Vulnerability to iron, versus steel?

This is something that always worried me.
So, many faeries/faerie-blooded have various levels of vulnerability to iron, sometimes specified as cold iron. But what about steel? What about the common weapons and armor in 1220 Europe? Why specify "cold" iron?

Wikipedia says:

A) What metals do you include in iron for these purposes? How much carbon content makes a faerie safe? (I know this question sounds distinctly un-paradigmatic, but how else would you categorize a steel sword, a cast-iron pan, and a wrought-iron horseshoe?)

B) If the answer to A) includes a significant difference between steel and faerie-repellent-iron, then how common is each of them? I understand that swords were made of steel in 1220, but believe that chainmail was not, am I right? What about axeheads, spearheads, smaller knives, helms, brigandines and studded armor?

Thanks for any metallurgic insights!

I've always thought cold iron refered to iron that was forged (as opposed to melted and poured into a form).
The later of which is a technology later than most Ars Magica sagas, so not a problem.

As for iron vs steel...
That difference is largely academic and entirely artificial. It refers to the carbon content of an iron material, something which doubt was controlled with much precission in the relevant period.
Sure, some techniques were known (and guarded well, damascene steel anyone?), but my guess is the carbon content varies more by location (actually ore quality and craft traditions) than by choice of the smith.

So basically, iron is iron, regardless of carbon content. But that's just my 2 cents.

Whatever works for the story the faerie is living. Remember, most faeries don't care about dying. The difference between a wrought iron pan and a cast iron pan is that one is -wrought- and one is -cast-. The steel sword has either been through a blast furnace or is made of crucible steel, and you know it is steel because it acts like steel (can you snap it like a carrot?) and because it was made like steel. That being said, if you really believe the sword is teeel, the faerie may let you have that as a gimme.

It differs if, in the story you are telling, at that time, with that faerie, you will express more emotion in it does. Faeries cheat: they change their Wards when you aren't looking, for example.

Steel is iron with "optimized" amount of carbon and minimal amount of sulfur. Hammering it out helps to adjust the carbon level iirc. So yeah, your troupe could say that cold iron is hammered and not cast.

Technically, these days we talk about "steels", mwaning differencent compositions, with differing abilities with respect to hardness, brittleness, mass-to-strength ratios and a number of characteristics I can't remember the english words for. But none of that is relevant for the period in question. :slight_smile:

Interesting replies,
Tailoring the iron vulnerability to a specific faerie story does seem like good insight for a NPC faerie met in a specific context; however, in my case, I have a PC with faerie blood who will have a flaw as iron vulnerability. In that context, I feel like I need a clear rule to give the player and that will be stable over the saga. Thus I believe I might lean towards the "all steel is iron anyway" solution.
Why do some of you feel that different manufacture methods (hammering versus melting) should make a difference? Just folk tradition? Is one more industrial/transformed and thus has a significance to faeries?


That too, but... no resonable reason need be given.

How cognizant is the PC? I think leaving him a high degree of flexibility, if he's highly cognizant, is important. Other than that, I wouldn't so much "give the rule" to the player as talk about what would be fun to play, and see what they think. For example, I've had a lot of fun with "All iron can burn me. Blood has iron in it." (Elfstroke / archery is a good idea here) and I've had a lot of fun with "Er, no, now that my magus friend has made that boiling hot, it's mild steel. I'm pretty much immune to that."

The reason the process matters is that people in ME knew what was wroght iron and what was cold iron and what was damascus steel or crucible steel either by the physical properties of the metal (ie, if you try and break it over your knee and it breaks, it's not good steel. Otto I did this before a Crusade, damascus steel looks like streaky bacon, that kind of thing) or because they made it by method X, therefore it is the product made by method X. People have no real idea what carbon is (that is, they do not know why charcoal works in one area and blood works in another to make iron into steel) and although they know which processes give which results, they don't know its because they are diffusing a superficial layer of carbonised atoms through the steel by repeated hammering, say, because actually, In ME, that's not what they are doing at all, because carbon-as-an-element does not exist. They are adding water (fluidness) to the iron to make it less brittle, IMO, but I'd need to check.

First, I don't accept the premise that "steel" exists as distinct from "iron" at this time (see link below). But that's a diff discussion, so I'll just link to that and address this.

(Here's an older thread on "steel" that some may find enlightening re the question "What is steel in the middle ages?" - here ya go: )

As with ghosts, spirits, elementals, undead, demons and so many other magical "types" of creatures, imo it's better to shy away from blanket rules for all of them, or at least not when it's a "problem solver" for the PC's. If cold iron is death to some delicate fae but merely enrages some of the more surly types, your players will find more challenge and the story will be better for it in the long run.

I've always found the image of a stroke (the brain hemorrhage type) being caused by an invisible faerie dart to be a strong one. Piss off the wrong fae, and that's what happens.

The problem is that cast iron simply didn't exist (in the west) until the 14th-15th century, but the phrase "cold iron" certainly existed, and from all appearances not just in a poetic form. (That is, it was seen as distinct from the default form of iron, and not just called "cold iron" because all iron is cold to the touch.)

So clearly, "cold iron" and "typically-produced iron" are seen as different things in the medieval mind (and casting is not the distinction).

(Yes, magic could easily melt and cast iron - but the distinction of the term "cold iron" does not take that possibility into account. At least, not in RL - as always, ysmv.)

So "cold iron" is called that because it's distinct from other types of "iron". I always had the distinct impression that "cold iron" was (mostly) cold forged, hammered out with very little heating, an archaic and very difficult process. (I'm not sure how else it would be distinct.)

Steel is certainly mostly iron in a chemical sense, comparing modern elements, but the middle ages did not deal in "chemicals" or "elements" of that variety. They dealt with things as they were produced, as they appeared, as they were perceived. And "iron" and "fire" were the two central elements (for lack of a better term) that were involved in making steel.

(Either way, steel, by necessity of its production, is iron that then has gone through repeated heating processes, and so, while still "iron" in content, is not "cold iron" by any definition.)