Desert Ships

edited September 2009 in Story Games
I'm planning on running an Arabian-influenced thieves and pirates game for Gameday in a few weeks, kind of like an Arabian Red Skies over Red Seas (the second Gentleman Bastards book). I'm thinking about there being two different kinds of ships in the setting, the regular kind and desert running ships.

So, what makes a desert ship sail? I was imagining a current, which was going to be like a twisted network of ley lines that have directionality ("Don't take the left fork here, we'll be stuck for at least a day righting the ship!") or possibly sand serpents that were motivated to go in certain directions that the ships would ride in the wake. The latter might allow for ship to ship battles.

I'm looking for some answers to some questions:

What method of sand shipping makes the most sense in terms of being worth it? I wouldn't want a huge cost associated with the ships and personnel for a "magic drives everything" solution since it seems like the risk doesn't seem appropriate to invest a lot of money in a ship and then the loss of one crewman stranding the ship. Something that is almost the same as regular shipping but slightly different is probably what I'm looking for.

What is desert shipping like, especially for pirates? Do you board ships by just running men out into the desert? Or is the desert a sea unto itself that will eat a man in moments? What about food? In the ocean you can fish, at least. Rain can be caught for water ...

I'm almost to the point where I don't think it makes any sense and wouldn't be fun to explore in the game. Any optimists out there with expanding or enlightening ideas?


  • Well, in the days of westward expansion in America the covered wagons were occassionally referred to as Prairie Schooners.

    The imagery of the tall grass waving like waves at see, the white canvas of the cover resembling a sail, and the fact of being a vehicle providing important transportation across a wide somewhat featureless terrain probably motivated the comparison.

    But perhaps that can be an inspiration for you as well, in reverse. Perhaps your desert ships...are just big wagons (fantasy versions of a Jawa Sandcrawler or Dune Spice Harvester, if you will).

    I was a always a big fan of Jan Huss and his wagon forts.

    Depending on what sort of fantastic creatures you have in your world your ships could be wagons pulled by entire herds of camels, or a single large fantasy beast, or 1000 slaves turning a turnstyle that drives the wheel.

    Or for a more fantastical bent, instead of being a wagon on wheels you could have it be a howdah carried on the back of an entire herd of beats or a single giant one.

    If you wanted to get REALLY out there, perhaps your sea ships could work the same way. Barely controlled serpents with cabins and structures built on and strapped to them that carry cargo and passengers. The water serpents being of the "sea" variety and the desert serpents being of the land variet.
  • They're like real ships, but with big wheels. They catch the wind, which lets them roll across the desert.

    Pirates don't just run out into the desert! That would be crazy! You could be stranded. You take a ship of your own and board someone.

    Food is a real problem! But no more so than on real ships. I mean, it's not like ships catch their food. You have to stock up and eat on the way. Water, too, same thing. You have barrels of the stuff. If they get punctured, you're screwed.

    Dunes are a real problem. They can bury you or be in your way.

  • edited September 2009
    Posted By: GrahamThey're like real ships, but with big wheels. They catch the wind, which lets them roll across the desert.
    An amusing example of this approach is Dunsany's short story A Story of Land and Sea.
  • I like your Ley Line concept. Maps and rutters become a valuable commodity that way. Maybe the ships have special sails which catch the ley-line currents, and skids oiled with some special oil, but neither of these things is more expensive than, say, canvas and tar.

    Pirates can:
    Lie in wait at oases and ambush ships when their sails are furled and they are taking on water and supplies
    Swarm the ship with smaller, faster Cutters.

    Other Hazards:
    Sandstorms can shred your sail, and reduce visibility.
    You can run aground on hidden rocks that may snap off a skid.
    Various desert predators.
    There's some stellar body - the evil Moon, or a comet, or dark asteroid - that exerts pressure on the ley lines when it's in the sky, warping them and driving you off course.
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