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Basic Information

Being a limeburner is a very dangerous job, that goes back thousands of years. To perform the job, you start by crushing limestone, chalk, marble, sea-shells or coral. Once crushed, you heat them in a kiln to red-hot over the course of many hours, possibly multiple days. This heating transforms them chemically into quicklime, which is very caustic and reactive. Quick Lime is used in leather tanning and dying, and in small amounts in some glass-making.

Quicklime can be turned into slaked lime by submerging it in water. Quicklime reacts violently with water, so it spits, sputters, steams and can even explode as it undergoes the chemical transformation into slaked lime. Slaked lime can be made into plaster, stucco, mortar, and concrete for buildings, usually by mixing it with sand, mud and/or dung. A thin mix of lime and water creates limewash, also known as whitewash - a primitive form of paint with mild anti-bacterial properties. Unsurprisingly this is white in colour by default, but can be tinted by additives such as ochre or blood. Lime is also used to treat and make parchment. You can fashion soap by mixing it with olive oil and ash. Lime can even be used to fertilize fields. So the limeburner potentially has a wide variety of clients or secondary business opportunities.

Both lime products have applications in alchemy, and may be an ingredient in the alchemical recipe for alkahest. Quicklime possibly may even be a component in the recipe for Greek Fire.

I mentioned that limeburning is dangerous, with caustic burns and possible explosions, but it's actually even a little worse than I let on. The lime kiln is usually large enough for a person to step inside, and burns hot for a long time so all sorts of terrible work place accidents are a possibility if a limeburner gets tired or distracted. The chemical reaction that happens inside that lime kiln can also produce clouds of invisible carbon monoxide, which can paralyze or suffocate you. Needless to say, kids, don't try this at home.


Game and Story Use

  • The limeburners workshop would make a heck of a location for a fight scene. You'd have multiple large kilns, at least one of which is raging at any given time. There'd be bags or bins of harmful chemicals around for use as improvised weapons or terrain hazards.
  • Speaking of weaponized lime, there are at least a handful of times when lime dust has been used chemical weapon, including in Ancient Rome in 80 BC, and in China in 178 AD, and by Henry III. You can fill a bladder full of lime powder, and fire it off a catapult or other siege weapon to burst open on impact and blind the enemy. One creative (and horrible) way it was deployed involved mounting a big bellows on a chariot and sort of crop-dusting the enemy as the chariot raced past them. Quicklime heats up and explodes in water making it a risky but highly effective weapon. While Weapons of Mass Destruction are not the usual trade of a lime burner, they are nasty surprise that's available at just about any tech level.
  • A lime kiln or Tannery has all the chemicals needed for Disposal of Human Corpses, so in a mystery plotline it may be where the mafia or a serial killer destroys the evidence. Perhaps the PCs get called in when a limeburner (or their customer) finds a few bones in their finished product.
  • Expect a large enough construction site to have its own lime kiln - the builders of a castle, monastery or palace are likely to need enough lime products to overwhelm the local market.
  • Powdered quicklime is notoriously hard on the eyes … blindness could be an occupational hazard. Of course on a big site, you might be able to find an opening as a treadmill worker on the cranes…
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