During the last session, I gave my players their first taste of airship combat. One of the things that drew me to Eberron is the amount of vehicles and places that can be used as locations for interesting and intricate encounters. These are the kind of set pieces that are so interesting that they become characters in and of themselves. Trains and airships are both viable settings for adventures. I’ve used trains before to great effect. I’ve had players dueling enemies on top of the lightning rail as it speeds toward its destination. My players have found themselves on an airship called The Brokenhearted, which is flown by the smuggler Koulton Brightwind.
They met Koulton when they arrived in the Lhazaar Principalities looking for passage to Xen’drik. Koulton, a wanted man, agreed to help them in exchange for a hefty smuggling contract. This gave them access to an airship, access I immediately revoked when their ship was shot down by Lyrandar airships. But not before some serious ship to ship combat.
For the encounters that followed I used reflavored monsters with flight or special movement abilities to represent the Lyrandar boarding parties. The players were given a ballista to fire at the enemy ships. These encounters taught me several things that I’ll put into place when they see more airship combat. One thing is that the weapons on the airship should be useful against enemies on the deck. The players wanted to try and shoot an enemy at one point but didn’t, fearing they would damage their own ship too much. Another is to reward the players for trying to throw enemies from the ship. I was reluctant to let that go too far with these fights (they were fighting elites and I wanted the fight to last) but with future fights, I’ll be sure to allow these things to happen, and reward them. A final lesson was that players respond to familiar terrain. More than one combat on the same map gives them a sense of familiarity and they start to do more interesting things with the terrain available them. Familiarity breeds a sense of ownership for them and this can be enhanced when I play the monsters as not having the familiarity they have or I have as the DM.
So, with all these upsides, why would any good and just DM take their new airship away? Well it wasn’t their airship. Not yet. By taking the ship from them and destroying, I give them the chance to rebuild it. The ship, when rebuilt with their input, will truly be theirs. They’ll have a base of operations for future adventure (which make or may not take place across the entire game world) and will give them something they may have to defend in the future. It gives me options to expand the story, gives them options to expand their characters (I assume each character will eventually have their own room on the ship) and it gives them something they feel they earned. Something that’s truly theirs.