Worlds of Design: Spelljammer 2.0

As a big fan of the old Spelljammer, I really wanted to like the new 5e version. But it doesn’t fix some of the problems of the old version.

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What Sets Spelljammer Apart​

Beth Rimmels wrote a thorough review of the new Spelljammer product ($44.93 including tax, free shipping, from Amazon; list $69.99). This is my perspective on what’s changed.

What sets fantasy adventures in outer space apart from other settings? First it is the ships themselves and ship to ship combat, and second it is a new set of monsters designed for “space”, such as the Neogi and the solar dragons. The third book of the set is the monster manual for the setting, and it works fine. The ships are a substantial part of the first book that describes how Spelljammer works (though its title is Astral Adventurer’s Guide). The other book is an adventure path.

Same Setting, New Edition​

There’s been some discussion lately that Wizards of the Coast may have adopted a strategy of issuing new D&D settings but relying on the DM’s Guild for third-party support thereafter. Spelljammer shows signs of this. Moreover, it is only 192 pages despite being three pasteboard hardcover books; much of that is occupied by artwork. Artwork doesn’t do much for a GM, certainly not when the resulting product is too short to adequately describe itself.

Perhaps because of the limited space available, the new Spelljammer doesn’t dive very deeply into most topics. Instead of greatly improving the setting they have merely given it a brief new paint job. The approach feels a bit like the approach to board games, in which most board games are played up to three times at most, because players have so many other games to choose from. I wonder if this has also become the norm for role-playing game publishers, with the expectation that most customers won’t be playing in the setting for more than a few sessions.

Sinking Ships​

To me, the main interest of Spelljammer is the ships and ship combat. (Then again, I’ve always been a fan of the Naval aspects of history, including when I wrote my dissertation.). Unfortunately, there’s a considerable lack of detail in how ship combat works. There is no maneuverability rating; as far as I can tell any ship can stop or turn on a dime, move sideways or backwards at full speed. In the adventure, ships always initially appear quite close to one another to limit opportunities for maneuver. The ship determines the tactical speed, not the level of the helmsman (now called the spelljammer).

The ship diagrams look very much like the old ones, not a bad thing. Helms are cheap. There is no spell penalty for helming a ship (in the old system, the caster lost all of their spells). Level of helmsman doesn't matter for tactical speed or much of anything else.

Ship tonnage is no longer specified, just hit points (250-450 generally). That helps avoid some of the bizarre inconsistencies in size between ship diagrams and the official size of ships in the old rules. Ship diagrams are very reminiscent of the old, may even be the same in a few cases, and it is mostly the same ships as in the original. There are still odd allocations of square footage, such as a captain’s cabin much larger than the entire crew quarters for 21 crew. Some diagrams show a location for the helm (an important point in boarding), some don’t.

The standard appears to be just one spelljammer (helmsman) on a ship! The ship can move 24/7, but helmsman, who must concentrate as for a spell, is not going to last more than half a day. Why no second or third helmsman?

This version feels as though it treats the ships as mere transportation, a way of getting from one place to another. I’m not sure that’s a fair assessment but that’s how it feels to me, the game is not ship oriented even though the ships are the unique feature of adventures in outer space.

Other Changes​

The entire second book is a sort of adventure path that takes characters from 5th to 9th level. Unfortunately, the objective is, yet again, to save a world. My impression is that the creators felt that players would only play Spelljammer a few times, so they included a big “save the world” adventure sequence so that people could be done with the setting when they finished the sequence. I would instead have preferred some unconnected adventures for lower-level characters who could then look forward to bigger things.

It is not all one-sided disappointment. One change that makes sense: instead of “the phlogiston” connecting star systems together, the Astral Sea is the connection. Githyanki are present! As if mind flayers and beholders weren’t bad enough.

It’s a shame, because Spelljammer is chock full of ideas … and full of inconsistencies. The new edition was an opportunity to streamline the setting by taking the best of what came before. Instead, we got some tantalizing concepts and not enough content to do them justice.

Your Turn: Did you create or borrow rules from other systems to play in your Spelljammer campaign?
 
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Lewis Pulsipher

Lewis Pulsipher

Dragon, White Dwarf, Fiend Folio

Stormonu

Legend
I now wish that WotC had put out a “board game” version of ship-to-ship Spelljammer vessels with unpainted Wizkid minis - sort of like Warriors of Krynn or X-Wing.

Contents:
24 unpainted Spelljammer ships
24 cardboard ship dashboards
6 plastic helm displays
plastic crew pins for helm display (captain, bosun, crew, weapon crew, marines, cargo)
monster/obstacle stat cards (including Asteroid, Devouring Whirlpool, Astereater, Astral Dreadnought, Murder Comet, Stellar Dragon)
”moved” tokens
“targeted” tokens
”fired” tokens
”damage” tokens
”critical” tokens (mast, helm, weapon, cargo, fire)
2d20’s with Spelljammer logo
36“ x 36” hex playing board
32 page Rulebook
32 page Scenario Book (Including random encounters)
 

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Hussar

Legend
I now wish that WotC had put out a “board game” version of ship-to-ship Spelljammer vessels with unpainted Wizkid minis - sort of like Warriors of Krynn or X-Wing.

Contents:
24 unpainted Spelljammer ships
24 cardboard ship dashboards
6 plastic helm displays
plastic crew pins for helm display (captain, bosun, crew, weapon crew, marines, cargo)
monster/obstacle stat cards (including Asteroid, Devouring Whirlpool, Astereater, Astral Dreadnought, Murder Comet, Stellar Dragon)
”moved” tokens
“targeted” tokens
”fired” tokens
”damage” tokens
”critical” tokens (mast, helm, weapon, cargo, fire)
2d20’s with Spelljammer logo
36“ x 36” hex playing board
32 page Rulebook
32 page Scenario Book (Including random encounters)

You could probably go the print and play route on Dms Guild.
 

I wasn't speaking of being about to run two same setting campaigns in a row. I was speaking of being able to run a single campaign OTHER than the one that WotC decided I'm going to run.

In regards to Spelljammer, what if my PCs decide to go in a different direction, before finding out Doomspace even exists? Or what if they decide, after saving Doomspace, that they want to explore strange new worlds and boldly go where no Realms-born tiefling has gone before? This set doesn't give me anything at all for those likely cases -- WotC assumes my group is going to follow the course WotC has laid out for them and then want to do something that isn't Spelljammer.

It's the same with the Forgotten Realms stuff. They've given us multiple adventures there -- but none of those adventures have any material for sidequests or going beyond the written campaign. And gods forbid your PCs want to leave the Sword Coast!

Contrast this to the original Spelljammer boxed set from 2E, or any of the Forgotten Realms Campaign sets from 1E, 2E, or 3E. All of those were full campaign settings -- enough for any DM to pick up just the one thing and write out however many campaigns for however many parties they were inclined to write.

Sure, many DMs don't have time for that -- but for those that do, or for those that have PCs that tear off in unexpected directions, WotC is not giving them anything. If someone buys a campaign setting, they shouldn't have to create 75% of it themselves. They shouldn't have to look for 20 year old, out of print material, or rely on something some random person wrote and posted on DM's Guild.

I want a campaign setting that lets me come up with my own campaign. Is that really too much to ask?

5e is rail roady as hell.
 

M_Natas

Hero
I feel like Spelljammer is designed to be used with other books. You can pretty much use it with any other book you own. It’s the glue that can be used to stick any two (or three, etc) campaign settings together. That’s one of it‘s main strengths / selling points.

It can add value to all the other books in your collection.
I wouldn't use Spelljammer with existing no-space-Setting. It would completely destroy that setting. It would make anything on that planet unimportant. It would be like Aliens coming to earth. All the local troubles would suddenly look trivial.
What Spelljammer actually would need, is its own setting, a new Wildspace-System that incorporates the spirit of Spelljammer perfectly. Like the Astromundi-Cluster in 2e.
But if I would think of incorporating Spalljammer in an existing campaign ... it would make anything that come before feel just unimportant and lessen the experience.

I believe the new model is for WotC to publish the book (or set) which then provides inspiration for community content on DMsGuild. However, if no one bothers to expand on the content at DMsGuild then its not a good sign for the future of that setting.

Funny thing ... In the German section of DMs Guild there is only one Spalljammer-Product, produced by me. It seems to be the first and at the moment only ever german spelljammer product (2e Spelljammer didn't get a german translation).
Spelljammer is sadly pretty niche and the 5e Box Set doesn't help with that :/. It would have need at least another 60 pages for Wildspace-System-Creation, Spelljammeradventure-Creation, a little bit more about Ship-Combat ... some more magic items and spells. Which I put all in my DMs Guild Product, because it was missing in the box set and in german. I actually only wanted to create an adventure for Spelljammer for DMs Guild, but when I went through the Box Set, so many things were missing, it was really sad.
 

I wouldn't use Spelljammer with existing no-space-Setting. It would completely destroy that setting. It would make anything on that planet unimportant. It would be like Aliens coming to earth. All the local troubles would suddenly look trivial.
What Spelljammer actually would need, is its own setting, a new Wildspace-System that incorporates the spirit of Spelljammer perfectly. Like the Astromundi-Cluster in 2e.
But if I would think of incorporating Spalljammer in an existing campaign ... it would make anything that come before feel just unimportant and lessen the experience.

You can certainly just run Spelljammer as it’s own thing, and having that as a preference is cool but to suggest it can’t work with other settings seems to miss a great deal of potential.

Having a campaign start somewhere like the Forgotten Realms for X amount of levels before encountering a Spelljammer ship and heading out into the stars works fine.

Feeling like you’re moving onto more important things as you level up is a basic element of adventuring. Rather than making the past look unimportant wouldn’t it make adventuring in space seem more amazing?
 

M_Natas

Hero
Having a campaign start somewhere like the Forgotten Realms for X amount of levels before encountering a Spelljammer ship and heading out into the stars works fine.

Feeling like you’re moving onto more important things as you level up is a basic element of adventuring. Rather than making the past look unimportant wouldn’t it make adventuring in space seem more amazing?
Sure, but it feels like ... it was presented in Spelljammer Academy it felt just wrong. So there are big organizations that know about Spelljamming? Spelljammers come regularly to the big cities? And the Characters didn't know any of that?
That just feels wrong.
I like the approach Baker wrote out on his blog for Spelljamming Ebberon: A space race. They just developed spelljamming. It is new and exciting and it fits organically in the setting.
 

I like the approach Baker wrote out on his blog for Spelljamming Ebberon: A space race. They just developed spelljamming. It is new and exciting and it fits organically in the setting.

Sounds cool, I’ll have to look into it. It does seem like an example of my point that Spelljammer works great when mixed with other settings/books, though.
 

Hussar

Legend
Sure, but it feels like ... it was presented in Spelljammer Academy it felt just wrong. So there are big organizations that know about Spelljamming? Spelljammers come regularly to the big cities? And the Characters didn't know any of that?
That just feels wrong.
I like the approach Baker wrote out on his blog for Spelljamming Ebberon: A space race. They just developed spelljamming. It is new and exciting and it fits organically in the setting.
Why would the characters know anything about this? Most Spelljammer ships just look like funny sailing ships. They're not particularly strange in a fantasy setting. We're talking about settings with flying castles and dragons. A flying ship isn't going to cause too much of a stir.

My current group has characters with ties to three different planes of existence. Why would Spelljamming seem even all that strange?
 

M_Natas

Hero
Why would the characters know anything about this? Most Spelljammer ships just look like funny sailing ships. They're not particularly strange in a fantasy setting. We're talking about settings with flying castles and dragons. A flying ship isn't going to cause too much of a stir.
It is hard to explain, but like ... now you have the forgotten realms. They were their own thing. And suddenly you have Spelljammer there that was and is supposed to be there since forever and like everybody important knows about it and Space is full with stuff and a very busy place. But it doesn't have any impact on the forgotten realms. There are no space faring nations in the forgotten realms, nobody who is exploiting space, but suddenly wildspace is very important.
It does not feel organically integrated in the other settings.
I feel that I as a DM would have to change so many things to integrate an existing setting into Spelljammer that I just could create my own setting or go the Ebberon-Way with Spelljamming as something new.
 

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