Ever wonder what might live in the Elemental Plane of Air? Or look up in the sky and imagine a castle on a cloud, with or without a giant and a beanstalk to reach them by? Or want to have your Pathfinder or D&D campaign start really taking advantage of the Fly spell? (Or simply run a sky pirates rpg campaign?)
Flying cities aside, we sometimes can’t help but imagine a world up there. The only problem is that, unlike what lies over the horizon or below the deepest depths of the sea, we can plainly see that there isn’t anything but clouds or the occasional bird in the sky, which makes it difficult to picture something very vibrant living there that isn’t huge and easy to spot. Like said flying cities. Instead, there’s not as much a sense of discovery when you can see everything from miles away before you even get the ability to fly.
But I think it’s possible to do full adventures through the Wide Blue Yonder. Even without everything being obvious.
How, you ask? Simple.
Distance and camouflage.
How easy is it, do you think, to spot an insect that isn’t hiding behind anything? Some might say pretty easy. Others might think of a ladybug on a porch across the street, and say “it depends.”
What if it’s not a street between you, but a couple thousand feet or so? How large would something have to be before you could even see it, let alone how often would someone look up to do so?
Turns out there’s whole swarms of life directly above our heads that most people don’t even know about.
And if larger versions of that life were camouflaged to better hide in the sky, it’d still be pretty hard to spot. So, how would such things be camouflaged when there’s literally nowhere to hide? Just take a page from what lives in the wide expanse of the sea, away from any solid land or seabed: life is sparse, but present, and hiding from predators (or prey) that sweep below to look for images blocking the light becomes pretty important. Many creatures develop either clear bodies, letting light pass through them, or they develop bioluminescence on their underside to disguise against the light from above.
Failing that, they tend to have other defenses, or hide around the few floating structures available to them. In the sea, it’d be floating seaweed. In the sky, it’d be clouds. Which, reminder, don’t look nearly as solid up close as they do from afar. They’re flying fog banks.
Keeping those aspects in mind, what sorts of Beastiary monsters would be able to be easily reskinned for such an adventure? I suggest, for starters and aside from the obvious Silver Dragon, that you keep your mind flexible.
Like the Gelatinous Cube.
It’s already so clear that people can walk right into it, let alone spot it from a few hundred or thousand feet away. Simply change the gelatin aspect for one of fog, give it a slow fly speed, and have it live in the clouds. Maybe that’s where acid rain comes from in your world.
And knowing that any cloud could hide something that wants to eat you would definitely make things interesting for your players. Especially if they have something else looking for them, and have to choose between being exposed or not. That takes a scene of beauty and turns it into a very interesting dynamic.
Treat it like a desert or the ocean: key locations separated by many miles of wilderness, with the possibility of some very interesting forms of life showing up before you even realize it. You may be able to see very far, but the directions you gotta look in to be able to spot a predator just got multiplied greatly. And the wind likely covers any sounds of their approach.
Hopefully that makes your sky pirate campaign through the elemental plane of air an interesting one. Or just a fun new way to mess with the wizard in your D&D group who learned Fly.