Each Gnomish Sidewheeler is unique. Each ship is built from collected scrap, odd inventions, and leftover bits from other ships. Gnomish individualism and personality is found in each Sidewheeler, so no two look exactly alike. For that matter, the same Gnomish Sidewheeler will look different over time, as the gnomes modify portions of the ship to their own needs. New portholes and accessways cross the ship as weapon turrets are added and discarded. Gnomes are more interested in salvage than standard repairs and refit, so the scraps of two or more ships are often brought together to form one hybrid vessel.
Given the unstable nature of gnomish vessels, there is a 50% chance that a given landing will result in a crash. A waterborne ship brought into space may have so much of its hull pieced and modified that it will no longer be viable on water, and will sink. Similarly, with the gnomish tendency to expand, it is highly likely that the gnomes will place additions on the ship without consideration of mundane matters such as landing gear. For example, former struts and landing gear may now be shorter than a recently-installed lighthouse on the base. The most common solution to this problem is simply never to land. Instead gnomes may use complicated versions of cargo hoists to take gnomes and cargo to and from the surface while the Sidewheeler hovers above. Another solution is some form of crash protection. The method varies from installing cloth webbing all over the ship as safety nets, to strapping individuals to the hull during landing, to filling the hold with feather pillows. Since bad designs in this area tend not to get a second test run, the chance of surviving a landing without incident is low. Sometimes gnomes will abandon ship before landing, taking lifeboats down to the surface (although if these lifeboats have been modified they may be just as dangerous). This guarantees a crash, but the gnomish crews can always rebuild their craft from the debris.
A typical gnomish ship has a crew of 21-40 gnomes. Due to the gnomes' small size, they count as half a human-sized creature for air considerations. Only the position of captain is usually fixed aboard a gnomish ship for any period of time. All other positions are filled on a rotational basis on a schedule based on a number of variables such as time, ship's position within a sphere, a phase of a moon on the gnomes' homeworld, or any number of other factors. As this often moves ill-suited individuals into vital positions, gnomish ships operate haphazardly at best. This week's chief cook might be next week's navigator.
Transport: Gnomish Sidewheelers are cheap, unreliable methods of transporting messages, goods, and people across the stars. If the sender doesn't care overly about whether the item being transported actually arrives, a Sidewheeler is generally the ship of choice. Sidewheelers are also the primary method of transporting gnomes and inventions (and sometimes more mundane goods) to and from new colonies.
Exploration: Most Gnomish Sidewheelers operate as exploration ships, discovering different wonders of the cosmos. Gnomish crews and captains delight in finding new and interesting things, and testing all sorts of theories about them. Since gnomes keep such poor records of their travels, most gnomes can visit the same sphere a number of times, but remain convinced each time that it is their first visit.
Juggernauts: Gnomish ships do not usually carry large weapons. Neogi and mind flayers have learned that tinker gnomes make poor slaves, after several ships were destroyed by gnomish slaves helpfully improving the rigging. Pirates likewise usually leave gnomes alone since they rarely have anything worth stealing. Despite this, Gnomish Sidewheelers do sometimes suffer attacks, and the Juggernaut is the gnomish answer to this. Up to 15 tons worth of weaponry will be packed aboard a Juggernaut, often in a seemingly-random layout. Gnomes will often mount more weapons than they can actually crew, since the extras are "spares." The weapon choice usually follows some sort of pattern - either all ballistas or all light weapons, or something else. In some cases, however, the weapons will be a random collection of experimental devices, many of which will not work properly in battle. Juggernauts sometimes have extra armour plating, improving the AR to 7, but reducing MC to F. Some Juggernauts appear exactly as other Sidewheelers, hiding weapons behind pieces of scrap until the last moment, surprising an attacker. Others follow the exact opposite strategy, blatantly advertising their battle-readiness, often with big glowing signs made from light spells saying "we're bad!"
Speed Clipper: This version of the Sidewheeler is little more than a framework with a few level surfaces for the crew. Hammocks and netting hang everywhere to keep crew and cargo in place. The maneuverability of a Speed Clipper is improved significantly to MC C, but the armour rating is reduced to 8. Further, the ship cannot make a safe landing under any circumstances, and all members of the crew, including the helm and helmsman, are visible and can be targetted by weapons and spells since there is no below-decks to take cover in.
- Spelljammer reference: Concordance of Arcane Space