range, accuracy and rate of fire than the much more expensive guns and so on. Even compared with crossbows early firearms are rather anemic.

Even so, there are possibly a few roles for such weapons on the fantastic battlefield. Arrows often cannot penetrate the hide or scales of monstrous foes, whereas a powerful gun might. And when facing armoured knights, even yew warbows are unlikely to penetrate, but firearms routinely hammer through all but the most expensive plate. This ability to penetrate is also important in light of recent campaign history, since dragons are apparently running wild and traditional military forces are at loss at how to bring such creatures down.

It helps, also, that some disadvantages of historical powder are not present. Smokepowder is a binary explosive and either part by itself is inert. This makes transporting it much safer than historical gunpowder. It is also exceptionally fine-grained and powerful, with an REF 0.8, or double that of historical corned powder. More advanced manufacturing techniques compared to the time gunpowder was introduced on Earth mean that guns need not be primitive or shoddy even though they are in their infancy. Casting sound barrels will quickly be accomplished once blacksmiths that are every bit as good as historical 17th century ones start experimenting with firearms.

Edit: A list of cannon types that I decided were available in the Forgotten Realms, though not used on any large scale yet. And some notes on these cannon.

Types of locks and ignition systems.

Some explosive sling projectiles. Also, fragmentation grenades. Glass grenades. Notes on fuzes.

Heavy giff weapons. And two giff pistols.

---

With these things in mind, I thought I'd stat out the first models that are being considered for military service in some countries close to the PCs location. I'd like to know if the stats seem plausible in light of the assumptions made above and compared to historical examples. I'd also like to know if any of them are likely impractical or if I'm forgetting obvious niches on the battlefield that firearms with expensive powder should fill.

All these smallarms designs are built for the REF 0.8 smokepowder that is sold by Lantanese, priests of Gond and artificiers or alchemists who learnt from them. They can use lesser REF 0.5 smokepowder from Kara-Tur, but would have reduced Dmg and Range with such loads.

Gnomish Heavy Wheelock Pistol; 60. cal wheellock pistol
Dmg: 2d+1 pi+;
Acc: 1;
Range: 60/630;
Weight: 3/0.05;
RoF: 1;
Shots: 1(20);
ST: 10;
Bulk: -3;
Rcl: 4;
Cost: $1,450;
Notes: TL4 +1 CF; Bronze (+2 CF), Fine (Reliable (Malf. 16) +0.25 CF); Robust (+1 CF), Styling +2 (+3 CF).


A fine weapon often carried by affluent gnome alchemists or engineers for self-defence. The pistol has a long 12" barrel of cast bronze, a lock shielded from the elements and a snarling drake's head.
Fires a 300 grain, 14.75mm lead ball and uses 25 grains of smokepowder. Using a more powerful charge of 35 grains of smokepowder would result in ST 11 and 3d-1 pi+ dam, Range 65/700 and Rcl 5.

Theskan Heavy Caliver; .60 cal matchlock carbine:
Dmg: 4d pi+;
Acc: 2;
Range: 85/850;
Weight: 9/0.06;
RoF: 1;
Shots: 1(60);
ST: 10†;
Bulk: -4;
Rcl: 4;
Cost: $800;
Notes: TL4 +1 CF; Bronze (+2 CF), Robust (+1 CF), Styling +2 (+3 CF).


A well-made bronze weapon hand-crafted by gnomish craftsmen. It is inspired by Kara-Turan weapons and examples are often decorated by engravings of dragons or other monsters. The caliver is intentionally made heavy to keep the recoil managable, through the use of a substantial bronze stock, liberal brass furniture and thick cast bronze barrel. Due to the gnome origins, it is quite compact and short-barrelled (24"), with an overall length of only 32", and humans usually intend it for light infantry that would otherwise carry bows of some sort.

The heavy caliver fires a 300 grain lead round ball of 14.75mm diameter and requires a smokepowder charge of 70 grains. The muzzle velocity is around 1,350 fps. This load is very heavy for a gnome and less robust specimens sometimes use a reduced charge of 50 grains; Dmg 3d+2 pi++; Range 80/800; ST: 9†; Rcl 3.

Melvaunt Musket; .80 cal matchlock musket:
Dmg: 5d pi++;
Acc: 2;
Range: 120/1,200;
Weight: 17/0.15;
RoF: 1;
Shots: 1(60);
ST: 12R†;
Bulk: -7;
Rcl: 4;
Cost: $570;
Notes: TL4 +1 CF; Lightened (+0.25 CF; 'Weight Reduction', TS p. 70); Robust (+1 CF).


This steel-barreled heavy musket includes a rest ($10; 2 lbs.) and is hard to aim without it. The barrel is a full 56" long and the total length of the weapon is 6'. It has a truly frightful kick and is intented to be used against the ogres of the region, but has also proved useful against rampaging dragons. It looks squat and utilitarian, but is solidly built of good materials.

A charge of 80 grains of smokepowder propels the heavy 800 grain bullet.

If I decide to use house rules to account for the stopping power discrepancy between the 800 grain bullets from this monster and the 300 grain bullets from smaller weapons, this weapon would have a wounding modifier of pi+++ or x3.

Melvaunt Musketoon; .69 cal matchlock musket:
Dmg: 4d+1 pi++;
Acc: 2;
Range: 90/900;
Weight: 12/0.09;
RoF: 1;
Shots: 1(60);
ST: 11†;
Bulk: -6;
Rcl: 4;
Cost: $400;
Notes: TL5 +3 CF.


A smaller version of the heavy musket, this weapon might be introduced to arm skirmishers in the forces of Melvaunt. The barrel is 42" long, for an overall length of 58", and the weapon fires a 500 grain lead ball with a charge of 70 grains of smokepowder.

Mulmastran Caliver; .69 cal matchlock musket:
Dmg: 3d+2 pi++;
Acc: 2;
Range: 85/850;
Weight: 9.5/0.08;
RoF: 1;
Shots: 1(60);
ST: 10†;
Bulk: -5;
Rcl: 4;
Cost: $400;
Notes: TL4 +1 CF; Robust (+1 CF).


The Mulmastran caliver is based on gnomish designs from Thesk, but made from steel and in a larger bore and longer barrel (28"), with a hollow steel stock that makes the overall length 40". It lacks the extensive brass furningsings of the ghome weapon. The weapon is perhaps sturdy enough to take a hotter charge, but at the prices of ammunition, the Blades of Mulmaster would prefer to avoid buying too much of it.

The weapon fires the same 500 grain ball as the Melvaunt musketoon, but requires only 50 grains of smokepowder per charge.

Mulmastran Horse Pistol; .69 cal matchlock pistol:
Dmg: 2d-1 pi++;
Acc: 1;
Range: 60/550;
Weight: 4.5/0.07;
RoF: 1;
Shots: 1(45);
ST: 11;
Bulk: -4;
Rcl: 3;
Cost: $240;


An awkward design, a matchlock pistol is difficult to reload on horseback (roll vs. the lower of Guns-2 or Riding-2). Nevertheless, it is preferable to a longer weapon which may be impossible to reload at all. This pistol has a thick 12" steel barrel reinforced with bands of brass, though this is scarcely necessary at typical loadings. Loading with a full charge of 40 grains gives Dmg 2d+2 pi++; Range 60/750; ST 12 and Rcl 5.

The 500 grain ball is propelled by only 20 grains of smokepowder in the typical load, 40 grains in the maximum charge.
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Last edited by Icelander; 10-24-2016 at 06:40 AM.
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Old 10-29-2009, 07:08 PM   #2
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Default Re: Emerging smokepowder weapons in my fantasy

It looks like you've got the mid-range niche covered fairly well. The powder is too expensive for close-range (handguns and shotguns), and the lack of rifling kind of rules out long-range. One option might be to have some muskets that fire smaller bullets so that you can either get more range or use less powder when engaging lightly-armored targets. Such weapons might be useful against cavalry (shoot the horses) and light infantry, while the ones you've listed are best against heavy infantry.

In a setting with extremely expensive powder, I suspect bayonets will have been thought up sooner. In fact, the concept of them as spears that can also spit fire might help the technology spread more quickly.
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Old 10-29-2009, 07:15 PM   #3
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Default Re: Emerging smokepowder weapons in my fantasy

Remember, cannon come first.
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Old 10-29-2009, 07:29 PM   #4
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Default Re: Emerging smokepowder weapons in my fantasy

Well technically speaking cannons should be TL 3. Oldest surviving cannon is from the 13th century, drawings of cannons from either late 11th or early 12th century.

I remember back in early FR literature there was some claim that Gunpowder did not exist because of some Hubabbubbaaa ... but 1-2 years later there was a official supplement that showed either a Dwarf or a Gnome armed with a Pistola and reference to a army (either Dwarf or Gnome) with cannons.
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Old 10-29-2009, 07:32 PM   #5
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Default Re: Emerging smokepowder weapons in my fantasy

No magically wind powered weapons?
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Old 10-29-2009, 07:44 PM   #6
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Default Re: Emerging smokepowder weapons in my fantasy

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Originally Posted by Hannes665 View Post
Well technically speaking cannons should be TL 3. Oldest surviving cannon is from the 13th century, drawings of cannons from either late 11th or early 12th century.
On Earth, sure. In FR, there's no reason to make cannons at TL3 since smokepowder was far too rare and expensive until recently to use pounds of it at a time.

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Originally Posted by Hannes665 View Post
I remember back in early FR literature there was some claim that Gunpowder did not exist because of some Hubabbubbaaa ... but 1-2 years later there was a official supplement that showed either a Dwarf or a Gnome armed with a Pistola and reference to a army (either Dwarf or Gnome) with cannons.
That's because 'gunpowder' does not exist in the setting. It's not possible to mix saltpeter, charcoal and sulphur to get an explosive.

'Smokepowder' is a different substance, created with alchemical processes which utilise the inherent magic in natural phenomena. It requires magical talent to make, not just knowledge of a formula. And it is much more expensive than gunpowder.
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Old 10-29-2009, 07:44 PM   #7
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No magically wind powered weapons?
I guess such would be possible, but so far, no one has proposed them.

Do you have anything special in mind?
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Old 10-29-2009, 07:49 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by David Johnston2 View Post
Remember, cannon come first.
Why?

If it costs $1,020 to fire a falconet, instead of the about $30 it costs in our history, don't you think it will discourse their use a bit?

Not that I don't plan on designing some pieces designed to take down dragons, but I have to work out a rules quibble first.

GURPS rates damage by penetrative power only and then applies a corrective designed to account for the size and weight of the projectile. This is fine up to a point, but it breaks down badly once you pass .60 caliber projectiles. The wounding modifier does not get higher than pi++, which means that small artillery pieces that are maybe an order of magnitude more powerful than muskets in real life are hardly more effective in GURPS rules.
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Old 10-29-2009, 08:58 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by SuedodeuS View Post
It looks like you've got the mid-range niche covered fairly well. The powder is too expensive for close-range (handguns and shotguns), and the lack of rifling kind of rules out long-range.
Well, handguns and shotguns are far from impossible. They've been useful for boarding actions on ships, for example, where the ability to rain down many bullets in one initial volley before entering melee range could be worth the price of the powder.

There's also the speciality market of nobles, knights and adventurers to consider. People with plenty of disposable income might like the idea of a small handheld weapon that can penetrate heavy plate armour.

Quote:
Originally Posted by SuedodeuS View Post
One option might be to have some muskets that fire smaller bullets so that you can either get more range or use less powder when engaging lightly-armored targets. Such weapons might be useful against cavalry (shoot the horses) and light infantry, while the ones you've listed are best against heavy infantry.
Lighter (hence smaller) spherical lead bullets would mean lower 1/2D Range, higher Max Range. Which is all but useless, since no one can hit anything out to Max Range anyway. In real world terms, you'd get a flatter trajectory, but that's not modelled in GURPS.

In any case, such weapons would be competing against crossbows and bows and in that comparision they would come out very inferior. Even if we assume that it requires training since childhood to wield warbows, even hunting bows are superior to firearms when it comes to shooting horses or unarmoured infantry. And crank-driven crossbows are powerful enough to kill horses or people in light armour and have a rate of fire that is at least as good as matchlocks, usually better. And the cost per shot is several orders of magnitude less.

Quote:
Originally Posted by SuedodeuS View Post
In a setting with extremely expensive powder, I suspect bayonets will have been thought up sooner. In fact, the concept of them as spears that can also spit fire might help the technology spread more quickly.
I wonder whether matchlocks would be less sturdy than flintlocks if the musket is used in melee. If not, I agree, bayonets would be a very fine thing to discover.
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Old 10-29-2009, 10:19 PM   #10
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Default Re: Emerging smokepowder weapons in my fantasy

The main advantage of muskets is that they require little training and allow you to mass-produce soldiers. After Lepanto the Janisaries simply were out of action, because though they knew the techniques of loading a musket they hadn't caught on to that particular point and just used them as a back up to composite bows. Used in that sense, they become just another addendum to the warrior caste and weren't very useful in that regard. By contrast, Europeans had discovered what the real advantage of muskets were and started to be able to field effective soldiers year after year.
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