My players recently acquired an Air-Ship in my MortiS Quest campaign. This originally happened during what I like to call a 'descriptive cut-scene', part of an adventure (normally at the beginning or end) where rather than the action being represented by miniatures and terrain on the table top I merely describe what going on a show the players a few pictures or a map (you can think of this much like the cut-scenes in a computer game - especially the kind made by zooming in really close on the concept art.)
However once the Airship had come into the possession of the valiant Heroes (and the other, less valiant ones) I realised that - because my games are miniature-centric for the most part - if the Airship was going to make a regular appearance in games from then on I was going to need a miniature of it. This is the result ...
As far as I know there aren’t really any commercially available fantasy airships in 28/30mm scale, but buying a existing model was never my intention - from the beginning I knew I was going to build the airship myself and I think I had perhaps already started planning the project in my head at the end of the gaming session in which I had described the airship.
I began with the hull of the gondola which is made from part of a 'Pirates of the Caribbean' row-boat toy into which I built a deck from balsa-wood and wooden coffee stirrers. The Airship's oil-burning engine, which provides the hot-air for the balloon is made from the boiler of a 1/43 scale die-cast toy/model of 1912 Christie Front Drive Steam-car (at least that's what it said on bottom along with the fact it was made in China) topped with part of an x-mas decoration and re-detailed with parts from my vast collection of bits.
The ship's wheel is the winding crank from an old Citadel 'Ork Squig Catapult' mounted onto a mechanism made from the rounded end of 2 wooden coffee-stirrers, a sawn down wooden 'party stick' (at least that's what it said on the packet of wooden sticks), a bit of a plastic spear and some cheap jewellery chain
^The Airship's various details
The 6-barrelled 'Repeating Deck-gun' on the front was made from a Space Crusade Dreadnought's Assault-Cannon with most of the more hi-tech details removed and a few Dwarven bits added (background wise the air-ship was originally made by Dwarf Engineers and then subsequently stolen by bandits before the Heroes came across it)
The balloon (or 'air-sail' as it is called in a fantasy setting) was made from a plastic water bottle which I re-shaped by filling it with boiling water to soften the plastic and then filled with cold water to set it solid again - this process also has the useful side-effect of making the plastic ridged. Please be very, very careful if you attempt to do this yourself and if you need adult help, stop reading this post and get off this website - it's not intended for kids and is full of adult language. Fuck - see? I warned you!
I used part of a mushroom-shaped cork and some garden wire to make the bottom of the bottle come to a blunt point to form the front of the balloon and give the sides a slightly hexagonal cross-section. The screw-threaded top of the bottle was sawn off and glued to the side of the bottle (which became the bottom of the balloon) to form the 'mouth' where the burner fires in the hot-air.
Meanwhile a piece of wood was glued to the remains of the bottle neck to allow the large fin to be added later.
The whole bottle was then covered with a layer of brown paper soaked in watered-down PVA glue to form the skin of the balloon and left to dry for days and days before I finally got fed-up and attacked it with my girlfriend’s hair-drier.
I then used plumb-line to add ropes around the balloon detailed with a Citadel Plastic Dwarf shield and some smaller shield-like bits (that I think are bucklers, but I'm not sure), to represent the 'deadeyes' and 'shackles' where the ropes join.
To support the weight of the balloon, a small hole was drilled into the bottle in the middle of the balloon's mouth and a length of Lego Technic axle was secured into it with the help of a chunk of plastic that had in the distant past been the base of a Warhammer Quest Bat and a hole of the size was drilled into the 'chimney' of the engine into which the axle could be inserted.
^The Airship Prior to painting
The fins are made from cardboard cut to shape, covered with a layer of UHU glue to stop them warping (Thanks to Lindybeige for the tip - check out his YouTube videos) and then covered with brown paper soaked in watered-down PVA glue like I did for the balloon. The fins dried a lot faster due to their smaller size and the fact I used the hair-drier on them a lot sooner. The ribs of the fins where made from wooden coffee-stirrers split down the middle and the mechanisms that move the small 'steering fins' make use of gears from a broken toy, cheap jewellery chain, old Citadel Plastic Shields and more of the little Dwarf buckler things.
^How the Airship comes apart
The rigging that connects the gondola to the balloon is made from iron wire cut to length and made into a small loop at each end. This was then made to look like rope by winding plumb-line around the wire which was held in place using super-glue. Small but powerful magnets on the sides of gondola and the underneath balloon hold the wire in place while still allowing the balloon to be separated from the gondola for ease of storage and transport - the steering fins and deck-gun are also held in place with magnets for the same reason. What's more - the gondola on it's own (with the steering fins and balloon removed) can double as a steam boat should I have need of one in a future game.
^The Gondola being used a Steam boat
A lot of different things inspired this project including the Airship in the intro sequence of Legend of Grimrock, a mod someone made for Skyrim and various peoples projects to make Dwarf Airships for use in Warhammer games.
^the intro sequence of Legend of Grimrock
If you look for pictures of Fantasy Airships you'll find they fall into 2 basic categories - the first is the 'flying galleon' type, a sailing ship complete with all the usual masts and rigging and everything held aloft by magic to sail the skies rather than the seas, this is the sort of thing you see in some of the John Blanche paintings used in early versions of Warhammer and more notably these are the kind Airships (or perhaps Space Ships) you see in Spelljammer. I'm not keen on all this, so my Airship falls firmly into the second type, the more realistic dirigible style airship with a balloon/gasbag holding it aloft, although I stayed clear of the Steampunk end of this category which is why you won't find a propeller or any kind of steam driven jet engines on my airship (nor will you find paddle-steamer wheels, which would never work in the air). My airship - in case you are wondering - moves on the winds by using it's fins like the sails of a yacht. The Engine in the middle burns lamp-oil (or perhaps alcohol) and regulates a constant flow of hot-air into the balloon to maintain altitude.
^The Acquisitions Incorporated Battle Balloon
One thing that inspired me that I really want to share with all (both) of you people still reading this is the 'Battle Balloon' created by a dude called Mat Smith (no, not the Dr Who actor) also known as 'Czarofhappiness', for the Acquisitions Incorporated live D&D game at PAX Prime 2014. I strongly suggest you check out the Czarofhappiness Props page on FaceBook and also check out the Acquisitions Incorporated videos and podcasts - I find them great fun to listen to while I'm working on my miniatures.
There's probably I lot more I could write about my airship, but to finish up, I'll just show you some pictures of the Airship being used in-game
^Several flying monster's attack!
^Chased by a Manticore
^Holding up them clouds
^ Incoming Haripies!