In a fantasy world I'm developing the kingdom of Andalus is seeking a more potent propellant for a grand bombard planned by the sanguine king.

The size and composition of the bombard is saved for a later question, but it and the cannon ball itself would be so huge gunpowder isn't potent enough or would need insane amounts of gunpowder to even fire the thing.

The Sanguine king has tasked his finest alchemists to find or create a more potent propellant for his Grand Bombard. While the world itself is fantasy I'd prefer this be a real substance. This propellant has to be able to be made, contained, and transported with 16th-17th century technology.

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    $\begingroup$ The weight of ordinary black powder you would need would be a mere fraction of the weight of the projectile. I would worry more about the metallurgy to build a barrel that can fire a huge ball without blowing up. Actually, the point of brown powder was to slow down the burn rate; you don't want the propellant to be too potent. $\endgroup$ – David K Oct 6 '18 at 14:31
  • $\begingroup$ I plan to ask a question about the gun itself soon $\endgroup$ – Celestial Dragon Emperor Oct 6 '18 at 15:08
  • $\begingroup$ Many powerful propellants can be discovered by random experimentation (that's how, for example, nitrocellulose was discovered. However, the Sanguine king needs a ready supply of spare alchemists and laboratories because that experimentation will have a lot of casualties. And most of the discoveries will be too unstable for practical use. $\endgroup$ – user535733 Oct 7 '18 at 0:12


Guncotton or nitrocellulose is an explosive preparation discovered originally in the mid 19th century. However, it's ingredients, nitric acid, sulfuric acid, and cotton have been around much longer so it is conceivable it could have been discovered in the 17th century. It is produced simply by submerging cotton in a mixture of sulfuric acid and nitric acid. The result is a dangerous and extremely potent explosive. Guncotton as a propellant is about 6 times more powerful than black powder by volume. Guncotton saw some use in military weapons but its immense power also resulted in greater wear on cannons and made it unsuitable for small arms. If improperly prepared or stored it can spontaneously ignite and explode so great care will need to be taken in every stage of its use. Guncotton was the propellant of choice for Jules Verne's enormous fictional cannon which would fire a man to the moon in "From the Earth to the Moon".

  • $\begingroup$ Hehehe now make massive bombards. Thanks for the answer! $\endgroup$ – Celestial Dragon Emperor Oct 6 '18 at 13:40

Better gun-powder.

While this doesn't technically answer your question, it is worth noting that gunpowder is not just one thing. Historically, it's construction and quality has varied as much as any other important material.

Indeed simply corning or pelleting gun-powder if this was not done before could greatly increase yields of gunpowder and make it suitable the sanguine king.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brown_powder this was actually used in cannons for this purpose, while not made until the nineteenth century it is totally doable with 16-17th century technology

For story reasons there's no reason the people in your world need call this "gun powder" indeed they might find it helpful to distinguish between this "new powder" or "Andalus powder."

All that being said I'd still go with Nichols's gun-cotton option.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for your answer! I'm looking into brown powder as we speak $\endgroup$ – Celestial Dragon Emperor Oct 6 '18 at 13:41
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    $\begingroup$ I particularly like the concept of ‘Mammoth’ powder. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Oct 6 '18 at 20:35

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