The Hurt Locker: Forging in the Dungeon, Part II

Guest Post by S. A. Fisher

A continuation of the previous post (Part I is here) on a new variety of Artificer; the ironmonger.

The Forge and Bellows
Once he has basic tools and fuel, the ironmonger will also need a forge and bellows.

Bellows: the simplest bellows for a portable forge are bag bellows. These are two bags made from goatskin and sewed up airtight. Each of the skins has a wooden air nozzle which feeds into a y-shaped wooden, ceramic, or metal pipe. Pump the bags in an alternating fashion (1 FP per 10 minutes) and the resulting air-blast is powerful enough to heat iron to a welding temperature, and even to smelt small amounts of iron if necessary. The bags and nozzles can be rolled up and put inside a backpack. In a pinch, the smith might even be able to use a waterskin or treasure sacks to cobble together bellows. Weight is about 3 lbs. per bag, 6 lbs. total. Cost per bag is $20.

Forge: The simplest forge is a hole in the ground, and it’s the sort of forge many smiths in developing countries still use today. The hole needs to be big enough to hold the metal being forged, the fuel, and to accommodate the air blast coming into the forge. A hole about a foot across and a 6 inches deep is sufficient for a small makeshift forge. Next to it dig a second smaller hole just big enough to accommodate the nozzle of the bellows, and connect the holes with a small tunnel. If the ground is too hard for digging, build a small campfire circle with rocks, stacking them high enough to make a bowl shape, but leaving a small space into which the bellows pipe can be inserted. That’s all that’s needed for a forge! The ironmonger can make a serviceable forge from a lot of different things — a discarded rusty helmet or metal bucket, a pile of bricks, or by digging up some clay soil, peat, etc. An ironmonger needs about an hour to setup his forge and get the fire ready. If he’s in a hurry, roll skill, and for each margin of success subtract 5 minutes; each point of failure means he takes 10 minutes longer. Critical failure means he takes 2 hours.

From Raw Material to Masterpiece
Once the ironmonger has his tools and fuel, he’s ready to start hammering…all he needs is raw material. In general, anything steel or iron can be shaped with his basic set of tools.

The ironmonger starts his work with ingots of iron ($7 a pound) or steel ($20 a pound), or with scraps of raw material he can scrounge for the scraps as he goes along. This stuff is surprisingly common in dungeons! The typical fantasy dungeon door might have several pounds of scrap iron in the hinges, straps, lock, etc. Old rusty goblin axes, knives, and arrowheads can be collected and re-forged into much better weapons for the party, and so forth.

Once he has all the elements ready he can begin forging. Each forging attempt requires an Armoury skill roll and takes one hour (and an hour’s worth of fuel!) per 3 lbs. of total weapon weight or fraction thereof. Swords are trickier – they take three times as long and are -2 to skill. Note that crushing weapons, axes, and polearms, can use iron raw material, but swords, knives, and impaling weapons, like spears, need steel. This all assumes the ironmonger is working from prepared blanks; if working from scrounged materials apply a further -2 to skill and double the time, cumulative with the above penalties.

A successful roll produces a good quality blade, arrowhead, etc. The ironmonger can spend extra time to increase his effective skill. If he has an assistant the helper should roll versus DX, ST, or an applicable skill; this is a complimentary skill roll. Failure produces a clearly flawed weapon; the GM may choose to treat the weapons as cheap and/or unbalanced, and the ironmonger will know! Critical failure produces a secretly flawed weapon which will break on its very first use in combat!

Once forged the weapons must still be hafted, hilted, etc. This is non-forging time, and does not use fuel. This can take up to twice as long as the forging time, but often a makeshift weapon gets a field expedient solution; half an hour per pound for a basic finish. It’s ugly, but functional. These weapons are battle ready, but not “shop” ready, as they are not fully polished, sharpened, fitted with sheaths, etc. They should be treated as cheap quality weapons if they are sold. Much polishing and shaping will be needed before the final product is presentable as a “work of art.” Crude and serviceable is fine deep down in the dungeon, though.

Note that an ironmonger can also repair broken weapons. This takes just half the time (and fuel) necessary to forge the same weapon. Non-forging time is as usual, however.

In addition, the ironmonger can attempt to make better quality weapons. This is -5 to skill, and takes five times as long, for a fine quality weapon. It is -10 to skill and it takes 20 times as long for a very fine weapon. A balanced weapon, whatever its quality level, takes twice as long. These improved levels of quality require steel ingots or steel scrap; no iron or iron scrap can be used! Note that cheap weapons can also be made, at half the usual forging time and +4 to skill.

Of course, the ironmonger need not restrict himself to making weapons – he can make other tools (for himself or others), or iron goods, instead. If so, the rate of production is the same (one hour per 3 lbs.) but the skill rolls depend on the item being made; this will most likely be Smith for basic iron goods (chains, nails, wedges, hinges, locks, lockpicks, etc.) or Machinist for tools. Most of the tools and goods produced are, like the weapons, pretty crude. They are serviceable, but sooty, smudged, dented, scratched, with hammer marks and no finish work. They will sell as cheap items, if a seller can be found.

What about armor? The same rules apply for armor, but the speed of construction for metal armor is much slower. Plates and mail rings are easy to produce, but finicky to fit to a living being, and thus require a lot of pounding and fuel, and accordingly take time to fit and assemble. The time is 10x longer (thus it’s 3 lbs. per 10 hours). Otherwise, that’s it. No other changes. Quality armor uses the same rules as weapons, above.

An ironmonger gadgeteer has a great advantage – he can make any tools he needs given time and raw materials. Yes, given a few weeks he can build a full workshop, with attendant bonuses to skill, in the dungeon of his choice, beginning with just the most basic tools. If the ironmonger pulls such a stunt, however, the GM is within rights to send a party of angry townspeople and guildsmen with torches and pitchforks to shut him down! Ironmongers are itinerant adventurers, after all. It’s fine to run a campaign about the adventures of an ironmonger and his shop, but probably only after everyone else in the party is ready to settle down with their towers, taverns, magic shops, etc.

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  1. Emily, yep a shield or buckler would work. A forge just needs to hold the fuel and provide a place to introduce the air blast. It's not a perfect forge, but it would work in a pinch. -S.A. Fisher

  2. I don't have a blog because I'd rather support the awesome blogs we already have. Ben, I'll take your comment as a hearty endorsement of the article. I'm encouraged to write more. Thanks!

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