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Within my setting, there are magical items. These magical items are created by affixing runes onto them. These rune are drawn with metal thread from various precious metals: copper, silver, gold, platinum etc. The runes are then instructions for magic, with the precious metals having innately a lot of Mana in them.

Here is where I need help. Right now, I justify the precious metals as being magical due to them having a generally similar properties. Be that as it may, feel free to include your own reasoning for precious metals being magical. However, I really want there to be magical crystals/gemstones. How should I then explain, in a way that is internally consistent, so that precious and expensive materials are highly magical?

Notes:

  • The method of drawing metals into thread and writing with them to form runes is entirely inspired by the Masterwork Dwarf Fortress mod.
  • I want materials that are precious and expensive in real life, except petroleum, to be magical, not the other way around of random magical materials being expensive because it is magical.
  • While the precious metals are used in the form of runes, I would imagine that the gemstones/crystals would be simply placed on it, and it is carved with the same runes as the metals are drawn, and then it is magical as well

In other words, what do crystals, gemstones, and precious metals have in common?

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  • $\begingroup$ There is this question over here, that seems related, but said question is asking about how enchanting works, while my question is asking about what makes an enchanting material an enchanting material $\endgroup$ – grimmsdottir Mar 13 '15 at 1:42
  • $\begingroup$ See my answer: the only thing in common is Sib surface formation in veins. I suggest that since metals are used differently than gems, that they act as slightly different systems. It has some interesting implications. $\endgroup$ – Isaac Kotlicky Mar 13 '15 at 3:57
  • $\begingroup$ Your first paragraph is an accurate description of microelectronics. Actually, the magic is introduced in silicon crystal by way of doping it with various types of magic powders (boron, phosphorus...) and copper runes are drawn to guide magic properties from one place to another in the gem. $\endgroup$ – mouviciel Mar 13 '15 at 8:05
  • $\begingroup$ @mouviciel that's very similar to how I dealt with the distinctions between them in my answer. But notice he already says that gems are carved, but metals are inlaid - we need to adjust the mechanics based upon that distinction. $\endgroup$ – Isaac Kotlicky Mar 13 '15 at 12:59
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Since metals are operating in a different system than gems, out makes sense to say they contain different mechanics. When you talked about weaving runes with metal, the first thing that sprung to mind was electrical circuitry. Metal runes are basically inscribed circuits that provide magical integrated hardware! Gold, silver, and platinum are just the best magical semiconductors...

Gems are a little trickier. According to your post, they get inscribed but not inlaid. There are many gemstones and crystals that are semiprecious or common that would presumably have no magical properties, like quartz, salt, and amethyst. So it can't be pure crystalline structure. What else?

Well, all precious stones form under deep heat and pressure, mostly volcanic conditions. The earth's core is a massive magical source, and the deeper down a gem is formed, the more ambient magic is absorbed into its crystalline structure! Surface formations like salt and geodes would have little inherent magic.

Precious veined metals (rather than ores) are too amorphous to retain magic in their lodes, but are still attuned to magic which is how they can be woven into runes. These runes create effects by drawing magic from the ambient surroundings: the more magical the area, the more powerful the spell.

Precious gems work in the opposite manner: they are magical super capacitors and generators. Carving a rune into them allows you to control the external flow if magic. The larger the gem and the more flawless the crystalline structure, the more magical capacity the gem has and the more powerful it is.

So you have two complementing methods: woven metal runes generate magic from channeling external energies, precious gems from internal energies trapped during crystal formation further down toward the magical core of the planet.

Update: With this system, you can have a REALLY crafty crafter who inscribes gems with runes and then weaves metallic runes AROUND them - the gold concentrating the magic of the gem even further! Perhaps by focusing the magical energies into coherence this creates a "magical laser?" Might it cause a feedback loop and result in a huge explosion? There are all sorts of ways to go with this one, though I pity the poor sod who's the first to try it out... They'll probably spend months scraping him off the walls...

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The key is Patterns.

All crystals and gemstones have repeated geometric patterns as part of their internal structure. You can decide that that structure is necessary or enhances magic. As a side effect, a more valuable crystal/gemstone means a better, more repeated pattern with fewer flaws. So you can justify more expensive stones being better for magic.

Precious metals are trickier. It is possible to put patterns into metal with repeated smithing - that's part of what makes forged objects stronger - but there's no obvious reason why gold would be better than say, bronze or iron for that purpose. There are a few things you could use, but they're a bit weaker:

  1. Affinities - you could say that certain metals associate with different types of magic for Reasons. Say gold with fire, silver with darkness, etc - you get the idea.
  2. Numerology - do some pseudoscience with the periodic table and figure out some special associations with the atomic number of the precious metals that common ones don't share. Then you can decide that that makes them special.
  3. Shared Magic - maybe each metal on the planet has a total amount of magic, shared between all parts of that metal. Let's call this 1 Big Magic Unit (BMU). So all the gold on the planet = 1 BMU = all the iron on the planet in terms of magical potential. But because there's say, only 1/4th as much gold, that means each ounce of gold has 4 times more magic than each ounce of iron.

Edit: I realize now that you already have something for precious metals, but figure I'll leave the second section in since it doesn't hurt anything.

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  • $\begingroup$ Don't worry too much about my own reason, I want to hear the reasons of others too. Also, I like the idea of the flawless crystalline structure improving the magic of it $\endgroup$ – grimmsdottir Mar 13 '15 at 3:27
  • $\begingroup$ Except that if patterns define magic than salt itself becomes unbelievably powerful! Salt crystals can be very pure and ordered. The reason sapphires are blue and rubies red is because they AREN'T pure - it's the impurities that provide the color! $\endgroup$ – Isaac Kotlicky Mar 13 '15 at 3:34
  • $\begingroup$ @IsaacKotlicky: Almost all minerals are patterned to some extent - generally gemstones/crystals are more consistently patterned and ordered. Salt is crystalline in small segments but you don't see large sections that are all ordered the same. I'm not sure why salt doesn't form that way though offhand. $\endgroup$ – Dan Smolinske Mar 13 '15 at 3:58
  • $\begingroup$ @Dan Smolinske: salt does come in large ordered segments. See them here giantcrystals.strahlen.org/europe/merkers.htm. Most salt crystals have more impurities so they don't look nearly as nice. You can even grow them: chemistry.about.com/od/growingcrystals/ht/saltcrystals.htm. Growing them might be an interesting concept for creators of artifacts. $\endgroup$ – HSquirrel Mar 13 '15 at 10:14
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I hate to answer by not answering the question (stack exchange tends to vote them down), but I think there's another approach which makes your job much easier.

Sanderson's 1st rule of magic

Sanderson’s First Law of Magics: An author’s ability to solve conflict with magic is DIRECTLY PROPORTIONAL to how well the reader understands said magic.

As it turns out, you can get away with more vague connections between materials and their magical properties, so long as the readers are comfortable with it. This doesn't challenge any of the existing answers posted here, but it does point out that it matters less how you rationalize that things are magical, and more how consistently and predictably you treat it.

If you decide that silver and platinum have "similar" effects because they're both white metals, readers will expect that gold and copper also have "similar" effects because their hues are related. Some might even expect to see some magical properties in bronze. On the other hand, if you see a whole host of copper and silver magic items, with silver being more powerful, the reader won't think twice if your gold items are more powerful than that. If its the artificier's skill making the item that matters, they should expect ancient wooden trinkets hewn by legendary shamans of yore with more power than gold amulets made by average shamans of the day.

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  • $\begingroup$ Don't worry, you will get no downvote from me. That aside, my question does wish to ask about ways to describe them in an internally consistent way $\endgroup$ – grimmsdottir Mar 13 '15 at 7:34
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You could start by relating the "magic" actual physical properties.

Gems

Gems are very hard, most gems are harder than steel by a wide margin. Assume magic causes "erosion" to the gem used to store it proportional to the magnitude of the desired effect. At that point the Mohs hardness of the material can be used to determine what magic it can hold.

You can add the limitation that the process of enchantment is light based so that the storage medium must be transparent to some degree to light of color related to the type of magic. Or alternately to colors other than that related to magic type.

You can make the "erosion" effect also specific to the process of enchantment, so that you can use any solid material to store any spell, but your chances of succeeding are proportional to the hardness of the material. Enchantment is generally assumed to be a time consuming process requiring specialized skills. It might be cost effective to pay more on materials to reduce the chance of failure.

Metals

If gems store the magic, the metal should shape it when released. Precious metals have some notable properties: conductivity, malleability, and corrosion resistance. They can efficiently conduct the magical energies without huge amounts of energy lost to potentially dangerous side effects. They can be shaped to the precise shapes needed for the runes. And the relase of magical energy does not cause them to corrode and lose magical potency as the runes get corroded from the surface.

With these proviso the optimal material would be gold plated silver or copper alloy. This would depend on the properties of the magical energy, silver has higher electric conductivity, copper thermal. (IIRC, not really important). Stone and organic materials would still be usable for lower "magic density" effects like permanent charms. Base metals could have corrosion resistan coating.

Again I think it is best to link this to the process of enchantment. If labor of shaping the runes is expensive, and it would, using a malleable, easy to work, precious metal makes sense. And a high conductivity metal might allow performing enchantment faster. And the corrosion resistance might drastically reduce the chance of failure and having to start the process from the beginning.

Overall

I guess the general idea is that if constructing magic items is time comsuming and requires specialized and expensive labor then using expensive materials that make work easier does make sense. And precious stones and metals actually do have good properties for this scenario.

Additionally, if magic items are expensive to start with, they would be commissioned by wealthy clients, who fully expect their expensive new toys to also look good with their expensive imported silks.

Also, related to ease of working the material, the tools fo working precious metals are much more enchanter friendly than a forge is.

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  • $\begingroup$ "Gems are very hard, most gems are harder than steel by a wide margin." [citation needed] Joking aside, I don't think that hardness is the relevant issue here - common steel isn't inherently magical, but gold (according to this) is. $\endgroup$ – Isaac Kotlicky Mar 13 '15 at 13:01
  • $\begingroup$ @IsaacKotlicky Probably should have added qualifier of most minerals commonly mentioned as gems in fantasy RPGs or something... The gems and metal do different things in this model, gems store the energy, metal channels it into the desired form on release, thus it is logical that different qualities are wanted. Was it not obvious from answer? What should I edit to make that clear? $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi Mar 13 '15 at 20:39
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I think conduction and resonance would be a good way.
Metal is a great conductor, and doesn't actually contain the mana, but conducts the background mana that surrounds us all into a useful path.
The purity and type metal determine how well it conducts the mana energy.

In regards to electricity, Copper is a pretty good conductor. Gold has slightly less conductivity, but resists corrosion. Silver is the best conductor, but does corrode a little.
Here's a surprisingly interesting article about the conductivity of precious metals: http://machinedesign.com/archive/materials-engineering-little-known-facts-about-precious-metals

Mana can behave differently than electricity, so definitely feel free to assign your own rank for how powerful each metal is.

Metal by itself can and will pick up energy from the background energy, but not much. To really do something you need a power source. Gems can be great resonators, depending on quality, cut, and any number of other things. The right gem with the right cut will resonate with the background mana, acting like a receiver. And so taking several high quality gems and linking them together with a quality precious metal in the right pattern would make circuits where mana energy is collected, channeled, stored, amplified, and harnessed to great effect.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crystal_radio is an example of a crystal that draws power from radio waves and converts it into something else, in this case sound.

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They are magical simply because humans/sapients place value in them.

The collective subconscious assigns great value to precious metals and gems. This corresponds to humanity as a whole unconsciously placing mana in said precious things.

Mana as a thing flows from the collective subconscious to things held in high regard by humanity as a whole. This means people like kings etc have a large personal mana supply.

Particularly well crafted items admired by many has some for example the kings crown even was it not made of anything precious is coveted and so has some level of mana.

But by far the easiest way for an item to have a large mana supply means being constructed from precious metals/gems due to them being inherently valuable to almost everyone

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