WTF is "cold iron", and why's it so special?

Runesong42

Visitor
I realize this is probably answered in a pdf somewhere, but I thought I'd ask the pros in-house.

I recall seeing some creatures in the old D&D game having a weakness to "cold iron". Other than iron that is cold, what makes it stand out? Is it because weapons are normally made of steel? Or is there some sort of folklorish explanation?
 

mhacdebhandia

Explorer
In some versions of the folklore, cold iron means "cold-forged iron", and I seem to recall this means iron which isn't heated very much before it's shaped.
 

glass

Visitor
In D&D terms, cold iron is iron which has been forged using special low temperature techniques, which supposedly makes the iron more 'natural' than normal iron or steel. Hence it's anti-fey and demon properties.

The term 'cold iron' comes from a poem (by Kipling IIRC). It didn't really mean anything other than iron, the word cold was just inserted to make the line scan.


glass.
 

Starglim

Explorer
It's iron that was found in a pure state (either meteoric iron or an especially rich ore) and hammered into shape without being smelted.

In folklore "cold iron" means the same as "iron". Faeries and their magic are vulnerable to any iron weapon. That would make the game less interesting up until the widespread use of guns.
 

S'mon

Legend
glass said:
In D&D terms, cold iron is iron which has been forged using special low temperature techniques, which supposedly makes the iron more 'natural' than normal iron or steel. Hence it's anti-fey and demon properties.
Which is the opposite of the folkloric origin - iron tools being 'unnatural' and therefore inimical to the fairies.

Personally IMC cold iron = iron (or steel). So a regular sword works fine against most demons.
 
Metallurgy in D&D is borked, be very careful of it. There was a thread about bronze weapons which contains useful input on this, but I couldn't find it with a cursory look through.

The idea of cold-wrought iron is just nonsense and putting it in your game is opening yourself up to a world of hurt if you have a player who asks awkward questions... Explaining how the iron got out of the rock without being smelted is an exercise in creativity that I just don't need, and meteorites don't help at all, unless you decide that your game world has lumps of metal falling from the sky without getting heated up in the process.

If it's iron, it's been hot at some point. "Cold iron" just means that it's cold now. If you want to make cold-wrought iron special and different without making a really horrible mess of the metallurgy, it's best to decide that you're talking about cold iron but not cold steel. (The cold iron's presumably been magically treated by some wizard to stop it sundering every time it gets hit by a properly-forged weapon).
 

cmanos

Visitor
cold iron is not iron that was not smelted out of the ore... a cold iron weapon is one that is forged at a lower tempoerature. it is still forged in a hot forge, but at a lower temperature. Steel weapons are hot forged and thus would not be useable against demons and faerie.
 

Kylearan

Visitor
srd said:
Iron, Cold: This iron, mined deep underground, known for its effectiveness against fey creatures, is forged at a lower temperature to preserve its delicate properties.
Hope this helps.

Kylearan
 
Medieval smelting techniques don't produce iron, they produce high-carbon steel (because the iron ore is smelted in charcoal which obviously impregnates the resulting alloy with carbon). Unfortunately this means that it is fallacious to say that iron is forged at a lower temperature than steel.
 

Shazman

Visitor
Cold iron in 3.5 isn't the same as iron or steel. It's a unique metal found deep underground that is naturally resistant to magic. Just check out the special materials section in the DMG.
 

alleynbard

Visitor
<quote>Unfortunately this means that it is fallacious to say that iron is forged at a lower temperature than steel.</quote>

And its fallacious to say that is exactly what is being stated. What is being said is, in D&D (which remarkably is nothing like our own medieval period) cold iron is a type of iron forged and shaped at a lower temperature. Whether magic is involved or if this involves alternate smelting techniques is entirely up the DM. Overthinking the subject is pointless and not the thrust of this discussion.
 
*shrug*

Just trying to offer a view of the subject that deals with the awkward questions. :) You're the DM, you can have special metal dug out of the deep earth, smelted via an unspecified magical technique and then forged at special low temperatures if you find it preferable; I'm merely pointing out an answer that feels more elegant to me.
 

dravot

Visitor
My favorite fact about iron, as learned in astronomy class in college, back in the day: the atomic fusion process starts with 2 hydrogen atoms fusing into helium, and continues upward through the elemental table until you get to iron. The atomic fission process starts with uranium and move downward, splitting off atoms...until you get to iron.

And iron is anathema to fey. Freaky. :uhoh:
 

Kid Charlemagne

I am the Very Model of a Modern Moderator
It's important on this subject to differentiate between "real life" and "D&D."

As others have said, in real life, cold iron is merely iron.

Medieval smelting techniques don't produce iron, they produce high-carbon steel (because the iron ore is smelted in charcoal which obviously impregnates the resulting alloy with carbon).
Not sure where that comes from - that is how medieval smelting techniques prouce steel, but it certainly doesn't preclude the production of iron. The way it happens is that the longer you work the iron, the more carbon gets introduced until you get steel.

Here is a great link on the subject.

In D&D, Cold Iron is a specific form of metal, with a different method of forging. My personal feeling is that this explanation makes little or no sense. Iron melts when iron melts.

In my game, Cold Iron is iron taken from meteoric iron - hence nearly pure, then smelted into form. This was not unheard of in ancient days - Tutenkhamen had an iron dagger in his tomb, and it was probably made from meteoric iron, and hence one of the most valuable items in the hoard. I prefer this solution to the standard ruling.

Why not just have it be regular iron? Because, as Piratecat said to me when I broached the subject a couple of years ago while designing my campaign world and looking for advice, "It's more fun that way." Making strange weapons out of strange stuff is cool, and that's enough reason.
 

Kid Charlemagne

I am the Very Model of a Modern Moderator
BTW, using my theory of cold iron (meteoric iron) the explanation I would give for why it works better against Fey would be its magical (metal from the gods!) and natural (doesn't need to be seperated from other metals!) connections cause it to be more dangerous - rather than being utterly anti-fey, it's dangerous because of its similarities, like kryptonite to Superman.
 
Kid Charlemagne said:
Not sure where that comes from - that is how medieval smelting techniques prouce steel, but it certainly doesn't preclude the production of iron. The way it happens is that the longer you work the iron, the more carbon gets introduced until you get steel.
*grins*

It's more complex than this, but I'm disinclined to argue metallurgy any further for fear of getting lynched. :)
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
The way I play it, cold iron is pretty much plain iron and not steel (negligible carbon content and no other explicit alloying other than remnant impurities). It's not as durable as steel and thus not as useful for general purposes, but relatively quick and easy to make on special order because it takes less time and heat than steel.

Of course, that's as far as specific materials rules go. People still use the term 'cold iron' colloquially to refer to just about any old blade. But then, most people in the campaign are ignorant of the specifics of the blacksmith trade...
 

Tinner

Visitor
I've played a LOT of Changeling: the Dreaming, where Cold Iron also is a fae's worst nightmare. AFAIK "Cold Iron" = Cast Iron.
It's not so much how the metal is smelted as how it is cast.
Cast Iron is melted, then poured into a mold, then shaped further from there. Cold Iron weapons are softer, and more brittle than steel weapons, or "worked" iron weapons that are hammered into shape.
The cold/cast iron is more "natural" than the worked iron that has been beaten into shape by man's hands.
YMMV.
 

frankthedm

Visitor
Tinner said:
I've played a LOT of Changeling: the Dreaming, where Cold Iron also is a fae's worst nightmare. AFAIK "Cold Iron" = Cast Iron.
It's not so much how the metal is smelted as how it is cast.
Cast Iron is melted, then poured into a mold, then shaped further from there. Cold Iron weapons are softer, and more brittle than steel weapons, or "worked" iron weapons that are hammered into shape.
The cold/cast iron is more "natural" than the worked iron that has been beaten into shape by man's hands.
YMMV.
Yeah, thats the one i use.

I like the idea of a character splating a pixie with a frying pan. Ranks up there with giving a lycantrope a silver goblet suppository.
 
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