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I'm wondering what materials would be considered the best for creating top-quality items?

For example, in real life, things like diamonds or titanium alloys are considered hard/strong.

In role playing worlds, there's Mithril and Adamantine which could both be considered 'premium' materials. Are there any others?

Update: As per comments, it would be good for each individual answer to apply to a single setting, providing a list of the materials in that setting and for each a short note on its key attributes.

If this may be an overwhelming amount of information, go ahead and limit it to a sensible amount, but do mention if this has been done.

(And since this is now a Community Wiki question, users can feel free to append extra information to any answers, to help improve them.)

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You may want to narrow the scope a bit... Different settings have different super materials (and different orderings of their "quality"). –  AceCalhoon Sep 29 '10 at 21:09
    
Agreed with Ace, ideally the question should be looking for that ever elusive one right answer. –  Pat Ludwig Sep 29 '10 at 21:28
    
Well I am interested mainly in the DND genre (rather than modern/future/space/etc), and d20 is what I'm most familiar with in general, but it would be interesting to see how the same (named) material might be placed in different systems, and I'd certainly consider accepting an answer that listed the top X for several settings as the solution. –  Peter Boughton Sep 29 '10 at 21:49
    
(Though if it's considerd more suitable, I'm happy to make this Community Wiki?) –  Peter Boughton Sep 29 '10 at 21:50
    
What about a CW asking for the hierarchy of materials in each setting (i.e. an answer is an ordered list of materials for one setting)? Would that get at what you're looking for? –  AceCalhoon Sep 29 '10 at 22:04
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closed as not constructive by wax eagle, Brian Ballsun-Stanton, Pat Ludwig Mar 22 '12 at 19:15

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5 Answers

In Earthdawn (a fantasy setting, but not quite DnD), True Earth and Orichalcum are the most durable materials. Living Crystal is also extremely strong and very light.

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Before D&D 3e and 4e systematised item creation, there was no official answer to this and it was up to each setting writer and DM. It wasn't even something that was ever mentioned as needing to be decided—people just sometimes put a super material into their game.

That said, there are three materials that show up frequently as super materials in pre-3e games. Adamantium is the canonical strongest material, as well as being somewhat lighter than steel. Mithral is the lightest metal that has strength comparable to steel. Variations on dragon hide often show up as another super-material, either as scale-covered leather or as single large dragon scales, though how exactly dragon hide is superior depends on the specific lore of the setting or campaign.

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I thought 1st edition D&D had an explicit ordering for magic items. But my DMG is quite buried. Something like Mithril, meteorite, starmetal, adamantine for +2/3/4/5 weapons. My mind could be playing tricks on me though, its been a while. –  Pat Ludwig Sep 30 '10 at 21:34
    
You're right. In practice I think that was often ignored, overlooked, or overridden in specific settings enough that it was canonical for Greyhawk but only suggested (like many AD&D rules) in other settings. For example, mithral and adamantine show up unchanged in the Forgotten Realms, but I don't think starmetal or meteoric iron were given the status that the DMG prescribed. –  SevenSidedDie Oct 1 '10 at 9:31
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For 1st edition D&D, there is a small blurb on p164 of the Dungeon Master's Guide detailing which special materials are needed for magic armor

  • +3 requires a special meteorite iron steel
  • +4 requires mithral alloyed steel
  • +5 requires adamantite alloyed steel
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Well, I'd say the real world rare materials would go a long way when modified to fit the setting. Especially when you need to harvest that material from some creature that would fight back ferociously. Some examples;

  • A staff made of treant ebony(harvested from a southern treant)
  • An amulet made of Unicorn ivory
  • A compass with Beholder™ bile as the needle floater.
  • A sword forged from iron golem remains, with its eye rubies studding the hilt.

Such materials would make items rare and expensive, but to become real premium items, these materials would not be enough. They would need exquisite craftsmanship to bring out their potential. A sword forged out of starmetal by the village smith's apprentice is an ordinary sword whatsoever, except the potential for being smelted and recycled into something better by a master smith.

On the other side, top quality items don't always need to use the rarest materials. Good workmanship will work wonders on ordinary stuff.

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My first thought on reading the question was "expensive and hard to find". I really like edgerunner's answer because it's replete with plot hooks. The party will need to find a mage to discover the material, then find out where to get it, then get it, then get it back safely, then have it worked into the final item without getting stolen from the artisan's workshop. I don't think the details matter as long it's not crazy inappropriate ("The wand of fireballs must be made from Jovian ice IX") and it makes for a good adventure. –  MadHatter Oct 25 '10 at 17:36
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For 4th edition D&D, there are lists of masterwork armor in the Adventurer's Vault.

For example, superior plate armor can be constructed out of the following materials/technics. I've included the minimum magical plus that can be used with each in parenthesis.

  • Rimefire plate armor, Layered plate armor (+2)
  • Gith plate armor (+3)
  • Specter plate armor (+4)
  • Legion plate armor (+5)
  • Tarrasque plate armor (+6)
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