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Hollow Moon Exploration: continued

by Sharon Dornhoff

Mystaraspace: the hardships of space travel

For anyone but those in spelljamming vessels --and even, at times, for them -- travelling to Matera for the first time should be a challenge, on par with any epic quest. What could be a greater adventure, for groundling PCs, than a journey to the moon ... one of the greatest IRL adventures of our own century? Once they've done it "the hard way" once, individual DMs may opt to let players develop ship-teleporting magics or other handy short-cuts, to cover the distance, even if they don't wish to introduce full-fledged spelljamming helms to a campaign; but for maximum dramatic impact, I strongly recommend requiring PCs to do the whole 238,600 miles, both ways, at least for the first visit.

Keeping this in mind, those 238,600-miles become the greatest obstacle to Voidship travel between Mystara and her farthest moon. At a maximum speed of* 327 miles per day, even the fastest airship in the Alphatian fleet will take two years to cover those kinds of distances! It's unlikely any voidship crew other than an all-elf one would be willing to undertake such a long journey, even if food and water supplies -- not to mention air-freshening spells -- can be made to last that long. (Note that, while players will no doubt suggest that PC clerics with the power to Create Food And Drink eliminate the need to stock so many provisions, most NPC sailors they recruit should be justifiably leery of relying on a single person for supplies. Accidents at sea or on atmospheric skyships are all too common, as every sailor knows, and the dread of losing their only source of povender would never be far from the crew's minds, in such nerve-wracking circumstances.) Clearly, the rules presented in CoM were not designed for crossing such huge distances, and many DMs who have added space travel to their campaigns in the past have allowed voidships to move at "Spelljammer" speeds -- 4 million miles per hour, in the open void -- when travelling between planets.

[* -- Ship speeds and other guidelines for OD&D space travel were taken from Marco Dalmonte's "Spelljammer And Mystara: Conversion Rules", along with other suggestions for reconciling Mystara with SJ. Thanks lots, Marco.]

Unfortunately, upgrading voidships to move at the SJ-rules' "warp speed" is going over the top, for a flight to Matera! For characters whose ships move THAT fast, the journey isn't a challenge, it's an afterthought. If you have already introduced spelljamming helms or equivalently-swift voidships to your campaign, the only way to make a trip from Mystara to the visible moon as dramatic as it deserves to be, is to temporarily disable the vessel's capacity for accelerated movement in some way, forcing the ship to move at its tactical speed -- a more moderate 410 miles X SR per day -- for the entire journey. This could be accomplished by damaging its helm in some way, or by having the ship closely pursued by another vessel for much or all of the journey; however, it's an option that's as likely to frustrate PCs who are experienced space voyagers, as to impress upon them the weightiness of their achievement.

There is, however, a third option ... one that resembles how space travel IRL is done, and which bridges the gap between the "technologies" of slow-moving CoM voidships and "warp speed" spelljamming vessels. It's the "continuous acceleration" voidship: an airship which treats its movement rating as acceleration rather than as velocity, and increases its speed the whole time it travels through space, just as rockets which continue to fire after they've reached orbit will do. Such a voidship moves at 10 times its base atmospheric speed, when it first leaves the Skyshield, but then proceeds to pick up speed by an equal amount each day. Thus, a voidship that travels at a speed of 327 miles/day as it first leaves the atmosphere will have covered 490 miles after twenty-four hours, while accelerating to 654 miles/day. Increasing its rate of travel by 327 miles/day, for every day of travel, it'll cover 818 miles on the second day, 1145 miles on the third, and so on, for as long as it continues to build upon its previous inertia. The one major limitation of such a design is that -- like a real-life space vehicle -- it must "reverse engines" and accelerate in the opposite direction, in order to slow down or stop. Continuous-acceleration voidships do not slow to tactical speeds when they come close to objects, so planets, asteroids, other ships and the like can't be used as "brakes"; navigators of such vessels must plot their courses to allow for sufficient deceleration time, and must take extreme care not to pilot their ship into fields of debris, where they could easily collide with an undetected object at high (often VERY high) speeds.

With this kind of a voidship -- perhaps an "experimental model", fresh from the skydocks of NACE or Hollow World Alphatia -- capable of 327 miles of acceleration/day, PCs can reach Patera (assuming they can find it) in 18 days. From Patera to Matera is a 48-day flight, assuming they choose to resupply themselves on the invisible moon, rather than attempt a direct, non-stop trip. The long haul from Mystara directly to Matera is 52 days ... not much longer than the Patera-Matera flight, given that on those four extra days, they'll be travelling at a top speed of 381.5 mph! A single extra day of forward acceleration, on either of these journeys, and a gradual turn to follow Matera around the path of its orbit on the final day of travel, will let the continuous-acceleration voidship catch up to the moon (it's orbiting at 2300 miles per hour, remember!) while actually shaving the last six days of deceleration from the journey. Feel free to dock some experience points from players who neglect to allow for Matera's own movement, BTW: If they start a 46-day flight by pointing their vessel "straight at the moon", it'll be ten days away from their position, on the other side of Mystara, when they arrive at the spot they aimed for! (This was yet another error of Luftkapitan Kauser's, and why the Adler, a top-of-the-line Warbird, took fifty-eight days to land.)

Having found a compromise between standard voidships and spelljammers -- one which, with travel times of roughly a month and a half, makes going to Matera compare favourably with Columbus' voyages to the New World -- the major remaining concerns for space travellers in the Mystara-Patera-Matera planetary system are the environmental hazards of airlessness, cold, and light. (Note that, while conventional wisdom holds that magic is the only difference between "reality" and the "princess/Princess Ark" version of outer space, this simply isn't true: space in/PA is NOT a vacuum. Hence, pressure leaks and explosive decompression pose no dangers.) Lack of air can be coped with by air-producing magics under the OD&D rules, by refreshing air envelopes frequently under the SJ rules, or by a combination of the two methods (e.g. converting SJ air-restoring spells from the Wizards' Spell Compendium for use in OD&D), as well as by magic items such as the personal airmasks favoured by Myoshiman tiger-riders. Cold temperatures -- -10 to -30 degrees C, for the CoM rules; -240 degrees F, if you want to reflect my own, real-life figures for the chill on the moon's surface -- can be overcome only with magic, due to their extremity and to the lack of air, which might otherwise grow warm, from body heat, beneath one's clothing (DMs who prefer the SJ "universe" should consider such temperatures in wildspace to be a natural quirk of Mystara's crystal sphere, the interior of which is even colder than Krynn's). Blinding-bright, unfiltered sunlight and direct UV-rays will be encountered anywhere outside the atmosphere except within the shadow of a planet or moon, but these can be kept out of vessels' hulls by tinted glass, wooden or cloth baffles, or sealable shutters, and persons on deck may protect themselves using thick garments, dark goggles, and/or spells. The heavy pelts of rakasta, many lupins, and other furred races can serve them for protection from UV for journeys through space, although eyewear must be worn to avoid blindness, especially for light-sensitive rakastan retinas. Non-Kogolor dwarven spacefarers should also have a superior resistance to UV, as the radiation-tolerance which Kagyar instilled in them -- remember that...? -- can finally serve the purpose it was designed to! (One presumes that the Princess Ark was enchanted with glare-deflecting and climate-control magics at some point during its construction, as Prince Haldemar seems to have been uncharacteristically reticent about these potential hazards of space travel. ;-D)

Beyond these, I'm not going into any more detail about space flight in the Mystara setting: Marco Dalmonte has done a much better job than I could hope to, in reconciling the many contradictory rules of SJ and CoM! I'll just remind readers that, for the Hollow Moon setting to work, I've necessarily assumed that the SJ/AD&D "universe" exists SOMEWHERE; whether Mystara is part of a solar system inside a crystal sphere, or whether SJ is just another galaxy that happens to be put together very differently from Mystara's, or whether the two settings are in different, but mutually-accessible dimensions, doesn't really matter. (A fourth possibility -- that Mystara's entire galaxy resides within a REALLY BIG crystal sphere that floats in the phlogiston -- seems not to have made it onto the MML, yet... but that's probably the least compatible with the HM, of the four, so never mind that one.) Only the "reality shift" solution which Bruce Heard proposed in "Up, Away, and Beyond" -- Sorry, Bruce! ;-) -- can't really be used for the Hollow Moon, at least as I've imagined it.

WEIRD space: strange new ways to get there

After all that I've said about continuous-acceleration voidships (we can call them C-AVs, for short ... although Mystara's already bogged down in acronyms, as it is!), you might get the impression that's the ONLY way for your PCs to travel to Matera. Far from it! Early writers of moon-fiction devised so many bizarre forms of spaceflight, in getting their protagonists to Luna, that their stories make Mystara's magical skyships seem downright run-of-the-mill. With that in mind, I've put together a list of just about every form of literary space travel from Dr. Nicolson's book "Voyages To The Moon" -- plus a few others we shouldn't leave out -- and I hope it'll give you ideas for how to get adventurers to the Hollow Moon in a way that's going to surprise them:

I. Non-supernatural methods, i.e. journeys not requiring PC magic

1) Natural phenomena : While these kinds of "space travel" may seem more like gimmicks than feasible forms of transport, we know that magic plays a big part in Mystara's natural world; the good and bad magic points in Alfheim/Aengmor or the elemental vortices which influence climate are examples of this. Thus, it's easy to imagine "natural" means of space travel in such a setting, and these are particularly suitable if you want to send someone to Matera without a warning. One of the oldest moon-flight stories was of a character in classical myth, who was carried to Luna by warm smoke, rising out of the volcano Mt. Etna. Perhaps a magical volcanic gas could transport PCs beyond the atmosphere and carry them to Matera, shielded from space by the smoke's warmth and darkness. The same vapours might also send passengers into a trance during their journey, in which food, water, and air are unnecessary ... a common plot device, in early moon-fiction. Another trick that can be borrowed from mythology is the "rainbow bridge", already used in Mystara to connect the Sylvan Realm with other lands; maybe natural "moonbows" can carry PCs to Matera, or summoning the Sylvan Realm's bridge under a full moon can take them there. Yet another fictional character was carried to the moon by a tornado, in an event remarkably similar to Mystara's strange "tubular breaches"... or Dorothy in The Wizard Of Oz! Even Cyrano de Bergerac claimed to have used natural forces to reach Luna, in recounting his own (bogus, but idea-inspiring) space travels: he gathered the morning dew into vials and tucked them in his clothing. Because the sun -- as every Frenchman of his day knew -- "draws the dew towards itself", the sunrise lifted the vials into the air, bringing Cyrano with them.

2) Pure technology : Hey, it worked for 'The Beagle'! While there's some question as to whether the Federation vessel crashed because its technology was incompatible with Mystaran magic, or for some other reason (check out the upcoming post, "An Outer Moon timeline", for my own theory; yep, that's a blatant plug! ;-D), a spaceship built ON Mystara -- even a non-magical one -- would certainly be designed to function irregardless of magic's effect. My own timeline has Blackmoor on the brink of breaking out into space, at the time of its downfall (plug, plug, plug!), and other DMs have attributed complex spaceships to the Blackmoorians. PCs have been stumbling across old Blackmoor devices, and wandering off with them, for decades; maybe the next piece of lost technology your own group finds will decide to wander off with THEM, for a change! ("Say, let's see what THIS button does, guys...!")

II. Supernatural methods, i.e. journeys using magical spells or beings

1) Spirit escorts : One of the simpler ways for early writers to get their protagonists to the moon was to employ angels or demons, who could do the impossible, as porters/guides. The latter are well-represented in the OD&D rules by the creatures of Entropy; unfortunately, it's unlikely that many PCs would feel safe, putting their lives into the hands of an Entropic spirit for such a trip! The fiends of AD&D are usually depicted as easier to coerce than those of OD&D, while the various aasimons of PS offer angelic alternatives to either, being both trustworthy and far more pleasant to travel with. Other common spirits to appear in this role of escort through space are genies, i.e. djinn ... beings which, having the power to create soft materials and assume gaseous form, are particularly well-suited to providing their charges with food, drink, and oxygen en route. The fourth type of spirit escort in lunar fiction, the kindly ghost, doesn't seem as appropriate as the others, given that undead and Entropy are virtually synonymous in the Mystara setting. In the Know World, the fairies of the "Good Kingdom", with their collective knack for distorting time and space around their home, might be another possibility ... assuming PCs can figure out where they went, after Alfheim's transformation.

2) Travel-spells : Like the Hollow World, the Hollow Moon cannot be accessed by teleportation; however, a returning visitor to Matera may certainly land on the outside of the moon, and enter by other means. Teleporting to Matera shouldn't be possible without having gone there several times previously, as the outer lunar environment is sufficiently alien that a single visit probably won't provide the spellcaster a clear or lasting "sense" of the area.

3) Astral projection : Many writers took this approach if they wished to have their characters tour the moon, but not necessarily interact with it. Astral travellers to Matera are nothing more than observers, making this form of travel most useful for reconnaissance and fly-by exploration. The bedrock of Matera resists passage of astral or ethereal beings through its substance, so an astral visitor to the Hollow Moon must enter by way of the impact crater as Mare Orientale, or tag along with another group which has opened a crystal passage; an astral being cannot cause such passages to open (more about these crystal passages, and how to access the Hollow Moon, in thread #3: "HM Planetology"). Unfortunately for the astral traveller, creatures such as basilisks which can threaten such characters with their gaze-weapons are not unknown in the HM setting, thanks to frequent traffic to and from the Plane of Earth by the indigenous desert ghosts.

4) Dream projection : Another old standby of writers who wanted their heroes to look, not touch, or who saw fit to populate Luna with dreamers' projected bodies. For game purposes, going to the Hollow Moon via dream projection is virtually identical to going there astrally -- passage through bedrock is not an option, and physical contact is impossible during one's stay. While basilisks pose no threat to dream-travellers, certain HM races which can influence the mind (notably, the kopru and pteryx) may be able to mesmerise or command a dream-projected character, at the DM's discretion. A good choice, when designing a method of dream-travel to Matera, is Sindhi soma juice, as this vision-inducing beverage has strong associations with the visible moon. DMs who allow psionics in their Mystara campaigns may permit characters to achieve the same effect with the Dream Travel discipline, projecting themselves to Matera's surface ... or into the Hollow Moon, itself, if they first imbibe soma juice. On the down side, PC dream-visitors to the HM setting may have difficulty convincing others that their experiences there weren't "just a dream".

5) Magic items : The concept of "magic items", at least as a category of things to be found in a dungeon, is more a convention of RPGs than of literature; and Dr. Nicolson's book doesn't mention any items that could take people to the moon... although one letter she cites, penned by a clergyman to deride Galileo, makes fun of the idea that a tube with lenses could "bring the moon closer"! (An enchanted spyglass, that makes things "look" closer by transporting its user TO them....?) On the other hand, many stories cope with the problem of food, water, and other amenities by assuming that special drugs, or even the condition of weightlessness, itself (!), would make them unnecessary. A potion that could serve this purpose, either by eliminating the need directly, or by inducing the fantasy equivalent of science fiction "cold sleep", would be a welcome addition to a space traveller's gear.

III. Combination methods, i.e. journeys employing both magic and "fantasy physics"

1) Flying chariots : Believe it or not, the first "astronaut" to appear in English literature, and to travel into space by methods which were neither supernatural nor a contrived freak of nature, but a product of his own ingenuity, made his incredible journey in a vehicle powered by ... geese. Sixty large, trained geese, that he'd tethered to a framework in which he could sit. That's how Domingo Gonsales -- who'd actually been trying to escape from a desert island; it was the birds' idea, to go all the way to the Moon! -- became the first fictional character on Luna, and that's yet another method of moon-travel that, ridiculous as it sounds, might truly work in Mystaraspace. We know that Myoshiman tiger-riders can fly through space, and that OD&D space is not a vacuum; we can therefore deduce that Mystara's solar system must be filled with a light, non-breathable, non-toxic, chemically inert gas of some kind. (Historical precedent dictates it ought to be called "ether"; but given how that term's been kypped by AD&Ds Ethereal Plane, calling it that might cause more confusion than it's worth! Let's call it "heardium" for now ... okay, Bruce? ;-D) Between this train of reasoning, and the long-standing rumours that dragons can fly through the Void by means of their wings, it's logical to conclude that ANY flying creature able to breach the Skyshield, and to tolerate conditions in space, ought to be able to fly there. A PC who can Charm or otherwise control a flock of large birds or other avians so they'll fly in formation, and tether them to a vehicle as Gonsales did (Gonsales trained his "gansas" to fly on command without magic, but I wouldn't let PCs get away with this: mundane birds aren't that smart!); or any PC with the voluntary help of sentient birds, could mimic the Spanish castaway's trick and be drawn into the air, potentially even into space via a tubular breach. The main advantage this method has over flying mounts and flying characters -- detailed below -- is that a flying chariot/framework of sufficient size can be built to generate its own gravity plane, by whichever gravity rules -- CoM or SJ -- the DM opts to enforce in Mystaraspace. The disadvantages of this method are its slow speed (WAY too slow for a trip to the Hollow Moon! Oh, well...) and the fact that every single bird in the team must be individually protected from the harsh conditions in space, provisioned, and cared for.

2) Flying mounts : Much more common than team-drawn chariots, individual flying mounts are fairly easy to come by, in a world like Mystara, and require much less protective magic and maintenance than a flock. Like the previous entry, they are comparatively slow flyers -- barring some serious haste-magic, most are only good for the comparatively-brief journey from Mystara to Patera or vice versa -- and they are far too small to generate a gravity plane in open space (great rocs and large or huge dragons are exceptions to this rule; if you can tame or recruit one of them, you've got all the gravity you need!). Flying in zero-G is something most winged mounts will certainly find disturbing, their first few times beyond the Skyshield, and steeds will be frightened and unruly until they grow accustomed to such conditions; mounts which fly by innate levitation, such as asperii from FR, won't be nearly as distressed by the lack of gravity. Many ordinary actions become real dilemmas, in zero-G -- how to keep supplies together, how to drink liquids, how to fire arrows accurately, etc. -- although characters familiar with the AD&D Astral Plane may find their environment quite similar to there. As with characters, mounts must be protected from the cold, brightness, and airlessness of space. PCs and NPCs with a very low Constitution (less than 6) could reasonably be deemed incapable of tolerating zero-G, at the DM's discretion.

3) Flying characters : There are a LOT of ways to grant personal flight to PCs, in the AD&D/AD&D games; and while such methods don't generally provide sufficient speed for the journey to Matera or even Patera, they are well-suited to the needs of persons who fall overboard in the Void or who are members of an "away team", descending from their ship in orbit to explore Matera's surface (the "heardium" gas exists there, too). Fly spells and Polymorphing into a winged shape can provide personal mobility in space, albeit of a limited duration; other than the delay entailed, there's no reason why a mage can't Fly through space, hover in zero-G while re-casting the spell, then Fly some more. Magic items which are ridden, such as Flying Carpets or Brooms Of Flying, may or may not work in space, depending on whether the DM rules their magic to be powered by air elementals in some way (such beings are unable to function in space). Wings Of Flying and similar devices or spells, that attach themselves to the user's back or cause physical wings to sprout, work normally in space. As a cheap and somewhat unorthodox alternative, the gnomes of Serraine and various loony wizards have long tried in vain to create mechanical wings by which a person might fly within the atmosphere. Their failed models might serve well enough for would-be flyers in space, where there is no risk of falling and lift is unimportant (perhaps they can be a voidship's equivalent of lifejackets!). Finally, there are over a dozen alternate PC races -- enduks and ee'aar from the SC setting; hsiao, woodrakes, and some fairies from "Tall Tales of the Wee Folk"; faenare, tabi, harpies, sphinxes and pegataurs from "Top Ballista"; werebats from "Night Howlers" ... plus whoever I've left out! -- which possess the power of flight or can transform into a winged shape at need. Note that phanaton PCs' gliding membranes aren't built for powered flight, so would allow them only very limited mobility in space (they'd be able to keep their balance in zero-G pretty well though, using their gliding-membranes as stabilisers).

4) Flying vessels : These are the traditional transport of choice, for Mystaran spacefarer-PCs; it's what the CoM space rules were written for, after all! Heldannic Warbirds and Alphatian Voidships are the top contenders in the Mystaran "space race", although Aeria's new skydocks are also getting in on the action. Nor should Glantri or Thyatis -- which probably have small airship-building programs of their own, now, to counter the reborn threat of HW Alphatia -- be excluded from the running. Even Herath might try getting a peek beyond the Skyshield, one of these days (they'd certainly have plenty of silk line, for rigging!). But not all Void vessels will necessarily be "skyships" as we know them. Oostdok's gnomes might discover a gas even lighter than "heardium", by which to float space-blimps big enough to carry several months' provisions at a time (and the HKs, no doubt, will refine the technology and proclaim their zeppelins are MUCH more efficient ;-D). Their skygnome cousins in Serraine could re-fit those obnoxious biplanes of theirs for space ... giving us something we'd actually WANT those Heldannic Warbirds to shoot down! Flying vehicles have been covered so thoroughly by Mystara products already, the only literary idea I can contribute that might be new to readers is the one-man giant kite... a type of vehicle which, though lacking an independent power source for movement, might easily be developed by the Myoshiman military as a means of air-lifting supplies to their tiger-riders, at the fringes of the Skyshield: the OD&D equivalent of "in-flight refuelling".

5) Smoke powder : With the possible exception of Entropic escorts or jumping into a tornado, this is the MOST dangerous method of space travel you could ever catch your PCs attempting. Cyrano de Bergerac mentioned it as a joke, but players who think this will work are deluding themselves; while the SC setting is slowly developing better and better firearms, smoke powder is still far too little-understood for Mystara to be ready for rocketry. Not only that, but the hideous costs involved in fuelling a vehicle with smoke powder ensure it's quite uncostworthy, when compared to skyships or other methods of space flight! The only people in the Savage Baronies who might actually endorse such a plan would be some of the Inheritors, and that's only because -- whether it works or not -- it would require great quantities of smoke powder to be set off at a great distance from themselves. (On the other hand, so long as you don't kill them off outright in explosions, letting them experiment with rockets might be one way of removing excess smoke powder from PCs' hands, should you find you've given them far too much of it.)

So, there's more ways than you ever wanted to know about how to send a bunch of Mystaran PCs into space. If you can't surprise your players with one of these methods, they've either found themselves their own copy of Dr. Nicolson's book, or they've been reading these HM postings behind your back. Good luck, and do be sure they have a safe landing! ;-)