Fantasy weapons (and fire!)

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Fantasy weapons (and fire!)

Postby Conina on Mon Apr 03, 2006 9:04 pm

The book thread got me thinking about certain weapons common to many fantasy worlds (specifically the person talking about WWII with dragons got me thinking about it).

How many fantasy worlds out there have some version of this stuff (often used in seige situations): A flammable substance that burns on anything, even oil. It sticks to anything it hits and cannot be put out except possibly with urine. The basic ingredients generally include pitch and some sort of 'stuff' brewed out of beer (or the stuff left over from the beer brewing process). It tends to get flung from catapaults (unless it's in barrels don't ask me how this works), although I've come across it being pumped and squirted once or twice.

Lynn Flewelling calls it 'Benshal Fire'.

Raymond E. Feist calls it 'Quegan Fire' (I think. I've also got the word 'oil' suggesting itself - so maybe Quegan Fire Oil? Or maybe I'm confusing two things). It also wouldn't surprise me if he has a similar substance on Kelewan.

J.V. Jones has some version of it in her Book of Words trilogy, but I can't for the life of me find the conversation in which it gets mentioned, so I'm not sure what it's called (I can recall the rest of the conversation perfectly).

And I know I've come across it in other books as well.

If anyone has the correct names for the ones I can't remember, and/or any other names for this stuff feel free to discuss. Likewise if you know the original substance it's based off, there's gotta be one, it's so common.
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Postby Cardinal on Mon Apr 03, 2006 9:33 pm

I think that the substance being referred to may in fact be napalm. The entry at wikipediea seems to fit the description. Anybody know if I'm right? 8)
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Postby Conina on Mon Apr 03, 2006 10:21 pm

Huh. I never really looked into napalm before - I always just associated it with explosives of some description. Sounds kinda similar - as does that 'Greek fire' that's linked to it. Hmmm.....
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Postby Lomgren on Mon Apr 03, 2006 11:38 pm

It's probably Greek Fire, as napalm is more modern.
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Postby ravenb on Tue Apr 04, 2006 4:27 am

<nods> Greek Fire is one of the great mysteries of the historical world. It was used by the Byzantine Empire against Turks and other invaders beginning in about A.D. 673, and by all accounts it was unspeakably deadly in ship-to-ship combat. (The idea of something that can catch fire and not be put out with water is, obviously, rather terrifying for people in wooden ships.)

Nobody knows exactly what Greek Fire was or how to make it, but it's thought to have been similar to napalm. The Greeks used a projector of some kind to fire it at enemy ships; some people think this was a glorified squirt gun, powered by bellows, but others have made a good case that it was actually propelled by steam from a boiler (c.f. The Ancient Engineers by L. Sprague De Camp). If so, it would mean that the Greeks were astonishingly close to inventing the steam engine in the Middle Ages -- about a thousand years before the device was put to widespread use. :o (Which actually makes it the second time in history that this opportunity was missed. Hero of Alexandria invented a steam engine, too, but only for use as a toy... :roll:)

George R. R. Martin put an interesting twist on Greek Fire in A Song of Ice and Fire. His "wildfire" is an invention of a half-mad order of alchemists, and leaps from ship to ship as if it were somehow alive. It's something that's part chemistry and part magic -- and like nearly all magic in the series, there's something unspeakably wrong about it, as if the wildfire were channeling some spirit from hell every time it's used. (That's my interpretation, not Martin's, but it would fit well with the supernatural horror of the setting.)
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Postby Raging Mouse on Fri Apr 07, 2006 2:48 pm

As an additional note to greek fire, some legends have it that water actually made it burn more. This could suggest it had sodium as an active component.

Also, Hero's steam engine was called the Aeolipile.
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Postby Eupho Guy Steve on Sun Apr 23, 2006 8:44 am

As an avid Raymond E Feist reader, I can confirm that it is Quegan Fire Oil. From the descriptions in his books, it sounds like really nasty stuff; highly explosive, floats on water and can only be extiguished by sand (or something like that). I also remeber references to naptha, or something like that.

In The Redemption of Althalus (I'm sorry if i botched the spelling) there is reference to a weaon which was basically a spear with a ceramic pot with volitile liquid in it with a burning rag half way down the shaft of the spear. I haven't read that section for a while (I'm re-reading it, but im not up to that part yet), but i think that the pots broke in mid air and the liquid was ignited by the burning rag, causing havoc amongst the enemy ranks.
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Postby Conina on Mon Apr 24, 2006 3:52 am

Eupho Guy Steve wrote:As an avid Raymond E Feist reader, I can confirm that it is Quegan Fire Oil. From the descriptions in his books, it sounds like really nasty stuff; highly explosive, floats on water and can only be extiguished by sand (or something like that). I also remeber references to naptha, or something like that.

Ah, thanks for that. Glad I remembered it correctly.

Eupho Guy Steve also wrote: In The Redemption of Althalus (I'm sorry if i botched the spelling) there is reference to a weaon which was basically a spear with a ceramic pot with volitile liquid in it with a burning rag half way down the shaft of the spear. I haven't read that section for a while (I'm re-reading it, but im not up to that part yet), but i think that the pots broke in mid air and the liquid was ignited by the burning rag, causing havoc amongst the enemy ranks.

Ah-ha! I knew I had another example on my bookshelf somewhere. I think the pots just broke on impact and the burning rags ignited the stuff as it splashed out. I'd completely forgotten that bit. Funny thing is I was just thinking the other day that I should re-read 'The redemption of Althalus' (don't worry, you spelled it right), but what I really should be reading is stuff for work. :grumble: (shouldn't really grumble though, I wanted this job)
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Postby Conina on Wed Apr 26, 2006 12:03 am

I looked it up. In 'The Redemption of Althalus' a mixture of naphtha, lamp-oil and melted lard is used to give that added extra to burning wool (or maybe just to make it burn in the first place), then a bit later a mixture of pitch, naphtha, sulphur and 'something the brewers boil out of strong beer' is used in the spear things.

I also looked up the reference in 'The book of Words' trilogy - turns out it's called Isro flame, but it doesn't say what it's made of, just that it burns 'everything it touches' including stone, leather and iron, as well as on water. And it can be extinguished with urine (and it isn't as bad as having a dead rabbit thrown at you).
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Postby Axel on Thu Sep 07, 2006 1:21 pm

Sounds like a firebomb attatched to a spear.

Many fantasy authors often like to use Greek Fire (which they ususally refer to by minor derivation of the name, like Alchemist's Fire) because it was present around the same time period that they are borrowing the rest of their technology from, and because it's somewhat mysterious. It also allows for some degree of freedom, because since no one knows quite what Greek Fire actually was, it's exact behaviour is unknown.
And it's not nearly as bad as some of the physically impossible weapons that appear in some fantasy.
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Postby Eupho Guy Steve on Wed Jan 03, 2007 6:38 am

Axel wrote:Sounds like a firebomb attatched to a spear.


Yeah, that was the basic idea and as i recall, it didn't do the troops much good that were caught in the conflagration (i think it was used to halt the opposition siege equipment, but i could be wrong, I'll get back to you on that)
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