Saturday, April 7, 2012

F is for Forges

The Third Gift - by Elmer Boyd Smith
Forges, and the process of forging, creating and melting metal objects, is a theme throughout mythology, legend, and most RPGs.

This isn't surprising, given the importance of a) metal objects to hit other people with; b) armour to prevent the things in (a) hurting you; and c) pretty things made of metal in both history and fantasy games.

I'm not going into the process of finding, mining, smelting, or purifying the metal, as interesting as these processes are (in my first career, I spent three years roaming the Australian Outback, doing the first and assisting the second of those processes), or the actual forging of objects.  Rest assured, however, that it's more in-depth than Skyrim indicates.

I do want to touch on the forges in mythology and see what can be stolen for campaigns.

Given that there is a book somewhere called "Smithing Gods, Including: Hephaestus, Aul , Gofannon, Goibniu, Creidhne, Luchtaine, Ogoun, Seker, Ilmarinen, Wayland the Smith, Svarog, Kotar (God), Qaynan, Gobannus, Vishvakarman, Tvastar, Kothar-Wa-Khasis, Sethlan...."(ISBN: 1242775668 / ISBN-13: 9781242775666) this won't be an exhaustive listing, just my usual attention deficient musings.

Bill Nighy being a God, Wrath of the Titans...
Hephaestus (Vulcan to the Romans) was Greek god of fire, volcanoes and metals, and had an interesting time.  He was lame, an association apparently common amongst mythical metalcrafters. Some legends credit this to a fall from Olympus (one of several) and others that he was lame from birth.  But his skill at his craft led to his acceptance, despite this deformity, and he is said to have created a silver chariot to cart him amongst the gods; a number of bronze servants and gold slave girls to serve and assist him; bridles that make any mount tame and swift; beautiful jewellery and cunning traps, and the metal artifacts of the gods. He was assisted, some say, by the mighty cyclopes.

Front panel of the Franks Casket
Wayland the Smith is more familiar to my generation of gamers, at least those who ever watched Robin of Sherwood, the mid-80s British TV series with an evocative score by Clannad.  Many swords of legend are attributed to him, including Gram, the sword used by Siegfried to kill the Dragon Fafnir in the Völsunga saga. In this legend, the sword was stuck in a tree by a god, shattered in combat with that god, and the fragments reforged to make a sword that could cleave an anvil in two.  

In most tellings of the legend, he was married to a creature of faerie, sometimes a Valkyrie, others a Swanmay.  She leaves him, as she must, and he is left with only a ring.  Later, he is imprisoned, and crippled by King Nithad, and made to craft wonders.  He escapes, able to fly by his craft, after revenging himself on the kings children.  He is credited with many of the famous swords of the era, and is rumoured to still exist, in the lands of faerie, only able to be reached through the megalithic cave named after him.  Here's a somewhat neglected page that gives more details.  Also, Michael Scott Rohan's Winter of the World series has this story as it's basis, especially the last book, Hammer of the Sun, even though this typifies his problem of the story getting too huge and too metaphysical in the third book, somewhat out of keeping with the first two (IMHO).

What can I steal from this?  Well, given the physical frailties of these legendary smiths, I'm happy having no 'god of smithing' (except for the blasted dwarves) and make this craft the sole providence of mortals, who can exceed and even challenge the gods.  Especially if it is a beginning science, with different techniques of metalcrafting held secret by guilds or cities, and the complications of magic in the whole process. Also, don't try double-crossing or betraying a master smith.  They will screw you over in the end, especially if you're planning on using the stuff they made for you.  I'm happy with the idea of a god having to visit a smith to get their weapons and armour, and more delicate goods, forged, and having to bargain with someone who knows their own worth, and isn't beholden to any of them.

There are also many places of legend, where mighty forges of past ages once sang, or famous items were forged.  Some of these are still used, and held for special purposes, such as the Thran Forge near the Kheldarian Capital, where all the arms of the Royal Guard are forged, and the sword and armour of each fallen king is remade for his successor.  Some are recovered from the sufferings of time, and fired up again, like the Sacred Foundry, near Ironholm, where an exotic but powerful furnace and machinery for hammering and billows was found in hidden tunnels below the ruined fortress that towers over the coastal road.  

Others are lost; the most famed being the Forge Kudotha in the deep passages of the lost Dwarven Fortress of Azhgaul, clearly first modelled on Moria, but now different, even if I use the random mapping tables from the 1st Ed. I.C.E. sourcebook.  

There are also smaller, lost forges, in dungeons and ruins, and each of these can hold precious and rare materials, often in the form of ingots, half-finished artifacts, or even the quality of the crafting tools.  It may not pay to be the new owner of one of these forges when the descendants of the original owners hear of it and decide to reclaim it, especially if they are Dwarves.  Even the Elves can be a hit nasty about it, too.

Happy Easter Everyone!


  1. One of the interesting points with medieval chansons de geste is just how much emphasis is put on the equipment in them. Often the fights come down to equipment failure rather than any particular display of skill, so well crafted gear was the main thing.

  2. Some good points. I hadn't though too much on it but there do seem to be a lot of forges and smithing in high fantasy stories. I know the series I'm trying to read through has a character who was raised to be a blacksmith. Interesting how the craft becomes a common thing to have in a story.

  3. Great post. I just came across your blog and I've just read over your other posts and loved them all especially the one about elves and dragons. Forges and smithing are evident in alot of fantasy, as you pointed out Moria in Lord of the Rings is one example. Interesting post :)

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