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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.

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.


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


This review makes me happy I didn't purchase Spelljammer 5E. And I hate "save the world/universe/multiverse" adventures. Overdone and unoriginal, and as banal as "prevent an ancient evil from waking/arising"... which often is the precursor to save the world/universe/multiverse adventures.

I'm not saying there shouldn't be any adventures or campaigns that incorporate those themes... but IMO, we already have too many of them and publishers keep on beating the same dead horse. Paizo is as bad as WotC (if not worse) with regards to this.

EDIT: I do not advocate for the beating of any horses (or other creatures), whether dead or alive. As a matter of fact, I despise the expression... and I feel really bad that the proverbial dead horse has had to endure so many beatings. They certainly didn't deserve them.

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Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
I use Mage Hand Press's Dark Matter as a base for my D&D in space needs. If I want something more Spelljammer-flavored, there is a great 5e conversion out on the interwebs called Wildjammer I've mentioned before.
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I pretty much agree with everything in this article. I keep comparing it to the old 2e boxset, which wasn't honestly that much shorter in page length. But without an adventure and a full bestiary, it gave them a lot more room to explore the universe of Spelljammer and give a little more crunch to life in space in that boxset.

I agree with the sentiment that Wizards of the Coast has lost too much of their world building experts. I wish they would have played to their strengths and just given us a Spelljammer adventure book (like Curse of Strahd as the revisit to Ravenloft, as opposed Van Richten's) instead of spreading themselves to thin with 180 pages. Ditto with Planescape: there's no way that they can cover 27 inner, outer, and transitory planes, along with 15 factions, in a 60 page slipcase book!

Thankfully, the ol' 2e stuff seems to hold up. I'm running a Planescape campaign in 5e with the old adventures and boxsets. When I get around to a Spelljammer campaign, I can freely pilfer from the 2e boxsets and adventures.


When 2.0 came out, I went back and reread the original campaign set. It is wordy. While the new version is missing full naval combat and random system generation (and a few other tidbits), it covers a lot of things in about half to a quarter of the space. A lot of that was because Spelljammer was full of a lot of concepts that were new at the time that I think people are just used to now. I like 5E's more concise descriptions, and it sometimes gets into things the old setting didn't (space fishing being the one that caught me off-guard).

I would certainly like more meat to the 5E rulebook, but at the same time I also like not having to read a whole page to find one piece of information. Overall, if the set had dumped the adventure, or given us 250 or so total pages with which to beef up the rulebook, I think we would have had a stronger release. The current version is fair on its own, good if you have access to the 2E products for further fleshing out and probably will be best with a DM's guild supplement or three.

In a vast multiverse saving a planet or two isn't "saving the world" it's the equivalent of "saving the town".

The adventure has some pretty tough monsters in it which is a nice change. Some monsters have a very high amount of hitpoints but next to nothing else ( low attack etc).

We are 6 sessions in. There has been a lot of....you meet another ship in space.

It's an ok adventure and I think we will finish it


We should have stayed back in 3.5e, when the books they released actually had a good amount of fluff and crunch AND we still had Dragon/Dungeon Magazines as supplements.
You still can, and most if its available on DMsGuild too!

PS I would give you a link, but then I remembered there are no 3.5e spelljammer products! 3e was the king of hype and no substance;) But heck, here is a link the 3.5 Rules Compendium to get you started

Nowadays...Zero Calorie D&D is proving to be what I always knew it would be...110% Hype and 1% Substance.
Well your math is off there a bit. There is actually a lot of substance in this product, it is in fact jam-packed with substance. The issue is there is so much more that could be covered that it would need a much bigger book. Now personally, I could have done without the adventure book and those pages put into the setting or bestiary. But to suggest there is no substance in the product is just FUD.

EDIT: To clarify, I own Spelljammer: Adventures in Space and think it is neither great, nor awful. It is ok. There is a lot I like, and quite a bit that is useless to me (the whole adventure).
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If I want something more Spelljammer-flavored, there is a great 5e conversion out on the interwebs called Windjammer I've mentioned before.
Do you mean Wildjammer by any chance. I couldn't find windjammer, but I did find Wildjammer (which even has VTT support).


PS I would give you a link, but then I remembered there are no 3.5e spelljammer products!
Dungeon #92/Polyhedron#151 (they were published in flip-book format at the time) has a nearly 50-page section devoted to Shadows of the Spider Moon, a concise adaptation of the Spelljammer rules to the 3.X version of the game. (I don't recall if it was 3.0 or 3.5 at the time.)


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