Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Chemistry

I love D&D.  I love the impatience of players who are so anxious to roll dice they've forgotten to tell me who they're attacking or with what.  I love the frustrated bull-sessions of players who can't decide how exactly they're going to cross the field of battle to sneak into the fortress and steal the mcguffin, arguing and suggesting and ultimately putting off the dangerous inevitable risk of death.  I love the satisfying twists when you get to tell them the guy who's been pursuing them these last three weeks - who the party thinks is an assassin - is really just the fighter's uncle Fred.  I love the mind games and the monsters and the melee and the mystery.  I love that the game is an arena, and that while there are rules about what you CAN do, there are no rules about what you should do.

But D&D is not all I love.

I have been playing since I was 15, but I must inform the gentle reader, D&D is a LATE love in my life.  Long, long before I fell for this game as a teenager, I had already fallen in love with writing.  I had also fallen in love with geography, history and pure science.  I spent many hundreds of pleasant hours reading about physics and geology and medicine ... and I have spent thousands of hours since doing more of the same.

So I hope it can be understood that when I hear others wax on about how wonderful it is that D&D has room for metals that don't exist, or physical properties that don't exist, and that FANTASY is the end all and be all of their love affairs ... I can quite kick all my loves to the curb just because I happen to love D&D.  Yes, indeed, fantasy is lovely.  So is chemistry.

I am going to have to wonder, then, where 'mithril' fits on the periodic table.  Oh, I know, it doesn't.  It's make-believe.  It's handwaved, a wizard did it, the phlebotinum fits between magnesium and aluminum, so shut up.

Hey, hey, hey, that's good enough.  As long as it fits somewhere.  Because strange as it may seem, even in fantasy the periodic table still applies.  Gold still carries the same fundamental properties of copper, potassium still bonds with chlorine the same way lithium bonds with flourine, and mercury is STILL almost but not quite liquid at room temperature.  If everything else has properties that define and designate exactly how they work, I'm only saying I want those same properties to exist - in your mind, if nowhere else - for mithril.  I want a melting temperature, I want at least three different isotopes (and let's face it, one of those has to be radioactive) and I want to know what compounds it forms.

Naturally - and oh yes this is the 'natural' subject - no one wants to tackle that down to the ground.  The easiest way to manage any invented substance is to give it the same properties as gold - or even better, xenon.  Mithril does NOT combine with ANYTHING.  Too complicated.  Too much work.  This is fantasy, after all ... and fantasy is never aided by thinking imaginatively about things like science.

I am dead certain that with the vast canon of invented substances and creative hand-waved chemical potions and products (which are never called "chemicals," as that would be obscene and anti-fantasy), people have sat down and proposed that they contain mithril, adamantite, unobtanium and a thousand other make-believe elements.  I'm willing to bet, however, that what hasn't been done is a grand, unified theory explaining exactly why mithril mixed with carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and cesium produces this result, and not that.

Why would they?

Well, perhaps they might be in love with chemistry.  Shall we posit the absence of chemists from the game of D&D?  Shall we presume that of the thousand or more blogs written on the game in the blogosphere, NONE of them are written by chemists?  Is there not a single possessor of a bachelor's degree among the hordes of writers?  Surely there must be such a person.

What does it say for this hobby if there isn't?

I am sorry to say, my love of chemistry extended only so far as pure science.  I comprehend the structure of the atom, as well as I can.  I am a huge fan of Heisenberg and the physics thereof.  But I confess I couldn't calculate a mole if my life depended on it.  I understand why sodium and chlorine bond, why they're stable, and why independently they're dangerous as hell; but I couldn't write a mathematical description of the process.  I didn't dedicate my life to that particular love.  I didn't exactly leave her jilted on the altar, but I turned down her proposal of marriage, and we're still good friends. The 'chemistry' just wasn't there.

There must be someone out there able to redesign the periodic table.  Does it exist online and I've just missed it?  If so, please, be a good citizen and send me the link.  I'll write another post about it if someone throws the thing at me.

Only ... it better be good.  I love chemistry, remember.  I don't want to see a cheap whore pretending to be her.

5 comments:

scottsz said...

This might be a decent starting point:

http://www.ptable.com/

Eric said...

Here's mithril: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Titanium

Since it needs very high heat and an oxygen/nitrogen free atmosphere to melt, it can only be smelted magically. It's expensive even with industrial technology:


If you're going to play adamantine as "as a kind of intensified iron that doesn't break" - from http://tao-dnd.blogspot.com/2010/09/mining-metals-minerals.html - why not make it a steel alloy?

Roger the GS said...

Well, the ontology of a fantasy world is that essence precedes existence. There is Mithril because there is a Platonic form of Mithril filed under "Metals."

Alexis said...

Roger, I think where the ontology applies to fantasy worlds, essence - or postulation if you will - PROVES existence.

Scarbrow said...

I think Eric has nailed it.

We don't need to postulate that magical/fantasy materials are made of different elements than ours. We could either use existing modern alloys or compounds, and blame on magic not the material, but the process.

For example, in Roman times, a 16th century rapier would have to be considered a matter of magic. A bladed weapon 39 inches long, so thin, that can be used to thrust as well as to parry, and it doesn't break? Compare the gladius. Cue the third Clarke's Law

Then the work to do would be to find the real-world substance to fit into the fantasy mold.