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Basic Information

An alloy of copper and tin (or, at one stage, copper and arsenic…1), usually at about 88/12 although the proportions may vary, particularly if there are other additives in the mix.

Bronze was probably the first hard metal to which humanity had access and was significant enough to give its name to an entire era of history (The Bronze Age). Despite rumours to the contrary bronze weaponry was superior to anything made of iron until reliable steel making techniques were developed, being easier to work, harder and better at keeping an edge. The main problem with bronze was that it requires tin to manufacture and tin is relatively scarce and therefore expensive2.

As noted, historical uses included weapons and armour as well as works of art and everyday objects. Until the development of stainless steel bronze was also well regarded for ship fitting due to its resistance to corrosion. Bronze was also popular for the casting of bells (for sound quality) and cannons (for corrosion resistance and its low friction qualities).

Today bronze is still used for bell founding, works of art and many engineering applications where low friction and corrosion resistance are valuable. Since bronze3 doesn't generate sparks when it strikes a hard surface it is also popular as a material for metal tools to be used in a flammable or explosive atmosphere.

Some metals referred to as bronze are actually brasses (e.g. Commercial Bronze, Architectural Bronze and Bismuth Bronze) since they are mainly copper/zinc alloys.


Game and Story Use

  • Tin is treasure in many eras … something your PCs might not appreciate if they lack the relevant knowledge skills and/or the players are ignorant.
  • Note the connection of bells and cannon … a bell foundry was your best bet for casting bronze guns unless you had a specialised arsenal available. Likewise captured bells could make a useful source of new guns, as could the public monuments of a captured city…
  • Most RPGs present bronze weapons as a cheap and inferior substitute for iron. They did not do the research.
  • Arsenical bronze may be a big deal amongst species less susceptible to arsenic poisoning - and can obviate the lack of tin. For example, an isolated tribe of lizard men may be bronze armed despite having no access to the tin trade because they have copper, arsenic and the toxicity resistance to combine the two on a regular basis.
  • The effect of arsenic poisoning on bronze smiths is thought to be behind the archetype of the crippled smith - as personalised in the Greek deity Hephaistos. Other authorities suggest it may be due to a tendency for rulers to cripple skilled smiths so that they wouldn't take their skills elsewhere, but this seems like a self-eradicating idea on a large scale and a lot less likely than the alternative.
  • In the Runequest RPG - or, more specifically, the campaign setting Glorantha that used to be its default, bronze is apparently found as a native metal and is the bones of buried gods. That is not the weirdest aspect of the setting, but is one of the more incongruent ones. What happens when you alloy copper and tin in Glorantha is anyone's guess.
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