Magical Industry

Salve Sodalis

I've always been interested in low powered magic items saving labour. I love the idea of a blacksmith working and enchanted forge or a farmer using an enchanted plow. Much of the medieval world was ridiculously labour intensive so it makes sense to me that magi in far flung areas would use their magic to compensate for lack of labour.

I've recently come across this blog by Bret Devereaux, a historian with a particular focus on military history.

However the most recent post ( about the way that iron was produced really blew me away, particularly in how labour intensive and time consuming it was to produce really quite small amounts of iron, and how much timber it required too. In any area with decent iron production, you'd be looking at very heavy deforestation and for magi this could potentially be a real problem regarding magic and fae auras.

The amounts of input were vast. For one kilo of iron out of the bloomery, you'd need somewhere between 36 and 100kg of wood for fuel/charcoal. And thats not even including the fuel for the blacksmiths forge. Every step of the process requires skilled people that also need to be supported (because they aren't farming themselves).

A simple enchanted device using rego to separate pure iron from ore would save not just huge amounts of trees, but also eliminate the need for charcoalers, tree-fellers, and the people that smelt the ore. You could even produce huge amounts of iron (if the ore is available) without hacking into the royalties forests or supporting groups of otherwise unproductive peasants.

Something to mine the ore and break it up would also reduce, massively, the time and man power required for mining, maybe an enchanted pick axe, or something like a bound earth elemental. This would also be hugely useful given how backbreaking and dangerous mining is at this time.

Anyway, food for thought.

Do any of your covenants have similar magically enhanced industry?


That reminds me, I never did finish my "wealth creating scheme a day" from January.

Ore separation is massively fuel saving, but it also opens up a massive breakthrough in natural philosophy that will utterly change the world. After all, if you put ores other than iron in this magical separator, what will you find? You can put calamine in, and refine zinc in a way that European alchemy can't (in the thirteenth century, Persians and Indians had refined zinc, but I don't think this had reached Europe). This revolutionises brass production.

What if you put other things in? Will you discover Aluminium many centuries ahead of its time? What if you go to Cornwall and discover the ultradense Tungsten or Uranium as impurities? What if someone goes into scandinavia and finds that pitchblende from near Ytterby that yielded so many rare earth elements? Several centuries of metallurgy and chemistry can be bypassed simply by not needing to discover electricity and electrolysis and advanced refining procedures.

Also, what happens if people put slightly poisonous rock in, and your separator brings out pure crystals of arsenic or pure cadmium? It's a fun idea, but has massive in-game ramifications.

1 Like

I have not gotten around to doing this yet in my own saga but it is a subject that I have given considerable thought. This thread contains a lot of what I have personally considered in an attempt to preserve both the forest and the value that it provides to society.

Recently I have spent a lot of time thinking about non-ritual Creo spells that create something from nothing. You can actually have a lot of fun with these and some of them are relevant to the questions you raise about iron production.

The first and most obvious one is a CrHe spell, probably of moon duration which creates a lot of charcoal. non-ritual creo spells create something that lasts for the duration of the spell and then disappears, however the effects of the created things persist. This means that magically created charcoal can be burned in a bloomery and even when the moon has passed the bloom will remain. Now actually casting this as a spell is much too tedious because your magus will have to leave their lab at least once a month probably more if they supply charcoal to an ironworking operation. It is much better to use an enchanted item that is at least semi-portable and have the covenfolk go around doing the actual creation of charcoal.

Charcoal is attractive to create temporarily precisely because it is an intermediate product in the creating of iron, thus it does not matter that the created charcoal is fake. It is also much better than creating fuelwood and then mundanely reprocessing that into charcoal. magically created charcoal also has the advantage of still requiring labor so that you are not taking the jobs away from too many mundanes who might turn angry at you as a result.

likewise if you have sufficient CrIg and rule that the guidelines for creating successively hotter fires apply further than directly specified in the core rulebook then you could create a device which heats a kiln to temperatures neccesary to: Create blooms (you would have problems with the lack of charcoal to create oxygen-carbon dynamics), fire pottery, work iron, anything that requires heat. I think that the big ones here are firing pottery and magical forges.

Another big thing that magic can do is repair things that normally couldnt be repaired. With Rego magic you can fix a broken pot or a broken iron object, kind of like in harry potter. The ability to repair things that normally cannot be repaired is probably not insignificant if you chose to apply it as a magus, again enchanted items are recommended.

There are lots of other things but these are the most relevant to what you focus on in the OP.

1 Like

One problem you'd run into cutting out the wood in smelting iron ore would be getting pure iron rather than the normal mix of iron and silicates that gets used in making wrought iron. Almost all the useful forms of iron involve various impurities (primarily carbon and silicates) - even steel requires a rather precise amount of carbon.

All of this could be done with Craft Magic, of course, though the Finesse rolls would be prohibitive. Just pulling the iron out of the ore will definitely save fuel but it will still require processing (and fuel) to get more 'useful' iron alloys.

1 Like

If you simply use a trigger, a magical item which produces x amount of coal that lasts for a month every day at sunrise could sell to a high-volume consumer like a bloomery or ironsmith and nobody be any the wiser. Oddly you could also produce animal brains for a tannery in the same fashion...

1 Like

Why would the Finesse roll be prohibitive? I assume that you are thinking in terms of reproducing the workings of a specific ratio of carbon-to-iron as a chemist would consider it. However a rego craft magic roll could just as well reproduce the workings of an iron-worker/blacksmith making steel in a traditional fashion in which case the dc would probably be rather low, specifically 3+the dc of making steel in traditional fashion (maybe with a bit added for doing many steps at once or for doing the work of a long time in an instant).

As far as I can tell Rego craft magic generally reproduces the work that a contemporary craftsman could do and gives results in correspondence with how the result would turn out if the craftsman had actually done it.

I think he is referring to the fact that finesse requires the arcane lore virtue and is not as widespread as common craft abilities.

Craft Magic is generally prohibitively difficult unless you're highly tooled for Finesse. It's specialist territory.

I dont think that your position is supported by the rules as they are written.

If you have a look at the examples published in Covenants (pages 50-53) there are several examples of Craft magic listed including: A spell to transform pig iron into iron bars (highly relevant to the OP) which requires a Perception+Finesse roll against a dc 9 (dc 6 for a blacksmith). An enchanted chisel that cuts rocks into stone blocks (dc 6). Or more broadly a spell to transform iron bars into any item a blacksmith could make.

the first two examples are things you could reasonably make into an item and give to a covenfolk and have them use on your behalf, perhaps with a bit or training in finesse to get them going. they are hardly the sole domain of specialist craft magi.

Craft magic is as far as I have been able to determine only prohibitively difficult if you want to create superior quality items in categories where the items are already naturally hard to make, things like weapons, armor, locks, glassware, etc.

1 Like

It also depends on how much you are trying to craft how quickly. The finesse roll is three higher than the required craft roll (aside from the fact that there are no craft rolls aside from the guidelines for craft magic...) to do with a spell what a craftsman can do in a day. So a professional craftsman (craft:5) would require a finesse of 8 to have the same chance of success. That being said there are a lot of complications thrown in that have nothing to do with the rest of the system, but amongst them you get bonus of +3 for having an example of the item as a model or having a area lore of 3 for an area where the item commonly exists, or having a 5 in a craft ability where the item is used, which would presumably also include having a 5 in the craft that would make the item... or possibly a lower number at SG discretion...


That is a pretty accurate description of craft magic as far as I can tell, and it does hide some interesting tidbits, that at least to me suggest a lot about how craft magic is best used.

It is already well known that craft magic is best used to craft easy-to-make items in bulk. like the examples i referenced above on making stone blocks or iron ingots. Those tasks are both quite easy.

However there is relatively little consideration given to who is best suited to do those tasks. It seems to me like the list of bonuses one can get from various sources, including craft abilities, area lores, and to a lesser extent examples are abilities that are if not more likely to be possessed by ordinary folk than magi at least equally likely. I think that the most useful application of craft magic is to create items that do menial tasks quickly (doing the work of an entire day in an instant is quick enough for me), and give them either to unskilled covenfolk with some ways to get bonuses, example items spring to mind here. Or to give the craft magic items to craftsmen and have them use the items to speed up the tedious and time consuming parts of their work while allowing them to benefit from the +3 bonus for having a relevant craft ability. A covenant that does this will over time develop a corps of laborers with the Finesse ability who can teach each other as if Finesse was just another craft ability.

Keep in mind that what I propose is not that magi using craft magic to make higher quality goods dont exist or are irrelevant, they are not. They are however specialists and their abilities cannot be easily replicated. Having covenfolk assisted by items with Craft magic effects in them is however a very useful way to subtly boost a covenants economy by having it produce more goods with less labor.

As an addendum:
I dont really know what to say about the area lore thing except it is IMO so broad that it would probably give its bonus to all the covenfolk for all common types of goods that a covenant might want to produce. I think it is reasonable to assume that most adults have an area lore score of about 3 for the local area that they live in. If that area lore allows them to get a +3 bonus to craft things that are commonly found in their local area using craft magic they would essentially get that bonus all the time if you are using craft magic to create the goods that covenants usually either import, export or make locally, things like agricultural tools, pottery, cloth, basic constructions, basic iron tools, wagons, etc.

Both being apprentice level tasks within the realm of their task. Smelting iron ore is not nearly so simple. It's quite easy to get wrong - too much carbon and you've got pig iron, which needs reprocessing - it's basically a failed bloom, at least in period. Later on they made pig iron in blast furnaces and then used a finery forge to reduce it to useable iron.

For more detail check out

I think there is an example of a magical broom stick that brings in buckets of water non stop, somewhere...


Silveroak - Coal isn't much good for smelting at this period of time a it introduces a whole lot of sulphur and wrecks the quality of the iron.
Euphemisim - Producing charcoal to burn is however a great idea. In one of my previous games we had an enchanted woodshed that produced month duration wood whenever the door was opened, kept the whole covenants fuel supplies sorted. But creating charcoal would be even better. It burns cleaner, gets hotter and can be used for jobs like iron smelting where the chemistry requires the injection of CO2. Very nice idea. Also producing charcoal is a horribly arduous and lonely job, not terribly well paid and low status. If you are setting your covenant in a fairly empty area, it means you don't have to recruit charcoalers.

1 Like

A few things to keep in mind- 1) creo craft magic doesn't require finesse, it simply creates a functional version of the item. Perfectly adequate for creating objects in bulk that will have moon duration, and as mentioned before this can even be enchanted with a sunrise trigger so it does not require covenfolk. In addition to coal/charcoal you can create other consumable items this way- candles, arrows, etc.
2) modern chemistry doesn't matter. Sure we know in the 20th century that carbon from the charcoal or coal (whose sulpher content varies depending on where it was mined- an issue that may have been responsible for regional variations in quality of iron production) is an issue, but for Ars Magica the steel is simply forged by the blacksmith's techniques, and the fuel simply heats it. They were (and this is documented!) more likely to try and improve the steel quality by quenching it in the blood of a virgin than by changing their fuel source.

1 Like

Creo magic does require a finesse roll. If you roll poorly, whatever is created is still functional. If you roll a botch, it’s broken. See the description of the Creo Technique.
A bonus is that The finesse roll is Intelligence based and not Perception based.

Societies, p. 60, emphasis mine;

The magus may use an Intelligence + finesse roll to add detail, making the creation particularly beautiful or suited to a task.

So it is optional, and for routine objects like coal a device can create it without a finesse roll.

From the core rulebook p. 77 (on creating things with Creo):

Natural things, such as plants, animals, flames, and so on, have simple forms, which means that the form is just one thing. This makes them easy to create and heal. Natural things created by magic are always perfect examples of their kind unless the magus wants them to be damaged. [...] Artificial things, such as bread, swords and books, have complex forms. Their forms are combinations of several natural forms put together in a particular way. Creating an artificial thing by magic requires some skill on the part of the magus, reflected by his Finesse Ability. An Int + Finesse roll is made to determine how good the created thing is.

I believe this is the section that @Jonathan.Link was referring to.

I think that it is pretty clear that to create a natural thing requires no roll, it will always be perfect when created, so long as that is what the caster desires.

But for manufactured things it seems like a Finesse roll is very much required. Personally I think is some ambiguity in this statement. Sure a tree is not manufactured and a sword definitely is. But what about firewood? it has been processed but not very much. Charcoal more so but still not all that much.

As always you have to consider what failure and success looks like. As an example consider conjured charcoal, we have to consider what failed charcoal looks like. As I understand it the chief danger when making charcoal is that the pile catches fire properly and the charcoaling wood burns up. However it is hardly appropriate to have a charcoal conjuring spell instead conjure a pile of ashes. However there is apparently also the danger that the charcoal is too broken up, essentially becoming charcoal powder instead of lumps of charcoal. This is definitely a possibility. What about success? maybe there is a perfect size distribution for charcoal pieces to have? in that case a successful Finesse roll probably conjures that. What about hidden defects? can Charcoal have a hidden defect? I would assume that for someone who regularly makes or uses charcoal, probably not. For different materials I am going to have different opinions.

The next question to consider is: Does it matter? if you have a charcoal version of the "Woodshed of plenty" (the charcoalshed of plenty?) that can be activated only once per day and you really need to start today then yes, the roll matters. But if you can activate it unlimited times per day, then no it does not matter since you can simply try and try again until you get the result that you want.

These considerations apply more generally too. If there is no cost associated with trying infinitely many times then there is no need to roll Finesse and as a storyguide I would simply assume that the end product came out workable. But if there is a cost associated with trying then the roll matters. If a flawed product is most likely to look fine until the hidden defect makes itself known in an inconvenient way then a roll is definitely call for. Maybe a conjured pot only breaks once you fill it with liquid and try to lift it, that calls for a Finesse roll since you only know about the flaw once it has inconvenienced you.


See also the upper right inset on page 61 of HoH:S.

The major thing, from my point of view, is that if no finesse roll is required then no human action is required, it can be triggered by the sun rising. As noted on p.60 of societies a creo spell always creates the item in question- quality of manufactured goods may be a question, but for something simple that only needs to be functional it can be pretty much automatic. You might not want to take the arrows created by a daylight triggered spell into battle (or maybe you would depending on what your alternatives are) but they are certainly serviceable for training purposes- the point is that as long as it is stamping out the pre-designed item it can be done without finesse and without human effort.