Monday, July 31, 2023

Baroque ancient airship wreckages

The boat was abandoned and empty. Its motors sent up slow violet motes through a rift in the deck: small worms of light that clung to the metal surfaces, fastened on Hornwrack’s mail shirt, and clustered round the steel fillet which bound back his hair. Further in, navigation instruments ticked and sang; he could hear them. It was thick with dust in there. 

-from A Storm of Wings, by M. John Harrison


Forget steampunky dirigibles. These are the grand antediluvian sky-vessels constructed and used by the long-lost, far-advanced ancient civilization that casts its shadow over your setting. 

Cost 10 times that of a seafaring vessel of comparable size. Cannot be bought; instead, must be built. Blueprints are required for construction, the rarity of which are comparable to treasure maps and high-level spell scrolls. 

An airship takes one week to build per 1000 gp of its base price. Given the strange and at times inscrutable workings of ancient airships, construction can regularly run into setbacks and mishaps. Each week of construction, there is a 1:6 chance of an issue occurring, necessitating another week and another 1000 gp before the project can be completed. The chance of failure can be mitigated for each piece harvested from a crashed airship (see below)—every curio salvaged ensures a week where no mishap occurs. 

Alternatively, if the PCs have enough clout with dwarves, they can be deployed to work on an airship using the Dwarf Science procedure. 

Prices and times can further be reduced if an intact airship is refurbished.

Airship wreckage salvaging procedure

Put an airship wreckage or several somewhere out of the way on your map. Good fodder for rumors, treasure maps, random hex map stocking, and so on. 

Everyone attempting to salvage an airship ruin makes a search roll every hour. Search rolls here are the same for ones in dungeons—roll 1d6 and on a 1 you find something, 1-2 if you're an elf or dwarf. On a success, they roll on the table below. There are 3d6 total items that can be salvaged from an airship wreck, rolled in advance.

  1. A sail or tarp covering. Completely frictionless on one side. 1. 5x5 2. 10x5 3. 10x10 4. 10x20 
  2. A cloudy flexible tube, 1d10+10 feet long. Nearly indestructible, invulnerable to corrosion, and completely nonconductive to heat or cold. 
  3. A set of 1d6 gears of variable size made out of iridescent metal. Fitting them next to each other causes them to spin on their own. The gears range from the size of a coin to the size of a wagon wheel. 
  4. A translucent cobalt-blue crystal shard. Floats in the air as though unaffected by the earth’s gravity. 
  5. 1d4 gasbags filled with luminiferous aether. Opening one fills a 30x30’ area with opaque, shimmering fog that casts light in an additional 30’ radius and dissipates in one turn. Inhaling it makes you giddy and lightheaded. 
  6. 1d10x10 yards of string-like filament made from alchemical glass. Nearly invisible and tough to cut through, but can be shattered with only a bit of blunt force. 
  7. Hollow mithril rods from the ship’s frame. Each as strong as a crowbar but as light as a feather. 
  8. 1d4+1 black metal disks each roughly the size of a plate. They act as powerful magnets, but only attract and repel each other. 
  9. A peculiar, oversized astrolabe covered in verdigris. A dried crust has formed around where the sections of the mechanisms meet, marking where some internal fluid vital to the operation of the device escaped. 
  10. Shards of the ship’s crystalline hull; complicated shatter patterns suggest a crystal structure found nowhere in nature. 
  11. The ships’s machine brain, the size of a large crate thoroughly greebled with esoteric mechanical components. Clings to a form of artificial sentience already alien to us, made even more so by the senescence of untold centuries. Yellow light pours out fitfully from cracks in its warbling chassis. Very cumbersome, but mitigates the chance of setbacks for three weeks instead of one if used for airship construction. 
  12. A volatile engine core encased in a cage of faulty stabilizers. Angrily spews fast-moving sparks when jostled, each one flitting about urgently before popping in a burst of light and heat. Sufficient impact causes it to combust in an explosion equivalent to a fireball dealing 6 dice of damage. 
  13. A finial kite, smelling of ozone. Standing near it makes your mouth taste copper and your hair stand on end. Attracts all lightning and electrical discharge in a wide area. 
  14. A long pinion with a sabrelike edge. Completely rigid when cutting against wind, otherwise as flexible as a length of fabric.
  15. A plate-sized gyroscope contraption, flat on the top, with a long needle protruding from a central gap on the bottom. The contraption will always stay upright and balanced as long as it is placed on its needle tip, regardless of if it is moved or if any weight is placed atop it. 
  16. Spigotted keg filled with a heavy orange gas. The gas is almost as dense as water, and can easily support anything buoyant as long as the weight is evenly distributed. The keg holds 15 “gallons” of gas. 
  17. An energy cannon charge; looks like a long crystal cylinder housing a lightning bolt, shifting and wavering in slow-motion. Can function as a wand of lightning bolts usable by anyone, but has a 1:4 chance of exploding each time it's used. 
  18. Six plate-sized golden rings joined together to form a cube, within which is housed a delicate assemblage of wires, gears, and springs of various materials. 
  19. Pressurized tank filled with quicksilver lubricant, dented on one side. Despite being toxic, the lubricant can extinguish fires, melt ice, and prevent metal from degrading. 
  20. Intact crystal navigation pane provides a real-time heads-up display of altitude, direction, bearing, and other navigational measurements, all in the severe lettering of the ancients.
Among the other things searchers may find are cracked quartz displays, acid-chewed structural panels, dust-choked machinery, crushed fuselage, charred casings, shattered instruments, rotting metal, and everything else too broken to salvage. 

It’s almost certainly the case that there are other important and valuable ship components present in the ruins that the PCs may pass over simply by not being able to recognize what exactly they are, or too buried to find or too dirty to recognize. The parts listed here are merely the things that they may find that might provide some immediate curiosity or have some readily apparent use or value.

Airships wreckages are, predictably, dangerous to explore. When a character rolls a 6 on their search roll, a complication occurs.
  1. Chemical spray. Save vs. breath or take 1d8 damage and be blinded for that many hours. 
  2. Ooze leakage. Green slime spews from a wall or ceiling. 
  3. Radiation wave. Save vs. poison or lose 1d3 points of Constitution immediately and again each week, unless treated with a Neutralize Poison spell. 
  4. Electricity arc. Save vs. wands or take 1d8 damage. Characters wearing metal armor take double damage, half on a successful save. 
  5. Fume miasma. Save vs. spells or be put to sleep for 2d6 hours, dreaming fitfully of frenzied lights filling a night sky and crumbling cities falling eternally into an endless void. 
  6. Structural failure. Save vs. paralysis or take 1d10 damage from a falling bit of hull. On taking 6 or more damage, the character is pinned, and can only be released by a combined strength score of 18 or more. 
  7. Combustion. As per a Fireball cast by a MU of 8th level. The number of salvageable items remaining in the wreck is reduced by 1d4. 
  8. Something else is creeping around here. Roll on the local encounter table.