I’ve done some additional thinking on the 5th Edition Cosmonomicon D&D setting. I’ve recently reposted here on this site, but I originally wrote for the Mox Boarding House back in 2015, so I’ve had some time dwell on it a bit.
Looking over the Cosmonomicon setting, the question that most strikes me is: Where are all the magic flying ships coming from? The number of magical ships needed to make the space opera aspects of the Dragon Empire work as I envisioned it would require a staggering number of fairly powerful wizards devoted to the primary task of magic-boat-building. I find that somewhere between unreasonable and undesirable. That’s a lot of potent wizards spread out across the space ports of many worlds. Thankfully, I’ve also had some ideas to help fix the problem, and better yet, they end up building out the setting more.
Various species of space-adapted plants and animals live in the Cosmonomicon setting, forming ecosystems heavily based around planetary rings, oort clouds, and asteroid fields. Among the most iconic and important to the space industry are the stellar whales.
Stellar whales are similar to the various aquatic whale species: large air-breathing mammals adapted to a swimming life. In this case, they swim through space using larger fins as solar sales. Their more impressive capabilities are supernatural in nature. Although their hides are durable enough to resist vacuum, the whales generate an air envelopes through inherent magical abilities. Some filter feeding species also have gravity manipulation powers which they use to help scoop their tiny prey into their mouths.
Humanoids hunt stellar whales because nearly every part of the animals is valuable to spacers. Their meat is edible. Stones in the whales’ lungs act as foci for their air envelope power and retain this ability even after death. An organ located behind the brain is responsible for their gravity manipulation, and oil can be extracted from it and used as part of a hardwood stain to make gravity planking for ships and ports. Their hides, when properly cured into leather, are still vacuum resistant and self sealing against small punctures, making them perfect for spacer clothing and armor. Their large fins are made into solar sails. Their baleen is flexible material used in a variety of industries. Their various oils are used in lamps and perfumes.
For these reasons, stellar whaling is a major industry throughout the space lanes, with planetary rings, oort clouds, and asteroid fields being major hunting grounds.
Clothes, Spacer’s – 10gp
A set of stellar whale leather boots, gloves, overalls and coat. The leather gear has extensive fasteners, ties, straps and buckles. If all parts are worn and properly the clothing protects against exposure to vacuum to everywhere but the head.
Lungstone Earrings – 10gp
Two small shards of magical whale lungstone set in functional fasteners. Designed to use as little lungstone as possible, each stone provides a half foot radius of air envelope around it, and when the pair is combined with Spacer’s Clothing, allow the user to safely be exposed to vacuum for up to an hour before the air goes completely stale. These earrings are simpler versions of the Air Envelope magic necklaces that can be crafted by any competent jeweler with access to a stellar whale lungstone, and without any spellcasting ability needed.
Spacer’s Pack – 28gp
A suit of spacer’s clothing, a pair of lungstone earrings, a backpack, a bedroll (hammock), 10 days dry rations, a water skin, a winter blanket, a mess kit, and a signal whistle.
Soarwood Trees of the Elven Armada
A forest moon orbiting a gas giant in a core system or the Draconic Empire is regarded as the original source of all Soarwood Trees. Soarwood trees in their natural form are impossibly large sequoia-like trees that support their own weight through inherent levitation magic. The elves of that forest moon learned to craft flying ships from those trees and eventually took to space where they discovered elves on many worlds. An early race to discover space travel, overtime, they formed an interstellar Elven Republic among the various elven noble houses in dozens of systems, and backed by the might of the Elven Armada. They kept the secret of growing and harvesting soarwood to themselves, but sold soarwood logs and lumber widely, planting groves throughout the elven territories in order to meet demand as more races in more systems learned to travel the stars.
In the terrible Galactic Dragon War, the elves found themselves pinned between silver and green dragon clans, and sided with the silver clans in the conflict. When the treaty ended the conflict, the green clans led the chromatics in refusing to recognize the elves or any non-dragons as having standing, and so the elves were forced to become a client of the silver clans, a slight they have not forgotten.
Since the founding of the Dragon Empire, the elves have planted soarwood groves on many elven dominated worlds throughout the core systems, making substantial profits selling soarwood to ship builders throughout the Empire. A ship carefully crafted with a soarwood keel, stringers, and other key structural points is capable of flight without needing a spellcaster being involved. Add in materials harvested from Stellar Whales, and it becomes possible to build proper interstellar sailing ship without casting a single spell.
While soarwood is a common component of many ships, the elves themselves prefer to grow ships from individual trees. They use a secret hybrid of Soarwood and Starfly Fruit Trees, gaining beautiful living crafts that literally grow larger over time and actively clean the air in the ships’ envelopes. While starfly trees are native to space and commonly found throughout the galaxy, the elves jealously guard the secrets of growing and harvesting soarwood, let alone hybridizing it with starfly, in order to protect their monopoly on such a key resources. Several dragon emperors, both past metallic dragon emperors and the current red dragon Emperor Xentarious have attempted to pry the secret out of them, but the silver clans have continued to shield them from such official attempts.
While stellar whales and soarwood make it possible to craft ships able to sail through both air and space, they are by no means the only way crafts are built, and solar sails are less efficient for interstellar travel requiring a trip out to the crystal gates beyond the planatary orbits where the host star light is faint. Spellcasters of sufficient skill can craft any of a variety of magical ship’s helms that can provide motive flight to a vehicle. They can also embed several magic rune covered spikes into a helm to provide it with a stable atmospheric envelope, or enspell lead disks for fitting into the decking to generate gravity. However, the work of a spellcaster of that level of skill isn’t cheap. For those looking to acquire such wonders more cost effectively, there is always the option of simply buying the desired magical enhancements from a ubiquitous if untrusted source: the fiendish Arcanaloths.
These fiends can be encountered in any moderately sized space port city, and always have a variety of magic helms or other ship systems for sale. This is despite never being encountered traveling the space lanes, let alone operating ships of their own. Likewise, no one knows where or how they produce their wares. Despite these mysteries, the quality of their products is always good and their prices infamously undercuts all the competition. Of course no one fully trusts the fiends, but that doesn’t stop them from doing brisk business in most ports.
Arcanaloths don’t seem to have invented any of the various magical motive drives for ships, but they do seem to be able to replicate the devices other races have developed, although even they won’t attempt to duplicate the madness of a gnomish giant hamster powered system. Those interested in Draconic style Spelljamming helms, Dwarven Forge drives, or Drow like Lifejammers can acquire such things from an Arcanaloth merchant. In fact, the Emperor has been rumored to purchase hundreds of spelljammer helms from arcanaloths in order to rapidly expand the Imperial Fleets for his “march of progress” among the rim worlds.
There is no shortage of rumors attempting to explain why the fiends sell their wares so cheaply. Favorites include the the fiends siphoning magical power off of each helm use, that they can read the minds of the users or see through their eyes, that they always know the location, cargo, and/or passengers of any ship equipped with their helms, etc. There is no proof for or against such rumors being true, and the Arcanaloths certainly aren’t owning up to the nature of their business. Likewise, they refuse to reveal where they get their helms from or even how they seem to get around.
What is known is that the arcanaloth’s don’t take well to attacks. They typically flee conflicts via teleportation rather than fight, and they will always blacklist those involved. Characters that attack an arcanaloth merchant will never have access to the wares of any Arcanaloth regardless of how far they travel looking to find a new one. Especially nasty incidents in the past have led to entire factions and kingdoms being blacklisted this way.
The two bits of art for this posting come from D&D supplements from past editions: the cover the 4th edition Plane Above and 2nd edition’s depiction of Arcanaloths. I can’t claim credit for either of them.