Strong Iron is the name for the metal that the Empire uses for most of its high quality tools, weapons, and armor. They trade these goods at a high value to other cultures, but generally do not let a large amount of weaponry and armor go beyond their borders. Strong Iron is much more useful than the iron and other metal that the Flatlanders are able to produce. It holds a sharper edge for longer, withstands more force without chipping or requiring repairs, and even looks shinier! Flatland smiths have tired to reproduce Strong Iron for decades, but have never succeeded. One common theory is that the quality of metal that is mined in Empire lands is much better than the surface and shallow deposits available to Flatland tribes. Any village inquiring about importing Empire ore is turned down. Freelance importers even have trouble obtaining any, and will have to rely on smuggling. The few people that have inspected the rare Empire ore that has made its way outside the country note that it is comparable to normal Flatland ore, but is indeed more pure. Reasons as to why they are able to refine such a superior metal is mostly speculation; access to higher tech forge tools, or utilizing some kind of advanced technique, or introducing some kind of additive, or even a conspiracy suggesting that the few pieces of iron ore that did get out of the Empire were low quality fakes made to shroud their actual material access. Regardless of how it's made, Strong Iron forged by a skilled smith is the best metal available, although usually carries a price to reflect that. Flatlander tech can actually come close to Strong Iron durability and quality by utilizing a composite of various Exo Shards, Iron Ore, Silk Interweave, etc. Stress tests on high quality Ranoi'Qua composite armor and Empire Strong Iron armor show it has virtually the same properties. However, Strong Iron is easier to shape into almost any form, so it remains as the go-to choice for tools, machines, or any specialized utility.
Strong Iron can be anything from a deep blue, to shining silver, or even reddish-silver. It can be polished to a mirror sheen or dull and matte.
Physical & Chemical Properties
Strong Iron will spark when being sharpened, and send off small bits of slag. It can be melted and forged or reforged, although it generally loses some durability unless done so with secret Empire techniques.
Geology & Geography
All Strong Iron comes from the Empire. It's unclear if they are simply mining it all, or importing iron ore from elsewhere, or a combination of both.
History & Usage
Strong Iron and the Empire's history is deeply intertwined. As long as the Empire has been known by that name, Strong Iron has been part of it's repertoire. Many technological advances in the Empire are possible because of Strong Iron, from metal Airships, to advanced rapid-firearms.
Flatlanders will frequently rework Strong Iron into chainmail to fill in gaps of their various Exo armors. Platemail made from Strong Iron is exclusively sourced from the Empire itself, and Flatlanders have had very little success with melting down and recreating plate armor themselves from, for example, Strong Iron tools.
Law & Regulation
Strong Iron ore export is strictly illegal in the Empire, as are large weapons and armor. Exceptions are made for simple blades or smith gloves, etc. Strong Iron tools are one of the Empire's highest ticket exports. These include hand tools and more advanced steam and engine based power tools.
Anything made with Strong Iron is at least an Expensive Item in the Flatlands. Larger and more valuable items like weapons and armor will be even Exorbitant.
Very rare in the Flatlands, only around 5-10% of all weapons and armor are made from Strong Iron, while around 25% of tools, cutlery, etc are made of this.
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Metagame notes: Yes, Strong Iron is basically Steel. Exactly how the Empire makes steel and kept it's secret is indeed unknown, though. Steel is a word that wouldn't exist in this world, but if I'd say that using it in an OOC context is fine.