Zeppelins are something Jason is really interested in in my campaign. He has unholy dreams of a fleet of airships he sails through the skies with holds full of Goebleen paratroopers armed to the teeth with grenades and guns ready to dive bomb his enemies. It's a glorious dream. He expressed a curiosity about airships in The Known World, so I figured I might talk a little bit about them. This may end up as a two part post. Depends on how much I write before midnight, we just finished gaming and I have been slacking all weekend. Sorry. No one has ever expressed an interest in owning an airship before, so a lot of my thoughts on airships and such are kind of broad and just rolling around my head.
So historically speaking, airships have only been around in The Known World for fifty years or so. Some time in 9951 DK, two Fell Human brothers decided they wanted to fly. Their particular fellness took the form of the common glowing eyes, but they also had black bones of stone-like material, and stubby, bony, leathery growths out of their shoulder blades. Kind of vestigial wings. They couldn't fly, but they could use these growths to help them in jumping and stuff, and they always yearned to fly. They were natives of Kusseth, so they were accustomed to the sight of steam lorries and that sort of thing and eventually moved to Port Brass and learned about things like lighter than air gases and whatnot. The brothers were Leh'd and Behr'g Hin'dehn, born in 9924 DK, natives of the streets of Kusseth City itself.
Like many innovators and scientists, the brothers ended up being financed by the military, specifically the Brasscoats. The Brasscoat division of Kusseth's military will pretty much throw bodies and money in heaps at any project that even remotely promises to enhance their ability to slaughter Kusseth's enemies with superior weaponry. Most Greyskin Abraxens won't even speak to members of the Brasscoats, simply because they can't know what will inspire them to new innovations of violence and destruction. There are also rumors that Greyskins that gain the interest of Brasscoats have a tendency to end up in dark rooms wearing chains. But that's just hearsay and rumor and the disappearance of Greyskins is easily explained, they typically get sick of Kusseth and head home to the Ashlands. Wherever that is. This financing eventually led to the use of zeppelins in all of Kusseth's military branches and the fact that most airships that exist are the property of Kusseth's government and military, with only a very small amount owned commercially, and an even tinier amount owned by private citizens. Interestingly enough, most of the private citizens that own an airship are members of Kusseth's government. Currently, Kusseth City and Port Brass are the only two cities in The Known World that actively produce airships. They do not take orders for new ones, and most of the ones that are used commercially or by private citizens are either decommissioned ones Kusseth has replaced, or they've been stolen or salvaged. Considering the fact that the dirigibles are fragile and lighter than air gases aren't readily available at the general store and that a broken airship generally has to hit the ground before it can be salvaged, airships don't get salvaged and refitted too often.
Now, airships aren't common, but they aren't exactly super rare either. Most Kusseth cities have airship towers in the docks or industrial areas of the city. It isn't rare to see them flying above cities or somewhere in the sky while traveling in Kusseth. They're like trains, they exist and they are around and most citizens don't notice them too much because while they're neat and interesting, they've been around for a while. Mostly, Kusseth uses airships for personnel and cargo transport. Which is a handy advantage over other countries, as they have to cart stuff and people along roads in wagons or on the backs of horses. This isn't to say that armed zeppelins don't exist. They're basically sailing ships and they almost always have a cannon or two even if they just do cargo or personnel transports. But, using them in war isn't terribly practical for Kusseth. Kusseth's two main foes are Whurent and The Fell Peaks, and those two nations mostly exist as underground empires. So yeah, an airship can fly low enough to hit a city with dropped bombs, or perhaps with cannons if they can get the right angle. Personally, I'm not sure how the mechanics of aiming a cannon down would work. Do artillery shells fall out of guns on ships if you aim them down? I've no idea. Rounds don't fall out of my revolver, so I assume the concept transfers to larger artillery guns. I always see them aiming up, I assume because they are typically firing on a distant target and need to cross a great distance before impacting. I dunno, texting Jason now. It pays to know seamen. Heh. Seamen.
The thought does occur that cannons fire with a fair amount of force, and airships are kind of just hanging there in the air. A bunch of cannons firing would certainly jerk it about a bit I would think. Would any sort of wooden or partly metal structure be able to survive the stresses of port and starboard cannon batteries firing at the same time? That's a lot of recoil. In most films I've seen, there are tracks cannons roll out on or they are secured with bindings and when they fire they blast back into the ship and are reloaded. I'm sure that absorbs a bit of force, but I also feel like the water a ship is on is supporting it and stabilizing it as well. I feel like an airship that fires off a bunch of cannons is just going to start swinging wildly from it's dirigible or yank the balloon itself around in the sky.
The way I envision airships operating is in three sizes. Pathfinder's Ultimate combat has a 20 ft. wide by 60 ft. long two deck airship listed as a colossal air vehicle (it sells for 50,000 gold). Which doesn't sound that big on paper, but it's almost as wide as my living room and dining room combined, so it works. I think I'll utilize a 20 ft. by 40 ft. and a 15 ft. by 35 ft. version as well. I'll downgrade their pricing and space for weaponry, passengers, and cargo appropriately. I've also got some ideas rambling around in my head for armoring them, building them out of special materials, and various forms of propulsion. I enjoy the imagery behind the concept of an airship flying over Kusseth belching out smoke and steam as it is fed coal to power fans that it uses for propulsion.
I don't have any point in history where there have been air battles in The Known World, but I'd use the ship to ship combat rules for it and alter them as necessary. This are in the pirate themed Pathfinder adventure path I believe, and I have access to those. The obvious alteration is that you don't fall into water, you fall into air and probably die.
Looking at Ultimate Combat, the vehicle rules seem to be decent and outline how to drive and attack with vehicles and all that. It all seems pretty straight forward, for the most part. I know the 3.5 Arms and Equipment Guide had some rules for vehicles in it, but I really prefer to keep things in system if I can. So I'll likely stick with Ultimate Combat for how we go about piloting and fighting with airships if it ever comes to that. Some of you may be interested to know that airships are use Profession (Sailor) as the piloting skill.
Alright, so that is a little bit about airships and stuff, though admittedly not much, and most of it says "go look over here" for more information.