Gunpowder in Shadow World

It’s no secret that Shadow Worlds history encompasses a vast range of civilizations with “technological levels” ranging from Stone Age tribes to advanced post-physical societies. Terry often stressed that magic and high technology could often be indistinguishable and most of his SW books contain high tech items. In between those two extremes are a spectrum of technological advancements that are found scattered throughout Kulthea: the lightning guns used by the Krylites, the airships and barges designed by the Elves of Namar-tol and even bicycles that are appearing around Eidolon.

But one tech period is rarely found on Shadow World: civilizations and tech based on chemical reactions and the use of fossil fuels. More specifically, gunpowder and the advent of explosives and guns.

The fusion of guns and magic have become a popular theme in fiction, but Shadow World has some built in roadblocks that seem to prevent widespread use. In the Master Atlas we find this:

Gunpowder: The secret of this potentially devastating
tool is far from being unlocked, by even
the most advanced cultures on the Shadow World.
The power of magic has stagnated any desire for a
chemical explosive, and the mysteriously fluctuating
effects of the Essænce can have a transmuting
effect on chemical reactions
.

I expanded on this a bit more in my own SW campaign:

The “Viir” seems to fundamentally change both ionic and covalent bonding for molecular and macromolecular structures.  In practice this energy field is distorting chemical interactions and material structures most acutely—

In short, the Essaence is disruptive to chemical reactions and/or Magic itself precludes the need for such technology. Why invent a grenade when many people can cast a Fireball or Firebolt?

Personally I like the mix of tech and possible settings that can be found in SW, and introducing guns and related tech can add a new element to gameplay. So how can explosives be introduced to Kulthea:

  1. Outsiders. Kulthea has been explored by off-planet visitors. Some have arrived in spacefaring vehicles while others via “portals”. If they have explosives or munitions they might be reliable–for some period of time. Either you could argue that their chemical properties are stable due to their production off-world, or that it takes time for the Essaence fields to corrupt their potential.
  2. Demons. The Fifth Pale is a nightmarish place of industrial technology gone mad. Smokestacks and gigantic refinery-like superstructures fill this world, which is constantly enveloped in a luminous steam. The rhythmic wheezing of bellows mixes with the clatter of gears and the roar of engines. Foul pools of chemicals, theiroil-slicked surfaces aflame, illuminate open-scaffold elevators, steel mesh platforms, and large, baroque machines of incomprehensible function. It’s seem common sensical that Demons from this realm could have guns, explosives and munitions.
  3. Tinkerers & Alchemy. Expanded alchemy rules and perhaps a tech based profession (not using spells) can provide an avenue for guns, explosives and other violent delights. Of course, Kulthea based chemistry should not be reliable, but really, isn’t that half the fun?

4. Those damn Elves! Of course the Elves in Namar-tol are experimenting with chemical based combustion, explosives and projectiles. Here we have it, the beginning of it all:

5•45: Emer: The Lankan Empire sends a small
fleet across the Circular Sea from their port of
Kûru-kal, with the goal of seizing the northwestern
Loari isle of Surt Naduum. The first warboat
barely reaches shore before airborne Loari
battleships appear and drop exploding canisters—“
bombs”—on Lankan ships. This marks
the first known use of chemical explosives since
the Interregnum.
The Lankan ships are destroyed
and the few Lankani who reach shore
are captured. Námar-Tol sends a warning to the
Lankani that any further aggression will be met
by overwhelming force.

I’d be interested in your take on guns, gunpowder and explosives in your own SW game!

One thought on “Gunpowder in Shadow World”

  1. We mostly avoid it, not just because the players want a “high magic setting”, but also because we would have to bring a pack of rules from Spacemaster or the Guns supplement. Mind you, they are totally fine with robots and permanent bonus provided by tech items, but there’s never been a great need for firearms, and lasers are normally just resolver with firebolt attacks.

    There have been some Jinteni guns thrown around in a previous campaign, and players never took up to learn about them, I think because they were around lvl 7 at the time and developing a new skill at that point would always leave the OB behind others already in progress.

    We did have one character in an old campaign, who travelled around with a barrel of “fungus-post” which was basically some unstable concoction that would blow up using fireball results. Every time the character or its mount fell to the ground, bumped against something or similar we had to roll to see if it exploded. The character could at quiet times move some of it to small flasks to throw them as fireballs.

    And I think they were once attack with Greek fire or something like that while sailing, and again we just used fire attacks and criticals and that was it.

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