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Thread: Elves vs. Iron

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    Default Elves vs. Iron

    I'm leaning toward creating a setting where "everyone is human". In such a setting, "elves", rather than being a separate race, are just the offspring of humans and fae. Fae, being nature spirits, have a weakness against worked metals, but especially iron and other ferric metals (including steel) since it represents the pinnacle of man's mastery over nature (unworked metals, even iron, have no effect on them since they are in their natural state). Iron can also nullify fae magic; for example, if a fae turns invisible, then you would be able to see their reflection in an iron mirror. Pretty standard stuff so far.

    But here's what I was thinking: elves, being part fae, inherit a minor weakness to iron (but not other worked metals). If they touch, or get too close to, iron, then they get nauseous. Mechanically, this would probably mean a small penalty to any rolls they make. In return, they also get some minor fae sorcery (sorcery = natural magic, comparable to super powers moreso than spellcasting).

    I like to design emergently, so having laid down these premises so far, let's see where it takes us. There's a few things that seem to follow as natural consequences, and I'm not sure if they're all viable for a TTRPG.

    Elves are locked into Bronze Age tech. This could give them some interesting personality, and is certainly a different take on elves. They could possibly adapt later technology to work with non-ferrous metal, and might even develop non-ferrous metal alloys that could rival iron or even steel (say, orichalcum). Now, I don't want to just have "fake iron" as a complete substitute, as this would basically invalidate this point, but maybe it's only comparable to iron (not steel) and is much rarer and more expensive. Part of what makes iron so useful is how common it is. Speaking of...

    The ubiquity of iron. Among humans and non-elven demi-humans, iron is widespread and commonly used. Steel may or may not be well known or as widespread (I may decide to treat it as a "magical" metal, akin to adamantine or mithral). Naturally, having iron be so widespread poses an issue to elves living with other types of humans. Elves may come to resent humans for making such widespread use of a metal that is toxic to them, while humans may resent elves because of the impediment they present to the use of such a useful metal. This could make it difficult to play as an elf.

    The decline of the fae. An iron or steel clad knight using iron/steel weaponry is more or less a death machine as far as the fae are concerned. This might be why fae tend more toward trickery, but they can be quite terrifying and powerful when not faced with iron. The widespread use of iron represents a real threat of extinction to the fae, and although elves aren't quite as averse to iron as full fae, the same principle still applies to a lesser degree. It's entirely possible that fae and elves alike could go extinct at some point, or at least withdraw themselves into reclusive societies apart from humans.

    I think there's potential here, but it just seems like playing an elf might not be viable. Maybe that's okay, though; not everything needs to be perfectly balanced. Thoughts? Other ideas?

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    Default Re: Elves vs. Iron

    I like this idea - I've been working on my own setting with some similar elements: everyone is human, but there are some fae-born individuals.

    Bronze age elves gives you an excuse to associate them with ancient sites and practices - they live in hollow hills, they tend the old standing stones, etc. It creates a druidic, Celtic feel perhaps.
    Iron penalising / upsetting elves creates a situation where elves don't want to enter into human settlements - they have a reason to be isolated now. Individuals might be hermits or vagabonds, small bands might have isolated hidden settlements (they don't want anyone coming to their home with nasty cruel steel).

    Are they playable? Yes, as playable as an old school D&D druid - not permitted any metal items, shunning civilisation, etc. You might have to tailor your campaign to account for elf PCs, but it could be done.
    Are they flavourful? Hell yes!

    As an aside - it may or may not feel important to you - be aware that in pre-industrial terms, iron and steel are perhaps a spectrum of materials, rather than very distinct metals. Steel is essentially iron + carbon (in precise ratios), and lots of traditional metalworking techniques added a little carbon to the iron mix. I think the difference between iron and steel might be better represented by a Poor quality, Standard quality, Masterwork spectrum, rather than by treating steel as a separate material.

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    Default Re: Elves vs. Iron

    Some fantasy writers use a special wood that only grows in the ironless land to compensate for the difference. It's a copout, because you introduce a limitation and then immediately take it away, but depending on the implementation it lets you finetune the consequences. Maybe the wood is as strong as steel but a bit lighter and it can't be sharpened. So wooden elven armor weights less (needs a drawback, maybe they can't make chainmail?), but their weapons are bronze, easier to repair but also easier to break. Stuff like that.
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    Default Re: Elves vs. Iron

    I assume you by "Bronze Age Tech" you don't mean that literally. Surely a race as clever and magical as elves are in pretty much any work of fiction will still make paper, glass, ships with rudders and the written alphabet (all Iron Age inventions). You just meant they can't use iron and steel.

    But they'll probably compensate with some really nifty inventions in other areas. Perhaps they're the only race with the compound bow? Without useful plows to turn fields, their agriculture might head towards lots of smaller gardens -- ideal for rare herbs, and as such, alchemy and apothecaring. That's a word now. Those two are "traditionally elfy" avenues anyhow, but there could be other surprises. Do you know what you can't make very well without nails? Carts and wagons. So how do elves move heavy goods over long distances? How about a dinosaur with saddlebags? Imagine those three, expanded into the military.

    "Oh no! They've sent in another Brontoforce, a walking elevated archery tower!"
    "Actually it's really just an Apata--" *thwip* "Gurk! Tranq arrow in the neck from 300 yards! I'm...so...tired..." *thud*

    Now, overall, your ideas are still going to stand in the light of real-life history. A race that is the only one that doesn't have steel armor and weapons is like being the only country that doesn't have gunpowder. They'll still have a pretty big disadvantage in standard military fights until they develop a counter. And while mithril isn't ferrous and isn't usually "watered down" with iron, it's also not common nor is it cheap.

    There's a fairly wide gap between "the two forces are equal" and "one just tramples the other flat without stopping". You just need to show the players there's a reason the elves have a disadvantage (you are doing that part no problem) but also a reason why they haven't just been completely wiped out, which again, is quite realistic. "Oh, you humans, orcs, and dwarves invented the blast furnace? That's neat. Wanna know what we invented? Porcelain. Now we have these nifty decorative vases and teacups. Oh, and lightweight fireproof, lightningproof, acidproof, coldproof brigandine. Plus these nifty arrowheads that splinter in the wound, which yours don't do. By the way, have any of you figured out how to train rust monsters yet? Oh, just us then? Neat."

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    Default Re: Elves vs. Iron

    How integrated are elves into normal human society, and how common do humans mate with fae to generate new elves?

    From what you've written, I gather that the likely answer is that human-fae pairings were a lot more common in the past. Also presuming an elf + elf = elf, and maybe elf + human = elf. (No need for half-elves or caring about genetic percentages, as the fae magic in the blood could make the elf traits breed true. OR elf + human is chance of either, but there's a chance a random human + human gives birth to an elf if there's elf blood somewhere in the line.)

    Thus, I reckon elves are not terribly uncommon in large human cities, but still rare. Think about if they'd just be integrated in society or usually live in ghettos (though this could vary from nation to nation, and probably should for verisimilitude.)

    Elf nations exist as the elves (or families with elves) left humans and the difficulties, like iron, they posed; over time, any humans in the groups would eventually 'breed out' to pure elf. (Or pure enough that the society is almost always elf. Maybe like 1 in 1*10^x babies is born human, but still rare. Set X to whatever fits your setting.)

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    Default Re: Elves vs. Iron

    My take on this can be found here.

    Basically, I brainstormed a lot of ways elves could get around their problems with iron by using magic, technology, and good tactics. My elves aren't afraid of an iron-clad warrior because they're surrounded with martial and magical servants, extremely skilled at defending themselves both physically and magically, and have manipulated matters to put the iron-clad warriors at a severe disadvantage right out of the gate.

    Here are some rough notes I made about blades, for example. These haven't been finalized and included in my setting document yet.
    Steel Alternatives:
    Iron & Steel
    7.9 grams per cubic centimeter
    Titanium
    4.5 grams per cubic centimeter
    Gold
    19.3 grams per cubic centimeter
    Bronze
    8.4 grams per cubic centimeter
    Titanium-Carbide
    4.93 grams per cubic centimeter
    Gold-Titanium alloy (1 to 3 ratio)
    8.2 grams per cubic centimeter which is 3% heavier than steel but twice as strong as pure titanium and less brittle.
    Bronze-Titanium (3 to 1 ratio)
    7.4 grams per cubic centimeter (about the same weight as steel and iron)
    Aluminum
    2.7 grams per cubic centimeter (For armor? With hardening, doesn’t need to keep an edge.)

    Elves/halflings making titanium:
    Titanium ore burned with carbon (coal) in a graphite crucible in a special blast furnace to make titanium carbide (a black powder). Titanium carbide ground with purified salt and heated in a graphite crucible. Heat burns off the carbon, releases the chlorine, salt combines with the titanium. Grind the mix to powder, mix with hydrochloric acid to remove the salt. Mix with gold powder (or aluminum or copper) and heat in a super-hot blast furnace and then cast it.

    Or just shorten the technique and use titanium carbide as the additive. Carbon is pretty light so the alloys are even lighter.

    Elvish swords:
    -Bronze with titanium-carbide for allies and elvish work tools. Foamed and sintered. Bronze Blades.
    -Aluminum and titanium-carbide alloy for important allies in small quantities and elves in general (lighter than steel, can be sharpened by people with specialty knowledge and tools). Black Blades.
    -Gold-Titanium alloy blades for elvish nobility/wealthy. Using advanced designs and production techniques (fullers, I-beam construction, foamed cores, etc…) to make them about as light as steel. Need specialty equipment and knowledge to maintain. Frequently enchanted. Critical hit on 18,19, 20 Gold Blades.
    -Iron-edged blades with bronze bodies. Kept in copper-lined scabbards. Typically the weapon of an assassin. Some may be enchanted to amplify the effect of the iron and destroy the soul of the victim.


    Maybe use a powder deposition technique for blade manufacture?

    And here is my take on one of the groups of servants the elves surround themselves with. Modified humans.
    Last edited by jjordan; 2019-10-09 at 11:27 AM.

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    Default Re: Elves vs. Iron

    Also most things you can do with iron you can do with bronze.
    the big advantage that iron has over bronze is that it is easier to get all the parts. Iron ore is widely distributed and is all you need. Your various alloy agents (arsenic, classically tin, aluminum) are often harder to get a hold of. This could well mean that elves prefer areas that have such alloy ore deposits or just have a less metal in general. Now it is not a perfect match to be sure so iron (and especially steel which is a whole different kettle of fish) is better in some uses but then again so is bronze in other uses...(especially anything dealing with saltwater, electricity, potentially deadly sparking effects, etc etc).
    So it is not a huge problem on a technology limiting way. But can be a decent excuse why some things are generally harder for elves than others and thus why they just leave those jobs to the iron wielding humans.
    Plus the above mentioned rust monster training, porcelain, etc are all good ways of saying WHY elves have not been beaten back by the iron wielders.

    as for working in a TTRPG it shouldn't be much of a problem as long as "close" is loosely defined. If a suit of armour in the same party is gonna be an issue then the elf's PC is now making choices for the entire party and that line is one to be careful about.

    but there is also the question of not overdoing the fae powers so that all your players flock to being elves.

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    Default Re: Elves vs. Iron

    Quote Originally Posted by Altair_the_Vexed View Post
    Bronze age elves gives you an excuse to associate them with ancient sites and practices - they live in hollow hills, they tend the old standing stones, etc. It creates a druidic, Celtic feel perhaps.
    Yeah, it is interesting how some of the traditionally elfy things seem to follow naturally from implementing the lore this way. You'd think they had originally had this weakness to iron, but later adaptations of elves dropped it while retaining the elven traditions that followed from it, but I don't think Tolkien elves did have a weakness to iron.

    Are they playable? Yes, as playable as an old school D&D druid - not permitted any metal items, shunning civilisation, etc. You might have to tailor your campaign to account for elf PCs, but it could be done.
    Are they flavourful? Hell yes!
    Yeah, I do like that they have some real flavor to them now. They're not just humans with pointy ears, although ironically in this setting that's pretty much what they're supposed to be (that is, humans with a bit of fae blood). One thing I'm concerned about would be an elven warrior PC. Not being able to use iron and steel equipment would hold them back (not sure what the mechanical impact would be), and taking even a small penalty if they're hit by an iron weapon would make them want to stay out of melee (maybe pushing them more towards archer builds).

    As an aside - it may or may not feel important to you - be aware that in pre-industrial terms, iron and steel are perhaps a spectrum of materials, rather than very distinct metals. Steel is essentially iron + carbon (in precise ratios), and lots of traditional metalworking techniques added a little carbon to the iron mix. I think the difference between iron and steel might be better represented by a Poor quality, Standard quality, Masterwork spectrum, rather than by treating steel as a separate material.
    Right, for all intents and purposes, references to iron include other ferrous metals, like steel. Steel is just iron with a bit more carbon. It's different enough that it's worth noting the difference, but they would still fall under the same category and it's not necessarily a hard distinction between them, as you can vary the amount of carbon.

    Quote Originally Posted by Lvl 2 Expert View Post
    Some fantasy writers use a special wood that only grows in the ironless land to compensate for the difference. It's a copout, because you introduce a limitation and then immediately take it away, but depending on the implementation it lets you finetune the consequences. Maybe the wood is as strong as steel but a bit lighter and it can't be sharpened. So wooden elven armor weights less (needs a drawback, maybe they can't make chainmail?), but their weapons are bronze, easier to repair but also easier to break. Stuff like that.
    Yeah, this was why I was considering implementing a non-ferrous metal alloy that was stronger than bronze. As far as I know, not much is known about the composition or properties of orichalcum, but it was probably some kind of copper or bronze alloy. It may have been more of a precious metal, like gold and silver, and thus maybe not suitable for weapons, armor, tools, etc., but we just don't know for sure, and this is fantasy after all.

    I can also see using wooden-hafted weapons like spears and axes moreso than swords. Bronze is limited to shortswords, as it isn't strong enough to hold up with a longer blade. Using more wood would reduce the gap between iron and bronze. Bows with bronze-tipped arrows might also be viable, although someone in full plate steel probably won't be impressed.

    Quote Originally Posted by Breccia View Post
    I assume you by "Bronze Age Tech" you don't mean that literally. Surely a race as clever and magical as elves are in pretty much any work of fiction will still make paper, glass, ships with rudders and the written alphabet (all Iron Age inventions). You just meant they can't use iron and steel.
    Yeah, hence my note on adapting later tech to work without using ferrous metals. A lot of technology doesn't use much metal, and while iron and steel are very helpful, it would be possible to replicate a lot of this technology using other materials. Your equipment might break down more often, and there might be more restrictive limits on the loads they can handle, but they should at least work.

    But they'll probably compensate with some really nifty inventions in other areas.
    [...]
    Now, overall, your ideas are still going to stand in the light of real-life history.
    A lot of good ideas here, I'll have to put some more thought into what you posted and see which parts I might want to implement or tweak. Not sure if mithril will exist, but if it does then it will probably be a silver alloy. I'm balking at the idea of making some fantasy metal that is outright superior to steel, and I'll probably have other creatures that have a weakness for silver (and thus, by extension, mithril), so it's probably better not to just kick the problem down the road and have to sort it out later when dealing with a different race weak to mithril.

    Oh, and lightweight fireproof, lightningproof, acidproof, coldproof brigandine. Plus these nifty arrowheads that splinter in the wound, which yours don't do.
    Are these all properties of porcelain? That's pretty neat. Porcelain is a ceramic, though, isn't it? It probably wouldn't be suitable for most weapons, or for plate armor, as it would tend to shatter on impact. But it would probably work for a coat-of-plates or brigandine, as the fabric would hold the pieces together and continue to function as (albeit less effect) armor until you can get the ceramic plates replaced.

    Quote Originally Posted by JeenLeen View Post
    How integrated are elves into normal human society, and how common do humans mate with fae to generate new elves?
    My original intent was for them to be fully integrated into human society, with all-elf villages being rare and treated with suspicion. Elves are still part fae, and as such rightly feared. Every so often, an elf will "go fae" and start kidnapping travelers and cannibalizing children or something. However, following the iron weakness logically, it now makes more sense that there'd be a greater degree of segregation between "pure" humans and elves, and all-elf cities and villages seems more likely. Even if a human culture adapts and minimizes the use of iron to accommodate elves, this only increases the likelihood that they get steamrolled by another human civilization that loves iron and isn't feeling as accommodating.

    From what you've written, I gather that the likely answer is that human-fae pairings were a lot more common in the past. Also presuming an elf + elf = elf, and maybe elf + human = elf. (No need for half-elves or caring about genetic percentages, as the fae magic in the blood could make the elf traits breed true. OR elf + human is chance of either, but there's a chance a random human + human gives birth to an elf if there's elf blood somewhere in the line.)

    Thus, I reckon elves are not terribly uncommon in large human cities, but still rare. Think about if they'd just be integrated in society or usually live in ghettos (though this could vary from nation to nation, and probably should for verisimilitude.)
    Haven't fully figured out the genetics, but was leaning toward elf + human = elf. Human and fae pairings were always rare (though probably more common in the past, as you say), as fae are more often than not treated as monsters or dangerous spirits. Benign fae do exist, but even then they don't have the same values as humans. Some humans may have lived in harmony with fae spirits, or even worshiped them, but such communities would likely have been conquered by larger civilizations with less willingness to tolerate the eccentricities of the fae. Even elves were at one point considered non-human and treated like monsters. Actually, the acceptance of elves into human society might very well correspond to the development of iron, as humans had less reason to fear the fae and the fae themselves were in decline.

    Quote Originally Posted by jjordan View Post
    My take on this can be found here.

    Basically, I brainstormed a lot of ways elves could get around their problems with iron by using magic, technology, and good tactics. My elves aren't afraid of an iron-clad warrior because they're surrounded with martial and magical servants, extremely skilled at defending themselves both physically and magically, and have manipulated matters to put the iron-clad warriors at a severe disadvantage right out of the gate.
    So your elves are all noblemen then. And powerful mages. And talented warriors. I'm afraid some of these traditional views of elves don't apply here.

    Elves in this setting are mostly human. They have normal human lifespans, and while they do possess natural fae sorcery, this definitely does not make them powerful mages by any stretch. They can certainly train themselves to be strong, but with a normal human lifespan they're unlikely to be stronger than a human. Now, there are ways they could become considerably stronger, or extend their lifespan, but most of these would also be available to humans and other demi-humans.

    Here are some rough notes I made about blades, for example. These haven't been finalized and included in my setting document yet.
    Steel Alternatives:
    Now that I look at titanium, it seems like it would work as a viable alternative, but it's just really rare. It's pretty cool that you've thought of a way they could smelt it, though. I'll keep your list in mind and do a bit of research on how each of these perform and how accessible they'd be.

    Quote Originally Posted by sktarq View Post
    Also most things you can do with iron you can do with bronze.
    I actually thought of this when someone mentioned not having nails for carts. Like, you can't just use bronze nails? It's not as good, sure, but it will work.

    the big advantage that iron has over bronze is that it is easier to get all the parts. Iron ore is widely distributed and is all you need. Your various alloy agents (arsenic, classically tin, aluminum) are often harder to get a hold of.
    Yeah, my understanding is that copper is pretty common and found all over the world, but tin is rare and only has a few places you can find it. Not only is iron just straight up stronger than bronze, but you also don't have to worry about getting the tin you need to make bronze. Aluminum, from what I understand, would have been impossible to extract with medieval tech, but this could be different in a fantasy world.

    I've been playing some Civ 5 lately, and ironically they make you find iron resources to build iron age units, but it's assumed that everyone has ample access to bronze. Seems like it should have been the reverse: you need to find tin deposits to make bronze units, but iron units don't require any special resources.

    as for working in a TTRPG it shouldn't be much of a problem as long as "close" is loosely defined. If a suit of armour in the same party is gonna be an issue then the elf's PC is now making choices for the entire party and that line is one to be careful about.
    My thought for this was just that an elf can't wear or carry iron items, or use iron weapons. Also getting hit with an iron weapon. Not sure if they would be able to use, say, spears with iron heads, maybe they could but they'd have difficulty maintaining the spear head.

    Although, this reminds me of a point I was going to mention in the OP and forgot about:

    No counter to fae. Fae can be monstrous and unpredictable, so naturally humans like having iron weapons to counter them with if they get violent. Now, the penalty an elf gets for wielding an iron weapon might be outweighed by the advantage it gives against a fae creature, but the elf will still take penalties even when just carrying the iron item. So it probably won't be worth carrying an iron weapon unless they know they're going to be fighting fae. This might give non-elven humans a niche place in elven society, as not only can they handle any ironworking that the elves might need done, but they can also fight against fae with their iron weapons.

    Although that said, I did say that fae had a general weakness to worked metal, so elves could still be quite effective with bronze weapons and armor against fae. Just not as effective as non-elf humans using iron and steel.

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    Default Re: Elves vs. Iron

    Quote Originally Posted by Greywander View Post
    So your elves are all noblemen then. And powerful mages. And talented warriors. I'm afraid some of these traditional views of elves don't apply here.
    No. But for a broadbrush discussion as it relates to your world, yes. :)

    Quote Originally Posted by Greywander View Post
    Elves in this setting are mostly human. They have normal human lifespans, and while they do possess natural fae sorcery, this definitely does not make them powerful mages by any stretch. They can certainly train themselves to be strong, but with a normal human lifespan they're unlikely to be stronger than a human. Now, there are ways they could become considerably stronger, or extend their lifespan, but most of these would also be available to humans and other demi-humans.
    My elves are "bad guys" who dominate most of the productive areas of the world, not the sort of thing you're going for.


    Quote Originally Posted by Greywander View Post
    Now that I look at titanium, it seems like it would work as a viable alternative, but it's just really rare. It's pretty cool that you've thought of a way they could smelt it, though. I'll keep your list in mind and do a bit of research on how each of these perform and how accessible they'd be.
    Titanium and aluminum are both difficult to produce (way beyond Medieval/Renaissance tech levels) and it's just as easy to go with handwavium/mithril. I chose to use the modern materials and give the elves 'advanced tech/knowledge' to produce it and work it because it made more sense with some of the other choices I had made and opened some doors that I liked. With a longer life-span it made sense for the elves to use 'advanced tech'. So advanced ceramics, non-magnetic metallurgy, plastics (chitosan), bio-materials (sericin), and etc... allowed overcoming the bronze-age/iron-age gap but moved out of the classic bronze-age tropes. Not for everyone, but I like it.
    Last edited by jjordan; 2019-10-10 at 09:37 AM.

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    Default Re: Elves vs. Iron

    Quote Originally Posted by Greywander View Post
    Are these all properties of porcelain?
    They are if you want them to be! I mean, you remember Firefly, right?

    We mix it and brick it raw on the premises, but you add the right catalysts, kiln it proper, this stuff is stronger'n steel ten times over, at half the weight.
    Fantasy materials can easily be exaggerations of existing materials. Hell, mithril is really just exaggerated titanium. And ceramic plates are used in real-life body armor right now, so it won't strain credibility. Now, granted, I'm biased. In my last campaign setting, I pushed ablative armor pretty hard. The PCs even made special thunder-damage spells to bypass it.

    Anyhow, making arrowheads that are designed to splinter sounds a lot easier with a ceramic than a metal. it'd be easy to hand that advantage over to a race that's had centuries of means and motive to figure out how, plus historically values archery.

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    Default Re: Elves vs. Iron

    It's probably worth mentioning that metal-poor human civilizations survived well into the modern age, through the simply strategy of dwelling in environments where traditional agricultural civilization could not easily expand. This includes forest-dwelling tribes, both in jungles and boreal environments, and some temperate forests, that would match up well with elven lifestyles. It also includes plains-dwelling pastoral civilizations which aren't a match for traditional Tolkien elves, but match well with, for example, Dragon Age elves. The big difference would be that when raiding sedentary civilizations your elven tribes prioritize non-iron metal implements. In fact, this would actually potentially make the traditional tributary arrangements by which sedentary civilizations buy off migratory or semi-migratory tribes easier and more codified since the elven tribes would want bronze articles that have lower valued to the human agriculturalists.
    Resvier: a P6 homebrew setting

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    Default Re: Elves vs. Iron

    Quote Originally Posted by Greywander View Post
    Are these all properties of porcelain? That's pretty neat. Porcelain is a ceramic, though, isn't it? It probably wouldn't be suitable for most weapons, or for plate armor, as it would tend to shatter on impact. But it would probably work for a coat-of-plates or brigandine, as the fabric would hold the pieces together and continue to function as (albeit less effect) armor until you can get the ceramic plates replaced.
    Yep they are....get some beryllium ceramics and watch things get even more neat. Also just think of modern ceramic knives...

    Quote Originally Posted by Greywander View Post
    My original intent was for them to be fully integrated into human society, with all-elf villages being rare and treated with suspicion. Elves are still part fae, and as such rightly feared. Every so often, an elf will "go fae" and start kidnapping travelers and cannibalizing children or something. However, following the iron weakness logically, it now makes more sense that there'd be a greater degree of segregation between "pure" humans and elves, and all-elf cities and villages seems more likely. Even if a human culture adapts and minimizes the use of iron to accommodate elves, this only increases the likelihood that they get steamrolled by another human civilization that loves iron and isn't feeling as accommodating.
    ....
    Elves in this setting are mostly human. They have normal human lifespans, and while they do possess natural fae sorcery, this definitely does not make them powerful mages by any stretch. They can certainly train themselves to be strong, but with a normal human lifespan they're unlikely to be stronger than a human. Now, there are ways they could become considerably stronger, or extend their lifespan, but most of these would also be available to humans and other demi-humans.
    Now this could be an issue...
    why would elves have their own culture if they are integrated into larger humans ones?
    Why go through all the work to develop non-iron issues if you can just trade for services that need more iron?
    Basically why wouldn't elves simply become a non-iron useing caste within human society? Thus probably being drawn to service industries, pottery, weaving, priesthoods, etc? Which I think would kinda ruin what you otherwise seem to be going for? Not sure but it would be a choice...also the drive toward specialization and thus trading (to avoid the parts of life that finds iron really useful) would pull elves toward urban centres....

    now this also could be a cultural split within the elves if you want both I guess but I don't see how you get both in a single population.

    Quote Originally Posted by Greywander View Post
    Now that I look at titanium, it seems like it would work as a viable alternative, but it's just really rare. It's pretty cool that you've thought of a way they could smelt it, though. I'll keep your list in mind and do a bit of research on how each of these perform and how accessible they'd be.
    ...
    Yeah, my understanding is that copper is pretty common and found all over the world, but tin is rare and only has a few places you can find it. Not only is iron just straight up stronger than bronze, but you also don't have to worry about getting the tin you need to make bronze. Aluminum, from what I understand, would have been impossible to extract with medieval tech, but this could be different in a fantasy world.
    You know how you have magic in DnD? Even basic magic (a shocking grasp trap for example) will get you around most of these problems. Also making alloys of certain metals can be easier than making pure forms of the same due to replacment chemistry (see arsenic bronze as an example) Also iron is not much better than bronze in most things if you know what you are doing.....steel however is but needed far more skill to make and work properly (especially as it tended to be hotshort), but making really good bronzework was kinda like making steel...high skill and time sink but also why skilled bronzeworkers stuck around.

    Quote Originally Posted by Greywander View Post
    My thought for this was just that an elf can't wear or carry iron items, or use iron weapons. Also getting hit with an iron weapon. Not sure if they would be able to use, say, spears with iron heads, maybe they could but they'd have difficulty maintaining the spear head.
    I'd generally say no-ferric weapons, armour, hobnail boots, or tools just to avoid pushy players at that point. . . . also horseshoes and saddle fixtures etc if they are riding should be ruled on early. Basically I think simplicity and clarity of ruling for a TTRPG may outweigh fantasy science concerns here.
    Last edited by sktarq; 2019-10-11 at 01:34 PM.

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    Default Re: Elves vs. Iron

    My question would be, how strong is fae sorcery? That's an advantage unique to the elves and depending on what that entails could grant some benefits to their society, or give them an interesting niche in human society, especially if that magic could be used to improve productivity in some way. Cities could have groups of elves employed for specific work that doesn't involve iron, in exchange for protection from other human societies.

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    Default Re: Elves vs. Iron

    Quote Originally Posted by jjordan View Post
    No. But for a broadbrush discussion as it relates to your world, yes. :)

    My elves are "bad guys" who dominate most of the productive areas of the world, not the sort of thing you're going for.
    "Our elves are different." It's interesting how well codified elves typically are in fantasy. Generally, differences between elves in different works boil down to exaggerating different aspects of the original Tolkien elves or D&D elves, and occasionally sprinkling in some pre-Tolkien fairytale/folklore traits. It seems like you're playing up a lot of traditional elfy traits, while I'm playing them down.

    Not for everyone, but I like it.
    Variety is good. Sometimes a good kitchen sink fantasy world is nice because it's familiar, but the settings that are truly memorable are the ones that make an effort to be original. Compare the alien world of Morrowind vs. the generic worlds of Oblivion and Skyrim. The latter two are still fun games, but Morrowind has its own unique charm. How many other worlds let you ride in giant fleas to elves living in mushroom houses?

    Wait a minute... riding insects, mushroom houses... Goshdangit, that's just generic fairy trash, like in all those slightly creepy fairy paintings. I've been had!

    Quote Originally Posted by Breccia View Post
    They are if you want them to be!
    Well, yes, but I already knew I could make up fantasy materials, so this doesn't really answer the question. Still, I hadn't thought of doing fantasy ceramics. Hmm... I was playing with the idea of having different materials with different properties (case in point, iron vs. fae, but also stuff like copper armor making you immune or resistant to lightning damage, or silver being effective against certain enemies, light that reflects off gold/silver counts as sunlight/moonlight, etc.), and making glass/ceramic one of those categories (are glass and ceramic similar enough that they could be grouped together?). I'd like to give each type of material some kind of supernatural property (maybe not literally magical, but like iron is supernaturally effective against fae), so including different types of glass, ceramics, obsidian, and flint, each with their own properties, could be interesting.

    One of the things I understand about glass (not sure about ceramic) is that it's really strong, but any flaw in the material weakens the whole structure. If any part of it cracks or chips, it usually causes the whole thing to fall apart. I know glass and ceramic are also really good at holding an edge; ceramic knives basically never need to be sharpened.

    Fantasy materials can easily be exaggerations of existing materials. Hell, mithril is really just exaggerated titanium. And ceramic plates are used in real-life body armor right now, so it won't strain credibility. Now, granted, I'm biased. In my last campaign setting, I pushed ablative armor pretty hard. The PCs even made special thunder-damage spells to bypass it.
    Ablative armor would be interesting, though I think the differences between modern and medieval warfare make them a lot less practical for medieval armies. Modern warfare is typically short exchanges, at range, with cover, giving you ample opportunity to switch out plates and get access to extra spare plates. Medieval warfare would more often involve fighting in melee all day. Might be good for adventurers though, or nobles who don't expect to get into protracted combat but fear assassination.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mechalich View Post
    It's probably worth mentioning that metal-poor human civilizations survived well into the modern age, through the simply strategy of dwelling in environments where traditional agricultural civilization could not easily expand. This includes forest-dwelling tribes, both in jungles and boreal environments, and some temperate forests, that would match up well with elven lifestyles. [...]
    Interesting point! Again, I find it interesting how by simply applying a bit of traditional folklore then following that to its logical conclusion, we've somehow ended up recreating a lot of traditional elfy traits.

    Quote Originally Posted by sktarq View Post
    Yep they are....get some beryllium ceramics and watch things get even more neat. Also just think of modern ceramic knives...
    Cool! This is something I'll need to do more research on, especially if I want to assign supernatural properties to each type of material, as mentioned above. And yeah, ceramic knives are great at holding an edge, but are kind of fragile. Useful tools, maybe not as useful weapons. I'll bet ceramic arrowheads would work fantastically, though, especially if you can get them to splinter in the wound, as mentioned by Breccia. Though I'd think splintering arrowheads would be exclusively for non-armored targets, as they'd likely just shatter against armor.

    Now this could be an issue...
    [...]
    now this also could be a cultural split within the elves if you want both I guess but I don't see how you get both in a single population.
    Why not? It gives me a chance to have different nations with different character. One is a human purist, no elves or other demi-humans allowed. Another has elves as an underclass or slave class, keeping them in check with iron. Another has partially segregated populations living in cooperation together. Another eschews most iron, but uses non-elves to do ironwork when needed. Another is almost pure elven and basically doesn't touch iron. By trade and conquest, different developments by different cultures get spread around, so an advanced ceramic might find its way into the hands of the subservient underclass elves, who likely wouldn't have developed it on their own.

    You know how you have magic in DnD? Even basic magic (a shocking grasp trap for example) will get you around most of these problems.
    The intent is to use this with an original system rather than D&D. Magic is one of the things I'm going to be doing a lot differently from something like D&D, so you're not going to see wizards slinging fireballs around. That said, a Shocking Grasp trap might still be possible; one of the forms of magic is going to be a geometric magic, basically arcane programming via magic circles. So you could make a magic circle that electrocutes anything inside of it. Hiding it without breaking the circle, and making sure it has enough fuel, might both pose difficulties.

    Also making alloys of certain metals can be easier than making pure forms of the same due to replacment chemistry (see arsenic bronze as an example) Also iron is not much better than bronze in most things if you know what you are doing.....steel however is but needed far more skill to make and work properly (especially as it tended to be hotshort), but making really good bronzework was kinda like making steel...high skill and time sink but also why skilled bronzeworkers stuck around.
    Interesting. I'm not an expert on such things, though I do like to watch channels like Skallagrim and Shadiversity, who I suspect know a lot more than I do about historical metallurgy and its military applications. I suppose it makes sense that iron was comparable to bronze, and that's why the Roman gladius was also a shortsword (the Greeks used shortswords because bronze wasn't strong enough for longer blades). So it's basically a case of getting the same or similar utility, but with less cost and effort. This will actually work well if I have steel as a sort of mythical metal that isn't very widespread, since it means iron and bronze equipment would have about the same strength, but bronze just costs more.

    I'd generally say no-ferric weapons, armour, hobnail boots, or tools just to avoid pushy players at that point. . . . also horseshoes and saddle fixtures etc if they are riding should be ruled on early. Basically I think simplicity and clarity of ruling for a TTRPG may outweigh fantasy science concerns here.
    Yeah, simple and straightforward game rules may be more important than getting the scientific details right. Could an elf use an iron-tipped spear? Logically, maybe, as the spearhead would be held at a greater distance from them, and thus less likely to induce ill effects. From a game perspective? It should probably work the same as using an iron sword, so no, not without ill effects.

    Quote Originally Posted by flyinglemur View Post
    My question would be, how strong is fae sorcery? That's an advantage unique to the elves and depending on what that entails could grant some benefits to their society, or give them an interesting niche in human society, especially if that magic could be used to improve productivity in some way. Cities could have groups of elves employed for specific work that doesn't involve iron, in exchange for protection from other human societies.
    That is the question, isn't it? Likely the answer is going to be that it's as strong as it needs to be to balance out the weakness to iron. Actually, I'm not sure that there will be set rules about what kinds of sorcery an elf player could take, it might need to be a negotiation between the player and DM/GM. There probably won't be a set list of sorcery powers, although I'll probably provide a few examples. Lore-wise, it all depends on what kind of fae they have in their ancestry, although even then you can't necessarily expect anything fae-related to be logical and consistent (at least, in a way that humans would understand).

    One of the things I want to do is give each type of magic its own unique character. I mentioned geometric magic above. That would have limited combat potential because of the preparation involved, whereas sorcery would be viable for combat. I mentioned in the OP that sorcery was more like super powers: narrow in scope, but flexible in how it's used. So someone might be able to manipulate fire, for example. They can't do anything else, that's the only sorcery they have, but they can do a lot of different things with just that one power. For fae sorcery, I expect a lot of trickery-type effects: illusions, enchantments, shapeshifting, teleportation, and so on.

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    Default Re: Elves vs. Iron

    Quote Originally Posted by Greywander View Post
    One of the things I want to do is give each type of magic its own unique character. I mentioned geometric magic above. That would have limited combat potential because of the preparation involved, whereas sorcery would be viable for combat. I mentioned in the OP that sorcery was more like super powers: narrow in scope, but flexible in how it's used. So someone might be able to manipulate fire, for example. They can't do anything else, that's the only sorcery they have, but they can do a lot of different things with just that one power. For fae sorcery, I expect a lot of trickery-type effects: illusions, enchantments, shapeshifting, teleportation, and so on.
    Preach! Aspected magic is cool.
    http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showt...ighlight=magic

    http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showt...ighlight=magic
    Last edited by jjordan; 2019-10-13 at 11:31 PM.

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