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In Hellboy 2, the titular protagonist and his party face up against a so-called 'Golden Army', which consisted of golden colored automatons who could constantly rebuild themselves after death. For my setting, I have implemented a similar thing, albeit on a larger scale.

So basically, my question is this - assuming the required mechanical strength to lift and move easily despite the weight, how effective would sentient clockwork soldiers literally made of gold be? I know gold is a soft metal, but surely you couldn't just slice through a lump of gold with a sword, could you? Also, they would make terrible swords, but their increased weight could still kill you with a bash to the head, right?

Edit: For clarification, the automatons are made of nothing but gold, but are not one solid piece. They have sculpted golden armor, but are essentially hollow inside, with cogs and gears (also made of gold).

Edit #2: Also, don't worry too much about whether or not they work. The question assumes that they do. I'm just asking about their martial prowess.

Edit #3: I'm starting to get the feeling gold is even worse than I originally assumed...

Edit #4: Alright, lets allow alloys or even non-gold metals, so long as they are gold-coloured.

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  • $\begingroup$ Surely they must use an alloy. They just need to keep a small % of gold and for the rest, some paint (real gold or not) will do the job. If they are made of pure gold, wouldn't they collapse under their own weight ? $\endgroup$ – Vincent Feb 6 '15 at 2:32
  • $\begingroup$ @Vincent I was wondering about that as well. Would they? $\endgroup$ – Feaurie Vladskovitz Feb 6 '15 at 2:41
  • $\begingroup$ depends how the weight is distributed. If they walk on their legs, it might be complicated. But you mentioned they could auto repair ? Maybe they are crawling, or rolling ? $\endgroup$ – Vincent Feb 6 '15 at 2:44
  • $\begingroup$ @Vincent I was really rather hoping for bipedal movement. They aren't like a solid lump of gold though, they are essentially hollow, with clockwork parts in them. I'll add this to the question. $\endgroup$ – Feaurie Vladskovitz Feb 6 '15 at 2:47
  • $\begingroup$ Ok supposing they are like R2-D2. they have massive but short legs. Or like a golem : google.ca/imgres?imgurl=http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/… they yes maybe $\endgroup$ – Vincent Feb 6 '15 at 2:57
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Unfortunately for you my friend, the gold-colored nature of gold is extremely dependent on the purity of the gold. Any and all alloys of gold will always not have the same lustre and color of gold.

Fortunately for you, gold is a metal, a pretty inert metal at that too. What this means is that your metal men can be made of whatever it is that you want, and you can then coat them with a very thin layer of gold. The gold can not be too thin however, otherwise you may have a problem with the appearance again, gold is fickle that way.

For your metal men to be be strong and powerful, you would then need to pick a metal. My personal favorite metallic element of all time would be Iridium, and in fact can be quite useful when combined with gold. Iridium can be used, when alloyed with platinum to make it much harder than before, up to 10x harder.

With an Iridium skeletal structure, gears and possibly muscle fiber, and a coat of gold paint, your metal men should be plenty able to hold themselves decently fine in combat. One thing that may happen a lot however would be that they would get a hillariously large ammount of chipped gold flakes whenever they strike or are struck. Actually that may be a pretty good combat mechanic for your metal men, as they fight, the air around becomes thick with gold chips, and that much heavy metal flying through the air can not be too good for the health of any meat bag enemies they face.

As for the Iridium in their bodies, they should pretty much reign supreme over any steel clad enemies, if their self-repair is sufficiently good. Iridium is a whole 2.5 points higher than steel on the Mohs Scale. As such, any cutting or thrusting attack on them with steel weapons will fail, as the steel is not hard enough. However, hardness comes with the price of brittleness. If a giant were to swing a giant steel zweihander at your Iridium core metal men, the giant's zweihander is liable to get blunt, but your metal men may risk getting blown apart. But they can pull themselves together, so they will be fine.

With that much Iridium and gold on the metal men, they would be incredibly heavy. Over 1.5 tons per metal man. With that kind of weight, they would pose an extreme weight hazard. A squad of a dozen metal men could easily collapse most simple bridges. It would not be too much of a stretch as well to say that they can easily launch themselves from very powerful siege engines directly into the enemy wall, causing huge damage to the wall, as the metal man is many times heavier than a rock, and several times smaller as well, which may allow a flung metal man to be capable of punching through the curtain wall of a castle.

Their immense weight and density can also help them be innately hammer-proof without the need for any sort of special armor. In fact, the metal men would probably not need any armor or weapons. They could easily sharpen their arms into blades and charge into battle arm flailing. No weapon of steel would be able to deal with them easily, and their flailing blade arms would actually be capable of chopping through enemy weapons and armor. One thing to note is that they weigh 1.6 tons, and a human arm is roughly 1/6 the total body weight, so that would be a 260kg blade arm swinging about.

I would also like to note that I am assuming that they are powered by magic, and blessed by magic to be able to move their bodies exactly as fast as a human could, but they are 1.6 tons.

NOTE 1: Why is Iridium so heavy? Because it is in the Platinum family of elements, which go from silver -> gold -> platinum -> iridium, with each later stage being quite a bit more dense the one before.

NOTE 2: A fallen metal man would be worth USD 28,270,000. Considerably beyond a million dollar man

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  • $\begingroup$ So... why iridium? Sure, it's strong, but as you note, it is extremely dense/heavy. It, and platinum, are also much rarer than gold. These two combined mean that with the entire current worldwide production of iridium, you would have the materials to make two per year. It will take you quite a while to get an army like that. Since they can repair themselves, it would probably be more practical to go with a titanium alloy, or even just steel. $\endgroup$ – KSmarts Feb 6 '15 at 17:48
  • $\begingroup$ @KSmarts The metal men are powered by magic, so that solves the problem of letting them move. They were initially going to be made out of pure gold too, so it should not be too far of a stretch to be able to get that much iridium as well. Also, this is a fantasy setting, so their home castle thing could have been carved out of a giant iridium landed asteroid or something $\endgroup$ – grimmsdottir Feb 7 '15 at 0:55
  • $\begingroup$ Well, current gold production is about 2500 tonnes/year, whereas iridium production is at about 3. Sure, you could handwave it away with magic/fantasy, but I'm just not convinced that iridium is the best choice. $\endgroup$ – KSmarts Feb 7 '15 at 23:35
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    $\begingroup$ @KSmarts Iridium is not the best or most effective choice, but it sure is the most awesome choice, in my opinion. $\endgroup$ – grimmsdottir Feb 7 '15 at 23:38
  • $\begingroup$ There are some (or maybe just one) gold alloys that you can treat with an acid bath, which eats away at the non-gold part of the alloy. Once you do that, you smooth the surface, which gives you a pure gold surface while keeping the stronger traits of the alloy. $\endgroup$ – Michael Richardson Apr 3 '17 at 21:24
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They would be terrible martial prowess. Primarily because gold is soft. While it is unlikely a sword will 'just slice through them' they will dent easy. If all the gears are gold, a little extra stress and the teeth will start striping, cogs without teeth are 'frictionless' wheels. Good dents in the armor will also interfere with the inner workings.

My ring is an alloy and I've distorted it working in my shop with hand tools (while I was wearing it!) Pure gold is just too malleable. And if you think of making it thicker to handle stresses, you will run afoul of the square cubed law. The weight of the armor as it thickens will put a lot more pressure on all the working joints and cogs. Swinging clubs at reasonable speed is about what you'll get, expensive cave men, that can break themselves if strained too hard.

EDT: for edit 4, using a decent metal frame (even a brass alloy) would go a long way to making a decent automaton. Having the body reinforced with steel and plated in gold you will have much more success.

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  • $\begingroup$ Dang. Is it really that bad? Curse you, young me, for thinking this was a good idea! $\endgroup$ – Feaurie Vladskovitz Feb 6 '15 at 3:55
  • $\begingroup$ Gold is also really heavy, so anything they do (i.e. swinging a club) will cause more stress on their internal joints/cogs/etc than it would if they were made of another metal, further compounding the problem. $\endgroup$ – ckersch Feb 6 '15 at 15:08
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Why not make the outside gold, while the inside is a strong metal? Sort of like their 'skin' is golder, while their insides are made of some other metal, which would be tough enough to allow them to dish out and receive a beating?

Think of the Terminator and his layers -- flesh and metal.

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