Fantasy Metals

Posted: 2024-03-17
Last Modified: 2024-03-17
Word Count: 2638
Tags: dnd5e rpg

Table of Contents

This work includes material taken from the System Reference Document 5.1 (“SRD 5.1”) by Wizards of the Coast LLC and available at The SRD 5.1 is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License available at

This article summarizes rules related to common and not so common metals in fantasy games and literature. It presumes something close to Standard Physics1 in a particular fantasy world, despite other core assumptions, e.g. the existence of magic or the prevalence of gold.


“Adamant”, the root word of adamantine, referred originally to diamond (source). In the absence of any other guidance, I’m going to regard it as either a clear crystal substance that, when alloyed with iron or steel produces an extremely hard metal. It is extremely rare; an entire suit of pure adamant armor would be worth a kingdom, possibly an empire.


Ancient cultures made weapons and armor from bronze, an alloy of copper and tin. In time mankind learned to smelt iron, and bronze became merely ornamental. In certain fantasy worlds, like Glorantha and Shadow Vale, bronze arms and armor are still common, although still inferior to the “new” metal Iron or its equivalent.


Celestium comes only from the Celestial or Supernal Realms, however they are defined. Mortals may find it and use it, sometimes with some restrictions, but they cannot (yet?) manufacture it.

Celestium is a whitish, highly reflective metal, sometimes with its own inner glow. Angels and other divine beings with celestium weapons and armor are an intimidating sight, especially to evildoers.


While somewhat valuable in and of itself and in the creation of Bronze, copper is usually considered the least valuable of metals for coinage. Due to its malleability and low melting point its main uses is in creating utensils and cookware.


Gold is roughly twice as dense as other precious metals like silver. Thus a gold coin of the same weight as a silver coin is only about half the volume, and a gold coin of the same volume as a silver coin weighs twice as much.

In 5e and many other games a “gold piece” is worth only 10 to 20 comparable pieces of silver. See “The Ecstacy of Gold” for other valuations.


In some worlds, iron is the standard material for weapons; in others, bronze, in still others steel.

Pure iron is a silvery grey, but oxides and alloys may take on any shade of gray or black and any surface from smooth and reflective to dull and pitted.

Iron is an important metal in the development of civilization. Humans and other species use it to make tools, utensils, cookware, mechanisms, and of course weapons and armor.

Authorities across the multiverse attribute anti-magical properties to iron. Wizards cannot wear weapons or armor made of iron because it disrupts their power. Fae and other “elder peoples” find its presence disorienting, its touch painful, and its wounds poisonous.

Steel, an important alloy of iron, warrants its own entry.

Cold Iron

Authorities differ whether “cold iron” is merely a poetic term for ordinary iron or a reference to iron found in a pure state and worked into a weapon without forge or fire. Some even suggest it’s specifically magnetic iron. Whatever the truth, “cold iron” is allegedly toxic or fatal to undead and demons.

Some sources contend that “cold iron” has no effect on undead or demons. They say that observers have confused incorporeal Fey with true undead and unseelie Fey with true demons. Since all Fey react badly to iron, observers have therefore overgeneralized to all revenants, spirits, and fiends from the pit.

Meteoric Iron

According to legend, “meteoric iron” can harm Jinn. The most obvious source of meteoric iron are meteorites containing pure or nearly pure iron, which is then worked into a weapon. Legends differ whether this meteoric iron loses its properties when forged like regular iron, similar to “cold iron” above.


a.k.a. mithril, mythryl, etc.; elf-steel

Mithral is an alloy or pure metal that looks like silver but is as strong as but lighter than steel. Whatever its true nature, it is the favored material for arms and armor of elven and Fey warriors.


a.k.a. orichalk

While under Standard Physics1 “orichalcum” refers to a type of brass (source), in magical realms Orichalcum is a magical metal, typically reddish-gold and slightly less malleable than bronze. Raw orichalcum ore can be black or dark brown.

Orichalcum has the paradoxical property of channelling magical power and blocking it, depending on the specific alloy with other metals. Its many uses include:


In the ancient world silver represented purity. Silver plates and dishes reacted to some poisons, and silver mirrors were said to reflect a being’s true soul (or lack thereof). It is no surprise, then, that many supernatural beings are said to be vulnerable to silver: werewolves, vampires, devils, otherworldly beings.

Silver is much more reactive than gold, i.e. pure veins of silver are less common than gold (source). This explains why both historically and in fantasy worlds it is much more valued than its comparative abundance including ores and compounds. See “The Ecstacy of Gold” for other valuations.

Silver Alloy

A rare alloy of silver and non-ferrous metals with the strength of steel does not trigger the effects of iron on magic. Such a silver weapon has the same effect on lycanthropes and other monsters as a silvered weapon. The alloy is otherwise as heavy as steel.

Weapons and armor made of silver alloy typically costs ten times the steel equivalent, due to the difficulty of creating and shaping the metal. (Piercing weapons like spears and arrows cost only five times as much, since the shaft can be made of wood.) It is a sort of poor man’s, or rather rich man’s, mithral.


A stronger alloy of iron than iron, steel contributes to the advancement of civilization and warfare even more than the primitive iron tools and arms of the past. In all but early Iron Age worlds it is the dominant metal for weapons and armor. In industrial worlds it’s an essential building material.

Any anti-magical properties of iron should apply also to steel. However, “cold steel” is a mere poetic phrase, and “meteoric steel” is nonsense. It’s possible the heat necessary to forge steel disrupts other anti-magical abilities, although more than 95% of most steel is iron.


Tenebrium is to Infernal, Chaotic, or evil beings what Celestium is to Supernal, Lawful, or good beings. Unlike Celestium, which is merely an ultra-hard, glowing metal, tenebrium is primarily a spiritual and physical poison which can also be forged into weapons.

Both as a powder and as a solid weapon, tenebrium is so dark as to swallow light. When forged as a weapon, it sometimes possesses an eerie glint, or reflects light in a way to suggest those lights are present only in another realm. Whatever the form, tenebrium poisons Supernal and Divine creatures, causing wounds and sicknesses which do not respond to the creature’s native or magical healing powers.

Even mortal creatures are not immune. Among mortals, the mere presence of tenebrium causes a corruption of the soul that manifests as an obsession with collecting tenebrium and/or using a tenebrium weapon that comes into their possession. While the touch of a tenebrium weapon isn’t physically toxic, the powdered form is as poisonous as arsenic and other heavy metals.

Appendix A: Guidelines for Shadow Vale Metals

The metals of Shadow Vale may resemble the metals of Earth but exhibit properties beyond earthly metals, including Hardness and Density. These metals and materials include:

Banned throughout the Supernal Realm and most of Shadow Vale, but still used to create deadly weapons and poisons.
the usual material for weapons and armor in the Supernal Realm and among professional warriors in Shadow Vale.
Used for weapons and armor only in the poorer parts of Shadow Vale, and for ornaments and utensils everywhere.
Rare even in the Supernal Realm, and more commonly found as arrowheads, spearheads, and daggers than as larger weapons or armor.
goblin metal
Used only by Goblins to create their wondrous devices.
mortal metals
Found and used on multiple Earths and similar worlds.
natural materials (bone, hide, stone, wood)
Used for weapons only in the poorest parts of Shadow Vale.
Shadow Vale Metal Analogue Color Hardness Density
Darkmetal Tenebrium black 6 I
Graymetal Steel gray or silver 5 II
Redmetal Bronze copper red 4 I
Skymetal Celestium bluish-white 7 III
goblin metal brass brass 3 0
mortal metals - various 1 0
natural materials bone, hide, stone, wood various 2 I


The “hardness” of a Shadow Vale substance affects what happens when a weapon of one material strikes armor or shield of another material.

Also worth noting: the armor of monsters has the hardness of Shadow Vale stone and the flesh of Paragons is as strong as Graymetal.


Unlike Earth, density in the Three Realms has no relation to a material’s Hardness, as on Earth. Instead, density values correlate to the “great chain of being” in Shadow Vale:

Level Beings Weapon Mass
0 mortal beings & animals x1
I immortal beings & animals, monsters, Infernals2 x4
II Supernals, Shadowlanders x16
III Paragons x64

A being wielding a weapon one density level higher than their own treats that weapon as one grade heavier than normal. Under 5e rules:

So, for example, a Supernal could only use a Skymetal dagger like a sword, since to her the dagger would feel as heavy as a sword.

Similarly a being wielding a weapon one density level lower than their own treats that weapon as one great lighter than their own.

So, for example, a Paragon could heft a Graymetal sword like it’s a Light weapon.

Multiple levels of difference stack. So, for example, a mortal (level 0) could only use a Graymetal dagger with two hands, because to him it’s Heavy.

Denser weapons do proportionally more damage. This will be noted in the damage description for the creature and weapon.

Systems beyond d20 may represent the effects of density in other ways, e.g. the Scale system of Everywhen.

  1. I.e. universes that function substantially or wholly under principles we categorize as “science”, even if a few of those principles vary infinitesimally from Mainline Earth’s scientific understanding. Scientific universes may include “weird science” or “mad science” but by definition cannot include “magic”, “sorcery”, “psionics”, and similar forces and energies. ↩︎ ↩︎

  2. Infernals have powers beyond the Supernals, including rapid regeneration and psychic influence, but they are physically weaker than a Shadowlander. ↩︎