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Steel and Iron: What's the difference

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  • Steel and Iron: What's the difference

    Okay so this is something that's bugged me in Exalted. In exalted the raksha are weak to weapons made of 'iron' but not weapons made of steel or other alloys. Apparently cast iron or wrought iron qualify as 'iron'

    So first, let's discuss real world definitions.

    pure iron: No alloy material. Not quite as bad as making a sword out of lead, but similar. Pure iron is a terrible material. It's soft, it's weak and it would be about as effective a weapon as a butter knife.

    Wrought iron: Extremely low carbon content by weight ~ 0.08% carbon. Also is alloyed with slag (up to 2% by weight). Slag is a byproduct of the transition from iron ore to iron. Better than pure iron, but only because the slag gives it some kind of structure. The carbon here provides some structure but not a whole lot.

    Steel: ~0.1% carbon by weight - 2.1% carbon by weight - Most people know what steel is. What most people don't realize is that 'steel' encompasses thousands of materials with distinct properties based on the exact carbon content and the heat treatment it undergoes. Some steel is also slightly altered by small amount of other alloying materials. In general, higher carbon = stiffer, harder steel while less carbon generally indicates softer steel but due to heat treatment you can get a some steels that invert this. All historical swords (and most other weapons in the iron age and beyond) that comprise iron of any type live in this range.

    Cast iron: 2.1%-4% carbon content by weight - Once again, multiple different types of cast iron with different properties. Pretty much the defining characteristic is that cast iron is hard and brittle. It does not behave as a ductile material. Once again, this range is terrible for making weapons out of. Here, though it's a matter of your sword shattering the first time you use it. This is the same problem as forging a sword out of steel, quenching it and then forgetting to temper it.

    So this is why I have trouble with the whole Raksha are weak to 'iron' but not 'steel' thing. Steel and cast iron are literally just iron+carbon with heat treatment and wrought iron throws in some extra slag for good measure. The range of steel that's closer to pure iron than wrought iron is huge. The range of steel that is closer to pure iron than cast iron is all of it.

    So reality aside, how does this work in Exalted? Because I'd love an explanation and I know too much about real world steel to just brush it aside (I had an entire engineering class dedicated to just steel and cast iron. I'm not a metallurgist, but I'm not a layperson either).


    Check out my homebrew exalt: The Fabulists - Chosen of the Raksha here

  • #2
    I don't think it's at all about the chemical purity of iron. At face value, the simple implication of the distinction made by the Iron bane in Ex3, is that it's defined by the practical and historical differences between the iron and steel industries. Culturally, different developments in the treatment and processing of iron gave rise to forms with different qualities and applications over time, and by common understanding this is the line where the game draws a disparity between Iron and Steel.
    Last edited by YeOfLittleFaith; 06-06-2018, 11:43 AM.

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    • #3
      Like Eldagusto said in the Ask the Devs, it is not chemistry.

      It's about a narrative, a fable of how "iron" is anathema to fae.

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      • #4
        Originally posted by TGUEIROS View Post
        It's about a narrative, a fable of how "iron" is anathema to fae.
        The problem is, that narrative doesn't actually make sense, either in Exalted or when you consider the real-world mythology it's based on. "Steel" as distinct from "wrought iron" or "cast iron" is simply a linguistic quirk of English. Latin, for example, has no such distinction - "Ferrum" was the standard noun for iron and steel there. It's entirely possible for many or most cultures in Creation to call steel something that translates to "hard iron" or "strong iron" or "sword iron" or something. So it can't be just the name of the stuff that's doing it. It can't be a matter of purity, since, as armyofwhispers already pointed out, steel is less adulterated with stuff than other materials that do count, and, importantly, people in Creation would know that. The process of making cast iron, for example, involves adding substantial carbon in the form of coal, charcoal, or similar substances, and I doubt people in Creation would somehow see that as more "pure" than steel, which involves less adding carbon and more working to remove impurities. And it wouldn't be a matter of strength or stability, because, as also observed, pure iron is pretty garbage in both those respects.

        And the real-world narrative doesn't make sense either. "Cold iron", as a thing distinct from steel, is not a distinction folklore made at all. It basically only dates to fantasy fiction in the 20th century, and particularly RPGs. RPGs probably did it as a combination of wanting to have faeries have their traditional vulnerability to iron but not have that apply to every sword the heroes pick up, and a misunderstanding of the Rudyard Kipling poem of that name. The poem basically uses "cold iron" as a poetic description of all iron, but people have sort of assumed it was special. It's like people read Homer's description of the "wine dark sea" and assumed that in RPGs based on Greek mythology, the Aegean was a special sea made of wine. Anyway, the historical folklore that claims faeries are vulnerable to iron makes no distinction between steel or wrought iron or cast iron or any other kind of iron. Burying a knife under your door was supposed to ward off witches and faeries, for example, and a knife blade would have been made from the best steel the people at the time could make.

        In my campaign, I've just declared that the Fair Folk take aggravated damage from any iron weapon, which certainly includes steel swords. I don't think this makes much difference balance-wise, since a) good steel is rare in Creation anyway, and b) aggravated damage doesn't actually make much difference during a fight - it has no mechanical significance besides being harder to heal. A mortal going up against a cataphract or even a hobgoblin is probably still going to lose, they just might inflict some wounds that the fair folk will have a harder time healing.

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        • #5
          The iron vulnerability stems primarily from "Cold Iron". This is a long established anti-fae charm in a bunch of cultures.

          Since a good deal of fae stories are stone-age old, some history buffs say iron might have such rep because invaders trampled their stone and wood armaments with metal weapons.

          If so, steel would indeed fit similarly, but the advent of steel over other works of iron came at a much later date, where such tradition was already settled enough on a previously established metallurgy.

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          • #6
            I personally expect that because of the raksha's nature as creatures of story, whatever effect in Creations history or prehistory that made them vulnerable to iron, turned out to be limited to implements that the inhabitants of Creation called iron and not those implements called steel. And probably the language of relevance for that is the unchanging Old Realm, "[t]he native language of the spirits and those that created them, as well as of the Fair Folk." Thus, metallurgy is only indirectly relevant; it tells you which alloys are properly called "iron" in Old Realm, and which are called "steel", and that tells you which will affect the Fair Folk.

            Real-world science tries to be mindful of the distinction between the map and the territory. This distinction can be applied as well to raksha, but the difference is that they are entities of the map, not of the territory. Just as focusing on the map in rather than the territory can lead you into trouble in the sciences, focusing on the territory rather than the map will lead you into trouble when dealing with the Fair Folk.

            EDIT: Note that the Old Realm words might not map perfectly on to the English words. Pretty much the only thing that has to be true to match what we know in canon is that for whatever reason, weapons of "iron" are sufficiently inferior in some way to "steel" that the latter is the preferred material for weapons in modern Creation. And of course, Your Creation May Vary.
            Last edited by Verzio; 06-06-2018, 12:47 PM.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Synapse View Post
              The iron vulnerability stems primarily from "Cold Iron". This is a long established anti-fae charm in a bunch of cultures.
              Really? Can you point out evidence of this? Because as far as I'm aware, this is purely a modern interpretation of the tales. See Kelly Pedersen's post above

              Originally posted by Synapse View Post
              Since a good deal of fae stories are stone-age old, some history buffs say iron might have such rep because invaders trampled their stone and wood armaments with metal weapons.
              No they are not. Medieval Europe was not the stone age. We have literally no idea what stories they told in the stone age as there was no effective way of passing them down.

              ‚Äč
              Originally posted by Synapse View Post
              If so, steel would indeed fit similarly, but the advent of steel over other works of iron came at a much later date, where such tradition was already settled enough on a previously established metallurgy.
              Actually, no. Steel in weapons and tools came around at just about the same time as iron in general. Mass production of steel didn't occur until way, way later. This is a common misconception though


              Check out my homebrew exalt: The Fabulists - Chosen of the Raksha here

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              • #8
                I like Kelly's view and change. The idea of the iron weakness always made me feel like it was nature vs. civilization. In Exalted, i would assume this being a Wyld vs. stabilized chunk of creation. But cutting steel out of that application gives iron an odd property on its own.

                Additionally, this all ignores the other materials used for weapons. Copper & bronze give a non applicable option and were used for hundreds of years before iron became worthwhile in history. If most weapons are made of these then the iron weakness makes more sense, while heavy steel assumptions make iron odd on its own.

                If we wanted the idea to get blended into Exalted more, maybe the thing needed in iron to do the job is not carbon for steel but instead white jade dust or something from the Imperial Mountain. If part of the idea of the Fae weakness is that most weapons don't do this damage, then something else should get designed in the system to handle it

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by Verzio View Post
                  I personally expect that because of the raksha's nature as creatures of story, whatever effect in Creations history or prehistory that made them vulnerable to iron, turned out to be limited to implements that the inhabitants of Creation called iron and not those implements called steel. And probably the language of relevance for that is the unchanging Old Realm, "[t]he native language of the spirits and those that created them, as well as of the Fair Folk." Thus, metallurgy is only indirectly relevant; it tells you which alloys are properly called "iron" in Old Realm, and which are called "steel", and that tells you which will affect the Fair Folk.

                  Real-world science tries to be mindful of the distinction between the map and the territory. This distinction can be applied as well to raksha, but the difference is that they are entities of the map, not of the territory. Just as focusing on the map in rather than the territory can lead you into trouble in the sciences, focusing on the territory rather than the map will lead you into trouble when dealing with the Fair Folk.
                  This I can kinda get behind, but it relies on Old Realm = English a little bit much for my tastes.

                  The other issue is that cast iron, pure iron and wrought iron all really suck as weapons. Cast iron because it would break the second you hit anything other than a fae (assuming it behaves like steel vs fae. If not it would break then too), pure iron because it's hard to cut things when you're as sharp as a butter knife at best, and wrought iron because the very impurities of slag that give it some structure are also exactly where it's gonna break after some use. So I guess you could argue that iron vs fae is effective only when it's not very effective otherwise but then what if I hit him with a steel pot strapped to a tree branch? Does that count?

                  Originally posted by Cryo-Seraph View Post
                  If we wanted the idea to get blended into Exalted more, maybe the thing needed in iron to do the job is not carbon for steel but instead white jade dust or something from the Imperial Mountain. If part of the idea of the Fae weakness is that most weapons don't do this damage, then something else should get designed in the system to handle it
                  Alas, what you're describing here is actually the process to make jade weapons. Arms of the Chosen realizes that jade as stone is a bad choice to make weapons out of and specifically says that you add a jade powder to steel to create weapons and armor.
                  Last edited by armyofwhispers; 06-06-2018, 12:52 PM.


                  Check out my homebrew exalt: The Fabulists - Chosen of the Raksha here

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                  • #10
                    oh my god you're overthinking this dude

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by AtG View Post
                      oh my god you're overthinking this dude
                      Please don't threadcrap 'dude'


                      Check out my homebrew exalt: The Fabulists - Chosen of the Raksha here

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                      • #12
                        Well, "modern". Witchcraft's been around since christianity.

                        Alas, I'm failing to find the full sources and the people I usually reach for this are not responding. I'm out, all wrong.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by armyofwhispers View Post
                          This I can kinda get behind, but it relies on Old Realm = English a little bit much for my tastes.
                          Me, too, which is why I added the EDIT: paragraph the same time you were writing.

                          The way iron and the fae are set up in the 3e Core is not the way I'd have done things had I been the devs of that book, but given it is established, "magical resonance with the power of names in Old Realm" strikes me as a decent rationalization, in part because Old Realm is itself not a mundane language.

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                          • #14
                            I'm not a mythology expert, but my understanding is that the original idea of the various supernaturals of irish/celtic/what-have-you myth being vulnerable to "iron" didn't make any distinction between iron and steel, as there probably wasn't the sort of very detailed divide that we have for specific alloys now. Instead, the original myth was more likely making a distinction between "modern" iron weapons and the bronze weapons that preceded them. If you're trying to follow the inherent "narrative" of why iron should hurt raksha, as some people have suggested, this disparity between old and new is almost certainly the basis in real-world myth, not the exact percentage of carbon in the iron itself. With that in mind, I'd personally say that steel, like all iron based weapons, would count as aggravated.

                            That said, I also consider most of Creation to be firmly bronze age territory, so most weapons are bronze.

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Verzio View Post
                              Me, too, which is why I added the EDIT: paragraph the same time you were writing.

                              The way iron and the fae are set up in the 3e Core is not the way I'd have done things had I been the devs of that book, but given it is established, "magical resonance with the power of names in Old Realm" strikes me as a decent rationalization, in part because Old Realm is itself not a mundane language.
                              Ah yes!

                              and like I said, real life doesn't have to intrude on a fantasy setting. I do however, ask for internal consistency. Your explanation at least makes some amount of sense and I can sort live with that. Hell, given an actual explanation, you could set a difficulty on a sorcerous working that altered the status quo such that steel would be effective against fae in setting. You'd have to alter the very language of Old Realm to achieve it.


                              Check out my homebrew exalt: The Fabulists - Chosen of the Raksha here

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