Worldbuilding: White Gold Magic

Gold, silver, gems, silks; all of these are excellent treasures for any fantastic setting. But one of the most sought-after treasures of the early modern world, after the Portuguese began steady sea-trade with China and the East, was porcelain.

Snow-white, eggshell-thin; translucent in sunlight, painted in brilliant colors, and impervious to liquid. Tap it, and it chimes. Like silk it quickly went from exotic import to an absolute necessity to show breeding and good taste, the prices ruining families, fortunes, and much of Europe.

Something had to be done. Given none of the upper class could hold onto power by demonstrating thrift and restraint, the only solution was for Europeans to make it themselves. The Arcanum, by Janet Gleeson, covers how alchemists and the first porcelain factory at Meissen finally cracked the problem.

The interesting part is how well making porcelain could fit into a fantasy world, and how you could use magic to make a beautiful product.

First, you need the clay; kaolin clay, composed of kaolinite, a hydrated aluminum silicate, from ancient deposits of weathered granite. You could use find minerals to find the rare deposits of kaolin… or if none was to hand but you have plenty of magic to spare, look for much more common good granite deposits. Either quarry your rocks and move them to your factory, where you can pulverize them with a giant’s fist, or use disintegrate or stone to mud right there and scoop up the results.

You’re not done yet. Your powdery clay or mud will still have bits of sand, feldspar, and other things, just as regular kaolin clay would. Now it’s time to use earth-shaping (preferably rock-shaping) spells again to carve out a series of basins, and water elementals to turn your clay to slurry and churn it, one basin at a time. Coarsest bits will fall out in the first basin, less coarse in the second, and so on until you have a fine wet mix.

This now needs to be pressed and filtered to get water out and leave the fine kaolin particles behind. Perhaps dryads would be willing to weave meshes of roots?

At last, your clay. Which is only the first component. Even at the searingly hot temperatures porcelain is fired at, kaolin won’t melt; only soften. You need another ingredient to melt and give it glassy, waterproof substance. Two rocks reliably do the job; alabaster (which gives a lemon hint to the white) and petuntse, a volcanic tuff, that gives a bluish tint. Time for another find minerals spell.

Once you’ve got your rock, disintegrate again, to the fineness of powdered sugar. Mix the powder and kaolin in specific proportions to a creamy batter, have the dryads filter-press it again, and then…  well, you could just leave the paste resting in damp cellars to become plastic. (As in something you can mold, not the common substance plastic.) Or you could accelerate time!

Either way, you then need to mold your pieces – all larger than you want the finished ware – and let them air-dry slowly for about three months. (A haste spell may or may not be helpful here. Experiment!) You’re looking for pieces to dry to about 15% smaller than they started out.

Now you need earth and fire spells to set up your kiln. ‘Cause it’s gotta be hot. How well can a fireball be temperature-controlled? Pieces first need to be fired at 800 C (just below where salt melts) then cooled and glazed, then fired again at 1450 C (stainless steel starts melting a few degrees below here) and the kiln allowed to cool down slowly.

For the glaze – find minerals again, and a lot of experiments compounding useful and pretty colors.

Once your ware is cool? White gold. From magic.

No philosopher’s stone required.

34 thoughts on “Worldbuilding: White Gold Magic

  1. A philosopher’s stone would be easier….

    Huh. We never went to a porcelain factory, in all our family vacations. I’m kinda wishing we had. Complicated, though.

    I wonder if that’s why the alabaster-carving industry largely went away. It was a big thing for most of human history, especially in medieval Europe around pilgrimage sites, and now it’s really minor.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. This is really cool!
    It reminds me of some research I’ve been doing on how to weave spider silk, I’ve got a race of shape shifting giant spiders who make their living as weavers. One thing I’m still trying to figure out is whether spider silk would actually make effective armor. Like I know it’s extremely strong and probably wouldn’t tear, but would it cut? And even if it did would it be too flexible to provide protection from blunt force?

    Liked by 3 people

    1. With synthetic spider’s silk, the theory is that they’ll stop shrapnel better than anything we have.

      I’d go with something like *handwave* it stops stuff that doesn’t have continuing force behind it.

      So, stops projectiles, not guy swinging blade at you.

      …which would make it pretty good for ranged fighter’s armor, especially if you have active spell casting requirements. *lots of hand waving*

      Liked by 4 people

    2. Things like Kevlar body armor depend primarily on the tensile strength of the fibers, which is why silk was used in anti-arrow textiles in Asia, as I understand it. So, yes, with proper weave and layering, spider silk should have the potential for being made into “soft” armor. Cutting and tearing is pretty much the same thing, at the microscopic level. Kevlar armor works precisely in this manner, the weave resisting the breaking of threads as a projectile tries to penetrate the layers. There might need to be some kind of matrix the textiles are embedded in, to give more support to the weave.

      Caveat, there is a difference in behavior between high speed projectiles, and something like knives, swords, and spears, hence cases where “simple” bulletproof armor isn’t stab-proof.

      Also, the higher the kinetic energy being fended off/absorbed, the more padding is needed for soft armor, since while the armor might not be penetrated, it can still cause trauma to the body.

      As an aside, there’s the fascinating story of William E Fairbairn, and how he created the first SWAT team in the world in Shanghai.

      If your setting has a city that is as turbulent an violent as Shanghai was around the turn of the century, there could be some kind of blade-and-crossbow-and/or-magic SWAT equivalent, depending on how organized society is…

      Liked by 2 people

      1. He wrote a self-defense manual for women, but I have never seen it. I bet it is good.

        But holy crud, that is fast dirty serious martial arts that he taught. That little sample in the Devil’s Brigade reenactment show was… um… effective.

        Liked by 3 people

    3. As far as I can tell — which is to say, a bit of google-fu, although that was for something else — regular spider silk is about 5 times tougher than Kevlar, but only half as strong. Darwin’s Bark spiders are supposed to be 10 times tougher than Kevlar. The trick is spinning enough thread to produce a useful amount of silk in a reasonable time frame.

      Your giant spiders might have an alchemical concoction that makes them spin at a much faster rate, although they’d likely need a great high-quality food to replenish themselves.

      You do run into the problem of gambesons: The good ones were made with layers of cloth, maybe 6 if it’s underarmor for maile or plate, up to 24 for full armor . . . but that’s so bloody expensive (not as expensive as plate, but still expensive) that regular gambesons ended up being quilted, ie stuffed with scraps of cloth, horse hair, etc.

      I find it hard to believe that a quilted gambeson was superior to leather armor. Of course, leather wasn’t easy to come by either.

      In any event, if the giant spiders can produce in sufficient quantities*, perhaps through centuries of research, development, and self-breeding, they ought to be able to produce layered gambesons of _amazing_ quality, in terms of resisting cutting. Spreading out impact might be another matter, however. Maybe there’s a trick of stitching the layers together that would aid that?


      *Note that the West had invented four machines to speed cotton from raw material to woven cloth by the beginning of the 1800s. (The cotton harvester wouldn’t be invented until after black chattel slavery was ended in the US, suggesting that the plantation owners ought to have picked their own friggin’ cotton until they invented said harvesters out of necessity. But African tribes were too fond of fighting their neighbors and selling off the losers for money, I suppose. Do _not_ believe the movies that show whitey invading and capturing tribes to load them into Middle-Eastern slave trader ships.) The industrial revolution had begun, but mass production wasn’t a thing yet, so said machines were hand-produced. Assuming the giant spiders are tool-users and have been for centuries, that’s long enough to semi-mechanize the process after the silk has been pooped out.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. My initial thought was that it would be good for nobles, where it may be rude to be visibly armored but you still have to worry about assassin’s etc. Similar to the purpose of the bladed fan

        Liked by 1 person

      2. *cough* actually gambeson was pretty effective, and had a lot advantages. First, when gambeson got torn up, you could fix it relatively easily. Leather would require a whole new piece of armor. Second, the fibers would make it difficult for the attacking blade to come loose. I’d recommend looking up the gambeson video from Shadivercity on YouTube.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. First a note: a large part of the trick with Kevlar is “arranging the strings in this particular pattern makes the cloth tougher than arranging them in a different pattern”. So your comparison of “silk on its own vs Kevlar” is missing a critical component (check the toughness of the string used to make the Kevlar, instead, for your comparison to be accurate).

        And about your argument about gambesons/etc, look up the videos by Tod’s Workshop. Especially the “lockdown longbow” series. He’s been actually testing all these “did it really work?” questions, and showing both the testing and results so we we can finally answer them instead of just rely on “what feels right”. As long as the enemy isn’t waxing their arrowheads, it turns out you want the gambeson on the _outside_ of the chainmail (if they are waxing the arrowheads, then you want the gambeson on the inside, but are also mostly out of luck regardless).

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I’m really not knowledgeable about fibers. I’m most familiar with materials whose properties are the same in every direction (and I’m bad at those also), and textile fibers would not be in that category.

        Strength and toughness are different things. Full explanation is for textbooks, but involves a measured and calculated curve on a stress – strain chart. Stress is basically load, and strain is basically stretch. Strength is a stress picked in relation to the curve according to some rule, and units are in pressure. Toughness is the area under the curve, and the units are energy.

        I don’t understand textiles, but the strength of a fiber and the toughness of a fiber are related to the properties of the cloth, but are not the only factor.

        I’m still a bit angry about something that happened at a workplace some years ago. I was a bit more tediously obedient in those days, and the rules required a kevlar safety glove for cutting, and they were provided. Long story short, one of the other workers ‘tested’ them by trying to cut against a solid surface. Which, of course, worked. Thing that makes me angry, this wasn’t a good test.

        Cutting works by the mechanism of concentrating pressure. Kevlar fibers are softer than metal, so you can cut them with metal and enough force, if you hold them in place. Thing about these gloves, they were thick, and flesh will deform a little. So, if the cloth bends around the blade, it spreads the pressure. The protective value of the kevlar was a) more easily replaced than human skin b) spreading the pressure reduces the effects of accidently slicing into your hand. You don’t cut as deeply into the glove if the fibers move with the edge of the blade. The glove didn’t work by magic, so it would not let you block a sword with your hand either.

        Anyway, the other big caution is that measuring strength is partly a matter of the size of the test specimen. Large specimens always have a lower strength than really tiny specimens. Weaknesses are caused by defects, and a larger volume, statistically, contains more defects. You also have a bias because for really small specimens, a defect (from the manufacturing process) will break the thing before you test it. Strength tests of fibers of different diameters may not be comparable.

        If a spider silk fiber is really small, the measured strength will be much higher than the bulk strength. Same issue is seen with steel, testing whiskers versus bulk.

        This thing I’ve been reading has recently talked about how long it took for them to figure out what was going on with strength, and test sample size.

        Liked by 1 person

    4. Complete stranger wandering by the blog- I know you are researching weaving, and silk – in your research have you come across linothorax armour, like they used in the ancient Mediterranean? That’s shaped armour made of layers of linen and rabbit glue. Alexander the Great’s army used it, among others, and it’s pretty tough.
      Could your spiders weave the silk and then stick it in layers for the armour? (Incidentally, the linen and glue are so tough that when some researchers tried to recreate it, the cloth had to be cut into shape then glued- the test batch which they glued and tried to cut to shape afterwards resisted everything including a powered saw!) The Wikipedia article has more on it

      Liked by 1 person

      1. So THAT is where Dr. Stone got the idea! (Well, if the Japanese didn’t get the same idea– there’s a thing where they make “paper armor” in the anime.)

        You know… Samurai armor is largely silk, too; that’d be a useful place to look at, too. (Sasebo’s shore-side galley had a set of armor on loan, it was really cool because most of it was scrap silk that was rolled up, and the patterns were all different. I am describing it badly.)

        Thank you for reminding me!

        *passes a banana*

        Liked by 1 person

  3. While much more prosaic than something like porcelain, mass brick making/firing of clay articles, is fascinating in how it can affect the growth of a nation. This is especially noticeable in what’s known as the “Grūnderzeit” in Germany, where in the present day Berlin/Brandenburg region, there was a lot of clay deposits that began to be exploited as the canal networks (and later railways) allowed for the transport of large amounts of material to Berlin, where the population was booming.

    Some dark sides to that, as cheap, high-density housing/tenements went up. With all the health and social problems that implies. Like, unscrupulous realtors renting out housing where the plaster hadn’t dried yet, using body heat to speed up the process…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. One of the other eponymous fired clay articles from that time are the tiled stoves for heating. And of course the coke/coal briquette industry…

      Liked by 1 person

    2. The town where my dad grew up has a similar history – local deposits of coal, silica, and various clays meant that brickmaking was a major regional industry until the 1980s or so. The brickworks in Dad’s hometown was built next to a fire clay deposit, so they mostly made refractory bricks for lining iron and steel furnaces. Turns out that if you have enough aluminum content in your clay, it’s possible to make ceramics that not only are good insulators, but also can survive direct contact with molten steel.

      Liked by 4 people

  4. There’s also the potential for expert transmutation.

    In a lot of settings they sort of handwave it, and people transmute pottery and porcelain freely.

    A more interesting setting would have the “basic” transmutation slapping together whatever’s available.
    If you want to make pottery or iron? Easy.
    If you want to make a specific type of porcelain or steel? You have to know what you’re doing.

    Incidentally this also preserves the economy, with Master Transmuters be less common and might not be inclined to sit around churning out goods by the ton.

    Liked by 5 people

  5. No producer worth his pay wants to hire men of action (whether the protagonist of an adventure novel or player characters in a game) to move the finished product around, but until you mix your waterproofing mineral in and start to mold it, sounds like the raw materials can be hauled around relatively safely.

    In D&D terms — or novels that draw from D&D assumptions — I can see dwarves, stone giants, cloud giants, and fire giants all having advantages that make ‘their’ part of the production superior to trying to do it yourself, unless you’re ‘overleveled’ for this sort of challenge.

    (Which makes for an interesting observation in itself: A character who embarks on a fast spree of base-building is going to attract attention from those who observe whatever sphere the character operates in. If self-made nigh-superheroes are a thing, they’ll have some idea of the lower limits of that character’s power by seeing when the base-building starts to slow down. A fortified castle can shelter a platoon or company of heavy cavalry, making it a naked threat to any settlements within ten miles, i.e. riding out to attack in the morning and then being able to return to shelter by nightfall. The same of griffin-riders extends the attack potential by several dozen miles, although they’d probably have to leave loot behind unless the much-derided bags of holding are in play.)

    Anyway, if you’ve got the problem of transporting finished porcelain, I can see the solution being to hire men of action, but not to handle the porcelain. Instead, to attack and either drive off or destroy-if-possible the groups that will readily attempt some brigandage when seeing such a tempting prize.

    Which in turn gets complicated when the bandits in question are the cadet relatives of a nearby lord, who have no hopes of inheriting and so need to make their fortunes some other way.


    Liked by 2 people

  6. I had some fun recently thinking about guns, cultivator weapons stored in dantians, and enameling.

    Tolerances on firearms are a little tight for some of the standard assumptions about a cultivator’s personal weapon. So, cultivators with fire arms are either using a bullet mold, or are actually familiar with machine tools, measurement, and machining. But where then is the personal effort?

    Enameling does not appear to make sense for real firearms. But, cultivation does not always operate according to the usual ideas of good mechanical design.

    So, a flavor of cultivators that make and decorate a pistol, which mostly is stored in their dantian, but they load it with more or less mundane ammunition. The ammunition is only stored in the dantian within the magazine loaded inside the gun.

    Definitely some new stuff for me here, had heard of alabaster but never thought or learned about it.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. So, cultivators with fire arms are either using a bullet mold, or are actually familiar with machine tools, measurement, and machining. But where then is the personal effort?Anything with a custom machine job has *hours* of personal effort and prototyping put into it. It can be an art form like anything else. It’s just an art form that involves a lot more mechanics and robotics to make the finished piece. And the knowledge of how to make all that work together.

    The YouTube channel “Stuff Made Here” has god-tier machining examples that are a lot more “art” than anything else… Here’s an example!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Point. That word choice of mine has a lot to do with bad language skills on my part.

      Thing about cultivators, the MCs that are craftsmen are rarely mediocre at it. Either techniques that are difficult to realize, or allegedly absurdly rare artistic merit, or etc. And they always do stuff in a strange, unusual or extreme way.

      This is reasonably plausible with flying swords, and imaginary materials.

      But, if you do that with guns, you may find yourself trying to justify an MC who is for some reason a Da Vinci or a John Moses Browning. Doc Smith’s Richard Seaton might be a reasonable prototype for a gun crafting cultivator, but writing the match of Seaton could also be challenging.

      That lead me to the solution of a sect/method that teaches the cultivation apprentices to be competent machinists, to use established designs, and to put the artistic fripperies on the outside using the skills of jewelers. As in, that flavor of cultivator started out as jewelers, and only later got into machining.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I don’t object, in principle, to writing an MC who is simply absurdly, freakishly brilliant. (Practically speaking, my ability to write genius may be fairly limited, and it would take work to do properly.)

        In practice, when I see enough inventive genius characters all over the place, especially if many are executed in ways that are not persuasive, I get two urges. One, to write characters that are less unusual, more frequently seen in reality, in their level of creativity and intelligence. Second, if I write a extremely intelligent, extremely creative character, try to do a better job of implementing the intelligence.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Third urge, pay a lot more attention to the world building and the plotting of the new ideas in the story.

        Looking at some of the histories around ‘new’ ideas, there is more than one pattern, and a lot of these patterns are overlooked when people are doing some of the simplest creative writing about discovery of ‘new’ ideas.

        Liked by 1 person

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