|Invented by||Various Dwarves|
A pinnacle of modern Alorian innovation, Airships are the literal sky-ships of Ellador and its surrounding lands. Able to bridge great, inhospitable tracts of land and sea alike, they quickly rose to the mundane in their homeland, but only recently has technology improved enough to allow these machines to travel over the seas to new environments. This has provoked a mixed response from Ailor, primarily, who still have a budding and uneasy trust for the machines. Dwarves, however, continue to innovate to this day, with wildly varied results.
The invention of airships is undeniably accredited to the Dwarves, though a single, specific inventor is hard to name, despite how recent their invention is. Thought to be inspired by hot air balloon lifts in Dwarven mines, the first airships were small, had low range, and most importantly, had a tendency to drop out of the sky. If they could even get thirty feet off the ground, that is. At these stages, notoriety of the technology to Ailor, or indeed any other race, was none. Dwarven experimentation was and still is extremely common, but rarely results in an actual breakthrough.
It was around 283 AC that the first successful, and technically commercial airship was constructed. In an Elladorian town whose Dwarf population had skyrocketed since the Dakkar invasion, a trio of intuitive Dwarven shipwrights crafted a small, but well-designed craft over the course of three years using their own funds. Quickly named “Brynhild’s Grace” after their mother on completion, the ship was tested, and for the first time in history, was also landed successfully.
Like all early airships, Brynhild’s Grace was short lived, but drew much-needed attention to the budding new technology. It completed somewhere between ten to thirty “Voyages” (Though in reality, it only circled the town’s borders) and brought modest shares of curious scholars, engineers, and tourists alike to the town. Ailor interest was finally piqued, at least amongst the common folk of Ellador.
These early airships, whether primarily by Dwarf or Ailor design, all had several key traits. Steam Power was absolutely necessary for them to function. These early airships used hot air to fill their balloons, and the raging fires to produce the steam doubled as a means to heat air, with the engine itself acting as a pump to keep the balloon filled, or to allow some air to escape in order to descend. Propulsion was achieved with side-mounted sails, which were fragile and struggled under strong winds, but could be retracted and extended independently to allow the craft to turn. All of these features improved as the years went by, and saw their peak at the transitional period around 299 AC.
Around 296 AC, entirely steam-powered craft began to appear. These were infamous for their coal usage, but didn’t rely on the wind for propulsion. Instead, these crafts used large, cloth-spanned propellers to move, and were widely known for their loud, foreboding rumble and bulky profiles.
Regardless of the type of ship, airships saw common use in Ellador as trade ships, and some even saw conversion into gunships, though these only saw effective use against other airships. Their improvement slowed to a crawl for a few years, with quiet, but constant improvements to design, airships began to have the range to cross the small seas that separated Ellador and Jorrhildr. From there, Ithania was only a short trip.
Only in late 303 AC did another significant breakthrough come. Loftoren Gas, a gas of decent stability with properties lighter than air, was discovered by the Dwarves. This gas was quickly put to use in Dwarven airships, and by 304 AC, Ailor airships have adopted the gas as well. Steam power is still necessary to pump gas in or out of the balloon, but now the majority of an airship’s power can be diverted to their propellers. Modern airships are leagues faster and have better range than even those just a few years older than them.
Outside of hull shape, size, and intended use, airships are split up into four subtypes. Some are obsolete by modern standards, and others fit certain niches.
The earliest airships are the aptly named “Steam-and-Sail” ships. Their design is simple, with only modest reliance on steam power. A small engine is still needed to fill the balloon and heat the air, but propulsion comes from sails. Fuel consumption is low for these ships, and these were the favoured vessels for Ellador merchants until the discovery of Loftoren Gas.
In 296 AC came the ships powered solely by steam power. These were plainly named “Steam Ships”, and are known for their infamous, thundering rumble. These ships are often faster than Steam-and-Sail ships and have bulkier hulls, but consume fuel at a much, much faster rate. These ships were and still are popular for more urgent rolls, including combative needs.
The most common modern airship is the “Gas-and-Steam” ship, which use Loftoren Gas to produce lift, but rely on steam power for propulsion. These ships are the fastest of the lot, and sport a decent efficiency too. Gas-and-Steam ships can cross the sea from Ithania to Regalia, and are quickly phasing out plain steam ships, which are easily converted to support Loftoren Gas.
The final, and one of the rarest breeds of airship is the “Gas-and-Sail” ship. These are sometimes adopted by the boldest and most ambitious of traders. While not the fastest ships, Gas-and-Sail ships are eerily silent and incredibly fuel efficient. Steam power is still used to fill or empty the balloon, but in sustained flight, steam is barely used at all. With a sufficient payload of fuel, it is speculated that these ships could make the journey to Farah’deen, but no such journey has ever been attempted.
Airship crews vary wildly, depending on the class of the airship. As a general rule, though, airship crews are smaller and more focused than those of a sea ship.
The most common and unique roll on any airship are the engineers. Numbers can vary, with usually only one required on any ship that utilizes sails, but two or three being preferable for a ship more reliant on steam power. Sailed ships also require a handful of deckhands at all times to work at the sails’ rigging, though on steam powered ships, the need for adjustable rigging is minimal if not nonexistent.
Other rolls are fairly straight across the board. One or two pilots are always necessary, as are navigators, coal shovellers, and gunners, if the ship is armed. Crews vary in size, but rarely reach above 40, unless the ship has sails, in which case the number is around 60. Airship crews are famed for their specialization, but also their necessity to multitask. It’s not often that a gunner will know how to pilot the ship on which he’s stationed, for example. The bravest crew members are also expected to be “Patchers” if the need arises. This was a roll devised by Ailor, as Dwarves had trouble climbing their balloons. For this role, a crewman must climb a balloon’s rigging, and potentially onto the balloon itself to locate a rupture and patch it with a strip of airtight fabric and a needle and thread. For this reason, most airship crewmen are taught to sew.
Combat aboard airships is rare. Most airships don’t carry weaponry purely due to the unlikeliness of an attack. Airships are not used in warfare, but that hasn’t prevented Dwarves from designing certain airships for the task, or, more commonly, converting failed merchant vessels. Traditional cannons are too heavy and limiting for use on a platform with three-dimensional movement, so instead, the Dwarves designed a new, lighter cannon that could be mounted in a way to allow three-dimensional aiming. These were aptly named “Swivel cannons” and feature as the exclusive armament used aboard airships.
Swivel cannons are much lighter than their larger cousins, but are still too heavy for one man to move. Nonetheless they do allow for free aiming in all directions while mounted. Too light to punch through any sturdy wooden hull, combat involving these weapons is strategic and must be planned for carefully. Only two types of ammunition are commonly used: The round shot, or the grape shot. The former is used to target weak points in an enemy ship’s construction. Propellor mounts or exposed engine casing, for example. The Grapeshot is reserved for decimating enemy crew members.
Despite the stereotype, balloons are rarely targeted during airship combat. A shot-sized hole in a balloon will take upwards of an hour to deflate the balloon entirely, and Patchers can easily remedy the damage. Most airship combat is also initiated for plunder on top of this, and sinking another valuable airship with expensive cargo is rarely profitable.
Maintenance wise, airships are fairly forgiving. With no sea to gnarl and chew at their hulls, their woodwork remains fairly untouched unless exposed to cannonfire. However, all airships require fuel in varying amounts, as well as clean water. The more steam power a ship utilizes, the more coal it will consume. Water is consumed more as well, but to a less exponential degree. Balloon fabric may also need to be replaced as time goes on. Patching is a viable temporary solution, but a fresh balloon holds air far more reliably that one sporting a dozen battle scars. Frequently replacing these can be expensive, however, and it’s not uncommon to see airships sporting heavily patched balloons. Airships are famed for their resilience to cold climates, which perpetuated their popularity in Ellador.
Airships are still a young and budding technology, and so far have only found manufacture at the hands of Ailor and Dwarves. Ailor-crafted ships were entirely Steam-and-Sail craft until the recent discovery of Loftoren gas. Since then, Ailor-made ships have began to expand into new territories. This has proved frighteningly innovative by Ailor standards, but the ingenuity seems to have paid off, which some of the riches noble families purchasing decadent pleasurecraft to cause a stir. These ships and standard trade airships, however, make up the extent of the Ailor spectrum.
Dwarven ships, on the other hand, continue to innovate to this day, with the same hit-and-miss results they received twenty years ago. Warships are constantly proposed, but prove to be only effective against other airships. New designs that barely resemble traditional ships have even begun to emerge, but so early and so unsteady in their development, they receive little to no attention.
Outside of these communities, Airships are a foreign curiosity. With the limited range of Airships, they rarely fall into particularly foreign hands. The extent of their adoption by foreign races is usually the use of wreckages that land in Jorrhildr as shelters by its Url, Velheim Ailor and less intelligent Thylan inhabitants.
- Crew members who frequently work on steam-powered craft are famed in Ellador for their powerful voices. Due to the noise these craft generate, the crewmembers are often forced to yell to communicate, which helps develop a powerful set of lungs.
- A Dwarven lord once had his ‘Fleet’ (Three ships) painted with vertical black and yellow stripes, with the belief that with both the appearance and booming rumble of a giant bee, they would inspire fear and awe in his rivals. Instead, the trio of ships was nearly universally mocked. Eventually, the mockery grew so humiliating that the Lord had the trio of ships disassembled for parts.