Rain hissed on the gargoyle's back, sprayed like spittle through its gnashed teeth. Lizbet set an elbow on its neck. Cold damp seeped into her skin. She leveled a heavy gunspring, tucked its sculpted stock fast against her shoulder. She set an eye to the pupil of a long brass scope, shut the other. A hundred meters down, a sea of umbrellas milled on a broad, brick avenue. Uncounted slivers of pale faces showed under black, dripping canvass domes. Lizbet examined them, noted each in turn under the cruciform reticule: A ginger man. A pockmarked woman. A teenager with a red nose. A bankerlymouse in tweed. Then, standing in the crowd, a silver mask: The anonymous veil of an aristocrat. With a thumb, Lizbet flipped the gunspring's priming catch. A high, slithery whine emanated from the weapon: The sound of its potent maincoil shivering, tightening 152-kilogram launch springs. A steel flechette clicked into the receiver. Lizbet sighed, emptied her lungs. Her body stilled. The reticule drifted, steadied over the masked man. Her finger tightened on the trigger. A crack of metal broke the air. The stock bucked. In the courtyard below, the masked aristocrat jerked as 550 grains of steel dashed and spun through his skull. Rising from the damp gargoyle, Lizbet slipped, unseen, into the hiss of rain.
Invented in 3.221 by a Firlish inventor named Guillotine, the gunspring* is the current evolution of torsion-based ballistic technology. It is a handheld weapon** that utilizes a weighty pair of compression springs to project metal flechettes at sharply lethal velocity.
Gunspring technology is, in many ways, a progression of the crossbow. It utilizes the same firing form and stance, and involves the use of similar ammunition: steel flechettes.
Crossbows and gunsprings differ in several, crucial respects. While a crossbow may be drawn and loaded by the strength of a man alone, gunsprings rely on mechanical means. Said means are requisite, as modern launch springs are far too heavy to be drawn by a human in handy time, even with windlass assistance. This mechanization is a net benefit to the weapon, as heavier springs allow more energy to be put behind a projectile.
Mechanization also allows for a marked increase in rate of fire. While a crossbow may be loaded and fired merely thrice in a minute, a gunspring equipped with a heavy maincoil may expel six flechettes in a span of several seconds.
The addition of a maincoil is the most important element of gunspring technology. Advances in the brewing of odite-based alloy permit massive quantities of energy to be stored in a hairspring coil the size of a small cake tin. Torsion generated by this coil (mounted on the front of the weapon) spins a cog driving a reciprocating, internal windlass mechanism, which in turn draws and nocks a pair of heavy launch springs. This is possible, even at a rapid rate of reciprocation and heavy spring weights, as the windlass mechanism provides a mechanical draw advantage often in excess of 200-1.
As a maincoil may draw and redraw the launch spring at a rapid rate, the addition of an ammunition magazine and feeding mechanism allows the weapon to fire without pause to reload. Magazines are matched by maincoils wound with enough power to draw the launch spring a number of times equal to the magazine's capacity (usually six flechettes.) Users of gunsprings carry a coil for every magazine, or a series of smaller magazines to match a large coil.
Though coils and magazines may be swapped in moments, coils themselves take a deal of time to rewind. The assistance of a specialized lever is required to hold the coil in place and wind it. This may be done by hand using a field cranequin, or with a lever-mill driven by a draft animal or engine. The former winding option takes a great deal of time. It is used by soldiers in the field, who complain of the many thousand winch-cranks required to fully wind a coil. *** The later is expedient, but available only at armories and outfitted camps.
Tactical and Cultural Effect
Though the mighty gunspring has relegated the crossbow and reflex bow to the past, it has not doomed the art of melee. The gunspring's rapid salvo may dominate the opening throes of battle, but its slow reload time allows for melee combatants to close. Most soldiers would rather draw a sword and duel than reload whilst stationary. As a result, armed forces carry gunsprings in compliment to handaxes, pikes, and swords, rather than as a replacement.
In civilian life and military roles deemed unfit for high-powered weapons, single-action gunsprings are prominent. These weapons, known as leverettes, are somewhat less powerful. They utilize a lever-action mechanism instead of a coil, and may lack a magazine as well, requiring a flechette to be thumbed into the receiver between every shot. Some have internal magazines, tubal or stacked, and these are often quite spacious, if time consuming to reload.
Maximization and Instability
Theoretically, a gunspring need not be limited to a mere six shots before reloading. This limitation is cautionary, rather than mechanical.
Gunspring coils (and, as a result, most magazines) are limited in size and power as they become unstable at extreme tension. When wound, an alloy hairspring possesses great potential energy. Excessive jostling may cause the spring to bust, spewing razor lengths of twisting, shrapnel-like wire.
Thus, high-power maincoils possess deadly potential. They allow a gunspring to fire an exceptional number of flechettes before reloading, but also carry the risk of deadly accident.
5E Gunspring Stats
By popular interest, I've hashed together some 5E gunspring rules. Added 1/28/2020.
Munitions gunspring: 150GP; d8 damage; 15lbs; properties: Ammo (440gr flechette, range 50/200,) heavy, magazine, two handed, coil drive (munitions coil,) repeating Pistol gunspring: 80GP; d6 damage; 7lbs; properties: Ammo
(220gr flechette, range 25/100,) light, magazine, coil drive (pistol coil,) repeating Leverette:100GP; d8 damage; 10lbs; properties: Ammo (440gr flechette, range 50/200,) heavy, magazine, loading, two handed
Repeating: When you take the Attack action using this weapon, you may opt to make one additional attack.
Magazine: This weapon requires a magazine in order to attack. It must reload after making a number of attacks equal to the magazine's capacity. Reloading is a standard action.
Coil drive (X): This weapon requires a coil matching X in order to attack. It must reload after making a number of attacks equal to the coil's charge capacity. Reloading is a standard action.
Ammunition 220gr fletchette (6): 1gp 440gr fletchette (6): 2gp 220gr fletch' mag: 2gp per capacity, min 6, max 18. 440gr fletch' mag: 4gp per capacity, min 6, max 18. Munitions coil, charge cap. 6: 20gp Pistol coil, charge cap. 6: 10gp Wind spoon: 1gp
Services Full coil recharge (lever mill): 5sp Gear Descriptions Coils:May be overclocked to increase their charge capacity by up to +6. An overclocked coil risks exploding on an attack roll of 1, or if the coil is struck (e.g., if a character falls prone while holding it, or if the coil is hit by an attack.) Roll a d6 to see if it explodes. A roll equal to or below the coil's overclock bonus capacity causes the spring to explode, dealing 3d10+5 slashing damage in a 10-foot radius, destroying the coil and, if loaded in a gunspring, the gunspring. Wind spoon: During a rest, a character may occupy themselves winding up a discharged coil. So long as they undertake no other activity but winding, they may recharge the coil by up to 50% of its capacity. A wind spoon cannot cause a coil to gain more than 50% charge.
Springer: You may reload a gunspring's coil and magazine using a single action. When rolling a d6 to see if a coil explodes on an attack roll of 1, roll with -2. You have resistance to slashing damage inflicted by exploding coils.
Do keep in mind that 5E is not a game that lends itself to simulating this kind of weapon. As such, certain compromises in flavor and "balance" might be present. To see the gunspring better represented, check out the Incunabuli system playtest. If a reader has suggestions on how to make these rules more elegant or functional, do comment. If interests exists for more 5E conversions, let me know about that, too.
The gunspring was theorized as a gamifiable ballistic weapon which possessed powderless, satisfying power. Every nice thing in Coastal gameplay should have at least one terrible downside/sin for every wonder. The gunspring epitomizes that. It's a semiautomatic crossbow that you can make tantalizingly more powerful, but will also explode into razorwire if you mishandle it/roll a critical failure.
Looking back on this, I judge that it'll likely be touched up soon. While other articles (namely this, this, and this) have yielded examples of the gun in fiction, it could still use more. More will be added. This article was made possible by Incunabuli's generous supporters on Patreon. To join them and read articles available only to supporters, support Incunabuli on Patreon.
* Or simply "gun," or "spring." Gun is the old Awnish word for war.
** Not all gunsprings are necessarily handheld. Large examples are utilized in war and whaling.
*** The device used to hand-crank a gun coil is known as a "wind-spoon."