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In my world, there are mages capable of wielding the power of flame. The trouble is, trainee pyromancers tend to burst into flame, whenever they get excited. And later on, truly gifted pyromancers trying to unleash their full power found a, er, embarrassing side effect. You see, gearing up that kind of intense firepower has side effects ranging from searing heat to a full-on explosion of flame centered on the mage, which causes their clothes to burn off.

No, you can't just avoid that with training and discipline, because if you're trying to (or are) unleashing your full power, you are in an intense emotional state, most likely in danger, and it's rather hard to focus on not burning your clothes on in that state. Yes, it should come naturally once one's trained, but that's simply not how it works.

Think about it; when a powerful charge has built up in an object, or is in or around an object, doesn't it usually crackle with electric energy? Flames and heat are the same way (flames produce immense heat) so when one awakens their inner fire, the resulting heat either turns to clothes to ash or straight-up flash-disintegrates them.

Thus, mages need two things: extremely fire-resistant clothing (for training pyromancers that don't quite know how to control) or clothing that straight up won't burn. I don't want to turn to exotic, magical materials because A) magic reacts with magic, much like chemicals react with other chemicals, and that will likely be problematic in and of itself and B) the best option would probably be a solid flame, which would also be problematic (no matter what, flame is not opaque, it's naturally transparent or translucent due to its connection to Light).

There's the Pyris enchantment, which infuses something with flame and makes it fireproof, but that only works on certain things, like gel (gel clothing? I don't think so), stone (I doubt stone can be made into clothing), or metal. Technically Pyris works on plants, animal hides, and the like, but the result should be ashes (which I'm pretty sure don't burn but can't be made into clothing). It's also kind of problematic to get, because one has to kill a Torchblow (a Quad whose mouth is a biological flamethrower) with an object to give it the Pyris enchantment.

There's also dragonscales, but dragons drop those individually after death, they're real expensive (and hard to acquire), and while fire dragon scales are fireproof, I'm not sure comfortable clothing can be made with them (typically dragonscales must be bored or drilled and strung together, or maybe glued, since they can't be held together or fused with magic).....and yes, comfort is important, you want no distractions when you're trying to dominate an enraged fire elemental or take on an ancient lich (which are known for their skillful use of magic, incredible power and vast repertoire).

Thus, my question is What Could Be Used To Make Suitable Fire Mage Clothing?

Specifications for Best Answer:

  1. The best answer will thoroughly analyze all possible materials that can be used to clothe trainees or powerful mages, explain their pros and cons, and determine the best possible option. Due to my fantasy setting, only early Renaissance or below technology is available.

  2. The 'miracle material' or 'holy grail' of this question is a material that can be used to make comfortable clothing and cannot be burned up, incinerated, disintegrated....you get the idea. In other words, it'd be the perfect material for this person, who is a perfect (albeit extreme) example of my problem. (If you use the link, scroll down to Archive File 1 and you'll see what I mean.) It should (hopefully) not be prohibitively expensive or hard to obtain.

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    $\begingroup$ Does this answer your question, outfitting medieval fire fighters. worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/195519/… $\endgroup$
    – John
    Apr 10 at 17:51
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    $\begingroup$ It's really sad to know such miracle material exists AND is not rare or overly expensive to process, but that it's not something you want to use unless you don't mind having problems like lung cancer. $\endgroup$ Apr 10 at 17:53
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    $\begingroup$ no magical materials, what about using magic to create non-magical fibers? you would be surprised how easy it is to create Nomex or other meta-aramids, and the precursor chemicals would generally be in a potion master's stock $\endgroup$ Apr 11 at 3:37
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    $\begingroup$ By the way... what temperatures are we talking about here? Anything will evaporate if you get it to 4000°C so it's a lost cause beyond that. Also, what about the explosions? It doesn't matter how heat resistant a material is if the explosion simply rips it apart. $\endgroup$
    – Vilx-
    Apr 11 at 11:01
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    $\begingroup$ If the only problem is that screwing up causes their clothing to burn off, why not just let them learn from the embarrassment? $\endgroup$ Apr 11 at 20:13
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They build clothes using their own hair.

I mean, when they burst into flames, they don't sear themselves bald, right? So, that means that pyromancer hair is at least immune to their own flames.

So, a good way to get your pyromancers to stay clothed while battling is to either make clothing out of their own hair, by weaving it into cloth, or by enchanting to work as magical clothing of sorts by enveloping their bodies while they are in the field - the Bayonetta Solution, so to speak.

If you are worried about having enough hair, I think it would be trivial for a magical society to develop a magical hair-lengthening potion/rune/enchantment/candy bar when said hair might have useful magical properties - like the above fire-immunity.

More so, magical hair products in general would also work as a good explanation of why some people have anime-styled, impractical-sized hair on a world without modern hair care, so you end up killing two birds with a single stone.

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  • $\begingroup$ Like Baibhav Hegadi of the Masculine Mongoose stories by Eliezer Yudkowsky.... $\endgroup$ Apr 13 at 12:46
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    $\begingroup$ This is a very intuitive solution, and I like the potential aesthetic results....hmm....much to consider. $\endgroup$
    – Alendyias
    Apr 16 at 13:27
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Wool

Unless your trainees are producing a sustained flame wool clothing will work fine. Wool clothing was the material of choice for firefighters fir decades because it is incredibly difficult to ignite, and more importantly is self extinguishing. it is easier to ignite leather than wool, (200°C and 600°C ignition temperatures respectively). Wool is still the cloth of choice for blacksmiths, firefighters, and welders for the same reason.

As a side benefit after you dump a bucket of water on them (probably because their hair is on fire), wool also retains most of its insulation properties while wet.

Sources

https://ir.canterbury.ac.nz/handle/10092/8263

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2FBF02745218

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  • $\begingroup$ Great answer, thank you! I have to ask, though, how is wool self extinguishing? $\endgroup$
    – Alendyias
    Apr 10 at 17:58
  • $\begingroup$ @Alendyias I don't actually know, it is well known for it but I don't know the actual mechanics. I will see what I can look up, $\endgroup$
    – John
    Apr 10 at 18:01
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    $\begingroup$ @Alendyias From what I can find, it looks like wool has such a high vaporization temperature that the heat produced by burning wool can't vaporize enough extra wool to keep it burning, this combined with how thick and non-porous wool fibers are compared to other fibers (thus low surface area) means getting enough heat to keep it burning requires a continuous outside fuel source. That is why it is flame retardant not flame proof. Throw it in a campfire and it will burn because the campfire is supplying a lot of extra heat, while by itself it is self extinguishing. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Apr 10 at 18:31
  • $\begingroup$ Very useful, thank you! Wool should be more than sufficient for trainees, and with an Eversoak enchantment or something (to keep it wet), it should be good enough for a more experienced mage. Not perfect, but definitely sufficient. $\endgroup$
    – Alendyias
    Apr 10 at 20:19
  • $\begingroup$ Agreed on the fire resistance aspect, though they may need more than wool if they are dealing with any kind of true explosions. Wool fibers do not have particularly great tensile strength, so the shockwave from an explosion could pretty easily still tear the clothes to pieces even if they don’t catch fire. That said, I can’t think of a great solution to that problem given the stated tech level, so wool may still be the best choice. $\endgroup$ Apr 11 at 18:46
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For a really heavy duty mage (where leather does not work anymore). plain old asbestos is quite sufficient. Naturally occuring, it was known already to ancient Greeks, although industrial use began in 19th century. It is flexible, has natural fibre structure, low thermal conductivity (this makes it much better than e.g. cloth made out of metal wires). It is quite a health hazard, but that would not be known in a low tech society (it began to be taken seriously only in the second half of 20th century). And the occasional lung cancer would be blamed on fire magic or breathing in smoke and flames (this might be even true) or something...

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  • $\begingroup$ Great, thank you! Now, I just have to figure out how to deal with asbesto's toxicity.... $\endgroup$
    – Alendyias
    Apr 10 at 18:01
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    $\begingroup$ @Alendyias perhaps nothing - what's the average life expectancy of a battle mage? You might discover that lung cancer is not important anymore, especially if the toxicity is not known (people regularly ingested arsenic in the 18th century and Napoleon still conquered half of Europe) $\endgroup$ Apr 10 at 18:04
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    $\begingroup$ Asbestos clothing is also easy to clean. Bloodstains? Simply put it in an oven or kiln to burn off all the impurities. Generally though, the health hazards are slightly exaggerated with our modern understanding of health. Really, asbestos fabric can be reasonably safe to wear and be around--It's fibers that are inhaled that cause the long term issues for example in asbestos mines or factories. $\endgroup$
    – Dragongeek
    Apr 11 at 10:35
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    $\begingroup$ Was about to comment asbestos, but you beat me. Yeah, 100%. Also note that abesto is ONLY dangerous when the fibers (or parts thereof) are inhaled. Skin contact is perfectly safe (except that it breaks off parts that can later get into your lungs) $\endgroup$
    – Hobbamok
    Apr 12 at 10:13
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    $\begingroup$ One addition though: Working asbestos into fiber with that low tech level is possible, but EXPENSIVE. So its probably that the Schools have like 5-6 sets of robes for practicing that are shared and/or archmages and other rich sorcerers have a full set of clothes. $\endgroup$
    – Hobbamok
    Apr 12 at 10:15
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Frame challenge, just in case you didn't think of it: One option is to let them be naked.

Norms concerning nudity have been very variable between cultures and between times. It is common to have nudity be accepted in some circumstances while not in others, and the decency often depend on who the naked person is. Naked in a sauna? While swimming? Ok in many places! Naked in an artsy picture? Also ok. Naked in front of your physician? Ok now but maybe not if you were a woman living in certain time periods. Naked while competing in sports? Ok in ancient Greece but not so much any more. (Pretty people are also allowed more nudity than ugly people, or so it seems in modern media.)

Even if people are pretty prude, fire mages could be a special case. "What do you mean they should dress more modestly? Of course they are naked, they're FIRE MAGES! What's next? You want me dressing in full winter garb in the sauna? Should we dress the toddlers running around the village, and just pretend they won't undress and spoil the clothes at the first opportunity? Do you want us to dress our naked horses?"

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    $\begingroup$ +1, the idea that "nobody is allowed to be naked in public, or else you get arrested" is actually a fairly recent invention. Go back a few hundred years or so, and the most you might get is a few stares and/or angry words. $\endgroup$
    – Kevin
    Apr 12 at 18:52
  • $\begingroup$ Funny how "naked" turns out to be the best answer for so many clothing related worldbuilding queries! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Apr 13 at 12:44
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Asbestos underwear.

It's the traditional for online commentary of all sorts. It can be woven from naturally fibrous stone. It's known to alchemists. Best of all -- it won't be known to cause cancer for centuries!

Chainmail.

Finely knit chainmail will preserve modesty and deter muggings. Made of steel, it is reasonably fireproof so long as Rainbird doesn't shoot your dad or something.

Paint.

If you do an image search for body painting, you'll find many artful illustrations. Some may argue that this is not in fact clothing, but SafeSearch settings, whose minds surpass our own as much as ours exceed those of lowly insects, tell us that the mage would not be considered naked. The paint might use fireproof soot and metal oxides and be anchored by your fireproof gel.

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    $\begingroup$ What SafeSearch considers okay and what medieval people consider okay are two very different things. On the other hand, coatings of paint could maybe preserve modesty....maybe. $\endgroup$
    – Alendyias
    Apr 10 at 20:16
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    $\begingroup$ What medieval people think is okay, and what medieval people think is okay when the nicely dressed lady can stew your giblets in the pot they came in, may also be two very different things. :) $\endgroup$ Apr 10 at 21:09
  • $\begingroup$ Good point, that must also be taken into account. $\endgroup$
    – Alendyias
    Apr 10 at 21:58
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    $\begingroup$ @John that also explains why fire mages (apart from the head) are completely devoid of bodily hair. $\endgroup$
    – Mixxiphoid
    Apr 11 at 9:24
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    $\begingroup$ Both males and females have bits that could get uncomfortably pinched. The lack of body hair will help, but not remove the issue. $\endgroup$ Apr 12 at 15:00
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Good old leather will do the trick.

It protects from fire and won't catch fire. Moreover it's available for a tech level like the one you have in mind.

enter image description here

An apron like the one in the picture (which is for a blacksmith) can protect the torso and the upper legs, with appropriate extension can also protect arms, shoulders and head.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, that'll definitely work for the trainees, but can't leather be burnt up? The experienced, high-tier mages will need something else, I believe. $\endgroup$
    – Alendyias
    Apr 10 at 17:07
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    $\begingroup$ @Alendyias leather in itself is not a readily burnable substance. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Apr 10 at 17:22
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    $\begingroup$ Leather is actually quite burnable, what it is not is easy to ignite, once ignited however it burns just fine. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Apr 11 at 5:01
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There are numerous mitigation strategies for dealing with heat and flame:

  • Thermal Radiation
  • Thermal Insulation
  • Thermal Absorption
  • Resistance to Ignition
  • Ease of Extinguishing
  • Resistance to Thermal Breakdown

Each one of these may be useful for different reasons, however all may be required in some fashion for the highest level fire mages.

Thermal Radiation is useful for removing heat from the body. I assume in some way that a fire mage's ability to produce flame in great quantity without killing them involves a natural resistance to both heat and flame, but this may not be sufficient if they are engulfed in flame for an extended period of time or if they are rendered unconscious. Consciousness may be required for their natural resistance to be at full effect for all but the highest level mages.

A good strategy for radiation is to NOT insulate the heat against oneself. The other is a heatsink, where one side absorbs it and the other radiates it, causing a cooling effect on the absorption side. Finned metals are particularly good at this, especially aluminum, which is also lightweight.

Thermal insulation is useful if you need to be protected against other sources of flame, such as when in battle against other fire mages or fire breathing dragons and wyverns. The downside of course is that you may trap the heat against yourself in the process.

Thermal Absorption is typically done with water (does not have to be drinkable), because it easily available and inexpensive, and can be added to fabrics and absorbent materials to allow them to absorb heat. Its phase change at boiling also absorbs large amounts of heat without increasing its temperature. For solids, the only viable option for light armor or clothing would be lithium metal. It is the only one with good properties that is easy to mine and purify. There are other solids but most of them tend to be quite flammable, such as waxes and animal fats, and other metals are substantially more dense.

Resistance to Ignition is typically found because of a combination of the above properties, and from resistance to oxidation. Hollow natural fibers such as wool provide good insulation. Boron based products such as borax or ammonium borates can be washed into fabrics or absorbed into wood or leather to prevent ignition. Oxides of elements like aluminum or silicon already contain oxygen and thus tend not to burn easily, and can be added to paints. Rayons embedded with silica may be an option.

Ease of extinguishing is determined by how much heat is produced relative to how much heat is required to ignite, or by how much oxygen is required to keep it aflame (more oxygen needed means easier to extinguish). Above a certain threshold this is essentially resistance to ignition.

Resistance to Thermal Breakdown requires strong chemical bonds, not typically found until modern times. Natural products these will be mineral based, such as mineral wool or asbestos, which are bulky, uncomfortable, and abrasive. Synthetic fibers such as meta-aramids and polybenzimidazole are modern technologies.

A skilled potion master that can catalyze reactions using magic may be able to make crude meta-aramids. One of the main building blocks starts with coal tar, and purified acids. Refining the tar into benzene, double nitrating with acids, then hydrogenating the result gives you meta-phenylenediamine. The reactions involving concentrated nitric acid can be quite energetic, .. those not skilled will probably blow themselves up or be horribly burned.

The other building block starts with meta-xylene, salt water, and a strong oxidizer such as chromic acid. The salt water is concentrated and electrified to produce chlorine gas, then the xylene is chlorinated and oxidized separately under special conditions (high temp and light irradiation), and mixed together to produce isophthaloyl chloride. Once again an unskilled potion master will probably kill themselves by inhaling a large quantity of chlorine gas. Solid salt can also be catalyzed with sulfuric acid to produce chlorine gas if there is no way to get electricity. Isolating the meta-xylene from the raw xylene source (coar tar) would be a complex process.

Meta-phenylenediamine and isophthaloyl chloride are combined to produce the meta aramid known as Nomex (polymerized m-phenylenediamine isophthalamide), which must then be extruded into fibers. The catalysts for reactions and means of purifying the end result are what makes the process complex, and the means of mass production is not available, but small batches can be made. A very dangerous process with a closely guarded secret of production, only the most skilled of potion masters can produce it, and it comes at a steep price. Once produced, the raw material is shipped to Dwarves to be processed under intense heat to remove impurities and extrude into a monofilament like thick fishing wire. This is then shipped to Elves who continue the extrusion and spin it into a yarn, suitable for incorporation into fabric.

A web of trade and alliances could be build around transport of these and other rare materials. The efficiencies of production will effect both the price and production rate of the final fibers, which would typically be combined with wool and silica infused rayon fibers to create extremely comfortable and flame resistant garments. If you only want high level or wealthy mages to be able to afford it, make the production difficult or low volume, or introduce tensions and trade disputes between the races that need to cooperate, as they each possess the rare skills needed for production that are unique to them alone. Attacks on the transports will also drive up prices.

For thermal absorption, a shoulder mounted water bladder with wax plugs can be worn. When engulfed in flame or extreme heat, the plugs will rapidly melt and release water over the torso, absorbing into the clothing. To a normal person the boiling water steam would be quite harmful, but to a fire mage the temps are nothing compared to the flame. Only a few seconds of additional protection may be gained, but that might be enough time to gain composure, cast a spell, or come up with some other strategy to cool down.

For thermal insulation, a small dual layer shield with different paints can at as an insulator and be ditched if it gets too hot. Titanium (or just wood) on the inside (larnite painted), finned aluminum on the outside (larnite+graphite painted), with an air gap insulating layer and wood standoffs. Even if the aluminum gets to several hundred degrees it will still be fairly cool on the inside, especially if you add some wool felt. If the aluminum gets REALLY hot it will melt, and the phase change will absorb some of the heat. The fins allow it to rapidly cool if you are able to fight back or seek alternative shelter, keeping the shield intact and functional. The light metals make the shield easy to carry and maneuver while still being strong enough to stop lower velocity projectiles, but will take severe damage from a strike by a heavy weapon like an axe.

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  • $\begingroup$ Very thorough and scientific answer, thank you! I found it especially enlightening. $\endgroup$
    – Alendyias
    Apr 16 at 13:17
  • $\begingroup$ I'll be using this question primarily for fire mage armor, thank you for your contribution! $\endgroup$
    – Alendyias
    Apr 20 at 22:43
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Lateral thinking: There is no real nead for "special" clothing beside normal difficult to enflame thread of wool or leather.

Control differentiates trained mages from pyros:
Fire mastery requieres the ability to leach the rised byproduct body heat into some kind of heat sink while simultaniously performing your spells. Big stone steles/sculptures, huge water tanks or big metal bars suffice to store all this extended heat - use the floor if nothing special is at hand. If your heat-stores get too heated up to be effectively used, they get replaced by students or normal servants and can be in turn used to cook (hot stone steak anyone?) or warm other areas with.

For training purposes you can pair your fire mages with a water or elemental ice mages - ordering them to maintain a cool non-flamed clothing around their fiery teammates to teach fine control - this makes for a funny learning environment. You probably need to keep some sand or water handy for mishaps - as well as wool blankets if the warmth gets drained to fast by the budding ice mage from his fiery classmate ;)

In fact the ability to drain heat from things could be part of the fire magic gift as well - so one master casts a spell, four apprentices drain the heat he creates from him into other objects.

Training safeguards: The beginner courtyards of the fire mage academy consists of about 1.5m deep trenches filled with water (you may want to funnel them into warmth-isolated water reservoirs usable by commoner wash-houses) to compensate the "normal" population for the danger of having a fire mage training facility nearby - clear win-win. Younger mages step into the drenches to train their magic safely and provide warm water to whoever wants to use it: public bathhouse, indoor heating (roman hypocausts), steam tanks if you have some steam punk going etc.

Nudity:
If all else fails, fire mages in your world may want to follow a nudest livestyle out of necessity - the ability to stay clothed may be a sign of superior control of your magic (or you are far below average power wise).

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    $\begingroup$ I really appreciate your points on control distinguishing mages and pyros. Perhaps I have misthought this..... $\endgroup$
    – Alendyias
    Apr 16 at 13:25
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    $\begingroup$ I'll be using most of this answer, but since one can't always take the time to think about heat mitigation or control in an emergency situation, I'm pretty sure I'll be picking T. Sar's. Thank you, this is a very ingenious and well-thought answer! $\endgroup$
    – Alendyias
    Apr 20 at 22:44

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