This is an odd question, but one that has been taunting my mind for a while. I had the idea of a weapon which used a firework, or something similar to a firework, for ammunition. I'd prefer it to work and look more like a crossbow in design, but I imagine this might backfire, quite literally. So, while I'd prefer a crossbow design where you light it and then fire, any other potential design that can be carried around like you would a pistol or rifle would be fine. It should be light-weight, for carrying purposes of course, and it can't threaten the person firing, at least if used properly. It should be effective at harming the target, with easy enough aim (At least with practice). Any legality concerns should be ignored, and some suspension of disbelief and lack of perfect realism is fine. Is a weapon like this possible, and is there any complications that would prevent the criteria I wish from being met? Let me list the criteria I wish to have for ease:

  • Light-weight
  • Can be carried with ease like a pistol or rifle
  • Is accurate enough that it can be used reliably as a weapon, at least with enough practice
  • Should be effective at seriously harming the target, preferably through burns or explosion, but does not need to instantly kill the target
  • It should not be a serious threat to the person firing, at least if used properly
  • Preferably a crossbow-like design in function and/or appearance, with a 'light-and-fire' method of shooting, but it can be any other design that can be carried with ease, preferentially staying as close to a crossbow as possible while meeting other criteria
  • Must use fireworks for ammunition, or a form of ammunition that functions greatly like a firework
  • Preferably possible to make in a medieval-era world
  • Doesn't require absurd technology to make, it should be easy enough to make that not only the king and his guards have them.

Please, if this question is flawed in some form, I'd appreciate feedback so I can change it. The only other question similar to this was closed and didn't have answers that'd assist me very well. Any extra info, such as the earliest it could be developed, strategies, and potential uses, would also be appreciated, but I can ask it in other questions if needed.

Edit: It's been brought to my attention that fireworks are very unreliable in their timing, and thus wouldn't explode on impact like I so wish. In your question, you can either address this with a solution, or you can ignore it and assume that the fireworks are perfectly timed by some contrivium or handwaving means.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Fireworks fuses (and fuses in general) are not very accurate in terms of timing. Thus you shouldn't expect your projectile to detonate on impact, or anywhere close to impact. $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Dec 11 '20 at 0:38
  • $\begingroup$ @Alexander In that case, would there be a way to make it have an accurate timing so it could explode on impact? $\endgroup$
    – Jay
    Dec 11 '20 at 0:39
  • $\begingroup$ Then you need a different detonation mechanism. For example, the tip of your projectile is sensitive, and powder pouch would burst on impact, catching fire from your fuse. Too complicated, I would say, but at least matches your requirement. $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Dec 11 '20 at 0:43
  • $\begingroup$ @Alexander I appreciate your feedback, I might be able to see if there's some handwaving technology that can do that and function to my needs, hopefully without having to be modern era. $\endgroup$
    – Jay
    Dec 11 '20 at 0:45
  • $\begingroup$ Like Alexander said, fuses in general, the light and burn kind anyway, aren't very reliable. Even the mil-grade stuff is iffy. That's why they drill it into you that once the pin is pulled, Mr. Grenade is no longer your friend, and "cooking" the fuse is video game nonsense. $\endgroup$
    – Teak
    Dec 11 '20 at 0:50

There are modern weapons that also double as fireworks. First thing that comes to mind are flare guns that you would find in a boat or ship. Those are meant to catch attention from afar, but they can deal grave damage at point blank.

Then there are Dragon BreathTM shotgun rounds, because 4th of July and 'Murica.

Jingle bells, shotgun shells

And this is what firing them from a regular double click looks like:

The roof! The roof! The roof is on fire!

Push comes to shove, just pick a regular firework launcher and point. A friend of my father died when a firework rockety-thing hit him in the temple, because he shot himself by accident. I remember the tube it came out of was like 1.5m (~5 ft).

  • 6
    $\begingroup$ This is a surprisingly helpful answer, and I can't say I am surprised that Dragon Breath ammo exists. What it looks like when fired does seem to be the image I have for sure, but I won't accept your answer yet for the sake of if better answers come along and to get a wider range of feedback. $\endgroup$
    – Jay
    Dec 11 '20 at 0:54
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ There are two things I remember from the safety video I had to watch 27 or so years ago before I went on a week long sail: "if you fall overboard at night, there is little to no chance you will be rescued" and "don't shoot the flare at the rescue vehicle" $\endgroup$
    – Foon
    Dec 11 '20 at 14:52
  • $\begingroup$ @Foon Do people actually shoot flares at the rescue vehicle? $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Dec 11 '20 at 20:25
  • $\begingroup$ No idea... guessing there was at least one close call or they wouldn't have mentioned it in the safety video. I did a quick google and found "Flare guns have also been used to deal with pirates off of the Somali coast, an area that has seen an epidemic of piracy in recent years. Ships, both military and civilian cargo boats, often use flares to warn off pirates. In one incident, a Danish cargo ship fired a flare that then landed on a pirate boat, sinking it." (where pirates are kind of the exact opposite of rescue vehicles) adventure.howstuffworks.com/survival/gear/use-flare-gun.htm $\endgroup$
    – Foon
    Dec 11 '20 at 20:43
  • $\begingroup$ Also, I'm hazy, but I at least envisioned by rescue vehicles, they meant Naval Helicopters in addition to boats ... and I don't remember how we were supposed to shoot the flares (since straight up seems problematic from a what goes up must come down, but you'd want to generally point upwards to maximize visibility) $\endgroup$
    – Foon
    Dec 11 '20 at 20:52

i am not sure is this what you want but china did have gunpowder/firework like weapon

for example


enter image description here

certain type of fire lance without the pointy tip

enter image description here

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this is done even on arrow


enter image description here

enter image description here

notice the fire in the image there?

which also used by both bow and crossbow


Although the fire arrow is most commonly associated with its rocket mechanism,6 it originally consisted of a pouch of gunpowder attached to an arrow. This type of fire arrow served the function of an incendiary and was launched using a bow or crossbow.

According to the Wujing Zongyao the fire arrow was constructed and used in the following manner:

Behind the arrow head wrap up some gunpowder with two or three layers of soft paper, and bind it to the arrow shaft in a lump shaped like a pomegranate. Cover it with a piece of hemp cloth tightly tied, and sealed fast with molten pine resin. Light the fuse and then shoot it off from a bow.6 — Wujing Zongyao

Incendiary gunpowder weapons had an advantage over previous incendiaries by using their own built-in oxygen supply to create flames, and were therefore harder to put out, similar to Greek fire. However unlike Greek fire, gunpowder's physical properties are solid rather than liquid, which makes it easier to store and load.6

The rocket propelled fire arrow appeared later. By the mid 1300s rocket arrow launchers had appeared in the Ming dynasty and later on mobile rocket arrow launchers were utilized in both Korea and China. The fire arrows propelled by gunpowder may have had a range of up to 1,000 feet.6

there also this one without the arrow point and just simply a rocket

enter image description here

it can end up like shanyu in mulan cartoon

enter image description here

at least base on the description there, its easier to create fire or burn objects such as house or wooden wall or ship for example, which is quite a problem for common fire arrow(non gunpowder one) to keep the fire still lit after shooting it.

outside of the usual cannon weapon

  • $\begingroup$ While this is indeed close and is useful, I am looking not for arrows, but pure fireworks, the stereotypical red and white striped ones to be specific. $\endgroup$
    – Jay
    Dec 11 '20 at 0:40

The Korean Hwacha weaponized fireworks to launch a devastating barrage of arrows.

There was a weapon developed by the Koreans in the 15th century named the hwacha, which literally translates to "fire cart". It consisted of an array of tubes mounted on a cart, into which hundreds of arrows attached to fireworks were placed, so that when ignited, hundreds of rocket-propelled arrows would rain down on their enemies.

The Mythbusters built and tested one, and found that it is a dangerous weapon, failing to hit their targets primarily due to arranging them in a loose formation and at an incorrect range. Here is a video by the Smithsonian displaying another test of a hwacha, which failed to score many kills for the same reason:


Beyond being visually impressive, these were very effective weapons when properly used; during the Battle of Haengju, 2300 Korean soldiers held off approximately 30,000 Japanese samurai with the usage of their hwachas from a fortified position.

  • $\begingroup$ Koreans and Chinese rockets were the first thing I thought of when seeing the title. The Hwacha is essentially a giant bottle rocket. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Dec 11 '20 at 17:18

Take a conventional firework and fill it with both the conventional charges for light/sound effects and hard objects like nails, glass shards, small stones.

Fire it on the enemy using a handheld pipe and, no matter if it explodes while still airborne or after landing, it will:

  • produce a bright flash of light which will momentarily blind the enemy
  • a loud bang which will stun the enemy
  • the hard objects will create a shrapnel hurting all those who in the line of sight

Basically you are combining a claymore and a flashbang.

  • $\begingroup$ Similar to what I was considering, can add poison to the shrapnel pieces for extra effect , so even a minor hit will take the person out of the fight. $\endgroup$
    – Umbra
    Dec 11 '20 at 9:33

What you are describing is essentially a flare gun, other than the point about accuracy.

Flare guns are a standard part of well stocked survival kits found on boats, planes, and long-haul semi-trailer trucks running routes that go primarily through the wilderness, as well as being reasonably commonly found in use by many military and paramilitary organizations. They propel an special incendiary projectile (sometimes with an attached parachute) at a moderate speed, intended for high arcing shots for signaling purposes. The projectile itself is usually designed to burn very brightly (metal powders, such as magnesium, are often used for this purpose), possibly with a particular color (usually produced in the same manner as for fireworks), and possibly generating a lot of smoke as well for daytime visibility.

The thing is, you can still fire these parallel to the ground, though they don’t have great accuracy (they usually do not stabilize the projectile in any way, as they’re designed to be used like mortars), but if you do hit your target, they will be seriously hurting. The heat needed to produce the level of light these things put out is enough to ignite or melt most clothing, and there are actually reports of people downing aircraft by firing flares at them from the ground.

Alternatively, you might look into gyrojet firearms, possibly with exploding bullets.

The concept here is actually pretty simple. A normal firearm uses the pressure generated by detonating an external propellant to push a bullet down the barrel at high velocity. The gyrojet design instead uses thrust generated by burning propellant carried in the projectile itself, much like a rocket (and also uses this same thrust to induce spin in the projectile to provide gyroscopic stabilization without needing rifling).

The original designs were very large caliber (.49 and/or .51, translating to around 12.5mm), so in theory it would be pretty easy to load them up with a small explosive charge with an impact trigger to achieve an effect similar to what you desire.


Something to consider with any sort of rocket propelled weapon: Who or What is directly behind you when you fire it? Your second rank is not going to appreciate having all their hair singed off when you pull the trigger.

This can dictate where you put your fire archers in formation as well as the design of the weapon overall. Ideally you would have a system to throw the projectile some distance from the user before the rocket kicks in. A standardized crossbow will serve you well. If you have handwavium fusing, this won't be as much of an issue as you can precisely determine how far it will go before beginning the thrust phase. Otherwise, you will have to shoot upward at an angle and hope.

Another option would be to have a tube type weapon that uses a small gunpowder charge to throw the rocket a ways and then begin rocket propulsion.

Or, you could just light the rocket and shoot it from a tube over the top of a shield, with the rank behind you staggered so as not to lose their eyebrows.


Long ago I read a fictional story in a children's magazine about a sailing ship which lost its only cannon overboard in a storm, thus becoming defenseless against pirates.

But the ship did have some fireworks in its cargo. When it was attacked by a pirate ship they fired rockets at the pirate ship and chased it away.

I don't know how plausible that story was.

But black powder solid fuel rockets have been used for fireworks displays for many centuries, perhaps a thousand years. And black powder propelled rockets have been used as weapons of war for almost as long.

As I remembr early Chinese war rockets included arrows with rockets attached to give them more range, and possibly to explode upon impact. China and neighboring countries developed many other gunpowder weapons over the centuries, including cannons and various rockets. I remember a Korean weapon which would shoot many rockets at once at an enemy.

Hyder Ali (c. 1720-1782) and his son Tipu Sultan (1750-1799), who ruled Mysore in South India, started a weapons research program and developed better war rockets than were peviously used in India, having iron tubes to contain higher gas pressure than previous tubes.

At the Battle of Pollilur on 10 Septembr 1780 during the Second Anglo-Mysore War, Tipu Sultan inflicted a crushing defeat on a British East India Company force.

Tipu prevented Lt. Col. Baillie, from joining his detached force, consisting of two companies of European infantry, two batteries of artillery, and five battalions of native infantry, from Guntur, joining Hector Munro at Conjeevaram, while Tipu's father Hyder Ali continued the siege at Arcot. Of the 3853 men under Baillie's command, only 50 European officers and 200 men were taken prisoner after the "general massacre". Baillie was taken to Seringapatam[6] (Srirangapatnam near Mysore in the present-day Karnataka state).

The Mysore rockets used during the battle were much more advanced than the British East India Company had previously seen, chiefly because of the use of iron tubes for holding the propellant; this enabled higher thrust and longer range for the missile (up to 2 km range). After Tipu Sultan's eventual defeat in the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War and the capture of the Mysore iron rockets, they were influential in British rocket development, inspiring the Congreve rocket, which was soon put into use in the Napoleonic Wars.[7]


Congreave rockets were used in the Napoleonic Wars, mostly by the Royal Navy, beginning in 1805, and were used successfuly in a number of battles, including the attackon Copenhagen in 1807.

The British army began using Congreave rockets successfully in 1813-1814 in Spain and a British rocket unit was at the so-called "Battle of the Nations" on 19-19 September 1813, Napoleon's biggest defeat.

In the War of 1812, at the Battle of Fort McHenry on the night of september 13-14, 1814, British ships fired a lot of artillery at Fort McHenry, including Congreave rockets, thus inspiring "the rockets' red glare" in the US national anthem.

The Mysore and Congreave rockets, and some others, were more like rocket artillery with several man crews than like single man rocket bows or rocket muskets. But single person rocket weapons did exist for centuries and so presumably had some military effectiveness. Some were even shot from bows and so presumably version of them could have been shot from crowsbows.


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