Athas is a world poor in metal but rich in violence. As a result, the rank and file of most noble and royal militias are armed with weapons either made of materials which substitute poorly for iron or whose design eschews metal altogether. This has two unfortunate consequences for warriors looking to outfit themselves without spending a noble’s ransom: worse damage and fragility, depending on the weapon material.
Typical substitute materials are bone, obsidian, stone or wood, which are variously effective depending on the type of weapon.
Of course, this only applies to weapons that aren’t made of metal by design; most cultures understand this and primarily use such weapons in combat. Feral halfling tribes don’t hunt trespassers in their jungles with wooden facsimiles of metal short swords, they hunt with slings and darts. But tradition is a powerful thing, and in the mostly-human city states, it’s common for lofty nobles and enslaved gladiators alike to train with weapons designed in steel, looking forward t the day they might inherit an ancestral blade or be awarded a prized mace.
If a material is lighter than iron, it lacks the metal’s ability to concuss and contuse, doing less stun damage than it otherwise might. If it is poorer at holding an edge, it inflicts less Killing damage. Apply a damage modifier for your weapon’s material to the standard statistics for it, if the weapon does that type of damage at all. These modifiers can make the damage rating of a weapon negative (example: Width – 1 stun, 0 Killing), but obviously, the worst a weapon can ever do is no damage at all; no one is going to be healed by an attack from a poorly-made weapon!
Wood , chitin or bone: -1 stun, -1 killing
Stone: -1 killing
Obsidian: -1 stun
There is, of course, a strategy here: weapons which do no stun damage are just as effective when made of obsidian as out of steel, and bludgeoning implements may as well be made from stone.
Iron is hardly impervious, but it’s worlds better than the common materials found in Athasian weaponry today. Even when a metal weapon gets dinged or dented, it’s something that can be worked out of it, resharpened or retooled. When your obsidian dagger shatters against a foe’s breastplate, you’re in a lot worse of a situation.
Every weapon material has a Breaking Point. Any time you attack with a weapon and do no damage, whether because the attack misses or because all the damage you would have done is absorbed by armor, look at the Height of your lowest unused set or Waste Die. If that number is higher than the Breaking Point of the weapon’s material, the weapon breaks (in case timing matters, it breaks at the time of the attack on a hit, or at the end of the round if the attack was a complete miss).
Bone or chitin: 4
Stone: 5 (stone chips and flakes all the time, but this reflects a total breakage of the weapon)
There is also a strategy here: Because only the lowest unused set or Waste Die is counted in seeing whether a weapon breaks, a fighter might sometimes have to use a worse set than they would like in order to hang onto their weapon for a later attack. This is expected, and is a slightly more subtle reason why attackers armed with metal are more lethal: they never have to check their swing.
Finally, there is an obvious reason to use these suboptimal weapons materials. Metal weapons are out of the reach of almost every individual and even most groups. For those weapons which normally require metal, assume the listed price in the book is for an obsidian version of it. Wood, stone, chitin or bone cost one level less than the listed price. Metal weapons cost the equivalent in Treasure (a Company quality), meaning that most metal weapons in the world are rewarded for good service and loyalty to a noble’s family, a trader’s house or a Templar’s city-state.
There are regions of Athas which specialize in materials which may be inferior to iron, but which are of the highest quality of that material. These materials cost one more Wealth than similar materials, but have the following benefits:
Agafari wood, felled from the Crescent Forest and a constant source of strife between Nibenay and Gulg, holds an edge like obsidian. Treat it like wood, but without the -1 Killing damage modifier.
Dragon’s Crown Obsidian is mined near Urik and is harder than the volcanic glass peddled elsewhere in the region. Its Breaking Point is 4 instead of 2.
Mekillot Bone is enhanced by the beasts’ long lives of servitude and weighs more than any other bone in existence. It lacks the -1 Stun damage penalty of normal bone and has a Breaking Point of 5.