Spelljammer Why Play Spelljammer Over a Regular Pirate Campaign?

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).
That is, at the very least, something that "regular" pirates can't do but at least air pirates can. Ocean piracy doesn't have free rein of a whole world--just the parts reachable by a relatively deep-draft cargo vessels. A sky pirate can fly bombing runs in the dead of night, or dogfight with dragons, or try to lose an enemy by flying between cloud layers.

Space adds in...more of a difference of degree than kind, but a difference nonetheless. Asteroid-hopping might be kinda-sorta analogous to hopping between floating islands, but it's not quite the same and carries a much higher risk of danger overall. If space is a vacuum, that's obviously a pretty big danger (much, MUCH more dangerous than the open sea--the open sea can take weeks to kill you, hard vacuum will do it in a matter of minutes). It's always possible to have very dangerous islands or locations, but it's hard for me to come up with something that would have quite the same tone as the classic "voyage to the sun/through the corona" kind of thing that is a very classic space fantasy but hard to finagle into even sky pirates, let alone regular boating-on-the-ocean pirates.

So, I guess that's kind of it. There are a few (not many, but a few) adventure ideas that either need space pirates, or just work a lot better/easier/more smoothly with space pirates. There are a few further ones that work more or less equally well with sky pirates as they do with space pirates, but which definitely wouldn't be easy (or even plausible) to put into a regular boating-on-the-ocean pirate story.
 

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Sabathius42

Bree-Yark
I'll preface my answer by saying upfront Ive always found Spelljammer to be kinda stupid, but I do see it fits a niche regular DnD doesn't.

As far as why play in one and not the other ... think of the different possibilities in storytelling potential and player choice. A resident of Middle Earth is extremely invested in how the War of the Ring shakes out. A Spelljamming crew can shrug at Sauron and head off to greener pastures.

A story set in infinite worlds (spaceborne or dimension hopping) allows the players to encounter situations "of the week" that wouldn't work in a traditional campaign. See the OG Star Trek, Twilight Zone, or Sliders for some big concept of the week storytelling that can't be done in a traditional DnD setting.
 

I'll try to give answers that haven't already been given before:

1) Since 5E Spelljammer will use the Astral Sea there will now be chances for sailors to run into githyanki riding red dragons, emissaries from the Outer Planes (angels, morons, demons, devils, morons, etc), the crews of other ships could be from completely different worlds with different pantheons and other unique features, etc.
2) The original Spelljammer had a tendency to reskin existing monsters as similar-yet-distinct aliens with different cultures, powers, etc. It's an opportunity to disguise well-known monsters from players so that they won't already have a good idea what to do based on the name and appearance of the creature.
3) Different planetoids can have wildly different rules. For example, in the adventure The Heart of the Enemy there is a planet that normally causes red dragons to dramatically shrink so that even an adult looks like a pseudodragon (take the dragon off-world, though, and you've got a different story).
4) The setting is fantastical and can include things such as sentient constellations in a system where stars are giant pearls that asks the party to find which planetoid one of its stars fell on, or a living comet that maintains an interplanetary ecosystem by carrying natural resources from world to world where they are needed (both of these are featured in The Heart of the Enemy).
 

Unwise

Adventurer
A semi-related note, if you want to do ship to ship combat, steal some of the ship rules from SW5E. It is really exceptional.
 



Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
Just realized…

You could LITERALLY play Spelljammer over a regular pirate campaign.

Start off with your preferred regular D&D style pirate campaign setting: world like ours Vs archipelago world Vs waterworld- and at some point, “First Contact“ happens. Or “War of the Worlds”. Or the leviathans congregate in the waters off of one particular island…
 


Levistus's_Leviathan

5e Freelancer
Does Spelljammer have different technology levels?
Yep. Gunpowder is common (especially with the Giff) and laser weapons (and probably antimatter weapons) are present (based on the Gnome Ceremorphs, at least). And, you know, space travel is common.
Equipment?
Spelljamming Helms, Gadabouts (living plant space suits with butterfly wings that the elves use), exotic materials from Wildspace, equipment from all across the multiverse, and so on. You could have a Pallid Elf Graviturgist (from Exandria) with a Yklwa (from Chult), a Gadabout (from wherever the Elven Imperial Navy gets theirs), and a laser rifle (from the Mind Flayers) that rules over a giant floating city powered by a Netherese Mythallar.

Basically all equipment from across all of D&D could appear in the setting.
They have stated that the upcoming Spelljammer books will have new spells in them, so yes. Classically, there were spells to create/locate portals that could take you through a Crystal Sphere, Create/Destroy Air, and spells to allow a Cleric to contact their god outside of their home Crystal Sphere. I'm pretty sure most of these won't make it to 5e (Create/Destroy Air might), but 5e Spelljammer will have some unique spells.

For my 5e Spelljammer campaign, I always thought Dunamancy (from Explorer's Guide to Wildemount) fit pretty well with the setting.
In essence is a Spelljammer physically different from any other ship when you take the Spelljammer helm away?
Uh, yeah. Most of them are quite different. Gnomish ships are steampunk/gearpunk mechanical nightmares, Mind Flayer ships typically look like a nautilus or cuttlefish, Neogi ships look like spiders, Dwarven "ships" are just flying mountains that look like a decapitated dwarf head, and elven ships are just giant living plants. There are also whale-shaped ships, manta ray-shaped ships, shark-shaped ships, wasp-shaped ships, and so on.
 
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Lyxen

Great Old One
Yep. Gunpowder is common (especially with the Giff)

And this is one of my only problems, one that was sort of counterbalanced by the phlogiston. I usually don't mix gunpowder with my D&D campaigns as I think that it's a bit outside of the genre (the way we see it at our tables), but also because it's too much of an equalizer. Heroic Fantasy is about powerful PCs/NPCs/creatures, and having these blown away by nobodies using massive amounts of gunpowder takes away the fun (and in particular while I've seen many PCs finding extremely fun to use gunpowder as death traps for their powerful enemies, I've also seen them become very angry when other NPCs returned the favor, calling it unfair).

In general, while a Space Opera vibe would not necessarily detract, I would not like my Spelljammer to drift into SciFi, and that's where I need to be a bit careful about technology, and making sure that magic stays dominant (even if it involves "Amber-like" tricks of gunpowder or equivalent not working in some environments / crystal spheres / etc.).

So for me no, it's not common, although I can understand the attraction for some players/groups/tables.
 

Rogerd1

Explorer
Just realized…

You could LITERALLY play Spelljammer over a regular pirate campaign.

Start off with your preferred regular D&D style pirate campaign setting: world like ours Vs archipelago world Vs waterworld- and at some point, “First Contact“ happens. Or “War of the Worlds”. Or the leviathans congregate in the waters off of one particular island…
Well done for joining the party....kidding!
You can get an awful lot of mileage out of a Spelljammer game, and it can go in a lot of directions.

Pirates of the Caribbean one minute, next you're flying to space battling Giant Hamsters. Or going all Star wars and finding a new planet to plunder.
 

Obligatory comment. Lucas only made Star Wars because he couldn’t get the rights to make a Flash Gordon movie.
Have you a source for that one? I've seen things that says he was interested in remaking it, but not that he had put in that much effort to creating something until well after he stopped pursuing the license. That is, it was an inspiration and you can clearly see how he took strong inspiration from it--including recreating certain elements--but you're making it sound like Lucas had done a ton of pre-writing for an actual Flash Gordon film but was deterred by a rejected licensing deal.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Heroic Fantasy is about powerful PCs/NPCs/creatures, and having these blown away by nobodies using massive amounts of gunpowder

Have you looked at the DMG rules for firearms? A Renaissance era pistol is 1d10 damage. It is basically a heavy crossbow that only uses one hand, but has shorter range. That "bunch of nobodies" are no worse than a handful of 1st level wizards or town guards. And the wizards d10s scale with level, while the pistol doesn't, because it has the loading property.

Oh, and the pistols have a list price of 250 gp, 3x that heavy crossbow, which nobodies may have issues scraping up. Getting a bunch of nobodies armed with pistols takes thousands of gold pieces.
 

Jer

Legend
Supporter
Have you looked at the DMG rules for firearms? A Renaissance era pistol is 1d10 damage. It is basically a heavy crossbow that only uses one hand, but has shorter range. That "bunch of nobodies" are no worse than a handful of 1st level wizards or town guards. And the wizards d10s scale with level, while the pistol doesn't, because it has the loading property.
To be fair - older versions of D&D definitely play up how much more damaging firearms are than 5e does. IMO even 5e goes overboard in the DMG on the damage a lot of modern firearms do on a hit, because while it's true that if you get hit by a bullet in the gut it will mess you up it's also true that if a dagger goes into your belly you're going to be just as messed up and nobody argues that a dagger's 1d4 damage is too small to represent how deadly it is (but getting into it will descend this entire thread into an argument about what hit points actually represent and nobody wants to do that again).

But IIRC smokepowder weapons in Spelljammer weren't a problem for us. I don't remember why - if we houseruled the damage to be like a crossbow because of fierce arguments about how deadly crossbows actually are (the history nerd and the hunting nerd always banded together to argue everyone down on that one when I was younger), or if it came out of the book that way - I just remember it wasn't an issue.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
Have you looked at the DMG rules for firearms? A Renaissance era pistol is 1d10 damage. It is basically a heavy crossbow that only uses one hand, but has shorter range. That "bunch of nobodies" are no worse than a handful of 1st level wizards or town guards. And the wizards d10s scale with level, while the pistol doesn't, because it has the loading property.

Oh, and the pistols have a list price of 250 gp, 3x that heavy crossbow, which nobodies may have issues scraping up. Getting a bunch of nobodies armed with pistols takes thousands of gold pieces.

I'm not really worried about those, I did not mention firearms, I'm worried about barrels of gun/smoke powder used in "creative" (because the players will always think they are when doing this) ways.

But IIRC smokepowder weapons in Spelljammer weren't a problem for us. I don't remember why - if we houseruled the damage to be like a crossbow because of fierce arguments about how deadly crossbows actually are (the history nerd and the hunting nerd always banded together to argue everyone down on that one when I was younger), or if it came out of the book that way - I just remember it wasn't an issue.

Even bombards are less effective than heavy catapults indeed (at least they were in the original spelljammer), and Smoke Powder is expensive as sold by the Arcane. But you know players...
 

jgsugden

Legend
.... Heroic Fantasy is about powerful PCs/NPCs/creatures, and having these blown away by nobodies using massive amounts of gunpowder takes away the fun (and in particular while I've seen many PCs finding extremely fun to use gunpowder as death traps for their powerful enemies, I've also seen them become very angry when other NPCs returned the favor, calling it unfair).
...
This was a huge concern for me back in the early 90s when Spelljammer was introduced. I did not want gunpowder to ruin the Tolkien vibe of my setting.

Flash forward 30 years and my setting has evolved a lot and we see gunpowder in a lot of places. Here are the controls that keep it from being problematic:

1.) COST - It is not cheap. Being able to use gunpowder weapons is expensive, and most 'nobodies' can't do it because nobody is going to pay that amount to give them a weapon.

2.) TRAINING - If you do not know how to handle it, it is dangerous. If you're not proficient with it, you can end up blowing yourself up. A gun is less likely to do this - but once you move up to cannons and bombs....

3.) KNOWLEDGE - People covet the knowledge of sciences and do not share them in my setting. Those that know how to do things with chemistry and physics are valued for their knowledge, and they do not like to share their knowledge because it is a valuable commodity. However, these scientists are often viewed with the same evil eye that a necromancer would get because...

4.) CONTROL - There are organizations out there that fear a world in which 'anyone' can achieve things normally reserved for the powerful magi, clerics and psions. They believe that in a world where anyone can have a submachine gun, it would be possible for people without proper training and vetting to take such a weapon and use it in public settings. They believe that an army of people with these types of weapons might exert undue influence on the world. Etc.... If someone raises an army and then tries to arm them with guns, then they may face my version of the Illuminati. While this is true of Guns, it is also true of many other scientific inventions. For example, non-magical flight through the use of technology (beyond balloons and gliding), engines (steam and mechanical), and electricity based devices are all things that have been developed, only to see those that learned how to do sthem disappear.

Several Empires that began to rely upon technology too much were toppled in my setting, and it has contributed to a perception that Science is cursed. Whether you're a skilled architect, a chemist, an engineer, or a physician ... knowledge is power, and the powers that be do not want to see it widely spread.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I'm not really worried about those, I did not mention firearms, I'm worried about barrels of gun/smoke powder used in "creative" (because the players will always think they are when doing this) ways.

Well, if you don't want the PCs blowing up powerful NPCs, consider...

In the DMG, a keg of gunpowder exploding has a blast radius of 10', DC 12 Dex save, 7d6 damage, and costs 250 gp. It is a small, weak fireball that none of them have proficiency in using safely. So, once they reach 5th level, when they can throw fireballs around anyway, a keg of powder here or there isn't going to be unbalancing.

The price of firearms (250 gp for one pistol), means that they are not economical for use by large groups, so you never need to have large powder stores. You'll have a keg, here or there, supplying a handful of people who can afford the guns (so, aren't nobodys themselves). So, low-level PCs are unlikely to survive an attempt to get a keg, and just one is only a one-shot item anyway. By the time they can get the stuff, their own spellcasting probably makes it superfluous.
 

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