What I Learned

It was a lovely afternoon yesterday , and my son has finished finals, so we took a long drive to get some high quality ice cream to celebrate. As we were enjoying our treat, I realized we were fairly close to the Calvert Marine Museum. It’s a really amazing place full of sea life and Megladon models and adorable otters. We had not been there in several years, so it seemed like a good time to go back. I’m delighted that we did.

There were a lot of great things to see, but one caught me by surprise. In a display on naval conflicts in the Chesapeake Bay, they had a few weapons on display (pictured above, full credit to Mike Fitzpatrick) and among the familiar boarding pikes and blunderbuss was something I didn’t recognize. It looked like a spear shaft with some sort of tube strapped to the end in lieu of a blade.

It turns out, this was something called a Congreve Rocket, and it’s an absolutely fascinating piece of technological history.

(If you already knew about these, that’s awesome, but I absolutely did not, and that is not going to dampen my enthusiasm).

Functionally, it is more or less a polearm sized bottle rocket, with exactly the kind of accuracy you would expect from that. I found some videos of people launching them, and I was slightly disappointed to discover that you don’t hold it in your hand and point at the enemy, but despite that, I remained delighted enough to go read some more about them. It just got better.

  • The initial technology was actually from India, and I want to take a moment to shine a spotlight on the use of these in India by quoting a passage from Wikipedia:

    “Some of the rockets had pierced cylinders to allow them to act like incendiaries, while some had iron points or steel blades bound to the bamboo. These blades caused the rockets to become very unstable towards the end of their flight, causing the blades to spin around like flying scythes, cutting down all in their path.

    Just try and tell me that’s not hella metal.

  • The application of these rockets against the British provided motivation for William Congreve to make his own copy, and the British started putting them on their ships.
    • So far as I can tell, the rockets range and damage capabilities did not offer any real advantages over actual guns. Rather, the advantage they offered was that they required very little setup, so you could fire a lot of them in very short order. As it turns out, this was a pretty good way to start a fight.
  • These saw use in the early 1800s, including in the Napoleonic Wars, and apparently were knocking around in conflicts through 1870 or so. However, the specific use that resulted in them appearing in the Calvert Museum was their application in the war of 1812. These are the rockets of the famous “rocket’s red glare”.
  • Some efforts were made to use them in whaling. The lack of accuracy was an issue, but a whale is a big target, and it turns out that rocket sticks are really good for killing whales.

Unsurprisingly, my thoughts turned to how these could be used in games – I could 100% get behind this kind of dragonlance. Two big threads popped out.

The first is that this is one more thing to add to the bucket of things that all simultaneously exist in the late 1800s, in case you just need one more element for your cowboy/samurai/victorian game.

The second is very specific to Blades in the Dark. As soon as I read about the applicability to whaling, I can no longer imagine a Duskvol where these weapons don’t exists. Sure, you won’t see them on the streets often, because that’s such a terrible idea, but I think we all know that simply being a bad idea is not enough to stop much of anything in Duskvol. They’ll need a different name, of course, and I will absolutely run on the idea of stolen technology with these, and think about who used them first. My instinct is that they’re Iruvian, and the original rockets included flaring versions of their sacred flames, making them tremendously useful against ghosts and such. Applying the technology to more mundane murder seems very on point for Duskvol.

Anyway, it’s a very small thing, but it was a delightful reminder that the world is full of inspiration that is just waiting to smack you upside the head.

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