Arms races usually take place in a tit-for-tat back and forth. Germany got flamethrowers, so America got trench guns. Russia has more tanks, so America gets the Apache. Sure, the balance of power shifts, but the weapons produced all make logical sense given the context.
Sometimes, however, someone thinks of a weapon or an upgrade that completely shifts the balance of power. These weapons are so out there that it sounds like the responsible nation downloaded some mods to get an edge that nobody could have ever planned for.
Nest of bees
The Nest of Bees was a Chinese weapon that worked like a Saturn Missile firework. A group of a couple dozen projectiles, basically arrows with rocket engines, were packed into tubes combined into a single block with one fuse. Warriors would aim at the body of the enemy army, set the fuse alight, and unleash hell.
Everyone else is using bows but your character can shoot dozens of flaming rocket arrows in one go? Sounds fair.
Pirate and navy games focus on just a couple of important weapons, none more so than the cannons that ships and forts used to inflict damage on one another. But forts had an advantage that game developers don’t often include — and we’re sure that many would pay for the DLC to get it: Hot shot.
Defenders in a fort would stack cannonballs on open grates or, after the year 1800, in large furnaces. The cannonballs would then be heated for less than an hour to reach red or white-hot heat. Then, they would be fired against enemy ships and siege engines. The heat would transfer into the wood and set the whole thing aflame.
Flaming ammo? Just type “Devil’s Balls” into the chat window and hit enter.
The reputed Claw of Archimedes toppled ships in the Siege of Syracuse, saving the city, according to ancient sources.
The Claw of Archimedes
Archimedes (yeah, the famous one) was tasked with creating defenses for the Carthaginian city of Syracuse. Syracuse was a coastal city with tall walls, but the leaders knew that Rome was building a huge fleet with massive ships to come get them. Archimedes came up with a few solutions, the most famous of which became known as the Claw of Archimedes.
It was described as a system that used massive levers and counterweights (think of the size of a large catapult) to raise hidden grapples from the water under enemy ships. The grapples would pick up the prow, lift the ship out of the water, and then drop it, causing it to capsize.
Think of it as a final line of defense. Simply hit one button and the enemy’s closest ships are suddenly thrown into the air and sunk. Skyrim doesn’t have anything like that.
Often described as “automatic crossbows,” the Zhuge Nu and similar designs required the operator to cock the weapon between each shot.
Zhuge Nu semi-automatic crossbow
When faced with enemy archers, wouldn’t it be nice if you could fire 15 shots without reloading while everyone else has to pull new arrows from a quiver like a chump? The Zhuge Nu crossbow carried 10-15 arrows in a wooden box and allowed the operator to quickly fire one arrow after another by simply cocking a wooden block.
Of course, there were trade offs — most importantly in terms of range and accuracy. The weapon was typically accurate to 65 yards. Only put in this cheat code if you’re going to be fighting lots of enemies at medium range.
During the days where most warriors were carrying swords and spears, a few Chinese warriors were lucky enough to get fire lances. These were weapons made of bamboo or iron and then packed with sand near the handle and gunpowder near the tip.
Wielders could use it in a few ways, but the end result was always lighting the fuse and allowing the flames to erupt in someone’s face — sometimes firing a poison dart or other projectile that was packed in the tip in the process. To be the only guy shooting flames and poisonous darts into people’s brain cavities, first create a warrior character and then bust out the Game Genie.
Most people have heard about America’s plans to drop bombs filled with lots of live bats on Japanese cities. Now think about what that weapon would look like in a game. “You drop a bomb, and then all of the things inside the bomb fly to your targets and set them on fire.” That’s pretty sweet bomb upgrade — for humans, that is. It’s horrible for the bats.
Of course, the bat bomb project was famously abandoned after it proved too hard to control. So, no American aviators got to take advantage of the weapon in combat.