Steve Jackson Games - Site Navigation
Home General Info Follow Us Search Illuminator Store Forums What's New Other Games Ogre GURPS Munchkin Our Games: Home

Go Back   Steve Jackson Games Forums > Roleplaying > GURPS

Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
Old 04-04-2016, 01:39 PM   #1
Jinumon
 
Join Date: Mar 2013
Default [LT] Ancient Nitroglycerin

Hey again,

So, I've had a Fantasy setting I've been working on on-and-off for a few years now. I had an idea for a Medieval Technocracy in which the government is controlled by a small elite who produce a particular "miracle substance." My initial thought was simply Black Powder, but the simplicity of the process for creating Black Powder makes me question the credibility of a nation being able to keep its formulation entirely secret. I mean, yeah, they can take precautions and they aren't going to be giving it away, but if their production is anything other than extremely small-scale, they'll need unskilled laborers to harvest the materials they'll need, and it seems like the basic composition of the substance (saltpeter, sulfur, and charcoal) would be out in a century or two. If this is long-established government whose power is derived from this secret, it doesn't seem like they'd last that long. So my second idea was for them to have discovered the methods for producing Nitroglycerin, a much more lengthy and multi-step process with potentially history-altering consequences. I've tried to do some research on my own, but most of what I've found on the formulation of Nitroglycerin and its required components is far beyond my knowledge of chemistry.

As a simple question to any chemists or chemistry enthusiasts out there: Is it conceivable for a TL3+1 society to produce Nitroglycerin? Are the raw materials available for collection and production, or does it require mechanical or analytical technology far beyond that of a ~14th century society?

I always appreciate you guys. Thanks again,

Jinumon
Jinumon is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 04-04-2016, 02:01 PM   #2
Varyon
 
Join Date: Jun 2013
Default Re: [LT] Ancient Nitroglycerin

Difficult to say. Nitric acid, or aqua fortis, was discovered in the 13th century (TL 3), while glycerol wasn't discovered until 1779 (TL 5). However, the early materials for producing glycerol - olive oil and litharge - would be known before TL 3. If the stars aligned right, nitroglycerin may be doable at TL 3+1, but its instability could result in it likely being abandoned without more modern chemistry safety. Historical uses of the stuff typically involved production more-or-less on-site, as it was too unstable to transport safely, and that's going to make it harder to keep its recipe a secret. Personally, for alternative low TL explosives, I'm a bigger fan of nitrocellulose/guncotton, which can be made with aqua fortis, vitriol (sulfuric acid), and cotton (and distilled water to rinse it off).
Varyon is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 04-04-2016, 02:06 PM   #3
Anthony
 
Join Date: Feb 2005
Location: Berkeley, CA
Default Re: [LT] Ancient Nitroglycerin

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jinumon View Post
As a simple question to any chemists or chemistry enthusiasts out there: Is it conceivable for a TL3+1 society to produce Nitroglycerin?
In small quantities mixed with various contaminants, probably. At a purity sufficient for practical use, probably not.
__________________
My GURPS site and Blog.
Anthony is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 04-04-2016, 02:10 PM   #4
Bruno
 
Bruno's Avatar
 
Join Date: Sep 2004
Location: Canada
Default Re: [LT] Ancient Nitroglycerin

The benefit of black powder is that the raw materials are available in the environment with minimal processing. Sulphur is a naturally found mineral, charcoal is sightly fussy to make but it's a one step process and the raw material is abundant, and saltpeter can be isolated from animal waste and human waste in a similarly simple process.

Cellulose can be naturally sourced, and some plant sources only need simple cleaning. Nitric acid was known by the 13th century, but the trick is getting it pure and concentrated enough for the reaction; that is more than a single secret - that's an important part of TL 5 chemistry.
__________________
All about Size Modifier; Unified Hit Location Table
A Wiki for my F2F Group
A neglected GURPS blog
Bruno is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 04-04-2016, 02:11 PM   #5
Jinumon
 
Join Date: Mar 2013
Default Re: [LT] Ancient Nitroglycerin

Thanks Varyon. This sounds like exactly what I need. And the processes of producing nitric and sulfuric acid to create the final product should make it a complex enough recipe to prevent it from being stumbled upon by other nations.

To Bruno: I'm not particularly worried about the innovative steps involved, but rather whether or not it is physically conceivable using Low-Tech equipment, etc. So long as their laboratories can be created using the materials and practices of the day, I'm willing to overlook the marvelous invention with the placement of a few genius chemists or a religious significance that promotes chemistry.

Jinumon

Last edited by Jinumon; 04-04-2016 at 02:14 PM.
Jinumon is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 04-04-2016, 02:20 PM   #6
Bruno
 
Bruno's Avatar
 
Join Date: Sep 2004
Location: Canada
Default Re: [LT] Ancient Nitroglycerin

Nitric acid for the production of explosives is generally 90% pure. That is a very high standard, which until the 1910-1920s was done with very large amounts of electricity.

I'm not sure that can be achieved with 13th century knowledge and equipment. The more of this equipment you make available, the more this is a TL5 (or TL3+2 or whatever) society instead of TL 4 with a good trick.

Edit: to be clear, you cannot concentrate it beyond 68% with distillation. That's a huge problem.
__________________
All about Size Modifier; Unified Hit Location Table
A Wiki for my F2F Group
A neglected GURPS blog

Last edited by Bruno; 04-04-2016 at 02:36 PM. Reason: wrong acid
Bruno is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 04-04-2016, 02:31 PM   #7
Bruno
 
Bruno's Avatar
 
Join Date: Sep 2004
Location: Canada
Default Re: [LT] Ancient Nitroglycerin

You can dry out the acid with oil of vitriol and then distill that to get higher percentage purity, but then you need to make significant quantities and volumes of that.

Modern processes for these acids require metals that are quite out of reach of TL 4 - platinum, palladium, rhodium - and high temperatures and pressures that again aren't TL4.

Now, this changes if you have magic. Create Acid for instance removes these issues.
__________________
All about Size Modifier; Unified Hit Location Table
A Wiki for my F2F Group
A neglected GURPS blog
Bruno is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 04-04-2016, 02:32 PM   #8
Anthony
 
Join Date: Feb 2005
Location: Berkeley, CA
Default Re: [LT] Ancient Nitroglycerin

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bruno View Post
Edit: to be clear, you cannot concentrate it beyond 68% with distillation. That's a huge problem.
I think you're talking about Nitric acid, not Sulfuric.
__________________
My GURPS site and Blog.
Anthony is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 04-04-2016, 02:36 PM   #9
Bruno
 
Bruno's Avatar
 
Join Date: Sep 2004
Location: Canada
Default Re: [LT] Ancient Nitroglycerin

Quote:
Originally Posted by Anthony View Post
I think you're talking about Nitric acid, not Sulfuric.
Yes, correct.
__________________
All about Size Modifier; Unified Hit Location Table
A Wiki for my F2F Group
A neglected GURPS blog
Bruno is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 04-04-2016, 02:44 PM   #10
Ulzgoroth
 
Join Date: Jul 2008
Default Re: [LT] Ancient Nitroglycerin

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bruno View Post
You can dry out the acid with oil of vitriol and then distill that to get higher percentage purity, but then you need to make significant quantities and volumes of that.
That makes things expensive (and is the reason that mass production of sulfuric acid is a somewhat under-hyped lynchpin of industrialization), but not impossible since you can make however much sulfuric acid you need in small tabletop batches, right?
__________________
I don't know any 3e, so there is no chance that I am talking about 3e rules by accident.
Ulzgoroth is offline   Reply With Quote
Reply

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Fnords are Off
[IMG] code is Off
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump


All times are GMT -6. The time now is 11:46 PM.


Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.9
Copyright ©2000 - 2024, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.