Tabletop RPGs allow you to travel anywhere you want, no matter how implausible or impractical it may be. With that in mind, I don’t understand DMs who can run an entire campaign without including at least one airship.
No matter where the game is set or what genre we’re playing, if I’m DMing then these wonderful machines are almost guaranteed to make an appearance at some point. Sometimes they are manned by dashing sky pirates and sometimes they serve as a venue for interstellar diplomacy, but they’ll always be there.
I think that much of this habit comes from the fact that I was raised on Final Fantasy games, in which airships inevitably represent freedom and excitement. As soon as you introduce them, suddenly nowhere is off-limits or out of reach – at least for trifling reasons like being the other side of a mountain range or storm-wracked ocean.
A friendly airship captain can transport the party across the world in a matter of days, or drop them off at a remote magical bastion. It fills the role normally taken by teleportation, but gives you better views along the way.
As well as this, I love setting combat encounters on airships. There’s always rigging to climb and and sails to swing from, while the fact that falling over the rail is almost certainly fatal adds a constant air of danger for both the party and their enemies. I’ve had players whoop with delight when they realised the mortal danger a simple Sleep spell could cause to the attacking flight of Wyverns.
Battles onboard an airship also mix things up by giving the party more to worry about than just their own health. Not only are likely to be crew running around, either providing aid or in need of some themselves, but the terrain itself – the ship – is a potential target for cunning foes. How will the Wizard react when she realises that her usual repertoire of Fireballs and Acid Arrows is just as dangerous to the airship as to her enemies?
More than any of this, however, I just love the characters and stories they let me tell, taking a twist on hundreds of years of nautical legends and tall tales. Airships allow the DM to conjure up floating islands, dashing captains, scurvy pirates and cunning navigators without any player raising so much as an incredulous eyebrow.
So the next time you find yourself unable to think of where the campaign should be going, take it to the clouds. The view up there will be worth it, I promise you.