Strange Potential – Floatstone

Published July 17, 2014 by in For Gamemasters, For Players


The special materials described in the Numenera core book may not be as flashy or exciting as the Artefacts and Cyphers scattered throughout the Ninth World, but they do have interesting potential all of their own. This is the first of a small series of articles to explore what the developing societies of the Steadfast and the Beyond could do with super materials our ancestors never had access to. Whether you are after some ideas for what your ‘Crafts Unique Objects’ character could create, or a GM looking for strange embellishments to add to your game, read on.

Floatstone: A piece of rock, usually about the size of a brick, that pulls against gravity. Most people think of it as having a ‘negative weight’ of about –10 pounds. Thus, if attached to anything lighter, it floats away” Numenera p.82

The most notable quarry of this material mentioned in the core book is thirty miles east of Orrila, the capital of Milave. Using this referance we can suppose (with a bit of rough math) that a 20 shin ‘brick’ of floatstone measures 257mm x 123mm x 57mm; so floatstone produces around 1 negative pound per 1800cm³. For a quick reference here are a few zero sum comparisons:

Object Average Weight* Bricks
Chair 10lb 1
Backpack 30lb 3
Human 180lb 18
Wagon 1300lb 130
Barge 200,000lb 20,000

* Remember that while zero sum objects are weightless, they still respond to pressure and friction

Of course the great tented quarries could (and likely do) produce anything from cheap sacks of waste rubble to great monolithic slabs, so floatstone on the market isn’t limited to bricks. What is interesting is what could be achieved by balancing the lift with the weight of something else:

  • Zephyr Bolt – Hefty iron bolts designed for a crossbow, these particular variants have a slim core of floatstone. The lighter weight floats a shot over a greater distance, but requires a weapon with a powerful draw to propel it effectively (such as a heavy crossbow).
  • Cloud Lantern – One of the more common creations; a cloud lantern is a large hexagonal iron enclosure for an oil lamp, capped by a small wheel of floatstone. Below a bulbous oil reservoir hangs a large metal ring, used to hook the lanterns for re-filling. More expensive examples have stained glass panes, incense burners, scented oils or tiny music playing oddities included. A cloud lantern will hover in the air where it’s placed, but their annoying tendency to drift with air currents and rise up as the oil reservoir empties means they rarely see use outside of enclosed areas.
  • Sky chains Reserved for those dangerous individuals the rich and powerful want to keep locked up, sky chains are a set of four hardened steel manacles with eyeloops for a chain to run through. The moniker comes from what the end of the chain is affixed to, a ball of smooth floatstone. Anyone shackled into sky chains cannot leave enclosed areas, or the ball will drag them to a freezing grave high above the clouds. The more expensive sets sport azure steel instead of iron and dip the floatstone ball in molten stronglass to prevent wear and tear.
  • Gravity Harness – This full body leather harness has12 bricks worth of floatstone sewn into hardened pouches, one on each forearm and thigh, and 4 on the chest and back. This set-up negates over half an average human’s weight, allowing a wearer to climb, jump and balance with far greater ease. The reduced weight also reduces the impact from falling, making them popular for those who work at great heights. However, wearers that weigh themselves down with gear can negate the harnesses properties.
  • Weigh-less Containers An expensive but worthwhile investment for the more prosperous merchants of the Steadfast, the ‘Weigh-less’ artisans produce a number of reinforced cargo crates and barrels. Each container has a sheets of floatstone sandwiched between wooden slats (save the lid). This simple arrangement allows particularly heavy commodities, such as metal ingots, to be shipped in far greater quantities.
  • Far Glider This wedge-shaped wing consists of a rigid metal frame with canvas or hide stretched tightly across it. While aerodynamically a heavier glider is faster, and travels the same distance as a lighter one, there are advantages to lightening a glider with rings of floatstone. Firstly, the glider can be constructed of far stronger materials than wood, far gliders frames ordinarily being iron or in some cases, steel. Secondly it can get into the air with far less wind speed that would otherwise be required. The most expensive variations on this design are collapsible, including synthsteel and adamant silk in its construction.
  • Empyrean Ship It would take approximately 57m³ of floatstone to zero-sum 160 tons, the projected deadweight (fully loaded) of a fair sized 15-16th century caravel (35m length). While a medieval cog design might be more common to the Ninth World, the lateen rigged caravel design would be the more effective for maneuvering in the firmament, as it could tack into a headwind. A ship of this sort would require a system of weights, balances and anchors far in advance of a normal vessel to maintain an even keel without water pressure. Additional sails rigged to the side or beneath the ship would also be required to effectively balance those above.

 

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