Steel: Anachronistic?

Flipping through the Shape and Material index (SO useful!) I realized there was no entry for steel.

So, I tried to do a little research on it. It looks like steel in the Middle East may have existed, but Europe does not embrace the manufacture of it until centuries later.

So, does anyone know much about the history of steel? How out of the period is it to have it appear? Could it appear?


Steel was a substance that was only just beginning to be understood during the time of AM. Yes, it existed - to what extent is open to some SG interpretation. Not until the 1800's and a true blast furnace were temperatures hot enough to produce steel in any quantities - so most of what is called "steel" in the AM period was more an alloy of iron with some steel in it - the best that could be produced at the time. So quality was both spotty and rare, not to mention prohibitively expensive.

Reading over some links should give you an idea of what the historical variables are. ... 5_1_4.html

There is no such thing as an alloy of iron and steel. Steel is the alloy. The alloy is with carbon, and only a small percentage is required to qualify iron as steel. Other metals can be alloyed into the steel as well, such as vandanium or nickle and others.
There is also Toledo steel, which is every bit as good as Damascene. The Spanish had been exporting steel since the Roman era, and in the middle ages they are exporting swords and knives all over western Europe.

So no, steel is not an achronism.

What is true is that steel making is still in its infancy. No steel foundry here, every piece is done by hand, and getting the quality right is an art, not a science. Each piece of steel is the result of a blacksmith personally working iron to make it into steel (usually as part of the process of making the final product).

Actually I was under the impresion that damascus steel was quite brittle. Extremely sharp due to its layering, but brittle and not suitable for heavy dutty. So it is great for shreding an unarmoured dude to pulp, but very bad for cutting through metallic armour that will dull it rather fast.


Unless of course it's magically enhanced by a sahir... :smiling_imp:



Like I said, Toledo Steel is every bit as good (and probably better) as Damascene. The Order controls the magical resources of Toledo now, and the Verditius magi hold the secrets :wink:
Items of Quality anyone? In the form of a sword of course :smiling_imp:

WHAT!?!? You mean you use Toledo steel for something that is not a frying pan or a nail for your chamber pot!?!?! Oh the horror!!


Meh... yes and no. But basically "no".

Yes, technically the term "alloy" may be inappropriate, but no, we are talking of a crude combination of iron and steel, not pure steel, not even remotely close. An "inclusion" might be a more technically accurate term. So, "steel" is indeed an anachronism, as we think of it today, as the term is usually used.

What the Crusaders called "Damascus steel" is (probably) not "steel" at this time, not the way a blade or tool is steel today - they just (almost certainly) didn't have the technology to melt iron, which is what's required. No cast iron = no pure steel, it's just that simple, and there's no hard evidence of either, not in final form, not in records, not in archaeological evidence - nada.

Here's how it works, the nuts and bolts:

(And the below is all "with no magic" - we're talking about the RL history of steel. Ysmv.)

A carbon/Iron mixture can produce a number of types of end product alloys - wrought iron, steel, cast iron, pig iron, etc, and these are distinguished by their % carbon content. Such an alloy is considered to be "steel" at around 0.5 % - 1.5% carbon. And that was impossible to achieve in the 1200's with any true "homogeneity", and would be for centuries.

A medieval "weapon smith" starts with iron, from ore, so about as pure as you can get it. That's "wrought iron" ("wrought" as in "worked by hand"), and soft, and less than .2% carbon, and that only by accident of smelting.

Since there are no blast furnaces, the melting temperature of iron can't be reached*, so the only way to get carbon into the mix is at the surface. The smith can "carbonize" the surface, but only the surface, and do some folding, and repeat. A lot. This is the classic Japanese technique. Master medieval "steel smiths" had secrets for carbonizing the surface of an iron weapon more effectively as it was being worked.

[i](* This is not a 100% guaranteed historically accepted fact. It's possible there were secret techniques in remote and distant corners of the map, or "lost techniques of the ancients", etc etc. But it's the general consensus, and no hard proof otherwise exists.

By the late 1300's, Europe had furnaces that could just barely melt the surface of iron, and improve this process. This is what is believed to have been known earlier in "Damascus" - but it's unclear exactly what they were doing. Again, better, but not true, pure "steel", not even close at this point. After blast furnaces, late 1700's-early 1800's, you could get up to 4%+, cast iron - "cast" as in "poured molten into a mold", and steel was then merely a matter of controlling the process and keeping the % around 1.0.)[/i]

But regardless, the end product is not "pure steel" - it's iron folded with microscopically thin layers and random bits of steel crystals mixed within it. The master weaponsmith's secret art was making these atom-level surface-layers as even and dense as possible, and the patience to fold it again, and again, and consistently. Fold something 10 times, you have 1000+ layers; 20 times is 1,000,000+. Very close to "homogenous", even if not truly such. The classic watery pattern on damascus and Japanese katanas shows this folding and layering.

So - is there steel in the metal? Yep! Get a microscope, we'll show you the steel crystals. Is the blade "steel"? Nope! It's iron - but even with the microscopic amounts of steel chunked semi-randomly in next to that iron, it's hella better than anything else.

So "steel", "steel weapons" and "steel armour" are an anachronism, even in Damascus (most probably). Extremely high quality improved iron weapons are not.

(And then you mix that with magic, and you're home.)

Well, I learned something.

Indeed. Thank you for the information! Most illuminating...




What's really anachronistic, out of place and, typical of the magical crafting rules, a truly unfortunate rule, is the discussion about how a magus needs charcoal to smelt iron, because of the carbon content.

The idea that the iron is gaining material from the stuff burned was not known until the 18th century.

If we start talking about carbon and sulfur, we have some real trouble. (And once we start talking about them, a magus still doesn't need charcoal, because the air has lots of carbon.)

Some of the NSMoArM seem to really really really hate the idea that magi can craft things with magic, and have added rules to the system to make sure they effectively cannot.



So my question is: can a character with 'Greater Immunity, Iron Weapons' be harmed by such a blade?

In short, steel is an "alloy" of iron and carbon.

Today, we take it for granted that our steel kitchen knife was liquid steel at some point, and so it is molecularly homogeneous, pure steel down to any level you care to discuss, and don't think twice about it.

Almost 1000 years ago, introducing carbon to the surface of iron and folding it, and repeating that process ~20 times was a very close approximation of this. But not the same.

And both have carbon, and so both are called "steel", even tho' they have entirely different processes and overall distinctly different metallurgical properties and histories.

That depends on you and your Troupe's operating definition of "steel".

If using secret techniques to prepare and fold iron weapons changes the nature of that iron into something called "steel", which is entirely different from iron, then no, the Immunity doesn't stop steel.

If all iron has some carbon and steel is just a certain % between wrought iron and cast iron, then hell yes - they're iron!

Chemically, "steel" is just a narrow category of iron, the same way that "gasoline" is a type of oil, or (less anachronistic) bronze is a type of copper (copper and tin alloy).

But whether you want to apply the modern periodic table of "elements" and modern notions of pure metals and alloys to a time when there were only 4 elements is up to you. No clear answer from this end, sorry. :wink:

(But if it helps, ims, I would rule "Immunity to Iron is not protection from Steel", for 3 reasons (always at least "3"...) 1) Having a secret technique that can create the rare if painfully expensive weapon will keep the character on their toes, b) it appears different enough that it "feels" like it's been changed, and iii) the "steel is an alloy of iron" concept is a modern one - ick .)


I'd rule yes. Faeries too.




I suppose this is a good place for me to post variant magical crafting rules. They are still based on AM5 material because... this is still AM5, and the C&G crafting rules for craftsmen are what we have. Ideally, I'd want to revisit these too: The guy who makes the shoe for the king's horse doesn't need nearly as much skill as the guy who forged the king's sword, and the rules should reflect this. Meanwhile....

Variant Rules for Finesse, Aiming and Crafting

  1. Finesse as an Ability no longer exists. A supernatural power or spell does things and places its effect, usually without needing a roll.

  2. The default Precision of any effect is 6. (You might prefer 9.)

  3. The Precision of a supernatural effect can be increased in various ways. During design, Precision increases by +3 per added magnitude. Spells that have increased magnitude for "tricky" or "fancy" effect (but usually not flexible) already have this benefit. MuVi allows the Precision of a spell to be increased by 3, similar to increasing the duration or the target. Flexible Formulaic Magic can modify a spell's Precision by adding or subtracting a magnitude, but not below the default. The Mastery ability that used to increase Finesse rolls now adds +3 to a spell's Precision. A new Minor Hermetic Virtue, Precise Magic, raises a magus' default spell Precision by 3. This virtue can be taken more than once.

  4. Because the precision of a spell is now part of the spell, "clever" aiming of spells to avoid Parma no longer works. Parma is not a Rego effect; it is Parma. A resisted effect should not harm the magus; for example, changing the air around a magus to stone should go awry, if he resists, in a manner that the magus is not constrained and can breathe. (Yes, this ruins the school of Vilano, and a good thing too.)

  5. Rego spells that craft items or create artwork, Creo spells that make processed goods (such as leather rather than an animal skin, or music rather than thunder) have a Crafting or Art Total equal to the spell's Precision. This total is not modified by the amount of material created or crafted; Hermetic magic (and various supernatural powers) already accounts for the size or amount of material affected in the normal spell parameters. Similarly, the amount of time a mundane craftsman needs to craft something or produce a work of art does not modify the total, since the spell is not actually duplicating the mundane process. Time is only relevant when the thing being produced is a performance, as when using CrIm to produce music (but not when milking a cow), and the spell's normal Duration accounts for this.

  6. A spell can play music but not compose it. It can scribe calligraphy (unless you adopt my rule that writing is itself a kind of magic ritual, and thus cannot be performed via magic) but not invent the content of a book.

considers Have I missed anything?

Ah, yes:

  1. Fast-Casting a spell always occurs on time to meet its purpose. That is, a magus can Fast-Cast as many times per round as he wants, with more recently declared Fast-Casts always occurring before those that came before. However, the penalties are cumulative: The first Fast Cast has -10 casting score and +2 botch dice; the second has -20 and +4, and so on. Furthermore, if the Casting Total for a Fast-Cast is less than 0, botch dice must be rolled as though a 0 were rolled on the stress die, even if no stress die had been rolled, as when Fast-Casting a non-Fatiguing spont.

  2. The virtue "Fast Caster" (I think that's the name) adds to a magus' Initiative for spellcasting.

Fewer dice rolls! Yum.



The Indians had a process to make a kind of steel, Wootz steel, that became known in Europe as Damascene steel. If I remember correctly, it was based on putting together iron and charcoal, and cooking them slowly together. On the other hand, I don't know if that would qualify as steel under your definition, or if it was just another "iron with bits of steel" mixture.

Oh, and it definitely only worked because they happen to have just the right kind of ores with just the right kind of impurities in it, so it couldn't be copied elsewhere.

You know the story of Napoleon and the three reasons, right? :wink:

Thanks for the answers, C-hound and Ovarwa.

That process is exactly what I'm talking about - the surface of iron is impregnated with carbon. Steel is an iron/carbon alloy, so you're approximating steel - sometimes very close.

I don't have a definition - or not just one. (And I wrote that, I didn't quote MM.)

I have one definition for steel in modern terms - an alloy of iron and carbon that is between .5 and 1.5% carbon, and requires melting iron. And I have another definition for steel in AM terms - which is what Damascene, or Damascus, or Japanese katanas would fall under, and no melting is required. (And I have another, which is whether it is worth a damn as a knife - "Phhht... this ain't steel!".) 8)

(I find it ironic that the two types of "iron" that most think of, wrought iron (decorative gates and such) and cast iron (black frying pans, old fashioned lamp posts and model-T engines), straddle "steel" - one has less carbon, and one has more. We think of the two extremes as "iron", but the middle as something superior and different, when in fact they're all parts of the same spectrum.)

Um... <wracks memory, memory is made of stronger stuff> No! Do tell!

(There's an old rule of rhetoric that if you can't come up with 3 reasons, your position is weak or flawed. 3 reasons doesn't prevent it from still being flawed, but it's a quick self-check.) :wink:

This is the best description of what happens, at least for ArM.

BTW, Wikipedia is pretty strident that pattern-welding is not how Damascus steel was forged, for whatever that's worth.