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One of my worlds has a magic system in which people smoke an expensive substance called "salt" to temporarily gain increased strength, agility, and durability. Depending on the amount smoked, the powerup can last from anywhere between a few seconds to a few minutes (feasible max of ~10 minutes). As such, it is very common for someone's power to wane in the midst of battle, requiring them to disengage with the enemy and quickly smoke more salt.

With that in mind, my question is simple: How could a smoking pipe be designed to fulfil the following conditions?

  • tech level: mid 19th century
  • must be small and light enough to be carried in a pouch or pocket
  • must be able to store salt within it, ready to be combusted, and without it falling out
  • must be durable enough to be unlikely to break during combat
  • must be able to be lit and smoked using only one hand

Bonus points for:

  • a design that allows for quick refilling of salt
  • a design that reliably allows multiple hits to be taken before requiring manual refilling
  • providing a simple 2d diagram

Notes:

  • despite the name, salt combusts under a flame, similarly to tobacco.
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    $\begingroup$ It seems like you're asking us to build your world for you instead of asking us to solve some specific worldbuilding problem. What have you tried? What problems have you encountered? Ask us for help resolving one of those problems instead of generating ideas for you. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Commented Jun 22 at 1:15
  • $\begingroup$ Why does it have to be smoked? Why can't it be snorted? Or held in a pouch in the mouth? Or eaten? $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 22 at 12:08
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    $\begingroup$ Are you sure that the kind of combat you are imagining exists with this kind of tech? Even "disengaging" is hard, even harder if you suddenly lose strength and speed... $\endgroup$
    – DonQuiKong
    Commented Jun 23 at 7:10
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    $\begingroup$ What about an electric vaporizer? In the early 19th century the first batteries were developed, and at the late the NiCd ones. Being a form of combat supply justifies the added weight like ammo supplies or bandages. It would consist of a battery pack the soldier would have attached to its belt, a mouth piece with a container and a push button and a wire connecting the piece with the battery. When the user wants to inhale a dose presses the button, a wire of heat resistant material like platinum heats mostly instantly the compound. Basically a rudimentary version of modern vaporizers. $\endgroup$
    – Gusman
    Commented Jun 24 at 20:51
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    $\begingroup$ I like the way @Gusman is thinking. I'd likely go with the battery operating an electric lighter than a heater, perhaps a distinction without a difference in practice. Have a small metal container, much like a hip flask, that has a kind of door to let air in for combustion and a switch to operate the lighter. If done just so the air door and lighting operation could be with a single motion. After getting lit the salt will burn on its own, and then when the smoking is done the air door can be closed to remove combustion air, extinguish the flame, and prevent spilling out of the salt within. $\endgroup$
    – MacGuffin
    Commented Jun 24 at 22:08

8 Answers 8

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The mid-19th century is a great technological period for your setting, since it had already popularized and perfected all of the technologies required for transporting, deploying, lighting, and consuming tobacco smoke. As a side effect, the answer is really boring.

Cigarettes. Red phosphorous safety matches. Little metal boxes with hinged lids.

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  • $\begingroup$ Salt is expensive, so cigarettes aren't a viable option for the common salt-using soldier. I do like the aesthetic of them though, so they could be used as a display of wealth in battle. $\endgroup$
    – M S
    Commented Jun 22 at 10:26
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    $\begingroup$ @MS Just because they look like modern cigarettes doesn't mean they have to be sold in packs of 20 for less than the price of a meal. They could look like cigarettes and still be an item that a typical soldiers has 1 to be used in life-and-death situations. $\endgroup$
    – quarague
    Commented Jun 22 at 16:03
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    $\begingroup$ @MS That's incorrect. First of all, a cigarette does not need to contain a filter so all the fumes go directly to the lungs, the "original" cigarettes were nothing more than rolled tobaccon with paper, after that a cardboard cilinder was added, only in modern days they got filters. Second, you will mix the active substance with some additive, the quantity of active substance is small in relationship to it so the active substance is mostly burnt when a puff is taken. Just look to the real world, cigarettes are used to consume mostly all drugs, even the most expensive ones :/ $\endgroup$
    – Gusman
    Commented Jun 24 at 9:16
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    $\begingroup$ @MS I commented about the filter because is the only cause that I can think that someone could argue that it can be more wasteful. When a pipe is lit you waste a lot more content than with a cigarette, the burning area is 3 or 4 times bigger. Also, maybe you are thinking on the branded cigarettes like Camel or Winston, those have tons of gunpowder in the paper to make them burn a lot faster, if you roll your own cigarettes they will not burn by themselves, if you dont puff them, they will turn off. Usually someone that smokes weed in pipe is not because efficiency but because they don't -> $\endgroup$
    – Gusman
    Commented Jun 24 at 20:21
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    $\begingroup$ want to smoke tobacco and is a lot harder to smoke weed alone in a joint... because it doesn't burns so easily. That's my experience, I have been a smoker for 25 years, I only quitted 4 years ago, I have smoked cigarettes, cigars, pipes and so on. If you don't like the idea of smoking it like cigarettes, it's ok, but I just tell you, it is not as wasteful as you think. As alternative you could use a vaporizer, is bulkier and requires batteries but is the best way to obsorb an active component, it heats a compound to the point that it turns into a gas without reaching the point of burning it. $\endgroup$
    – Gusman
    Commented Jun 24 at 20:24
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There actually exists a real life example that is rather interesting. With just one small change.

Pipe tomahawk

Yep. That easy. "sometimes had a pipe-bowl carved into the poll, and a hole drilled down the center of the shaft for smoking tobacco through the metal head"

Video of it in action.

Now I know that it does not sound as grand or crazy inventive. Which is valid. It's your world. You might want to invent an over engineered solution. Your choice. But this tool is rather very useful and actually fits perfectly with war applications.

It's a very functional axe that can be used to smoke. Obviously in reality it's doubtful that people stopped in the middle of a fight to smoke, but your world is different.

Done right, it's as sturdy as any axe. You could also create the inner part of steel, or enforce the outer handle. But you don't have to worry about the handle. In fact even if it broke you just get another one, it's made of wood after all.

It's also a very useful multi-tool, and was used as such. Even to this day.

What makes me think this is the answer is that it already functions as a very useful and fairly powerful weapon. Any contraption that is like a strong enforced pipe would only end up as a club.

If you magic soldier is caught with their pants down, that is smoking. Your soldier can easily start attacking and defending themselves with the weapon already in their hand. Anything else requires them to switch from the device to a weapon.

All you have to change is just make a little latch on the part that you put the "salt' in. This was your soldier always has a charge ready.

pipe-buckler

Is my only other solution

Not sure if you know them or not. But basically "A buckler is a small shield, up to 45 cm in diameter, gripped in the fist with a central handle behind the boss"

Now this can be easily modified to include a pipe. It won't weight it down, it's sturdy. And you have the advantage of your soldier already having the buckler in their hand.

Again your soldier can relay on a normal pipe if they have time. But on a battlefield they can be using their main weapon, usually you use a sword with a buckler, then just take a hit from their buckler.

Not sure if you could figure out a way to enable the soldiers to light thing single handed or not.

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    $\begingroup$ I like the idea of a pipe-buckler . You could have a spark-wheel or some other mechanism positioned right by the thumb, letting you light it with one hand, which fulfills one of the requirements $\endgroup$
    – M S
    Commented Jun 22 at 13:09
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    $\begingroup$ All you need is a spark device (a thumb slider or something to strike a flint in the bowl) and a ramrod (also thumb operated) to advance the salt packets and you've got the perfect answer! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Jun 22 at 21:41
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Have you considered using a salt gun?

No, seriously. The Colt revolver was invented in 1836, so I assume this kind of tech is feasible. I hope it's clear that it's a one-handed weapon that can easily be stored in a small pocket (in your case, the barrel is largely unnecessary, so it would be closer to a snubnose). The handle is reversed, so that the "barrel" points towards the face, and when the trigger is pulled while the user has the muzzle in their mouth (or up their nose, or wherever the smoke needs to go to get high on salt), the trigger ignites a guncotton packet of salt that causes it to combust almost immediately.

The guncotton quantity should be minimal to make the recoil small and safe to use, and then the smoke is directed straight into the saltie to give them superpowers. When another hit is needed, the barrel turns and the gun is used again, and when reloading is necessary, they can just put new packets into the gun - interestingly, the whole packet combusts, so there's no need to remove anything from the gun after use.

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  • $\begingroup$ Interesting idea, but not sure it is survivable. Glad you mentioned the recoil (actually shockwave), but putting superheated gas directly into the airway and lungs will cause internal burns that will kill the inhalee extremely painfully. This was one of the main causes of death for demining teams in Afghanistan some decades ago when small AP mines initiated during clearance - lying on their stomachs they were low enough that the minimal frag went over their heads but inhaling the gases from detonation was crippling or fatal. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 22 at 2:08
  • $\begingroup$ That's totally fair @KerrAvon2055. You could always just have a flint-and-steel mechanism ignite the (regular) paper and salt, rather than using guncotton, I just figured if you want instant-action the whole thing should ignite immediately. Who knows, maybe there's clean-burning flashpaper in this universe. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 22 at 2:27
  • $\begingroup$ @KerrAvon2055 another answer mentioned holding the smoke in a leather bag, which I think would be a viable fix here. Use guncotton to rapidly fill the bag, and then inhale from it as quickly as possible $\endgroup$
    – M S
    Commented Jun 22 at 12:13
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So, the first thing that sprung to mind (which is Ironic given the proximity to @controlgroup answer)

Was self-contained paper cartridges.

Now, there would be no explosive required (which is where I disagree with the aforementioned answer) - just a self-contained cigarette style paper container that would be lit and smoked.

However...

rule of cool answer

Your soldiers have portable hookah style contraptions that is carried into Battle by one of the squad mates, it has multiple pipes, a semi-sealed combustion area - and is the sole responsibility of the master of pipes. When the squad mates feel the salt wearing off, the go to the master of pipes and get a top-up.

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  • $\begingroup$ The concept of a "master of pipes" is definitely my favourite idea so far. It doesn't work for smaller-scale operations, but it's a fun idea for large battles. $\endgroup$
    – M S
    Commented Jun 22 at 10:42
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What you are describing has already been considered by people who are regularly in the habit of ingesting precise quantities of medically active substances. What you're describing is officially called a one-hitter.

There have been numerous designs for single-hit operations. The challenge to most of them isn't delivering the burnable to the burn chamber in fixed quantities, nor in igniting the burnables, but in clearing the chamber afterwards. You could use a revolver-style arrangement.

enter image description here

But you aren't talking about tar-ladened plant matter. You're discussing "salt," which has unknown properties. You might as well be discussing gun powder. If you pack your salt with its own oxidizer, you could burn it in an instant, filling a bladder like a bagpipe so the mage could suck it from there.

Really, if you have a bagpipe buffer, pretty much any semiautomatic pistol mechanism will work for you. Leaving brass bowls lying around afterwards is optional.

If you want to push yourself into steampunk territory, you can do something like the feed mechanism for caseless ammo.

enter image description here

The engineering challenges for the G11 involved high rate of fire and preventing the chamber from getting so hot that the ammunition went off before you wanted it to. That probably won't be feeding your mages that quickly.

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  • $\begingroup$ Salt burns similarly to tobacco, so there's no worries there. I like the idea of a revolving one-hitter, but why would clearing the bowl be the main challenge? You could just knock it against your leg to get the ash out. The main issue I would image is ensuring the salt stays in the bowl, and being able to light and hold the pipe using just one hand. I also do like the suggestion of a bagpipe, it's an interesting aesthetic and solves the issues of lighting it with gunpowder. Although it does sound impractical in terms of space $\endgroup$
    – M S
    Commented Jun 22 at 13:03
  • $\begingroup$ Tobacco pipes require frequent cleaning to keep them from gumming up with tar. Knocking out the ash works maybe the first six to twelve times, depending on your tolerance. Maybe Salt is less subject to that issue. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 22 at 20:55
  • $\begingroup$ In regards to being cumbersome, I fully expect that such a thing would be built into the battle-mage uniform, possibly under the armpit. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 22 at 20:58
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    $\begingroup$ true, although I was imagining they would only have to re-up so many times in a given battle before being given a long enough reprieve to tend to their weapons and pipes. Although that is a good thing to keep in mind when writing fight scenes; extended battles will eventually see people having their pipes gum up. $\endgroup$
    – M S
    Commented Jun 22 at 21:22
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Bite-size smoke bomb

So what matters here is getting the smoke into your lungs as quickly as possible. This would not be anything that looks like traditional pipe or cigarette, as those are designed to produce smoke at a gradual, enjoyable rate.

What you need is a little smoke bomb that you ignite with your teeth, that very rapidly burns all the salt inside and releases a ton of concentrated smoke into your mouth that you inhale with one breath. This also allows you to hold it in your mouth during combat so you ignite it just before your powers would run out, without needing to disengage.

It could consist of a metal canister with a tooth-activated trigger. The trigger releases a spring that activates a striker that ignites phosphorous sulfide, which is mixed loosely with the salt. There could be extra insulation to keep the device from burning the user's mouth.

Note that early white-phosphorous matches were extremely poisonous, so either the phosphorous sulfide is red phosphorous (less poisonous) or it's just an occupational hazard.

Teeth-held pipe

A simpler solution is just to have a pipe with the stem shaped so you can easily grip it with your teeth while fighting. This way, the soldier can continually inhale small amounts of smoke as he fights, which should be just as good as disengaging and taking a big hit every once in a while.

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Frameshift:

Not a pipe. Instead, something they wear on their face that rests in the corner of their mouth. Punch the igniter (internally, a spring-striker match) and get your hit.

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Gas masks

Old gas masks with a tube connected to large filters. Those could be easily reconstructed to contain a heater and a large salt amount, providing for a quite long period of salt fumes, and be easily replaced. With a simple rotary ignition, they would start the process just by opening the vent to draw air through. With the right setup, the fumes will released in doses minutes apart as the slow fuse burns through, and the rest of the filter provides BCN protection.

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