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SETTING

The setting is a fantasy world with magic, mystical creatures, knights and heroes, kingdoms, etc; a rather typical fantasy world (ie. Middle Earth, or Shannara Chronicles). In it, swords, bows, and armor are widely available, though slightly expensive. However, due to magic and aid from mystical creatures of fire, the quality of metallurgy and smithing far surpasses typical iron-age or renaissance metal work. Think early 1900's steel (WW1/Industrial Revolution Era). This metal is available to all kingdoms and peoples. Combustion, gunpowder, and steam engines have yet to be discovered so no explosives, guns, or modern vehicles exist. This also applies to machining tools. Precision boring, honing, and other machining tools are not yet available in this setting. Assume that cost of weapons and armor would increase marginally with this increase in quality, but to a typical soldier, mercenary, or adventurer weapons and armor could still be affordable.

If steel were of this quality, what changes would be made to typical weapons or armor? (This table contains a decent list of the types of weapons I am considering)

WEAPONS AND ARMOR CHANGES

Would weapons be lighter? If so, would typical longswords be replaced with sabers or rapiers? Would axes have greater penetrative power? Would certain types of armor be made irrelevant? Would there be armors with higher mobility? Would projectile weapons become more penetrative? Could bows and crossbows be given higher draw weights? If armor were stronger would it make certain weapons ineffective? Would durability increase significantly? What type of upkeep would be required for these weapons and armors?

SECONDARY EFFECTS

What about the effect of these weapons on people? Would wounds be more serious? Possibly less serious (cleaner cuts)? Would bone be cut or broken more easily with these weapons? Would medical treatments change? Could better steel improve medical treatment? (some magic is used for minor healing). Would tactics change or because the weapons are widely spread would things largely remain the same? Would the armor protect from death more often and lead to more focus on disabling and wounding enemies than on killing them? Would small groups of skilled warriors become more effective with better equipment?

I've searched around a bit and found some great information, but figured I would look for some better answers here.

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    $\begingroup$ I think you are vastly understating the quality of medieval weapons-grade steel. The problem wasn't the quality of the steel, it was the -quantity- since it was hard to work and required specialists. Any advantage of modern steel is minimal without the machining and industrial processes to use it (i.e. stamping out cheap breastplates by the thousands or the use of powered hammer forges). $\endgroup$ – Jason K Mar 1 '17 at 20:22
  • $\begingroup$ Solid point. So perhaps if I want to increase the widespread use of quality steel in my world I could use magic (or whatever else) to enhance the ability to shape and use steel more efficiently. $\endgroup$ – Logan Kitchen Mar 1 '17 at 20:43
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    $\begingroup$ Even without advanced machine tools newer forging processes would be a game changer. Circa-1900 open hearth furnace and just casting (as opposed to stamping) would provide whole armies with cheap good quality weapons and armor. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Mar 1 '17 at 21:51
  • $\begingroup$ this is going to depend a lot on where you are, for some places it i will make little difference, since they already had high quality steel thanks to the luck of having high quality ore. Japan on the other hand has crap steel and had to design weapons accordingly. $\endgroup$ – John Nov 2 '17 at 16:19
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Armor would be lighter or stronger (or some combination of slightly lighter and slightly stronger). That could affect infantry mobility.

You would see more light swords like the epee. That sword can only be made with good quality steel, otherwise it is too fragile. The epee isn't just a sport sword. It was designed to thrust through gaps in the armor (even eye slits) to make incapacitating attacks. That takes great deal of training so not everyone would be using these but a heavy sword just isn't going to move fast enough to block one of these.

For normal infantry, an upgraded version of their sword, spear or halberd will make them much deadlier. It was common for swords to bend or break when swung heavily against another sword or armor. Thus, the durability of the swords will be higher. Against enemies with lower tech armor, they would have a distinct advantage. If the enemy has the same armor, the effects would mostly cancel out.

The spear and halberd would benefit since there would be less weight on the far end and the wielder could swing them faster. A pike wall would be even more fearsome, I suspect.

Arrowheads would have better penetration but modern steel armor would pretty much cancel that out.

If you allow crossbows, they could throw their bolts with much greater force. Crossbows would be a huge game changer. The Pope outlawed their use in war because, even with their lower quality steel, the crossbow could throw a bolt hard enough to go through a nobleman's armor.

On the slightly trivial side, carriage rides would be smoother with leaf springs made from good steel.

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  • $\begingroup$ I don't think steel was the limiting factor for crossbows, it was the fact that humans needed to be able to pull the string back. A stronger crossbow is always going to be harder to load than a weaker one. $\endgroup$ – DaaaahWhoosh Mar 1 '17 at 18:48
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    $\begingroup$ Yes but stronger steel allows stronger cocking mechanisms. The heavier crossbows were crank/gear driven. Better gears means faster/stronger cranking. It also means that you can have longer limbs that would be easier to pull back but still provide the same force, using a longer barrel. So you could have a compact, cranked crossbow or a much larger hand pulled crossbow. Crank bows are not a problem if each bowman has two crankers behind him. $\endgroup$ – ShadoCat Mar 1 '17 at 19:20
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    $\begingroup$ "The epee ... was designed to thrust through gaps in the armor (even eye slits)" Not hardly. The epee is derived from the smallsword, which in turn derived from the rapier, and none of these was intended for battlefield use. Going for gaps and eyeslits may sound good for the duelling field, but is a great way to die in a real battle on uneven terrain when shoulder-to-shoulder with your fellows. $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast Mar 1 '17 at 19:37
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    $\begingroup$ @LoganKitchen Keep in mind that the definition of 'armoured opponents' varies as time goes on. As far as I can see, the only times in which the Spanish used a rapier-like weapon on battlefields was in the late 16th and 17th centuries. During these times, full plate armour fell out of fashion on the battlefield (particularly among infantry), leaving armours like munition plate, Almain rivet and cuirass which don't give full-body protection. A weapon like a rapier is useful against these because there are lots of unarmoured points to hit, not because it's a useful anti-armour weapon. $\endgroup$ – Elia Nov 1 '17 at 19:46
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    $\begingroup$ @Elia, you don't generally break a sword on the first hit. the hits cause nicks and dents in the sword that create weak spots or micro fractures. This is especially true with harder metals. Over time, the damage adds up and lets the sword break. The broad sword was built to chop through armor. From what I read, it was meant to strike down on the shoulder/neck area using weight and an edge. It used a combination of cutting and crushing. $\endgroup$ – ShadoCat Nov 1 '17 at 23:42
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You ask a lot of question. First and foremost I want you to understand just how effective armor really was: This channel does a lot of testing and here you can find a series called truth about linen gambeson/mail/plate armor. So the point I'm coming towards is: armor is very effective and probably wins more than weaponry from increase in steel quality and therefore will be produced more and/or see more development.

Another thing to consider is that a suit of high quality plate is very expensive and assuming that your improving processes are add-on would more likely make it even more expensive. This by the way brings us to the second most important argument we have to settle:

How exactly your magic works?

Is it a post-process enchanting or a supplement for actual metallurgy processes? Is there a way to use it to not increase the quality but rather optimize the production and opt for more quantity? Or does your furnace dragon only agrees to lend his fire for master-piece craftsmanship?

One of the defining features of the Industrial Revolution is that many things became mass produced and therefore widespread - it is the revolution part, the evolution is increase in quality.

The answer to this question will be the answer you're looking for:

  1. If it's only quality - armor evolves further but only for the rich and knightly classes. You may get master-piece level weapons but again only for the rich and powerful.

  2. If quantity(through better metallurgy) can be achieved - I'd say you'll see a bigger variety of armor and weapon systems because whoever fields more better equiped troops wins.

The second one is more of a game-changer since now you'd be able to field heavy infantry and heavy cavalry that are not knightly class but posses somewhat compareable equipment. A pikebox dressed in brigandine/cuirasses that can repel a charge of knights and advance onto the enemy despite the arrow fire will be an effective force.

Now some direct answers from me with a little back up:

1. Would weapons be lighter?

Mostly not, because weight is not a drawback for most weapons.

1b If so, would typical longswords be replaced with sabers or rapiers?

Longsword did not evolve into repiers or sabres - Rapiers and Sabres became widespread after the role of armor diminished and are optimized against un- or lightly armored oponnents: one is for slashing, the other is for thrusting attacks.

However better steel may result in that swords with sharper edges or different crossections may become more viable.

2. Would axes have greater penetrative power?/Would projectile weapons become more penetrative?

Only a marginal one, not enough to make a diffirence. Even a two-handed pole-arm with a spike doesn't guarantee that you'll penetrate a plate armor, hence why it dissapeared from a polaxe and the hammerhead on it became wider and with a bigger number of mini-heads to not glance off and better transfer the energy rather than attempt to penetrate or dent it.

If we talk about projectiles: you have to understand that Arqebus and Muskets advanced to a whole new level compared to Bows and Crossbows in terms of armor penetration capabilities: a 60g bolt that flies at 40m/s produces 48 Joules of energy, a 35g bullet that flies at 180m/s produces 567 Joules of energy(more than 10 times!).

3. Would there be armors with higher mobility?

If only slightly. The effect of weight through better quality is miniscule unless you want to dab into the territory of specialized alloys.

The mobility part depends more on the fine craftsmanship rather then materials. The "precision boring, honing, and other machining tools" which you ruled out would've helped much more in this area.

4. Could bows and crossbows be given higher draw weights?

Draw weight is not the key factor, it is one of many but was reffered more to because of the lack of scientific understanding behind the damaging effects of the projectile. Here's an example of a modern 180LB composite crossbow and 70LB compound bow outperforming a medieval esque 300LB crossbow the answer for this is Kinetic Energy which cares about projectile mass and velocity(more so velocity hence why firearms are so much more effective with their 200-900m/s).

Draw weight is simply one of the ways to achieve more speed. Basically it's like "fuel consumption" if we make an analogy. Modern composite matierials or technologies(compund disc) allow to better translate the power of the draw into the speed than the steel.

But given your assumption better quality may result in bows and crossbows becoming more deadly(better velocities, longer range etc) if the metallurgy improves the right qualities such as yield strength. However don't expect the results be as groundbreaking as even early arquebus.

5. Would certain types of armor be made irrelevant?

If you can optimize the production processes Mail armor will become obsolete because Plate provides better protection and is now easier to manufacture(Mail requires a lot of manual labor and time to produce). The whole concept of interlocking rings developed because metallurgy could not produce solid plates of required size for a long time. It will still remain as protection for joints though: neck, armpits, groin etc because of the flexibility it provides.

Brigandine and other Coat of Plates types of armor may become either obsolete or insanely widespread depending on how optimized the production is. If solid plate of big size is easy to produce your world will go straight into full body breastplates and cuirasses, if it is not an easy process Coat of Plates will be the way to go and quickly replace Mail armor for those who can't afford full plate.

6. If armor were stronger would it make certain weapons ineffective

Thing is armor already makes some of the weapons obsolete, but there are ways to work around given enough skill and luck. The question is how widespread your armor is to actually rule out weapon classes. However I doubt that levied peasants will be able to afford a suit of full plate to rule out edged weapons as at least sidearms.

7. Would the armor protect from death more often and lead to more focus on disabling and wounding enemies than on killing them

This is exactly what happened. However on a grand scale of things I'd rather call it "diversification" rather than "supplementation" that you hinted with the "than" in your question.

8. Would small groups of skilled warriors become more effective with better equipment?

Small groups always benefit the most from more skill and better equipment. Hence why we have all the spec-ops buzz. But again you have to understand that better steel won't make them into super-humans that can kill 40 people in one battle and then do it again the next day. A Machine Gun though...

9. Would medical treatments change? Could better steel improve medical treatment? (some magic is used for minor healing). Can't say for the surgeon part of the question but the last sentence may be a game changer depending on how you define magical treatment. If magic killing bacterias and viruses in the wound is considered to be minor(nothing like insta heals we have in RPG's right?) - I can envision more open but easier to mass produce cuirasses, sallets, burgonets and morions becoming widespread, because it will be possible to outfit heavy infatry/cavalry with armor protecting only the essential bodyparts for much cheaper and still guarantee surviveability because damage to the extremeties won't be as fatal as they used to be.

So to summ it all up: if you want more effect on the world you have to either opt for much greater quality through alloys(second half of 20th century and beyond) or more optimized production(like with dragons replacing Blast Furnaces and reaching better temperature at that) that will make the end products more widespread and affordable.

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Human strength stays the same

Warriors would attack armor made from better steel with weapons made from better steel. Even if the swords are less likely to break, and hold sharper edges, I do not think that they can cut through the armor as easily as before if they are swung by merely human strength. So how about this?

  • Concussion from a solid mace might be better than concussion from a sharper sword, as long as neither can penetrate the armor plate. What is happening to the padding?
  • Hastily armed peasant militias might prefer the flail instead of the spear, even if good-quality spearpoints were available.
  • Hunting bows or slings won't be able to penetrate armor, so mercenaries will have an edge over a peasant mob.
  • Picks or spiked maces might become more popular if they can still penetrate armor, and swords cannot. Better steel could keep the pointy bits from breaking easily, even against steel armor.
  • Lances will remain popular longer, because of the added momentum of a charging warhorse. Perhaps with steel shafts?

(I realize that a historical sword would be unlikely to penetrate a historical cuirass, but other parts of the body had less armor. For simplicity I assume the proportions stay the same.)

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  • $\begingroup$ I like the point about bows becoming less effective. In effect, in could make civilian bows significantly less useful in larger battles. However, I was under the impression that longbows were effective against armor in the middle ages, and crossbows even more so. Would that change? $\endgroup$ – Logan Kitchen Mar 6 '17 at 22:55
  • $\begingroup$ @LoganKitchen, if armor and arrowheads get better while bows and shoulders stay the same, then longbows might suffer slightly relative to armor. Crossbows with steel bows might more punch, but they need longer to cock with some lever or ratchet mechanism, so they suffer a little, too. $\endgroup$ – o.m. Mar 7 '17 at 6:12
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Improving the quality to modern standards would no impact worth mentioning as armor became redundant around 1350 with the advent of the longbow, and by 1450 it was consigned to history.

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  • $\begingroup$ Countrary to the longbow myth, it could not penetrate well made mail armor let alone plate. The greatest assest of English army was the early adoption of proto-professional concripts with peasants ordered by the king to train with longbow and mass deployment of heavy infantry that could actually go against knights using billhooks unlike levy peasants before them. Armor in itself will continue to evolve reaching its peak in the 16 century despite the longbow or crossbows being mass deployed. $\endgroup$ – Nick Dzink Nov 6 '17 at 11:08
  • $\begingroup$ Regardless of the current debate about the penetrating power of the longbow, (which tends to use 70lb draw instead of 150lbs) even basic armor for a man-at-arms cost the equivalent of keeping them in the field for six months, where as the cost of the archer, his bow and a generous supply of arrows was far less. According to this answer excellent (worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/14484/…) the English army at Agincourt was less then half the cost of teh French one. $\endgroup$ – Paul Smith Nov 6 '17 at 16:03

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