Spelljammer Corsairs of the Celestial Sea - Wuxia Space Fantasy - Setting & Systems


Trust the Fungus
Corsairs of the Celestial Sea is... the setup for a private D&D game I want to run for some of my friends and family. The premise is to take the modern, single-sphere approach to Spelljammer and aggressively ramp up the implied Chinese fantasy elements of Realmspace. I'm an old school guy, and my initial plan was to run this in Old School Essentials with the martial arts rules from Flying Swordsmen; that proved to be... a little more difficult than I estimated, and reworking some elements of PF1 and D&D5 is moving a lot smoother. (Hence why the thread is here.)

The Setting: An enormous, sprawling "binary"-- two primary stars, but numerous secondaries-- star system with dozens of Inner Worlds orbiting each star individually, and dozens of Outer Worlds orbiting them as a pair. The Inner Worlds orbiting each primary (mostly) revolve in opposite directions, and their orbital paths intersect every year, though which planets actually make "close" approaches varies from year to year. The Outer Worlds contain many secondary fire bodies that serve as miniature suns for their habitable moons. There are a handful of large, environmentally and culturally diverse planets-- Torils, Golarions, Eberrons-- between the two primaries, with the vast majority of planets being more typical space fantasy fare.

Culturally and technologically, the Sphere is largely late medieval/early Renaissance with gunpowder weapons and the printing press, but early in the process of mercantilism devouring and replacing feudalism, hereditary monarchy, and the Divine Right of Kings. I'm drawing deep from the same well of anachronism stew as most D&D-- this isn't explicitly an "Oriental Adventures" (ugh) setting, it's a setting in which OA had been part of the core rules all along-- with a lot of extra emphasis on Chinese sources, and a little extra emphasis on Japanese, Korean, and Indian sources and with European sourced cultures being more about the 16th/17th centuries than the 12th/13th. Cosmologically, a lot of the design of the setting is based on the idea that CJK and Hindu folklore and literature are a more significant part of the spiritual truth of the setting than TSR's original classical and pulp fantasy roots.

Minor note on cosmology-- mortals have a lot of theories about the cosmology of the universe, and no way of verifying them. In the maybe two or three centuries since the discovery of space flight, a lot of cultures compared notes and syncretized their folk religions into fantasyloaf... and there's a handful of powerful minority high religion organizations, but the only thing people actually know in-universe is that dead people go somewhere before they come back, the angels and the demons and the genies et al exist somewhere before they're summoned here, and trying to learn more about it does not work well and does not end well. The Astral and the Ethereal exist as liminal spaces and there's nothing interesting there except shortcuts between interesting things in the Real World.

Aliens... I am drawing from traditional D&D fantasy races and humanoid monsters, Spelljammer and Star Frontiers, Alternity's Star•Drive aliens, and Paizo's Pathfinder and Starfinder alien races.

The System: I'm ripping out the majority of 5e's class system to use it as a delivery vehicle for a smattering of mostly 3PP PF1 and 5e content. The martial arts rules are inspired by and adapted from Dreamscarred Press' Path of War systems, the psionics rules are something I found on DM's Guild, and I'm just beating the whole thing with the houserules stick to get all the gears turning in the same direction. Martial maneuvers and spells go up to 7th level. Part of my goal in replacing all of the classes in 5th is that there's no "default" Fighter, Rogue, Cleric, and Wizard.

The Power Sources are broken down thus:
  • Martial and Psychic are two sides of the same coin. Every living thing has some capacity for them and "pure" martial characters have enhanced psionic capacity and vice versa.
  • Divine is the magic of the Celestial Bureaucracy, the turning of the wheel. It's the magic of dragons, celestials and fiends, and shamans and sorcerers and warlocks.
  • Arcane magic is the magic of fey creatures (including elves and goblins) and genies and beings of shadow; not outside of the Celestial Bureaucracy, but largely indifferent to it. Bards and magi are arcane.
  • The undead are a special case of combining arcane and divine in a way that blasphemes both.
  • Eldritch is the magic of things that are definitely outside of the Celestial Bureaucracy, but not against it. If divine magic is about natural life, eldritch isn't so picky. It's the magic of aberrations, of druids and witches.

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Trust the Fungus
Classes and Clades

Like I mentioned, one of my main goals in replacing all of the classes in 5e was to remove Fighter, Rogue, Mage and Cleric as "default" options, in favor of a larger number of narrower classes. I'm also removing the Monk class because everyone has ki, fast movement, and martial arts.

I'm generally fuzzy on the distinction between "warrior" and "rogue" classes, with the general impression that some warriors are not rogues, some rogues are not warriors, but most warriors or rogues are warriors and rogues. This... is not helpful.

The warriors/rogues I'm working with so far: Cavalier (swashbuckler/cavalier/paladin), Freebooter (swashbuckler/thief), Ranger (ranger/rogue), Berserker, Assassin (assassin/ninja/way of shadows), Alchemist (both PF bomb-chucker and Daoist), Investigator (inquisitive/archeologist)... and I really want to have a Courtier class but I can't figure out what it does except be worse at martial arts than a Cavalier.

Still working out my "psychic" selection, but generally there will be a few different options and psychics tend to be secondary warriors.

Bard is most of what you'd expect it to be, but also has a firm grasp on elemental magics because the class includes the sha'ir and the magus.

Shaman is... probably the replacement Cleric for "default priest" since pretty much all of the religions in the setting use them. They're more or less a cross between the PF Oracle and the 3.X Shugenja, adapted to use the Chinese elements instead of the Japanese. The Sorcerer lies in a weird space between Draconic and Divine Soul, and has some transformative/melee options based on draconic feats and/or the Dragon Disciple. Warlock is your pretty standard Hexblade/Fiend type.

The Druid is still mostly recognizable... losing elemental spells and spells that affect non-living matter to gain access to more mind-affecting spells and having a more focused and weirder version of wildshape. Witches are more teamwork focused, with party buffs and debuffs instead of self-buffs.

Then we get into the Alien Classes, since this will be a race-as-class system. As you might have guessed from the list of sources I'm drawing from, I've got a truly extensive and excessive list of aliens to work with here. Especially for a race-as-class system.

The D&D/OA races are:
  • Elves are Fey with Arcane magic, basically either full martial and medium bard/magi, or vice versa. They're fast and teleportative, and between Solar Wind and Elemental Flux they can throw out a lot of energy damage.
  • Dwarves are miniature Giants, heavy and slow, full martial but with penalties for accessing supernatural abilities. They're hard to hurt, hard to move, and hard to move around.
  • I'm combining halflings and gnomes into Gnomes. The gnomish subraces are fraal (rock gnome), hin (forest gnome/ghostwise halfling), and xeph. Gnomes are telepathic and good with divination, illusion, and enchantment magics.
  • I'm dividing kobolds into the horned ratling ysoki (nezumi/monkey goblin scavengers) and the reptilian t'sa (accelerist/kobold sorcerer/swiftblades)
  • Goblins are Fey, sort of pyrokineticist ninjas.
  • Bugbears are Weren, also Fey. It's difficult to thread the needle between honorbound warrior-poets and thugs and bullies that literally feed on their victims' fear, but it occurs to me that individual weren likely try and fail to thread that needle all the time.
  • Orcs are brutish, pig-faced humanoids with demonic blood. They come in many fun, vibrant colors! Older, tougher orcs throw around destructive lightning and necrotic magics, but not fire or acid as these interfere with their regenerative abilities. Ogres are just bigger, nastier orcs.
  • Kreen bear little change from the D&D version. Most kreen the PCs encounter will be thri-kreen, spacers who hatch, serve, and die on their pack's ancestral spelljamming vessels. Xixchil are a rare kreen mutation and special priest caste within (but not wholly a part of) kreen society.
  • Gith also bear little change from the D&D version, except there's a single gith race of which githyanki and githzerai are optional subclasses. The gith civil war is the most common cause behind Vlaakith CLVII's repeated switching sides in the eternal hot-and-cold war between the Elven Imperial Navy and the Confederacy of Free Kreen.
  • Kenku combine the D&D kenku (obviously based on tengu) and the PF tengu; they're decent flyers, but they can only show off their terrific swordsmanship when not using their wings. They're natural bards, gifted with air magics and with using the power of their voice.
  • Vishkanya are pretty purely the PF race of the same name, venomous and hypnotic. Widely believed to be the investors and the namesakes of the Steel Serpent Discipline.
  • Kappa are sort of dragonborn anthropomorphic dragon turtles with tough spiked shells and a steam breath weapon. Classwise, they're like draconic bloodragers.
The Spelljammer/Star Frontiers, Star•Drive, and Starfinder aliens are:
  • As mentioned previously, the fraal are gnomes, the t'sa are (modern) kobolds, and the weren are bugbears. The ysoki are (classic) kobolds.
  • The Hadozee are also vanara, picking up the D&D/PF vanara racial traits and a lot of the really cool vanara folklore that D&D never used. They keep the gliding ability, but lose the wingflaps, and pick up the fiercer visage and the blood enemy of the yazirian. Classwise they're like horrible paladin jesters.
  • Dralasites are still a work in progress, but I'm keeping them pretty close to their 5e SJ appearance and their class is something like an oozemorph/oozeling Shifter.
  • Aleerin (mechalus) are mostly PF android and a little bit D&D warforged, but they reproduce naturally and grow their "cybernetic" components organically. They're tactile telepaths, and many develop the ability to enhance their prehensile hair's reach and strength. Classwise, they're akin to the wiremind (cryptic) and living weapon (brawler) android class archetypes.
  • Vesk are something of a combination of the Starfinder species and the standard D&D lizardfolk, with a little bit of sleeth (from Gamma World) thrown in. They're both ruthlessly pragmatic and rigidly honorbound, and it's this tension that brings out the best and the worst in them.
  • Giff are big, bad brawlers equally at home with their hand-cannons and their bare hands. Really, Giff are perfect as they are, and I don't need to do anything but include them.
  • I think I am going to end up combining dromites and Shirren as something akin to thoughtsinger/kineticist. And give them wings.
  • I'm working on what I'd like to do with kasatha and lashunta; I'm taking suggestions, along with suggestions about other Starfinder species I might want to have a go at.


Trust the Fungus
I would also really like to do something clever with the Vrusk but I just don't have any ideas.

Likewise, weren are big, ogres are big, giff are big. Is that enough?

Similarly, t'sa are small and kappa are small; should I have medium and/or large dragonborn? And if so, combined with what?
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