Tag Archives: world building

Hey guys! This question’s a bit more based on culture-building, but I recently realized that the culture in my story doesn’t much allow for the swords, plate armour and other similar fantasy-type gear I had planned. I’m looking to figure out a weapon that could carry similar connotations to a sword, but without the need for a stable smithing community in order to build it. Any ideas on where I could go to research other types of melee weapons that aren’t so dependent on large-scale forging?

If you actually want swords, I wouldn’t automatically ditch them just yet. Depending on your setting you could use alternate materials.

I’m going to blame all of the Elder Scrolls Online ads floating around for this tangent, but the setting has some interesting alternative materials, or at least did back with Morrowind.

The carapaces from the region’s large insects were re-purposed into a kind of light armor plate, and weapons. My recollection was that the stuff was fragile, but, it’s an idea.

Bonemold was a kind of fantasy plastic, specifically, a resin. They’d mix finely powdered bone with some local glue and the result would be a very hard and somewhat light substance. In the real world I’d wonder about the feasibility of the glues, (waterproof glues are a fairly modern thing), and I’d wonder about it being able to hold an edge. It’s worth noting, if you wanted to go that route, you could use something else as the powdered additive, for some reason all that’s coming to mind is powdered granite.

Stahlrim was described as “unmelting mystical ice.” This was incredibly hard, and would be carved by trained “smiths”, into the desired armor and weapons. It had a sort of roughly whittled appearance, along with a deep translucent blue color.

Ebony is an Elder Scrolls setting standard. It’s actually just mystically strengthened obsidian, that’s then worked and polished to a mirror sheen. In the real world obsidian can be formed into ridiculously sharp blades. So, if your setting has the means to harden it to the level of steel, or tougher, obsidian blades and armor might be viable. Real obsidian has a slightly purplish, or grey translucent, color when it gets thin enough.

EDIT: Since I missed saying this, somehow. In the real world, obsidian is just volcanic glass, and quite brittle. Sharp, but it will splinter apart with no warning, and to the best of my knowledge, it’s not something that can be tempered.

Where I’m going with these two is fairly simple, depending on your setting, you might not need to forge your weapons from conventional metals, you could use any appropriate mineral source from your setting. Stone swords were never a thing, but stone axes and spearheads do have a real world history.

Beyond that, some kind of fantasy wood might be able to hold an edge, and make functional armor. This could get a little strange, but a lightweight hardwood, that’s been properly lacquered, and treated could work as some kind of armor. In the real world, wooden armor was never an effective choice, and wooden weapons were always either for training, or blunt implements (like staves), but, that doesn’t mean your setting couldn’t have “ironwood” or the like.

If you actually want to get away from a sword, I’d seriously consider the axe. It has some nice symbolic qualities, as both a weapon and a tool, and therefore an excellent badge of office to show how the king/suzerain/whatever is in touch with the people. Or to indicate how brutal the world you’re presenting is.

D&D’s Dragonlance setting comes to mind as well, as I recall, the name comes from literal lances used to fight dragons (and, used while mounted on the backs of them.) It’s a major symbol in the setting because it’s function is so important, to the point that it eclipses the sword, somewhat.

Staffs are another possible weapon choice, and there’s some actual history for these as well, with some organizations actually using a staff to indicate authority. It doesn’t have the immediate flare of a sword, and you’d see more of a distinction between a staff designed for combat, and an ornate one as a badge of office.

The short answer at the end is, be creative. It’s what you’re wanting to do in the first place, and stuff like this is only problematic if you want to keep it as bland and gritty as possible. People will use the tools they have access to.


In my story, a nation is based on a desert made from whittled down iron from a meteor. Thus, they can make iron extremely easily. Because they have almost unlimited iron, they can make full plate for almost their entire military. What do you think would be an appropriate amount of skill and training for a knight wielding full plate, with this much iron at a nation’s disposal?

As we’ve said before, traditional knight training would last about 14 years. This has nothing to do with the availability of the materials and everything to do with the amount of time needed to train your combatants. If they’re just heavy infantry you could probably drop that to a year or two, but, that’s not really an issue, because you’ve got a few world building problems.

First off, meteors don’t contain a lot of iron. Meteoric iron was a real thing, and it did have some characteristics that made it desirable, but, this stuff is rare. For a meteor to deposit enough iron to really alter a nation’s economy like that, you’re looking at an extinction level asteroid strike minimum.

This means the strike either occurred millions of years before, or your city in the sand would have been splattered. If it was millions of years ago, then the asteroid would have been mined out long before the technology for full plate armor existed.

This is the other problem. Even if you have an infinite supply of metal, you still need smiths to produce it, modern drop forged steel is still at least half a millennia away (and would invalidate the advantages of actual meteoric iron), so that means your city will need massive numbers of highly skilled smiths working constantly to produce the armor. You can’t simply mass produce this stuff. In a pre-industrial environment, each weapon and piece of armor has to be handmade. This takes time, and a lot of effort. Removing the material availability doesn’t help you that much. You have iron, but you still need smiths.

This creates a massive knock on effect. You have smiths, so now you need to feed them. You can grow some food in the desert, probably, but you need a massive agricultural base. Egypt works as a possible model, the Nile created an incredibly fertile zone along it’s floodplain, but that’s not really a desert, or at least, it wasn’t. Deserts have a nasty habit of spreading, and chewing up more and more land over time. Most ancient civilizations didn’t actually choose to build in the deserts, it’s just, over time, the deserts decided they wanted to hang out with everyone else.

This is of course assuming the meteor didn’t contaminate the ground water, which is a real possibility. Water is a critical resource in a desert, and one you really do need for everything. You need it for the smithing, for the agriculture, and to keep people alive. The smithing doesn’t require potable water, but the rest does.

No water, no food. No food, no smiths. No smiths, no armor. No armor, no knights. No knights, no way to keep someone else from taking your chunk of space rock at blade point.

Of course another huge issue is that when you mix full plate with mid day desert heat, you end up with an inventive way to broil your own troops. Just, food for thought.


Fantasy Book Critic: GUESTPOST: Cost And Consequence In The Creation Of A Magic System by Karina Sumner-Smith

Fantasy Book Critic: GUESTPOST: Cost And Consequence In The Creation Of A Magic System by Karina Sumner-Smith

25 Things You Should Know About Worldbuilding

25 Things You Should Know About Worldbuilding