Spelljammer Why Play Spelljammer Over a Regular Pirate Campaign?

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
D
Some people like the setting. That's all it is.

I don't particularly care for the setting. It's much too campy, and I don't care for the Aristotelian or Renaissance physics. In my experience from the 80s is that there's one person at the table who is really in to it, and most of the rest of the table isn't interested. I've described it elsewhere like this: I find the setting jarring when it's often an interstitial setting. You go from Krynn, Oerth, or Toril, and all they're pretty standard high fantasy. They feel like Lord of the Rings, or The Witcher, or Skyrim, or Dark Souls. Spelljammer, however, feels more like Flash Gordon, except only one player at the table can hear the Queen soundtrack.

However, I'm willing to give it a go as a change of pace.

the Flash Gordon soundtrack is exactly what makes Spelljammer awesome
 

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Mad_Jack

Hero
Aside from the particular flavor of the setting itself, Spelljammer is also sort of the D&D equivalent of RIFTS... You can have a party with any combination of races and classes no matter how diverse without having to come up with bizarre reasons why there's one single warforged artificer wandering around Krynn, or a Mul necromancer (from Athas) hanging out in Eberron. You can fight dinosaurs on an ice planet on the way to pulling a heist in a city built on a flying whale.
The Spelljammer concept of bopping round space in a flying ship shaped like a swan or a nautilus is the string that ties together whatever elements from any and all other settings you choose to incorporate into your game...
(Even aside from actually being able to bop from one setting world to the next on a whim.)
 





Parmandur

Book-Friend
Lets turn the question around. Why play sea pirates when you could play space pirates?

I would say, the main reason would be because you prefer your D&D more serious and grounded.


Oh, and did I tell you how I defeated a fleet of eight Orion Pirate vessels (including two with cloaking devices) in the Star Trek RPG?
I do think that, say, a Ghoats of Daltmarsh campaign does offer a distinct flavor different from Spelljammer, for sure.
 





Some people like the setting. That's all it is.

I don't particularly care for the setting. It's much too campy, and I don't care for the Aristotelian or Renaissance physics. In my experience from the 80s is that there's one person at the table who is really in to it, and most of the rest of the table isn't interested. I've described it elsewhere like this: I find the setting jarring when it's often an interstitial setting. You go from Krynn, Oerth, or Toril, and all they're pretty standard high fantasy. They feel like Lord of the Rings, or The Witcher, or Skyrim, or Dark Souls. Spelljammer, however, feels more like Flash Gordon, except only one player at the table can hear the Queen soundtrack.

However, I'm willing to give it a go as a change of pace.
Dear lord, how could I have not thought of Spelljammer = D&D + Flash Gordon before? D&D + Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who, sure. But Flash Gordon is the perfect way to describe it.

Now I need to have a Spelljammer campaign with more-human aaracokra so I can have the leader bellow a la Brian Blessed...
 



JohnF

Explorer
So many others have already addressed the OP's question very well, but I'd like to share this perspective:

I spent over two glorious years as a player in the Pathfinder 1e very pirate-forward AP Skull and Shackles, and there was never a moment's doubt as to our adventures' style, tone, or themes. We were freebooting adventurers making our mark among the region's pirates, crossing swords or outsailing the competition (
once in a regatta!
). It was certainly a high fantasy AP, but it was also thematically and mechanically grounded in the very reliable and familiar ocean-based, island-visiting, rum-drinking, seafaring, shanty-singing, port-a-calling, gravity-centric swashbuckling tropes of classic high seas adventures.

If someone took that AP and replaced the ocean with space, would it really make a difference? ABSOLUTELY and, in every way, it would obliterate so much of the narrative tensions that were inherent in the adventurous goals and conflicts that unfolded in our large but still limited terrestrial region.

Pirating and seafaring campaigns aren't simply about salty window dressing - the ocean/islands play a massive part in defining the motivations and challenges that make the genre and themes come to life for players. They can't simply be swapped out for space/planets without losing what makes them so particular.

Spelljammer goes vast and cosmic and demands substantially different character motivations on such a scale. And the opportunities to travel huge distances to radically different worlds demands substantially different hooks than one would find in classic seafaring stories. Spelljammer PCs need to think very differently than their counterparts in a pirate campaign because a DM embracing Spelljammer to its fullest will be presenting the challenges, themes, mechanics, and world(s) in very unpredictable and alien ways (as already noted by many others in this thread)
 


overgeeked

B/X Known World
I spent over two glorious years as a player in the Pathfinder 1e very pirate-forward AP Skull and Shackles, and there was never a moment's doubt as to our adventures' style, tone, or themes. We were freebooting adventurers making our mark among the region's pirates, crossing swords or outsailing the competition (
once in a regatta!
). It was certainly a high fantasy AP, but it was also thematically and mechanically grounded in the very reliable and familiar ocean-based, island-visiting, rum-drinking, seafaring, shanty-singing, port-a-calling, gravity-centric swashbuckling tropes of classic high seas adventures.
Sounds awesome.
If someone took that AP and replaced the ocean with space, would it really make a difference? ABSOLUTELY and, in every way, it would obliterate so much of the narrative tensions that were inherent in the adventurous goals and conflicts that unfolded in our large but still limited terrestrial region.
I disagree.

The basic premise & plot of the first book is: 1) the PCs are press-ganged by a pirate faction and put to work on a ship; 2) your ship attacks a merchant vessel; 3) you're assigned as part of the skeleton crew to take command of the stolen merchant vessel; 4) a storm runs your ship aground; 5) you're marooned on an island where you have to find missing crew and supplies before repairing your ship and getting off this rock, and; 6) you mutiny, because of course you do, and seize the ship as your own...free to sail where you will.

This is perfect Spelljammer. None of it is deflated by moving from the sea to space. After this book, you have a pirate faction on the hunt for you, you're on a stolen merchant vessel, your characters were designed from the start as wanting to be pirates and wanting to join this particular faction of pirates.

It's that last bit that's most important. The players signed up for pirates and the PCs are designed to be pirates. Player buy in keeps the PCs there and engaged. So the notion of "just sail away" vanishes. The faction and enemies the PCs make can do that, too. And will come after you. That works just as well in Spelljammer as in standard pirate games.
Pirating and seafaring campaigns aren't simply about salty window dressing - the ocean/islands play a massive part in defining the motivations and challenges that make the genre and themes come to life for players. They can't simply be swapped out for space/planets without losing what makes them so particular.
They're not exactly the same, no. But you can swap them. Some stuff is lost, yes, but other stuff is gained. The motivations and challenges laid out in that AP aren't drastically altered by switching it to Spelljammer...at least not the non-plane-hopping original version. I'm sure adding planar travel to the mix will throw things off.
Spelljammer goes vast and cosmic and demands substantially different character motivations on such a scale.
Not at all. The PCs are still people. Often desperate people looking for a better life. That's a huge motivation. Or they're looking for adventure. That doesn't change when you swap the sea for the stars.
And the opportunities to travel huge distances to radically different worlds demands substantially different hooks than one would find in classic seafaring stories.
Not at all. "I'm broke and need money" will get people to sail hundreds of miles across the ocean in search of the unknown (just as it did in the real world), and it will still get people to sail millions of miles across the stars in search of the unknown (just as it will in the real world). You have access to grander motivations than that, certainly, but they're not required to be grand. Simple, common motivations still work just as well.
Spelljammer PCs need to think very differently than their counterparts in a pirate campaign
Again, not really. The same motivations that get people on one kind of ship will get them on any kind of ship.
because a DM embracing Spelljammer to its fullest will be presenting the challenges, themes, mechanics, and world(s) in very unpredictable and alien ways (as already noted by many others in this thread)
Swapping the sea for the stars is a tonal shift, to be sure, but not a plot or character shift. The setting obviously changes, and with it a few elements change, of course, but it's not as wildly different as you're making out. It adds tension and drama, not removes it. There's more to worry about, not less. More things that can go wrong, more factions to cross, more dangerous environments to deal with, etc.
 


jgsugden

Legend
So this is the bit I’m really interested in? What are the unique elements that make Spelljammer special.
I've used it for 30 years or so in my homebrew, and I made some big changes. So my version is not like others. However, here are some of the ways Spelljamming originated elements are significant elements of my setting:

Neogi Slavers- The neogi are significant players in my campaign setting. If you're a neogi, you're a loyal resident of the Empire or you're hunted down and killed brutally. They originate on a different planet on the Prime Material Plane, but they use huge gates to take their Spelljamming vessels to the Astral, and from there to anyplace they want. They look for creatures to capture and enslave, either to servce in the armies of the Empire, or to sell to fund the Empire. They're known to have a massive fleet of ships that continues to grow and grow and grow ... waiting for some massive offensive that has yet to ben revealed.

The Spelljammer- The namesake massive city-sized sentient Spelljamming Mantaray shaped ship exists in my world, and it has been the location for two lengthy adventures over the years. In my setting, the city is a haunted ruin that tortures the Spelljammer and drives it to isolation.

Giff and the Arcane- The Arcane and the Giff are fairly tightly entwined in my setting with the Giff being the workers and the Arcane being their leaders. The Giff are free to serve of choose other life paths, but it is an honor in their society to serve, so few take the path of independence. The Giff are militaristic and loyal, with a passion for protecting the Arcane, which they revere in a way that many others revere Gods. The Arcane, are harder to find in my setting than originally described, and are fewer in numbers, but are the undisputed masters to Arcane magics. Most legendary magic items in my setting are a product of these creatures. It is unclear how many exist, but the number might be as small as 10.

Spelljamming Illithid- The majority of Illithid do not live on the Prime Material world. They live on Nautiloids that travel the planes in the service of their masters. In my setting, the Illithid are a creation of The Lady of Pain, the Queen of my version of Sigil which floats in the Astral Sea. She is more of a Cenobite (Hellraiser) style figure, and the Illithid on Nautiloids are loyal to her designs, but they serve without much interaction with Sigil or the Lady of Pain. They are a merciless police force for the Astral Sea around my Sigil, and travel far and wide to serve purposes that are often mysterious ... at first. The Lady of Pain is loyal to Cthulhu, and like all servants of Cthulhu, her methods seem chaotic, but result in surpring levels of order.

Spelljamming Trade- The major use of Spelljamming in my setting is trade. Massive Spelljamming vessels travel the Astral sea to navigate between gates that connect to places that have goods to offer. For example, dwarves mine my Elemental Plane of Earth and bring their wares to port(al) cities that connect to the Astral, where they are loaded onto these massive Spelljamming ships and then flown to my Sigil, where they are brought to gates that carry them to the major market cities (the Cities of Iron (Hell), Gold (Heavens) and Brass (Elemental)), or to major market cities on the Prime Material Plane. These ships often may a signel voyage in a year, but when they do they are heavily laden with incredible valuables. There are other smaller Spelljammers, but those are often less commercial and more pleasure based vessels. People enjoy sailing them even though spending coin to access portals is usually more economical.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
So this is a genuine question. What is the virtue of a Spelljammer game over a regular pirate setting? (Razor Coast, Skull and Shackles, Ghosts of Saltmarsh)
Different locations are possible with Spelljammer. Different vibe to the campaign. I mean Kraken vs. Astral Dreadnaught and Sahuagin vs. Neogi feel very different. Plus you can still land Spelljamming craft or some of them anyway and have ocean adventures as well, and in different settings!
What else is there that makes it worth playing - that couldn’t be done on the Sea of Fallen Stars? I use that example as the original AD&D sourcebook for SoFS featured a wrecked Neogi ship.
You simply are not going to get the same feel from the Sea of Fallen Stars. There are similarities in that you can pirate and board ships, and go to ports, but the similarities drop off sharply from there.
 

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