On Pyrotechnics

firework.jpg“Arnold, flasks of flammables are like flagons of gnome-brew…you can never have too many!”

I can almost hear my gnomish friend chuckling as I recall the advice that he so often gave me back in Waterdeep. Despite his urgings, I never used to carry much in the way of fiery weapons. They are, I found, rarely useful in a bar-fight or an alley encounter with the thuggish retainers of some aggrieved noble–they draw far too much attention, and have an unfortunately tendency to set buildings (and indeed, entire neighbourhoods) alight. Now, as I sit in the post-apocolyptic wilderness and contemplate the wooden spear and crude sling and found rocks that are my primary weapons–as well as the earlier usefulness of Kordite’s wares against the Grell and Beholder–I rather wish I had listened to his advice more.

I had first met Kordite von Boom shortly after my arrival in Waterdeep as a young halfling. I had been sent there, of course, to study on a scholarship at the prestigious Upper Waterdeep College, while Kordite had traveled from distant Lantan to study at the equally well-known Zingle’s School for Bards. Neither of our educational experiences had worked out quite as our parents had planned. I endured taunting, bullying, and was finally expelled on suspicion of having relocated school funds to a better place. Kordite, on the other hand, had destroyed a fair share of his own College during unauthorized experiments in the chemistry lab.

It wasn’t that my gnomish friend was a poor bard. He certainly could carry a fine tune on his harmonica, and indeed taught me what little I know. His knowledge of the obscure and peculiar was quite impressive. His true love, however, was alchemy–and more precisely the study of pyrotechnics. Indeed, our first professional collaboration came when he convinced me that the Fireworks Guild’s control over the production of smokepower for war and entertainment was yet another example of oppressive monopoly capitalism. We proceeded to liberate a few of the artificers’ most closely-guarded technical texts. A little later, he opened his own small alchemy shop. This was less successful than he hoped. Part of the reason for this was the notorious unreliability of its hours, with Kordite frequently off on some adventure or unmindful of the hour (or even day) while at work in his laboratory. However, I think the bigger problem was the the routine production and sale of acids and salves was really not where his heart lay. Kordite liked things that flamed, or went boom. And the bigger boom the better.

It was this, and the costs of his experiments, that led him into a secondary but more profitable business—and one that enriched both our commercial and personal friendships: facilitating the resale of relocated objects. While certainly not the largest or most successful fence in Waterdeep (an honour that goes either to Pinky Goldfingers or Hilda the Pawn, depending on whom you ask), the combination of a bard’s eye for the arcane and ancient, and a gnome’s eye for gems and precious metals made him a quite reputable reseller nonetheless.

With a more steady income to purchase supplies and rent more suitable quarters for a lab (in a stone cellar near the docks, where there was no risk of a city-wide conflagration from mishaps), Kordite’s experiments and inventions grew more ambitious. His alchemist’s fire (von Boom’s VIP–Very Inflammable Pyrotechnic, as it was marketed) is second to none. His flame-projector–Harriet the Glob-Thrower, he nicknamed it–was rather less useful much of the time, although there were those occasions when the ability of the 50lb contraption to hurl globs of sticky, burning goo proved quite useful, especially against spell-casting opponents easily distracted by their own self-conflagration. His Bigbang Tube O’Fun was another device that I thought as much dangerous as practical. It did, however, provoke an ultimately successful petition from the Wizard’s Guild to have its sale and production banned within the city, despite its non-lethality. Apparently, the arcane elite were less amused than Kordite (or I) at the thoughts of a dozen barbed fireworks snaring a mage’s flowing robes, and distracting him, her or it with their whistling, sparkling, and periodic detonations of colourful embers and smoke. Kordite didn’t mind their ire: while he had briefly toyed with being a sorcerer (and had learned just enough of those skills to acquire Zaphod, his familiar burrowing owl and constant companion), they were, in general, much too serious for his gnomish tastes.

I’m not sure now when I might get back to Waterdeep. I do miss its alleys, its easy marks, and its fine drinking establishments. I especially look forward to the chance for a pint or six at Sixteen String Jacks with my gnomish friend, while we catch up on each other’s tales. I’m carrying more than a few relocated objects that I might resell in his direction. And I’ll certainly place an order of my own for more some of his most excellent (and, at the moment, sorely missed) inflammables.

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