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Alphatian Skyship Spotters Guide - by Olaf ap Oluffson

by Cab


I was a boy of seven when the aerodrome first opened in my home town of Magan, with its grand, faultless granite gates over the road from my fathers Inn, the Dukes Rest, on Gan street. That was after the Great War, and up until that point war was all we'd known. Armies marched in and through Maganshire; first the Thyatians, and the Heldanners, and then the Alphatians reclaiming 'their' territory, then we were independent, then the Alphatians were back... A young boy might be forgiven for finding all of this a little overwhelming! But all of this did mean that we got to see the cream of the Alphatian navy flying overhead on a weekly basis. And my earliest memories are of craning my neck out of the window and staring up in marvel, watching the battle rage between wings of Heldannic warbirds and Alphatian skyships.

Of course the opening of the aerodrome merely coincided with the onset of yet another war; Magan was being fortified, with huge numbers of engineers and mages building new walls, extensions to the castle, and of course the new bridge to Fort Beotach. But I only had eyes for the aerodrome, and the marvels that would be coming and going every day. Ships like RAN Pegasus, with her three stately masts and her improbably big hold, brimming with weaponry and her gut full of boltmen and heavy marines would come in to Magan for supplies while enforcing the blockade on Heldann. RAN Quercus, the a topsail schooner, and the first of the Norwold built ships to be part of the Imperial fleet, running back and forward from the blockading vessels to the South with supplies and news; she'd come in to port battered, sometimes dismasted, but with her sailors looking proud and undaunted as they had once again shaved some precious hours off the time taken to run the gauntlet of the War Birds, and had survived again. And my first sighting of RAN Vanguard, her four towering masks raked back further than any others, her gleaming paintwork covering up hastily repaired damage to her hull, showing that once again the pride of the Alphatian fleet had been in the thick of battle, and the place chosen for her to be repaired fully was right here, over the road from my fathers Inn.

This started a life-long love of all ships that can fly, and as soon as I learned to read and write (a benefit of living in a Alphatian Norwold!) I started recording my observances; the sailors would call at our Inn as a first port of call after landing, and it was never hard to get them to talk with pride and real love for their ships. How long was she? How many crew? When was she built?

So, looking back now as the proprietor of the Inn (now called the Admirals Rest), here are my collected observances on the Imperial navy, over many years. The vessels, the men, the service. I hope that this will serve in some way as both an encouragement to others to share in the joy of these magnificent vessels, but also as a memorial to the countless dead; to those who bravely took to the air with nothing but a four inch plank between themselves and oblivion, and who paid the price. Particularly, I'd like to dedicate this work to the crew of RAN Alchemos, whose tragic, unsporting deaths hit us so very hard in this community.

The Royal Alphatian Flying Navy - One Empire, Four Fleets

The flying navy is a vast network of officers and vessels posted across the globe and beyond. The administration of such an organisation is complex and secretive, but it is easy to discern that there are four fleets and not, as is commonly assumed, three.

The four operational arms of the fleet are Red, White, Yellow and Black. The Red Fleet is involved in offensive operations around the globe, its purpose is to protect far off Alphatian colonies, to provide tactical support in expanding imperial holdings where required, and to restrict movements of enemies of the Empire outside her borders. The White fleet is predominantly the defensive arm of the Empire; it provides wooden wall behind which the Empire can endure. Its primary goal is to prevent incursion of foreign powers, be they by land, sea or air, and its particular forte is in opposing the Heldannic Knights, the Knights of the Air and the famed Retebius Air Fleet. The yellow fleet is made up of support vessels; armed merchant men, supply ships, etc. While less glamorous, the thinly spread Yellow fleet is essential in maintaining Alphatian operations wherever they are, from pole to pole, and in ensuring that the vast logistics needed for an air fleet are correctly run.

The fourth, and more controversial, part of the Navy is the Black fleet. Officially, of course, it does not exist, but we can deduce its existence from a number of sources of evidence (more of which later). The Black fleet is concerned with experimental and far distant travel; they operate void ships, dimensional ships, planar ships, and (I believe) have even experimented with temporal travel. While their vessels are fewer in number than the other parts of the fleet, the interest they provide for the dedicated ship-spotter is sufficient that are always first to be discussed whenever two true enthusiasts trade notes over a good ale. And in the Admirals Rest, we get many enthusiasts.

Ranks of the Alphatian Navy

The command structure of the navy is interesting, in that while it is in principle uniform across the service, in practice the specific fleet plays a great part in how far a person may progress; of course, knowing this, young officers generally seek out positions in those parts of the navy that most readily serve their interests.

The most obivious example of this is that in the White fleet, only Aristocrats may advance to command rank (Master and Commander or higher), whereas in the Red and Yellow fleets ascendancy in rank is more meritorious (although influence and political clout can take an incompetent man a long way!).

All officers start out as midshipmen. This non-commissioned post allows a young officer to 'learn the ropes'. They are expected to learn the basics of airmanship; the knots, the sails, air currents, piloting, navigation (by the stars and other cues), ships stores, navigation (spherical trigonometry is something that becomes second nature to them), leadership, and how to handle oneself in a fight. After 5 years of service they are eligible to stand for examination to become a commissioned officer, a lieutenant. Said exams can convene at any time when three post-rank captains are assembled. Most young gentlemen (75%) pass this exam at their first attempt, but those who fail can sit again a year later, and a year after that... Few fail on the second occasion.

Lieutenants form the backbone of the service; the life of a lieutenant is one of command and responsibility. They are usually expected to take watch (effectively be in command of the ship for a period of time, with responsibility to alert the Captain or other senior officers in the event of any serious incident), and will be expected to lead crew on most things; each will have part of the ship as their responsibility during a battle, each will have a contingent of his 'watch' who are responsible for keeping part of the ship in good repair, etc. As a true, commissioned officer they command respect from the crew and the midshipmen, and are allowed a certain amount of familiarity with more senior officers.

As leaders of crew, the lieutenant will be expected to take the lead in combat; many tales of dashing heroism are of lieutenants. And it is through such events that a lieutenant will seek advancement. It is traditional that the first lieutenant (the most senior) of a ship involved in a great victory (an action over a foe considered equivalent or greater) will receive promotion to Master and Commander (just termed Commander), and other lieutenants showing quality will also eventually gain promotion.

While in command of a vessel, a Commander is referred to as Captain. A Commander may command any vessel of lesser than sixth rating, and may fly a narrow pennant of a single colour; essentially a commander may have any ship too small to be considered worthy of a Post Captain. Again, promotion to a full command (Post Captain, or Captain) is on merit or influence; a Post Captain (or Captain) may command any vessel from sixth rate to first rate. A captain flies a similar pennant to a commander, a single narrow pennant.

A flotilla of ships will sometimes be given a 'commodore'. The rank of commodore is a temporary title in the Alphatian navy, usually given for a specific time frame, or for a specific short term command. The legalities of this rank (and how a commodore may rank) are complex, but the rank serves the purpose of allowing an admiral to select one captain out of many on a complex mission as a senior, regardless of time in service (which otherwise determines superiority; a captain of five years in the rank marginally outranks one of four years, etc.). After such a service, a commodore reverts to the rank of Captain. A commodore may fly a broad pennant (showing the colours of the branch of the fleet to which the ship belongs, lined with the colour of the fleet that ordered the mission).

After attaining post captaincy an officer will, if he lives long enough, become an Admiral of some description. The ranks of Admiral are therefore full of many inactive, retired captains, with those officers still in service advancing through the ranks of 'rear Armidal', 'vice Admiral' and 'full Admiral', although all are allowed to hoist a broad pennant above a ship and bear the title 'Admiral'. The ranks of Admiral, unlike those of lower status, are specifically tied to a branch of the fleet, hence the full title may be 'Vice Admiral of the Red', 'Rear Admiral of the White', etc. All admirals fly a broad pennant when onboard ship. Above all of the Admirals is the most senior officer in the Navy, the Fleet Admiral. The Fleet Admiral, when aboard vessel, may fly a broad pennant in red, white and yellow.

(Note: What comes next is going to be the meat of this; the ship-spotters guide, a class-by-class guide to ships in the Alphatian navy. I plan to include a description of the class of ships including size, masts etc., names of current ships, total number constructed and initial date of class, total number still in service, crew compliment, the role of the ships, and special features of the ships. Anything else we want? There are going to be a lot of kinds of ship from my campaign to be described... This'll keep me busy for a while!)

Classes of Alphatian Flying Ship, by Date of Commission

Invincible class

Date of Commission (RAN Invincible)): AC 1888
Total Number of Ships Commissioned: 26 (16 White Fleet, 10 Red Fleet)
Constructed at: Floating Ar.
Rating: 3rd
Length: 168'
Beam: 46' 9"
Depth of Hold: 19' 9"
Fighting Decks: 2
Number still in Service: 4 (RAN Invincible, Indomiatble, Indefatigable, Imperial)
Crew Compliment: Typically 611 (Captain, 5 lieutennants, 5 midshipmen, 300 crewmen, 300 boltmen and marines)

The Invincible class was first constructed to replace the obsolete (but classic) Wychwood class, to be the work-horse ship-of-the-line of the future. While the ships have served this purpose well (being a means to transport hundreds of troops great distances and with huge protection), they did not serve with great distinction against the Retebius Air Fleet (RAF), and four of their number (Immutable, Illustrious, Isis and Ixion) were lost in operations to over their first 20 years of operations.

Since that time the remaining vessels have served reliably, though unremarkably. Command of an Invincible class ship was jokingly compared to retirement for older captains; expected duties would include blockade, border protection, and fleet assaults, none of which gave likelihood for individual glory for captains or lieutenants. However, there were notable exceptions; RAF Irascible became the first vessel to engage a heavy Heldannic warbird in a single ship action in 1961, damaging her foe severely and giving chase for three days before forcing a decisive action in which she was victorious (Lieutennant Bilgi was promoted to master and commander on the strength of this). RAF Inflexible successfully defeated an punitive raid from Wyrmsteeth dragons over the town of Llanderris in 1970. But for the age and supposed fire-power of this class of ship, this is hardly a remarkable record.

The four remaining ships all serve with the white fleet, and while they are old, they are still considered worthy of the line of battle. It is believed that the imperial navy will, in the coming years, sell these vessels out of the service, and they suffice for individual kingdoms very well. Theranderol has already taken possession of one other Invincible class ship, the Iridescent.

All of that said, the four vessels remaining in Imperial service still cast the long shadow of Alphatian dominance; they remain majestic, classic ships of the line, with three solid masts and a stout hull.

(Note: These vessels are based on HMS Elephant, launched in 1786, and Nelsons flagship at Copenhagen; I'll sketch one maybe if I've time. For now, see:

Kna class (submersible)

Date of Commission (RAN Kna): 1891
Total Number of Ships Commissioned: 3 (Kna, Kraken, Kopru)
Constructed at: Aquas
Rating: 6th
Length: 110'
Beam: 15'
Draft: 12"
Fighting Decks: n/a
Number still in Service: 1 (RAN Kraken)
Crew Compliment: 30 (Captain, lieutenant, 2 midshipmen, 21 crewmen, 5 boltmen)

The red fleet of the RAN operates a number of submersible vessels. The oldest sill in service is the Kraken, a lumbering old ironclad subersible capable of great range but little firepower; the manufacture of torpedoes, although known at the time of launch, was considered too expensive, so armaments are, quite literally, the manpower. Boltmen are equipped with lightning bolt and dispel wands, and the ship mounts for and aft heavy ballistas that can be launched either on the surface or under sea (although the range and damage of under-water fired ballista bolts is highly questionable).

The effectiveness of the Kraken in modern warfare against an organised foe such as the Knights of Vanya or indeed the Thyatian dromon fleet is doubtful, but the Kraken continues in service as a support vessel in the yellow fleet, operating alongside the Royal Surface Navy (RSN), where her ability as a scout vessel is appreciated.

The fate of her sister vessels, the Kna and the Kopru, proved to be a lesson for the RAN in future commissioning of submersible vessels. The Kna was lost in operations in the Sea of Dread, according to rumour in a confrontation with an unknown, fire powered ironcland. And the Kopru was presumed lost in a maelstrom while seeking a safe port following serious damage countering an incursion of frost giants from Frosthaven; later expeditions sent to the maelstrom have failed to find any trace of the vessel.

Nevermore class collier (post ship)
Date of Commission (RAN Nevermore): AC 1898
Total Number of Ships Commissioned: 80
Constructed at: Floating Ar, Aasla, Draco, Edario and Spearpoint
Rating: 6th
Length: 109'
Beam: 29'6"
Draft: 12"
Fighting Decks: 1
Number still in Service: 69
Crew Compliment: Typically 100(Captain, 2 lieutenants, 5 midshipmen, 72 crewmen, 20 marines and boltmen)

Crewmen of the Yellow fleet sufffers a certain amount of ridicule from crewmen of the other fleets; while the white fleet is understood by all to be the backbone of Alphatian defense, and men of the Red fleet are known for their dashingly piratical approach to battle and to life in general, few really understand the role of the Yellow fleet, and the important part is plays in Alphatian life.

The Empire can only function on good supply lines and communication; a certain amount of this can, of course, be accomplished through rapid magical transport, but this has inherent risks and is often expensive and difficult. And such is the nature of the Alphatian armed forces that they cannot possibly garrison all areas at all times; a thin gold line of Alphatian soldiers defends the empire from all manner of assault from outside, and it isn't the White fleet or the Red fleet that enables this, it is the Yellow fleet. And the Nevermore class is the backbone of the yellow fleet.

The most likely flying ship you'll see in outlying parts of Empire is a Nevermore. A somewhat round bellied, compact three masted vessel with a very familiar, crowded rigging, the Nevermore combines ruggedness with versatility; in its impressive 160 year history, only eleven of these vessels have been lost, and the same basic design is still under construction today. Neither the fastest (that would be the Anemone class), the highest altitude (Beluga class), best armed (comfortably the Vanguards) nor even the most capacious (probably the new Haven support vessels), the Nevermore class excels in two things more than any other; its enduring survivability, and its and its simple, stable, easy sailing properties.

If you can imagine a use to which a flying vessel has been adapted, its probably been done on a Nevermore. They have been adapted to carry troops (such as the Newhaven), for sub-aquatic environments (the Nixie), as rapid priest assistance vessels (Naea), bizarre honeymoon rituals for exotic royal houses (Nuptial), the range of uses to which they can be adapted is seemingly as endless as their lifespan. Their armaments vary according to their uses, but typically they carry light armaments befitting of a sixth rate vessel.

(Note: These vessels are based upon James Cooks famous vessel, HMS Endeavour).

Orca class Bomber
Date of Commission (RAN Nevermore): AC 1912
Total Number of Ships Commissioned: 50 (officially), plus 40 (suspected)
Constructed at: Skyfyr Shipyards
Rating: Not rated
Length: 30'
Beam: 8"
Fighting Decks: n/a
Number still in Service: 3
Crew Compliment: 6 (1 lieutennant, 5 boltmen)

The sinister RAN Orca first slipped into the night sky above the secretive shipyards of Skyfyr in the year 1912. And it was destined to change the way that wars were fought.

The premis of the Orca was simple; Alphatia was failing to press home any kind of aerial advantage over Thyatis, largely because it could not strike at land targets effectively without taking murderous losses from the Retebius Air Fleet and the Knights of the Air. The Red Fleet had lost three of its new Invincible class ships already, and couldn't afford to continue building huge, expensive artillery platforms. The methods that are now employed to construct vessels such as the Vanguard had yet to be developed, and something new was required.

The Orca is a simple vessel; shaped like a killer whale, painted on top a shade of green and underneath, oddly, pink (at high altitude, with the sun reflected at an angle, this proved the best camouglage). By being entirely enclosed within its own climate, it could maintain a higher altitude, for longer, than any extant Thyatian force, save for dragon mounted troops. The Orca would fly at high altitude carrying combustibles and delayed blast fireball boltmens wands, empty its payload, laboriously turn about (the ships steer like pigs) and head to rendezvous vessels for wand re-charge. The effect proved to be devastating, and the Orcas proved effective weapons of terror and destruction for nearly a century.

It was the Orcas that suffered the heaviest losses in Aasla; the firestorm engulfing the city (and the fleet stationed there) in 2004 consumed 40 of the Red Fleets most feared bombers, leaving only (at that time) 4 in active service. A further Orca was lost over Glantri later in the war. It may be presumed that the course of the war would have been far more bloody for enemies of Alphatia had her primary weapon of terror not been so cheaply squandered.

Records leaked from the Skyfyr by Jennite separatists have revealed that up to 90 vessels were actually constructed over a thirty year period, and it is fair to speculate whether the remaining 40 vessels were not intended for the Red Fleet, but for the mysterious Black Fleet. However, the cost of construction, per vessel, does not tie in with figures from the Imperial treasury for total payments made to the Skyfyr Company, the cost would be unreasonably high even for 90 of these actually quite simple vessels. Certainly, adventurers in the void have reported seeing mysterious black whale like vessels, but officially these are treated as nothing more than rumours, and there have been no recent, confirmed reports.

While the Orca brought an horrific change to how wars would be fought, it was also a flawed vessel. Slow, cumbersome, and lacking in useful close combat armaments, they were easy prey to those few Thyatian units able to reach high altitude; dragon riders in particular were a danger to the Orca fleet, and the three remaining in Imperial service (O11, O23, O30) are now entirely outclassed by the heavier, more dangerous Beluga class.

Precocious class Frigate
Date of Commission (RAN Precocious): AC 1920
Total Number of Ships Commissioned: 9 (6 completed)
Constructed at: Floating Ar
Rating: 6th
Length: 125'
Beam: 31'
Draught: 14'
Fighting Decks: 1
Number still in Service: 1 (RAN Polymath)
Crew Compliment: 197 (1 captain, 4 lieutenants, 6 midshipmen, 150 crewmen, 36 boltmen and marines)

The lack of serviceable frigates in both ocean going and aerial navies is so common a complaint that it is also a cliche; frigates support capital vessels, they guard smaller ships and convoys, they act as the eyes and ears of the fleet, and they serve as a proving ground for young, ambitious officers. The life of a frigate is high risk, and no class of frigate shows this more clearly than Precocious.

The great shipyards of Floating Ar produced in thePrecocious a nimble, light, and fast fighting ship, primarily to guard the Orca fleet, but also for detatched duty; the ship had to be robust enough to fulfill a number of roles. Arguably the failure of the class was in that it was built at the wrong time; four of the ten planned vessels were canceled, as no need was seen to construct them during a time of relative peace.

Four were stationed in Aasla to protect the Orca fleet, all were lost. A fifth was lost in the final raid of Glantri, and the last vessel, RAN Polymath was heavily damaged at the time. While she remains a nimble vessel, she is considered small for a frigate now, and will most likely be retired (with the still expandng Alchemos class making her effectively obsolete). A sweet sailing, beautiful vessel that will be much missed.

(Note: Based on HMS Surprise, originally the French built corvette Unite, launched in 1794, and made famous by Patrick O'Brian in his Aubrey/Maturin novels).

Quercus class Schooner
Date of Commission (RAN Precocious): AC 1955
Total Number of Ships Commissioned: 20
Constructed at: Quercus, Alpha, Magan and Landfall (Norwold)
Rating: Unrated
Length: 100'
Beam: 25'
Fighting Decks: 1
Number still in Service: 5 (RAN Quercus, Queodhar, Queen Melissa, Queen Eris, Quickstep)
rew Compliment: 75 (1 Commander, 2 lieutenants, 4 midshipmen, 56 crewmnen, 12 marines)

The Quercus was the first vessel to come from the Norwold shipyards, and on first appearances she had little going for her. A slender topsail schooner, mounting a square rigged foresail and a triangular rigged mainsail, carrying insufficient men and munitions to really be a threat to most enemies but having rather too great a tonnage to be a non-combattant, she was laughed at by the White Fleet when they were asked to consider this line of vessels for defense. And the yellow fleet had no need of a vessel with such scant capacioty to reprovision other vessels or carry more troops. But the Red fleet immediately commissioned a dozen of them, later expanding the line to 20. The genius iof the Quercus ships was that they provided greater manoeverability than most of the other vessels in the fleet at the time; when tested, Quercus could, quite literally, turn on a Judge. So as a mobile platform for spellcasters to take on the Knights of the Air, she was entirely capable. As she was built not only using magically crafter wood but also with some of the tall pines of Norwold for masts, she could be refitted more easily using whatever local materials were at hand than other ships in the fleet, making her ideal for extended campaigns in enemy territory. Indeed it bears testament to the design of this vessel that almost a century after the Quercus was commissioned, a quarter of the original vessels are still in service. While technically now obsolete (the Yarrvik and later lines have supplanted them) the remaining ships still serve with much distinction.

Of the other 15 vessels, nine were lost in the great fire of Aasla, one was lost in an exploratory mission to the polar regions (rumours abound ast to what happened), three were destroyed in actions later in the Great War, and two were destroyed in the Sundsvaal maelstrom. It seems that barring major calamity, the Quercus vessels go on, and on.

Thunder class Ship of the Line
Date of Commission (RAN Thunder)): AC 1972
Total Number of Ships Commissioned: 5 (3 red fleet, 2 white fleet)
Constructed at: Floating Ar.
Rating: 1st
Length: 186'
Beam: 52'
Depth of Hold: 21'6"
Fighting Decks: 3
Number still in Service: 2 (RAN Tenacious, RAN Tanari)
Crew Compliment: Typically 869 (Captain, 8 lieutennants, 15 midshipmen, 450 crewmen, 400 boltmen and marines)

Thunder class ships of the line represent the pinnacle of multi-deck warship construction. The addition of a third fighting deck allowed the Thunder to present a greater weight of arms against an opponent than any ship before, and with an impressive spread of sail and massive crew her great mass was more than offset by being able to attain a huge speed. Not the best acceleration but a top speed to rival all.

Designed to operate in the thick of any battle, as part of the line of battle with other 3rd and higher rated ships, these ships proved their worth in numerous engagements. Essentially the Thunders carried the Alphatian flag to the enemy in a way that none had before, and the deployment of such a vessel meant certain trouble for enemies of the empire.

However, in the new age of war against Glantri, Heldann and Thyatis, the vessels rather struggled. The three ships that survived the Aasla firestorm struggled against Heldannic Warbirds, and one (RAN Target) was destroyed by a wing of Warbirds over Helskir. Arguably, the tactic of packing more weaponry into a small space was already out-dated by the time Thunder was launched, being made so by the already under construction Vanguard.

Of the two remaining, Tenacious acts as the flagship of the White fleet, with sufficient room on board for Admiralty staff, and enough firepower to be respected in any era, and Tanari still serves with the Red fleet, carrying the flag of admiral in the Spearpoint squadron.

(note: these vessels are based on HMS Victory, which is of course is the oldest warship still commissioned, and can be viewed in Portsmouth harbour).

Utmost class Frigate
Date of Commission (RAN Undine): AC 1980
Total Number of Ships Commissioned: 8 (4 red fleet, 2 yellow fleet, 2 white fleet)
Constructed at: Floating Ar, Sundsvaal
Rating: 5th
Length: 160'
Beam: 44' 9"
Depth of Hold: 13'3"
Fighting Decks: 1
Number still in Service: 5 (RAN Utmost, Umbrage, Unicorn, Ubiquitous, Ultimatum)
Crew Compliment: 351 (captain, 4 lieutenants, 6 midshipmen, 220 sailors, 120 marines and boltmen)

The Utmost was intended as a full ship of the line, but cuts in the naval budget during the relatively peaceful 1970's saw plans for her hull scaled back. She was eventually launched as a 5th rate frigate, but soon distinguished herself in numerous engagements. The design 'flaw', as it was seen at time of launch, i.e. carrying the sail equivalent to a 3rd rate on a cut down hull, turned out to be of huge advantage in combating the still relatively recent threat of Heldannic warbirds. Fast and heavily armed, the Utmost became a model for several more ships in her class.

By sheer luck, only three of the Utmost were lost in Aasla, leaving 5 still in service. They are old ships (for frigates) now though, and it is likely that they'll be paid off in years to come.

(this vessel is based on HMS Indefatigable, a razeed third rate of much reknown in the Napoleonic era, gaining near legendary status under captain Pellew, and used as a setting for C.S. Foresters classic 'Mr. Midshipman Hornblower').

A few notes on Skyship Design and Build - 1970-2000

While the air navy had been rather slow in adapting to changes in ship design and build, the blue fleet (the sea-going arm of the Alphatian armed forces) had not. Indeed many revolutions in ship design had been implemented over the years.

Skyships had become mobile platforms for spellcasters and mundane and standard artillery. They varied in size, but the combat role of each had become very similar; the main opposition for both the Red and the White fleets was Thyatis, with their impressive Knights of the Air and Retebius Air Fleet regiments having taken a heavy toll on the navy over the years. It was felt that no flying ship could rival a squadron of griffon, hippogriff or dragons for manoeverability, so not attempt was made to do so. The emphasis was on construction of ever more vessels that could be deployed over a very wide area, the so called Umbrella Defense Strategy. By use of a red fleet that could wield unparallelled magical firepower, a white fleet that could be spread over a wide enough area to engage any attacker, and a yellow fleet to link the two and insure that imperial will was exerted, it was believed that no airborne threat could ever harm the Empire. True, attacks by dragons from the Wyrmsteeth could happen anywhere on the coast of the Alphatian sea, and mainland Thyatis would always be a tough nut to crack, but the air belonged to Alphatia. Truly, an empire of the air mages!

Everything changed with the rise of the Heldannic Knights. Their sleek, simple warbird design was in many ways the ideal combination of speed and firepower but, above all, the warbird brought something to the arena that Alphatians never had; expendability. It became apparent that the Knights were training multiple crews on the ground and in reserve vessels, and stockpiling the light frameworks of spare warbirds in more than a dozen different locations. The result of this was that as soon as one warbird was destroyed, another could appear, powered by the same artifact that keeps the fleet in the air, and the new vessel could attack nearly anywhere in the world without warning. Worse, one wing of warbirds could be volountarily grounded while another, thousands of miles away, would be suddenly reactivated. The white fleet couldn't hope to counter this, the yellow fleet proved horribly vulnerable, and the red fleet found itself to be hopelessly outnumbered as the Knights constantly shifted which wings of warbirds were airborne. This proved to be a brilliant strategy for the Knights, who for the first time in nearly two millenia really challenged Alphatian air supremacy.

The Royal Alphatian Flying Navy had to changed it ship building strategy, and for inspiration turned to the Blue fleet, and to foreign ship designers. Over many years and at inconcievable cost they devised four classes of vessel that levelled the playing field, a strategy that arguably backfired on Alphatia by starving her armies of the resources she needed to fight a decisive land war agaionst Thyatis for at least the first five years of the Great War. Those classes of ships were the now legendary Vanguard, the Wolf, the Xantippe and the Anemone. For the first time, the focus of ship design became one of rapid, global deployment of a small number of massively armed vessels rather than the mere provision of floating mage platforms. Indeed, with the Vanguard, everything changed.

Light Support Barge
Date of Commission: AC 1004

Total Number of Ships Commissioned: 10,000
Constructed at: Floating Ar
Length: 80'
Beam: 30'
Draught: 20'
Fighting Decks: 1
Number still in Service: 9347
Crew Compliment: Permanent - 20 (1 captain, 1 lieutenants, 3 midshipmen, 12 crewmen, 3 boltmen)

Most of these are mercantile freight support. They rarely travel with Millitary fleets unless it is between source and destination for the movement of cargo.

(Note: Based on the Albion - A flying barge out of Alphatia which was downed over Karameikos by a Dragon - leading to a young Alphatian Boltman being thrust into adventuring life in a Backwater on the edge of the Thyatian Empire).

Vanguard class Clipper of War

Date of Commission (RAN Vanguard): AC 1992
Total Number of Ships Commissioned: 4 (Red Fleet, Vanguard, Vagabond, Velya, Victory)
Constructed at: Floating Ar, Alpha, Aquas
Rating: 2nd
Length: 258'
Beam: 55'
Depth of Hold: 22'
Fighting Decks: 2
Number still in Service:
Crew Compliment: Typically 400 (Captain, 5 leftennants, 10 midshipmen, 180 sailors, 210 marines and boltmen)

The Vanguard was (and perhaps is) the most controversial ship of her era. Commissioned privately by Admiral Gasan Otiluke (as dubious a character as ever made it through the ranks of the Navy; of mixed Glantrian and Minrothaddan descent, and educated in the Great School of Magic in Glantri and the dockyards of Minrothad!), saw the need for fewer capital ships of far greater potency to counter the incredible mobility of the Heldannic warbirds. He reasoned that if the Knights of Vanya could breach the skyshield and travel at tremendous speed to any point on Mystara with an entire wing of vessels, no Alphatian Umbrella defence strategy could possibly repel them. What was needed was a vessel that could be moved in to place to face this threat instantly; a vessel capable of driving off or defeating an entire wing of Heldannic Warbirds or a whole combat regiment of the Retebius Air Fleet, able to outrun a flight of draons from Wyrmsteeth or punch a hole in the skyshield if need be.

The Vanguard is in some ways the very pinnacle of Alphatian engineering. Based in a Minrothaddan four masted clipper design but physically somewhat more rugged, her masts are higher and slant back further than any sea going vessel could claim. This gives her an appearance of great speed and huge nimbleness in the air, but belies the truth; she is no fat bellied trading vessel. She represents what many believe to be the most mortal magic ever crammed into a single vessel.

The full range of armaments and magical weaonry available to te captain of a Vanguard is still a highly guarded secret, but from reports I've gleaned over the years I can, with confidence, list many of her capabilities.

Vanguard is submersible; her crew, if they remain in on the vessel, can breathe under water. She also imparts complete protection against the pressures of the ocean to any aboard her; the depth to which she can dive remains unknown, but there are credible reports of her operating in the depths of the Sea of Dread. Her timbers are protected from fire, acid, lightning and frost, and upon disintegrate effects a counter reintegrate contingency is triggered; it is believed that there is a 'recharge' time to this effect, a flaw exploited by the Knights of Vanya in the Battle of the Vulture Peninsular in 2010, but it took three complete wings of Warbirds to destroy her.

Velya was sighted by traders off the coast of Skyfyr on the first day of Spring in 2001. She was also sighted in the Sea of Dawn at the same time. Now, obviously morning comes earlier in Skyfyr than in Helskir, but even allowing for a few hours for this transit, this journey would be impossible. Vanguard was reported to be involved in combat over the Broken Lands on the closing day of the great war and on the same day I saw her dock at Magan! While no one at the Red Fleet will confirm or deny, the only possiblility is that the Vanguard vessels have the power to teleport. One further piece of evidence suggests this may be true; survivors from Aasla reported that the Vagabond appeared 'as if out of nowhere' during the firestorms that engulfed the city, and then seemed to hang, lifeless, dark, and immobile for several minutes, after which her sails filled with a magical air, her light and life returned, and she took part in the rescue operation. It has been speculated that the sheer mass of magical power enchanting the hull of these vessels makes it impossible for them not to suffer a 'black out' on deployment of teleport; whatever the reason for this, I should think that it will be many more years before the ship building mages of Alphatia reveal their secrets!

While two Vanguards have been lost (Victory and Velya), their effectiveness is beyond question. As has been stated, Victory succumbed to massively overwhelming numbers on the Vulture peninsular, and Velya held off the entire Knights of the Air for six hours while the new Belugas bombed Thyatis into submission at the end of the war, eventually being boarded and destroyed.

Many predicted that theVanguards would usher in a new, golen age of skyship building, but to an extent this has failed to materialise. What they possess in beauty, speed, and sheer awesome magical firepower (each carries a unique array of ship to ship weapons), that must all be paid for, and the estimated cost of Vanguard herself was well above 2 million crowns; the Alphatians had traded numbers for power, and while that gave them a distinct advantage in the war to come, it spread them rather too thinly thereafter.

Vanguard remains flagsip of Admiral Otiluke, flying the broad pennant of the Red fleet, and her sister the Vagabond spearheads Alphatias combat fleet in the Sea of Dread/Isle of Dawn theatre. I would anticipate that they have many years of terrifying their foes left in them.