I am a little obsessed with the 'Planetary Romance' genre - Edgar Rice Burroughs etc - and especially the idea of a setting in which interplanetary travel is in craft that resemble ocean going vessels. The Setting has magic, but I'm making an effort for it to be quite 'gritty' and realistic in tone.

In the Setting there are the so-called Sky Lands, essentially floating continents that act as the 'planets' of the universe. These are supported by a hand waved mineral that resists being accelerated relative to local gravitation. Nodes of this mineral can be used to support sky-ships, which are moved via magical propulsion, thus sidestepping the mineral's resistance to acceleration under normal circumstances.

The question is this: would such sky-ships be built with open decks? Would they resemble more an ocean going ship, or a real world airship?

The former fits the aesthetic I want a bit better, and allows for fun things like boarding in mid flight, it could also make it easier to transfer cargo etc. However a more traditional airship shape would use less energy to move, being streamlined, and is harder to board. Flight speed is around that of fast steam turbine ships under ideal conditions(flat water etc). However this is straight line speed, and combat speeds are much lower if any kind of manoeuvring is going on.

Any thoughts much appreciated. I'm essentially wondering if anyone who has though up these kinds of fantasy airships before has come to a conclusion that decks are a good or bad thing overall.

EDIT: Lowered Airspeed from WW1 Levels

  • $\begingroup$ Approximate height of these floating Sky Lands? 1,000 feet? 10,000 feet? 100,000 feet? $\endgroup$
    – Halfthawed
    Oct 8, 2019 at 2:36
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ A quick question. Can you clarify about your setting? Are the Sky Lands continents floating above the surface of planet(s)? Or is it all floating continents & no planets? $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Oct 8, 2019 at 7:23

4 Answers 4


The answer is mixed and tied to various options.

Is there a reason to cover the holds? Ships come in both types, open and closed. Generally open holds are only used on coastal and inland waterways, closed holds for anything long distance where the risk of storms swamping a ship is higher.

Is there a reason to have large numbers of crew on deck? In the age of sail this was a thing, but if your ships are magically powered, are they going to have much of a crew at all. Is there even a reason for them to have more than token access to the decks while underway?

The best option is variety, everything from gritty big bulk cargo haulers to dainty sky yachts with open decks where couples hang on the rails and watch the sunset. Cheap vessels that are barely more than glorified hot air balloons, to pure magic based sleek luxury cruisers showing no evidence of how they're propelled.

Variety is what builds a world, every option has a place in a system and if all options are valid under appropriate circumstances, use them all one way or another.


Would the skyships resemble ocean-going vessels or airships as we know them? Consider ocean-going ships are designed to float on water and their shapes and architecture are based on those principles. Airships have a large buoyancy chamber to keep them aloft, and engines to move them. The passenger compartment is situated below the buoyancy assembly.

Skyships are essentially levitated by nodes of a mineral, and come equipped with magical propulsion. This suggests they will not look like either ocean-liners or airships. Skyships are likely to flat bottoms. This will enable them to land on the surfaces of floating continents and on the planets of this planetary romance. The general shape of the skyships will depend on how drag or atmospheric resistance they encounter while in motion.

Since it's not a good idea to sweep passengers and crew off the decks of skyships, it seems reasonable to assume they travel at low speeds. Possibly the same sorts of speeds that are common to ocean-liners or even humble bicycle. This is in the ball park of around 25 to 30 kph. The skyships will probably have pointy shapes like ocean-liners or airships. This will take care of the drag problem. It's cool looking too.

When it comes to transferring passengers and cargo between skyships, this can be done when the vessels are stationary relative to each other. They could be hovering, if the vessels are levitated then this shouldn't be at all difficult, or moving slowly enough that this doesn't hinder the transfers.

In conclusion, skyships will resemble something between ocean-liners and airships. But without the need for a keel like a marine vessel or buoyancy compartments. They will have flat bottoms for landing and docking. Skyships should have mechanisms to keep them docked at skyship ports. They will need to move slowly enough not to knock off passengers and crew. Speeds similar to sea-going vessels.

  • $\begingroup$ Airships dont necessarily have the compartments below the bouyancy area. You can distribute the gas cells throughout a ship to keep it afloat. The Hindenburg for example allowed crew to move through the bouyabcy bladder to the top, back, front and the engines on the sides. Basically nothing stops you from building the compartments on top of the craft or on the sides aside from the view. The Hindenburg specifically flew relatively low to give the passengers a good view of the ground. These nodes would likely be what they build around, rather than just build underneath. $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    Oct 8, 2019 at 8:18
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Demigan, there's one factor which is keeping the centre of lift above the centre of mass. If you're carrying cargo it's always going to be at the bottom, if you're only carrying passengers then you'll have to balance them carefully. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Oct 8, 2019 at 9:12
  • $\begingroup$ @separatrix yes you want the weight to be as much at the bottom to prevent it from turning upside down. But compared to the airship the humans are relatively light and they mostly require space. So if you have ballast (luggage, superstructure the rest of the ship is build on etc) mostly at the bottom you are more or less free to build on top whatever you want as long as it is lighter than below. $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    Oct 8, 2019 at 10:27

It would make more sense in essentially every way to use the traditional airship shape. Except, for inter-airship combat. If these ships are created before the invention of reliable cannons, or for some reason cannons are dangerous to use on the ships then boarding may be necessary. Inter airship-combat could consist of ballista fire (which may require on deck operators), and the ships rushing at each other. The ships would collide, possibly with battering rams. some of the combat crew would board, and the fight would go on between the two ships.

It could also make sense for leisure ships to have an open deck for reasons such as sunbathing and having a view.

These are ideas that don't completely ensure that the ship would be better as a non-deckless one, but they could contribute to that.


Yes open decks!

Because you want them, and they are awesome in many ways that lend themselves to story telling. That is why Burroughs had open decks too!

Oarships had people below decks to man the oars. Sailing ship had people topside to man the sails. Make your magic propulsion the reason for decks. Perhaps there are giant spines or spindles or fins that generate the propulsion. These must be in the open air and must be tended by air sailors. Your precious cargo is below deck but as with a sailing ship, you need your personnel up topside. Plus the giant magic spines whine and hum and glow, and are targets during ship battles (as the sails were in those days).

Have the ships go fast too because that is exciting. Your sailors wear goggles and ear protection. They have harnesses and lines. With the wind at their back they can jump huge distances across the ship. They have springloaded harnesses they can trigger to reel themselves in upwind. They can swing down and under the ship and pop up on the other side in a maneuver called the "keelhaul".

If the ship is going too fast the magic propulsion devices can start to get dangerous; crackling energies, briefly seen rifts to the Other. But of course when things get desperate they have to go that fast!

Don't forget - the magic spines still can propel if broken off. A boarding attacker can have a broken spine slipped behind her pack and activated - she is propelled upwards off the deck and out of sight. Then she shows up again later, having figured out how to steer!


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .