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Sunday, May 28, 2017

Dungeons & Dragons - A Guide to Chaos Ships

I have put together a collection of information on chaos ships, magic vessels that have appeared in many editions of D&D. Chaos ships are used by the demons use to battle the devils in the Blood War.

I feel like I’ve missed some stuff, but I can’t think of where else to look. Google isn’t too helpful on this topic and I would bet that there is cool info in old issues of Dungeon and Dragon. I will keep my eyes peeled.

Essential Information
  • Chaos Ships are built in the Abyssal Layer of Twelvetrees.
  • They are incredibly hard to make. 
  • Chaos ships fly through the Abyss and are usually fitted with extremely powerful weapons.
  • Some are powered by soul larvae, others are powered by anarch spheres (which contain the roiling essence of the Elemental Chaos).
  • Each chaos ship is unique. Some ships have merged with a demon and are actually alive.
  • Select chaos ships have an aura of entropy that causes magical chaos, coercing opponents to turn on themselves.
  • Many chaos ships are fitted with are 8 ballistae that fire lightning-charged bolts, and 8 magic cannons that fire off cones of force that actually disintegrate low level targets.
Known Chaos Ships

From what I can tell, there are at least thirteen Chaos Ships out there:
  • 7 chaos ships are mentioned in the adventure called In the Abyss. One nameless chaos ship is described extensively. It is alive and has a giant face on each end of it.
  • Orcus is said to own three chaos ships. One of them was turned into a platform around the Heart of the Abyss, but that may have been destroyed. Another of them is Shevaithan, the ship powered by anarch spheres that play a huge part in Prince of Undeath.
  • Graz’zt is said to have at least two chaos ships in his Bay of Choking Bile. His flagship is called Waukeen’s Tears.
  • There is one chaos ship that was trapped in a vortex in the Lake of Shadows in the Underdark.
  • I read a mention online of a chaos ship that was destroyed in a battle on the plane of Gehenna (the bridge of Khalas), but I can’t confirm that.
Name Change: One other thing. Up until 3rd edition, they’re called “ships of chaos.” In 4th and up, they are called “chaos ships.”

In the Abyss

I feel like this Planescape adventure is very overlooked. I know I bought it at the game store and it just sat on my shelf after I flipped through it real quick. I think it has something of a bad reputation, but if you read it, it’s not bad at all! It’s pretty awesome, actually.

General Notes:
  • In the abyssal layer of Twelvetrees, the demons and the faction known as the Doomguard have made 7 ships of chaos.
  • The chaos ships are described as "entropy weapons" intended for the blood war.
  • The ship is a sentient entity (a transformed vrock), beholden only to the demon lords.
  • 300 feet long, 100 feet wide, 100 feet tall.
  • The ship leaves a trail of dead larvae in its wake! It drops the withered shell of a larva about every mile or every hour. They are blackened husks 4 feet long, crumble when touched.
  • It has no special plane-traveling capabilities, but it can use any portal that is at least 5-feet square. It actually squeezes through via a process that can strip your magic items of their power.
  • The ship is riddled with wormholes that you can climb through to get to other parts of the ship. Gravity pulls you to the walls making climbing easy. Large creatures can't fit.
  • Taking control of the ship requires a rod of beguiling, a charm monster spell or similar magic. 
  • It has two heads, one facing forward and one facing the rear. Each face has glassy eyes, a protruding nose and a gaping mouth full of teeth the size of tavern doors.
  • There is a third skeletal face that looks over the deck, eyeholes sealed with milky lenses and jaws filled with curved fangs the size of small trees.
  • The ship is made of thick, ropelike fibers and is an organic mass of pale white. The ingredients are  bone, crushed spirits and thousands of larvae. The ship's flanks are lined with translucent blisters tinted blue. These are portholes.
  • No minimum speed, can hover.
  • The ship can see, but has no sense of touch or smell. It doesn't feel pain. It cannot see its own interior. 
  • It is telepathic and can sense the location and emotional state of every creature on board.
  • The ship's 'brain' is contained in two nodes set high in the bow and stern.They can loose a cloud of spores that covers the victim vines. Once per hour, the brains can emit a screech that deafens and stuns you for one round.  
  • If the two brains are destroyed, the ship stops and begins to crumble. In 2d6 rounds it falls apart and plummets.
Weapons and Defenses:
  • When in motion, it is surrounded by an entropy field that defeats most teleportation effects. 
  • The field affects creatures differently depending on how powerful they are. 
  • If you try to teleport on to the ship, you appear in the brig.
  • Trying to damage the ship is near-impossible. It takes 8,000 points of damage to crack it.
  • There are 8 ballistae in each mouth. They are magic weapons that do 2d6 piercing and 8 lightning.
The Entropy Field: The ship ha an aura - an entropy field with a 480-yard radius. It does not affect creatures on the ship. It has different effects on creatures of varied levels/challenge ratings:
  • Low Level Creatures: Confused as per the spell with no saving throw while in the aura and for 3d4+1 rounds thereafter.
  • Middle Levels: Chaos effect hits, but you do get a saving throw.
  • High Levels: Save vs. spells or be repulsed each round that they remain in the effect.
Force Projectors: Each head has force projectors that throw cones of force 200 feet long. Effects:
  • Low Level: Save or be disintegrated!
  • Medium Level: Save or take 3d8 and be knocked prone. If man-sized or smaller, pushed to the end of the beam + 2d20 feet.
  • High Levels: Save or take 3d8 and knocked 2d20 prone. If already prone, you can be pinned.
Twelvetrees: This weird plane is where ships of chaos are made. Tortured cries ring out over the plane so loud that you can't hear other people talk.

When you get to this plane, you see huge scaffolds that loom over the land like skeletal giants. Six more ships hover near them. The area is crawling with thousands of demons.

Doomguard Fortress: This is an iron keep 20 feet square and 30 feet high that bears the symbol of a horned skull - the Doomguard. It is a Daern's instant fortress! The doomguard are human/tiefling/dwarf weapon-makers that heroes could hang out with.

Possible Exit: It notes that if you were going to steal a chaos ship, you could leave through the River Styx.

Planes of Chaos

In the Abyss hypes this boxed set up like you’ll learn so much more, but you learn almost nothing new. Ready?
  • Making the frame of a chaos ship require necromantic magic and hundreds of larvae.
  • Magically disrupts close formation of devils.

We get a few tidbits:
  • The ships have powers drawn from the “shifting stuff of chaos.”
  • They have yet to be put to use.
  • Demons fight over who gets to control them.
Dragon Magazine #360

It is mentioned that Graz'zt keeps planar vessels and "multiple chaos ships" in the Bay of Choking Bile. His flagship is known as Waukeen's Tears.

Extinction and Annihilation

There are a pair of D&D novels that came out in around 2005 that dealt with chaos ships. These stories are set in the Forgotten Realms and involve drow. Here's what we learn:
  • One ship of chaos is found in the Lake of Shadows
  • It is bone white, has three mats and tattered sails.
  • There is a maw in the hold of the ship that you can throw manes (low level demons) into to power the ship. The sails of the ship are made of human skin.
  • This chaos ship is driven through mental control. If the ship doesn't accept the pilot, it kills them.
Extinction: In case you are curious, here's a quick summary of the story (spoilers):
  • A group of heroes is trying to figure out something about Lolth. They need to get to the Demonweb Pits in the Abyss.
  • They learn that they need a ship of chaos to get there.
  • They find one stuck in a permanent whirlpool in the Lake of Shadows, a lake in the underdark.
  • The group is able to take control of it and its captain, an "uridezu" demon.
I've never heard of those demons before. Kind of goofy.

Annihilation: Not much more information. The heroes take the chaos ship to the Demonweb Pits and they learn that Lolth has actually moved her realm to its own planar space. The group parks the chaos ship and adventures into Lolth's new domain. Sounds pretty cool.

Fiendish Codex I

This book describes them as “titanic vessels” capable of bringing huge numbers of passengers across the planes in an instant. “6 are thought to exist.” Lots of tweaks and details:
  • Each ship has unique magical characteristics
  • All are composed of stitched flesh, powdered bone, crushed spirits and larvae.
  • The engines feed on mortal souls
  • They were designed as entropic weapons, but have been used a floating citadels in domestic wars between demon lords and for invasions of the Material Plane.
  • A bound demon controls the ship with dull sentience, but a captain is required for complex maneuvers.
  • Some captains sell passage on their ship for 500 gp per person, per plane.
  • Traveling the Planes: The ship literally erases itself and everything on board, rebuilding itself on the destination plane. If you're on the ship when this happens, you must make a save or go insane.
  • The captains of the ships are well-connected in the Abyss.
  • Later in the Twelvetrees section, it says that the seventh ship is half-finished. Its deck contains a torrent of flying demons.
The Plane Below

Map of Shevaithan, chaos ship owned by Orcus
We get stats for 4e chaos ships. A chaos ship functions only in the Abyss and the 'elemental chaos', which is a 4e thing that combines the elemental planes, pandemonium and limbo into one uber-plane.

Be a Passenger: There is a sidebar claiming that this is the most dependable way to travel in the lower planes. Only a few chaos ships exist, but you can book passage on one. 

Anarch Spheres: These chaos ships are powered by anarch spheres. There must be someone operating each of the three anarch spheres for the ship to run. The anarch spheres sit in cradles and each of them contains the bottled essence of chaos. 

Prince of Undeath

Agent of Orcus guarding an anarch sphere
In this ridiculously epic adventure, the group has to steal the chaos ship owned by Orcus! It is called Shevaithan. We learn a ton of stuff and this adventure even comes with a poster map of the chaos ship!

Chaos ships are designed to travel through the Elemental Chaos, no two are exactly the same. All require "bottled chaos" to drive them. Containing the essence of the Elemental Chaos into crystal globes is a monumentally difficult secret task.

Teleportation Circles: There are four magic circles on Shevaithan's deck:
  1. This is the end point for other rituals. This circle is where you appear when  you magically travel to the ship.
  2. This circle connects to the Forge of Four Worlds, a dungeon at the bottom of the Abyss.
  3. This circle is a portal that connects to another chaos ship (!).
  4. Connects to Everlost, the home of Orcus himself.
In the adventure, stuff happens:
  • The captain of Shevaithan is an abyssal rotfiend named Xur.
  • In order to steal the chaos ship, the group must remove its mystic moorings that keep it in place.
  • These moorings don’t physically connect to the ship. They are glowing tendrils located in Orcus’s palace. You need to go there and destroy them. 
  • One of the chaos ships has been rebuilt into something resembling a dwarven mining platform. This thing was built around the Heart of the Abyss at the very bottom of the multiverse!
  • Once the group has disengaged the mystic moorings, they can try to take command of the ship. The ship will flare and create weird protections, like clouds and bolts of energy, but the group can overcome them in a.. SKILL CHALLENGE! Roll an arcana check. You made it! You did something to it!
Anarch Sphere: A ten-foot diameter globe that boils and churns. It contains the essence of the elemental chaos.



Jason R said...

Great article on a subject I knew little about! I've been going through the Rogue Mistress from your all-time best list; I'm totally converting the Ö Sidàta in the adventure to a chaos ship and using your info to outline some plot implications! These exhaustive subject studies of yours are golden. Thanks for your efforts.

Sean said...

Jason R: The O Sidata!! Awesome. That would make a fantastic chaos ship. In my campaign, one of Jessie's old characters - Saridrina - has possession of the O Sidata. Maybe I should use the Rogue Mistress as the group's ship in my spelljammer campaign. Thanks!

Jason R said...

The adventure also featured a "chaos ship" against the PC's on the water world they ended up plane jumping into. I guess one could convert that one to a D&D chaos ship as well. Having read through the entire adventure now, the highlights you pointed out are indeed its strengths. The overarching plot elements are great. The actual adventures it links together would need a lot of tweaking for my table. With so many great Dungeon adventures or the like out there, I'd probably just swap out the ones in the adventure for something similar. The book did get my creative juices going, however, and my love for Spelljammer just welled up like crazy!

As far as ships go, I've always wanted to let my PC's get their hands on the Sky Ranger from the Sea of Sorrow adventure from Dungeon 36. I thought it was one of the best adventures in Dungeon period. I was so close to running it years ago, but never did!

jburgos said...

Your article makes mention of 2 D&D novels, yet they are not cited, shoddy article.