Frontiers – History of the Firearm, Part 1

   Posted by: Andrew Linstrom   in Frontiers

The first black powder weapons appeared in Atrebor around the time of the founding of the Empire in the hands of Konetti naval officers. They were single-shot, muzzle-loading pistols, crafted in the ever-mysterious land of Husset. They proved handy on deck for providing a quick burst of injury during boarding actions, but the expense of the weapons and their ammunition limited their ownership to wealthier officers and successful pirates. The reclusive gunsmiths and alchemists of Husset were careful to only sell the simplest of pistols and small quantities of black powder to outlanders, and their magi and holy men laid curses on acquiring or spreading the knowledge of their formulae and manufacture.

The nascent Atreborian Empire, hungry for new weapons to use in their wars of expansion on their own continent, tried for generations to secure the secret of black powder via methods both covert and overt. Diplomatic missions to beg, buy, or steal the formula were rebuffed time and again. Attempts to reverse engineer the substance via alchemical methods were met with supernaturally bad luck and fiery failure. The Emperor evenutally made a personal plea to Sidera, the legendary mathematician, physicist, engineer, and inventor, to solve the riddle. She consented, and on the first expedition of the Imperial Cartographic Society that she helped to found, she returned with the knowledge of black powder. Sidera never told of how she earned the secret, and only said that she was sworn to secrecy on the subject. The price she asked of the Emperor was to found a university in the capital, a place to advance and spread knowledge and its beneficial applications, as a balance against the bloodshed her expedition’s bounty was sure to bring over the ages.

The Empire was quick to capitalize on their new knowledge. Much of the concentration of knowledge and learning occurring at the newly-founded University of Treb was bent towards exploiting the wondrous chemical. To the satisfaction of Sidera and her intellectual heirs, war was not the only purpose found for black powder, as its capacity for splitting rock and moving earth allowed the Empire’s engineers to undertake more ambitious construction projects. But as it increased their capacity to build, it also increased their capacity to destroy. Stone-cracking cannons and bombs gave the Empire’s Legions the edge they were looking for against Axelander fortifications, speeding annexation and pacification of the Dnassans and their neighbors. Deck guns and carefully-laid mines gave Imperial galleys a needed advantage against speedier vessels, leading to the slow surrender of the Konetti Federation. Even dwarven stonework was not completely impervious to the work of dedicated Legionary sappers, eventually bringing the brusque tunnel folk in line with the surface-dwelling humans of Nebre in bending knee to the Imperial throne. When the orcish hordes of Ber-Tud made their last fateful foray against the port city of Collerophon, ball and shot did their part to devastate the invaders’ ranks until the work fell to gladius and axe.

After the victory at Collerophon, the Empire turned their eyes and their guns toward an unaddressed threat within their own borders: the dragons of Atrebor. As peace and progress spread through the Empire and populations surged, there came a need for the fertile fields and rich hillsides the dragons claimed as their hunting grounds. While hunting dragons was not impossible, it was a test beyond any but the mightiest of warriors. When a hunt failed, the dragon would visit fiery retribution on the countryside, destroying lives and property. So, though slaying a dragon was honored as one of the greatest services a citizen could perform for the Empire, only the bravest of battle-proven heroes were given leave to try.

This changed after the development of rifling and the sparklock. Spiraling grooves cut into the inside of a barrel were found to impart spin on a projectile, stabilizing its flight. Bullets fired from rifled guns flew straighter, traveled farther, and cut deeper. The improvement in penetration meant the difference between whether a bullet would draw blood or rebound from a beast’s hide or a soldier’s breasplate–or a dragon’s scales. The sparklock was a newly-developed means of igniting the powder in a weapon’s chamber, based on the piezoelectric effect: when two pieces of quartz rich in the proper metals are struck together, they produce a jolt of electric current strong enough to travel along a pair of filaments into the chamber and create an igniting spark in the gap. Compared to a flintlock, which requires a flash pan to be carefully primed with fine-grain powder, loading and priming a sparklock weapon is precious seconds faster.

With these two refinements in hand and the precious land held by the dragons in sight, the Emperor commissioned the Dragonrifles: two hundred longarms with rifled barrels and sparklock actions, enchanted by the Empire’s mages to do greater injury to dragons. The company of legionaries wielding the dragonrifles traveled across the continent. At each dragon’s den, they would repeat the same bloody performance: a party of the Emperor’s champions would enter to rile up the dragon and lure it out into the open, where the dragonrifles would tear it to pieces. After dozens of dragons were slain in such a manner, word somewhow spread amongst them, and they quit the continent in a mass migration. Some fled east or south, but most flew across the Western Deep. Their destination was a mystery until the discovery of the New World.

In Part 2, we’ll discuss recent developments in firearms: the revolving cylinder, repeating longarms, cased ammunition, smokeless powder, and the blood curse laid by the gods on automatic weapons.

This entry was posted on Monday, March 21st, 2011 at 7:57 pm and is filed under Frontiers. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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