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D&D General Mithral v Silver

77IM

Explorer!!!
Supporter
I treat mithril as silver with regards to damage reduction. As mentioned, mithril's basically Super-Silver.

As an aside, I allow druids to wear mithril armor and also alchemically silvered armor. Since silver is like a sacred moon-metal, and it can be worked at lower temperatures.
 

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Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
Supporter
So... let's talk Steel and Titanium and their relative properties!

Titanium is a "Light Metal" with just about 40% of the density of steel in it's solid form. Which is to say that it's crystalline structure is "Larger" and more "Empty" with the same amount of material. It's also -stronger- than steel in two specific ways.

Firstly, it has over a 50% elasticity modulus, where Steel's is somewhere around 15%. This means that if you try and stretch Steel to the breaking point it will only stretch up to 15% along it's tensile axis before breaking. Meanwhile titanium will stretch -much- longer before breaking.

Secondly: Titanium Oxide forms on the surface of titanium, whether exposed to water or oxygen, and is an incredibly hard surface.

But. This makes Titanium absolutely TERRIBLE for use as a basis of a sword.

See, steel's good because it doesn't easily deform, which Titanium does. Steel bends back into shape because it's elasticity is low, while a Titanium blade would just stay bent.

Further complicating matters, Titanium has a relatively low hardness (70) compared to steel (121). And while Titanium Oxide is particularly durable, the core is still a more brittle material.

What makes Titanium really useful is it's biomedical applications (it's nonreactive as an implant material) and it's elasticity under great stress (Fighter Jets and Spaceships need that).

But for a weapon or armor? It'd be abjectly terrible. Titanium is not Mithril. It's half as heavy and half as useful.
 

Baron Opal II

Adventurer
I think I remember True Silver coming up in D&D back in the 70's or early 80's. But no idea the source, canon, 3rd party, or Tolkien! Anyone know?

As for me, I hate material specific immunities and resistances. I find them cumbersome and annoying as a player. Lets see; my sword is silver, my mace is adamantine, my hammer is holy and then I have pair of daggers, one lawful and one anarchic! Now which weapon do I use when fighting an adamantine flaming skeletal Archer?
The Compleat Alchemist, by Bard Games, gave rules for and methods of creation the seven true metals.

True gold, silver, and copper allowed for easier enchantment. True iron was stronger, while true lead could be made into an anti-magical lacquer. I think there was a true platinum and sulfur as well.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
See, steel's good because it doesn't easily deform, which Titanium does. Steel bends back into shape because it's elasticity is low, while a Titanium blade would just stay bent.

Um, not quite. The elasticity modulus is defined how far you can deform the material without permanently changing its shape. It is a measure of how "springy" the material is. That's why some frames for eyeglasses are titanium - so that if, say, you get hit in the face with a volleyball, your glasses will bend and return to shape, rather than just break.

The problem with titanium weapons is then not that they bend and stay bent - they don't, they'll spring right back. The problem is that a weapon's ability to transfer energy to the target usually depends on it not deforming when you hit. If your weapon deforms, that usually means some of the force you are applying gets redirected to make the weapon slide past the target, generating more glancing blows than solid shots.
 

Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
Supporter
Um, not quite. The elasticity modulus is defined how far you can deform the material without permanently changing its shape. It is a measure of how "springy" the material is. That's why some frames for eyeglasses are titanium - so that if, say, you get hit in the face with a volleyball, your glasses will bend and return to shape, rather than just break.

The problem with titanium weapons is then not that they bend and stay bent - they don't, they'll spring right back. The problem is that a weapon's ability to transfer energy to the target usually depends on it not deforming when you hit. If your weapon deforms, that usually means some of the force you are applying gets redirected to make the weapon slide past the target, generating more glancing blows than solid shots.
Ah! Thank you for the correction!
 

If it matters, there is no one "steel". All steels are alloys (combinations of different elements including iron and carbon) So each steel alloy can have different properties, as well as how the alloy is heated (temper) will effect its elasticity. There is hard and brittle steel, and their is springy steel and their is (relatively) soft steel, plus more :)

Titanium is an element, so one could be talking pure Ti, but again, it is usually alloyed, plus temper always matters :)
 






Greenfield

Adventurer
The other aspect of Mithral or Titanium as a weapon is actually fairly obvious: They're light.

If I'm depending on something to deliver kinetic energy to do damage, whether on a broad face like a club or a narrow, focused area like the edge of a blade, it has to have weight behind it.

A lighter weapon can be swung faster, taking advantage of the V part of MV^2 kinetic energy formula, but the fact is that a human hand itself has a speed limit. Optimum damage needs both the M (mass) and the V (Velocity) to work, and lowering the mass doesn't always add enough Velocity to make up the difference.

Consider a Rapier v a Long Sword. IRL the Rapier is very quick weapon, and a real terror against a lightly armored or unarmored opponent. All but useless against chain armor. The edge can't cut it, the point can't pierce it, and it hasn't the heft to power any impact through it.

(I've been a fencer, and I teach a class in making chain armor at the local Renaissance Faires.).

As for steel: The difference between Iron and Steel is Carbon. Without carbon in the mix, iron can't be hardened. You could heat iron to near liquid and quench it in liquid helium and it wouldn't harden. Other metals grant certain properties, but it's the amount of carbon in the mix that determines how hard the steel can get.

The classic Katana is made from two grades of steel: High carbon steel is wrapped along one side with a lower carbon steel. It's then heated and pounded, folded and pounded some more. That has the effect of blending the two carbon levels so you get a gradient: Lower carbon along the spine for a springy, resilient blade, and higher carbon along the edge, making it harder there and more capable of taking and holding an edge.

When the metal is quenched, that sudden cooling is what causes the metal crystals to contract suddenly enough to trap carbon inside them. The metal physically can't contract as far because of this, and that's what puts the curve in the blade: The higher carbon metal along the cutting edge doesn't contract as far as the lower carbon material on the spine, forcing the blade into that classic curve. The Katana is forged as a straight blade.

Adding nickel or chromium to the alloy can help make it rust-resistant, but they take the same mechanical space in the crystaline structure as the carbon, without adding to the ability to harden. That's why stainless steel, while a neat metal, makes lousy blades. As you make it more "stainless" you remove the ability to harden it as much, so it doesn't hold an edge nearly as well.

All of which is a long, long way from the original topic. :)
 
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Wolf72

Explorer
so how does that apply to a blade that is say 50% lighter? ... A MW Two-handed Sword vs a Mithral/Mithril/etc Two-handed Sword. Not that I need a real justification other than "that's the way it works". Does it make up for that lack of heft with sharpness? Or do we hit the wall of fantasy there? ... some sort of 'magical' density property?
 

Greenfield

Adventurer
Try to hit a home run in baseball using a wiffle-ball bat. It's a fraction of the weight of a regulation bat, so you can get it "off your shoulder" that much quicker, and you can swing it about as fast as your hands could move empty. Maximum "V" in that MV^2 formula.

You gonna' knock 'em out of the park with that thing? Or are you going to plink some infield ground ball dribblers? (Hint, the infield will play you in close. :) )

As for sharpness: The harder metal can take and keep a sharper edge. But the Masterworked blade weighs the same as the non-masterworked one, per the rules. It's superior craftsmanship/balance/weight distribution give it a bonus to hit.

The Mithral/Mithril one gets that same craftsmanship advantage because, being Mithral/Mithril it has to be masterworked. But no damage bonus either way compared to a plain blade.

Note that I'm just talking the rules there, not what "makes sense" to whoever. The rules don't actually address the lighter weight v damage issue because there really aren't any rules for making Mithral/Mithril weapons. At least not in 3./Pathfinder. As a special material it's only addressed in the crafting of armor. No rules on cost difference or properties of Mithral weapons. (One of the reasons I don't easily accept arguments that say Mithral weapons *do have special properties.)

BTW: For the DMs who like to use Mithral pieces as uber-coins, remember that the material component for a Shield spell is a tiny shield token made of... Mithral! And it's valued at less than a gold piece (in D&D 3.* and Pathfinder, there's no cost listed for them.)
 
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Wolf72

Explorer
Their only weapon property is half-wieght, and that they are MW quality, so they still get a +1 to hit. ... I'm totally ok with that.

Thanks for the physics visual. Reminds me of Spider-Man annoying Cap during Civil War.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
The classic Katana is made from two grades of steel: High carbon steel is wrapped along one side with a lower carbon steel. It's then heated and pounded, folded and pounded some more. That has the effect of blending the two carbon levels so you get a gradient: Lower carbon along the spine for a springy, resilient blade, and higher carbon along the edge, making it harder there and more capable of taking and holding an edge.

I'm sorry, but there's been some fetishizing of katanas and Japanese swordmaking. You have described the process of making the blade accurately, but missed the point that the iron they were working with wasn't terribly good stuff - full of impurities because of the ores and low-temperature smelting processes available. The complicated process is necessary not so much to get specific carbon distribution, as it is to work the impurities out of the metal, and that process includes a lot more than the oft-noted folding of steel.

Ultimately, yes, the metal in a katana is stiffer and harder than that in, say, a typical European longsword. The edge can be made sharper, but (there's always a but) "harder" is a technical term, and does not mean "generally stronger and tougher". That edge can start sharper, but the blade overall is actually less durable than a traditional European one.

Why this is becomes more obvious when you realize the differences in the environments they were made in, and the use of these blades in their cultures. Simply put - Europe had more, and better quality, metal. The result is that the katana is not the primary weapon of the wielder on the battlefield - its use was primarily as a sidearm and sign of identity, in a culture that wasn't making much metal armor. This is not a sword you expect to whack against metal rings or plates, and it won't stay sharp if you do. This is a blade used for slicing, like you would a steak, which is similarly lightly armored.

Meanwhile, the European longsword was often the primary weapon of its wielder, and was going to get bashed against some very tough stuff, as other metal blades and armors were common. It isn't as sharp, because it wouldn't stay that way for any length of time, and that sharpness doesn't help against metal armor anyway - you hack and thrust with a longsword more than you slice. And they were made not as art-object status symbols for the very few, but in much larger quantities.
 

Greenfield

Adventurer
I started that Katana thing out in response to the discussion on what makes steel. It isn't the other metal alloyed with the iron, it's the carbon.

And yes Japan had to get their iron from iron sands and smelt them with charcoal fires. Their pattern welding techniques produced a magnificent blade, but that was because they had to develop the superior crafting techniques to compensate for their poorer base materials.

Japanese blades have often been compared to Damascus steel, which was also folded. You saw the same type of craftsmanship in Scandinavian weapons, called Uthbert (Supposed to an umlaut over the U.)

I mention this because that last link places comparable steels in the same setting, when the Norsemen fought the English and French. It was the belief that a great warrior's spirit carried on in his blade, so the quality blades weren't scavenged from the battle field, ala D&D. They were bent or broken, and buried with their owner, lest they return somehow.

There's also a tale of King Richard meeting Saladin during the Crusades, one that puts the two styles of weapon in contrast.

It's said that Richard, in a show of strength, drew his sword and hacked through an iron bar in one blow, then challenged the Prince to do the same. Saladin looked at his beautiful scimitar and that iron bar, then drew a feather from a pillow and, after tossing it in the air, swiftly drew his own blade and sliced the feather in half. He challenged Richard to match that feat.

Each type of weapon was well suited to the environment they were made for.

Interestingly, the Japanese blades had a quality that the Saracen blade didn't: A triangular, chisel tip.

My brother, who was into such things, bought a Tanto (Japanese combat knife) at a gun and knife show. While wandering there he saw a man giving a talk on body armor. My brother asked if it would stop a knife, holding out his new purchase. The man said, and I quote, "The human arm isn't strong enough to force a blade through this armor." My brother offered, the man accepted, and he drove the blade through the high end body armor in a single blow. It seems that triangular tip is designed to punch armor, and it works.

Needless to say, the crowd of prospective customers evaporated.

I wouldn't try to slash at medieval armor with a Katana or any of its relatives, but a forceful thrust could surprise a man to death.

Oh, and no knives were harmed in that demonstration. :)
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
I think I remember True Silver coming up in D&D back in the 70's or early 80's. But no idea the source, canon, 3rd party, or Tolkien! Anyone know?

As for me, I hate material specific immunities and resistances. I find them cumbersome and annoying as a player. Lets see; my sword is silver, my mace is adamantine, my hammer is holy and then I have pair of daggers, one lawful and one anarchic! Now which weapon do I use when fighting an adamantine flaming skeletal Archer?
It was not silver in Middle Earth. It was a metal that was lighter and harder than still and looked like silver, but didn't tarnish. That's why it was called true silver. It would not have worked on werewolves in the same way silver does.
 



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