Biblyon the Great

This zine is dedicated to articles about the fantasy role-playing game Gods & Monsters, and other random musings.

Gods & Monsters Fantasy Role-Playing

Beyond here lie dragons

Silver sail and gold, above a dappled sea

Jerry Stratton, June 10, 2006

Silver Sails

This information will probably, eventually, be incorporated into a new supplement for Gods & Monsters. This is a two-part article. The next part, when it arrives in the indeterminate future, will describe rules for handling interplanetary travel. Until then, enjoy!

I’ve also provided a PDF of the first John Carter novel, A Princess of Mars, for downloading and inspiration. If you enjoy Lovecraft, you might find Within the Walls of Eryx, included in the Doom that Came to Sarnath collection, inspirational.

Silver sail and gold

Driftwood and sailcloth are the engines of interplanetary travel, and the cause of much grief in the solar system. Wars are fought over driftwood groves and over sailmoth winderies.

Driftwood

Driftwood grows from the “prayer tree” that grows only in rocky areas. The tree receives its name from the shape of its branches, which often grow upwards and with the wind. Driftwood is known to grow in the Martian highlands, in the green zone of the asteroid belt, and in the death valleys of Mercury. There are a few rare groves on the highest snowy peaks of Earth.

Driftwood blocks the force of gravity. It is unaffected by gravity, and anything that lies “above” it is also unaffected by gravity. Driftwood doesn’t float—that is, it doesn’t rise—it just drifts. Barring other forces, driftwood will stay wherever it is placed, whether on the ground or above the ground.

Driftwood only blocks gravity from gravity sources directly below the driftwood. Many a ship has suddenly come under the influence of gravity when its plane shifts so that non-driftwood cargo is no longer separated from gravity by driftwood. A hull breach can also bring a ship suddenly under the influence of gravity.

The wide, flat leaves of the prayer tree, a bright yellowy red, are sought after for clothing and decoration. They lose their gravity-blocking power a few days after plucking. The floating white flowers of the tree are also prized. The leaves form during the thin Martian summers. The trees bloom into flower only every few years when the air is especially thick.

The prayer tree must be carefully harvested of both leaf and wood to ensure the health of the tree and continued harvest. Mars is the greatest source of prayer trees. Most of the remaining prayer tree groves on Mars are guarded by non-Martian armies.

Floating amber can sometimes be found in ancient fields of driftwood trees. Floating amber is much like the amber that we know, except that it floats. Like driftwood, it neither rises nor falls in gravity. Also called sunstone or moonstone for its tendency, when something is attached to its top, of drifting towards the sun or moon, floating amber is highly prized for jewelry, magic, and driftwood ornamentation.

Sailcloth

Without sailcloth, driftwood would be useful only for carrying things on-planet. A normal sail can propel a driftwood boat as long as there is a wind, but winds rarely occur in space. The combination of sailcloth and driftwood allows sailing ships to leave a planet’s surface and travel throughout the void.

Sailcloth catches sunlight and is propelled away from it. It allows a driftwood boat to sail the solar wind when outside of a planet’s atmosphere. When woven with precious metals--silver, gold, and mithril--it can propel itself away from the solar wind at greater and greater speeds.

By exposing non-driftwood ballast to a planet or a sun, driftwood ships with sailcloth sails can tack against the solar wind and move in any direction. Unlike atmospheric wind, which varies, solar wind is available as long as the sun is visible.

Sailcloth comes from the sailmoth. The sailmoth grows only in the Martian highlands. While all of the spacefaring races have attempted to cultivate the moth elsewhere, none have yet succeeded. Thus, most races keep a presence on Mars. Mars itself benefits little from this. Their lands are a battleground for the other planetary nations who covet sailcloth.

Sailmoths produce thread all year round, but the quality varies. The best sailing thread is produced in the dry, rarefied Martian summers, the worst in the cooler, windier Martian springs.

Flying ships

Most ships will have some means of propelling themselves within an atmosphere (where sailcloth cannot overcome atmospheric inertia). These may be large, light oars, or wings that can be moved from within the boat to generate lift. Driftwood oars can both propel a ship as well as lift it, and sails (normal or of sailcloth) can be used to catch the wind to propel a driftwood ship just as a normal ship sails on water.

All material that faces nearby planets must be driftwood; and all material that is not driftwood (such as sails) must be kept within the ship lest it either fall to the ground or draw the ship to the ground. Boats often have “wings” to ensure that their sails do not come under the influence of gravity.

The Moon

The closest body to Earth, the moon teems with strange life. It is covered in thick seas of a whitish grey slimy liquid and in plains of dust yards thick. Some lunar seas are covered in dust also. A tiny race of furred humanoids tunnel through the dust and make their homes within it.

Wide ribbon-like plants hide under the dust on the daylight side and burrow out at the night side, waving their tendrils slowly at the stars.

In the mountains, rainbow people of glass, able to float and take many forms, bask in the forever sun.

Venus has outposts on the moon. Venusian ships often stop on the moon to replenish supplies while traveling to Mars. They avoid lunar creatures as much as possible.

Mercury

Lizards and insects of all shapes flourish in the hot, sandy valleys of Mercury. Huge newts and toads and tiny dragons roam the surface. Volcanoes dot the landscape spewing ash and smoke into the air. Lakes of fire, where volcanoes have melted to magma, turn beaches to glass.

A race resembling giant mantises are the main intelligent life on Mercury. Mercury has some driftwood groves, all protected by the mantis race.

Venus

Venus is a hot, wet, jungle planet, a lush dinosaur heaven. There are two major intelligent races on Venus, the “Do’alas” (or simply, “the people”), the ruling race, and the Ta’alas, a lizard-like race that lives either as slaves of the Do’alas or on the fringes of Do’alan civilization.

The royal palace of the Venusian Do’alas monarchy is the Misty Palace in the ancient city A’ash. The monarchy and the palace are guarded by the Royal Free Guard of the Do’alas.

Venus does not have sorcery. There is psychic ability among them, mostly among the royal family (telepathic and dimensional powers) and among the Free Guard (Dimensional, Psychokinetic, Telepathic, and Corporeal).

Venus has matchlock rifles and handguns. They operate only in the hands of Venusian Monks with the power that enables gunpowder to work in their vicinity.

As great as it is, Venus was once home to a far greater civilization. The Do’alas and Ta’alas inhabit some of the ancient filament cities, but others stand unused, hidden in the mists and ever-encroaching jungles of Venus. The Do’alas maintain the cities they live in much better than the Ta’alas do theirs. In both cases, however, the cities were obviously built by a more active civilization and in both cases the cities and buildings are in decline. The Do’alas will pretend otherwise to foreigners and to themselves. The Ta’alas live in wonder at their forebears’ skills.

Mars

Mars is a young planet peopled with a multitude of warring tribes. The wars are made all the more dangerous by the presence of the sailmoth, the insect that produces the red-tinged sailcloth thread. Sailmoths only produce sailcloth thread on Mars, despite many attempts to produce it elsewhere.

Because sailcloth is coveted by the Venusians and other space-faring races who rely on it for interplanetary travel, Mars is often a battleground. Martian groves are coveted by all intelligent spacefaring races in this solar system. The Mercurians, the Venusians, and the Aeagarsut all maintain outposts on Mars. The Gakemai maintain no outposts, but raid those who do for sailcloth.

Some of the greatest cities on Mars have been built by the Venusians in an attempt to copy the grandeur of the ancient cities on Venus.

Mars has little iron, very little gold, and no mithril. Their lack of higher metals keeps their civilization from reaching the rest of the solar system except as slaves of other races.

The thin atmosphere of Mars allows buildings and other structures to last many times longer than their counterparts would on Earth or, especially, Venus and Mercury. The red Martian dust rises in thin ochre clouds at any step. In the summer the Martian atmosphere is even thinner, and Martians congregate in the valleys for breath.

Most denizens of Mars eat of the milkweed plant, a plant that provides both solid and liquid sustenance. Milkweed juice tastes of the muskiness of soy milk.

The Martian moons move quickly across the heavens. Phobos makes a complete circle of Mars a little over twice a day, and Deimos every three days. The Martian day is only slightly longer than an Earth day. Sailcloth pirates often use the moons as a hiding place or staging ground. Both moons have highly irregular shapes and are the size of a small island.

The asteroid belt

The asteroid belt is a mysterious place filled with misty vines, balls of water or other liquids, creatures, and large rocks rolling through the void. Some of the large rocks have creatures on them, and some of the creatures resemble large rocks. Even some of the balls of liquid are alive.

There are legends of strange, misshapen hermits hidden in the depths of the rocky belt. Of gigantic tentamorts that grasp at passing ships live in the cavernous rocks. There are rumors of strange many-eyed things, of pixies, space dryads, and leaping reptiles jumping from rock to ship. Great snakes twine in and out of the rocks and growths. Things that grow here often grow to incredible size, unrestrained by gravity and unconfined by space.

Gypsies tell of the seven sleepers, whose dreams form all realities. They sleep in a simple house beneath autumn trees covered in fading yellow trumpets. An occasional wind blows the dry yellow flowers in through the windows. If the dreamer who dreams this reality awakens, all is unmade. In some stories, the house of the seven sleepers is guarded by a hideous crone who invites wanderers in only to stew them in their sleep and eat them.

Jupiter

Jupiter is a mystery planet. Its great gravity draws in ships, and a ship that crashes on Jupiter never returns. There are rumors of whales and great owls in the rivers and clouds of Jupiter, but no one knows for sure. Lights flash in all colors on its brooding sphere.

Saturn

Saturn is dominated by great flying creatures. Dragons live in all levels of its atmosphere. Every color of dragon makes a home here and walks the great rings that circle the planet. Huge plumes of gas explode out hundreds of miles from Saturn‘s surface.

Uranus

Aeagarsut live in the misty valleys of Uranus. Uranus is covered in thick grey mists that you can almost swim on. The Aeagarsut breed strange animals to their bidding and keep slaves on floating cities.

Neptune

The oceans of Neptune are more blue than anything seen on Earth. They are filled with a liquid that freezes at far lower temperatures than water and that burns with cold. There are deep ice floes, and things living in the ice. The ice creatures of Neptune can sleep for centuries beneath the surface, awakening only when food walks above them. Triton is its largest moon, and it moves retrograde, against Neptune’s spin. It is nearly the size of Earth’s moon.

The outer asteroids

Clans of Gakemai, the miners of space, war with each other over Pluto, Charon and the other outer asteroids. These barren worlds are mining heaven and the Gakemai rove freely among them. The Gakemai enslave creatures to mine these cold, icy, balls for mithril and glowstone. Clan wars begin and end with the changing proximity of one clan to another.

Conflict

Every race that wants sailcloth must fight for it. Sailcloth may only be grown and made on Mars. Venus, Mercury, and Uranus all maintain sailmoth winderies on Mars and occasionally fight over each other’s winderies.

The Gakemai occasionally move in from the outer asteroids to raid for sailcloth. The Gakemai don’t need sailcloth themselves—their wings propel them through space—but do need it for their slave ships.

Driftwood is also rare, but grows on several planets. Mercury and Mars both have prayer trees. The prayer trees of Mars are usually under control of the Venusians or the Aeagarsut.

Gold, silver, and mithril are also desirable, as they increase the speed of a sailcloth ship. The asteroid belt is the best source of each of these metals, but Mercury, Venus, and Earth are also sources. The Gakemai mine the tallest mountains of Earth for gold, silver, and occasionally mithril.

Both the Gakemai and the Do’alas of Venus will experience slave rebellions. The winderies and prayer groves of Mars use Martian slaves, and they also will rebel on occasion.

The Venusians attempt to maintain a civil relationship with Martian cities on top of their military conflicts within Mars, in a weaker but vaguely similar manner to Britain’s relationship with the Princely States in the days of the British Raj. Venus will thus occasionally send diplomatic missions to Mars.

Venus also maintains diplomatic lines with Mercury, and with the Aeagarsut colonies on Mars.

November 14, 2015: Sailing the high seas
Galleon over earth horizon

See my earlier article, Silver sail and gold, above a dappled sea, for non-numerical details on the politics and excitement of driftwood ships in the space above Highland.

The summary is that ships ride the gravity flow with driftwood. They catch the solar wind with sailcloth.

Building a driftwood ship

The first step in building a driftwood ship is acquiring the driftwood. Driftwood blocks the gravitational attraction of large bodies, thus making it possible to not fall back to a planet in a spectacular crash. Driftwood grows in rocky, cold environments with thin atmospheres. It grows best on Mars, but can also be grown on high mountaintops on Earth or similar planets.

Driftwood should be cured before use. Uncured driftwood reduces maneuverability by 5. Each year of curing reduces that penalty by 1, up to a maximum of five years curing on-planet. Driftwood can be cured more quickly or more efficiently in space. Driftwood cured in space reduces the maneuverability penalty by 1.5 per year, to a maximum of 7—that is, ships made from driftwood cured for five years in space will have +2 maneuverability.

Space is big. It is very easy to lose track of curing stacks when curing in space.

After curing, the wood should be coated with a varnish of wood resin to preserve the cure. The best resin is driftwood resin. This provides a +1 to maneuverability. Other wood resins do not affect maneuverability, and non-wood mineral oils reduce maneuverability by 1, while tar oils reduce maneuverability by 2.

Without varnish, the wood may become infected and eaten away by insects or other creatures.

Adjustments to ship cost and maneuverability:

Technique Maneuverability Cost Movement
Planet Curing +1/year +10%/year
Space curing +1.5/year +15%/year
Driftwood resin +1 +25% +1
Mineral oils –1 –5%
Tar oils –2 –10% –1

Weaving sailcloth sails

Unlike driftwood, which grows best on Mars but can grow in other places, the sailmoth only produces thread on Mars, and only in the Martian highlands.

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