You cannae change the laws of alchemy!

by mshrm

I was flipping through GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 9: Summoners the other day, and ran across the section on sound elementals. They’re not all that traditional, but I love ’em. One of the variants is the Echo. In the original myth, Echo was a nymph known for talking who ended up cursed to only be able to repeat the last few words she heard. (Never irritate an ancient Greek deity. They all have, at the same time, both too much and too little of a sense of humor.) In the world of Dungeon Fantasy, when Alric amuses himself by yelling in the mountains to hear his own voice come back to him, what he hears isn’t the sound waves of his voice reflected back to him:  it’s a living creature that exists to mock others with their own words.

The world of Dungeon Fantasy is not our world. It does not work on science. Things that seem to logically follow, sometimes… don’t.

For example:  Once upon a time, long ago, during the dark ages between giving up 3rd edition GURPS and picking up 4th, I ran a 3rd Edition D&D game. (Wow, that was a pretty edition, wasn’t it?) That was the campaign where one of the heroes walked off the farm, and within two weeks, game time, had earned ten levels of whup-ass and become a recognized master of the (no kidding) War Scythe. You want to talk dungeon-punk…

… but anyway. As I recall, that edition had backed off from the “guns in the dungeon” feel that had previously taken root, but it still had a lot of the “modern life with medieval trappings” vibe. There were several alchemical gizmos in the Player’s Handbook that were stand-ins for other things, like fireworks and matches. The faux-matches were called “tindertwigs”, for instance.

Now, the thing is, the writers of the PH seem to have gone to some lengths to avoid handing the PCs gunpowder. There was an alchemical gizmo to create smoke, and another to make a loud “bang”, and yet another to set fire to stuff… but there wasn’t anything that outright exploded. This vexed my players of that time. I believe they had visions of setting up an enchanted drone to fly into a dragon’s cave under remote magical control and explode or some such. (Well. More likely, they would have skipped the expensive magic and just rolled a barrel marked “TNT” up to the cave like something out of a Road Runner cartoon.) So, they came up with a plan.

Their idea was, they would buy thousands of these tindertwigs, and… Well, have you ever made a match rocket? Their creation was something like that, but on a larger scale. The key piece was a fused barrel filled to capacity with the alchemically-treated business ends of all those tindertwigs. The vision was that it would explode like a bomb. I told ’em it wouldn’t work. They protested; it was just like putting a bunch of firecrackers together to make a big firecracker, they said. I denied it, claiming that having that much alchemical-burny-stuff crammed together would just cause the whole thing to fizzle and smolder, with the stuff on the outside smothering the stuff on the inside. Because tindertwigs aren’t matches, and alchemy isn’t chemistry, and in a world of magic and dungeons, the laws of science have to go ’round to the back door, hat in hand, to beg for scraps.

The world of DF is a world where the Rule of Cool will trump physics every time. One where the haunted house really does have a ghost, every lonely mountain footbridge has its troll, and echoes are caused by elementals.

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