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    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    Goblin

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    Default Better living through chemistry

    A romp through the medical literature of Medieval and Renaissance Europe and Asia produced a number of interesting factoids on chemistry (as chemistry and medicine are closely related). Which got me to thinking about 'high-tech' usages of some of the chemical processes they had access to. For my purposes high-tech means: advanced devices/techniques they could have created with the tools and resources at their disposal. In a fantasy-medieval setting I imagine that some researchers will be able to make more progress because they live for longer (elves), have access to magic (pretty much everyone), or aren't hampered by philosophical systems which, in many ways, retarded research (I'm looking at you four humors). I tended to focus on items that could be used in combat situations because, well, D&D. All of these things are doable within the Artificer Alchemist rules. I know that. Don't talk to me about the alchemists and their 'magic satchels'. This is all doable without magic. AND I'm not making the production of these a central feature of a playable character class. These would be produced using the existing crafting and alchemical supplies rules by NPCs or by players who choose to spend their downtime on this.

    Throwing: Because this becomes important I determined that a character can throw one of these objects (weighing in the neighborhood of 1lbs) Str x 3 feet. With an average Str being 10 this would be 30ft which matches closely with the military determination of how far the average service member can throw a grenade.

    Smoke generators/bombs - Potassium Nitrate (Saltpetre) was being produced in Europe in the 8th Century and the Chinese Salt was being produced in China well before that. Mix that with some sugar and you have the basic raw materials for making smoke. This will take one round to fill a 1000 cubic foot area (10' x 10' x10') with smoke that blocks vision. At the end of the second round the smoke will fill an 8000 cubic foot area (20' x 20' x20'). The smoke will last for an additional 7 rounds and then disperse, shrinking to the 1000 cubic foot area before dispersing entirely at the end of the next round. If the wind is less than 5mph the smoke will stay centered. If the wind is 5-10 mph the pattern will become (5' wide x 10' high x 20' long) (10' wide x 20' high x 40' long). If the wind is 10-15 mph the pattern will become (5' wide x 5' high x 40' long) (5' wide x 10' high x 160' long). If the wind is 15+mph the smoke will trail 200' downwind but won't ever be thick enough to obscure vision or cause harmful effects. Igniting and throwing one of these is an action. The smoke produced is mildly toxic but only to the extent that it will make someone cough, DC10 save vs Con at the end of any round they spend entirely in the smoke.

    Colored Smoke - The same as the general smoke devices but producing colored smoke. Without an advanced chemical industry they would have pretty much been limited to white, black, blue, red, and yellow smoke. Which, now that I type it, isn't really all that limited.

    Poison Smoke - My versions of this (you can use the resin from several varieties of trees) are less effective in the short term but more effective in the long term. So they aren't really a direct use weapon but a battlefield control device. Disperses as per smoke bombs. Creatures that spend an entire round in the smoke must save, every round they start and end in the smoke vs Con (DC determined by how poisonous the smoke mix is, 5-15) or Dex (same rules, player's choice of which stat to roll against) or be poisoned for 1d4 minutes. These numbers stack (if a character is poisoned twice and rolls a 2 the first time and a 3 the second time then it's poisoned for 5 minutes). During the time it is poisoned the character also takes 1d4 points of damage at the end of each minute. When poisoned the character is coughing and has watering eyes.

    Tear Gas - Not the modern composition, but if you use sulfur in the mix sulfur-dioxide is produced. When this comes into contact with liquid (eyes, lungs) it forms a dilute sulfuric acid that makes it hard to see and breathe. As per poison smoke but does not inflict damage unless the character is exposed for 10 full rounds over the course of 6 hours. In that case the character must make a DC15 Con save or take 1d6 points of damage and roll 1d4. On 1-2 the character loses 1 point of Con until magically healed (due to lung damage). On 3-4 the character is blinded until magically healed.

    Flares - As a water-proofable substitute for torches these are quite nice. With the chemicals available to a late-Medieval or Renaissance mining industry it would be possible to get blue, red, white, and yellow/gold. If you wanted to give them access to aluminum (which is a huge stretch and requires the assistance of magic or some very, very advanced smelter designs) then they could make thermite. That gives them a dandy tool and weapon in addition to the light. The downside of these flares is that all of them burn oxygen and most of them produce toxic smoke. Not a problem in a relatively open environment. An underground mine? Problem. Or opportunity. Depending on how you look at it. Casts bright light in a 30 foot radius hemisphere and dim light for another 20 feet. Does 1 point of fire damage if used to attack. Need to add toxic smoke guidelines. Flares are like daylight where sunlight sensitive creatures are involved. Sunlight sensitive creatures that look directly at flares are blinded for 1d6 rounds.

    Flash Powder - I envision this as being used as a primer for the things above and not as an explosive. Why? Because I'm not a big fan of gunpowder in my fantasy-medieval settings and this is a lower-tech version of gunpowder (less a chemical, less the correct ratios, less the corning process). It's a personal quirk. But if you wanted to use this as an explosive it was entirely within their capabilities to produce (and was produced in Asia). Use the Artificer's flash bomb for stats. Add that sunlight sensitive creatures looking at a flash bomb when it detonates are blinded for 1d4 rounds.

    Jellyfish Toxin - This was a relatively recent discovery but the technology is well within Medieval/Renaissance capabilities. Jellyfish soaked in alcohol. The alcohol causes the jellyfish to release their toxins. Let most of the alcohol evaporate (don't heat it) and you've got a fairly concentrated jellyfish toxin solution. The most technologically difficult part of this is making a decent syringe to spray it on opponents. Or simply use a glass bottle. This should cause pain sufficient to make an opponent pass out. They'd definitely be rolling attacks at a disadvantage and it might cause their hearts to stop. If using a glass vial roll to attack as a thrown weapon. If using a spray system roll to attack as a melee weapon (range of 10 feet). If struck by this make a DC20 Con save or be poisoned for 1d6+5 rounds and take 1d10 points of poison damage per round. Note: This poison cannot kill you, it can only render you unconscious. Make a DC 15 Con save after every time the victim takes damage or be paralyzed with pain until the end of the victims next turn. Poisoning can be treated by someone with the medicine skill and vinegar taking a full round to rinse the affected areas. DMs, if someone is stupid enough to use this while they are downwind then they deserve to be splashed by this and have to make the same saves.

    Pepper Spray - Dried, chopped peppers soaked in alcohol. Even the more concentrated forms are relatively easy for an alchemist to make. Again, the hard part is delivering this to a target. Glass vials won't do the trick in this case. As per Jellyfish Toxin but the save is a DC15, the duration of poisoning is 1d4+3 rounds, the victim doesn't take any poison damage, isn't paralyzed, and it can't be treated.

    Blinding Powder - I'm adding this because it was a real thing used in late Medieval Europe (and because AdAstra brought it up). It was mostly a mixture of resins and things like belladonna. Delivery was usually done by applying the powder to the surface of a weapon and then striking hard with an overhead blow to the face. When the attack was blocked the sudden impact would jar the powder and send it flying into the face of the intended victim. I can testify that accidental experimentation determined that this works. You can even blind an opponent with a little adhesive substance on the end of your weapon and simple dirt. Can also be delivered via a blowpipe mechanism, a talc bag (loosely woven fabric bag thrown into the opponent's face), or by simply scattering the loose dust. Blinding powder would simply be more effective. Save vs Dex OR Wis (player's choice) or be blinded for 1d4-1 minutes (minimum of 3 rounds).

    Plastic - Not a weapon, but a pretty big technological advance. This is a biodegradable plastic made from shrimp-shell extract and silk-proteins. Again, well within the technological limits of a fantasy-medieval setting. It's important to me, in this context, as a way to make a syringe for spraying opponents (not for medical uses).

    Igniters - Matches as we know them simply weren't within the technological capabilities. Even assuming a lot of chemical knowledge it would simply take too much of a mature chemical industry to produce these. The top of the line technical solution for the time was the slow match (cord soaked in saltpeter and dried) that could be used to light a conventional fuse. 'High-Tech' solutions would include varieties of flint and steel strikers or crystal compression systems, either striker systems where you compress a piston or spinner system where pulling a cord causes a striking mechanism to rotate. My elves don't like iron so they use the crystal compression systems with a spinner. My humans don't have the same limitations or technical skills so they use flint and steel striker systems.
    Last edited by jjordan; 2019-06-22 at 08:18 PM. Reason: Adding Material

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    Halfling in the Playground
     
    Flumph

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    tongue Re: Better living through chemistry

    Quote Originally Posted by jjordan View Post
    In a fantasy-medieval setting I imagine that some researchers will be able to make more progress because they live for longer (elves), have access to magic (pretty much everyone), or aren't hampered by philosophical systems which, in many ways, retarded research (I'm looking at you four humors).
    Hey, in D&D universes the four classical elements are real. So are aether, alkahest, and philosopher's stones. The four humors could be too, along with phlogiston, geocentrism, lamarckism, etc.

    I'll edit this post to add the stats I'm using later.
    Nevertheless, I'm interested in seeing what you come up with.

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    Default Re: Better living through chemistry

    Quote Originally Posted by snafuy View Post
    Hey, in D&D universes the four classical elements are real. So are aether, alkahest, and philosopher's stones. The four humors could be too, along with phlogiston, geocentrism, lamarckism, etc..
    That's a really good point. Now I want to sketch out a healing system based on the 4 humors.

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    Default Re: Better living through chemistry

    I do have to ask whether these things are actually practical to make in a fantasy setting, if we're assuming fairly normal resource constraints. I trust you that these things would've been possible to do, especially since I was aware of a couple already, and none are especially out there compared to what actually saw common use. But I think that's the problem, as far as I'm aware these are not entirely new technologies other than plastic. How much benefit could you actually gain out of using these methods compared to the ones that were already in use, and would they be worth the added complexity of manufacture or rarity of involved resources?

    Smoke production devices I'm not super familiar with, but might actually be the most effective device here, since I'm not familiar with any equivalent until relatively late in history.

    I am aware of several types of poison weapons, including noxious gasses, being used in medieval-era Asian warfare, mostly irritants for the gaseous types. A mixture of pepper powder and ground glass/sand serves as a very effective personal "spray" (just fill a tube/vial with the stuff, uncap and swing the container fast enough to disperse it a fair distance) and might overall be a more practical device for individuals, given that you don't need a waterproof container or syringe. (EDIT: seems that just burning sulfur can produce noxious fumes of sufficient military value for the Spartans to have used it during the seige of Platea in the 5th century BC)

    As for the syringe for dispersal of various chemical weapons, I know the Greeks used a syringe/bellows type device to dispense Greek Fire, and glass or other available materials should be sufficient for a syringe-type device. After all, if the Greek contraptions could handle mixtures that spontaneously combusted, they can probably deal with alcohol solutions. (EDIT: looking it up it seems to have been used by the Byzantines in the 10th century onward, and is fairly well-documented as being actually a practical weapon, with both ship-mounted and handheld versions)

    I can't see flares as being sufficiently superior to torches and lanterns to warrant using what are most likely exotic materials to most people of that era. If they could function when wet, then there's a case, but from your description it's not clear if they can.

    I don't doubt that you can make the plastic, but can you actually make it into complicated shapes, and with the required smoothness to perform the tasks you consider using it for using ancient tech? Glass and ceramic are less chemically reactive, wood seems like it would be easier to use reductive manufacture with. Without injection molding and careful understanding of the material's physical properties, I'm not sure if you would be able to make anything other than crusty lumps, much less tube-and-plunger assemblies with close mechanical tolerances. Maybe flat slabs or simple shapes if you use dies? But again, it seems like other available materials could do similar things, if perhaps not as well.

    Overall though, great ideas and things that are often overlooked. I would love to see this sort of thing explored further.
    Last edited by AdAstra; 2019-06-22 at 07:57 AM.
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    Default Re: Better living through chemistry

    Quote Originally Posted by AdAstra View Post
    I do have to ask whether these things are actually practical to make in a fantasy setting, if we're assuming fairly normal resource constraints. I trust you that these things would've been possible to do, especially since I was aware of a couple already, and none are especially out there compared to what actually saw common use. But I think that's the problem, as far as I'm aware these are not entirely new technologies other than plastic. How much benefit could you actually gain out of using these methods compared to the ones that were already in use, and would they be worth the added complexity of manufacture or rarity of involved resources?
    Depends on how you look at it. More, it's going to depend on your setting. In a high-magic world where you've got significant settlements existing in isolation you won't have the trade or technology you require to make these things because magic will have retarded the growth of both of these. I envision these as being a middle ground between magic and low-tech in a fantasy-medieval world with fairly robust trade. They are also a way for adventurers to bridge the magic gap where they might not have traditional resources. I've tried to balance so that the expense of production, difficulty of production, and effects make magic a better choice. But this is, hopefully, a nice middle ground.

    Quote Originally Posted by AdAstra View Post
    Smoke production devices I'm not super familiar with, but might actually be the most effective device here, since I'm not familiar with any equivalent until relatively late in history.

    I am aware of several types of poison weapons, including noxious gasses, being used in medieval-era Asian warfare, mostly irritants for the gaseous types. A mixture of pepper powder and ground glass/sand serves as a very effective personal "spray" (just fill a tube/vial with the stuff, uncap and swing the container fast enough to disperse it a fair distance) and might overall be a more practical device for individuals, given that you don't need a waterproof container or syringe. (EDIT: seems that just burning sulfur can produce noxious fumes of sufficient military value for the Spartans to have used it during the seige of Platea in the 5th century BC)

    As for the syringe for dispersal of various chemical weapons, I know the Greeks used a syringe/bellows type device to dispense Greek Fire, and glass or other available materials should be sufficient for a syringe-type device. After all, if the Greek contraptions could handle mixtures that spontaneously combusted, they can probably deal with alcohol solutions. (EDIT: looking it up it seems to have been used by the Byzantines in the 10th century onward, and is fairly well-documented as being actually a practical weapon, with both ship-mounted and handheld versions)
    Quote Originally Posted by AdAstra View Post
    I can't see flares as being sufficiently superior to torches and lanterns to warrant using what are most likely exotic materials to most people of that era. If they could function when wet, then there's a case, but from your description it's not clear if they can.
    The brightness of the light might be useful. Being able to choose the color of the light might be useful in some cases. Water-proofing is iffy, honestly. The same measures you would take to protect torches are the measures you'd take to protect flares. And these aren't the sort of flares that burn in water (again, magic will be superior).

    Quote Originally Posted by AdAstra View Post
    I don't doubt that you can make the plastic, but can you actually make it into complicated shapes, and with the required smoothness to perform the tasks you consider using it for using ancient tech? Glass and ceramic are less chemically reactive, wood seems like it would be easier to use reductive manufacture with. Without injection molding and careful understanding of the material's physical properties, I'm not sure if you would be able to make anything other than crusty lumps, much less tube-and-plunger assemblies with close mechanical tolerances. Maybe flat slabs or simple shapes if you use dies? But again, it seems like other available materials could do similar things, if perhaps not as well.

    Overall though, great ideas and things that are often overlooked. I would love to see this sort of thing explored further.
    The plastic is going to be useful in some regards, but not in others. It's a biodegradable plastic which means it is water soluble (after a while, and there are ways to prolong its life). Having done some exploration of Medieval casting technology I'm confident they could a do a good job of injection molding some fairly complex designs. I was mostly looking at it as a rigid alternative to waxed fabric for containing some of the powders and liquids I mentioned above.

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    Default Re: Better living through chemistry

    Quote Originally Posted by jjordan View Post
    Depends on how you look at it. More, it's going to depend on your setting. In a high-magic world where you've got significant settlements existing in isolation you won't have the trade or technology you require to make these things because magic will have retarded the growth of both of these. I envision these as being a middle ground between magic and low-tech in a fantasy-medieval world with fairly robust trade. They are also a way for adventurers to bridge the magic gap where they might not have traditional resources. I've tried to balance so that the expense of production, difficulty of production, and effects make magic a better choice. But this is, hopefully, a nice middle ground.



    The brightness of the light might be useful. Being able to choose the color of the light might be useful in some cases. Water-proofing is iffy, honestly. The same measures you would take to protect torches are the measures you'd take to protect flares. And these aren't the sort of flares that burn in water (again, magic will be superior).



    The plastic is going to be useful in some regards, but not in others. It's a biodegradable plastic which means it is water soluble (after a while, and there are ways to prolong its life). Having done some exploration of Medieval casting technology I'm confident they could a do a good job of injection molding some fairly complex designs. I was mostly looking at it as a rigid alternative to waxed fabric for containing some of the powders and liquids I mentioned above.
    I mean for rigid containers for hazardous materials, ceramics and glass should be superior to plastic based on organics, if somewhat more fragile (which is itself debatable, a lot of early plastics were really brittle). Bamboo or horn/bone tubes should also be fine for powders, and some of the liquids, with pitch, resin, maybe certain plant oils to seal the caps maybe?

    I think aside from being the biggest thematic and scientific reach, plastic has the most alternatives that could be readily used instead. Is there anything that would make the aforementioned substitutes unsuitable?

    Well, regardless, I’ve had enough tearing down ideas, might as well actually contribute. I wonder if it would be possible to produce compound crossbows as a ballista-esque weapon. A major problem with early metal crossbow prods was that it was difficult to make them reliably springy, so they usually had a short travel and equally short draw length. Compound bows, however, allow for a very long draw length with a lot of energy with relatively minimal travel of the limbs, and can be built to have a less violent acceleration. Perhaps extant materials wouldn’t be light enough to make for good pulleys, but maybe something like mythril or some kind of extremely high strength to weight ratio elven wood? Probably too complex for a personal weapon, but maybe useful enough for a seige engine or defensive battery. With more advanced steels and more consistent manufacture you might be able to store a lot fo energy very efficiently. Maybe enough to fling payloads of your incendiaries and chemical weapons? Then again you could probably launch those payloads with conventional traction trebuchets and such instead
    Last edited by AdAstra; 2019-06-22 at 12:45 PM.

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    Default Re: Better living through chemistry

    Quote Originally Posted by AdAstra View Post
    I mean for rigid containers for hazardous materials, ceramics and glass should be superior to plastic based on organics, if somewhat more fragile (which is itself debatable, a lot of early plastics were really brittle). Bamboo or horn/bone tubes should also be fine for powders, and some of the liquids, with pitch, resin, maybe certain plant oils to seal the caps maybe?

    I think aside from being the biggest thematic and scientific reach, plastic has the most alternatives that could be readily used instead. Is there anything that would make the aforementioned substitutes unsuitable?
    Those are all perfectly acceptable and, in some ways and cases, superior. The plastic is mostly carrying over from my alternate materials thread and is useful, in this specific regard for making some, relatively, standard components.

    Quote Originally Posted by AdAstra View Post
    Well, regardless, I’ve had enough tearing down ideas, might as well actually contribute. I wonder if it would be possible to produce compound crossbows as a ballista-esque weapon. A major problem with early metal crossbow prods was that it was difficult to make them reliably springy, so they usually had a short travel and equally short draw length. Compound bows, however, allow for a very long draw length with a lot of energy with relatively minimal travel of the limbs, and can be built to have a less violent acceleration. Perhaps extant materials wouldn’t be light enough to make for good pulleys, but maybe something like mythril or some kind of extremely high strength to weight ratio elven wood? Probably too complex for a personal weapon, but maybe useful enough for a seige engine or defensive battery. With more advanced steels and more consistent manufacture you might be able to store a lot fo energy very efficiently. Maybe enough to fling payloads of your incendiaries and chemical weapons? Then again you could probably launch those payloads with conventional traction trebuchets and such instead
    I didn't feel like commentary is tearing down.

    Compound bows are cool. My understanding is that they make it easier to draw a bow but don't increase the power of it. I'm still looking at this, though. The ease of draw would make these appealing to my elves, who wouldn't be phased by the need to use advanced materials and construction techniques. They are also the drivers for a lot the advanced materials in my setting: aluminum, titanium-carbide, titanium-gold alloy, titanium-carbide infused silk, artificial/synthetic nacre, and so on.

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    Chimera

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    Default Re: Better living through chemistry

    Quote Originally Posted by jjordan View Post
    Those are all perfectly acceptable and, in some ways and cases, superior. The plastic is mostly carrying over from my alternate materials thread and is useful, in this specific regard for making some, relatively, standard components.


    I didn't feel like commentary is tearing down.

    Compound bows are cool. My understanding is that they make it easier to draw a bow but don't increase the power of it. I'm still looking at this, though. The ease of draw would make these appealing to my elves, who wouldn't be phased by the need to use advanced materials and construction techniques. They are also the drivers for a lot the advanced materials in my setting: aluminum, titanium-carbide, titanium-gold alloy, titanium-carbide infused silk, artificial/synthetic nacre, and so on.
    Well good to hear! I tend to criticize a lot, so I do like to know how people feel about it just in case.

    In regards to your edit to the OP, I never thought about putting blinding powder on weapons! That's a lot more info than I was aware of on the subject, so thanks for that.

    If aluminum and even titanium are available, then producing components for compound bows should be trivial for good craftsmen with machining tools. The main issue with compound bows for archers, in my mind, isn't just the expense, but the greater complexity. Compound bows have a lot of moving parts that can break or lock up, while regular bows mostly just have to be protected from the elements and strung/unstrung when necessary. That complexity might not be worth it for personal weaponry, especially since, as you said, they aren't much more powerful in the hands of a person. The advantage of compound bows is that they can store and release energy more efficiently for a number of reasons, and if I'm not mistaken would allow you to make a bigger and more powerful bow with the same materials.
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