So here goes. I'll start with mining - though this particular grouping does not include ALL the mined substances in my world. Some are included elsewhere, because of their peculiar industrial application. However, most are included here.
I carve them up into sections to make easier reading. Where helpful, I'll add a picture. Overall, I'm going to keep descriptions to a minimum.
Gold. What can I say about this that hasn't been said? It is the most important commodity in D&D and in any medieval economic system, useful in it malleability, reliable nature and its ease of smelting. Gold ranges in color from bright yellow to white gold, and in Medieval settings is found mostly in placer deposits, or as 'native' gold. I've often thought that a logical advantage for dwarves would be their ability to 'mine' gold, which was not generally done except in the New World, where said deposits were easily worked. This is not to say it wasn't done ... but panning was much easier than mining.
Silver. Like gold, this too was more commonly found in native form - significant mining operations for silver in Europe began in Saxony and Silesia in the 14th centuries, when silver was the relied-upon economic standard. The 'taler' was a silver-coin, and the word that gives us 'dollar.'
Copper. Far more common and less precious than either silver or gold, copper has historically been considered a precious metal due to its potential lustre for ordinary objects and jewellery. It too is found in native form, but copper ores like chalcopyrite (copper-iron) or cuprite are so common (and easily smelted) that copper mining was common even in periods going back to the Phoenicians and Mesopotamians, 5-6 thousand years ago.
Gold, silver and copper along with lead, tin, iron and mercury (quicksilver), were known in prehistory, and have since been described as "the Seven Metals of Alchemy." Each were assigned to 'planets' ... silver with the Moon, gold with the Sun, iron with Mars, quicksilver with Mercury, tin with Jupiter, copper with Venus and lead with Saturn. They're included here in order of their rarity.
Iron. I've written about iron before, and I don't need to go on about it here. It is the most common metal, has endless applications and is pretty nigh useless until it is founded and forged. The most common ore is hematite, but pyrite and others are also widespread. Iron also occasionally turns up magnetized, as 'lodestone.'
Lead. While tremendously dense (heavy), lead makes a poor metal for the fabrication of most everything ... plus the fact that it is poisonous. Lead dust can be breathed into the lungs, lead can rub off into the skin, it can be transferred to water when used as a container - yes, lovely stuff. But used extensively in the Medieval world for anything that could be heavy and didn't need working parts - bullet stones, goblets, water pipes, cisterns ... and because of its low melting point it made good soldering for window glazing.
Tin. The inordinate value of tin is largely overlooked ... in fact it was a very rare metal, and very expensive. The English economy was founded upon it (but they had conveniently conquered the world before the supplies irrevocably ran out). A considerable portion of the world's present supply comes from parts of the world (China, Malaysia, Zaire) that were beyond European tradesmen until the 16th century. Silverish, it is much too soft to be mistaken for silver, and does not occur natively.
Mercury. Or quicksilver, as it was known for most of history, due to it's splendid habit of remaining a liquid at room temperature or lower. Almost as poisonous as lead, which didn't keep it from being used as a medicine to heal a wide variety of diseases, where it was introduced directly into the body. it was included in medicines as late as the first half of the 20th century. Your grandmother was probably fed some as a child. Which might explain a great deal. In a D&D world, it seems a natural additive to everything magic.
Presented in order of identification. Many of these were used long before the nature of the metal was identified ... mostly because the ore was recognizable and could be used in the smelting process, even if the metal was not. The ores served as chemical agents, to enable copper to become brass, or to harden iron, or to otherwise change the cohesive qualities of recognizable metals such as those above.
Antimony. Isolated in the 16th century, the metal increases the hardness of lead, has practical applications in the coloration of glass, as a substitute for tin (when tin is present). It's highly toxic, similar to arsenic poisoning ... read the link for more about that. It is a soft metal, and although it has been used for coinage the coins do not last.
Bismuth. Lustrous silver in color, the ore was used in cosmetics, medicines and as a substitute for poisonous lead ... though it is by no means as common. The metal was known to the Incas. It was often confused with both tin and lead in ancient times, but became a distinct metal in its own right in 1546.
Cobalt. Used as a pigmentation in jewelry, glass and paints since ancient times to give a deep, blue color; the isotope cobalt-60 is radioactive ... something I use to justify cobalt's importance in the making of magical ink. Curiously, the word comes from the German kobalt, or the very familiar 'kobald,' which was an appellation used to describe the bent over miners of the ore. The isolation of the metal was accomplished in 1735.
Nickel. Used as a hardener for many metals (gold is soft and useless for jewellery without it), the red mineral from which it comes, nickeline, was commonly mistaken for copper. Since the mineral would beset copper (make it unmalleable) when mixed, or so German alchemists discovered, they blamed a mischevious sprite who was believed upon occasion to inhabit instances of copper ore. Nickel wasn't identified as a metal in its own right until 1751.
Manganese. As an agent Manganese (manganesum or pyrolusite) was used primarily to decolorize glass, as 'glassmakers soap,' thus cleaning it and making the glass clear. As manganese dioxide it was used in experiments for centuries, tht the actual metal was not identified until 1774. It would later become useful in steel production.
Molybdenum. Yet again a silvery metal, with a very high melting point, it was formerly known as molybdena, which comes from the Greek word for lead - with which molybdenum even today is often confused (and with graphite, too). The Japanese used it to alloy with steel as early as the 14th century (though rarely). It produces superior armor plating. The metal was isolated in 1781.
Tungsten. Remarkably dense, heavier than lead, the metal was known better as an ore than a metal - wolframite, which in German is lupi spuma, or "wolf's froth" (froth being a clean word for 'sperm'), the name suggested by Georgius Agricola. The ore had few historical uses, but at present it is importantly alloyed with steel. It was not isolated until 1783.
Chromium. A highly lustrous metal, it's speculated that the ore was used as an anti-corrosive - however, the metal has very little history at all until the 18th century, and was not identified as an isolated metal until 1798.
I don't dare to list all the fantasy metals that are out there. I use only two: adamantite and mithril. all my magic items are made with the latter ... and I don't play adamantite as a substance that 'breaks down in daylight' as suggested by the fiend folio - merely as a kind of intensified iron that doesn't break (which I believe was the original concept.
The correct term is adamantine, as described by Virgil describing the gates of Tatarus. Cronus, or Saturn, was said to have castrated his father Uranus using an adamantine sickle. The term 'adamantium' was invented for use by the Marvel Universe. Adamantine had developed a reputation by the middle ages for being as hard as diamond, and it was believed to have the power to block the effects of a magnet (something I've never seen proposed in a D&D campaign).
Mithril was invented entirely by Tolkein, and as far as I know it has no historical precendents whatsoever. But it's such an accepted metal, I've always included it.
An abrasive is a substance that is used to shape or finish a workpiece by grinding, polishing, buffing and a variety of other means. Abrasives are added to gemstones for tumbling, and made adherent to paper as sandpaper or incorporated into polishing cloth. They're also used for cleansing and scraping our own bodies. But when does a player buy a nail file?
Basalt is an extrusive volcanic rock (meaning that it's formed from magma), forming a variety of interesting rock formations, including the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland and pillow basalts on the Pacific seafloor. It is used to make building blocks, cobblestones and statuary.
Porphyry is a large grained igneous rock, purplish-red in color, prized for monuments and projects in Rome. The Hagia Sophia made extensive use of porphyry. Roads, columns, stone decorations and sarcophagi are among the stone's uses.
Sandstone is a long way from granite, being a sedimentary rock and not igneous. But it's red (or reddish) - remember, Renaissance period science. In any case, as an easily carved or cut stone, it has a variety of building uses. Sandstone includes brownstone, popularly used throughout America and parts of Europe.
Syenite is granite-like, with ancient quarries in Upper Egypt (Syene, from where the name comes).
Salt. A mineral essential for human life, of great value in tropical and deserted parts of the world (where the inhabitants sweat a great deal), and yet with world-wide distribution. It is useful in curing food and in the processing of animal hides and skins.
|Danikil Depression, Ethiopia|
Witherite. A colorless, milky white, grey, pale yellow, green or pale brown mineral - and shades in between. It is found in low-temperature hydrothermal vein deposits, particularly the shorelines of alkali lakes. it's primary use is in the manufacture of glass.