Tuesday, April 27, 2021

The Care and Feeding of Zoas

(Special thanks to Renefor and Xenophon of Athens [but not the one you're thinking of] for their suggestions)

The Acmori Sea is not traditionally mappable. Locations are reached by routes that at times cannot make any sense. An expedition can go north for three days, west for three days, south for three days, and east for three days, only to arrive at a radically different place. This is why route maps are so greatly treasured, and why zoas are generally preferred to ships.

Wooden ships travel geometrically. Zoas, large floating colony-organisms, travel in accordance with mystical principles that allow them to arrive at destinations before all but the best-crewed ships. They know the correspondences of the current and do not need to be corrected in the way ships do, and their long stingers form a natural defense against the strange creatures that inhabit Acmori's waters.

A zoa can be any size from a rowboat to a great fortress, kept aloft by the gas that it generates. Think of a giant jellyfish or man-o-war, but different. During the freezing winters, zoas often find themselves frozen totally solid, only to melt unharmed come spring.


  • Operation of a zoa usually requires a deck (or "howdah") to be strapped on the body (or "pneumatophore") of the creature. 
  • A deck will have two or more canvas sails supplementing the zoa's crest (or "ridgesail"). These are necessarily offset, since the crest runs from the fore of the zoa to the aft. 
  • To keep the deck stable, much of the cargo is put "in wet-hold", held in weighted cases among the zoa's tentacles (or "locks") to constantly keep the deck pulled into place. 
  • Especially on smaller decks, the crest can limit visibility, necessitating the construction of of a nest or "straddlemast", a central platform from which a sailor can direct the labor of the rest of the crew. A pole of the nest typically extends higher to bear flags, both marks of affiliation and for communication. 
  • At the back of the zoa is a small platform ( or "back-siege") for the tapperman to sit. Usually a junior sailor, the tapperman uses a small stick to tap a regular beat against the rear of the zoa. At the right tempo, this keeps the tentacles curled at the optimal angle for swift travel. Since the actual steering of the zoa is done by a combination of the offset sails and the creature's own route sense, the job is considered mere "charliework."

On longer journeys, small diversions must be made for the zoa to feed, typically by steering it into schools of fish or pods of larger prey. Travel continues at a slower pace as the zoa retracts its tentacles, laden with paralyzed prey, to be digested in the base of its body. When sudden speed is required, as to outsail a storm or privateering zoa, sailors on a line will dive, pry away the zoa's meal, and help the tentacles to re-extend. 

A sailor performing this duty, or designated to perform this duty, is called a "yellow jack" or "refutionary". Frequent use of the gronovii jelly which confers resistance to the venom of thin zoa tentacles can cause alcohol sensitivity and skin discoloration, turning up to half the body pale blue. 

Some ranges of ocean form dead zones, too sparse to feed zoas from crossing them, forcing diversions along different routes.

Each zoa is "handed"-- it tends 45 degrees either to the left or the right of the way the wind blows it. This means that the zoa is fastest when it sails with the wind at an acute angle, as opposed to a wooden ship that would be fastest with the wind at its back.The less-common, right-handed zoas (or "thwarts"), are useful in war for basically the same reason that left-handed pitchers or hitters are useful in baseball. 

Zoas are otherwise distinguished by their size, color, tentacles, deck size and height, number and color of sails, and flag.


All civilized nations forbid foreign war-zoas from their ports. These are discerned by the gourd- or cork-netting ("floats") around the railings of the deck, designed to keep the deck afloat if the body is punctured by javelins or longspears. Hammock netting is sometimes added to this to defend the crew against projectiles. Formally, a zoa without such netting is never considered a war-zoa, and partisans have successfully skirted pacts of peace by heavily arming unprotected zoas. 

Pragmatic admirals are usually willing to sink zoas when near to friendly ports, because the creature will typically resurface after several days, at which point it can be captured and accoutred for use. Far from ports, sinking a zoa is seen as wasteful, and battles are typically fought to capture rival zoas. Hence, privateers and military vessels favor boarding corvuses and other tools for seizing craft. Coastal fortifications and the largest zoa are more likely to sport ballistae to discourage others from attempting to close.

Zoa Classes: (civilian/marginal/military)

  • Shandow (small deck, stubby tentacles that allow for travel in shallows or rivers, terribly tippy)
    • Example names: Donkey-Aunt, the Polyp, Kruber-Sneaker
  • Skimp (deck-frame, high capacity, transports between islands on safe waters)
    • Example names: Sailor's Fortune, the Familiar, the Bardsong
  • Cat-zoa (wide deck partially resting on a boat-like hull, very stable, fairly fast) 
    • Example names: the Seaward, the Handsome, Votelain
  • Rebgrave (no floats, crew armed with javelins and boarding hooks)
    • Example names: Mighty Fortress, A Mother of Law is Chaos, Woman of War
  • Basket-zoa (narrow deck, floats, hammock netting, crew armed with javelins, typically supports other military zoa)
    • Example names: Mongoose, Backbiter, the Shadow
  • Line-zoa (moderately large deck, castle, floats, boarding corvus, crew armed with javelins)
    • Example names: Stinger, the Medusa, Carnumban
  • Tanfort (tower-like deck, floats, wrapped around port poles, ballistae)
    • Example names: Vigilance, the Sea-Star, Mother Tyrant
  • Strom (gigantic deck, castle, floats, ballistae, shielded rowboats)
    • Example names: the Kraken, Floating Terror, the Widowers' Wail
  • Kraken (fictional, gigantic, trained to wrap around other zoa, doesn't exist)

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