It's a fantasy game, so how about a fantastical way to travel around? Who wouldn't like to soar high above the ground, freed of the tyranny of gravity... but not everyone is born with wings or the capacity to work powerful magic. Airships are here described as a vessel that sails through currents of air, although they may have some kind of engine and be capable of powered flight, thus making them one of the fastest modes of transportation around (if you discount the likes of teleport spells).
Starting with airship construction, and then discussing crews and aerial movement (not forgetting aerial combat, of course), this book addresses the equipment required, the role of airships in trade, making appropriate characters (with new feats, skills, and prestige classes), and the use of magic in the air, rounding off with sample airships and a collection of jargon to make the characters sound the part!
Building airships is a complex, costly and time-consuming process, but the construction chapter takes you through the process. Size is based on 'tonnage', a rather abstract concept that refers to volumne rather than weight and which is based on ten-foot cubes. There's lots of detail here and parties who want to build their own ship - rather than look around a used-airship lot - will soon find there are loads of factors (and expenses) to deal with. The engines are handwaved delightfully, apart from mention that spellcasters are needed to manufacture them, there's no clear indication of how they actually function... and a wide range of fuels from wood-burning to direct magical input may be used. Not at the same time, of course, you need the right engine for the fuel source you want to use. You can reduce the power you need by installing a dirigible to provide some lift, but unless you are content to drift with the wind, you will still need an engine, albeit not so powerful a one. Various means of steering and navigating your airship are also discussed, and a plethora of airship-mounted weapons.
It seems that airships need quite a lot of crew, and a section discusses the various jobs that need to be done - he average adventuring party is going to need some help! We then get deep into the game mechanics of airship movemement, with the familiar three forms of movement: tactical, local and overland... but of course there's the essential difference that an airship moves in three dimensions, not two. Plenty here to help ypu understand how that works, but it can take some time before it becomes instinctive, and of course there are various things that can go wrong... and that's all before you engage in combat! Now that does get exciting, and difficult to manage. Like combat at sea, it can be hard to integrate individual character actions into the overall melee.
Getting a bit more peaceful again, there's a look at overland travel by air and the various ways in which you can navigate: by looking at landmarks on the groud, dead reckoning, and celestial navigation. The introduction of airships to a campaign world can lead to a profound change in mapping of that world... but there are still hazards like getting lost and coping with bad weather to contend with. After a brief discussion of aerial equipment (mostly designed to help you and your kit from falling off the airship!), there's more detailed discussion of how to conduct a trading business using an airship. This can all get very complex and detailed, and you might want to run a game centred around an aerial trading company... or you may prefer to abstract it to run in the background whilst the party engages in other activities more to their taste.
For those wishing to spend much time aloft, there are some professional and craft skills as well as an array of feats to choose from. There are a few prestige classes, and an extensive section about magic in the air including new spells as well as novel airborne applications of existing ones. As mentioned earlier, the book rounds off with some sample airships, ready to use.
This is an interesting area to explore, but one to be used with caution. The introduction of airships will cause a profound change to your campaign world, even if the party doesn't want to make regular use of them. If your world is already established, you'd also have to give thought as to how this fairly mature technology has suddenly appeared - perhaps a rift to another world, or an as-yet undiscovered continent on the other side of the world... That said, they do provide for some entertaining concepts and a chance for swashbuckling high jinks that is unparalleled!
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Reviewed: 5 September 2019