IFAQ: Airships and Arcanix

I’m currently traveling across the country for the first time since March. I’ve got a few hours to kill and I’m camped out in an abandoned food court in the Detroit Airport, so before I start my Gamma World kingdom, I thought I’d answer a few questions from my Patreon supporters tied to things that float—airships and Arcanix!

What do the of crew an airship and a train of lightning cars do to assist their respective pilots? More specifically, what are the most interesting things you have the respective crews do in your games?

In my opinion, an airship is just as complicated to run as a sailing vessel. You have to maintain the windwards (which are what keep people from getting blown off the upper deck). There are a host of lesser focusing crystals that maintain the ring and that have to be adjusted if conditions change dramatically. Refined dragonshards need to be fed to the heart to maintain the binding, especially when the elemental is operating at full capacity. The same basic principles apply to the lightning rail, though like comparing a train to a masted galleon, I think the lightning rail doesn’t require a large crew; you’ve got a pair of engineers maintaining the binding and ensuring all other systems are running, a few assistants, and conductors or staff to deal with the passengers.

As for MY games? I largely have the crew stay out to the way and do their jobs, because they’re too busy to chat with adventurers. I’ve run a one-shot set on an airship a number of times over the past year, and the main NPC the adventurers encounter is the steward, because it’s his job to deal with them. When there’s a dramatic combat scene, I may call out a number of NPC crew members in the scene who are doing their jobs and note that if these innocents die bad things could happen; if a fireball takes out the guy maintaining the windwards, things could get very unstable!

What are some amenities you could find at a House Lyrandar docking tower?

As I’m sitting in an airport as I write this, it’s tempting to just start listing off things I see around me. However, it’s important to remember that air travel is a very recent development. Per canon, the first elemental airships went into service in 990 YK — only eight years before the default start date! In my opinion this date refers to the launch of Lyarandar air travel as a commercial service, and is the culminations of decades of experiments and prototypes. But as an INDUSTRY it’s still very young. Likewise, tourism is largely a new development as of the signing of the Treaty of Thronehold; the Brelish weren’t going sightseeing in Thrane while the Last War was underway. So I think most Lyrandar docking towers are simple and functional; they haven’t had TIME to build up the full range of amenities that you see in a large modern airport. With that said, I think that in the largest hubs you could start to see that coming together. I imagine a deal with Ghallanda to have Gold Dragon Inn tavern franchises. You’d certainly have a lavatory equipped with a cleansing sphere. It’s not unreasonable to imagine a souvenir stand—in our world, souvenirs have been around for thousands of years!

Do airships require a constant stream of refined dragonshards to keep the elemental bound? Do they need this when the ship is idle? How expensive is it to continue fueling these ships? Can you elaborate on the refined nature of the dragonshards mentioned here?

This is called out on page 257 of Rising From The Last War.

Eberron dragonshards are rosy crystals with crimson swirlds flowing in the depths and are typically refined into a glowing powder… Eberron dragonshard dust is used in the creation of some magic items, and many powerful tools—such as the lightning rail and elemental airships—require an ongoing expenditure of Eberron dragonshards to maintain their enchantments.

A key phrase there is to maintain their enchantments. An airship doesn’t use dragonshards as FUEL and it’s not a constant, steady rate of consumption. Airships have a web of additional secondary enchantments in addition to the binding—the windwards, the control systems—and these have to be maintained. If you compare it to a car, it’s like changing your oil or adding antifreeze; it’s not the FUEL, but it’s a vital ongoing expense that ensures that the car continues to operate. The job of the engineer is to monitor and maintain those many enchantments. So it’s not like feeding coal into a boiler, but it’s still a vital activity. Notably, there’s no risk of the elemental escaping if this isn’t maintain—the binding process uses a Khyber shard and is a separate thing; the issue is the enchantments that channel its power and integrate it with the ship to produce effects like the elemental ring.

Is Arcanix the name of the floating towers or the village?

For anyone who doesn’t recognize the name, Arcanix is one of the prominent institutes of arcane learning in Khorvaire. It’s located in Aundair, and described as floating towers hovering above a village. Earlier canon sources complicated things by suggesting that Arcanix was originally part of Thrane before the war, which seems odd as arcane magic has always been a focus of Aundairian culture, and Arcanix is supposed to be closely tied to the Arcane Congress. So, here’s MY answer.

Arcanix is the village. It has long been contested by Aundair and Thrane, and by Thaliost and Daskara before that; while it was part of Thrane under Galifar, many of the inhabitants were Aundairians who traveled to the village. Because, mysteriously, Arcanix seems to inspire people who seek arcane knowledge. This isn’t always incredibly dramatic; it’s not like everyone who studies magic at Arcanix revolutionizes the field of science as we know it. But if you study the statistics, people are more likely to master the arcane arts if they study in Arcanix. So: while Arcanix was part of Thrane under Galifar, it was largely inhabited by Aundairians and Aundairians CONSIDERED it to be part of Aundair, which is why, when the Last War broke out, they seized it and moved the floating towers there to secure it. Because that’s the thing about FLOATING TOWERS—you can move them! The floating towers were a previous asset of the Arcane Congress and thus have always been a facility for arcane research and learning, as well as being fortified; so the towers were already an established arcane school before being moved, and placing them in Arcanix was just a bonus. Whatever the effect of the region that enhances arcane comprehension works above the village as well as on the ground, so modern students study in the towers. But the village was called Arcanix before the towers were there.

A secondary question, of course, is WHY the region is so conducive to the study of the arcane. This is something that is SUPPOSED be a mystery within the world, and is surely something debated in Arcanix itself. Arcanix is in a Thelanian manifest zone, so that’s surely a factor—it’s up to the DM to decide if this is an active portal, and if so if there’s a particular acrhfey associated with it (The Mother of Invention would be a logical choice) or if it’s a more subtle zone. But there may be a darker power at work beyond this. Some scholars believe that Arcanix is above the soul-prison of the overlord Sul Khatesh. There have been times when cults of the Queen of Shadows have taken root in Arcanix, and there have been a few individuals who have actively bargained with Sul Khatesh or her minons. But even without any active or malefic influence, the mere presence of the Keeper of Secrets may help those seeking arcane knowledge… and this has been sufficient to crush the objections of those who fear the Queen of Shadows. But again, all of these are things that COULD be. As a DM it’s up to you to decide if Arcanix is haunted by Sul Khatesh, blessed by Aureon, watched over by the Mother of Invention, or if there’s an even stranger explanation.

Also on the topic of Arcanix, what is the relationship between the way its towers float, and the way Sharn’s towers float?

The manifest zone of Sharn enhances magic related to flight and levitation. This is why you have flying buttresses and skycoaches in Sharn; those tools don’t work outside the zone. Skyway and the floating towers of Sharn use these same principles, so they aren’t the SAME as Arcanix. But the towers of Sharn inspired Arcanix, driving the Arcane College to find a way to replicate the effects without the zone. Arcanix and the Tower of the Twelve are proof that it can be done, but the fact that we don’t see such towers everywhere—and that both of these two are the seat of arcane research facilities—suggests that the enchantment requires regular maintenance by arcane experts. Which is easy enough when your tower is filled with some of the most gifted arcanists in Khorvaire. So the Sharn towers are stable, drawing on the manifest zone to maintain the effect; other floating towers require expert maintenance.

Is there any correlation between Arcanix and, as of Rising from the Last War, the Aundairian attack on Sharn’s Glass Tower? Was Aundair able to achieve such an attack precisely because they Aundair was also intimately familiar with floating towers?

Certainly. The Arcane Congress created the towers of Arcanix using information gleaned from studying the floating towers of Sharn, and during the Last War, they explored ways to weaponize that. The main question is why they didn’t target Skyway, which would have devastated a far larger area. It’s possible that they didn’t WANT to—that the Glass Tower was an experiment or a warning, but they didn’t want to cause such extreme destruction. Or it’s possible Skyway is a more powerful and stable effect and that the techniques used on the Glass Tower couldn’t bring it down.

Thanks again to my Patreon supporters for keeping this site going and for posing interesting questions. The Inner Circle supporters are currently voting on the topic for the next major article; the Library of Korranberg is in the lead, but there’s still one day to cast a vote! And check out my latest DM’s Guild PDF: a collaboration with the band Magic Sword!

37 thoughts on “IFAQ: Airships and Arcanix

  1. Do you have any in-world luxury or non-mechanical differences between airships that harness air elementals vs fire elementals for the ring?

    • I like running on the idea of the exact type of elemental affecting the properties of elemental vessels – In an airship, fire gives the greatest cargo capacity, air makes a faster ship, and water gains no benefit so they are used infrequently. Earth opposes air so they aren’t used in airships.
      I use the same rough rule for other vessels like the landcart and elemental galleon, so on the ship water is powerfule, no fire can be used, air is fastest, and earth is slow but powerful, though suffers in deep water as the sea bed gets further away

  2. “As a DM it’s up to you to decide if Arcanix is haunted by Sul Khatesh”? As opposed to what, exactly? How can Sul Khatesh be trapped underneath Arcanix without actually influencing it?

    Also on the topic of Arcanix, what is the relationship between the way its towers float, and the way Sharn’s (Syranian) towers float? Is there any correlation between Arcanix and, as of Rising from the Last War, the Aundairian attack on Sharn’s Glass Tower? Was Aundair able to achieve such an attack precisely because they Aundair was also intimately familiar with floating towers?

    • “As a DM it’s up to you to decide if Arcanix is haunted by Sul Khatesh”? As opposed to what, exactly? How can Sul Khatesh be trapped underneath Arcanix without actually influencing it?

      As opposed to “The idea that Sul Khatesh is buried beneath Arcanix is merely one of many conspiracy theories.” As a DM, you could decide that Sul Khatesh is imprisoned beneath Fairhaven. Or Gatherhold.

      Also on the topic of Arcanix, what is the relationship between the way its towers float, and the way Sharn’s (Syranian) towers float?

      Good question, I’ll add answers to the main article.

  3. Worth noting that the Arcanix-part-of-Thrane is in the ECS under “Life and Society”

    > The second center of learning is devoted to arcane studies. Arcanix overlooks Lake Galifar, in the southern reaches of the nation. Once, this ancient village was part of Thrane, but Aundair claimed the village and the land around it early in the Last War. The mentors of Arcanix don’t care who claims the village; they only want to continue their studies of the arcane arts and pass along their knowledge to the dozens of apprentices they accept into their floating towers each season.

    • My bad. In my defense, I’m sitting in an airport and don’t have access to my books. The point remains that it’s at odds with “Aundair has always been the focus of arcane magic.” And the answer I present here remains valid with this information: there is a geographical reason that people study magic in Arcanix, Aundair has always wanted the village and many of its inhabitants under Galifar were Aundairian, and when the war began, they immediately claimed it.

  4. What is the structure of the Arcane Congress in Arcanix? The Five Nations book describes the Arcane Congress very vaguely. How large is the Arcane Congress? Is it a moderate-sized council of twelve or thirteen or so, something smaller, or something much larger?

    Also, Arcanix and the Tower of the Twelve are both arcanely-oriented, floating towers. Is it simply standard practice for major arcane research stations to base themselves in floating towers?

    • What is the structure of the Arcane Congress in Arcanix? The Five Nations book describes the Arcane Congress very vaguely. How large is the Arcane Congress? Is it a moderate-sized council of twelve or thirteen or so, something smaller, or something much larger?

      The structure of the Arcane Congress is a larger question that would need to be addressed in a separate IFAQ focused on the Arcane Congress.

      Also, Arcanix and the Tower of the Twelve are both arcanely-oriented, floating towers. Is it simply standard practice for major arcane research stations to base themselves in floating towers?

      A floating tower has many advantages, being innately difficult to lay siege to and being able to move. However, Sharn aside this sort of enchantment is difficult to maintain and you don’t want to be there when it fails. Thus, it’s commonly seen attached to arcane research stations because they innately have people with the expertise to maintain such towers.

  5. Thanks for all crew details! My party’s airship has NPC crew, but the captain wants the heroes to be able to perform at least one separate ship-duty each, in case “…Arcanopus related crew reductions resume…”.
    Have you ever found it useful to distinguish between the elementals within ship rings? For example, airships holding air elementals have a higher operational altitude, because they can generate/contain breathable atmosphere, fire elemental ships can carry more weight for their size, lightning elemental ships are the most maneuverable, etc. Do elementals tied to a specific plane affect the ships abilities or imbue personality or temperament?

    • Certainly. I believe that there are MANY differences between airships based on model, elemental, and other factors. Unfortunately, I haven’t had time to work through and write down all my ideas on the topic. “Airships” (or even “Elemental Vessels”) could be a major article topic in the future.

      • I was also going to ask what the difference between the various elemental airships was, so I’d be interested in an article like that, too.

  6. It might be that it’s both the Mother of Invention and Sul Khatesh? Countering and enhancing each others effects? Or if Mother of Invention is Sul Khatesh?

    Anyways thank you for the insight aswell on the airship, makes sense that it needs constant maintenance with such a novel creation (where malfunction would mean disaster and featherfall). I’ll keep it in mind next time the adventure goes to a airship.

  7. @Zed and Jarrod, I have always had each individual elemental vessel have it’s own quirks. Binding is still very much an art form and not a science.

    One ship has a fire emental that produces a lot of smoke. An air elemental might be harder to keep on course over a long time because this elemental is flighty and curious. Others might like to race, or burn so hot that you need fire protection on the deck.

  8. What’s with the airship skiffs that appear in several adventures? They don’t seem to need bound elementals (and thus dragonmarked heirs) to move around. Soarwood vessels with some kind of non-elemental propulusion device that won’t work with larger ships?

    • There aren’t my creation, so I don’t know what the writers were thinking. On a quick review, I’ve found this mention in Five Nations:
      The city’s defenders were not expecting a Karrn attack from Cyre, especially one accomplished using soarwood skiffs that could glide across the Brey River.
      When I read that sentence, I don’t think of these skiffs as FLYING. They’re made out of soarwood, and they’re described as “gliding across the river” so I assume that’s exactly what they did — that they operated more like hovercraft, gliding just over a surface, as opposed to actually FLYING.

      If they are described as fully flying elsewhere, my personal opinion is that the writers missed the memo that skycoaches only function in Sharn and just thought “Look at the cover of Sharn: City of Towers! That’s clearly a small flying boat!” Because it is, but it’s unique to Sharn.

      With that said, as shown by Arcanix, other forms of levitation are possible. Brooms of flying exist. So you could have a skiff that operates on THOSE principles rather than elemental binding; I’d just expect it to have limitations.

      • The Improved Flight Item feat in S:CoT p. 157 implies that a skycoach might be able to operate outside of Sharn three times per day at half speed.

  9. Rak Tulkhesh and Sul Khatesh both have potential cult activity afoot in two of Khorvaire’s finer academic institutions (the Rekkenmark Academy and Arcanix respectively). As two of the more powerful cults, one could imagine their actions often in direct competition with each other. Could this have fueled aspects of the conflicts in the Last War (as both institutions were heavily involved in their nation’s military)?

    • Could this have fueled aspects of the conflicts in the Last War?

      It’s certainly possible, just as it’s possible the Dreaming Dark manipulated Jarot; it’s up to you as DM to decide. But certainly it’s possible.

  10. Oooh, so many ideas from this article!
    (Random thought): Maybe Aundair didn’t go for Skyway because they wanted to preserve Sharn for post Last War victory? It’s a pretty useful area that one wouldn’t want to destroy on a whim, between the commerce opportunities and ancient buildings and such.
    On the airship note, how do they handle things like thunderstorms? As dangerous as it is to be on a normal ship in a storm, I can see it being even more perilous when you’re literally in the midst of the stormclouds…
    Good luck and stay safe on your travels!

    • I’d think that, beyond any direct impact of the weather, it would get bound air elementals riled up (Perhaps be an answer to Taylor’s question at the top as a difference between fire and air based airships.)

    • Maybe Aundair didn’t go for Skyway because they wanted to preserve Sharn for post Last War victory?

      That’s quite likely. The goal of the war was to reunite Galifar, so in general it wasn’t a total war—they didn’t want to destroy the major cities that were vital to the united kingdom.

      On the airship note, how do they handle things like thunderstorms?

      This is part of the point of the windwards, which generally protect the ship from the exterior environment. Beyond this, it’s a good question for a full article that gets into the different types of elemental vessels and the secondary enchantments that are part of them.

      • Lyrandar having the Mark of Storm, it might also be possible that the House steers storms away from the scheduled airship routes and times to help ensure a smooth safe ride. While I’m here: At this early stage of the industry, have any purely cargo airships been built, or are they still do expensive for anything but deep-pocketed passengers, and perhaps small, high-value cargo?

  11. Do you think a house keeping an Arcanix style floating structure would be a violation of the Korth Edicts on holding “land” (or rather, would have when the edicts were actually enforceable)?

    • And I totally missed that the Tower of the Twelve floated (in my defense, it’s mentioned once in a description of a seperate settlement). Still, does have the question of why they only ever made one if they do own it, and who they’re renting it from if they don’t.

    • I think the Tower of the Twelve definitely has an aspect of “We aren’t owning LAND,” yes. With that said, the Tower of the Twelve predates the Korth Edicts by centuries. So either it’s a convenient side effect, or — and this is the direction I’d personally take it — it wasn’t ORIGINALLY floating, and they added this both as a reaction to the Korth Edicts (“We don’t own land, but the building is ours”) and because they’d found a way to DO it, which they didn’t have centuries earlier.

  12. How quickly can these floating towers actually move? How long would it take to move, say, the floating towers of Arcanix over to Fairhaven? Or, in a more extreme example, how long would it take to move the Tower of the Twelve all the way to Sharn, circumventing the Mournland?

    • Korth to Sharn doesn’t actually require major effort to avoid the Mournland. A straight line barely touches a corner of it, so only minimal adjustments are needed.

      I think the towers being able to move is only Kanon. I can’t find any mention of it in the books.

    • These aren’t using a uniform design and I don’t think they are using the same techniques or have the same capabilities. Consider these images.
      Arcanix: https://vignette.wikia.nocookie.net/eberron/images/0/05/Arcanix_towers.png/revision/latest?cb=20140703123334
      Tower of the Twelve: http://ravensworld.wdfiles.com/local–files/thay/karrnath_towerofthetwelve.jpg

      The T12 is close to the ground and has crackling arcs of energy. In my opinion it cannot move under its own power; its levitation is a defensive measure, a show of power, and a wink at “We aren’t owning LAND” but it can’t MOVE. It’s possible it could BE moved by a fleet of airships, but not under its own power.

      Arcanix is HIGH above the ground and its towers are on platforms of rock. In my opinion it was designed as a mobile fortification from the start. However, I don’t think it’s FAST; I’d say it would take AT LEAST a month to move it to Fairhaven, maybe longer. The fact that it CAN move is a strategically useful tool, but it’s not swift.

  13. Do airships require a constant stream of refined dragonshards to keep the elemental bound (I thought bound elementals stayed bound indefinitely unless something sufficiently disrupts them or damages the shard they are bound to)? Do they need this when the ship is idle? How expensive is it to continue fueling these ships?

    Can elaborate on the refined nature of the dragonshards mentioned here? Are they magically processed to a better grade or purity, and how is that process done?

    • I’ve just added the question about the role of dragonshards to the main article. As for the dragonshards, they’re refined Eberron dragonshards, as discussed on page 257 of Rising From The Last War. I don’t have time for a deeper discussion of that refining process and the importance of it right now.

  14. Where can some of the races from Volos Guide and Wildemount be found in Eberron? Or are they not there? Tabaxi, tortle, yuan ti, goliath, firbolg, and kenku. Would they just live in Droaam?

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