Continuing the journey of the sword, we follow the processed ore from the furnace to the forge. Here is where the dirt becomes a gleaming weapon of battlefield carnage. (For the article on smelting check here; and here for the article on mining. And to see how this series began, check here.)
Once you have the materials in a form you can use them in, whether ingots, osmonds, or some other metal ripe for molding, you can actually start turning them into a tool or weapon. Like with smelting, forging metal requires someplace to do the work, the proper tools for the job, and the proper labor to get it done. What I didn’t realize is the trial and error factor that went into the process. Much more than with smelting raw ore into usable metal, sword smithing was a true art form where smiths often had techniques learned through many years of experimentation and still felt their way through step by step to create one unique weapon after another. No two were exactly the same, unlike what happens with today’s manufacturing.
Swords can be broken down into a few chunks. There’s the blade, which has many different areas that have to be created with care. Some softer metals were to be used for the core or sides, harder for the edge and point. Different smiths used different patterns for each type of sword, whether it was to be used for stabbing, cutting, etc. At the bottom of the blade is a cross-guard and then a tang, which becomes the grip, and a pommel at the bottom.
Forging a blade took a while and then it must be heat treated, ground, and polished. And only then would a suitable hilt be attached. The handle of the sword was usually done by a cutler, a craftsman who would create a custom pommel, grip, and guard for a particular sword so it fit firmly and stayed secure. For special customers, the handle might be made of particular hardwoods, horn, or bone, to fit the hand(s) of the wielder.
Some myths about sword making I learned were made up in Hollywood. Blacksmiths hardly ever worked alone. You can’t melt steel and pour it into a mold to form a blade. And it takes a lot longer than a single montage sequence to go from heating things in a furnace to a weapon with a handle. But how many players do you know who want to (during table time) actually go through the many skill checks to create a new weapon by hand with or without help? Not only that, but how many actually have the skills, materials, and facilities to pull it off?
So the same rules apply here as with mining and smelting. Though your PCs may be capable of forging weapons (and may do it in side-adventures even), during table time you’ll likely want to work around the process somewhat.
- The PCs find the fragments of a legendary sword and must have them reforged into a magical/divine/mystical weapon destined to destroy a great evil. (Example: Narsil from Lord of the Rings)
- The PCs must find a special type/size/shape of grinding stone for a swordsmith’s special project.
- The PCs must find a special type of ice and retrieve it for a swordsmith. He requires a huge block of ice from a particular pond/river/lake to slake a weapon for a critical part of the heat treating process.
- The PCs must locate and return a gifted apprentice who ran away from his duties at the forge.
- A royal asks the PCs to judge weapons from three different swordsmiths to choose the right one to lead his armies into battle.
- The PCs must help a legendary warrior find a new hilt for his sword from a master cutler with specific requirements. Anything the cutler needs, the PCs should help retrieve.
- The PCs must discover why a swordsmith’s steel shipments haven’t been getting through.
- A swordsmith’s tools have been stolen from his forge. The PCs must track down the thief and return the tools.
- A local lord seeks a fine sword as a gift for the King. He asks the PCs to find a legendary swordsmith and cutler to create an unrivaled present.
- A local swordsmith has rediscovered the lost techniques of a legendary swordsmith. A rival lord wants the smith working for him or dead. The PCs must protect the smith.
Merged Ideas (from previous articles)
- From the Smelting article, all of the ideas in “The Place,” “The Process,” and “The People” would apply here with minor adjustments.
- The use of “Star Metal” or “Let Buried Things Lie” from the Mining article would make for some intriguing plots as well with modification. Imagine lords fighting over having skilled smiths creating magic swords from the ore. Or what happens if a buried, broken sword is found and reforged. Was there a reason it was broken and buried? Does it contain a great evil?
Again, this is definitely not an exhaustive list of options, but should offer some ideas of possible avenues to explore. Next time we’ll talk about taking a finished weapon to be magically enhanced!
- How were swords really made? (The ARMA) by John Clements
- Generation X Sword Making or POOF! You’re a Swordsmith! @ anvilfire.com
- Sword (Wikipedia)