Archmage - Gnomish Weaponry
WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION: ON SALE NOW!
A selection of devastating devices
for use with the SPELLJAMMER universe
(From DRAGON #192, by Matthew Webber)
"No!" Satin shouted in exasperation. "I've told you ten times now.
My ship is the best in the sphere! It does not need any
improvements." The centaur stamped a forehoof on the wooden deck
with a resounding boom.
Nimfaratillamisarrendilon - Nimf for short - skipped back nimbly
and nervously eyed the way the centaur's arms has folded over the
bandolier strapped across her chest. Satin Truebolt has quite a
reputation with the pistol crossbows mounted there.
"Captainpleaseifyou'donlylisten..." he began. Satin's fingers
drifted toward the pistol grips. Nimf raised his hands as his plea
slowed in tempo. "... to me. I don't criticize your ship. It's
merely that it's ... well, so woefully lacking in technologically
advanced combat devices that -"
"That," snapped Satin, "is just the way I like it." One hind leg
irritably dug at the deck with a polished hoof. Her lustrous black
tail swept from side to side like a cat's.
"But think!" Nimf protested. "Your ship has such huge areas of
open deck! Three armored turrets full of wasted potential!" Satin
was sure there were tears in the earnest gnome's eyes. "That
catapult for instance. It has an elegant simplicity, but think how
much better it would be converted into a launcher for
Dorivartaramiarlis's New Rotating Double Discs With Serrrated Edges
"Dori's Buzz Bombs," Nimf corrected hastily. "And that prow! It
would be ideal for Neggicharsi... Neg's Wondrous Power Flail!"
Satin looked at her ship, the Alicorn Star, whose graceful lines
rose at the prow to form a stylish unicorn's head. The spiral horn
stretched forward to form a lethal piercing ram. She tried to
imagine the same ram with a gnomish power-flail attached, looking
for all the worlds like a giant's bolas had snagged on the end. Had
she not been so angry she would have laughed out loud.
"And don't forget the enormous potential of my very own Phlogiston
Fire Bombs," the gnome finished proudly.
Satin looked back at the gnome, not quite sure she'd heard his
correctly. "Phlogiston what?"
"Fire bombs. The best in the sphere!"
"The phlogiston is an ocean of explosive gas and you've invented a
fire bomb for it?"
"Exactly! Think of it!" Nimf expounded happily, digging a crumbled
piece of parchment out of his pocket and showing it to her. The
scrap was covered with complicated diagrams and Gnomish shorthand.
"You load the bomb into a catapult - even yours would do it - and
shoot it at the enemy. When it hits, the automatic ignition assembly
comes into operation, which is linked to the Greek-fire reservoir
here, then -"
"Off!" roared Satin, her shout sending the gnome reeling back. "Get
off my ship!"
"But captain, think of -"
Satin whirled and kicked. Nimf tried to flee first, but he was too
slow in putting the paper scrap away. He departed the main deck in a
high arc, with a dwindling wail and a neat print of Satin's hind
hooves marking the seat of his pants.
"There's nothing wrong with my catapult," Satin muttered to
herself, patting the Alicorn's rail affectionately.
Many readers are no doubt aware of the tinker gnomes of Krynn, the
world of the DRAGONLANCE saga. Manic mechanics, they see a world
where nothing exists that could not be improved upon by the addition
of a host of cog-wheels, little bells, and rubber bands. Harmless
enough, you might think, but unfortunately the gnomish philosophy
dictates that a machine that works perfectly is a failure; how can
subsequent generations of gnomes improve on a perfectly working
device? As a result, a gnomish machine is marked both by its
outlandish complexity and its lack of reliability.
The advent of the SPELLJAMMER setting unleashed the engineering
chaos of the tinker gnomes on the unsuspecting universe. In short
order, a traveler in wildspace could find gnomes all over the place,
busily "improving" a catapult or steering vane and rendering it
totally unworkable. The universe soon learned to give tinker gnomes
a wide berth, leaving them to their peddleboat-like craft and
politely (sometimes) declining numerous offers of free
"improvements." Encounters like that between Satin and Nimf are
common at every space dock.
Here are a selection of beautifully engineered space weapons for
any SPELLJAMMER adventure, all designed, built, and usually operated
exclusively by gnomes. They are not intended for serious use - a
gnomish weapon is as likely to harm its operators as the intented
target - but they can be amusing (particularly on an opponent's
ship), and they are typical of the sort of weaponry one can expect
to encounter on a gnomish sidewheeler. Gnomish weapons often inflict
huge amounts of damage, but this potential is dampened by the danger
to the weapon's own operators.
Each weapon description includes the principle, a description of
its operation, and the typical problems accociated with it. Relevant
statistics are also listed. Crew numbers are in gnomes and may be
halved if human-sized creatures are foolish enough to help. Also
listed is the liability per attack: For every individual attack of
each weapon, there is a chance of malfunction, often rolled on 1d20.
NEG'S WONDROUS POWER FLAIL
Neggicharsiverativora's momentum-based enemy demolition device
PRINCIPLE: The power flail should ideally be built onto the prow
of a vessel, with its shaft along the ship's gravity plane. The
apparatus consists of two huge huge metal weights on long metal
chains, spun around a shaft. The device is powered by a typical
gnomish assembly of gear trains amd rubber bands worked by
perspiring gnomes with hand cranks. The idea is to create a whirling
propellor capable of crunching through an enemy vessel. The vessel
shown is the prototype Flail Snail, plans of which were submitted to
the mind-flayer embassy on the Rock of Bral. The illithids politely
sent them back.
OPERATION: The flail takes three rounds to crank up to speed,
which is usually a sedate two revolutions per minute (any faster and
centrifugal force will destroy it). With two "wrecking balls," this
means a possible four attacks per round. Of course, each attack also
has a chance of malfuction.
PROBLEMS: Starting the device is a devil of a job: The chains tend
to wind themselves around the shaft and not accomplish much.
Solutions include (but are not limited to) having 1-10 gnomes with
long bill-hooks keeping the chain untangled, and first winding the
chains in the direction opposite to that of their operation so that
they unwind as speed is picked up. If the ship is very light (less
than 10 tons), the flail's operation is likely to cause the ship
itself to rotate rather than the flail. In this case, the gravity
plane will vary unpredictably, resulting in "Ship Shaken"
critical-hit conditions every round until the mechanism stops again
(taking as many rounds as it took to start it.
COST: 1,500 gp
RANGE: Close (ships must be within grappling range)
CREW: 6 cranker-gnomes plus 1-10 bill-hook gnomes
DAMAGE/ATTACK: 4d10 hit points or 1d4 hull points
ATTACKS/ROUND: Up to 4 (DMs should take into account relative ship
THAC0: As per helmsman
CRITICAL HIT: On 18, 19, and 20
LIABILITY/ATTACK: Roll 1d20: 1-10, successful operation; 11-14,
flail tangles in opposing ship (ships are considered grappled
together, and two chains must be cut, each AC 4 and 30 hp); 15-17,
inpact cancels inertia (flail simply stops); 18-20, impact cancels
inertia (mechanism destroyed by shock). 70% chance of tangling up on
startup, reduced by 5% for every gnome available with long bill-hook.
NIMF'S PHLOGISTON FIRE BOMBS
Nimfaratillamisarrendilon's incendiary mechanisms for inflamable
atmospheres (especially the phlogiston) - auto-ignition assembly
PRINCIPLE: As all spacefarers know, the phlogiston is the rainbow
ocean that surrounds and supports the crystal spheres that contain
each solar system. The gases comprising it are extremely
combustible, and any source of fire instantly causes a violent
explosion. Naturally, the gnomes couldn't abide this situation, and
Nimf designed his fire bombs to safely (we use the term loosely)
deliver a single charge of Greek fire to an enemy vessel and thereby
ignite it. The bomb may be launched from any standard catapult. It
is intended to hit a target plunger-first, to ignite the oil therein.
OPERATION: None as such; the device is simply filled with Greek
fire and placed upon the catapult arm. The device can, of course, be
used in wildspace, but the effect is less spectacular.
PROBLEMS: The device does not always hit plunger-first. The bomb,
being essentially a barrel, tends to spin in flight so that it may
not ignite, simply breaking up and drenching the target with oil. To
combat this, guidance shutes were added, but these created drag and
reduced the range, so that the device is as likely to land on the
deck of a friend as a foe. Also, guidance shutes do not function in
the vacuum of wildspace.
Care should be taken to load the device horizontally on the
catapult arm. If the bomb is placed plunger-first, the act of
launcing may detonate it; if placed tailend first, the plunger
sometimes comes out and flies away in a different direction.
COST: 120 gp per bomb, including Greek fire charge
RANGE: As per catapult
CREW: As per catapult (doubled for gnomes)
DAMAGE/ATTACK: (In the phlogiston) 2d6 hull points in explosion,
no fire; (in wildspace) starts fire as normal Greek fire shot
ATTACKS/ROUND: As per catapult
THAC0: As per catapult
CRITICAL HIT: None
LIABILITY/ATTACK: Roll 1d20: 1-10, operates as planned; 11-14,
fails to detonate (unlit Greek fire splashed over enemy); 15-18,
fails to detonate (unlit Greek fire splashed over launcher); 19-20,
explodes on launcher. DMs should take note of all spilled pools of
unused Greek fire, as a spark from striking metal or the friction
of a footfall could set one off at any time.
DALLA'S MECHANICAL LIGHTNING ARC
Dallaforengisortiala's friction-generated static electricity
collection and focused delivery apparatus
PRINCIPLE: This was inspired by the third-level wizard spell,
lightning bolt. Indeed, the apparatus is not much more than a
gigantic version version of the spell's physical components, namely
a glass rod and a large flywheel lined with sheep's wool. Gnomes
wind the flywheel up to speed, placing it in contact with a tall
glass column, generating huge amounts of static energy that are
channeled along an insulated copper wire. The end of the wire is
maneuvered by a winch-operated arm to brush the side of an enemy
vessel, hopefully discharging the collected electicity. This is
supposed to start a fire on an enemy vessel, though much of its
military value comes from the blinding spark that may daazle
onlookers for 1-4 rounds (save vs. spells for no effect). Metal
ships such as mindspiders can become electrically charged; the
weapon causes no immediate effect, but the energy discharges when
that vessel comes into contact with anything else, causing damage to
both mindspider and secondary target.
OPERATION: This device is very simple, though the gnomes like to
complicate it with ever-more complex chains of gears and pulleys.
Two to four gnomes crank the flywheel up to speed, while additional
gnomes wind the winches that maneuver the arm out to touch an enemy
ship. Whether or not there is a spark and how much damage it does
depends on how long it has been since the last discharge. The DM
secretly rolls 1d4; the resulting figure is both the number of
rounds it takes to generate the next spark and the multiplier for
the damage (and the number of hull points damaged). The effect of
the weapon is a single giant spark of lighting, hot enough to cause
a small explosion in most materials, with a 50% chance of starting a
fire on flammable surfaces. In the phlogiston, damage is tripled,
with no chance of fire.
One particularly useful application is to cause Spelljammer Shock
on the opposing vessel's helm, as per "Critical Hits" in the
Concordance of Arcane Space booklet in the SPELLJAMMER boxed set
(pages 59-60). This requires the application of a successful spark
either to the helm or its user. The helmsman takes full damage in
addition to suffering Spelljammer Shock. Of course, the helm must be
within reach of the Lightning Arc. It is possible for a boarding
party to carry the copper wire to this point, if sufficient wire is
on hand. Remember: Sucg wire must be somehow insulated in order to
PROBLEMS: Although the weapon isn't a bad idea in principle, the
spark isn't guaranteed to occur at the desired point; there is a
chance of it occurring on the generating wheel. If the wire becomes
severed for any reason, this also affects the sparking point. If the
weapon is used in the phlogiston, and a spark occurs at the wheel,
all the wool is burned away from it in a flash, rendering the
COST: 1,000 gp
RANGE: Close (ships must be within grappling range)
CREW: 2-4 generator-gnomes plus 2-4 winch-gnomes
DAMAGE/ATTACK: 1d4x10 hp) see "Operation") or 1d4 hull points;
triple damage in phlogiston
ATTACKS/ROUND: See text
CRITICAL HIT: None, but Spelljammer Shock results if helm can be
LIABILITY/ATTACK: Roll 1d20: 1-12 fuctions normally; 13-15,
discharge insufficient to cause damage (may still blind); 16-17,
flywheel sticks (takes 1d4 rounds to free); 18-19, spark on flywheel
sets fire to wool; 20, reverse arc hits own vessel
DORI'S BUZZ BOMB
Dorivartaramiarlis's new rotating dual-discs with serrated edges and
integral mutually opposing gear-sets
PRINCIPLE: Though not a popular weapon, Dori's invention is unique
in that there is a working version, albeit somewhat streamlined from
the original gnomish version. The idea was to create a pair of
spinning metal discs with serrated edges capable of sawing through
masts or hulls. This objective has not been met with any degree of
success yet. However, some enterprising giff who were fed up with
the constant search for more smokepowder saw that with a minimal
amount of alteration, the weapon might be effective. The launcher
was suitable as it stood, once 20 or so cog-wheels were removed and
the irritating little bells had been disposed of. Dori's buzz-bombs
were replaced by discs of ceramic material, sharpened around the
edges and cut with four exaggerated teeth. The result is a
machine-propelled discus (like an Oriental throwing star) that
rotates at high speed, cutting a path through rigging, cover nets,
and opponents until it hits an unmovable object like a mast or the
hull. At this point, the dusc shatters into four sharp fragments
that inflict further mayhem in the vicinity. The disc gets an attack
roll for all targets in a staight path 2' wide. Upon fragmentation,
the disc becomes four sharp missiles that inflict 1-4 hp each if
thay encounter a target within 10'. Targets may be selected using
the Player's Handbook (PH) rulings of firing into melee (page 99).
OPERATION: The launcher works in much the same way as ballistae
and catapults, being basically a spring arm to which tension is
applied. The crew of such conventional weapons would have no trouble
operating this one. The disc is best fired across any exposed decks
on the enemy vessel, particularly near cover-nets and rigging.
PROBLEMS: As noted, the gnomish version simply doesn't work yet;
the launcher is perfected, but Dori's buzz-bombs are sadly lacking.
The blades spin well in the air but stick in the first solid
obstacle they meet rather than sawing on through. These misslies can
be used to the same effect as the giff version, but they do not
explode on impact (except sometimes on the launcher). The giff
version works well, but the weapon has not gained widespread use
because ballistae and catapults deliver more harm to an opponent.
COST: 700 gp for laucher, 1 gp for ceramic disc, 10 gp for Dori's
RANGE: 3 hexes
CREW: 2 gnomes
DAMAGE/ATTACK: Disc delivers 1-8 hp to each target, fragments
deliver 1-4 hp each
THAC0: 15 (-6 attack rolls if trying for specific targets)
CRITICAL HIT: None
LIABILITY/ATTACK: When using the buzz-bomb only, there is a 50%
chance it explodes on the launcher, emitting 1-10 flying gear wheels
inflivting 1-2 hp each, again using the "firing into a melee" rule
found in the PH. All characters within 20' are possible targets.
KRITH'S CROSSBOW BLIZZARD
Krithilantoreximorlisuvio's multi-directional semi-sentient
bolt-launcing assembly utilizing other people's crossbows
PRINCIPLE: Fiendish in the extreme, this assembly is merely a
triggering mechanism into which standard light or heavy crossbows
may be slotted and primed. The whole device is then dropped onto an
enemy deck from above. The crossbow blizzard descends into an
upright position, thanks to its parachute, and the impact releases
the trigger, firing 4-16 crossbows simultaneously outward in radial
OPERATION: To operate it, this device is simply fitted with all
the crossbows the operators can get their hands on, loaded one at a
time, and carefully dropped over a target. To work effectively, the
device has to be dropped from fairly high in the enemy's air
envelope to a deck. It can also be dropped from a ship passing
through the upper envelope of a heavier ship, or dropped from a
vessel above a celestial body (a ground assault in other words). It
can also be left in another ship's path as a mine.
PROBLEMS: The mechanism's key point is the spring that separates
the outer cylinder from the central column. The play in this spring
makes all the difference to the blizzard's operation and must be
just right. Too weak, and the device is likely to go off during
loading, releasing all the crossbows primed so far. Too strong, and
the device will never trigger; if it lands on an enemy deck, then
your enemy has just been gifter with up to 16 loaded crossbows to be
used against you.
This weapon would normally be used when it is fairly certain to be
retrieved later, or as a last resort. Typical examples carry 9-16
crossbows at varying heights and angles. The basic device has
numerous cradles into which individual crossbows fit.
Dungoen Masters who enjoy making their players nervous wrecks
might like to have the loader make a Dexterity check for each
crossbow. If he fails, the device goes off.
Naturally, there is a popular giff version that features
arquebuses instead of crossbows. Only giff would go near one.
COST: 150 gp, but requires crossbows
RANGE: As per individual crossbows.
CREW: Requires 4-7 gnomes to launch "safely"
DAMAGE/ATTACK: As per individual quarrels
ATTACKS/ROUND: 9-16 (as per number of crossbows); assume 1-2
attacks per victim in vicinity
THAC0: 20 (for each bolt aimed in direction of target)
RELOADING TIME: 1 crossbow per round per gnome
CRITICAL HIT: None
LIABILITY/ATTACK: Roll 1d20: 1-3 device goes off during launch;
4-17, normal operation; 18-20, device never goes off - enemy reaps
crossbows galore! In addition, each bow has a 30% chance of jamming.
To judge hits, the DM should gauge the local situation and use the
"firing into a melee" rules on page 99 of the PH.
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