Dragonmarks: Airships, Expanded

The airship is an iconic element of Eberron. I’ve recently wrapped up a series on Arcane Industry and I’ve discussed Flight in Eberron in a previous article, but I’ve received a lot of questions about airships that aren’t covered in current material and I want to share my thoughts on them. A few disclaimers: this is not a deep mechanical breakdown of all aspects of airships and airship travel, and notably doesn’t delve into airship combat in any way. Likewise, this is quite different that what’s suggested in the 3.5 Explorer’s Handbook, which I didn’t work on. This how I use airships in MY campaign; it’s up to you to decide if you want to use this approach in yours.

THE BASICS

First and foremost, it’s important to understand that airships are a recent development. Lyrandar’s first airships went into service in 990 YK, just eight years before the default starting date. All of this ties to the idea that the science of air travel is very recent and that there’s a lot of room for improvement. From a narrative perspective, we don’t WANT airships to be perfect. We want it to be easy for airships to crash, because adventurers having to escape from crashing airships is an excellent drama. We want them to have limited range so that there are still places you can’t get to easily—that you can’t just fly your airship to Ashtakala. We want them to be largely limited to House Lyrandar because that gives Lyrandar power and adds another source of dramatic tension. So always keep in mind that airships aren’t perfect and that this is intentional. This is the DAWN of air travel; again, Eberron is closer overall to mid-nineteenth century Earth than to twentieth century Earth.

An airship is made using a soarwood hull. Soarwood is effectively weightless, though it’s not lighter than air. So a piece of soarwood will naturally float in the air, but it won’t rise. The crucial point here is that the soarwood hull is weightless… But an airship is more than its hull. Cargo, crew, and the elemental engine all do have weight, and these are sufficient to pull an airship to the ground. It is the elemental engine that provides lift and keeps an airship in the air; if the ring is shut down, an airship will crash.

So what IS the elemental engine? The heart of it is the elemental core, an engraved sphere of brass and mithral with a khyber dragonshard at the center. A raw elemental is bound to this dragonshard—”raw” in the sense of “general elemental, not an anthropomorphic entity like an efreeti or azer. The elemental is absolutely anchored to the core and can’t be easily released; what the engine does is to pull it out from the core, stretching it out across the ship’s systems and the ring. This doesn’t release the elemental; it’s still anchored to the khyber shard, and if the engine is fully shut down, the elemental snaps back into the core.

Mark Tedin’s original airship from the 3.5 Eberron Campaign Setting.

AIRSHIP SYSTEMS

The elemental engine provides both lift and motive power. As long as the engine is active, an airship can hover or move forward. But there’s a lot more going on with an airship than just the ring. Here’s a few of the secondary systems that are vital to airship operations.

  • Elemental Veins. The elemental engine uses engraved strips of metal to channel the power of the elemental through the vessel and out to the ring. You can think of these as the veins of the ship, channeling power through its body. In addition to directly connecting the core to the elemental ring, these channel the secondary enchantments of the focusing nodes and the wind wards. There is a great deal of redundancy to the patterns of the veins, so severing a single line will have minimal impact on the ship; it could cause a particular section to lose heat or create a gap in the wards, but it would taken massive damage to cause the ring to break down. The metals used in the veins vary based on the type of elemental involved.
  • Focusing Nodes. These are metal polyhedrons, typically 8 inches in diameter, engraved with engraved with sigils and inlaid with Eberron dragonshards. They’re superficially similar to the conductor stones used in the lightning rail and serve a similar role; they are placed at critical vein junctures and help to draw out and stabilize the power of the core. Focusing nodes also maintain an enchantment that maintains a consistent temperature within the vessel, even at high altitudes that would typically be bitterly cold. As with the veins, the loss of a single node generally isn’t disastrous, but the crew needs to monitor and maintain them.
  • Wind Wards. An airship is an open-deck vessel that moves swiftly through the upper atmosphere. What keeps people from being blown off the deck? How can people breathe at high altitudes? How does an airship handle turbulence? The wind wards are the answer to these questions. An airship is enveloped in a ward that shunts both wind and small objects (such as birds) around the vessel, as well as maintaining air pressure within the wards. The wind wards are also play a role in maneuvering the ship; the ring provides forward thrust, but the envelope of winds helps the vessel turn. While the wards are controlled by the Wheel of Wind and Water, they draw power from the focusing nodes and have their own system of “ward wings” that must be maintained and adjusted by the crew. In the current design, the wind wards suffice only to ensure the safe operations of the vessel and don’t provide any special protection in combat; projectiles can penetrate the wards. However, it’s possible that a future design could strengthen the wind wards to serve as a form of defensive shield.
  • The Wheel of Wind and Water. This is the dragonmark focus item that controls the ship. It has two purposes: it allows the captain to interface with the elemental, helping to calm it and to direct speed and thrust; and it also allows the captain to maintain the wind wards, and use them to direct fine maneuvering.

THIS IS NOT INTENDED TO BE A COMPLETE LIST OF SYSTEMS. Airships are complicated, and a DM can certainly add greater complexity to fit the needs of the system. But this provides a general overview of major systems and things that can go wrong.

WHY LYRANDAR?

The classic airship uses a fire elemental in its ring… so why is the Mark of STORM useful for controlling it? What is it that gives Lyrandar the monopoly on air travel?

The Mark of Storms gives its bearer a general affinity for elemental forces that is enhanced by the wheel of wind and water. However, that’s a secondary aspect. It’s the wind wards that are specifically tied to the Mark of Storm, and every airship relies on these WIND wards, regardless of the form of elemental that provides thrust. As noted above, the wards both protect the ship and its crew and play an important role in maneuvering. An airship without the wind wards would have to operate at lower altitudes and slower speeds, and couldn’t maneuver as effectively as a Lyrandar vessel. The wheel of wind and water serves both purposes: controlling the elemental and drawing on the pilot’s mark to maintain the wind wards.

While a wheel of wind and water typically LOOKS like a classic ship’s wheel, the pilot doesn’t actually steer by turning it; instead, the pilot enters into a trancelike state where they commune with the elemental and wards. It’s not that they issue specific orders to the elemental, it’s that they experience the ship as an extension of their body.

So what happens when a ship loses its Lyrandar pilots? Most people simply can’t interface with a wheel of wind and water, but player characters aren’t most people. Someone with a strong personality and understanding of arcane science could essentially try to hack the system, using their sheer force of will to direct the elemental. Personally, I’d allow a player character who’s proficient with Arcana to bond to the wheel; while it doesn’t follow the normal rules of attunement, this connection does require the pilot to devote one of their attunement slots throughout the process. An unmarked pilot must make make regular control checks; this is performed when they first bond to the wheel, whenever they make a significant change to speed or course, and every hour they remain connected. A control check is a Charisma check with a base difficulty of 12, though the DM can adjust this based on current conditions (it’s more difficult to maintain control in a storm, for example); they could also choose to increase the difficulty each hour, if the goal is to model an emergency situation that can’t be sustained indefinitely. Every time the pilot fails a check, both the pilot and the elemental suffer a level of exhaustion (the effects of elemental exhaustion are described below). An unmarked pilot can’t maintain the wind wards; this forces the vessel to operate at lower altitudes, typically cuts its maximum speed in half, and makes storms and other weather effects considerably more dangerous. A pilot can choose to use Intimidation when making a control check—forcing their will upon the elemental—but if the check fails, the elemental suffers two levels of exhaustion.

A pilot with the Mark of Storm has a far easier time controlling an airship; all of the systems are designed to interface with the marked heir. They only need to make a control check once every four hours. Complex maneuvers or adverse conditions could require a Charisma (Air Vehicles) check, but failure doesn’t impose exhaustion on the pilot, though depending on the conditions calling for the check it could impose elemental exhaustion.

ELEMENTAL EXHAUSTION AND ONGOING COSTS

Elementals bound to airships aren’t entirely aware of their condition. While technically sentient — possessing Intelligence and even language— “raw” elementals are extremely alien beings that don’t perceive reality or the passage of time in the same ways that creatures of the material plane do. More than anything, a raw elemental wants to express its nature. A fire elemental wants to BURN. When an airship is operating at peak efficiency, that’s what the elemental experiences; the fire elemental in the ring doesn’t even realize it IS bound, it just knows that it’s BURNING. The challenge to the pilot is essentially to keep the elemental calm. The more excited it gets, the more energy flows into the systems… and while this might seem like a good thing, it actually runs a risk of overloading the focusing nodes and burning out the elemental engine—initially causing the loss of secondary systems, and eventually causing the elemental ring to collapse and the ship to crash.

The brings us to the ongoing costs of maintaining an airship. Eberron: Rising From The Last War notes that “many powerful tools—such as the lightning rail and elemental airships—require an ongoing expenditure of Eberron dragonshards to maintain their enchantments.” The key phrase there is to maintain their enchantments. Dragonshards don’t function as FUEL for an airship; again, the motive power is provided by the elemental, and that movement doesn’t directly require any expenditure of dragonshards. However, dragonshards must be expended to maintain the elemental engine—both periodic infusions of residuum to the main engine node and replacing focusing nodes that burn out (new shards can be implanted in a burnt-out node, so it’s not that the entire node is disposable). So dragonshards aren’t analagous to gasoline in a car; instead, it’s about adding oil to keep the engine running and replacing fuel. But, the more restless an elemental becomes, the more of a strain it places on these systems. This is measured by the concept of Elemental Exhaustion. With no levels of exhaustion, the ship runs at peak capacity. At six levels of exhaustion, the elemental must be confined to the core, which means the elemental engine (and ring) has to be shut down. The levels in between don’t have the standard effects of exhaustion, but they require an increasing expenditure of residuum to maintain the engine and focusing nodes will burn out; at high levels of exhaustion, it’s likely that sections of the ship will be without heat and it might become impossible to maintain the wind wards. This is a simple system, and if I was planning to make extensive use of it I’d add more concrete details to the consequences of each level—but this is the basic idea.

This brings up two important questions I’ve been asked, Can airships hover? and Why are docking towers so important? Yes, airships can hover. The elemental doesn’t particularly care if it’s moving or standing still as long as it’s generating the ring. Which means hovering places the same strains on the elemental engine as moving—and that a hovering airship is still going to generate elemental exhaustion and consume shards. The most important function of a docking tower is to calm the elemental. Every eight hours spent at a docking tower removes a level of elemental exhaustion, and it’s also possible for an airship to hover indefinitely while connected to a docking tower.

This in turn explains the current limitations of air travel: It’s dangerous to go too far from a docking tower… And currently there AREN’T THAT MANY DOCKING TOWERS; they’re primarily in the big cities. This isn’t something that I particularly want to put strict ranges on, because it’s not entirely reliable (a skilled pilot can keep the ship in the air for a longer period of time) and because it might well vary based on the design of the ship itself; certain ships may be designed to endure longer journeys and higher rates of exhaustion, while a small “commuter” ship might fail with just two levels of exhaustion. Ultimately, the point is that this is a tool that allows the DM to place limits on what a vessel can do. If a group of adventurers hijack an airship and want to fly to Ashtakala the DM can say “This ship won’t make it that far“—perhaps adding “… But that bigger ship over there could!” Though as a second note, I’d think that just being in the Demon Wastes might be something that upsets the elemental and significantly raises the difficulty of control checks. This is something the pilot would definitely notice—the elemental doesn’t want to be here.

UNORTHODOX AIRSHIPS

The standard Lyrandar airship designs are the work of collaboration between Zilargo and the Twelve, specifically House Lyrandar and House Cannith. Zil shipwrights create the hulls (using soarwood from Aerenal) and Zil binders produce the elemental cores, while Cannith artisans install the elemental engine and the veins. It was Cannith and Lyrandar working together who produced the first working wind wards, it is this that currently provides Lyrandar with dominance over the industry. Cannith doesn’t know the secrets of Zil binding, because they aren’t actually involved in the development of the elemental core; and meanwhile, the Zil don’t have the expertise to create the elemental engine or to produce wind wards.

With that said, these airships have been operating for less than a decade and the science is still evolving. Lyrandar and Cannith are continuing to evolve their design, improving speed, maneuverability, and range; they’ve certainly been experimenting on aerial warships as well. On the other side of things, the Arcane Congress and the Zil themselves are exploring other approaches to air travel, building on the principles of the skystaff (broom of flying) or carpet of flying. Currently these are largely limited to small, low-altitude vehicles—like the skystaff—but the work is ongoing. As a DM, if you WANT to introduce an airship that breaks some of the rules described here—notably, an airship that doesn’t require a Lyrandar pilot or that has an indefinite range—go ahead! The main things to think about are HOW it manages to be more efficient than the Lyrnadar vessels and where it came from. Is it a single prototype that can’t be efficiently reproduced? Or are there more of them? In general, House Lyrandar doesn’t care about one-offs; the fact that one group of adventures has a superior airship doesn’t threaten their business. On the other hand, if the adventurers or their patron actually seek to create a fleet of airships that will challenge Lyrandar’s economic monopoly they could have to deal with saboteurs or other troubles. But again, a single group of adventurers with their own unique airship isn’t a problem for Lyrandar.

GENERAL Q&A

What do the of crew an airship do to assist their respective pilot? More specifically, what are the most interesting things you have the crews do in your games?

In my opinion, an airship is just as complicated to run as a sailing vessel. You have to make adjustments to maintain the wind wards. You have to monitor the focusing nodes and adjust less crystals that maintain the ring. The engineer monitors the elemental engine, which includes adding residuum but also just performing minor rituals that keep the systems running. In 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 local wind wards, things could get very unstable!

How volatile is an elemental core?

In my opinion, the elemental core itself is quite stable. The elemental CAN’T easily be removed from the core; it’s stretched out of it, but if the engine breaks down, it snaps back into the core; when not engaged, it lies in a dormant state. So more often than not, an elemental core can actually be recovered from a crashed airship. On the other hand, there can be effects that target the core itself. In one adventure I ran, when an airship passed through an airborne Lamannian manifest zone it broke the containment and caused the elemental to burst free (noted as a risk of zones with the Elemental Power trait in Exploring Eberron). In my novella Principles of Fire, terrorists specifically break the containment of one of an airship’s elemental cores (it was a double-ringed ship and the other survived the crash). So GENERALLY the cores are stable, but nothing’s stopping a DM from creating a specific threat that can break one.

What’s the difference between different kinds of elemental rings? Why do some ships have more than one?

In my opinion, different types of elementals should provide different benefits and drawbacks. I don’t have time right now to get into a full breakdown of different airship designs and the specific effects of rings, but my most basic thought is that fire is faster (more FORCE) and air is more maneuverable. Multiple rings can be added for speed, but what we’ve suggested in the past is that they are used by especially large ships—that essentially, one ring is devoted to LIFT and the other to THRUST.

Is there anything you do use from the airship section in Explorer’s Handbook?

I think most of the material in Explorer’s Handbook can overlap with the ideas I present here. The maps are good, the basic concept of the “arcane matrix” is similar to what I do with the elemental veins, and all the rules about shiphandling, manueverability, and such are things I don’t address here that work fine. I use life rings and like the sidebar on “How To Survive A Crashing Airship.” We mainly differ in the idea of elemental consciousness, the process of controlling the elemental, and the ongoing costs of maintaining an airship—along with the idea of the wind wards.

Soarwood isn’t lighter than air? What about the soarwood skiffs from Five Nations?

This is a reference to the following quote…

Karrnathi soldiers stormed the city of Shadukar in 959 YK. 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.

Five Nations, Page 149

These soarwood skiffs weren’t FLYING vehicles; they were simply so exceptionally light and buoyant that they allowed the invading force to glide across the surface of the river, both more quickly and quietly than traditional boats. But Karrnath does not have a fleet of flying skiffs.

How does this work with the Wind Whisperers, who have stolen airships? If they don’t have docking towers, how can they maintain them?

The Wind Whisperers are a force in the Lhazaar Principalities that include half-elves with the Mark of Shadows. I think they have managed to create a single functional equivalent of a docking tower in their home harbor. But beyond that, I’d assert that they’ve found a way to calm elementals that is different from what the house uses; the most logical answer is that they have a few allies from Lorghalen that worked with them on this. As someone noted on Discord, “one gnome with a flute vs precision Cannith engineering.”

Can a pilot develop a bond or connection with the elemental of their ship?

I think they can, yes. The piloting process I’ve described is essentially a trance where they do connect to the elemental. It’s a little like working with any kind of mount; you can ride a horse without feeling any empathy for it, but you’ll have a better experience if you’re able to establish a connection. I think the best pilots are those who do feel a tie to their elemental companion. Note that this would not satisfy the Power of Purity — as noted in the next question — who would point out that the elemental is still BOUND and has no choice; the fact that the pilot may empathize the elemental with it doesn’t mean they are treating it as an euqal.

What are the moral issues with binding elementals into Khyber dragonshards? How sentient are they?

(Reposted from a previous Dragonmark) There’s no easy answers in Eberron. The elemental binders of Zilargo claim that bound elementals are perfectly content; that elementals don’t experience the passage of time the way humans do. All they wish is to express their elemental nature, and that’s what they do through the binding. The Zil argue that elementals don’t even understand that they ARE bound, and that binding elementals is in fact MORE humane than using beasts of burden. An elemental doesn’t feel hunger, exhaustion, or pain; all a fire elemental wants to do is BURN, and it’s just as content to do that in a ring of fire as it is in Fernia.

On the other hand, an Ashbound druid will tell you that this is a fundamental disruption of the natural order. And any random person might say “When a bound elemental is released, it usually goes on a rampage. That means it was unhappy, right?”

Maybe… or maybe not. In my opinion, the “raw” elementals — the “fire elemental” as opposed to the more anthropomorphic salamander, efreeti, or azer — are extremely alien. They don’t experience existence in the same way as creatures of the material plane. They are immortals who exist almost entirely in the moment, making no plans for the future or worrying about the past. My views are pretty close to the description from the 5E Monster Manual: “A wild spirit of elemental force has no desire except to course through the element of its native plane… these elemental spirits have no society or culture, and little sense of being.”

When the fire elemental is released, it usually WILL go on a rampage. Because what it wants more than anything is to burn and to be surrounded by fire… so it will attempt to CREATE as much fire as possible. If it burns your house down, there’s no malice involved; it literally doesn’t understand the concept of a house, or for that matter the concept of YOU.  In my short story “Principles of Fire” one of the characters interrogates a bound air elemental; he advises a colleague that the elemental doesn’t really understand its surroundings, and sees humans as, essentially, blobs of water.

So: there’s no absolute answer. Some people are certain that the elementals are entirely happy, and others are certain that it’s a barbaric and inhumane practice. What I can say is that MOST of the people in the Five Nations don’t think about it at all; to them, it’s no different from yoking an ox or using a bonfire to cook dinner. If you want to create a story based on a radical group that has proof that bound elementals are suffering, create that story. But the default is that there are extreme views on both sides, but that the majority of people just ride the airship without giving a thought to whether the ring has been unjustly imprisoned.

Follow-Up: A question was posed about how this relates to the Power of Purity, a group of Zil binders that seek to understand elementals and to work more closely with them. This still works with what I’ve described here. Elementals ARE sentient. It is possible to communicate with them. They simply are sentient in a very alien way. They have language, but that doesn’t mean they think like we do. In my vision, “raw” elementals generally don’t speak with one another; the elemental languages represent the ability to interface with the elemental and to draw its attention in a way that usually doesn’t happen. An airship pilot needs to interface with and guide an elemental, and a Purity binder does this as well. Most binders DISMISS the need to understand the elemental consciousness; Purity binders feel that truly understanding elementals is the secret to vastly better results. And if you want someone to suddenly reveal that elementals are being tortured and to upset the industry, the Power of Purity would be a good place to start.

That’s all for now! Thanks again to my Patreon supporters for making articles like this possible!

65 thoughts on “Dragonmarks: Airships, Expanded

  1. Small follow-up: Are skystaves made of soarwood as well, or are they purely reliant on enchantment?

    Slightly bigger follow-up: I think the Explorer’s Handbook also portrays elemental galleons as made of soarwood and being more akin to hydrofoil boats than traditional ships. What’s your opinion on this?

    • I think skystaves are an entirely different animal. Aereni skystaves might be made of soarwood, but I don’t think Aundair uses it.

      I don’t think that all elemental galleons should be made of soarwood; I see that more as a sort of swamp-boat design, something that would be used for river travel.

      • Elaborating on this, real life river barges are flat-bottom, because modern technology and light-weight metals like aluminum means we can do that, getting more stability and storage space out of it, when you’re just going up and down a calm river or swamp. I can absolutely see how they might have what are essentially massive rafts of soarwood to fulfill the same effect.
        I’d imagine that, while Lyrandar is expanding their air operations, they’re going to be very reserved with what they use soarwood on. They’d probably be only using it for what is explicitly and significantly more profitable.

  2. The ECS originally had soarwood as being 75% lighter than standard 3.5 hardwood without reduction in strength or durability, it was essentially natural aircraft aluminum. Seems after that somewhere along the line the idea that it was lighter than air or neutrally buoyant stuck. Because sailing vessels made of Soarwood were also a thing, not even elemental galleons, just normal sailing ships that happened to be made of soarwood and were super light and fast because of it.

    Not really a question, just comment on the “Soarwood isn’t lighter than air? What about the soarwood skiffs from Five Nations?” question.

    • Not quite – the ECS says they have “magical buoyancy” such that boats can “skim effortlessly on the surface of the water.” And they actually only weight 25% less – as the book puts it “only 75% as much.”

      In that light, Soarwood-as-neutrally-buoyant isn’t a huge stretch, though I’ll admit it’s not quite what the book actually says.

      • Well I remembered the 75% but forgot which side of it was 75%. I should have doublechecked, thanks Will.

      • This shows how easy it is to forget details after 15 years! I’m content with the idea that soarwood is virtually weightless. But this clearly explain Five Nation’s mention of soarwood skiffs — that again, they didn’t FLY, they skimmed.

  3. Very important question, what pets besides monkeys and parrots dote upon the shoulders of air pirate captains?

  4. Two questions: How safe is air travel? Are there skystaff gangs and perytons and the like that could endanger a lyrandar crew to warrant defenses on a airship such as a ballista with enchanted ammunition or lightning blade members.

    And do they use naval terms for the airship? Such as portside, bow, drydock and hull etc?

    • That depends where you go, which is why Lyrandar has established routes and doesn’t just fly all over the place. Perytons aren’t a problem in most of Breland, but it’s a good reason NOT TO FLY OVER THE BLACKCAPS. Skystaff gangs haven’t been defined as an existing problem and remember that THERE’S NOT A LOT OF AIR TRAFFIC for them to prey on, but it could definitely be a new development. However, at the moment airships have not been depicted as being heavily armed. Essentially, this comes to the point that it’s an evolving industry and that these are the sorts of problems that could arise and NEED to be answered.

      And yes, I use naval terms for airships.

    • I think they would. Lyrandar has been a seafaring culture for centuries, all the crews of the airships would have been trained on boats, they’re only 8 years in service. Beyond that we need look no further than the aerospace industry, which uses a lot of nautical terms.

  5. What are the benefits to using a soarwood watership rather than a soarwood airship? Are there any actual benefits to the former over the latter?

    If Aerenal is the continent with all the soarwood, what has stopped Aerenal from making its own airships, even just a single one, all this time? Why is Aerenal willing to sell soarwood in the first place?

    What has been the Aurum’s most significant advancement in sponsoring the development of an airship that does not require a Mark of Storm?

    If an airship was taken to the Sulatar or vice versa, could the Sulatar improve the design of an airship?

    Does a Syranian manifest zone, like the one in Sharn, have any bearing on an airship at all?

    • watership vs. airship: one goes on the water and one flies in the air. We might assume the watership burns residuum at a slower rate and has a lot more research and development behind it, having the just under two thousand years of Lyrander existence, the previous elven and Zil boat techniques and the various binding techniques to build one vs the undiscovered country of 8 years of field use that airships have.

      Soarwood: Aerenal doesn’t innovate as a rule. They came to Aerenal on ships, we can assume those ship designs could be built with the new material they found. And that process likely took millenia before it was accepted as “part of Aereni tradition”. In the meantime, the Zil likely approached them with an offer to buy soarwood for their own ships as well. Further, the Aereni don’t know how to bind elementals and don’t really want to range further than the protection of their island besides limited trade and the Deathguard.

      Sulatar: They know how to bind fire elementals so it might be assumed they could maybe build something that used fire elementals. But we don’t know for certain that Zil binding and Sulat League binding use the same techniques. The Fire Giants may well have cowed and coerced elementals into obedience, or used the mithral-like brass common to the Sulatar as a channeling material which is so far unknown in Khorvaire.

      Syrania: one of the planes’ traits is that it improves flight speeds. This isn’t the one Sharn has, but it might help an airship in a different zone.

      • Matthew is correct. Sea vessels are less expensive to operate. The Aereni don’t innovate and don’t explore, and have never had an interest in developing air travel, both of which are why they are willing to SELL their soarwood. The Sulatar have never built airships and their techniques are very different from those of either Cannith or the Zil, so it’s unlikely that they could quickly improve an airship; perhaps if Cannith, Zil, and Sulatar worked TOGETHER they could come up with something. Sharn: City of Tower notes that magic items can be DESIGNED to grant improved flight within the manifest zone — such as skycoaches — but airships aren’t designed to take advantage of that.

  6. What happens when the arms holding the ring gets broken? Does it have a important arcane nacelle for the binding?

  7. Do you think it would it be possible for an airship to temporarily touch down on water while they give the elemental some time to rest? Or do the soarwood and the features of the ship make this impossible?

    • I don’t think a standard airship with a fire-ring would find landing on water to be restful. The ring extends around the ship, and immersing a fire elemental in water is more likely to CAUSE exhaustion than to reduce it. You could shut down the engine or certainly crash-land on water in an emergency, but I don’t see airships as being designed with water in mind.

  8. I know that not every NPC needs to be fleshed out, but with how recognizable the Wright Brothers are for our references to aviation, are the big names of the first airship team/crew now cemented in history going forward? Is there some lucky Lyrandar heir who gets the mantle of First Airship Pilot?

    • On the subject of famous aviators akin to those of our world, I could see a Billy Mitchell esque figure working in Eberron: A man of decently high rank whose bold ideas on the future of airships annoy enough people at the top (who strongly disagree with his ideas) they pin the blame of a random accident on him as an excuse to excoriate him.

  9. I always thought tbh that multiple rings would not just be for levitation and thrust but rather also to keep the elementals from getting tired. So with this more kanon version of Elemental Exhaustion I think that you could perhaps have an airship that could effectively fly forever if you just had enough elementals so that one can be active while the others are being kept calm and resting.

    Beyond that, how do you feel about the idea in Magic of Eberron of a group among Zil Elemental Binders that focus on getting consent from the elementals? Do you think an airship pilot could slowly being to form a relation with the elemental?

    On MM3 there is talk of experiments in binding alternate elementals, such as Storm elementals and Omnimentals. Eberron elementals seem to be spread in so many different planes; are the Zil binding methods focused on Lamanian elementals more so than those of Kythri or Fernia?

    Do you use elementals beyond the classic four elements in your campaigns? I see elementals as incarnations of the basic building blocks of physical reality so I’d allow something like a radiant, storm or cold elemental easily.

    • Beyond that, how do you feel about the idea in Magic of Eberron of a group among Zil Elemental Binders that focus on getting consent from the elementals? Do you think an airship pilot could slowly being to form a relation with the elemental?

      I’ve added an answer from a previous article related to the Power of Purity to the end of this article. I didn’t work on Magic of Eberron and in general, the Power of Purity doesn’t mesh with my interpretation of raw elementals. My article on the Gnomes of Lorghalen is more how I’d present gnomes working with unbound elementals, and suggests “… a fascination with the Lorghalen stonesinging techniques led to the rise of the Power of Purity movement in Zilargo.”

      Beyond that, part of the point of my depiction of the process of piloting is that it DOES involve mental contact with the elemental. It’s sort of like riding a horse. It’s possible to ride a horse without having any affection or empathy for it. But if the rider tries to empathize and bond with the mount, they may have a very different experience. I think the BEST airship pilots do develop a relationship with the ship, and I’d probably give such a pilot advantage on any checks tied to the ship. That’s not sufficient for the Power of Purity or Lorghalen, who’d point out that the elemental still has NO CHOICE. But it’s still possible to develop a bond.

  10. Is there a sterotypical airship crew and/or airship pilot outfit in Eberron? Like how early Earth aviators are seen as wearing (and often did) a leather jacket, leather cap with large earflags (sometimes paired with a scarf), and goggles.

    • It’s a good question. I WOULDN’T see the standard aviator outfit, since the wind wards protect airship captains from wind and cold; however, something similar would make sense for skystaff riders, as they do have to deal with the same sort of wind and cold as WWI aviators.

      Looking to airship outfits, the logical question is what sort of outfit they would need to perform their job. The most common elemental is fire. It could be that topside crew do have smoked goggles, because the ring is surely quite bright; and they might have heat-resistant clothing if they work close to the ring. Those are my only thoughts at the moment, but I’m curious to hear what other people think.

  11. While on the subject of elemental bound vehicles, I’d greatly appreciate lore on the specifics of elemental land carts and other land vehicles? Would there be a similar dragonshard placement to spread it from the engine across the axel and tires, would there be any more advancement compared to the airships since it’s in the hands of the artificers of cannith and binders of zil so less design disputes and trade secret contract arrangements limiting the sharing of information would occur and there might be a gearbox/transmission system to shift gears, or in what ways does it differ from the wheel of wind and water? Do you have design or material specifications for the cart as a whole, I don’t think I’ve ever seen any images for them…

    • I’m afraid that’s outside the scope of this article. The 3.5 Explorers Handbook sourcebook does have statistics for elemental land carts, though I don’t think it has a picture. In general, they’re supposed to be extremely rare; as noted in the Arcane Industry article, the basic idea of Eberron is that we have an analogue to the railroad, but that people don’t have cars yet. With this in mind, my inclination is to say that there ISN’T yet an established model; that every one encountered is a unique prototype.

      One possible point of confusion on this is that my adventure “Shadows of the Last War” includes an elemental land cart, but that wasn’t in my first draft. My original draft of the adventure involved a lightning runner, a stagecoach-sized vehicle designed to run on the lightning rail. So I’ve never actually used an elemental land cart in any of my campaigns; in my Eberron, that’s a development that’s still just around the corner.

  12. Given that the Power of Purity has a somewhat similar outlook to the Lorghalen gnomes while still going about their business of creating these elemental cores and whatnot, would you have Power of Purity built airships function any differently to the standard Zilargo/Twelve built ones?

    • I didn’t work on Magic of Eberron and disagree with a number of the basic assumptions of the Power of Purity. I like them as a recent fringe group that is still trying to develop alternate techniques—but not as an established force that already HAS reliable alternative methods and that is actively stealing Lyrandar contracts. The biggest point is that in my opinion, PoP techniques wouldn’t be remotely interchangeable with traditional Zil binding. Lyrandar airships run off of an elemental core that uses a bound elemental. If you have an elemental core, the elemental is BOUND, period; there’s no “nicer way” to make a core work. If you want to work with the elemental as an equal, then DON’T BIND IT; this is what we see with Lorghalen, where they have ships that work WITH elementals but don’t actually bind the elemental to the ship. So could the Power of Purity create an airship? Sure! But it would be COMPLETELY DIFFERENT TECHNOLOGY than a Lyrandar bound-elemental vessel; I’d imagine something like a dirigible where an UNBOUND air elemental willingly hangs out in the balloon and provides lift and force. But Lyrandar vessels work off the basis of a bound elemental that is then stretched throughout the ship; there’s no “friendly” way to make that system work.

      So I’m fine with the broad idea of the Power of Purity as a Zil group that is using the precedent set by Lorghalen to promote the idea of actively working with elementals instead of binding them, but I disagree with the idea that they’ve found a “cruelty-free” method of binding. This further ties to my basic point that while elementals may be sentient, I see them as DEEPLY ALIEN BEINGS; negotiating with an elemental is a very different thing than negotiating with a human or typical demon. It’s not like you could make a contract that says “You’ll be bound for five years and then you’ll be released and get a donut” when they don’t understand the concept of time, or of being bound, or donuts. The Lorghalen article says “The elementals of Lamannia are alien creatures whose thought processes and perception of reality are quite different from those of the humanoids of Eberron. Rather than binding elementals, the Lorghalen stonesingers manipulate elementals and natural forces by communing directly with the spirit and convincing it to help.”

  13. Maybe a boring question, but in mechnical 5e terms, how do you see what is necessary to have proficiency about navigate/pilot/do functions on Air Ships?

    For vehicles, we have water and land. It is more about how you prefer approach this. I could see someone use vehicles (water) for it, or creating “vehicles (air) ” category. In same time, vehicles (air) would sound for me something that would be for mount winged animals and looks strange to me a category that allows you mount a hippogriff well and pilot a Air Ship…in my mind vehicle (water) it is probably more like a Air Ship then this. I don’t know, maybe you just give it as extra in background and never thought about it, but it was a question that happens in my last table.

    • The House Agent background in Eberron: Rising from the Last War has a list of tool proficiencies for each house, and Lyrandar gets “Navigator’s tools and vehicles (air and sea)” so we can surmise vehicles (air) is indeed a category!

      • It is true. I completely forgot this mention. But still is strange to me that Air Ship, small flying boats and winged creatures are all in the same category, but Joseph vision is a good answer for most of it.

        • Pretty sure Vehicles proficiencies don’t apply to mounts. Closest thing it would apply to is animal drawn vehicles. You aren’t supposed to use vehicle proficiency on stuff like horses and hippogriffs.

    • My home rules are that small air vehicles (eg a Soarsled, Skycoach) use land vehicle proficiency because they’re more analagous to a carriage or chariot, but large air vehicles like an airship use water vehicle proficiency. If you want mounted cavalry, that’s still going to be Wisdom [Animal Handling]

    • In my opinion, the skills required to operate an airship effectively are quite different from those tied to operating a seafaring vessel. As others have noted, the House Agent background for Lyrandar does indeed include Air Vehicle proficiency. I’d allow someone to use water vessel proficiency, but I’d impose disadvantage on any ability checks they make.

  14. How do airships (or normal ships for that matter) actually fight eachother without cannons being a thing? Balista isn’t really going to wreck a ship (Roman scorpio can’t even penetrate a thick wooden door) and trebuchet against a mobile target on a mobile platform doesn’t seem it would work that well. The two airship fights in official Eberron material (Whisper of the Vampire Blade, and Voyage of the Golden Dragon) I’m aware of are both pure boarding actions and neither indicates the ship is actually armed (beyond its crew) in any way. I presume ramming is an option, but that can’t be the ONLY way.

    Alchemical bolts? Casters on the crew casting spells against the other ship? Commanding the elementals to do battle?

    • Enchanted ammunition would be how, making the others ship explode. Possibly self reloading like the arcane ballista in Volo I believe.

      Or siege staves as per ExE, there was a anti ship one. Or long rod too if they are close.

    • I think the answer is that as of 998 YK, Airships currently don’t fight each other. Magic is going to have to be the answer, but how you make that work depends on the aesthetic you prefer. Maybe it’s enchanted Ballista, maybe it’s a canon based on the *Catapult* spell, maybe it’s flinging earth elementals like the Lorghali!

    • How do airships (or normal ships for that matter) actually fight each other without cannons being a thing?

      As others have mentioned, airships DON’T fight each other; the only airships that exist in significant numbers are Lyrandar’s civilian fleet, and that hasn’t existed for long. Air to air combat is thus still a developing field. When it does, keep in mind all the forms of arcane artillery introduced in Exploring Eberron, both siege staffs and enhanced artillery. We’ve also talked about other more exotic forms of artillery, such as Lorghalen cannonballs and the livewood dryad ballistas of Aerenal.

  15. You mention about unorthodox airships in this article; what’re your views on the Golden Dragon (from the 3.5 module Voyage of the Golden Dragon)? How would you fit it into Your Eberron, or suggest someone incorporate it into their game?

  16. What about hot air powered vehicles like hot air balloons or the war ballon from acquisitions inc, would they have a place in Eberron? They would not be anywhere near as maneuverable but could land anywhere. You could even use an elemental to power it.

    • We’ve never suggested that such things exist in significant quantities, but this is the point of “Unorthodox Airships”; if you want someone to be developing dirigibles, go for it.

  17. I have a question about the altitudes at which airships travel. The need for the wind wards to portect from cold, and provide breathable air suggests that airships typically fly at heights at least equal to the taller terrestrial mountains, if not stratospheric levels (assuming that the variation in atmosphere with altitude is about the same on Eberron as on Earth.) If so, why do they fly at those levels? Obviously it’s not a question of air traffic control with other airships, since there are so few of them aloft in any given area except pobbibly approching the docking towers in the largest cities. Is it because they can achieve better speeds in thinner air? Or is it to avoid flying creatures who are more prevalent at lower altittudes? Or to fly above most weather and turbulence? Speaking of which, do Lyrandar crews use any storm-controlling magic to help ensure smooth flights, or do they use their skills and magic for predicting weather to steer around storms and the like?

    • If so, why do they fly at those levels?
      They don’t have to, and if they’re operating without wind wards they can’t. The main idea is the ability to fly over inclement weather and out of the reach of flying creatures; for that matter, even skystaff gangs would likely have trouble operating at such heights. It likewise was my thought that they could achieve better speeds in thinner air. So it’s not an absolute requirement, it’s an option that they have.

      Speaking of which, do Lyrandar crews use any storm-controlling magic to help ensure smooth flights…
      Yes and no. They don’t have the power to actually change the weather — again, under 5E terms, that requires a Storm Spire, which is a huge, static eldritch machine — but that again is one of the primary purposes of the wind wards, to protect the vessel from turbulence and weather. So an airship can fly through a storm with minimal ill effects because the wind wards disperse the effects of it — though in the case of a powerful storm system, they could also fly over it.

      • The Wind Whisperers capturing lightning in a bottle like the crew of the Caspartine in Stardust—perhaps with the help of the Lorghalen gnomes—would be a neat way to get an answer to both the questions of “how does ship-to-ship combat happen on airships” and how a non-Lyrandar unorthodox airship might protect itself from inclement weather.

  18. I imagine a lot of the control setups are similar between airships and water-bound vessels regarding directing the elemental and how the elemental is connected?

    Are the focusing nodes embedded into the ship and elemental veins, or are they like suspended objects that you can access all sides of? If one completely needs replacement is it easy to slot in a new one?

    • Are the focusing nodes embedded into the ship and elemental veins, or are they like suspended objects that you can access all sides of? If one completely needs replacement is it easy to slot in a new one?

      They’re embedded into the ship. Purely physically, yes, you can pull one out and completely replace it, but it’s not as simple as replacing a battery; there’s arcane power flowing through them and handling them improperly can be dangerous to the person tampering with them or damage the node. So it’s not complicated but it definitely requires training; likewise, you need that training to be able to easily identify that one IS malfunctioning, and whether it can be repaired in position or needs to be replaced.

      I imagine a lot of the control setups are similar between airships and water-bound vessels regarding directing the elemental and how the elemental is connected?

      Similar, certainly, but not identical; notably, I wouldn’t have the focusing nodes of an elemental airship be interchangeable with those used in an elemental galleon. While there are similarities in the way elemental energy is channeled, there are many differences in the systems used on each vessel. A sea-faring elemental galleon doesn’t require wind wards and isn’t just generating jet-engine-style thrust (I say sea-faring, because the “swamp boat” style river vessel does somewhat work that way). I’m not going to go deeper into it here because elemental galleons are a significant topic that require a deeper dive to address properly. But an elemental galleon isn’t just “an airship in the water”; the two are quite different, which also explains why it took centuries to make the leap from water to air. So there’s enough similarities between the two that an arcane technician uses the same training to work with both of them, and they have similar infrastructure — but the parts used aren’t entirely interchangeable.

      • Awesome, thanks! I’d imagine the nodes are even interchangeable between different elementals as well. Like a node used on an air elemental won’t work right with a fire elemental.

        • I’d agree. An airship is designed to work with a specific type of elemental. You can’t just swap the fire core for an air core and manifest a different ring; it’s possible a ship could be retrofitted to manifest a different elemental, but it would take some doing.

  19. There have been references to submersible vessels created during the Last War. In 998 YK, has anyone tested an elemental (presumbly water elemental) powered submarine? It would need the same kind of 3-D steering as an airship, but the protective magics wouldn’t be so much like wind vanes as sull reinforcement atgainst pressure – assuming you’re not building out of adamantine. You’d need magics to provide breathable air and control its pressure; some sort of skrying device probably in lieu of periscope or sonar. I would think it would be buidable with the arcane technology availabe to the Five Nations, but the question is, would there be a market for such a thing, with the deep seas controlled by the sahaugin and other subsea races?

    • Elemental submersibles are described in the Explorer’s Handbook and Grasp of the Emerald Claw, and one appears in my novel The Fading Dream. In my opinion they are still highly experimental and not entirely reliable, and not yet something that is being mass produced. So there’s definitely interest, both as a weapon of war and as a tool for interacting with undersea civilizations, but the technology is still being perfected.

  20. Could you mount a Docent on a Wheel of Wind and Water to circumvent the need for a pilot to constantly be present? Let the Docent take the load for the pilot?

    • In THEORY? Maybe. But keep in mind that right now they can’t even allow an unmarked human or warforged to use a WoWaW, let alone connect one to a docent (I’ve suggest that player characters could do it, but that’s because they are PLAYER CHARACTERS and thus able to do things that should be impossible). Essentially, this is the point that this is an evolving form of science that’s less than a decade old. A docent autopilot sounds like a great idea – though Lyrandar would likely resist it as it would threaten their monopoly — but right now no one has any idea how to make that connection work.

  21. With the airship and older aviation methods, are airborne manifest zones. Those that don’t touch the ground level. Something exploited or avoided by airships when found?

    • With “the age of flight” largely only just begining, I think that this is a largely unexplored frontier. At the moment I think they are more likely to be hazards then helpful — as with the idea that hitting a Lamannian zone could release the elemental — but now that reliable flight exists people could start looking for ways to explore them.

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