Mithril is a silvery-white metal with a number of unusual properties:
- It occurs naturally only in native form; mithril does not form ores or oxides with other minerals, though veins of native mithril are often found embedded with ores of silver, platinum and palladium. Likewise, mithril does not rust, tarnish, or corrode; it can be melted down or scattered into droplets by intense heat, but it cannot be destroyed by any mundane means.
- It is lighter than steel, yet it can be worked into weapons and armor that are stronger than their steel counterparts.
- Mithril can only be properly tempered with the use of both physical fire and elemental fire (i.e., fire magic).1
- Mithril is poisonous to daedra, undead, lycanthropes, and many other supernatural creatures.2
- Mithril accepts enchantments easily and can hold very elaborate spells almost indefinitely.
The reason for mithril's unusual properties is not well understood; the titan Nathales, who taught dragons and Elves how to work with mithril, said that it was imbued with "the essence of magic itself," though what Nathales meant by this is a subject of ongoing debate.
One thing, however, is understood by all: Mithril is extremely valuable. Most of the mithril that was ever mined is locked away in ancient forgotten vaults or the hoards of dragons; few of the weapons and pieces of armor crafted during the war against the Great Darkness can still be found in active service.
Working with mithril is tricky. The metal in its native form is malleable enough, but in order to make it usable for weapons or armor it needs to be tempered with elemental fire as well as mundane fire. If you're making an enchanted weapon, it also needs to be infused with the intended magic during the tempering process — and only the intended magic. Mithril absorbs ambient magic like a sponge absorbs water; that's why it's used for enchantments that have to last a long time. You have to carefully control the ambient magic throughout the forging process in order to create the sorts of light, strong armor and weapons that mithril is best known for.3 Because of this, mithril-smiths need to be skilled enchanters, or at least need to have a skilled enchanter present during the forging process. The best mithril weapons in ages past were made by Elven smiths who spent decades learning magical theory before they ever picked up the hammer and tongs.