Thursday, May 13, 2021

Elven Skyships

While working out the details of an organic elven skyship for my new Gazetteer, I updated how a crew controls its vessel’s maneuvers. One important thing to remember is that elven vessels are essentially alive and partially sentient. They are grown from living wood, using either magic-user or druid spells to speed up the process. They sense what touches them (crew on their decks, damage to their hulls, whether sails are deployed or secured on their yards, etc.) This was established in cal1 In Stranger Skies, page 118. Several key items are involved.

Fwd Deck: Control Panel & Binnacle, side view.
1. The control panel:
It is a simple wooden surface mounted on a post, with the shape of a hand carved into its surface. Calidar elves are able to commune with plants, which includes their living skyships. A helmsman only needs to place a hand on the panel to establish an empathic link. At that point, commands can be issued to complete maneuvers (roll, pitch, and heading). Therefore, there isn’t a wheel for the helmsman to handle. The control panel sends empathic commands to the skyship’s steering device. Although wood elves can “interface” fairly easily with their skyships from any location aboard the vessels, two control panels help “boost the signal” from less-talented elves. One is evidently located on the ship’s forward deck (its bridge), and the other inside the steering device chamber (engineering).

Fwd Deck: Control Panel & Binnacle, top view.
2. Steering device: About six feet tall plus the fittings and axles anchoring the device to the deck and overhead, it resembles a gimbal in perpetual motion. Made of metal, it is built separately from the skyship itself. The steering device receives an enchantment that enables it to sense the vessel’s flight attitude in a 3D space. The enchantment essentially processes commands received from a control panel and modifies accordingly the direction in which the hull is pointed.

3. Strake: It is the part that runs below the hull, from bow to stern. It holds an enchantment that forces the hull to move along its centerline axis. This enables skyships to tack like seagoing vessels. When a maneuver command is sent to the steering device, it exerts a force on the strake’s enchantment, forcing the hull to point in the desired direction (up/down, starboard/port, and even roll over).

Steering Chamber: top view.
4. Hull: Unlike an airplane using flight surfaces and airspeed to generate lift, a skyship relies instead on magical levitation affecting the remainder of its hull. The helmsman controls how strong the lift is to gain or lose altitude. On an elven ship, this is done through a control panel.

5. Sails: Canvas catching atmospheric or astral winds provide motion. Although magic could be used to provide thrust enabling horizontal motion, sails are often used for large vessels. Smaller craft (launches and shuttles) rely on simple fly spells and such which are enough to get them going (they do require a control panel as well to interface with the fly spells).

Steering Chamber: side view.
Flight outside a world’s atmosphere requires a number of other enchantments (a self-replenishing bubble of breathable air, heating/cooling, and artificial deck gravity). Skyships able to travel the Great Vault can therefore fly upside down inside a world’s normal atmosphere without everything on deck falling off. This is useful, as it allows a ship to roll on its side and point its deck weapon to aim directly up or down at foes flying at a different altitudes. In outer space, the steering device bases its flight attitude on which way the hull was pointing when the vessel exited a world’s atmosphere. It resets itself when reentering a world’s atmosphere to match that world’s horizon.

There is a major challenge with living ships: they require sustenance to survive. This means that a significant amount of space in the hold is reserved for sap. When its reserve is low, a skyship must land either at a giant tree to replenish its sap, or on the ground where it grows roots and extracts nutrients like a normal plant. This process is a slow one. On the other hand, living ships can “heal” damage, help with the handling of sails (permitting smaller onboard crews), and grow parts when commanded, such as deck weapons. Two are described in CAGM01 Calidar Game Mechanics, page 6. All of the above requires additional sap.

This article reflects the way elven skyships function in the upcoming Calidar Gazetteer about elves of Alfdaín and Alorea. Time is fast approaching to begin preparations for the project’s Kickstarter. Keep an ear to the ground (or your eyes firmly aimed skyward) if you’re interested. More updates will follow on this blog and elsewhere. Other sources of news about Calidar lie in this world's Facebook and Mewe chat groups. Thanks.

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