Disclaimer: This article discusses the concept of gunpowder in the setting of A Song of Ice and Fire, for the sole application of the roleplaying game A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying. To be clear, the existence of gunpowder is wholly non-canon for the book series, and this article is written from a great big “What If?” perspective.
Recently, we at Green Ronin Publishing released a new PDF sourcebook for the Chronicle System, Spark to Powder. This PDF takes a look at pre-modern types of gunpowder technologies, and how to use them in a Chronicle System campaign.
But since the Chronicle System is the “engine” that powers our A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying, even I couldn’t help but imagine what gunpowder introduced to Westeros might look like and how it might change the setting in some capacity. We’re calling it dragonpowder, not just for the flame it births so easily, but also for the devastating effect is has the potential to bring to warfare in Westeros.
So, without further ado, we look at the first hurdle to jump in such a scenario: Where does gunpowder come from? We offer three different answers for the Narrator to use in their campaign, perhaps even mixing and matching from elements as they like. Enjoy!
The Alchemists’ Guild
Our first and most immediate thought involves the Alchemists’ Guild of King’s Landing. This is a natural starting point, considering the ways in which their other innovative substance – wildfire – has already affected the setting.
In the days in which the efficacy of wildfire waned and its stability became undependable, it is of course only natural that the alchemists of the guild might experiment with other substances. Maintaining the favor of the Red Keep is, of course, of first and foremost importance to the Guild, and this might lead them to extensive experimentation in those things that might be used of war.
But perhaps it hasn’t been until this new series of events – kingdoms shattered by rebellion and rumors of magic and direwolves and Others and dragons in the tavern rooms – that the efficacy of one of their odd powdered concoctions has truly demonstrated itself. A listless grey powder that once simply sputtered and burnt out now not only hisses to ignition, but if enough of it is lit at once, it actually explodes!
Such an occurrence would undoubtedly lead to an uptick in the importance of the Alchemists’ Guild, particularly once the efficacy of that dragonpowder has been capitalized on by the invention of firearms and explosive devices. In short order, perhaps every House in Westeros will clamor for their own alchemist to work their incendiary crafts, just as every House seeks a maester for their wisdom.
The Maesters of the Citadel
In contrast, perhaps it is the maesters of the Citadel themselves who invent this strange, war-changing dragonpowder. While the maesters assigned to Houses across Westeros tend to healing, the care of ravens, and the sharing of their knowledge with the nobles of that House, the maesters of the Citadel have always had the luxury and freedom of pushing the boundaries of their knowledge of the world. Occasionally, there are breakthroughs.
The discovery of dragonpowder could be one such breakthrough. Indeed, dragonpowder might very well remain a secret of the maesters for a while, its creation and testing restricted to the grounds of the Citadel. Such is the cautious nature of the Citadel’s archmaesters, generally speaking, exploring the limits of the discovery, its ramifications, and its potential uses.
But clever maesters are also the ones most likely to develop the dragonpowder into a weapon, and once that technology is wrought and revealed to the world, there is no taking it back. Houses quite likely insist that their maesters be trained in the making of dragonpowder, and maesters’ chains across Westeros have a new link added to them: the strange yellowish sulfuric brass, a sign of a maester’s skill in the making and handling of dragonpowder.
Ancient Valyrian Secrets
Perhaps this secret is not new, but in fact very old. Perhaps some of the fiery magics the early Valyrian dragonlords were attributed with were simply dragonpowder weapons wielded by the ones with the only knowledge of how to make and use such armaments. With the death of the dragons, so too died out dragonpowder.
The reason is simple: dragon guano is needful to create the explosive substance, and with the dragons went the ingredients for it. But now everyone has heard – on both sides of the Narrow Sea! – of the pale-haired conquerer who comes to war with three dragons and she would turn her sights on Westeros in time.
Worse still, it is said that she gained from somewhere ancient Valyrian secrets – wrested from the cursed remnants of Old Valyria, perhaps, or preserved by the Warlocks of Qarth. Wherever she gained them, she has put them to use, freeing slaves across Slavers’ Bay and recruiting the craftsmen among them. It is said that she will arm her small armies with these potent weapons (some rumors even speak of howling grassland nomads armed with them!) when she makes that journey.