Blood and Thunder
“Why the hand? Iasu damn those dirty orcs! Just tell my why, huh? Why my good hand? I liked that hand! That was my second favorite hand!”
Vanver Tobroka squatted in the shade behind the line of horses. A black arrowhead was lodged in his right hand at an angle, and none of the three points were visible above the skin. He clutched at the broken remainder of the arrow with his other hand, fingering the rough fletching with the three good fingers on his left hand.
“You know, I’ve never seen orcs hire mercenaries before. I wonder if they paid them with batshit or their women-folk? Iasu, I hope it wasn't their womenfolk. Do you think it was those Black Swords bastards who taught. . .”
“Vanver,” said the taller man, “Shut up.”
Vanver didn’t cry out when Lieutenant Tadion jerked the arrowhead free. The lieutenant quickly hauled the smaller man to his feet. A few hundred feet to their north, sounds of combat still rang out: a chorus of metal against metal and metal against flesh. Orcish howls of bloodlust mixed in with the desperate shouts of men trying to hold on to their courage.
“Can you still fight?” the lieutenant asked, wiping Vanver’s blood off his blue cuffs. He only succeeded in smearing it.
“Are you kidding? Where’s my bow? I’ve got some arrows that I still need to put to bed—tuck ‘em into some bloodshot eyeballs.” And indeed, the sniper didn’t look too bad. He was already flexing his hand experimentally, although it was still bleeding freely.
To the north, the field smoldered with oily smoke from orcish stinkpots, some still burning on the ground where they had been thrown. Young men occasionally staggered out of the clouds, either alone or being supported by a companion. Sound carried well in the hot air, and many of those that did not die silently let their screams hang on the wind.
Lieutenant Tadion handed the sniper his bow and gave him almost a quarter of a smile. “You’re an amazing man, Vanver.”
“Thank you, sir. It was my mum, you see, she always taught me to--”
There was a terrific boom from the battlefield, followed immediately by a chorus of human noises of dismay.
“What the hell was that?” asked Vanver.
A dozen men broke through the smoke and ran for camp. A horse followed them, eyes rolling with fright. Half of the horses’s barding hung loose off the side, along with most of the horse’s flank where heavy axes had bit clean through the armor. The lieutenant shook his head. It was easy to forget how much stronger orcs were than men. Now they were being reminded of it.
Another dozen men broke through the smoke. One turned and hurled his sword back into the smoke, then continued running.
“Shit, sir, are we losing?” Vanver stuck the orcish arrowhead in his pocket, and quickly began checking his bow over for signs of damage, but his glance wandered up to the wall of black smoke, too.
Then Lieutenant Tadion saw the cause of his men's panic. “We will if we don’t kill that,” he said.
An ogre, twelve feet tall and two thousand pounds if it was an ounce, strode out of the gloom on legs as thick as wine barrels. Its whole body was covered in mismatched iron plates that they called armor. Perched on its shoulder was the largest Thundergun the lieutenant had ever seen. The gun was at least nine feet long and dripping with painted runes, baubles, fetishes, and messy spikes of bird feathers. The muzzle of the weapon swung to point at the two men, then kept swinging over to point at the commander’s tent (now empty, Tadion knew). After hesitating, the ogre began swinging the muzzle back in the lieutenant's direction.
Vanver pointed at the ogre with his bow. “Hey, look! They brought an piggy with a—“
The roar lifted both of them off their feet and threw them to the ground. A thick layer of dirt blasted into them as if thrown from a giant’s spade. Lieutenant Tadion struggled to find his bearings in a world of dirt. He was on his back. At least, he was pretty sure he was on his back.
Next step: open his eyes. His mare, Farona, had been blown in two by the cannonball. She was spread out across perhaps fifty square feet. He wasn’t sure where her back half was. For the first time in the entire campaign, Lieutenant Tadion began to get angry.
Less than two hundred feet to the north, the ogre roared and began beating its chest with its free hand. Working its sloppy, heavy-slung jaw like an idiot pumping a bellows, it spewed guttural invectives. It paused to punch itself in the face a couple of times, in order to intimidate the enemy. Then it resumed shouting. It had been a long time since the lieutenant had practiced the slobbery language, but he caught a few words. It was a talkative one, the lieutenant decided after listening to the tirade, but not very creative.
From the smoke line a knight emerged at full gallop. The ogre turned around in time to see the knight’s lance pierce the creature in the side, spiking a huge, clean hole in the monster's side. The knight pulled away, but not quickly enough. A few strings of mismatched beads fell off the Thundergun as the ogre swung the cannon around in a huge arc, catching the knight on the helmet. There was a brief spatter of gore, glittering above the dust of the field. The dead knight’s helmet sailed through the air, at least fifty feet, and then disappeared back into the smoke.
A quartet of orcs (each old enough to have gray hair!) ran from the smoke behind the ogre. They were carrying something between them—something long, black, and snub-nosed. The ogre noticed them, threw its Thundergun to the ground, and began bellowing insults again.
“My bow works. So does my hand,” said Vanver. “Before I kill it, what the hell is that fat thing saying?” He nodded his head in the direction of the ogre, which was now pulling the lance from its side and breaking it over its knee.
“Something about violating your mouth, Vanver,” said the lieutenant. “Listen closely. Change of plans. I want you to run to the east front, find Commander Hadrogoth. Tell him we have at least one ogre here with a Thundergun, and we need drake support. You’ll find him—“
“No time for that,” said Vanver. The smaller man ducked under one of the broken halves of the lance (the ogre was a hurler!), pulled on his hat, and began jogging at an oblique angle towards the ogre. “I’m going back to the ridge! Find someone else to run errands for you. You know, someone who isn’t the greatest archer in the world. Good luck with the pig!”
And just like that, Vanver loped off on his diagonal path towards the smokeline. The ogre was watching him, but didn't dare get too far from the rest of the orcish army. Less than two hundred feet away, Vanver waved at the ogre. He was answered by a belching roar. Lieutenant Tadion could see the spittle fly from here.
The four veteran orcs handed the ogre the second Thundergun, and the stinking giant snatched it up with a bellow. While the ogre heaved the huge weapon onto his shoulder, the four orcs set about reloading the first Thundergun with supplies from their packs. They were very fast. The gun would be repacked in a few seconds. Damn.
The new Thundergun was painted solid black, and appeared to have human skulls held in rows along the sides with iron bands. In contrast to the skulls, two loops of ribboned bells hung off the front, and their tinkling was barely audible at this distance. Lieutenant Tadion wondered what kind of shot it was packed with.
No time for that. He turned around, and without pausing he began addressing the men who were fleeing. He had a commanding voice; he knew that. He reminded them what they were fighting for. They were the champions of their country and their king. He told them that they had faced worse things than Thunderguns. “But not many,” he thought privately.
Behind him, the Thundergun roared.
A Little History
For a while, it seemed like firearms would win in the arms race against magic. Every year the guns produced by the dwarven smithies improved in quality, accuracy, and power. Similarly, spells and weapon enchantments developed grew in deadliness and effect. War became much more lethal very quickly.
But we know how the story ends. The imperfect, expensive production of firearms eventually could not compete with powerful magic, and in the end, the gun was cast by the wayside. In the arena of war, it was simply an inferior weapon.
Nowadays, it is used only by criminals, unsubtle assassins, hobbyist gunsmiths, and orcs. Lacking powerful magic of their own, but being entirely willing to endure the difficult process of metalwork, the orcs have picked up the gun and brought it to the forefront once again. The orcs have a lot in common with firearms: both are smelly, loud, and unreliable. The orcs also have an easy source of guano since they live in caves and don’t mind shit on the floor. They've been manufacturing and improving firearms for over one hundred years.
And their guns still suck. The rate of fire is too low and the impact too small against modern abjurations. It wasn’t until the orcs began casting them for ogres that gunpowder reemerged as a threat.
Although they don’t work together very often, the rifles that the orcs make for ogres aren’t rifles at all— they’re cannons called Thunderguns.
Thunderguns are held the same way rifles are. The breech-end is tucked into the hollow between the shoulder joint and the collar bone. The right hand supports the cannon with the palm of the hand on the bottom of the body, while the left hand supports the cannon near the muzzle. There are no handholds or triggers. A flanged sort of flat hook rises from the butt of the cannon and curves over the ogre’s shoulder, to help distribute the weight. This broad flange is called the “bite”. The Thundergun is fired when the ogre bites a bundle of flashgrass (long, chemical-coated protomatches) and yanks it out of the breech with his teeth. The flashgrass ignites, and the whole cannon fires.
Thunderguns, like all orcish guns, have a bad habit of exploding or misfiring. But among ogres and their Thunderguns, there is an additional problem: the guns frequently dislocate the ogre’s shoulder. This happens so often that the soldiers have a name for it: “punching the pig”. It’s a game-changing event, and pig-punched ogres usually doesn’t last longer than a minute or two in combat if there are any revenge-minded men around.
After firing, the rifle needs to be repacked with gunpowder, reloaded with wadding and a cannonball, and resupplied with flash grass (give the cannon time to cool, or the grass may ignite prematurely). This work is usually done by the gun’s “thundermakers”, orcs who are responsible for the weapon. These orcs are usually missing a few fingers and smell strongly of guano. Or maybe that's just them.
The guns are filled with different types of cannonballs. Round shot for buildings or very large enemies, grapeshot for infantry (think shotgun), and carcass (actually an incendiary shell that produces gouts of flame and/or noxious fumes) for trenches or smaller fortifications. Although more exotic types of ammunition exist (pain eaters, poltergeist prisons, aerosolized oozes), orcs are generally limited to the simpler ones they can make for themselves.
Ogres are among the dumbest and most superstitious of all the “civilized” races. They adorn their Thunderguns with names, ascribe them with personalities, and frequently talk to them. The guns are frequently decorated with charms and fetishes for accuracy and protection. Ogres are known for doing garish things to make their guns more intimidating, such as mounting fake shark fins on the top or jamming a drake’s head on the front of it so that it might resemble a dragon.
Secondly, they are also used as melee weaopns. They are swung by the muzzle, like huge clubs. In fact, cannons might have their front 1/3 covered in rough twine to provide a better grip. To make them more effective as heavy clubs, spikes or flanges are often added to the butt or the bite (the part that hooks over the shoulder). A Thundergun never has sights, and an ogre is expected to fire without the aid of one.
Although they are effective in combat, they are seen as the epitome of dangerous, stupid orc weapons, and are almost never used by non-ogres. Because of their fearsome reputation and outlandish appearance, they are often war trophies, and it is not uncommon to see a few of them mounted on the walls of a king’s trophy room.