Sails & Sabres
History of the Hail Thunder
Alchemists have been tinkering with volatile chemicals for decades, if not centuries, but it wasn’t until just prior to the Battle of Red Sand that a beninite mystic began selling snapsand in the warrens of the Sandmaze encircling the border city of Sandwatch.
Chances are the stuff had been a well kept secret in Benin for some time before it found its way east, but it wasn’t adopted as a weapon for nearly eight years. The details are unsubstantiated; according to legend a hawker was thrusting trinkets upon travelers in Sandwatch's Crimson Quarter market square when he accidentally detonated a small keg of snapsand. The merchant’s gruesome demise foreshadowed what it would inspire.
A silver teapot was blown over a block away, smashing against a smithy’s forge with enough force to flatten one side. That smithy was a dwarven Forgemaster named Onyxbeard, hailing from the nearby Clanhold Firesnout in the Algranors’ western arm. Already a clansman of repute for his role aiding the Grudge Prophet in preventing the Great Enemy Tazgin'Ra from returning to Henal years before, Onyxbeard would become famous in his own right. After a four-month sabbatical in the depths of a nearby mountain, during which he supposedly undertook a sacred dwarven ritual known only to the off-shoot priesthood of the Forgemasters, he returned to his hold bearing a strange work of metal craft he dubbed Hail Thunder, or Con’Oan in the dwarven tongue.
He was so confident in his creation Onyxbeard gathered his entire clanhold for a demonstration. On the side of Wyrmpeak above Firesnout Hold’s northern gate, the Age of Snapsand was born bellowing into the world. The dwarven clans quickly recognized this brilliant siege engine for what it was, and began crafting them from the finest dwarven Fireforge Steel, a particular specialty of Onyxbeards that many credit for his amazing success.
It took nearly twenty more years for a non-dwarf to see a Con’Oan in action. A half-elven poet on a wilderness trip stumbled upon a fierce battle between a dwarven clanhold and a tribe of stone giants. He’d been drawn by the sounds of thunder on a cloudless day and immediately assumed the thunder came from the towering creatures thrown stones. Upon seeing the clouds of snapsand smoke rising from the clansmen’s position, however, the began to realize this was something all together new. After seeing the dwarven siege engineers send the stone giants fleeing in abject terror, chieftain in two pieces and most them with shattered limbs or worse, Barnibus Shalnaghey couldn’t help but write several pieces about it.
Within a year, human smiths were killing themselves trying to replicate the ingenious weapons. So distressing was the fallout that the Duke of Besmus was forced to intervene with a decree banning the possession of snapsand in his territory.
The stories spread to Port of Isles quickly thanks to the Tradeways and the ever pragmatic Duke of Isles offered a mountain of gold and exclusive trade contracts to several dwarven ambassadors from different various regions. His cunning exploitation of dwarven ideological tensions worked brilliantly, and the Duke had a taker in less than a year, truly amazing to anyone who knows anything about negotiating with dwarves. The dwarf that finally sold a small bombard to the Duke is unknown to history, exiled and stricken from all records as a traitor to the clans. He (or she) not only sold the device, but instructed to Duke on its proper operation.
The Duke, against a huge amount of pushback from his court wizards and the Heironite Order, immediately commissioned a dozen of the light “Cannon” for harbor defenses. It took his smiths two years to complete and successfully fire the first one. The project was fraught with sabotage from alchemists, arcanists, and peace advocates that saw these volatile weapons as a clear and present danger to the world; not to mention their own livelihoods and beliefs. These many attempts to prevent the proliferation of cannon, as they had come to be known in Kent, were doomed from the outset.
The King’s Army and Sapphire Guard were the first to seize an opportunity at high-powered defenses that the infantry soldier could employ, given a bit of training. The growing concerns about foreign powers following the events leading to Ezrepellian’s independence made it all the more poignant a reminder that powerful mages often follow their own agendas. If Kardam couldn’t depend on its most loyal allies the elves, could the leaders of Osil always trust their own mage councils to obey orders or assist the military when necessary?
Over the last twenty years, cannon have become widespread, but remain prohibitively expensive both to build and to operate. Those few armorers that can seafely and reliably build them charge heavily, and many alchemists are reluctant to involve themselves in the row between authorities and arcanists, even ignoring the dangers of “widow’s dust”, as snapsand has been dubbed among the alchemists of Osil.
Ezrepellian was another early adopter, not surprising given the threats to their security. They were also not far behind the dwarves in placing cannon aboard sea-faring vessels. Despite their best efforts, however, human craftsmen simply cannot match the quality of dwarven-made Con’Oan. Many believe this is due to the inability of most human smiths to create and properly work Fireforge steel. To counteract this problem, and deal with the issue of expense, many resort to using cast iron for the weapons. This makes them far heavier and more difficult to maintain then true Con’Oan, but allows them to be manufactured in greater numbers than would otherwise be possible in the human kingdoms.
A select group of risk-takers have even developed a new, easily-carried “Shoulder Cannon” firing small pellets at shorter range, often to devastating, if inconsistent, results. This is still extremely dangerous and expensive, and these “boom-pipers” are seen as reckless eccentrics at best by most people they encounter. They make particularly quick enemies of wizards and sorcerors, which makes theirs an even more dangerous and lonely path to walk.
While most misread the mages’ hate for snapsand as simple jealously or fear, and these are certainly a part of the equation, the two paradigms are immiscible at a very fundamental level. Experimental and anecdotal evidence has shown clearly that when arcane energy is manipulated in proximity to snapsand, it can ignite and explode. This seems to be true for most schools of magic, not just the flashy work of battlemages, and as such puts oft-delicate wizards in a very dangerous position, say aboard a tightly constrained warship armed with cannon and a full magazine. The rift has rocked the militaries of nearly every kingdom, as the long, deep-rooted bonds between generals and warcasters has been bent, and sometimes broken, by the adoption of this dangerous technology. The only groups that haven’t embraced snapsand are the southlander tribes and the elves of Endaro, both for very different reasons.
The manufacturing of snapsand was originally only done in west, from Benin and the West Beyond, but this has changed in the last fifteen years. Snapsand is valuable, very valuable, and sells for mystifying amounts of coin compared to what it used to as a novelty party favor. This drives many amateur and professional alchemists to dabble in the art of snapsand mixing. Unfortunately, the mixing of ingredients and the handling of the interemediates (and of the product) is not an endeavor for the unskilled. Many injuries and conflagrations have befallen areas where a snapsand alchemist works.
To limit the number of casualties associated with snapsand production, the King, before his death, initiated a system of licensure for alchemists who demonstrated enough skill and care to safely produce it in commercially viable quantity. A worthy master alchemist is first tested by a panel of alchemists from either the Royal Apothecary or the University of Tryna. They must also have their premise of business inspected by the sheriff of their duchy, as the Duke’s representative in law, to ensure that mishaps will not cause undo damage to the settlement in the event of disaster. Once these two conditions are met, the master alchemist receives a special signet ring which must be used to seal each container of snapsand sold. The ring stamps the letters PQA, standing for “Product of Quality in Accordance” with the royal sigil of Osil below the letters. Each cask must also have the alchemist’s brand clearly displayed, as well, to ensure they continue to obey the production standards.
Naturally, trade in snapsand lacking an official seal is illegal in Osil to discourage home-alchemists from attempting the dangerous reactions. There is a thriving blackmarket in snapsand throughout Henal, and the contraband snapsand market fuels all manner of criminal activity as well as keeping pirates supplied. As a rule, bootleg snapsand is of lower quality and less stable than “sealed” sand, and those who purchase this “open” snapsand take a dangerous gamble with their lives as there’s no good indicator of quality to the layman. The highest quality snapsand still comes from Benin.