The living ship is nothing new in science fiction. Also known as bioships, we’ve been exposed to many of them in recent years. From appearances in the Star Trek and Star Wars universes, to Babylon 5, to Farscape, LEXX, Dr. Who, Robotech, and Stargate, as well as a plethora of science fiction games and literature (shades of Starcraft, anyone?) we’ve seen quite a few, and they vary from cybernetic organisms, to animals, to plants, to insects. The first known appearance of a living ship in modern sci-fi literature was in a short story called “Specialist” by Robert Sheckley, which was published in 1953 in Galaxy Magazine. In this story, different species in different parts of the Universe were supposed to function as different parts of a ship, and humans were intended to function as faster-than-light drives “Pushers.” Perhaps the idea spawned from the human tendency to assign personalities to inanimate objects. Most of us name our cars or our computers and ascribe certain personality traits to them. The living ship model fits nicely with the Spelljammer milieu since every ship in the Age of Sail had a name and a personality. This article will explore some of the living ships particular to the Spelljammer setting and make suggestions to maximize enjoyment of these unique creatures in fantasy space.
This is probably the best known and most widely available of the living ships in Spelljammer. Grown from the starfly plant, the elves cultivate these plant-seeds for decades to shape them like bonzai into some of the most deadly warships in the Known Spheres.
Variations are available, from flitters (personal, usually depowered craft,) to the corvette-class Starwings which defend the elven island of Evermeet in Realmspace, to the Men-O-War, to Elven Armadas, to the Crown of Corellon stations, which consist of multiple Men-O-War formed into a ring and attached via their wings, which are permitted to grow together.
The elven craft are usually shaded in variations of green, yellow and blue, which are the natural shades of the starfly, but they have been seen in blues, purples and pinks in recent years. No explanation for this is given, but it is logical to assume they are breeding for colour as one of the traits in cultivation.
Elven craft are exceptionally maneuverable and have the best saving throws of almost any Spelljamming craft. Is this because of its design, which is adapted naturally to Wildspace, or is it because the ship has a limited intelligence that enables it to aid the spelljammer and crew in maneuvering itself? As a DM, I have a great deal of fun with the second concept, and isn’t that one of the best parts about living ships?
In order to keep elven ships in fighting shape, they must continually be “pruned” or risk losing their benefits and eventually becoming unsailable. This is usually accomplished by elven druids and mages who work for the IEN.
I suggest that in order to get the most out of your elven ship, and preserve logic as well as game balance, allow “Heal Plant” spells to repair damage, at the suggested rate of 1 Hull Point for every 10 Hit Points a spell typically heals. However, “Repair Damage,” which only works on inanimate objects, would not be effective. Optionally, while I would rule that any spells which command or control plants would not be effective on an elven ship due to the unique relationship of ship, spelljammer and helm, they might perhaps interfere with maneuverability; though I would allow the spelljammer on the helm a saving throw to resist this effect.
Smalljammers are the offspring of the great and only Spelljammer itself. Their formation and purpose is a great mystery to most in the Known Spheres. These are, by anyone’s estimation, living animal creatures. They are more highly maneuverable and have better saving throws than even elven craft. However, they are living creatures and sometimes they do have their own agendas. A potential Captain may have to develop a personal relationship with her ship, as may the spelljammer aboard!
As living creatures, I would allow “Heal” spells to be effective in repairing damage, but again, at the rate of 1 Hull Point per 10 Hit Points healed, and I would therefore not permit “Repair Damage” spells to be effective in this regard. Also, I would apply the same rules about charming a Smalljammer or controlling its actions as I would the use of “Control Plant” abilities in relation to elven craft (see above.)
I am not aware of any 3rd edition or Pathfinder conversions for a Smalljammer.
First appearing in Skull and Crossbows, these are formed by the thri-kreen and seem to be of a similar plant to the starfly. Four Thorn boats dock in each Leaf Ship, and the Thorn Ships carry Greek fire, often used in suicide runs. The ships are a translucent green and yellow and illuminated by phosphorescent growths within the structure.
Just like elven craft, these ships save as ceramic, so they also have some of the best saving throws in the game, but they do not share that uniquely elven maneuverability. As with elven craft, I would allow “Heal Plant” spells to repair damage to living Leaf and Thorn ships in a limited manner (see above.)
Pathfinder Conversion at Obsidian Portal, courtesy of Loki.