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!