One of the smallest standard ships in space, the Flitter is also one of the most common. The small butterfly-like craft is grown, like many other elven ships, from the fruit of the starfly plant. The process for growing living ships from this plant remains one of the most closely-guarded secrets of the elves. Like many other elven craft, Flitters continue to grow and must be maintained. This maintenance consists of periodic pruning to keep the craft from becoming overgrown and unwieldy (see the Wild Flitter listed below). While any serious damage to the fragile Flitter will destroy it (killing the ship in the process), minor damage will heal in time. This healing can be accelerated by grafting in pieces of wood.
The "wings" of the Flitter are as flexible as the petals of a flower, unlike most other elven-grown ships, which typically have wings whose flexibility is more similar to that of a young sapling. This allows the wings to be furled up, so that other ships can carry Flitters in relatively compact spaces. This also provides the motive force for Flitters which lack spelljamming helms. A Flitter without a helm can travel at SR 2 by flapping its wings in a distinctive rippling motion (it is this motion which gives the Flitter its name). The movement of the wings is organic, and is impossible in a craft which has died, or which is overgrown (the wings of an overgrown craft become too brittle to withstand such motion). The living ship has been magically modified by the elves during growth to respond to pressure in certain areas within the body of the craft, such that a pilot need only apply pressure in the appropriate places to encourage the Flitter to fly. Of course, achieving spelljammer speeds without a helm is not possible, making a depowered Flitter useful only for short distance travel. The same mechanism is used to maneuver the ship even when it is powered by a spelljamming helm.
Flitters that were grown before the first Unhuman War did not have the innovation of these organically-controlled wings, and instead had the somewhat more rigid wings common to other elven craft. See below for details of these archaic Flitters.
The Flitter is designed to be handled by a single passenger/captain/helmsman who sits just ahead of the wings in the "head" of the ship. Given its small size and delicate construction, the Flitter is not recommended for long trips. Traveling in a Flitter has been compared to riding a tireless horse for several days - you get where you're going, but not very comfortably. The flitter has insufficient interior space for any significant cargo, and will typically only carry the personal gear of the pilot, along with food and water. The ship is not designed to carry any large weapons, and cannot be easily modified for that purpose.
As discussed above, a Flitter typically carries only a single individual. For short-range purposes, however, a Flitter will often carry one or more passengers in addition to the pilot. This is usually only done for trips that are expected to last for a few hours at most.
Flitters used as fighters will usually carry a pilot and a single passenger who will either be an expert with a longbow, or a mage. The passenger serves as the Flitter's weaponry.
Messenger: When equipped with a spelljamming helm, a Flitter is best at carrying very light goods over short-to-mid-range interstellar distances. Since the lightest good to carry is information, Flitters with spelljamming helms most often serve as messengers between elven ships and bases. These missions can be dangerous for the messengers, called "lone riders" in the elven tongue.
Scout: The scout is the next most common usage of Flitters equipped with spelljamming helms. The Flitter's small size makes it an excellent reconnaissance and espionage ship, capable of slipping into small areas and making planetfall.
Landing Craft: Many Flitters are carried by larger elven ships and used as landing craft. These Flitters are depowered, as described above. In this configuration, the Flitter is useless for long voyages, but suitable for short hops into and out of an atmosphere, or between ships. This is in keeping with the standard policy of the Imperial Elven Navy which does not allow ships equipped with spelljamming helms to make planetfall.
Small Fighters: A large number of Flitters, perhaps the majority, are used as small fighter-craft. These ships are depowered, and are carried by larger elven vessels, especially Armadas and Men-o-War. In this use, the Flitters are intended to soften up the enemy before the main attack, by peppering the target with arrows and spells.
Archaic Flitters: As mentioned above, archaic Flitters grown before the first Unhuman War used more rigid wings than those of modern Flitters. These Flitters could not have their wings furled in the manner of modern Flitters, with the result that far fewer Flitters could be carried by a mother ship, since a single archaic Flitter takes up a great deal of storage space. Prior to the invention of the modern Flitter, each elven ship would typically carry only between one and five Flitters. The lack of flexible, organically-controlled wings also meant that archaic Flitters could not fly under their own power. Most archaic Flitters were powered by full-blown spelljamming helms, or by an engine powered by a combustible variety of sap. Such engines provided the ancient Flitters with SR 1, and could only power the ship for a maximum of 2 hours before the ship would run out of sap for fuel (assuming that all of the ship's meager cargo space is filled with the sap). Archaic Flitters equipped with these engines were vulnerable to fire in the same manner as a ship carrying a greek fire projector. For obvious reasons, the engines of these archaic Flitters were less than ideal, and the improvements in the design of the modern Flitter are seen as one of the reasons why the elves won the first Unhuman War. Since the natural lifespan of a Flitter can easily exceed a millennium, a few archaic Flitters can still be found in space, although most have been destroyed over the centuries. The few archaic Flitters still used by the Imperial Elven Navy are equipped with spelljamming helms and used as messengers or scouts, tasks which they perform as well as any modern Flitter.
Wild Flitters: It is not uncommon to encounter an abandoned Flitter drifting in virtually any area of wildspace or the flow. These ships are usually the result of failed missions, undelivered messages, and old battles. Without regular maintenance, these ships are seriously overgrown, their wings curled in on themselves like seashells. Such ships may have workable engines within, and are MC E and AR 9 until properly trimmed back (repair costs equivalent to refitting half the hull). A wild, overgrown Flitter must be trimmed back before it can be flown without a helm.
Firewinds: This type of depowered Flitter has not been used since the First Unhuman War, although with the advent of the Second Unhuman War the Admiralty is considering using it once more. The Firewind is a suicide craft, loaded with flammables and piloted to crash on enemy decks. Each Firewind used in this manner has the effect of two hits from a greek fire projector, in addition to normal crash damage. The pilots are trained to bail out before impact, and are given a method to escape if possible (a potion of flying, a dimension door spell, a gadabout, etc). Near the end of the First Unhuman War, the elves used charmed goblinkin as pilots. Most Firewinds were Flitters of the archaic variety, which were already obsolete at the time, and were usually packed to the gills with combustible sap already. In fact, the practice arose after several accidents with the obsolete Flitters, which caused impressive amounts of damage.
- Spelljammer reference: Concordance of Arcane Space