The most advanced form of elemental-powered vehicle in existence, the airship is the pride of House Lyrandar and a symbol of the magical advances that many hope will become commonplace in the aftermath of the Last War. Still rare due to the limited supply of soarwood needed for their hulls, airships are one of the newest developments to emerge from the Cannith and Zilargo workshops.
Appearance: The standard airship (at least as far as standards have developed for this relatively new creation) looks similar to an oceangoing ship, but is replete with control fins and rudders rather than sails. A Huge elemental is bound into a ring around the hull, suspended on four struts jutting outward. Many airships were built for the very wealthy and have been outfitted with the finest amenities, with many decorative flourishes included in their construction.
Operation: Airships can move in all three dimensions, with or without the aid of the wind. Unlike most flying creatures, they do not rely on wings for lift thanks to their soarwood hulls. They are able to fly equally well on their sides or even upside down (notwithstanding the risks that such maneuvers present to passengers and crew).
Airships cannot actually land; the ring of the elemental prevents the bottom of the hull from getting closer than 10 feet to the ground. Docking towers are generally used to load or unload passengers in major cities, while rope ladders allow passengers to disembark in smaller centers or open terrain. Loading or unloading any cargo too large to be carried requires a docking tower.
An average airship can reach a speed of 20 miles per hour through clear skies, but can carry only 30 tons of cargo, making it ill suited to run regular trade routes. Airships are most often employed by wealthy travelers with a taste for luxury and a need to move quickly. Airships have also found favor with explorers, who praise the vessels’ versatility and speed.
Suppression: While the elemental bound to the airship is crucial for propulsion, the vessel’s soarwood hull provides its lighter-than-air buoyancy. With the elemental suppressed, the ship remains aloft but can only move 1 mile per hour. The pilot always suppresses the elemental before docking.
History: Airships were a dream long before they became a reality, with House Lyrandar and House Orien trying for years to develop faster, more efficient means of moving cargo and people from place to place.
When the means of elemental binding was first discovered by the gnome artificers of Zilargo in 805 YK, the stage was set. From House Cannith came plans for the first elemental vessels, crafted by a Zilargo workshop affiliated with the house. Between the Mark of Making and the binding techniques of the gnomes, the dream of elemental-powered transportation became a reality in 811 YK. Under commission from the Kingdom of Galifar, the Lightning Rail connected the cities of Flamekeep and Fairhaven (a line later destroyed during the Last War).
Even after the breakthrough of the lightning rail, the first airship took nearly two centuries to build. Rather than require an elemental to lift a vessel into flight, soarwood from Aerenal would allow an airship to float above the ground of its own accord. Using a bound elemental only to propel it, an airship might thus approach even the lightning rail’s speed. Gnome magic and House Cannith artisanship were needed to strengthen the soar wood’s natural properties, though, and work on the project dragged on far longer than expected.
Finally, in 988 YK, a crew of gnomes and House Cannith crafters successfully flew a prototype airship from Trolanport to Korranberg and back again. In 990 YK, a fleet of three elemental airships flying the banners of House Lyrandar began to make regular trips across the continent, and the age of air travel truly began.
Thanks to additional funding from House Lyrandar and House Orien, as well as from a number of the nations caught up in the Last War, a handful of experimental military air vessels appeared in the waning years of that century-long conflict. None proved viable as weapons, though, mostly due to the sheer expense of building them. Even today, that expense (as well as the unique skill required to control them) continues to make airships a relatively exclusive method of transport.
House Lyrandar currently has the largest and best-equipped airship fleet — not surprising, considering the powers bestowed upon its members by the Mark of Storm. The house regularly runs airships between the major cities of Khorvaire, and is willing to charter airships to select customers when vessels are available.
Several nations (most notably Breland and Zilargo) and a few other dragonmarked houses use airships for official business, and a number of privateers try to compete by offering no-questions-asked service that House Lyrandar can’t (or won’t) compete with. In most cases, though, buying passage on one of Lyrandar’s regularly scheduled runs, or chartering a House Lyrandar ship and crew for a specific destination, is the easier, cheaper option.