Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Phenomenon

It is possible I ruined my offline campaign Saturday.  Yet it was far too tempting to put into place a magic item of extraordinary potential . . . a considerable gift, given that the players did not have to fight to get it.  Rather, I granted the thing to the party because they befriended a sphinx at the point where the creature had -8 hit points, rather than killing it or fleeing it.  The party showed courage, they showed respect, they showed themselves willing to risk their own lives in order to emotionally support an NPC.

In many campaigns, as we discussed last week, I would be giving the party experience equivalent to the value of the sphinx.  There's a number of reasons why it would be impossible to define what that experience would be . . . but it doesn't matter.  As I said last week, I give parties more than X.P.

Sorry I couldn't use this as an example for those discussions - but the party didn't know about it and I couldn't write about it here.

I gave the party this:

Upper Deck
Lower Deck
Back in March, I wrote a post that made reference to "a phenomenon such as has never been seen in the world since that day."  This is it.  It is an Air Ship.  It has no sails, no rudder.  It floats on four brass - yes, that's correct, brass metal - balloons that inflate or deflate by virtue of the will of the pilot.  It moves indifferently to the wind or the air itself.  The balloons, see, do not inflate with 'air' . . . they inflate with magic.  The object is something on the order of 44 centuries old.

A pilot stands at the wheel, shown as a small blue circle on the upper deck, under a tarp (that in this case was added by some hapless astronomers 9 centuries before the party finds it (all the furniture shown was also added by these same fellows).  Taking hold of the wheel, if the pilot wishes the Air Ship to move, the ship will drain the pilot of one energy level.  This drain is not permanent . . . it will return.  Unfortunately, I cannot tell the reader at this time, as the party does not know how long the drain lasts.  Turns out it is at least 48 hours.  That's as long as the party has had in game time to play with the thing.

Once the pilot has sacrificed the level - an operation that requires 30 combat rounds, or five minutes - then the pilot can cause the ship to move in any direction, vertically or horizontally, so long as it does not encounter an obstruction.  The ship moves quickly in terms of combat and decently in terms of long distance travel, but it will not outrun a horse - the speed is 50 miles over 24 hours or 7 combat hexes per round (5 feet/hex).  It will not outrun a hippogriff cavalry or a giant eagle.

The party has not attempted to change the ship from a level aspect, but it was designed to operate as a platform - low to the ground, high in the air, whatever was needed.  It will float on water and can be made to sink below water, if the user wishes - though that has consequences for whatever is carried, obviously.  The party has taken it to 3000 feet (with some discussion about medieval people being able to tell what that even is, much less having the willpower not to freak out once the thing climbs fifty feet above the ground), getting the feeling that the ship could be taken to the moon if they so wished (would take 10 years).

A single pilot can manage the craft for no more than 8 hours before becoming fatigued and needing sleep.  Another pilot can take over, however, at any point, for the one level drained is good for 24 hours of continuous ship travel.  Thus, three or four pilots can keep the ship going around the clock.

Sitting on the ground, the deck is approximately 25 feet above the ground.  It is thus difficult to unload or load large objects when 'docked' on dry land.  On water, it can be settled to a level where the deck is 9 feet above the surface, before water would begin to pour in the windows on the lower deck (not shown).  There are shutters that can be closed in bad weather, that would seep water but which could be easily drained by simply lifting the ship.  When sunk into the water to make the main deck accessible, a pilot must man the wheel . . . otherwise, the ship will 'bob' up to the surface.

I said that the ship is not affected by wind - this is not true of the occupants, who would experience wind across the deck of the ship as though they were standing on the ground.  Thus there is a very real danger of being blown off in a high wind.  The deck is very stable, however, so that animals can comfortably rest or walk upon the deck and there is no danger of motion sickness.

I'm sure there are other details I covered, but I cannot remember them now . . . please feel free to ask any questions and I will answer as needed.

Why am I worried that this might break the campaign?  Because surely the players will be tempted to retreat from the world.  Already it has been discussed how others will likely want to steal it.  The party is already aware of the dangers of bringing it near a civilized area.  At the moment, the party is 7th level and they feel distinctly weak to be in possession of such an object.  I fear that they will feel a strong inclination not to leave it behind in order to investigate a dungeon or become involved in any local place.  I worry that the ship will become the whole campaign.

Still, there are benefits.  I expect much more of my world will become part of the regular campaign, as these players can now go anywhere.  I am glad I have made so much of my world to this point.  I remind the reader that these are the players who are returning holy relics to unknown parts of my world - so this is also a means to the end of their quest.

I've never created anything like this before.  I conceived of it about six months ago and finally, after what felt like a long wait, I was able to present it.

The party is very excited. 


  1. Quite a few contortions the party will have to go through to use it, but that's a good thing.

    High cruising altitude to avoid being spotted for too long. Have to land well outside civilized areas and hike into town. The ship itself will inspire both fear and greed in others.

    Does the pilot need to know where he's going and be able to navigate there overland? Can it just take them anywhere they want with no knowledge necessary? Something in between, such as needing to know in which direction the destination lies?

    Cool stuff. But I can see why you're worried. Its value, especially as a "home base", surely dwarfs all else. Even the one guy's fief and fortress - pah, can it move? Didn't think so. (But of course, an air ship has no tax-paying residents. There's life in the fief yet.)

  2. My question is: How much of a jerk are you going to be when they try to use it?

    That is to say, are you going to play your NPCs in such a way that if the PCs leave the airship, they can expect to have it stolen?

    Make it clear to the players, out of game, that you can guarantee (within reason) that if they leave it, it will be there when they get back. If your group trusts you, (and you've made it clear they do) then that guarantee should be enough to have them use the airship as a tool, and not as their Only Thing.

    It doesn't have to be a blanket guarantee of "I promise I won't take your toy guys!" It can be a simple agreement that with x amount guards, in an area with no greater y population, for no longer than z amount of time, that they can park their ship safely.

  3. Fair question, Matt.

    Since my players do read this blog, there's only so much I can say about their future - but no, I'm not going to be a jerk.

    Here's where having a long track-record as a consistent, fair but not indulgent DM plays in my favour: I don't have to give a 'guarantee' or otherwise shackle myself to any promise about what will happen with the ship. The effort I've put into its appearance demonstrates my commitment; I am as excited about them having the ship as they are. The ship doesn't make them more powerful and it doesn't provide them with an easy route to X.P - on the whole, it is just a different kind of setting for the campaign.

    The party has already recognized that by not telling others how the ship works, 'stealing it' will be difficult. It is easy to see how the ship could be grabbed and occupied, but without the knowledge the party was given by the Sphinx, it isn't going anywhere. It's too big to put inside a building so the party's theft of it is always possible.

    Of course, someone could grab a member of the party and torture them . . . but I simply don't see my world operating in that fashion. The residents of my world are far more indifferent than malicious. Most, I think, while awed and amazed would see it as a lot of trouble. They would ask the party to help in their cause rather than stealing it for themselves.

    I certainly have no plans to 'take their toy.' The party already knows I'm not prone to such cheap, miserly tactics as letting them have something only to immediately steal it back.

  4. If that's the case (as I suspected it was) then you shouldn't have much trouble with it becoming the campaign. It will be a tool they can use, but as it is not directly a weapon, they will probably be using it to get where they want, and then doing their normal stuff on foot.

    Considering your trade tables I could also see it being used to trade regional rarities between places with no easy overland or sea route. It's slower going than a horse cart, but still lets them make their own suez canal, or other similar shortcuts. Seems like they could make some easy money with a bit of good thinking. But even that would still seem to be a means toward more normal adventuring.

    I think you may be over-worrying that you ruined the game. Or you are being hyperbolic and I'm being dense.

  5. It's only that I've converted the campaign into Star Trek and I'm unfamiliar with the concept in D&D.

  6. I would just do some research on the territorial nature of large predatory birds, but otherwise I think it would be fair to not be concerned about the theft of the ship in excessive manner.

    At the worst they can part with the henchmen or send the henchmen out to do questing while the remainder stays with the airship.

    I'm not entirely sure Star Trek is 100% accurate given they probably will not encounter any other airships. (maybe a bird of prey as above) That said it does change the dynamic by essentially removing a lot of terrain based challenges and encounters) from travel and increasing time spent in town or at destination.

    This could 'speed up' travel in real life and increase time spent in towns and destinations, with a docking tax for time.

    Combat wise, I would be prepared to deal with the idea of bombing 'runs' or fighting from the edge of the platform/out windows.

    Personally as a player I would start looking into weight allowances and how I can modify it to be awesome "architecturally". Probably starting with a platform or lift off the side.

  7. I experienced the same uneasiness when my players embarked on a regular ship for the first time. It was particularly challenging to account for cannon damage vs other ships and NPCs. Never did like the mechanics I used. Also never really liked how the ships turned in the water with a square grid map, among other things.

    If the group adds a cannon to the air ship deck, does firing the cannon cause a change in the ship's direction from momentum?

  8. In this case, no; the ship is not subject to physical laws.


If you wish to leave a comment on this blog, contact alexiss1@telus.net with a direct message. Comments, agreed upon by reader and author, are published every Saturday.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.