10
$\begingroup$

Our intrepid wizard protagonist realizes there is only one of him and an army of baddies. He has a band of some 50 people with him, but only a dozen have combat training and he is the only spellcaster. The guards are working on tactics, wooden spikes, choke points, and etc. Our wizard wants to make weapons to help.

Deciding the best chance of survival lies in keeping enemies at a distance, our wizard looks for how to do that while also overcoming the numerical odds against them. Knowing he doesn't have enough spell slots/mana/mojo to fire the requisite number of fireballs and something like arrows won't be enough to offset the numbers, he settles on grenades.

His magic grenades use runes to hold magic. When the runes are damaged, the magic stored within explodes. This means his grenades need to break (or preferably shatter) on impact.

He and his band are in a mountain forest with no cities available. He has three months to stockpile grenades, knowing that when the winter ends, his enemies will be upon him. He has access to metal tools, brick, stone, wood, animals, snow, and everything else you would expect in a mountain forest with medieval technology. Some magic to aid in production, but no alchemy or other easy solutions.

What real-world material can he use which can be both thrown easily (like grenades) and will shatter, or at least break, on impact?

Is there a type of stone that fits the bill? Is slate brittle enough, for example? Can the brittle stone be shaped into a sphere for easier throwing? Can hollow bricks be made for this purpose? Is there a form of primitive glass he could make, or another material that would work?

$\endgroup$
6
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Does this wizard have means of keeping his grenades from exploding too soon? Real life grenades are not exploding because they are brittle, there are detonators for that. $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Aug 26 at 19:07
  • $\begingroup$ It's a problem he has to address for sure. The initial solution is simple: prep the grenades, but don't put any power into them yet. He still has to power them up before battle though. I figured a saddle bag type conveyance with feathers or stray as cushioning, but haven't put any real thought or study into it yet $\endgroup$
    – Taejang
    Aug 26 at 20:11
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Your mountain forest has streams (else no forest). Those streams feed into rivers Those streams and rivers have sandy bottoms and sandbars in the slow areas. There's likely plenty of sand readily available nearby. $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Aug 26 at 20:16
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ When you start pontificating in the open ("unfortunately [for glass, they] are in a forest" or "I assume wood is out"), we cannot tell if that's a hard limit or if you are just meandering. It's YOUR world. If you are open to glass or wood, please say so in the question. If you're not open to glass or wood, please clearly rule them out in the question. $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Aug 26 at 22:20
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ +1 I think it's a better question now. $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Aug 27 at 13:15

17 Answers 17

22
$\begingroup$

Egg shells if the wizard wants to go for naturally available materials, or pottery balls if they can go for manufactured materials.

Both are conveniently empty and can be filled with whatever needed, and the filling hole can be sealed with clay/wax. Moreover both easily crack on impact, assuring that the wizard can achieve the intended result.

$\endgroup$
8
  • 9
    $\begingroup$ Yep. Dried, but unfired clay is probably easiest. Less fragile than eggshells (hence less chance of unintended explosion), easily controlled for wall thickness to get just the right level of brittleness. $\endgroup$
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Aug 26 at 19:14
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I can't believe I didn't consider eggshells. I even know about their ninja uses! The clay is interesting though, and not one I would have guessed, though it makes perfect sense $\endgroup$
    – Taejang
    Aug 26 at 20:13
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Given quite how fragile egg shells can be, they might be better utilised as magical landmines rather than grenades. Less chance of exploding in your hand. $\endgroup$
    – DBS
    Aug 27 at 10:19
  • 9
    $\begingroup$ @Taejang clay is what they made the first real world grenades out of. which were invented in the 8th century. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Aug 27 at 13:45
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @ZeissIkon, Even firing is not that hard. A pottery oven can be built with a bunch of stones and wood is enough for fuel. Fired they will be resistant to water and abrasion, harder, which properly impressing the runes may need, and still just as brittle or maybe even a bit more. They should probably be filled with something dense to have enough inertia for the air drag to fly properly when thrown. $\endgroup$
    – Jan Hudec
    Aug 27 at 13:58
13
$\begingroup$

...knowing that when the winter ends, his enemies will be upon him

It's going to be winter until the enemy arrives? Use ice. He surely has water around, and freezing things is within a wizard's capabilities.

$\endgroup$
1
  • $\begingroup$ If he can conjure fireballs, then surely he can conjure cold as well. $\endgroup$
    – bta
    Aug 28 at 0:15
8
$\begingroup$

If your wizard can make bricks, he can make hollow ceramic bulbs. Bricks are made from baked or fired clay. Via the same process, you can make a vessel of the right thickness to hold when thrown, but shatter upon impact. You could for instance wrap clay around a pine cone or plant bulb or rounded chunk of wood, then fire it in a kiln.

$\endgroup$
3
  • $\begingroup$ +1. I really don't understand how the OP can start with glass as an idea and not think of ceramics or pottery. Have they never dropped a plate or a cup? $\endgroup$
    – Graham
    Aug 27 at 11:06
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Graham I can't remember the last time I saw pottery. I always think of space shuttles when I think of ceramics. My plates are mostly plastic, cups are glass or plastic (thanks to young kids). Different lifestyle, I guess $\endgroup$
    – Taejang
    Aug 27 at 13:12
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Taejang Ceramics technology goes back at least 30,000 years making them by far one of the oldest and easiest to make unnatural materials $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Aug 27 at 14:22
6
$\begingroup$

Snow.

snowball

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T5XutpETUkM

It is on your list! And it shatters great. Have your peeps dig a snowball cellar in case you have some hot days before the baddies come. Then load it up with snowballs.

You can incorporate some yellow snow, to add insult to injury.

Ice grenades would also do the trick.

$\endgroup$
3
  • $\begingroup$ Can't: "... knowing that when the winter ends, his enemies will be upon him." $\endgroup$ Aug 27 at 3:04
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @MichaelMcFarlane - yes, yes. Winter ends. This is the reason for the snow cellar. That is how people used to keep ice from winter to use in the summer. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Aug 27 at 12:18
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The yellow snow comment is awesome $\endgroup$
    – Taejang
    Aug 27 at 13:13
4
$\begingroup$

Unfired Clay

When making ceramics, you first form your object out of clay, wait for it to dry for about a week (give or take a few days depending on humidity), then you bake it in a kiln for anywhere from several hours to several days to make the clay melt together into the glass like substance we generally call ceramics.

While ceramics have been brought up already, greenware (or fully dried but unfired ceramics) are both more brittle and much easier to mass produce. The final step of making ceramics uses up a lot of fuel. Even a small kiln only meant for a single jug or pot can take up about 2 cubic meters of fire wood to properly fire, plus they require constant vigilance during the firing process... but since you want brittle objects anyway, you can skip this part.

An unskilled laborer could manage the entire production process from gathering local resources to a finished product well enough to make dozens, if not hundreds of these things a day. The way you would make them is to start off by clearing some dry ground, preferably somewhere sandy or loamy. Then you mix your clay which is just the right kind of dirt plus water, or better yet, you use the naturally ready to use clays like you often find in riverbanks. You then lay a sheet of clay and flatten it like cookie dough. Then using a fired ceramic mold designed by the wizard in the shape of your rune, you stamp a repeating pattern into the sheet (also like cookie dough), then using a knife or even a mildly sharpened stick, you finish off any cuts that were not fully made by the "cookie cutter". The you just leave them there on the ground to dry in the sun. After about 1-2 days, the tablets will be dry enough to handle. Since you caste them on sand, you don't have to worry about them sticking to the surface, they will just lift up with the sand they stuck to no problem. At this point you just bring them inside where they can finish drying and be stored, and you can use your clearing again to lay down the next batch.

Over the next few days, some of them will crack while they finish drying; so, you want to wait the full 7 days before casting any enchantments on them or else they might spontaneously explode.

Why this is better than other solutions

It is way cheaper; so, you can make a lot more of them. Not only are you saving a lot of time and fuel not firing it, but you are also simplifying the shape. Because greenware breaks more easily that fired clay, you don't need to make it hallow or really thin to make sure it will shatter on impact. Even eggs are more expensive because of the time, food, and land space required to raise chickens.

Snow is probably the only cheaper material listed so far, but snow crumbles in your hand too easily, and even a little bit of seasonal warming will likely cause one of your snowballs in storage to come apparat and blow up your whole cache.

The big downside is that care must be taken to keep them dry, if your weapon cache floods, you will have a big problem, but the same is also true of other historical weapons like bows or iron weapons; so, maintaining a dry armory is already a priority and available skill set at the time.

Also, you can supplement this idea with land-mines!

As the enemy army marches, the dirt under their feet naturally breaks apart as it is flattened. So, as the enemy army gets close, your wizard can go out to the main road with a bucket of water, wet the dirt if need be, and then stamp the rune into it. He then casts his enchantment directly on the ground and covers it wit dead leaves or what not so when an enemy solider steps in the mud, it breaks the rune.

$\endgroup$
8
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Clay is not "dirt and water". Clay has a specific mineral composition, and while it is usually found in or on the ground, not all dirt is clay. "Dirt" can contain sand, silt, clay, rocks, and plant matter. Not all of these (sand, particularly) will hold together just from water. $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Aug 27 at 15:34
  • $\begingroup$ @Matthew That is a reasonable point, but also complicated since geologists and potters define 'clay' differently. To a geologists, clay is a particle size, and they still call it clay even if it is a dry powder. But to a potter, clay is a definition of wetness, not particle size. If it is dry, it is called dirt, if it is wet to a moldable consistency, it is called clay. I added a bit about how it has to be the "right kind of dirt", but I think in context of the question, using potter's lexicon makes more since. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Aug 27 at 15:52
  • $\begingroup$ Earthenware clays for example include a lot of sand. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Aug 27 at 16:00
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki Clay is not a specific particle size as rock dust can be the same size but different composition. The sand or crushed shell added to ceramics is the filler, not the clay. $\endgroup$
    – David R
    Aug 27 at 16:04
  • $\begingroup$ My pottery is quite rusty, but I would guess it's a function of the presence of a suitable binder. As anyone who has ever made a sand castle knows, wet sand, even after it dries, has very little cohesion. Add some cement, however, and you get concrete. (IOW, what David R said.) Moisture also plays a function, of course (dry cement has no cohesion either), but the point is you can't just take any "dirt" and make pottery. (Edit looks good, though "ready to use" should maybe be hyphenated 🙂. Also, +1; even with the nit-picking, I should have done that before... "Fixed" now.) $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Aug 27 at 16:42
3
$\begingroup$

Slate plates.

Explosions are nice... but a lot of additional damage can be done also by shards of the projectile itself. So you want something, that shatters into many sharp pieces.

When you say "grenade", the first idea is to have it ball-shaped... but runes are usually painted on a surface. If the rune releases its power on the surface, it will throw all fragments to one side. With a ball you have no control over which side that is, and half of the time it will be towards the ground (i.e. not hitting anyone).

Since you are already using magic here, you could of course use a more advanced spell to make the projectile magically explode from its precise center. However, you are making many of these grenades... so I guess you want to keep the spell as simple as possible.

A plate thrown like a frisbee will keep its orientation. Paint a simple explosion rune on its bottom side, and you are guaranteed to have all shards flying around.

$\endgroup$
2
  • $\begingroup$ And the protagonists can make "here catch!" jokes, it's perfect. $\endgroup$
    – Harabeck
    Aug 27 at 18:23
  • $\begingroup$ Frisbees of death? I like it $\endgroup$
    – Taejang
    Aug 30 at 13:48
3
$\begingroup$

An alternative answer: very high carbon steel.

All of the other answers posted answer your question well, but a bit out-of-the box might be what you're looking for.

Forge arrowheads (you said metal, tools, wood?). Make a kiln/furnace and case harden your arrowheads as much as possible (increasing the carbon concentration in iron makes it harder, but more brittle). Make them thin-walled and hollow, with an opening in the rear to plug with an arrowshaft.

Fill the arrowhead with "magic", preferably one that does "contagious" damage. The arrowhead will break when it hits a bone, and immediately release the magic (exploding enemies? sounds like fun).

Bonus: your arrowheads will be exceptionally sharp if they're file-hard and you can stone an edge onto them.

$\endgroup$
5
  • $\begingroup$ I love this idea. I honestly don't think my protagonist is smart enough to come up with it though, since he has no blacksmith or metallurgy experience. If only he wasn't so arrogant and asked around for ideas... Still, fantastic idea $\endgroup$
    – Taejang
    Aug 27 at 13:17
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ why not just make ceramic arrow heads, they are a lot easier to make. also cast iron arrow heads were still sturdy enough to use in the real world. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Aug 27 at 13:49
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Thin fragile metal barbs could be added to the arrow head if more shatter sensitivity is needed. But are we still in "grenades" territory? $\endgroup$
    – Kezat
    Aug 28 at 12:25
  • $\begingroup$ @Kezat There's no reason high carbon steel couldn't be forged into balls and thrown, even if this answer does describe only arrowheads $\endgroup$
    – Taejang
    Aug 30 at 13:40
  • $\begingroup$ Spiky, grenade like objects (basically flail balls at this point) would do a lot of damage. Either you're left with broken off spikes of metal in your skin, or you've been exploded by a hardened death-ball (and your friends are hit by shrapnel). Or you have a concussion, or all three. $\endgroup$ Aug 30 at 15:25
2
$\begingroup$

How Low Can You Go?

  • Wax - from bee hives
  • Resin - from evergreen trees
  • Feces - from bears, etcetera
  • latex - from trees, dandelions etcetera
  • galls - plant "tumors" grown around insect larva
  • gourds - or other hollow shelled fruit
  • animal intestines and bladders

Some combination of the first four ingredients mixed with fibers from plants, animal hair, etcetera to adjust their durability for transport. The options for disgusting humor abound!

$\endgroup$
2
$\begingroup$

It's unclear if the rune is an object in its own right held in a delivery device, or merely a symbol on some other object. I'm going to assume the latter, as that seems to more closely match your description. Thus, assuming you can draw/paint/apply a rune to some existing object which needs to break when thrown...

  • Eggs. Can be produced in rather large quantities readily. DON'T empty them first; the extra mass will help them have enough inertia to break on impact.
  • Some rocks should be sufficiently brittle; flint, slate, chalk, maybe sandstone.
  • Thin-walled ceramics definitely should work. You can probably get away with making disks and throwing them as such, though this may require more skill than lobbing something more spherical. You might not even need to fire them; balls of mud dried in a fire might work.
  • Polished turds? 😉 (Or you could use dirt. I'm not sure how well these hold up under normal handling, though, or if they'll break like you want.)
  • I'd suggest rotten wood, but might be hard to apply the runes, and probably is too likely to break when merely handled.
  • Snow has similar problems as rotten wood.
  • Balls of ice might work, but keeping them from melting will be difficult. If the rune is applied to the surface, melting is going to tend to mess it up, making these possibly more dangerous to you than to an enemy. (Can you also add a rune to stop it melting?)
  • If you're really in a pinch, throwing a heavy branch (you'll want it to tumble end over end, like a boomerang) hard enough might break it, but this may be unreliable, and you don't want the enemy hurling it back at you if it doesn't break on the first try.
  • If you have access to some sort of cement, you can make plaster or concrete. As with pottery, you want to make something thin so it will break easily.

Personally, I think eggs are your best bet. Easy to produce, and fairly consistent, which should help with troops being able to throw them accurately. Also, their surface definitely won't wear readily, which is important if runes getting smudged causes them to "go off". Some sort of dried (possibly fired) mud/clay molded into balls might be your second best bet.

$\endgroup$
2
$\begingroup$

I'm not sure how practical this would be, but any riff on this theme would be pretty cool. Prince Rupert's Drops are created by dripping molten glass into cold water. The bulbous end is extremely strong, but if the tail is damaged the whole thing disintegrates explosively. You can find many videos demonstrating their interesting properties. I am not sure if they would be guaranteed to shatter when thrown but I suspect they would most of the time.

$\endgroup$
2
$\begingroup$

His magic grenades use runes to hold magic. When the runes are damaged, the magic stored within explodes. This means his grenades need to break (or preferably shatter) on impact.

I don't think your last sentence is accurate, and it's limiting your design space. Grenades are quite sturdy and do not shatter from an impact. They shatter due to the force of the explosion. The lack of shattering is one of the things that makes them so deadly, because it allows the pressure inside to build up until it shreds the shell into a hundred shards and sends those shards flying at high speeds. A shattering grenade cannot build up pressure, so a lot of the explosive force ends up pressing on the ambient air (not helpful) and the deadly shrapnel ends up with much less kinetic energy.

That means instead of looking for something that's brittle and will shatter, you want something that will contain the explosion long enough to build up a lot of pressure, but will eventually yield catastrophically. One easy to construct option is to build drawstring pouches out of tincloth (canvas cloth boiled in beeswax). This will be less porous than regular cloth and let less air escape. Fill the bag with glass/pottery shards, ball bearings, or even large gravel, then place your explosive rune in the middle. When you throw it, the impact with the ground will cause the shrapnel to slam into the rune, damaging it enough to set it off. The bag will contain the explosion briefly, but eventually the shrapnel will tear through the bag and go flying in all directions. Think of it like magically-powered grapeshot.

Another good option for natural materials are coconuts. The shells are strong, but will eventually shatter into irregular shards that can be quite sharp. Drill a small hole, place your rune inside, and seal it as tightly as you can. There's even lots of room inside to pack it with shrapnel. Pineapples could also be used, but would require more work to hollow out.

One very nonconventional material would be to use bone. It's strong, and splintered bone can be very sharp. When your group hunts for food, save the skulls and dry them out (don't bleach them though). Place your explosive rune inside the skull, fill with shrapnel, and seal off all openings as well as you can.

$\endgroup$
2
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The OP's magic grenades don't work like mundane grenades. The explosion is caused by breaking the rune. The OP does not have conventional explosives. $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Aug 29 at 13:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Matthew You're right, the explosion is caused by the rune breaking. But bta does describe that; it's just an alteration of where the rune is. Rather than outside the device, this answer puts it internally. That should make it more resistant to normal handling. The tincloth, bone, and coconut ideas are also unique to this answer. It's a good alternative to other provided answers $\endgroup$
    – Taejang
    Aug 30 at 13:59
2
$\begingroup$

If it's available, obsidian. Obsidian is glass, so it shatters into very sharp pieces.

The downsides are that the pieces need to be large enough to shatter, and obsidian is rare unless the mountain is/was a volcano.

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

I'll agree with others that clay, either fired or just dried, is probably your best bet (presumably a small experiment to see which stood up best to storage and also shattered reliably on landing but not on throwing/hurling/whatever). Slates or sticks sawn to near-failure are probably also a good bet (especially if you start running out of clay). Sticks in particular would be devastating landmines as no one would expect a random stick in a forest (until they started suspecting every stick in the forest :) )

If there's a convenient choke point and the tech allows there might be something to be said for having some sort of seige weapon and a number of somewhat thicker flat plates (thicker and flatter so they could be stacked in the bucket/payload-holder. Might need some experimenting for feasibility first though...)

Eggs are a great idea for summer but not likely to be produced in sufficient quantities (or perhaps at all) in the winter due to the temperature and lack of daylight. Given 6 months your wizard could potentially stockpile some eggs, if they aren't needed for food instead.

$\endgroup$
1
  • $\begingroup$ "Sticks in particular would be devastating landmines as no one would expect a random stick in a forest (until they started suspecting every stick in the forest :) )" Brilliant! $\endgroup$
    – Taejang
    Aug 30 at 14:02
1
$\begingroup$

Could Prince Rupert's Drops be useful? If you drip molten glass into water it forms tadpole-shaped drops. The internal stress within these drops makes them very strong: you can hit one with a hammer and it won't break. But if you break the tail it instantly shatters into powder. Put magic into these and have a simple mechanism which breaks the tail on impact, and you have your magic hand grenade.

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

As someone else pointed out, grenades normally explode (due to being full of explosive with a fuse or detonator and all that) rather than shattering.

However some types of weapon rely on the container breaking and exposing the contents to the air, which seems similar to your use case. Improvised phosphorus bombs, for example. The container used is normally an empty beer bottle.

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

I don't think it's better than the other answers, but I'm adding it for completeness since it was my first thought: pumpkins!

Not only do they shatter on impact, but they follow the Rule of Cool for magic. And if the starting time frame is end of fall, it's plausible that you have plenty on hand.

$\endgroup$
0
$\begingroup$

In reality, anything vitreous or ceramic might shatter when it hits something, but you might still need to specify what "like a grenade" means.

Please remember, grenades do not "shatter" and are not interested in contact; they are exploded, from within, by timing mechanisms. To be really picky, that's why we generally speak of grenade "fragments", not "shards."

Worldbuilding isn't reality so the rules and characteristics are up to the builder.

$\endgroup$
1
  • $\begingroup$ I meant it to be: what natural element shatters WHEN it is thrown like a grenade, not shatters like a grenade. This isn't really an answer though; it would be better as a comment to the question $\endgroup$
    – Taejang
    Aug 29 at 21:40

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.