The special materials described in the Numenera core book may not be as flashy or exciting as the Artefacts and Cyphers scattered throughout the Ninth World, but they do have interesting potential all of their own. This second article explores the uses of Azure Steel, an unearthly superalloy available to the Ninth World centuries before metals like it were developed in our time. Whether you are after some ideas for what your ‘Crafts Unique Objects’ character could create, or a GM after strange embellishments for your game, read on.
“Azure Steel: This bluish metal is not steel and may not be from Earth at all. While somewhat lighter than steel, it is at least 10 times harder and tougher” Numenera p.77
From its description, we can assume Azure Steel has some similarities to a cobalt – chromium based superalloy; abet forged using methods unknown to us today. So in addition to being extremely resistant to fatigue and abrasion, it would retain reasonable hardness up to 500°C and largely ignore various forms of corrosion.
The mining town of Omar in the Sea Kingdom of Ghan extracts and smelts sections of a vast prior world device constructed of this material. As the superalloys we are familiar with now take up to 1500°C to melt, the blast furnaces of Omar would need to run at the peak of what was possible with medieval industry. Although working Azure Steel raw is certainly possible with cutting tools, grinding wheels and a lot of hammering, it would be a long and tedious process. A quicker way to make shins could be to sell thin shavings of the ‘original’ Azure Steel as alloying material.
On that note, it’s worth considering that current methods of recycling superalloys require advanced vacuum processes unavailable to the Ninth World. Working a potential superalloy without such equipment would introduce impurities and increases the loss of noble metals when reaching hot-working temperature. So it seems likely that the ‘Omaroa’ metal would be visually recognisable from the original and more prone to fatigue, corrosion and deformation (although still a step above average steel). For GMs looking for optional rules on material vs. material:
|Materials||Hardness*||Health Per Inch|
|Steel / Stronglass / Pliable Metal||5||15|
|Iron / Organic Stone / Shapestone||4||12|
|Molded Foam / Adamant Silk||2||6|
|Leather / Synth||1||3|
*reduce damage dealt to a material by its difference in hardness, higher level materials deal full damage to lower. So a heavy bronze weapon would deal 1hp of damage to a sheet of azure steel. If you want to take it a step further, deal half the difference rounded down in damage to the weapon. In which case, that heavy bronze weapon would be ruined after five swings.
So what could an emerging society use a celestial superalloy for? Well, while the ancient world we know certainly had ‘special’ materials of its own (Wootz/Damascus steel among others) to make springs, cranes, cables and various great leaps in infrastructure… most superior metals still ended up being used in warfare. Whether or not the peoples of the Ninth World follow suit is up to you. Here are some of the alternative uses for Azure Steel:
- Lockbane Auger – An Omaroa hand auger that was first made as a building tool, it found great popularity among the shipbuilders and artisans of Ghan. Unfortunately it fell out of favour among many reputable craftsmen because of its rapid uptake by thieves and housebreakers throughout the Steadfast. The ability to bore through the hardest steel made it excellent at penetrating locks and strong-room doors alike. Newer, more effective versions of this initial design use hand cranked drills with Omaroa bits.
- Suredge Shears – A set of massive overgrown shears with ground Azure Steel blades set into a steel frame, its extended lever arm is used to apply pressure to the cutting edge. These shears are sold primarily to Steadfast salvagers looking to try their luck in the wastelands of the Beyond. They are swiftly becoming a prized item in areas rich with prior world detritus. Used correctly a strong prospector can snip through all but the hardest scrap.
- Hardface Spikes – Six slices of Azure Steel hammered into angle pitons, with holes bored through the top for a welded steel ring. They are used for climbing hard igneous rocks or shear metal surfaces where more malleable iron would be useless. Each spike is durable enough to be re-used indefinitely. These tools have seen some circulation in the lands bordering the Black Riage; where any advantage against the uninviting peaks is welcome.
- Indigo Powder – A drawstring bag containing 5lb of powdered Azure Steel. The process of reducing the super hard metal to a powder is time consuming, but profitable. Many metalsmiths working with alloys pay well for the dust, as do certain Nanos. The concentrated mix of rare elements provides far more effective esoteric building blocks than common ninth world detritus.
- Azure Surgeons Kit – This roll of oiled leather contains a set of fine surgeons tools, their working faces are inset sections of cut Azure Steel. This includes a scalpel, splint, needles and a bone saw. They keep a fine razors edge longer than any other metal, resist rust and remain keen even after repeated heating and hard use. While few understand why, a skilled surgeon using such tools tends to have more recovering patients than dead ones. They have become something of a badge of office among the great Steadfast cities.
- Ghan Sea Chest – A hardwood coffer banded and hinged with Omaroa, it has inset plates of cut Azure Steel sandwiched between the wooden walls. They are used by Ghan merchants to protect particularly valuable artefacts during transit. Most include a built in Whisperlock, but lesser versions have been known to use (level 5) mechanical locks instead. A well build Ghan Sea Chest represents one of the most obstinate lockboxes a thief can encounter.
- Cerulean Spar – One of the simplest Azure Steel items to emerge from the Omar mines, yet Cerulean Spars have been in great demand for constructing cranes, shoring up excavations and other loadbearing work. Even a short length of Azure Steel withstands greater compression and shear forces than the equivalent mild steel. The largest consumer to date has been the City of Bridges where the corrosion resistant beams are used to shore up sea damage to the great platforms.