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[Let's Read] SJR1 - Lost Ships

MacBalance

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Today we have the Battle Barge of Ptah which seems very specific... it even gets a subtitle of the less specific "Battle Barge." It's a medium sized vessel at 60 tons, with

Of note, it's only 15' longer than the Kobold Angel (145' to 130' and less than half as wide (60' to 135'; no 'wings' to speak off, at least that have internal space) and really doesn't look like it's almost twice as massive, but it does have a couple extra 'vertical' decks on the rear. Here's the floor plan:



It's heavily armed with 12 mounted weapons plus a piercing ram... but lightly armored at Armor 8 and Thin Wood construction, as well as Maneuvering Class F. The description establishes that these were early human ships, used to defend Ptah's faithful from attacks by goblinoids and such. It's noted that they were deathtraps to the crew and many abandoned vessels are adrift in the flow.

That said, the description diverges from the numbers a bit, and leaves out some details the floor plan suggests. The crew is noted as unusually high due to the large weapon array (that fits) and the "labyrinthine network of interior rooms" (That doesn't... It actually appears to have a pretty plain interior layout with a two-room reverse-gravity lower cargo bay and a main-deck interior that is pretty spacious but only has 6 rooms. It does get a little weird as the "tower" of the vessel's rear is a combination Temple and Bridge. Adding to the cost, the standard config has two helms! The main helm is wither below the 'Great Chamber' in a secret room, or it is in the room you pass through to get to the Great Chamber: The deck plans and description disagree. The second helm is also hidden via a hatch beside the captains chair... Which appears to have been left off the map.

Someone had a detailed idea of how this should work, but it didn't get transmitted or work out in practice. I think this is the ship that a lich controls in one of the earlier adventures, where it harasses people with undead and drops snakes on their heads.

The main use is as a templeship, which seems at odds with the idea of it being kind of a desperate defense platform. It feels like two distnct uses that got smashed together. As a templeship it's a visible display of wealth and treasure and a refuge for all. They were big targets for raiders as they became near-cities... Although it's still a pretty tiny ship for a 'floating city.' The standard crew for a templeship is 12 wizards and 48 warriors commanded by 10-60 priests. The 'city' ships had outriggers to add tonnage and used magic devices to generate air.

The next common variant is as a Battle Barge. They're stripped of finery and loaded with weapons. Some even sue Death helms (Lifejammers?) and slaves for power, These are often seen around orc and ogre worlds, but it's not clear if that's because the Orcs took them or they're there to watch for Orc ships.

A 'Cargo Raft' variant is also known, which is kind of similar to a modern cargo vessel: basically a very minimal stripped hull. it's mentioned as a pretty rough assignment as the accommodations are spartan at best. There's even a reference as wizards convicted of murder being assigned as helmsmen for such craft. Most are escorted (the weapons are stripped) while some may have special weapons equipped to discourage borders. The idea of a q-ship config is even mentioned. Note that we'll get to an even more austere 'barge' type cargo-hauler in a few pages if I remember correctly.

There's also 'Death Barges' which fits our earlier Lich Encounter. Undead crews, and they're typically bad on maintenance or things like 'keeping lights on.'

Overall, the Barge of Ptah is a solid if unexciting design. It could be good inspiration for any 'Temple Ship' though. Use the design as a base, but add themed encounters and extra structures as needed for whatever goals fit your scenario: A well-appointed Temple Ship of a protector or healing god that acts as a mobile hospital ship. A mobile sacrifice-palace for your setting's death god. Trading vessel for a merchant-deity.

The deck plan isn't bad. It's reverse-gravity which is more annoying than anything else, especially as it's a water-lander. I think the intent is that it's reverse gravity due to being a cruder, older design. The newer ships have those legs and fins to help move the Gravity Plane down. other than that, I like that it's a big ship, but not a particularly great ship, which means it could be useful as an escort, or an interesting choice if PCs want to move a massive amount of troops and cargo around but they're willing to take the risk doing so in a thin-hulled vessel. The raised for and aft decks as well as the rear 'tower' (and three masts) allow for some good swashbuckling action if you're so inclined.

I almost feel like the cargo variant should be the norm, with the 'defense platform' and temple ships build off that.
 

Trireme

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Just telling what I remember hearing. Lorraine was not popular and held rights to Buck Rogers so the rumor sounds plausible.
It sounds completely implausible that so many people would devote so much of their time to publishing twenty products, including multiple boxed sets with multiple books, maps, punch-outs and hand-outs just to prank Lorraine Williams.
 

Trireme

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Good rules of thumb for most media:
  1. People don't usually devote months or years of their life to an IP to "annoy" people you don't like in the industry.
  2. People don't usually devote months or years of their life to an IP because they "hate" the IP.
 

Ultimatecalibur

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It sounds completely implausible that so many people would devote so much of their time to publishing twenty products, including multiple boxed sets with multiple books, maps, punch-outs and hand-outs just to prank Lorraine Williams.
I said partially done. Not only done. Partially. As in: In addition to liking the core idea of D&D in space and believing that it would sell, the original designers of Spelljammer also liked the thought that it would annoy their boss but not enough for her to can the line.

Good rules of thumb for most media:
  1. People don't usually devote months or years of their life to an IP to "annoy" people you don't like in the industry.
  2. People don't usually devote months or years of their life to an IP because they "hate" the IP.
For point 1, Lorraine Williams was their unpopular boss that had ousted one of the founders after he had brought her in to help fix mismanagement, and employees have long found ways to indirectly rebel especially if they can continue to enjoy their jobs while doing so. For Point 2, I never said that anyone working on Spelljammer hated it.
 

Gyrfalcon

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Noticing something unusual about the Kobold Angelship, ~25 years after the fact -- it's got wing-warrens... on a ship made primarily (per its Saving Throw class) of Thick Wood. Those wings are each 40' wide, 90' from tip to tail, and presumably ~15' high. That's a lot of space to fill with dead-tree equivalent, and now I'm wondering if the kobolds aren't harvesting some kind of exotic megaflora, or digging out entire old-growth rootball masses to shape to spec, in the process of building their Angelships.
 

Base Delta Zero

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The angel ship has gravity along its short axis, right? If it was along its long axis, so it flew 'standing up' then that could make sense. But as is, it makes me thing of a bird. Or, y'know, a dragon.
 

Kakita Kojiro

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The angel ship has gravity along its short axis, right? If it was along its long axis, so it flew 'standing up' then that could make sense. But as is, it makes me thing of a bird. Or, y'know, a dragon.
You can see the gravity plane in the "Side View" of the deckplans. It's along the long axis. In fact, it presumably bisects the wings, so the warren tunnels may be split by the gravity plane.
 

MacBalance

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You can see the gravity plane in the "Side View" of the deckplans. It's along the long axis. In fact, it presumably bisects the wings, so the warren tunnels may be split by the gravity plane.
Yes: The dotted line on the deck plans shows the gravity plane. For those not deep into Spelljammer, it's a flat plane that gravity 'sticks to' from both sids, so everything falls 'towards' the plane in a proximity to the vessel. There's some hints that one reason ships have legs, wings, etc. is to help shape the gravity plane, which is presumably based off the ship's center of balance.

The rules portrayed combat as a mostly 2d affair (both to make it easy and the general 'Age of Sail In Space' theme) but the fiction (and some art) suggests more dynamic combats, so the Angel could certainly 'swoop in'.

Noticing something unusual about the Kobold Angelship, ~25 years after the fact -- it's got wing-warrens... on a ship made primarily (per its Saving Throw class) of Thick Wood. Those wings are each 40' wide, 90' from tip to tail, and presumably ~15' high. That's a lot of space to fill with dead-tree equivalent, and now I'm wondering if the kobolds aren't harvesting some kind of exotic megaflora, or digging out entire old-growth rootball masses to shape to spec, in the process of building their Angelships.
Excellent point. I kind of like that idea, even if it's not strictly canon. It would add a unique feature to the Kobold's ship which is certainly a useful thing. I also think there may have been a disconnect between cartography and writing as there's a suggestion that the wings should have held the gun emplacements, making the ship even less useful to PCs unwilling to hire short gunnery crews.

Today's ship is the Bloatfly a Lizard men vessel. It's 48 tons (between the Barge and Angel) and made of metal (at least enough to count as such). It's got a really interesting deck layout:



The layout looks a little odd, but remember this is made by what is (for purposes of this discussion) a water-dwelling semi-amphibious race. It's a big ship... But can only carry 6 tons of cargo. This is because it has 36 tons of egg-tubes.

A plot-thread for the lizards throughout spelljammer was the discovery that eggs hatched in proper environments tended to result in smarter, stronger, more capable offspring. So ships like the Bloatfly were built to provide a warm place to spawn, and are thus "found only in close orbits around fire worlds (warm suns)" which seems a bit over the top as they'd need to unload eventually.

The Bloatfly can't land, maneuvers poorly, but requires a minimal crew of 6. However, manning the guns will take a bit more crew as it has a massive 36 Medium Ballistas arranged in pairs in special turrets are 'blisters' that stud the ship's hull. The maximum crew is 48, but the actual maximum in use is 40 as the egg-cargo takes up 8. They're led by a shaman and a war leader Captain of the shaman and fighter classes respectively.

They often hire human mages as helmsmen or for repair work, which leads to the sidebar Scalykind Employers. In this sidebar it's discussed that 16th level or higher wizards can take a break from their normal routine of ignoring physics and making weird monstrosities to babysit lizard eggs for months. They need to cast the glassteel spell, which is used to maintain the egg-tubes, and pilot shuttles as needed. It's not stated how long a contract is, but it pays 70,000-90,000 gp plus a magic item and a spell provided by the lizards. They're honest about the deal as they need the wizard magic and even allow a limited about of magical research onboard in a safe corner of the ship. This whole scheme is a definite plot hook: Imagine if the PCs need something from an eccentric archmage (is their any other kind) who took a contract on a Bloatfly for some reason. The PCs might need to locate the ship, then find a way to approach it without causing an incident or being marked for death. I could see this turning into doing some serious favors for Lizard Men.

Surprisingly, while the helm is in a reserved location, there's no dedicated Helmsman quarters.

The main listed use is, of course, as a Broodship. This is where it's detailed that the interior space is filled with a maze of glass and glassteel piping. The storage areas are clogged with plants and spores it adjust the water chemistry as needed. This ship is noted as resembling a steam room, and the hull is coated in tar to retain heat, which adds to the smells. water circulates via manual paddles, so someone presumably is peddling all the time. The guards are in alert at all times and hatches often have grenades of space gas spore rhizomes to use against invaders.

One of the adventures ("Slither Around the Sun") centers around one one these vessels, with the addition of rumors of beholder activity.

There's variants used for colonization as well. Lizard Men are packed into an emptied-out vessel which is stripped of weapons and sent to a new world with armed escorts. They establish a colony and unpack the ship, which then becomes a brood ship for the next generation.

A few have left lizard hands and are used by pirates (humans and gift pirates mentioned) where they can be used as bases, repair vessels, or defense platforms.

Overall, I like the Bloatfly. It'd throw boarding PCs for a loop as it's aggressively 3 dimensional, and it's a neat ship as it's heavily armed and may look suspicious, but really isn't... The Lizards on board are most certainly not looking for a fight with their precious cargo.

Speaking off cargo, next time we'll see one of the most boring ships in the book.
 

MacBalance

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Today's ship is the Cargo Barge. It's so boring the deck plan got pushed back two pages. OK, I'm sure that's a layout decision, but the Cargo Barge shares a page with the deck plan for the much more interesting Deathglory.



This is a 'gap filler' in that it's not really an exciting ship but there's some interesting things in the description. It's 25 tons and carries 20 tons of cargo, and there's rules for towing them. This does lead to the ship being technically one of the most efficient vessels, with no crew required! I think the intent is no crew required when being towed and even then the description states they often have a crewman assigned to monitor the load and alert for issues. This also means they have no maximum crew, and thus can't easily carry passengers! The tow rules also include some suggestions for using them to extend a ships' range.

They're a human construction, but used by humans, dwarves... and mind flayers. The latter is detailed under the 'Slave Boat' description. Despite being a race that dislikes the sun, these are loaded up with cells to carry 200 slaves in various manners. It's broadly similar in wholesale awfulness to real-world slave ships, so I won't spend too much time on it. This section also earned a sidebar about Slaver Gear which builds up a whole list of things to use to be horrible to people with. It's presented in a matter-of-fact manner, and the illithids are pretty generally evil, but it's still unpleasant. Mind flayers equip barges with Serial Helms for this task. I think the intent is that these are used on safer runs between points that don't merit a proper Nautiloid's involvement. The number of mind flayers on a slave barge crew is not specified, but there's at least two pilots.

Other uses are as barges, shuttle tugs, and 'Power Rams.' The latter is a neogi thing (not noted as using the barge, but whatever) in which a ship is directed into a target and the Neogi escapes via a Wreckboat (see later updates).

The humble Barge got over a page of details, mainly due to the towing rules and power ram adding a lot of mechanics to detail. The deck plan is unsurprisingly simple. There's a tiny 'crew hut' for the Mind Flayers to hide in and optional side walls on a pretty basic barge. We don't even get a gravity marking line.
 

s/LaSH

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The humble Barge got over a page of details, mainly due to the towing rules and power ram adding a lot of mechanics to detail. The deck plan is unsurprisingly simple. There's a tiny 'crew hut' for the Mind Flayers to hide in and optional side walls on a pretty basic barge. We don't even get a gravity marking line.
Am I correct in remembering that the gravity line is a plane, above which things fall down, below which things fall up?

If so, why are we not stacking cargo on both sides of the barge? (Well it's going to be a bit awkward if you land like that, I guess.)
 
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