I had a brainstorm the other night about the world of Maruzar’s airships. I’m keeping the levitators, but the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to use sails. Thing is, sails on airships have always bothered me. Sure, you can use them against the wind, but without a denser medium to act against, you can’t get the redirection of vectors to sail across or against the wind the way a sailing ship does. Enter brainstorm: airships only sail before the wind, to go across or against they enter ornithopter mode using ‘wingsails.’
Wingsails are small fan-like or bat wing-like sails on flexible ribs, usually mounted in pairs on an airship’s sides, and combine the functions of sails for catching wind and ornithopter wings. They are manually operated, using a rotating mount to tilt them up and down, and lines attached to the end of each rib to bend them. Bending the sails and allowing them to spring back creates thrust; this can be directed forward or backward by tilting the sail accordingly. Small airships, or airskiffs, have each pair of wingsails operated by a single crewman. Larger airships have banks of wingsails, each operated by its own crewman, sometimes two or three, much like a galley’s oars.
When at rest, an airship holds its wingsails horizontal or takes them inboard. To run before the wind, the wingsails are angled forward. The weaker the wind, the closer to vertical the wingsails are set to catch as much of it as possible, while in strong winds the wingsails are set closer to horizontal. To travel across or against the wind, the wingsails must be flapped. Wind direction is thus crucial to long-distance travel and combat, and airship combat on Maruzar is similar to combat with sailing ships and galleys. This idea also gave me a new name for them: windrunners.
I believe this better reflects the regressed state of technology on Maruzar. The Maruzarians were able to rebuild a few levitators, and can now buy them from the Spaceclans, but they rarely ever find or successfully recondition the motivators. So they improvised using the pre-industrial technology they had. The redesign also has additional benefits for the RPG — the players get a clear external target to attack if they want to slow down an enemy airship, and there’s the added romance of sailing. And having to deal with the vagaries of the wind, which makes for good challenges and story hooks. The windrunner concept also makes the true ornithopter fit in better: the ‘thopter is simply a windrunner whose wingsails have evolved into full wings.
Some airskiffs use a single large overhead wingsail. I’m calling it the ‘manta rig’ because I’m imagining the action of the wingtips bending up and down recalls the flapping of a manta ray’s fins.