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Friday, June 20, 2014

The Ship's Basement - Airships in Dungeons and Dragons

Long before floating landscapes showed up in World of Warcraft my friends and I played around with and even published fantasy worlds involving a great deal of floating chunks of land in a setting which by its nature begged the question of flying mounts and airships.

Now airships have been around a long time in Dungeons and Dragons.  Going all the way back to the voyage of the Princess Arc (sp?) in D&D Basic and then some.

To me, airships are more fun when they are an equal mix of technology and magic rather than utterly and totally magical in nature.  I like the idea that they depend on a balloon to keep them aloft and that sails need to be rigged out to the sides and bottom a bit like the sails on a chinese junk.  The picture here is a drawing of the Poison Arrow, a fantasy airship drawn by Mike Doscher for the sky oriented fantasy setting I was mentioning earlier.

The balloon above the ship proper is filled with a hundred or so big round balloons each containing a gas called Kether Gas.  This gas is harvested from great floating forests of Kether plant which are these expansive kelp light airborne plants whose bulbs are filled with a sort of natural sap that when heated by the sun turns into a gas which makes the plant lighter than air.  Airship builders and such harvest this sap although at some risk because the dangly bits of the plant are covered in a coarse barb like covering sort of like velcro which easily tangles in just about anything, especially rigging, sails, clothing, other dangly bits of other plants, etc...

The magic bit comes in with the keel of these airships.  Every airship has its own rune or keel spell which transforms the element of air coming into contact with the airship into the elemental property of water.  This effect is brief, lasting only a second but constant and so as the airship is pushed along it sends up a spray like a normal surface ship would on say a lake.  The most important bit about the spell is it allows the keel of the ship to push against the elemental water property as if it were sailing on the surface of a lake.  This allows the ship to turn, tack and manuever in a manner more similar to a sailing ship than a balloon.

The image on the left shows off the Ship's Basement which is a common element in my airships meet dungeons and dragons design.  The Ship's Basement is a sort of reverse crow's nest.  Since masts going above the vessel would interfere with the airbag overhead the same sort of lookout platform is constructed below the lowest ballast section of the ship proper.  Usually it is reached by a spiral staircase.  Many ship's basements are observation platforms but a few are small glass enclosed rooms or even iron enclosed holding cells for dangerous prisoners - just depending on the ship design.

Getting back to all those Kether bags in the balloon over the ship.  Why 100?  100 is an easy number for tracking the total number intact and how battle damage might impact the vessel's ability to stay aloft.  It also means a single hit by an arrow or ballista or cannon will not simply blow a single big hole in the airbag overhead and cause total destruction to everyone aboard.  In general I allow such a ship to remain aloft, limping along so long as it has at least 50 percent of its airbags intact.  After 50 percent it begins to lose altitude and faster the more that are lost.   Sailors or Riggers as I call them in my game, who are stuck on a doomed airship can sometimes save themselves by hacking one of the kether bags out of its mesh within the larger airbag and either lash themselves to it or just hold on for dear life and float clear of the wreck.

Any cannon on such a flying vessel would, to my mind, be small in size like the example shown to the right.  This is an image of a deck gun used on my own fantasy airships.

I gave black powder a good deal of thought in my own ponderings about swashbuckling sky pirates and airships and magic and fantasy settings some years back.  One interesting idea I had was for a pole weapon created specifically for the soldiers assigned to guard an airship.  These would be more like the weapons in the hands of vessels of the line, official warships or the ships of a particular kingdom and not private vessels.  Certainly only a very few of these pole weapons / single shot firearms would be found in the hands of pirates.

The notion I had was for a variation on the one shot muzzle loaded gun created by the Chinese.  The tube like metal barrel of this weapon has fashioned on it the business end of the pole weapon although slightly to the side.  The soldier so armed simply stands on the butt end of the pole weapon and leans it forward to fire.  These are not really intended for accurate firing against troops aboard an enemy airship or on the ground.  These "fire lances" as they are called are specifically created for a group of soldiers to fire up into the airbag of a rival airship to "bring it down".

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