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Okay, so, how does magic work? Magic, at the end of the day, is a swarm of tiny machines (hardly visible to the naked eye, but still within the 10-100 micrometer range) that carry out a task.

Individual machines have tiny manipulators with a "hand" that they can use to lock together and share info and energy. They create larger, temporary structures to help them move across the air. Power source is usually wireless energy transfer (broadcast or narrowcast with relays) and they can cover some distance on battery power.

Usually, they either carry some kind of a substance (that could be actual nanomachines) or are they themselves are doing the "magic" like pure-carbon bots immolating themselves and creating an explosion.

Now, given this magic, I'm trying to come up with a spell that can brick any firearm and even smaller anti-aircraft guns, brick as in render unusable for the longest possible time.

The spell should consume little resources, act quickly and should be very hard to counter, even by other bot swarms.

How could such spell work?

Note: I found this question, it could maybe help:

https://www.quora.com/What-parts-of-an-assault-rifle-are-most-commonly-replaced-on-say-a-M4-or-FAL

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  • $\begingroup$ We need to draw a fine line here. Do you want to block any firearms, including flintlock ones? Do you want to block missiles? Do you want to block explosives, all of them? $\endgroup$ – Alexander Dec 23 '19 at 19:52
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    $\begingroup$ @james Even in 1500 that wouldn't work. Black powder has its own oxidizer, and the sparks from a flint don't depend entirely on combustion to ignite the self-oxidizing priming powder. $\endgroup$ – Zeiss Ikon Dec 23 '19 at 20:12
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    $\begingroup$ This is the magic system of the Japanese Novel "I said make my abilities average!" by FUNA-sensei. $\endgroup$ – Mindwin Dec 24 '19 at 13:15
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    $\begingroup$ @Mindwin Can you explain it? $\endgroup$ – Mephistopheles Dec 24 '19 at 22:10
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    $\begingroup$ @James Even black powder contained it's own oxidizer, though it wasn't as efficient as modern explosives. Basically, there isn't enough time for air to brought in for the explosion. $\endgroup$ – NomadMaker Dec 26 '19 at 5:14

12 Answers 12

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With most firearms, the simplest, quickest way to "brick" the piece (without killing or maiming anyone, including the users) is to weld moving parts together so they become non-moving parts. The cylinder in a revolver can't rotate, the firing pin and slide in a semi-auto won't move on their rails or in their passage. The ammunition would be unsafe to attempt to fire after this treatment (bullets soldered or their jackets welded into the cartridge case), even in unaffected weapons. Microwelding requires little energy, and most firearms have enough petroleum present (in the form of gun oil) to provide all that's needed. In the absence of oil to combust for energy, the metal itself can be combined with oxygen -- rust can "weld" parts together quite effectively if they're close to begin with.

This could be a natural outgrowth of spells from the pre-gunpowder days, if magic existed then; welding the plates or rings together would render armor rigid enough to either immobilize or rapidly fatigue a wearer, a sword blade would be locked into its sheath (if only at the insertion point where a metal plate guides the blade), a crossbow trigger (if made of metal) would become impossible to release. Longbows and other manually drawn and released bows would be the only ranged weapons unaffected, and soldiers would be reduced to non-metallic armor (leather and padding).

Once guns become common and modern, this process would work better for less energy, because less welding is needed to "brick" a rifle than to immobilize a knight.

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    $\begingroup$ Exactly what I was thinking a quick flash of energy between two bits of metal with the bot also acting as some extra filler metal will quickly make all the moving parts stuck, the extra deposition of metal would require things to be machined to tolerance to work again $\endgroup$ – Culyx Dec 23 '19 at 20:16
  • $\begingroup$ So, nuke the inside of the gun? $\endgroup$ – Mephistopheles Dec 23 '19 at 20:18
  • $\begingroup$ @Culyx Put a few of those on the firing pin, a few more on the cylinder pin or slide rails, lock up the sear parts for good measure, and just disassembling the piece will be a major job. From a military standpoint, it's easier and cheaper to replace than repair. $\endgroup$ – Zeiss Ikon Dec 23 '19 at 20:22
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    $\begingroup$ Success of this method depends on how permeating are these "magical manipulators". If they are not everywhere, common practice would be "Do not assemble your gun before use". $\endgroup$ – Alexander Dec 23 '19 at 20:43
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    $\begingroup$ @Alexander even if the gun is fully disassembled, adding a small bump on the inside of a machined hole turns the gun into "some assembly required" to "Even if you manage to ram it in, there's a good chance it blows up when you attempt to fire from it" $\endgroup$ – John Dvorak Dec 24 '19 at 12:53
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The simplest and most universal mechanism in firearms is the hammer/firing pin. Even old flintlock rifles had hammers that would ignite the powder. Many modern firearms have internal hammers, but they are still key components.

Prevent the hammer from striking the firing pin and you have effectively rendered the firearm useless. This could be done in any number of ways or combine several methods to ensure total failure. The hammer and/or firing pin could be seized either by wedging material around the components or welding, the firing pin could be filed down so that it's too short to be struck, or a padding layer could block the hammer from hitting the firing pin. If the hammer lacks sufficient speed, it will fail to initiate the explosive reaction, so simply slowing the hammer could be sufficient to disable the firearms.

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Firearms are extremely useful because you can store munitions in bulk and quickly reload them. If your nano-bot swarm can work their way into a magazine and trigger munitions to detonate, then you are effectively preventing the weapons from being useful and doing collateral damage at the same time.

Carrying a large stockpile of munitions would become risky to everyone around you. Any measure to prevent nano-bots from accessing your munitions would make the weapons less efficient to fire and reload as well. Damaging the actual hardened weapons themselves will be much more difficult, considering they are made to contain explosions.

Cut off the ammo supply, or render it too risky and unpredictable to wield the weapons, and your magic will effectively "brick" firearms.

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  • $\begingroup$ Only a part of the gun is made to contain the explosion. Google up images for "out of battery detonation" and you'll see the mess they can make. $\endgroup$ – Loren Pechtel Dec 25 '19 at 2:46
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Destroy all low explosives

Low explosives (the ones detonating with speed below the speed of sound) is a family of explosives virtually irreplaceable in gun firing. Both black gunpowder and modern smokeless powder belong to it. Faster exploding "high explosives" are useless as propellants, because they would simply destroy the gun chamber rather that produce sustained thrust. Liquid propellants (typically used in rocketry) are not explosives because they require external oxidizer.

Thus, if we can eliminate low explosives, we eliminate all firearms by definition. At the same time, high explosives, used in mining and construction, would be unaffected. Also, rockets (the ones using liquid propellants) would still fly.

Depending on how permeating and quick "magical manipulators" are, people might be able to trick them by preparing gunpowder right before use.

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    $\begingroup$ There has been a rocket gun in the past - the bullets were actually mini-rockets, and for this answer it would end with more advancement on those. Watched a video on Gyrojet Rocket Guns recently - youtu.be/cJAXpyt8-oQ $\endgroup$ – Rycochet Dec 24 '19 at 19:34
  • $\begingroup$ @Rycochet note that Gyroget (and virtually all other practical rocket guns) used solid fuel (low explosive). $\endgroup$ – Alexander Dec 25 '19 at 0:34
  • $\begingroup$ @Alexander No--it's not a low explosive. Rocket motors burn, they do not detonate. (Or at least they're not supposed to. Look up Mythbusters #90, the revisit of the JATO car myth, one did, blew things up pretty badly.) $\endgroup$ – Loren Pechtel Dec 25 '19 at 2:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Loren Pechtel burning, typically, require external oxidizer. Solid rocket fuel does not require it, it deflagrates. This process is exactly the same as detonation, only slow. I did not watch Mythbusters #90, but JATO car myth seems to have nothing to do with explosives. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Dec 25 '19 at 4:10
  • $\begingroup$ @Alexander Yeah, it has an internal oxidizer but it's a burn. Look at the shuttle--those boosters burned for minutes. I'm saying that in episode 90 a rocket went wrong and it went boom. Instead of tossing the car it was destroyed. $\endgroup$ – Loren Pechtel Dec 25 '19 at 5:34
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Move the aiming mechanism.

Nanites (or just one nanite) take up residence in the sights. They move the sights slightly. The gun becomes inaccurate. It fires fine but it is just about impossible to hit anything. Multiple misses and castigations later the gunnery sergeant checks and realizes the sight is off. He recalibrates the sight.

Twenty minutes later the sight is off again. Gunny comes back and recalibrates. The nanites shift the lenses internally, little by little. The gun is again inaccurate. Gunny removes the sight and brings a good one from a different gun. The nanites reside in the gun in between their hijinks and move into the new sight. They shift it slightly.

The gun gets a reputation as a cursed gun. It is a cursed gun.

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    $\begingroup$ This will make targeted fire more or less useless, but not gunfire in general. Machine guns, particularly those using tracer ammunition, and old western style "shooting from the hip" would be as much practical as today. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Dec 23 '19 at 21:06
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    $\begingroup$ Then came ironsights. $\endgroup$ – Mephistopheles Dec 23 '19 at 21:06
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    $\begingroup$ You could write a whole chapter around the nanites fooling with the aiming mechanism, moving it back and forth and the consequent interactions / dialogue between the enlisted men. $\endgroup$ – Willk Dec 23 '19 at 22:17
  • $\begingroup$ What it does is it shortens the effective firing range for single, aimed shots. It would make it impossible to hit a single target with a rifle at 200 yards, but the effectiveness of (for example) 17th century volley fire tactics would not be changed at all. Furthermore, all the really horrible applications of gunpowder in warfare - machine guns and mass artillery - would still be horrible and quite effective even if they become very unaccurate; the inaccuracy would make them less effective and attackers would have to use different tactics to compensate, but they would still get used. $\endgroup$ – Peteris Dec 26 '19 at 19:52
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How a Low Lvl Caster would do it:

Instead of summoning forth large amounts of power to weld/cut the metal parts inside the gun, you could simply fly your nanobots into the gun's moving parts and jam it up with the nanobots. A little too much grit inside a gun will prevent it from firing; so, it stands to reason that your nanobots can jam up a gun through no more effort than just being there. This would save TONS of "mana" when it comes to casting your spell.

Sadly, this is not nearly as permanent as welding, but if you remember to bring the right reagents with you, you can brick a gun by having your nanobots carry a fraction of a milliliter of Instantbond epoxy into the gun and mixing into the firing pin. A few seconds later, and the gun is just as fused and useless as if you welded it using intense heat.

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If we are talking about firearms, the best way I can imagine is obstructing the barrel. This should cause the firearm to explode on impact. This can be done by e.g. forming bumps, holes or membranes inside the barrel.

For missile weapons, the best way would be to damage fuel canals.

Either way, you should teach your magic helpers to find something resembling a tube and mess with its tubularity.

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    $\begingroup$ Completely blocking a barrel with nano-sized bots will be really difficult and require a ton of them. Bullets are pretty good at smashing through stuff, so even with some obstructions in the barrel, chances are your projectiles are still flying out the business end of it fast enough to do damage. It would be easier to try and lock up the firing and reloading mechanisms than stopping the bullets. $\endgroup$ – abestrange Dec 23 '19 at 20:04
  • $\begingroup$ How about fcking up the rifling? $\endgroup$ – Mephistopheles Dec 23 '19 at 20:09
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    $\begingroup$ @Mephistopheles, Messing with the rifling will make the bullet lose accuracy, but that bullet is still coming out, and is heading towards your troops. It might be the difference between a bullet that hits center mass or hits an arm... but so too does the wind affect accuracy. $\endgroup$ – Ghedipunk Dec 23 '19 at 20:11
  • $\begingroup$ @Ghedipunk Unstable bullets bleed speed more rapidly, thus loosing their effectiveness. $\endgroup$ – Mephistopheles Dec 23 '19 at 20:17
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    $\begingroup$ If your nanobots can manipulate the materials to that extent, then the other answer of locking up firing mechanisms would be a much better way to go. Stop the bullet from firing rather than try to stop the bullet. $\endgroup$ – abestrange Dec 24 '19 at 19:10
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Most answers here reference doing naughty things to the moving parts and/or firing pin (I particularly like the answer referencing welding, although firearms are designed to get incredibly hot by their very nature so temperatures would have to be extreme). While this is a good idea, when modern assault weapons are assembled the parts fit snugly together and modern bolts are machined this way - this becomes a question of size of the nano bots.

Also if the weapon is firing, the heat and gas expulsions might mess with your swarm should they try to get inside the weapon housing. My "dirty" recommendation would be a quick explosive strike against the weapons cocking handle. Usually the first shot needs to have the bolt moved into the rear position and then forward by hand to prepare the bolt and load the road from the magazine (subsequent "cocks" are applied by gas expulsions of the previous shot). The weapon would then have to be taken apart right then and there on the battlefield and a new cocking hand inserted before being able to reload/recock the weapon. Also the chances of a soldier just happening to have a spare cocking handle in their pocket is almost certainly 0.

Other answers have given good advice and this answer won't permanently brick a weapon, this is just my own kneejerk based on my experience with modern assault weapons. Spent many hours spent looking for lost cocking handles for now-useless weapons.

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  • $\begingroup$ With respect to welding, remember we're dealing with nanomachines here. One of the reasons guns can tolerate the high heat is because they're made of metal, and metal conducts heat away very well. When you have an explosion the size of the chamber, that energy is distributed over the entire surface area of everything in the chamber -- if these nanomachines repeatedly and rapidly self-immolated in the exact same spot, they could theoretically overcome the thermal conductivity of the metal and effectively spot-weld bits (also contributing their remaining mass as welding material). $\endgroup$ – Doktor J Dec 26 '19 at 21:58
  • $\begingroup$ The surface area of the chamber is at least several square inches, whereas these nanomachines are ostensibly invisible to the naked eye, meaning they could theoretically apply all their heat to an area measured in square micrometers. Even if it doesn't fully weld pieces together, if they weld their own remains to moving parts in an area with tight tolerances, they could gum up the works. $\endgroup$ – Doktor J Dec 26 '19 at 22:00
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Create water in a volume that includes the firearm's powder. While modern cartridges will fire underwater, they won't if water gets inside the powder. Bonus: the gun's not destroyed, so after you win the fight, your side gets to use them.

NOTE: Does not apply if you're facing wizard's powder from the Guardian of the Flame universe.

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Simply have each 'nanite' bore holes in the barrel...eventually it fails...and probably pretty quickly if it is in heavy use.

Nice to send very small robots to destroy all metal in a defined area...say goodby to many other things as well.

...maybe have the micro-bots cling to/deform the bullets during flight and change their trajectories to impact their friends?

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Eat the springs

Most modern firearms involve springs in some form or other, for loading, emptying, and/or firing. Springs are thin pieces of metal (whether leaf springs, coil springs, or what have you). A concentrated collection of nanomachines directed to corrode the springs could eat through them in short order, or at least eat enough so that the first shot or two from the gun would break the spring.

There are several means to achieve this:

  1. Using your self-immolation technique to effectively melt the spring (or in the case of a leaf spring or the like, at least melt holes in it)
  2. Carrying or synthesizing corrosive chemicals to a concentrated point(s) to make the metal rust (even stainless steel will rust when subjected to acids and some oxidizers).
  3. Mechanically cutting chunks out of the metal (since these are nanomachines, each one can probably only take a nano-handful of molecules at once) -- BONUS: leave the metal "dust" in the works, so it gums things up!
  4. Combine 3 and 1; nanomachines cut pieces out of one area, then self-immolate in another while "holding" the metal, welding the metal bits and their own remains into places they're not supposed to be. Ideally, weld them to a different part, so multiple parts have to be replaced to repair the gun!
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Jam it.

It works for dirt all the time. A simple build up inside the firing mechanism will stop any gun from working.

You don't need to do anything tricky.

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