The Gassy Gnoll: Celebrating Independence (or Why Aren’t There Fireworks in Fantasy RPGs?)

The Gassy Gnoll is about to go to the mountains for a few days, but he’s spent some time wondering about independence lately. Here in the US many folks are planning to launch fireworks (unless there’s a fire ban, which we’re under in my state). Basically this involves launching some sort of explosive into the air along with different chemicals which burn to make different colors and get all sorts of cool shapes and designs in mid-air (or near the ground). Unless your the family pet, usually these colorful explosions are accompanied by a bunch of oohs and ahs.

FireworksHistorically, fireworks first appeared in 7th century China, so we’ve had all sorts of time to figure out how to make gunpowder sit up and put on a show. Their use (along with gunpowder in general) then migrated to the rest of the world over the next 1000 years. Now they’re used everywhere to celebrate just about anything we feel the need to blow stuff up for. And in the US, there’s no bigger day to blow stuff up than Independence Day.

As I write this post, I’m still unsure whether there will be fireworks near us in any form after our yearly bouts of wildfires across the state. But traditionally we try to go find a spot to watch the fireworks up at the Air Force Academy every year. They usually put on a good show.

And by now you’re wondering what in the heck this has to do with gaming. I’m getting to that.

Why don’t we see fireworks used in more fantasy (or historical) campaigns? Honestly I think it comes down to the fact that most of us who like traditional D&D worlds are loathe to include gunpowder in our campaigns. The inclusion of guns almost always throws things out of balance in some way or another. (Though I have to say that the Zeitgeist campaign for D&D 4e handles guns really well and I haven’t really noticed much of an issue of late.)

Even so, fireworks show up in at least one of my favorite fantasy settings. Gandalf is known for his fireworks displays in the Shire when we meet Frodo in Middle Earth, so I’m sure fireworks appear in other fantasy worlds as well. We all know that Wildfire exists in GRRM‘s Game of Thrones and was used effectively in the Battle of the Blackwater by the Pyromancers. Even though that hits me more like napalm or Greek Fire, it’s definitely a recipe for fiery disaster. 

If it’s simply the gunpowder or explosive parts of the equation most of us don’t like, why don’t we simply use magic to create the same effect? D&D has its “Dancing Lights” and “Pyrotechnics” spells that have been used occasionally. And yet, I don’t think I’ve ever seen them used for celebratory or demonstration purposes in any adventure I can remember reading.

Have you ever used fireworks in a campaign (either the gunpowder or magical variety)? If so, how did it work?

As a final note – I wish those of you reading this in the United States a Happy and Safe Fourth of July! May you and yours enjoy the sound and the fury!

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4 comments to The Gassy Gnoll: Celebrating Independence (or Why Aren’t There Fireworks in Fantasy RPGs?)

  • Philo Pharynx

    You need to check out Pathfinder. They have multiple forms of fireworks.
    Two spells: The pyrotechinics spell was brought over from D&D, and Snapdragon fireworks is a new 1st level spell.
    They also have the following alchemical fireworks:
    Banshee Ballerina firework, Flame fountain firework, Paper Candle Firework, Skyrocket Firework, Star Candle Firework, Starfountain Firework.

    In addition, you have all of the various other ways to celebrate. In a 3.5 game Two characters got married. When the bride is a wizard, the celebration is going to be impressive.

    You mentioned dancing lights, but a simple light spell put at the end of a weapon can make for brilliant displays of performances. I’ve also seen those used with a group of flying people to make night displays. Faerie Fire on a troupe of dancers is pretty impressive – Fire Shield is more so!

    And all of the “_____ Image” illusion spells can be used for entertainment. The next time you run across a fey village, remember that Pixies can do permanent image 1/day. Permanent Image. Once per day – per pixie. Anybody who doesn’t see this as a wonderful opportunity should just put the books on the shelf and give up.

    And with all of these spells, remember that spellcasters can be hired, and you can use scrolls wands and staves to help get more spells off. It may be expensive, but when you are celebrating the coronation of the new king of Teryllia money is no object.

    • Fitz

      @Philo – That’s a lot to take in, but thanks for the great details! Good to know there ARE ways to simulate fireworks and that sort of light show in a high fantasy world. 🙂

  • forged

    Pathfinder also had Goblins find a cache of fireworks in one of their free modules … http://paizo.com/products/btpy8j5w?Pathfinder-Module-We-Be-Goblins.

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