Silver is an elemental metal, white and lustrous in its pure form and closely related to both copper and gold. Historically, silver has been considered a precious metal - typically inferior to gold in most cultures due to its greater incidence and lower resistance to corrosion, but still valuable1. It also has significant practical uses and strong mystical significance. Impure silver tends to take on a blackish tarnish. Silver may be extracted in its native form, as an ore, or as a by-product of smelting related metals including lead. Silver is also known to be found as a natural alloy with gold, known as electrum or "green gold" (historically "white gold", but that term is now used for another mixture).
Beyond its immediate value as a precious metal (including jewelry and bullion coins), silver has also been used for its ability to be formed into reflective surfaces (in mirrors and optical instruments) and possesses natural anti-microbial properties, which may be behind its pre-modern use for high end tableware and various surgical implements, musical instruments, dental fillings and medical devices. Modern industry makes further use of these properties in wound dressings and clothing designed to inhibit bacterial growth, exploits silver's high electrical conductivity in various devices and as a catalyst in synthetic chemistry. Silver compounds also play an important role in photography and can be used to colour glass. As with many metals, whilst the pure substance is relatively innocuous, silver compounds (such as the nitrates used in photography) are highly toxic. Note, however, that the forging of blades from silver is impeded by the fact that, as metals go, it is relatively soft and cannot be work-hardened meaning that they lose their edges easily and wear away quickly on sharpening. Silver used for practical purposes is often alloyed to ~92% purity (known in modern terms as "Sterling Silver") with other metals (often copper, zinc and/or tin) giving a more robust material - this is still not as hard as steel, but is suitable for tableware and other such things2 and still retains most of the benefits of purer blends.
Mystically, silver is linked to the moon and is considered potent against anything ruled either by the moon or by darkness - including werewolves (and possibly other lycanthropes), the supernatural in general and women (partly due to the moon and the female menstrual cycle having roughly the same period). In general, silver will be regarded as a purifying influence (again, partly due to those natural anti-microbial properties), but may be in opposition to the properties of gold (being the metal of the Sun).
Game and Story Use
- Obviously, silver can serve as treasure
- Historically most European coinage seems to have been silver - the gold coin was a genuine thing, but was much rarer in history than it is in most fRPGs (but then most fRPGs massively under value gold by historical trends).
- Note the bit about blades above - cutting or piercing weapons made from silver are likely to suffer, especially against an armoured opponent, although blunt ones may do better (even if they will probably be pretty ugly after the fight).
- Silver may also have problems in high velocity modern firearms, but should outperform soft lead and be at least as effective thereas in any weapon accustomed to firing it. Also, low velocity weapons such as shotguns should be fine with it.
- If required to use silver in a modern weapon, your best bet is probably to have it made up into jacketed hollow-points, which should be robust enough to survive firing, but should expand on impact and deliver their active cargo into the target.
- For those hoping to make up their own rounds, note that silver melts at a much higher point than lead and will pose a serious challenge to anyone without highly specialised equipment. For those without purpose built moulds3, there may be more mileage in rough casting the silver into ingots and then machining rounds out of it.
- A magic item which has purifying aspects (for example a chalice which destroys any poison placed in it4) might well be made of silver.