D&D General Is Spelljammer really that bad?


So, slightly click-baity title, let me give context. I was reading through this thread (WotC - WotC needs an Elon Musk) about if WoTC needs Elon Musk, and one of the complaints that caught my eye amongst the various points of discussion was that WoTC has released "no good sourcebooks". Except Eberron, they were quick to say.

My initial thought was to take Theros or Ravnica and do this type of post for them, but discussion continued and Spelljammer was a hot button for a moment, so I got to thinking. If we take out all the expectations, if we take out the mechanics, if we looked solely at it as a setting as seen by a new pair of eyes with no idea of what this "spell yammer" thing is.... are these books really a bad sourcebook? I mean, the product is panned pretty heavily by the fan base, so if I can show it is a decent sourcebook then the other, better products, would be even better, right?

So.... what does it look like?

Some Parameters
When discussing this, it is probably best to start at the beginning and lay out the context of the setting, right?

So, what is Spelljammer in a pithy one-liner? Ravenloft is "DnD but Horror", Strixhaven is "DnD but Harry Potter", Theros is "DnD but Greek Myths". What is Spelljammer? DnD but Space. Really, you can quibble about it, but it seems the most accepted version. Heck, one of the most commonly talked about Spelljammer creatures is the Giant Space Hamster. So, we are talking about Space, or a version of space. Which means for 99% of our Space/Sci-Fi needs we would look to two models. Star Wars. Star Trek. And for my money, Spelljammer is a lot more like Star Trek. It is more about exploration than a single hero's journey.

Okay, now... what should we limit the discussion to? To give a bit of a preview, one of the things that makes sense to discuss in a setting are the antagonistic factions. For Spelljammer that would include Illithids. But, the spelljammer books don't give any statblocks for Illithids, they barely discuss them. But... do they need to? The Monster Manual covers them pretty well, and if you don't think the Monster Manual is enough there was Volos (psionic weaponry for instance), and there is more stuff in Fizban's (Elder Brain Dragon), and Multiverse (Ultharid, Elder Brain). I don't know if I need the setting book to rehash everything about Illithids if they are largely unchanged. And considering what is said about them in those sources... they would be largely unchaged.

But is it fair to include them? I think it is at least fair to mention the Monster Manual, but I'd find Monsters of the Multiverse to be fair game as a resource for the setting as well. It would be used for other settings after all. This probably isn't too contreversial, but I bring it up because I'm also going to be using two other books, and expect that will be contreversial. Boo's Astral Menagerie and Light of Xaryxis.

Now, people might object, especially to Xaryxis. It's an adventure, not the source book! However, there is something worth noting here. You can't buy just Astral Adventurer's Guide as a stand-alone product. The only way to buy this book, officially, is as a bundle. I've never seen them not packaged together. So, anyone who buys the Spelljammer for 5e gets all three books. So, if they are packaged together, then isn't it fair to consider them together? I mean, we are free to consider the Monster Manual, which needs to be bought separately, so this feels fair to me. On the same hand, I don't see any reason to dock Spelljammer for not including details on Toril or Khorvaire. If I want to run part of an adventure on those worlds, then I would expect to need those setting books. It wouldn't be fair to say that Spelljammer had to detail every other setting. It is only responsible for the space it claims.

So, what's in the book? Do you have enough to run the setting?

Astral Adventures
The books open up with something fairly important to the setting. We get how the space deals with the Material planes. It also establishes some facts about the Astral Sea. Being in it leaves you timeless, ageless, ect. This is important for later parts of the setting.

We then (still on the first page) get told that Light of Xaryxis is meant as an introduction to Spelljammer for the party. We also get the Rock of Bral mentioned, and ten potential adventure hooks. The reason this is important is because it helps tell the DM about the types of adventures that could be run in this setting. We get another mention of the Rock, and an autognome, #10 is the same with a Plasmoid Boss. We get an inherited ship and treasure maps. #3 is specifically meant to take place in a non-spelljammer campaign, likely needing to blend elements of the two. Same with #6. #4 gets us a patron (Tasha's rules) and a ship. #5 talks about being hired for a space war. #7 is a take on Moby Dick hunting a White Kindori, #9 is transporting cargo. #8 could be like three and six, but it could also be a unique take. You crash land, fight off the natives until you can be rescued.

So, what types of adventures can be had in Spelljammer? You can go exploring with treasure maps, crash land on alien planets, involve yourself in interplanetary wars, take inspiration from classical tales of the high seas, likely including pirate stories. You can go or come from other settings. Two pages in, and we have a solid grasp of a skeleton of this setting, and some unique things in it.

What follows are two unique backgrounds, which tie into the major two "sections" of Spelljammer that would be different than the stuff you might have gotten from the PHB. The Wildspacer also gives a whole host of unique Spelljammer creatures you may have encountered. Then we get five new races. Their lore is a bit short and sweet, but frankly it works. Autognomes provide plot hooks, Giff have a plot hook or two, Hadozee give us their homeworld, not in detail but it doesn't have to. Now, why say that?

How Important is Detail

See, there is something I think that could be written for the Spelljammer book that they didn't. More locations. However, at the same time, I don't think it is necessary. Remember when I mentioned one of the potential types of adventures for Spelljammer were nautitical novels? One "trick" of those sorts of stories was taking advantage of the sheer size of the ocean to make up new locations. Lilliput and Blefuscu were made up whole cloth. The island that Robin Crusoe landed on is completely vague, as far as the version I read. Treasure Island? Could be anywhere.

And by that same token, you could run a spelljammer adventure on the planet of Blefuscu. One of the starting options is stranding you on a "desert island" awaiting rescue from a passing ship, like Crusoe. Treasure Island in space (Treasure Planet) could be argued to be better than the original. We could take from sci-fi stories and have hulls and ghost ships, space stations where a great deal happens. They could have given us a list of locations, a planet of dire animals, a planet with deadly plants, a planet that seems like a utopia but is a psychic trap, a planet that eats people... but many of these ideas are obvious. A chart full of these ideas could be useful, but was it necessary? I'm not convinced, because the setting works with the vagueness. All of these ideas I've listed and many many more exist in Spelljammer. Of course they do.

Now, one thing they do provide, and again, could have been a bit more detail on, are maps and types of ships. But these ships, even if I am not happy with their mechanics, do carry some of the setting. The Giff have a navy. Damselflies work as courier's, pirate ships, military command vessels, they even have private races for Damselflies between hotshots. That is a plot right there. Many of these ships mention merchants and pirates, both of whom would be vital to a setting like Spelljammer. They don't give us specific pirate lords or famous merchants, but again... do they need to? Space if huge. There are likely dozens upon dozens of pirate lords. It would have been nice, but the setting works with just knowing that there are pirates out there and what types of ships they prefer.

We also get some layers of age. Lamprey's, Scorpions and Squid Ships are old ships. Shrikes are new. Galleons and flying fish are common. We don't get percentage numbers, but this information paints a picture. We also get some unique ships, like the Living Ship.

But more importantly, much like the Giff navy, we get foes mentioned. Psurlons, Illithid, Neogi, Astral Elves, Beholders. This is a fairly extensive set of enemies before we've even looked at the monster book, many of whom readers would already have details of from other books. And it fits into the theme we are building so far. Everything is out here, but these specific things are notable and should be watched out for.

The Rock of Bral

And then we have the Rock. We get a brief history of the place, and are told Prince Andru is in charge. In one of the few things I'm furious about this book doing, they ruin the mystery and just state that Andru killed his brother, but we also get a chief advisor with enough detail to run him and a Captain of the Royal Guard. We know there are three Magistrates who handle crime, and a magistrate's watch that enforces their laws. We get the Underbaron's (human who controls the lower city and docks, halfling in the Burrows who controls the craftsmen, Elf who runs a specific location as well as minstrels and entertainers, and an Illithid who is secretive and unknown.) We get details on the High City as well as seven notable locations, the middle city with eleven more locations, and the Lower city with ten more. Finally there is the "underside" and five more locations.

That's.... honestly a lot. Going through a quick skim that is thirty-three specific locations, and about 15 NPCs. Sure, it isn't a realms encyclopedia, but it is more than enough to run the Rock as a location, as well as leaving obvious things for me to fill in. They have a Temple District, who is the head of the Temple of Moradin? They don't say, but there is obviously one and I can fill in that detail. The book also came with a very detailed map of the Rock, which is a small enough area that you can actually use the street names and individual buildings. Which is wonderful.

But, is this all?

Can a Monster Book be a Setting Book?

Spoiler? Yeah, I think it can.

Remember one of the things I mentioned that the other book didn't need? Like lists of pirates and merchants?

Guess what is in Boo's book? "Ship Encounters" include:
  • Captain Myrtle Hunt of the Bombard Leviathan
  • Captain Krig Kalu of the Damselfly Voidwinder
  • Captain Thaal Vod of the Flying Fish Horizon
  • Captain Veluna Valderak of the Hammerhead Jander Sunstar
  • Captain Uscath of the Lamprey Astral Prize
  • Captain Queth of the Living Ship Eldervine
  • The Nautiloid Neurophage with a Mind Flayer crew (no captain? Well, that's Mindflayer's isn't it?)
  • Captain Yeshk of the Nightspider Malevolence
  • Captain Huraj of the Scorpion Claws of Huraj
  • Captain Yaj of the Shrike Fedifensor
  • Captain Xorpha Eleven-Eyes of the Space Galleon Eleventh
  • Captain Mystan the Mighty of the Space Galleon Great Kindori
  • Captain Arviglas Syken of the Squid Ship Syken's Reach along with her Daughter Tenebra
  • Captain Xaleen of the Star Moth Apex
  • Captain Shelby Norkle of the Turtle Snorkel
  • Tyrant Ship Doomdreamer (No captain, which could be fun or an oversight)
And the abandoned Wasp Adventure

For those of you paying attention, that is not only one example each of each of the ships (two for galleons and the Wasp is abandoned), but I copied them in order from the encounter table... and that is the same order as the ships are presented in the other book. Now, could they have put all of these as examples in that book? Sure, but these are encounters, those are the baseline ships if someone wants to use them. This actually makes a lot of sense. And many of these don't go into details on the personalities of these captains, but do they need to? Is the setting worse if I play Captain Xaleen as a no-nonsense warrior with a strict sense of duty transporting a noble, and someone else plays them as a power-hungry captain trying to seduce the noble on board their ship who was enamored with the idea of adventure? The setting doesn't rest on these characters, so they don't need detailed. And not being detailed means we, as DMs, can play with their presentation to fit our needs.

But, well, we need factions right? We need different political and military forces for the players to encounter and affect. That's a major part of the setting and the previous book gave us none of that...

But this book provides it.

  • Aartuks, war-like plant people whose homeworld was destroyed by Beholders.
  • Astral Elves, Zealots devoted to their gods fighting various enemies like the Psurlons, Illithids and Githyanki. They also call out that the Xaryxis is but a single society of these elves, meaning there are a lot more that are possible.
  • Chwinga, little cute astronauts that can help travelers.
  • Dohwar, peguin-like merchant people who are always looking for a deal
  • Reigar, humanoids evolved from squids who relish in war and destruction. Destroyed their own homeworld
  • Giff, hippo-people with a love of guns and military. Lost their homeworld
  • Githyanki, people from the Astral Sea who became pirates and rebelled against the Illithid
  • Hadozee, and here we get a desctription of their homeworld, Yazir
  • Mercane, a race of a strange hive mind, merchants
  • Neogi are detailed here
  • Plasmoids have more detail, especially a bit on their splitting
  • Psurlons, psychic worm people that eat sentient beings
  • Space Clowns, specific fiendish clowns that attack ships and infiltrate societies. Even gives us their home world
  • Ssuran, lizardfolk in space
  • Thri-kreen are detailed here
  • Vampirates, a specific version of vampires unique to spelljammer

These are a lot of factions that we can deal with. A lot of plot hooks put in here. And we even get some relationships between some of them.

Do we have things that can be encountered on the surfaces of places? With Braxat, Megapedes, B'rohg, Gaj we have some unique monsters. We also still have the entirety of the monster manual and the entirety of the other books.

Do we have things to encounter in space? From Esthetics, Eye Mongers, and Murder Comets aproaching you, Feyr and Jammer Leeches inflitrating the ships, massive things like Kindori and scavvers, lunar and solar dragons... yeah, there is a ton of stuff to encounter here.

In fact, the monster book gives me more than enough setting information. I don't need a detailed history of how many times the Reigar have fought the Astral Elves, and that military victories were had at XXX and YYY across the asteroid belt [Blank]. That stuff may be interesting, but we are dealing with SPACE. It is vast, and it is so vast that you will always find more stuff after you've listed it. And we don't need that information. DMs don't need that information to run the setting, we just need to know that both factions exist and how they are, because that leads to the obvious that they will fight. (Mostly because the Reigar fight everything)

And I still haven't gotten to the adventure, which gives more locations, more NPCs, and expands even more on stuff. And, sure, it is an adventure, but most of the 2e lore came from adventures too. So why can't this?

So, actually, at the end of the day, for someone who has no preconceptions? This is a REALLY GOOD source book. It gives tons of hooks, tons of unique things about the setting, and leaves out the encyclopedia aspect that can bog these things down with dates and wars and "who is the current leader of the yadda yadda". Which, might be bad for a different setting, but Spelljammer 5e is meant to evoke those sea-faring themes. Just because you encounter the Empire of Xaryxis doesn't mean it is the only Astral Elf empire, or even one anyone actually cares about. It is one, among the countless stars.

And dang, that makes for a cool setting.
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I keep seeing the same, that it was bad, not good enough. Every time I've flipped through a copy I think 'whats so bad here', but I have not actually sat down and digested it.

I keep THINKING it looks fine/good, and the over the top style and art design finally make sense to me.

It was the only book this year I really thought on getting, that was released this year that is.

It isn't actually bad, it's just utterly inadequate (and it's very large, elaborate, and expensive while still being inadequate, which didn't help its reception). What there is, is mostly quite ok. I have my issues with some of the player-facing material (I still hate elves having floating proficiencies, and the less said about the various hadozee disasters the better) but it seems acceptable, on the whole.

You can reasonably argue for not having locations in a Spelljammer setting book, sure. Space is big, and you can't cover it all - thought there's not many excuses for not at least covering SOME of it. But in that case, you need to cover organisations. Tell us who the Imperial Elven Navy (or the neogi, or the giff, or the beholders or even the scro or the Shou trading fleets) are, what they want. How are they structured, what are their goals, their enemies, their leaders, their tactics and strategies, their strongholds, their internal factions, the members of their organisation that PCs are likely to encounter in diplomatic/military/exploratory/assassination scenarios? How does a PC join up, if they're so inclined? What does an adventure involving them look like? Give us plot hooks for these organisations, give us a variety of stat blocks for members of each organisation useable at different CRs. In short, go look in the organisations section of Rising From The Last War, and do exactly what they did there, because that was really solid, useful, practical material for running a campaign.

I'm not even mad about them not including anything about religion, just disappointed. It's annoying, but after they wimped out on covering it in Ravenloft, they were never going to do it here.

There's lots of classic spelljammer monsters that the weren't included in Boo's book, so that a bunch of last-minute Dark sun rebrands could be shoved in there. Spelljammer and Dark Sun are thematically worlds apart. Belgoi etc fit in a Spelljammer monster manual like a live weasel fits in a caesar salad. If, as you argue, there's already enough monsters in other sourcebooks that you don't need any more here, wind the monster book into the adventure book, don't just pad it out with critters that belong in an utterly different setting (if an anaemic 64 page pamphlet can be called 'padded out')

(I remain baffled why the deckplans are black and white. Spelljammer is retro, sure, but you don't need to be THAT retro!)

The Spelljammer box is fundamentally not what was advertised. It isn't a campaign setting, even though it claims to be. It's an adventure that is dressed up as a campaign setting, like Strixhaven was, and like WotCs preferred model seems to be these days. Radiant Citadel was the same sort of product but to its credit, was more honest about it. The setting material only really exists in a bare minimum form to support the campaign. The great majority of locations it covers are only detailed in the adventure and lack info that you'd need to make them useful outside the narrow scope of that plot, many of the monsters are not Spelljammer monsters and are only here because of the not-Athas world in the adventure, etc etc. Which is ... fine .. if that's your thing. You can play a non-Xaryxis campaign using this book in the same way you can run a non-Strahd Ravenloft campaign using only Curse of Strahd as your campaign setting. Maybe the hags are your campaign-ending bad guys instead of the snappy-dressing guy in the castle. Of course it's possible, but it's not intended, and the product doesn't make it easy.

Aside from any/all of that, the format really bugged me. We've been told continually that printing costs are high and printstock is in short supply - so why was this product sold in a format that involved so much wildly unnecessary cardboard? There is FAR more cardboard than paper in the slipcase version. I don't need or want a slipcase, i don't need or want a DM screen. Don't give me all these expensive extra gubbins and fripperies and then spit out a skimpy content-light paraphrase of a campaign setting. Give me useful, practical gaming content, then let Beadle and Grimm worry about all the bells and whistles later. I kinda hate to pan this product as much as I am, because I like Spelljammer and I do want WotC to give us a decent 5th ed adaptation of legacy settings Dark Sun (or even a modernised Al-Qadim!). And the art department knocked it out of the park, the books are gorgeous. But all in all, the whole product is just an overwhelming victory of style over substance, and a massive lost opportunity.


It's always been a niche setting, and one that I have no interest in. Niche settings always sell less, because obviously, but they also tend to have dedicated fan-bases among whom the expectations are high. So I think Spelljammer was always going to be a tougher sell, and the fact that WotC didn't really deliver a full source book rubbed a lot of people the wrong way.


Morkus from Orkus
The setting is very, very sparse. Too sparse. 5e gave me 6 pages on the Rock of Bral. 2e gave me 85 pages on it.

5e gives me...

"The Happy Beholder
This prosperous tavern is owned and run by Large Luigi, a locally famous, lawful neutral beholder. Luigi has an encyclopedic knowledge of all sorts of topics, and he's more than happy to share information with just about anybody. He's a civic-minded, well-liked citizen who has no political ambitions. His tavern is rarely troubled by bullies or thieves."

The Rock of Bral gives me...

"The Happy Beholder
A small but prosperous tavern, the Laughing Beholder is owned by none other than Large Luigi, the famous beholder and tavern keeper. Luigi is an extremely wise and knowledgeable beholder who is one of the very few members of his race to understand the beholder destiny-to learn and to teach. Luigi is a civic minded and well-liked citizen of Bral, and spends most of this time listening to the rumors of far spheres and great adventures. Very few people realize that Luigi's knowledge is godlike in its scope-that he is a vision of the potential of the beholder race. he has, at one time, known everything there is to know about anything in the entire multiverse. Chances are good that he realizes that all of eistence is contained withing the imaginations of a weird class of beings beyond gods who call themselves roleplayers.

Luigi is more than happy to share information with anyone who cares to seek the answers from him but he has an infuriating tendency to withhold vital knowledge. He cannot reveal knowledge that would upset the balance of the cosmos and on many occasions that could depend on something as simple as an adventurer knowing where to find a fabled ruin or a reclusive hermit. All he asks in return is a song or story for his many patrons.

The Laughing beholder is rarely troubled by bullies or hoodlums. Large Luigi's powerful magical abilities quickly put an end to trouble virtually before it starts."

The OP says that the 5e book has 33 locations on Bral. It gives 7. A whole 7! Locations in the lower city. 2e on the other hand gives 62 locations in the lower city, and in more detail than 5e gives to the meager 7 locations it mentions.

The 2e books give more names of individuals on Bral by far than 5e does, and only 2e gives any stats for them.

I disagree that it's REALLY GOOD, or even good, but it isn't bad. It's mostly just very low value. If they had read Stars Without Number and filled it with tables of similar quality it would have been much more useful for actually running a Spelljammer campaign. I don't feel the same need for rules as a lot of people, but I know that bothered lots of folks too.

I'm not mad, just disappointed.


I crit!
I’m running two tables of it now. Could run a third or fourth. By player demand.

There are people who are disappointed for one reason or another.

There are people angry at change, the format and expense being the big ones I can see.

Never forget there are people looking for blood in the water from WotC too.

Refer to the reactions to both Curse of Strahd and Tyranny of Dragons. Both of which do extremely well and out there in the world are popular.

My opinion is these books were with the main intention to unlock the setting in DMGuild and to watch the ideas created by the 3PPs.

I am interested into sourcebooks about new classes (not subclasses), lineages and monsters. I don't need modules or adventures. I don't want to buy the three books, but only two, and I have to work hard to save money. The adquisitive level in my land is lower. I have to think twice before spending my money. I am a collector, not a player, and I have bought a lot in the past, and I don't like to await more time to can buy the translated version.

And I suspect the books from 3.5 Ed had got more text in the same number of pages.


For fluff, you're almost always going to be best off with the 2E material, with the downside of things being less progressively written. WotC just isn't going to devote as much ink to details as TSR did, and is basically just summarizing the old stuff anyway.

This also lets you skip most of the adventure bloat. 2E adventure hook inserts were usually pretty tiny.

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