Spelljammer Why Play Spelljammer Over a Regular Pirate Campaign?


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For my part, the difference lies in the degree of separation, the intensity of the divergences, and the greater potential unlocked by a truly "anything goes" attitude.

A pirate game can certainly have some wild stuff in it. If my players decided to just go sail around the Sapphire Sea for a while, they'd quickly learn its Ten Thousand Isles can be REAL DAMN WEIRD. That's because I based them on the Seven Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor, with some Polynesia thrown in for fun. (The Sapphire "Sea" is actually an ocean about the size of the Pacific, but absolutely dense with islands, making trade between the faraway western land of Yuxia and the local Tarrakhuna region practical.) But the party has mostly stayed inland, so there hasn't been any need to invoke those parts.

However, even with the islands allowed to be Very Weird, they'd never find an island where gravity points "outward" rather than down, because...there's no real way to make that work, physically. They won't find a Dyson sphere nor a Ringworld. They might find the odd lost culture that had some technology (they already know at least one vanished culture had some pretty crazy stuff), but they won't find replicators and holodecks, because I just don't see that kind of tech making sense on this planet. Further, they won't be able to find cultures that cannot even conceive of the idea that there is an "outside" context, because even if you live on an isolated island, the idea that there could be another island is not far fetched. But the idea that there is a whole different universe/"crystal sphere," which runs by its own very different rules? That might easily be dismissed as ridiculous.

Hence: the Spelljammer setting (or something like it, an interplanetary/interplanar romance) offers things that cannot quite be reached solely by sailing on a mundane ship over mundane waters to mundane islands, even if the residents of those islands are unequivocally and significantly fantastical. "Space pirates" allows for separation between places that the ordinary ocean does not; it allows for a greater intensity of divergence and alienness than "ordinary" piratical stories can support; and it can truly go places or explore ideas that simply don't work when one is bound by the rules of "able to sail in a wooden vessel on the surface of an actual ocean."

This is not to say that a "space pirates" aesthetic is strictly superior though. With greater potential variety comes the possibility that none of it ends up mattering or going anywhere, and inherently tuned up intensity can lead to desensitized audiences. The best results come from correctly leveraging your tools and knowing your audience. My players would love a space pirates game, of this I am certain, but I will not be turning my game into that, as it would detract from the things we're already busy doing. It is, however, something we could do for a "sequel" campaign, if we ever wrap the current one (unlikely even before the end of next year, purely based on our campaign's pace thus far.)
 

One good reason is so you don't have to muck around with the actual normal laws of sailing/physics.

I don't know about you guys, but about half my players, including me (amazingly!) know how to sail a boat, and some know about about boats and ships circa 1500-1850, and thus any actual boats tend to get treated rather realistically, which, unless you're willing to invest in it (as it totally nonplusses the other half of the group, I'm not willing to), is a drag rather than fun.

With Spelljammer it's all a bunch of bollocks that all of you can equally be involved in or not involved in, there's no real-world knowledge applicable. That's actually a good thing in a lot of ways.
 
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Weiley31

Legend

Tell me of a how, in a Pirate setting, this comes along and kills ya.
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow

Tell me of a how, in a Pirate setting, this comes along and kills ya.

4B5FE8B7-26D8-41E2-A53C-EB279FB33329.jpeg
 


Stormonu

Legend
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.
I actually took a lot from Stargate and Star Wars, with dabbles of Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica throw in (adding Expanse ideas recently). All twisted to fit in a high fantasy setting.

My Neogi are similar to DS9 Ferengi, but a lot more menacing and willing to deal with slavery. The elves are a mix of Vulcan arrogance and Romulan paranoia (and can cloak their ships...), and the goblinoids are very Klingon. The Mind Flayers are shades of Stargate's Goa'uld.

I kinda see Giff as a mix of Star Trek's Tellarites and Andorians - loud, argumentive and with a need to blow stuff up. Hadozee I use as a mix of Planet of the Apes supremists (the old 60's versions) on one side and Rafiki on the other (a sort of Skeksis/UrRu split), and I have included Warforged as a sort of Borg/Cybermen collective with elements that have broken off and "joined the side of light".

I do like the inclusion of The Lady of Pain as a Cenobite-style character - gonna steal that!
 


One good reason is so you don't have to muck around with the actual normal laws of sailing/physics.

I don't know about you guys, but about half my players, including me (amazingly!) know how to sail a boat, and some know about about boats and ships circa 1500-1850, and thus any actual boats tend to get treated rather realistically, which, unless you're willing to invest in it (as it totally nonplusses the other half of the group, I'm not willing to), is a drag rather than fun.

With Spelljammer it's all a bunch of bollocks that all of you can equally be involved in or not involved in, there's no real-world knowledge applicable. That's actually a good thing in a lot of ways.
You forgot to be guided by the golden rule:
Stick close to your desks, and never go to sea,
and you all may be rulers of the Queen's navee!
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
Actually, ever since I read the totally incredible "On Stranger Tides" by Tim Powers (not the really bad rip-off by PotC), I can't envision a pirate campaign without Voodoo, and I've done just that on a number of occasions, either with 3e or with specific French System (and a comic has just come out based on Baron Slow Death, the villain of a French campaign that I ran more than 20 years ago for my UK friends).

So my next Spelljammer campaign will probably have Loa in spaaaaace...
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
Actually, ever since I read the totally incredible "On Stranger Tides" by Tim Powers (not the really bad rip-off by PotC), I can't envision a pirate campaign without Voodoo, and I've done just that on a number of occasions, either with 3e or with specific French System (and a comic has just come out based on Baron Slow Death, the villain of a French campaign that I ran more than 20 years ago for my UK friends).

So my next Spelljammer campaign will probably have Loa in spaaaaace...

I’ve played a PC based on Woefully Fat twice in a pirating RPG, and Maitre Carrefour as an NPC -the book is definitely one of my favourites still
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
I’ve played a PC based on Woefully Fat twice in a pirating RPG, and Maitre Carrefour as an NPC -the book is definitely one of my favourites still

I suppose you mean Mate Care-For ? :)

That kind of word play was absolutely incredible, and so much part of the fun. And yes, houngans/bokors are great characters, but it's also fantastic that other characters can relate to that kind of magic and still be really effective.
 




Jer

Legend
Supporter
Why Spelljammer? Because it's weird. My players are absolutely not interested in playing a D&D pirate game, and aren't all that interested in a seafaring exploration game, but they're absolutely interested in playing an exploration game in weird fantasy space. (Heck come to think of it they're more interested in playing an exploration game with flying ships on the surface of the gameworld than they are a seafaring one as well - flying ships are a big draw I think).
 

Are your pirate ships shaped like giant dragonflies, or mollusk shells with mind flayer tentacles, or multi-gravity plane d20 shaped fortresses?
not only this but having a mindflayer kingdom is pretty rare (especially in published settings)

Having said that I can make a starwars game on a single planet with a large city a swamp a dessert and a floating city and duplicate the orginal trilogy easy enough
 


AdmundfortGeographer

Getting lost in fantasy maps
not only this but having a mindflayer kingdom is pretty rare (especially in published settings)
One of the biggest lost opportunities was no attempt to make the mind flayer empire in Astromundi make any bit of sense at how it worked.

We keep seeing reference to the mythical ancient empire of elder brains and mind flayers which these villains want to restore, but little effort explaining how it would work if reconstituted.
 

Urriak Uruk

Gaming is fun, and fun is for everyone
As others have said, for me it's the difference between Star Trek (albeit Star Trek with Treasure Planet aesthetic/tech) and Pirates of the Caribbean.

Both can be absolute gobs of fun, and I don't even think tone is that important to either; either genre can do horror, suspense, comedy, thrill and action adventure. But I think in terms of genre, they actually do fit different niches.

A sea campaign is always going to be a bit more grounded (no pun intended). Yes you can go from island to island, and each island is going to be very different... but there is an expectation that the sea is not limitless, and even if you're exploring these islands for the first time, someone can always follow you. Eventually, you'll run out of sea to sail, and even if that can last a campaign for years, I think there should be an expectation from the characters that the journey can't go one forever, that there is an end-goal in sight.

A great example of this... is One Piece! This is literally a pirate campaign that has gone on for years, and who knows when/if it will end. However, the characters of One Piece (the strawhat crew) have a tangible goal in sight; to recreate the journey of the Pirate King, Gol D. Roger, find his treasure and become the new Pirate King. Even if the adventure never actually ends and they just keep visiting new island after island, there is an expectation of getting closer to that goal, the challenges and adversaries they face escalating as they get closer to achieving the mantle of Pirate King. This all makes sense; despite being a huge world with seemingly hundreds of islands, the world is finite and doesn't go one forever. And institutions in the world reflect that, with some waiting for the Strawhats at the end (The Four Pirate Emperors) and other pursuing them (The World Government and Marines).

I don't believe that same expectation, that the world is finite and "the adventure eventually ends" really applies to Spelljammer. The Astral Sea is for all intensive purposes, limitless. And much like TOS Star Trek, there isn't really an expectation that the goal can ever be completed; it's just to explore new worlds. And there are always new worlds! I know the show says "It's five-year mission" but there's technically no reason it has to be five years; it can go on forever, and it kind of does (although the person in the captain's chair changes). And I think that does fit a different genre in some ways; you don't really need an "end" as much as a sea campaign does.

That said, you can mostly do the same tropes in either. And obviously, the biggest difference is aesthetic; one is in space, the other is on water. Some folks prefer one or the other.
 

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