Runequest Thursday #35 - Iron in Glorantha, Steel for the Rest!

Clint Staples

I know - It's Wednesday, you say. So what is up with RQ Thursday already. Well, tomorrow I will b in transit to the fantasmagorical Comicpalooza in Houston, and will not be able to post. So, since I did not want to leave you hanging, here is RQ Thursday a day early. Besides, tomorrow you should be checking out Skirmisher Publsihing's live coverage fo the Con, with d-Infinity Live onsite at Comicpalooza. You can find the link tomorrow from this site.


Glorantha, in default mode, is a ‘Bronze Age’ setting. The standard metal for most uses, including weapons and armor is bronze. Much of the iconic art depicts the ancient world, rather than the medieval one familiar to may other fantasy RPGs. Lunar soldiers are often shown as Greek hoplites, Macedonian phalangites or Roman legionaries, Sartarite looking very ancient Celtic, and praxians in Scythian gear are mot uncommon  are common. I’ve always thought this was pretty cool.

The fact that bronze in Glorantha is a naturally mined ore, unlike our own, which is an alloy of copper and tin [or in some cases, arsenic or other metals], does not alter its hardness and properties, which are said to be very much like our bronze.

Since the earliest versions of Glorantha, there has been the possibility of acquiring iron wargear. The metal of Runelords, Runeladies and Runepriests, whose gods make it possible for them to wield this magic-weakening metal and still cast spells, iron has been the goal of quests and dreams of prospective rune-levels for the last four decades or so

The original way of representing an iron weapon or armor was to multiply the amount of AP [Armor Points] for armor or damage dealt for weapons, by 1.5.

For Iron Armor, this was easy to sort out, just upping the AP x1.5.

For weapons it seemed simple in principle, but it meant multiplying damage for weapon hits, deciding whether to round up or down, then adding damage from spell enhancement [say from Bladesharp] or Damage Bonus [due to STR].  

It was kinda clunky.


My version for Iron in Glorantha [or for Bogdanan Steel in The Savage North] is different, and allows for differentiating grades of metal – Normal Iron, and Superior Iron [possibly represented as steel – iron hardened through the introduction of carbon in the forging process]. In games where iron is the default metal, these grades could represent normal steel, and wootz, damascus, or pattern-welded steel like the vikings used to make. You could even use the higher grade to represent ‘star metal’, meteoric iron, etc.

NOTE: There is a growing body of evidence that suggests that bronze weapons often outperformed their iron equivalents, at least in respect to early iron in the transition period from the older metal to the newer one. This school of thought suggests that the main reason for moving away from bronze was the difficulty of acquiring tin, which was rare in the ancient world. This post is not here to debate that. It is here to provide a better system for a stronger, sharper metal for your d100 game – in this case the non-terrestrial metal referred to as ‘iron’ in Runequest.


The System:

There are two [or three if the GM prefers] grades of the metal, each granting progressively more potent abilities.


  • Each grade of iron grants Pierce 1[as the spell, which negate Armor Points on the thing it strikes] cumulatively, which is negated by iron armor. The spell Peirce may be stacked with the Piercing from iron weapons. As may Bladesharp and other weapon enhancing spells.
  • Each grade improves the AP of the weapon by 3 for a hafted weapon or by 5 for an all-metal one.
  • Each grade improves the HP of the weapon by 3 for a hafted weapon or 5 for an all-metal one.
  • At least in Glorantha, and possibly in The Savage North, this metal impedes magic use in those who wear or wield it. Only potent magical ability [such as the aid of their god for Rune Levels in Glorantha] allows one to use iron and cast spells. For others, iron and magic use should only be possible after a Heroquest or similar trial.
  • Iron Armor may only be usefully included in armors that are predominantly constructed of metal – like mail, scale, plate, brigandine, etc. You can include Iron rivets in your leather armor, but they won’t increase its Armor Points.
  • Iron armor is more resistant to damage than its bronze counterpart, so grants +2 Armor Point per grade AND has its ENCumbrance reduced by .5 ENC per location [if you use an ENCumbrance system].
  • Iron Armor and Iron weapons interact as normal versions of themselves. So Iron weapons do not Pierce Iron Armor, and Iron Armor does not have more AP.



Some links for those who would like to look a little further:

Bronze: a decent intro to the properties of the metal, as well as its historical context, with useful links and references.

Wootz Steel: The images are broken, but the article is good.

Damascus Steel, Wootz, and Pattern-welding

Secrets of the Viking Sword – a video of the recreation of one fo the Ulfberht blades by a modern smith:


Art is by the amazing Angus McBride.