Author Topic: Chemistry and Metallurgy in pre-industrial society  (Read 2153 times)

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Offline Siren no Orakio

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Chemistry and Metallurgy in pre-industrial society
« on: June 30, 2004, 10:34:19 AM »
In a world where magic exists, and high technology does not, we often forget the myriad uses of basic chemistry and metallurgy, throwing them away because they do not fit our idea of the pre-industrial society. Yet, they are valid fields of study for the idle rich, for the sage who wishes complete understanding, for the smith, and especially for the Alchemist. So, let's consider what things can be made from readily available materials.

Much of inorganic chemistry is centered around acid and base reactions. Sulfuric acid can be readily, even easily obtained by burning sulpher and saltpeter, both obtainable from nature with little refinement, in the presence of steam. Distill this liquid in the presence of table salt, and you have muriatic, or Hydrochloric, acid. More difficult to obtain is nitric acid, which can be made by greatly heating air, and combining the resulting gases with water. Once these three are found, a wide number of useful reactions can occur.

Notably, Nitric acid and its salts can be used to create a wide number of highly flammable, even explosive substances, of which one of the easiest is guncotton, made by soaking cotton in a mixture of nitric and sulfuric acids. Highly explosive and highly unstable, this material can be used for blasting and as cannon-powder.

Many metal salts can also be obtained by leeching ores in acids. Some of these salts may be reduced by heating with methane, aka, swamp gas. While metals created in this matter will be extremely expensive, the addition of even half a percent by weight of materials such as nickel or chromium can cause drastic changes in the properties of steel. Stainless steel may not be unknown to the nobility, and it is said that Napoleon fed his most favored guests off of aluminum plates, while the less important had to be content with gold!

If those of the researchy bent have access to a source of electricity, (Cue rod of lightning jammed sideways in a device), electrolysis may also exist. With electrolysis, what salts cannot be easily reduced to their metals can be purified, though the electrolysis bath can become very exotic very rapidly.

Well, all that is excellent trivia, but what good is it? After all, it's expensive, and not nearly as reliable or timely as an incantation - or is it? Such chemistry allows the enormously wealthy new materials  of construction: Alloys that may be harder, stronger, and more durable than the common carbon steel. Armor may be feather light, untarnishing, or simply resistant to heat, or possibly even magic. You may not be able to give your soldiers all +1 weapons, but you can give them all stainless swords that hold an edge. Guncotton allows for fearsome traps on the field of battle, and demolitions work on untold of scales. Many things are available, but not economical - But this doesn't neccesarily exclude them from play in the hands of (creative) NPCs. The laser gun may as well be magic - But the man with the arquebus squad is something else entirely.

Offline Strolen

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Chemistry and Metallurgy in pre-industrial society
« Reply #1 on: July 09, 2004, 08:54:14 AM »
I think the title of this post scared most people away. :)

Knowing how these items were found historically would be useful as well. There is another thread talking about dynamite and how it was used for 100s of years without using it towards actually trying to damage people or buildings. Used to scare spirits if I remember correctly. Took a long time before they realized it really could be useful for something else.

So by seeing the true history of how these things were discovered we would be able to more easily incorporate them into our games.

It is interesting trivia thoug. ;)

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Offline manfred

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Chemistry and Metallurgy in pre-industrial society
« Reply #2 on: December 03, 2004, 05:07:21 AM »
Yes, chemistry/alchemy or whatever you name it, can achieve effects seemingly magical.

Let's say, a self-destroying message. :roll: There exist substances reacting intensively with oxygen, so once the message is opened (the inside coated with the stuff, or the ink itself) starts to react, and in a moment, burn. If really volatile, the message has to be opened underwater or otherwise, or else it burns/explodes immediately.

I think people producing special effects use a string, burning at the speed of hundreds of meters in a second. While a rather new invention, imagine it as a trigger for traps or bombs.

An opposite would be a _really_ slowly burning stuff with numerous uses.


What wasn't mentioned so far, may be an important edge in fantasy worlds, particularly high-magic worlds:

 - These items do not detect as magical, because they aren't.

 - And their producer is not dependant on magic-users.
Do not correct me, I know I am wrong.

Offline MoonHunter

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Chemistry and Metallurgy in pre-industrial society
« Reply #3 on: December 03, 2004, 12:38:16 PM »
Yet magical techniques are often employed in Metallurgy.

In Early West/ North Africa, all smiths who work in iron are considered magic users. They can create a new substance, using some non metals, to create a superior metal (steel). Each practioner had their own forumla for steel (both in compound and in their quenching water), so depending on how strong their magic is, determines how strong their steel is.  They also use special chants over their steel (the song actually timing how long it sits in heat or tempering in the water).  Some visualize certain colors, trying to achieve that color in their metal before quenching.  

Long ago in this same area of the world, quenching a hot blade in the body of someone, made sure it was stronger (blood being a perfect carbon mix). Thus nobody wanted to visit the smith, just on the off chance they were making a blade.

In short, these cultures takes what we would call a science, and makes it an art (and an arcane one).

Now lets not talk about the Incans. This ancient culture did not possess the wheel (well they did not see it as practical anyways).  They have electroplating technology that we have only matched in the last two decades.
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Offline Kinslayer

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Chemistry and Metallurgy in pre-industrial society
« Reply #4 on: December 23, 2004, 02:26:39 PM »
Technology is simply how you use the information you have.  This could be interpreted that we are now in a very poor age, technologically speaking, in that we have far more information than what we can find uses.  

Some very high-tech is surprisingly old in origin.  Fibre optics is perhaps the best example; this is essentially Stone Age tech given an ultramodern use.  Gunpowder originates in the 8th century during the Tang dynasty, based upon Wei Boyang's attempts at immortality-through-chemistry in the Book of the Kinship of the Three, dating from the Han dynasty.  Farraday & Henry were merely recreating experiments of several centuries prior (knowingly or otherwise).  Artefacts have been found from ancient Sumer & Ur that are believed to be water-proof scroll cases, but can still act as modern batteries if filled with fruit juice.  

It must also be remembered that not all of history is European/western/Christian.  In China, inventions were becoming common in the Stone Age that would not be found in Europe until the late Middle Ages or Renaissance.  Materials technology in the Muslim world far surpassed their Christian neighbours' until modern times--and some lost techniques still have not been duplicated.  Certain Africans had astronomical knowledge from antiquity that was not "discovered" until a few years ago.
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