View Full Version : Materials other than metal.

12-18-2011, 11:53 PM
For some reason I had the idea that the ruling force in my world would seek to hoard the sources of metal from the common people. Metal is obviously an extremely powerful resource and I can see ways that they could use it to control the "Noble" or their favored people. Metal would be used extensively in the provinces that are allowed access to it as sort of a status symbol. But now what about the poorer population or my Rebellion? I suppose the poor using mud and clay to hold their log and timber homes together could be believable, but I have a fantasy element that the Rebels and other causes use as a metal substitute. There are creatures in my world that I'm calling Crell. These are massive crab-like creatures that crawl onto land to die. Their shells work like metal does at a basic level and can be used as armor, blades, and building material. These creatures are also a major foodsource for the poorer folks. Now my main question is how viable is this? As far as fantasy goes is it believable that a creatures shell could be used and forged in such a way?

Drachen Jager
12-19-2011, 01:06 AM
Kind of defeats the whole purpose of having an impoverished rebellion if you just give them something that's 'just like' metal.

Make 'em the underdogs. Force them to fight swords and armor with antler-tipped spears. Otherwise, what's the point in denying them metal? Look into Japanese armor, they used very little metal and managed a decent amount of protection.

12-19-2011, 01:08 AM
Well it wouldn't be quite like metal. It's brittle and doesn't make as good of armor or weapons. It's a substitute mostly for building, but not a very good one.

12-19-2011, 01:32 AM
Real life pre-metal and metal-poor cultures have come up with some interesting composite materials, usually layers of cloth, leather, and/ or basketry held together by cords or glues. Polynesian and Central American cultures had wicked weapons of volcanic glass, flint chips, or shell blades held in resin-backed handles. Raymond Feist, in some of his Medkemia books, had an Asian-inspired culture that almost completely lacked metals.

No reason why you can't have the common people use chitinous armor as a metal substitute, but you have to answer how they cut and shape the material. It obviously won't cut itself efficiently. So that leaves rare, hoarded metal tools, or stone.

12-19-2011, 03:00 AM
To answer your question...if it's an animal you made up, you can give its shell whatever properties you want.

If you're just going to describe it as crab...I mean, I think crab shells crack pretty easily. Easier than many other available materials. Would rather use mudbrick for building or stone for weapons/tools or leather for armor. But if it's your animal, it's your material, ain't it?

But what the others have said is quite true...people have made some nifty weapons/building materials/armor/tools without the use of metal. You don't necessarily to make something up.

Unless it makes things more interesting. ;)

12-19-2011, 03:31 AM
Metal armor is heavy, hot in the summer and extremely cold in the winter. Metal armor will slow troops down compare to leather or other types of armor.

Metal weapons such as swords and axes, while superior, are by no means the only weapons. Arrows with flint, glass, or other similar arrow heads are just a deadly and if archers keep out of range of metal swords, very deadly.

As to homes, metal is not the number one building material. Depending on the region, wood or stone is much more plentiful and does not take any special refining and manufacturing to produce. Evan peasants can put together a log or stone home that will protect the inhabitants from the elements.

There really no way to prevent peasants from mining for minerals secretly. But mining ores does not mean the peasants would have steel as there is a very complicated process of turning the various types of ore into steel, copper, lead, brass, or any other metal you want. Of course, gold and silver is the most valuable ores to mine for, as well as precious gems. The old where there is a will, there is a way type of thingy...

Smiling Ted
12-19-2011, 05:43 AM
You might want to research the mining, smelting, and working of metals - because it is a pretty complicated subject, and the research might suggest a lot of new approaches to you.

12-19-2011, 08:30 AM
Thanks everyone. I'm trying to keep word builders disease at bay while I write this novel, but occasions like this make me want to dive into it headlong. I suppose I cold keep it the way it is for now and change it later if my research pops up with anymore interesting ideas such as the ones you have all offered. I think for now I'll go with a bit of a mix. I was too focused and kept things a bit to basic, the archers using glass or stone or obsidian arrow heads seemed to pass me right by, as well as rudimentary clubs and the like. Lots to work with. Thank you everyone. :) Edit: Pardon the errors, it's been a long day and this IPad isn't agreeing with my typing.

12-19-2011, 12:26 PM
Besides, if the Crell shells are like metal, they're going to be hard to open and eat. The hardest I'd go is 'tortoiseshell' which never really made the leap to armament, although it might add some protection (and a lovely decorative effect) to armour.
But there's lots of other steps between 'crabshell' and 'metal'.

12-19-2011, 02:04 PM
You might want to research the mining, smelting, and working of metals - because it is a pretty complicated subject, and the research might suggest a lot of new approaches to you.

Yes, because I am sure I read somewhere that the secrets of smelting were one of the ways used by some cultures to keep metal from the lower classes. Well, certainly to keep the price fixed at a high level... things like guild secrets are useful for that sort of thing.

I had a world where metal resources were rare (the story was that the ores were rare in the planet's crust but there was also a situation where the population was against the idea of actively mining ores - so no deep shafts just what can be scavanged from the surface, which is next to nothing) and, because this was sci fi, I set it up that there had been a genetic engineering programme in the past which had established certain plants in the environment which had useful resources. One of them was a tree that had a sap which hardened quickly when exposed to air. There were craftsmen who knew the secret of collecting this sap and crafting it into items (without it setting before they finished). When set it could be used for weapons or for any other use where metals are normally used.

So, it is possible. You just need to make sure you work out the rules of this material in advance and try to not make it too convenient for them as there has to be some form of reason why the nobles aren't using it as well (if it is as good as metal and easier to obtain - taking it from a crab rather than mining and smelting it - why would they bother with metal?)

12-19-2011, 04:05 PM
Not sure if anyone mentioned this yet, but what about bamboo? Would the poorer or rebellion nations have access to, or be in the right climate for an abundance of the plant? It grows quickly and is versatile.

You might consider rubber if you have the right trees and environment? How about other treated plant material?

I believe another poster already mentioned leather. Any ideas for other types of animal skins?

12-19-2011, 04:12 PM
I like your crell. Biologically, it's actually possible and easy to explain. They don't have to walk that well or far on land because they will die soon. Therefore the various problems with muscle physiology and oxygen capacity are solved.

Several species of scorpion amass large concentrations of metals in their stingers giving them their extra sharp puncturing power. So, why not the crell?

If you've ever skinned a pig, the skin is pliable and even elastic until you let it dry in the sun for a week or so. Then it is hard and tough, while light, and could if placed on the proper molds or forms be used to make things like greaves or cuirasses. Unfortunately, since drying is irregular, you'd need a large supply and would have to piece the parts together to get a well fitting suit of armor. All that means is a few people with a lot of time.

The crell die after their final molt when in the soft shell phase. As long as they are butchered immediately, the shell at that time is leathery and can be cut with stone knives. Or, since crustaceans have to eat, and what they eat has its own armor. Maybe one of the better and easy to get tools to cut soft shell crell is one of their mouth grinding parts analagous to our teeth?

12-19-2011, 04:29 PM
Mythbusters did an episode where they made armour out of paper, it was actually really effective and made a good metal alternative.

12-19-2011, 05:07 PM
The Chinese constant march south kept pushing the indigenous people southward displacing them. Many of them travelled over the sea and settled in the Polynesian islands. Those that left around 1000 AD where (for the time) technologically advanced and had the knowledge of metallurgy when they left, but some of these islands had no ore. So they had to find replacements. So they had otherwise "modern" war gear but lacking in metal. Could be worth checking into.

12-19-2011, 06:11 PM
Raymond E. Feist did something similar in his Riftwar books. The people of Kelewan(?) used some strange wood for making things like weapons and armour, and chitin IIRC from the other sentient species on the planet. Metal was a real rarity and was replaced in normal life by some pretty ingenious things. I remember there was a torture scene where the torturer used sticky chemicals applied to the skin instead of the traditional branding irons. Nice:)