Monday, June 6, 2016

Drow Flying Ships

So, I recently ran a session of 5E, and had a great time. I’m using the “campaign” as a testing ground for some ideas that have been percolating for various periods of time in my overstuffed brain. Among these are a couple of new races (one of which actually got used), flying ships, and an alternate way of viewing Drow culture. These last two elements are tied together, and provided some really cool elements in my session.

One of my players was curious as to how the ships achieved flight (these are standard water ships that levitate, and are propelled by wind currents). I gave him a vague answer along the lines of “I don’t have the details worked out, but it has something to do with a Drow’s innate ability to levitate.” Well, I finally sat down and wrote my thoughts out. I present them below for your praise, criticism, or indifference.

The Drow and their Flying Ships

When the Drow lived almost exclusively in the underdark, they mined a metal known as adamantite. This metal was as strong as forged steel, but half the weight. It also had the peculiar property of being highly susceptible to magic, and adamantite items could retain minor magical properties without the lengthy and expensive process of enchantment. The downside was that adamantite breaks down rather quickly under direct sunlight. Even moonlight has a deteriorating effect on the metal. As such, items often disintegrated after a few weeks of exposure to the sun. This was not normally a problem for the Drow, many of whom would live for centuries without ever seeing the surface. However, that all changed when the Elemental War destroyed much of their home realm.

The Drow of today are splintered into three factions. The Skybourne are those who have embraced the destruction of their dark homelands as a sign of change, and have moved into the light of the surface, and are attempting to integrate themselves with the races there. They are most known for their flying ships, which is an extension of their desire to embrace the long-forgotten sun in all ways. However, in order to achieve this they are, ironically, dependent to an extent on the second faction of Drow, the Deep Elves.

Although they no longer bare surface-dwellers the pure black hatred fomented by Lloth for generations (though they are slow to trust surface elves in many cases), these Drow refuse to adapt to the sun, and have instead moved deeper into the underdark, away from the regions of elemental destruction. There they live much as they had in centuries past, though struggling to find purpose in the absence of their deceased matron deity. However, they have begun openly trading with small sectors of the surface world, and many have found a lucrative income in supplying the Skybourne with shipments of adamantite to fuel their flying ships.

The third faction is much more elusive, and really only exists in second-hand accounts and rumors. Deemed the “Lost Elves,” these Drow have retreated even further into the underdark, and the speculation among the Deep Elves is that they have fallen into barbarism after the collapse of their societies with the passing of Lloth. Some among the Skybourne worry that the Lost will one day rise up and bring war to the underdark in an attempt to reassert their dominance. The Deep Elves are vigilant against this, but their numbers are relatively few.

The Adamantite Engine
Skybourne ships are propelled by mechanisms infused with magic, and keyed to the Drow’s innate levitation ability. Essentially, the Engine becomes an extension of the Drow pilot’s levitate ability, allowing him or her to control the vertical axis of the ship through a combination of willpower and a steering mechanism. To protect it from deterioration, the Engine is housed in an air-tight casing that is filled with a gaseous mist, also mined from the underdark. In this manner, an Adamantite Engine can last for decades without the need for replacement. The magical properties do cause some deterioration on the metal, but only at a minute fraction of the rate to which they would be subject under the sun.

The biggest danger to an Adamantite Engine is if the casing is damaged. Release of the surrounding gases can cause the magic to go awry, and if the control of the ship’s levitation is not closely monitored, the ship can either rise at a rapid rate, or plummet towards the ground. Should the casing become damaged enough that the engine is exposed to sunlight, the engine will begin to deteriorate rapidly. If the casing can be repaired in time, the damage can be minimized, only shaving a few years off of the life of the mechanisms.

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