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Sean99

Bronze vs. Iron Weapons

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The rpg I am working on is going to be set in a world similar to the ancient middle-east, roughly during the time humanity was making the transition from the bronze age to the iron age. So I got to thinking that it could make for some interesting possibilities if some cultures had access to iron while others were still stuck with bronze. (I chose this setting for the religious systems associated with that point in history, not because of the shift in technology, that was just a coincidence.) I don''t know anything about metallurgy or weapons or warfare, but I do know that bronze weapons were not as sharp as iron weapons and lost their edge much more quickly. Does anyone have any ideas on what else I would need to take into consideration when equipping characters with bronze weapons (and armor)? Also, just how fast would you expect a bronze blade to dull and how much less damage than iron should it inflict? I''m hoping some of you war-gamers have played games which have addressed the use of bronze-age technology and can help me out. Sean

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I think you''re onto a winner here. These two metals could make the two forces extremely diverse.

Consider:

How hard the raw materials are to get (depth of mines, etc.)
How hard the metals are to extract from their ores.
How much manpower and skill is needed to work the metals.
All the above, but with time taken and amount of fuel needed to perform each.
Also:
Strength/weight ratio, and room for expansion and development in each technology.
Resistance to wear, use and environment

EG

Iron is an element, bronze is an alloy of copper and tin. This means that bronze is more complex to make (you need two seperate mines for the ores, then two works to extract the metals from their ores, then you need to combine them in correct ratios), but you''d need to look up whether it actually needs more energy to make or not. Bronze technology cannot really be improved much, but iron can be reacted with other metals to produce various grades of steel.

Iron rusts, badly, so bronze is better suited to wet climates.

I don''t know which is lighter off the top of my head, but whichever has a higher strength to weight ratio could make better hand weapons, but not armour.

Armour DOES need to be heavy, the mass absorbs more momentum from strikes and so less force is felt by the wearer.
There''s an old parlour trick that works like this: a man lies on the floor with a heavy paving slab on his chest. The slab is struck with a sledgehammer, and shatters. The man himself sustains no permanent damage, because the heavy rock absorbs it.

NOTE: I advise that you don''t try this for yourself. If you don''t believe me, ask your neighbourhood physicist.

Gunmetal is a very similar alloy to bronze, so bronze can be made into (guess what!) superior firearms as well as blades.

For gunpowder, you need carbon(charcoal), sulphur(brimstone if you''re feeling archaic today), and potassium nitrate(saltpetre, which I think can be obtained from a certain organic decomposition, but I don''t know which. It might from decomposing plant matter, but don''t quote me on that)

Come to think of it, I don''t know whether you CAN make cannons out of iron. It''s too brittle, and would probably shatter and explode, killing the gunners. You might be able to do it, but your gun barrels would have to be enormous. You might also be able to make projectiles out of it.

Cannon and musket balls are more traditionally made from lead, being dense and so harder hitting, but also soft and self lubricating inside gun barrels, and it''s melting point is so low it can be quickly worked in the field. Blades and guns, on the other hand, need weeks of painstaking labour in factories in your home country, before being shipped to the battlefield. It is not usually practical, or safe, to set up arms factories close to the front line, in case the enemy advance and capture them. Also, you''ve got lots more workers back home.

Iron is magnetic, bronze is not. This may come in useful under a somewhat unusual set of circumstances. Build a huge magnet and suck up all your enemies weapons, heh heh.

If you feel like expanding your timescale a bit, remember that the technology for boring gun barrels allows you to make high quality mechanical parts, eg axle bearings for war vehicles, steam engine cylinders, etc.

Goodbye, and good luck.

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Whoa man... i guess someone had his
ears open in chem class...

no mean to diss here, otherwise,
finally someone is doing a theral
background check.

Salute!

Gil

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I''m no expert, but I thought the principle advantage of iron was that it is common and readily available. So instead of there being much of a qualitive difference between iron and bronze it was a matter of being able to outfit more men with iron weapons.

Jack

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If iron was more common than bronze, wouldn''t the iron age have come first?

In fact, I think it''s the fact that iron armour is stronger and iron weapons keep their edges better that made much of the difference.

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Thanks Captain Insanity, I like the points you made about the strength/weight ratio and bronze being better suited to wet climates.

But what I''m looking for is if anyone has actually reduced the properties of the different metals to game mechanics. Say a typical(steel) long sword does 1d8 points of damage. How should I modify the damage roll if that same sword is made of bronze? I know I could just choose arbitrary numbers, but I am hoping somebody else has already implemented, or at least researched, a bronze vs. iron system that I can use as a model. I''ll do the research on my own if need be, but I don''t have a great interest in arms and armor and I prefer to spend my research time on other aspects of of the cultures I''m basing my world on.

BTW, iron is more common, but you need a much higher temperature to extract it from the ore (and I think it''s more difficult to forge), which is why the bronze age preceded the iron age.

Sean

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Something you really should take into consideration, is that bronze isn''t very hard and thus you can''t make it very sharp. But there is a way to make the bronze real hard - you had to hammer it very thoroughly. Now you were able to grind your sword very sharp, but it broke very easily, espacially, but not only, when fighting angainst iron swords.
So, a bronze sword doen''t have to be that weaker than an iron sword, but bronze dulls much faster, breaks a lot easier and is less effective against most types of armour.

I know this isn''t a modell you can implement directly, but how about letting the player decide how hard his bronze swords should be and thus increasing/decreasing both damage points and the danger of breakig?

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interesting thread.

I think captain insanity made some good points in the metallurgy discussing the advantages and disadvantages of each type of metal. Iron, though it''s an element is more diffucult to work with. When the Assyrians came out of nowhere wielding iron weapons (and archaeologists still aren''t sure where they got the technology from) and perhaps more importantly, chariots...it was game over for just about anyone that faced them. But the mystery was where they got the technology from as they were predominately a nomadic people.

Iron is too brittle for cannons at least until relatively modern times.

I think that for a wargame like this though, you may want to focus on more than just weapon technology however. As I mentioned about the Assyrians, the use of the Chariot was akin to the development of the tank. Some cultures were very good with archers. Also, think about the tactics employed at the time.

Alexander the Great''s father was himself a tactical genius and developed a fighting style that put him at an advantage (he set his lines at a slight angle to the enemy, and put his weakest elements forward, so that they would impact the enemy first, do as much damage as they could then withdraw...for the much fresher more experienced units to follow through on). Then of course there was the tactical formation that the Greeks used to great effect on the Persians...the Phalanx. Also, the Romans chose their shield and short sword with deliberation...the formed a human wall and thrust their very manueverable swords through the narrow gapsin the shields.

Just out of curiousity, what timeline and cultures would you represent? My own favorites would include the Picts vs. Romans, the Gauls vs Romans, Germanic Tribes (goths, visigoths, vandals, franks, etc.) vs. everyone else...also Sarmathians, Thracians, all the Greek city states including Thebes (the 1000), the Spartans, the Athenians, the Persians (Immortals), the Turks (Janisaries) and well a host of others. I tend to prefer slightly newer cultures as opposed to the more ancient cultures like Sumeria, Babylon and Egypt.

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I will be using the more ancient cultures as models. I am definitley including Egypt, Babylon, Assyria, and Persia. I will probably throw the Greeks in there too, as well as various nomadic tribes (certainly the Hebrews). As for the time period for each of the empires, I am taking elements from various points in their histories, depending on what I can use to make my points.

It sounds like some people may be under the impression that this is for a strategy game. Although I plan on giving the player the opportunity to lead forces in battle, where I can use the suggestions generated by this thread, right now my concern in the iron vs bronze idea is to kind of treat iron weapons like other RPGs treat magic weapons (as a weapon upgrade for the player). The standard material for weapon construction will be bronze. One or two cultures will have access to iron. The use of iron will be a very recent development, so the iron using culture(s) will not yet be dominating large areas. The player will start out the game in a bronze-using culture, but placed geographically close enough to an iron-using culture that he may encounter iron weapons and hopefully obtain some.

-Sean

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I didn''t notice the RPG thing until you mentioned it.

Will it be a realistic style RPG or will it have mythical elements to it? IF it''s a RPG style game, then combat will be handled a bit differently. I think in a case like that, where you have the first iron age cultures (Assyrians) facing bronze age cultures (just about everyone else) in skirmish style combat then I think it makes less of a difference.

When you get down to one-on-one combat between skilled adversaries of this time period, armor and weapons becomes less of a factor. Why? Because armor and weapons of this period were more geared towards fighting in large groups vs. large groups. Most cultures of this time period had little protection for their legs, as they depended on shields for the most part. Also, Most weapons other than the spear were one handed (in order to use a shield). Axes, pole shaft weapons, and great swords were not favoured by the early cultures of the time frame you are looking at.

So, in one-on-one combat, weapon choice and armor is not that big of a deal. There will be some considerations, but for the most part, it boils down to the skill of the users rather than metallurgy choice. One thing that many people don''t take into consideration about melee combat, is that there''s a huge difference between fighting in groups and fighting one on one. In groups, having iron armor and weapons is a huge advantage because yourely on massed attacks. In single combat, precision and freedom of movement become the name of the game. Ever watch Rob Roy? At the end, there''s a fight scene with an englishman wielding a rapier vs. a scotsman wielding a claymore. In large scale batttles, you''ll want that claymore, but in a duel, the rapier is a superior weapon. So depending on how you do your battle system, I don''t think metallurgy choice will make a huge impact

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Bronze is a horribly inferior metal to make weapons or armor from compared to iron.

While you can get an edge on a bronze weapon, one whack and that''s about it.

An example of how malleable bronze is was shown on one of the arms and armor shows produced by the Royal Armoury at Leads. Hitting a hard object with a bronze sword causes the edge to bend, if not the whole sword to bend along the length.

Hitting someone in iron armor with a bronze sword is only going to make them more irate.

Hitting someone in bronze armor with an iron sword is going to at least buckle if not break through the armor.

I''m sure a google search on bronze weapons will return some interesting info.

From a gameplay perspective, you could make bronze less inferior than it is in reality. To build on what some others have already said, most combat can come down to a user''s skill capped or modified by the weapon they wield.


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CaptainInsano

Most melee combats boil down to bashing weapons anyways. The trick in metallurgy is the softer the metal, the more keen of an edge it can hold..but the easier it is to lose it. The Japanese solved this by having a very dense core surrounded by a much more malleable one to have the best of both worlds.

Again, taking from the Japanese, here was a country armed with the most technologically advanced sword of anytime....and they fought with bamboo, leather, and shellaqued wood/iron armor. Any samurai worth his salt could easily cut through the armor. The trick was not getting hit. It provided some protection for the glancing blow, but was not meant to stop a good solid hit...or a well placed one.

This goes for one on one combat. It''s not so much brute force as finding weak spots. Even if a bronze sword hits Iron armor, it''s not brittle like Iron and won''t break, but as you said, it will lose it''s edge. But a blunt instrument is still a dangerous one. Cutting isn''t the only way to kill or wound an opponent. Granted, an iron wielding adversary will have some advantages, but not huge ones...at least in one-on-one combat. In massed combat, the effect is multiplied because in grand melees, precision and manuevering aren''t as important as just overwhelming the enemy.

As an aside, and perhaps to help elucidate my point, there''s an old tale about how the Sultan had a little parlay with King John during the Crusades. King John of England was at a truce talking with the Sultan, and bragging about his knights prowess and and their fine weapons. As the tale goes, the sultan asked the king to swing his sword at a silk sash that he threw in the air. When King John swung at the scarf, all it did was catch on the sword blade. Then the sultan threw the scarf out and slashed at it with his scimitar...and cut it in two. To which the sultan replied..."If you can not even cut through silk, how do you propose to defeat my forces?" Obviously, english weapons were quite fine at killing men, even if they weren''t as fine as Arabic blades (which technologically weren''t that far behind the Japanese in terms of skill....damascene blades, and toledo blades that were crafted from Moorish know-how are very well sought after swords to collectors) and conversely, the Saracens didn''t do a bad job of killing the Crusaders even with their chain mail advantage.

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Dauntless,

You''ve made me curious, do you know what factors led to the use of the one on one type weapons that are so prevalent in most RPG''s? How should I tweak my historical models so that it would make sense for them to develop and use battle-axes and what-not at least on a limited basis?

Sean

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Offensive and protective systems have always closely spiraled one another and you cannot seriously consider throwing in the various weapons without knowing, or at least knowing about, the interrelate evolution of both. The particular weapon fashioned to defeat a specific type of armor has a lot to do with how the next generation of armor will combat the weakness exploited by the new weapon, ad inifnitum.

By the way, if you look closely, you don''t see very many swords in the old Hellenic and Persian empires. You see a lot of pike / voulge / spear / bearded spike weapons - piercing weapons that are effective against all types of armor and easily manitanable given the small amount of metal actually on the weapon. I think the only blades from Bronze era were typically short swords. The compact length kept the swords easier to edge, and to straighten, as well as requiring them to do the one thing that keeps you safe from a pikeman - maintain extremely short range!

Iron weapons are certainly better, but bronze weapons were by no means cowardly.

Look deep into the annals of military history. And at the risk of sending your soul directly to hell, I suggest you hunt down some local members of the Society for Creative Anachronism or other medieval combat groups, as there is not one chapter amongst them that does not have some kind of weapons historian.

-------------
-WarMage
...Bronze-age Tae Bo? "Pierce! Pierce! Block! Block! Kick! Kick!"

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Sean99

WarMage is right...probably the most important factor in the evolution of weapons and combat styles was the means of protection against that weapon, or the purpose of the weapon itself. Khopic swords from egyptian period on through till about early dark ages were relatively all the same. They tended to be short, one-handed style swords. PArt of the reason for this was their effectiveness in large melee battles.

Think for a second...while it may have seemed cool for Mel Gibson to be swinging a huge bastard sword in Braveheart, in truth, very seldomly were those weapons used in large scale combat. In fact, most polearms and two handed weapons were developed to chop off the legs of horses or to otherwise attack a mounted rider. Think of two-handed weapons as the M-60 of it''s day...sort of a support weapon. The reason they weren''t common was that large weapons like that need lots of room to maneuver and wield effectively, something that''s precious in a large scale combat.

Fencing style weapons became popular once guns were invented. The reason being that armor plating became obsolete, and you no longer needed a big thick sword to bash through the plate. Instead, speed and accuracy became more important, and the skill to wield was increased as well.

If you are curious what made one-on-one weapons popular (depending on what time period) you have to think about how a lone warrior might have to fight his duel. He will never be sure what environment he will be in (is it crowded? slippery terrain? will he be outnumbered? etc) so generally speaking, the more general purpose the weapon the more popular it became. But a weapon is just a tool like any other, ideally you find a real socket wrench rather than your leatherman all-in-one.

I laugh when people claim that this style is better than that style, or this weapon is superior to that weapon (I have about 10+ years of martial arts training split between 4 styles...not including a year of college fencing). In truth, weapons and styles were developed to suit a certain context. Many people have this romantic notion that the samurai sword is the ultimate melee weapon, but I can guarantee you that if you were out in the wide open you would prefer something with a longer reach (miyamoto mushashi the greatest swordsman in Japanese history was beaten only once in a duel...by a man armed with a 4'' Jo staff....which is one of the primary reasons that aikido still teaches that weapon today)

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