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

Doctor Futurity

Adventurer
I think based on Ben Riggs reporting, later 2e settings like Spelljammer and Planescape were absolute failures (not relative to other editions!), including numerous products with negative margins: every copy sold at a loss.

I'm not advocating for the bad old days of two box sets a year and a splat book every month for every setting, but there's got to be a decent middle ground.

The 2e boxset has only 4 or 5 pages on the Rock of Braal, which is comparable to the 5e boxset, but there's also a 96 page supplement on it. Maybe I skimmed it too quickly, but I didn't see anything on the Inhuman War or the Legend of the Spelljammer in the AAG...

The 'problem' with WotC's current model is we're just not going to get anything else Spelljammer related. So take out the ship diagrams out of the Astral Adventurer's Guide, and that's what? 40 pages to describe a whole universe? There's nothing that prevents you from making your own campaign if they give you the building blocks, like the city details, the factions and intrigues, the history, but the lack of that means I don't have anything to rely on in my campaign if I do decide on this setting.

In my mind, WotC should have probably just given up on doing a 'campaign setting' without the setting information, and just did a solid adventure path like Curse of Strahd for Ravenloft or Ghosts of Saltmarsh for Greyhawk. Here's a chance to do a deep dive into the theme of the setting, and condence the extra rules down to an appendix or two. Even the Forgotten Realms is serviced better by adventure paths than the anemic Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide.
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.

DMsGuild has served as a hold-over for a lot of people to either get more mileage out of older content, or to find dedicated fans who have ut together content to fill the gaps where WotC has left things hanging. There are a lot of good planar books at DMsGuild, for example. What it hasn't done so far is provide a lot of Spelljammer material, unfortunately. I suspect that is because the core Spelljammer product is stretched too thin....it's trying to fill the roll of a player's guide, bestiary, setting content, ship guide and campaign adventure in less space than most standard adventure books are given. This was unfortunately not a good approach, making it feel like Spelljammer is a token "product of the week" and maybe something thrown out there with no confidence it had future sustainability....after all, too many other future products to make for other settings who need their token update, it seems.
 

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DaffCon1

Professional Lurker
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.

DMsGuild has served as a hold-over for a lot of people to either get more mileage out of older content, or to find dedicated fans who have ut together content to fill the gaps where WotC has left things hanging. There are a lot of good planar books at DMsGuild, for example. What it hasn't done so far is provide a lot of Spelljammer material, unfortunately. I suspect that is because the core Spelljammer product is stretched too thin....it's trying to fill the roll of a player's guide, bestiary, setting content, ship guide and campaign adventure in less space than most standard adventure books are given. This was unfortunately not a good approach, making it feel like Spelljammer is a token "product of the week" and maybe something thrown out there with no confidence it had future sustainability....after all, too many other future products to make for other settings who need their token update, it seems.

Maybe it's just me, but I don't see the merit in the approach of "hey, here's the most basic framework, now go look elsewhere for third-party, unofficial content of sometimes questionable quality."
 

Faolyn

(she/her)
That's fair.

And, adding a later thought. I wonder if there is some overlap in the venn diagrams between starting date and how much lore is important to you. I mean, I started back in 1e when there wasn't much of any lore. At least not comparitively. When I started playing Basic/Expert D&D, the sum total of D&D lore available was about 120 pages. Plus Keep on the Borderlands and Isle of Dread I suppose. It would be some years before TSR would start banging out lore books like Dragonlance Adventures. Even things like the Greyhawk boxed set were very, very light. The GH boxed set book is what, 60 pages? If that? Outside of modules, and I suppose Dragon magazine, there just wasn't any lore.

By the time 2e started gaining a lot of steam in the lore department, I had already made several home brew campaign worlds. So, I had pretty much zero interest in established worlds. Even my love of Greyhawk is much more due to the fact that there is so little actual lore about Greyhawk. It's such a wide open setting.
I started with 2e. While I like reading lore, I almost never actually care about including it in my games, even in the official settings I like a lot.
 

Von Ether

Legend
Maybe it's just me, but I don't see the merit in the approach of "hey, here's the most basic framework, now go look elsewhere for third-party, unofficial content of sometimes questionable quality."

The category you want to look for is "Guild Adept." These are DM's Guild content makers who have WotC's offical stamp of approval. They often become WotC freelancers so much of their stuff is as official as you can get without a paycheck signed by Hasbro. Perhaps even better when you consider such products are not designed by committee or gets the suits involved.

So far, it looks like no Guild Adepts have done any spelljammer content. By contrast, Eberron has 18 Adept products and FR has 31.

And to me, there's a bit of irony for waxing on about TSR's glory days of lore heavy projects while insisting on "quality product" as TSR was also known to wing it on occasion. On that note, most of the TSR library is on DM's Guild. One can pick up SJ stuff as inspiration to use for reskinned monsters and NPCs.

And there's also 5e sci-fi material to draw on like Esper Genesis by Rich Lescouflair, who also happens to be a Guild Adept as well. Heck that whole setting is probably as close as you are going to get for 5e sci-fi until WotC does something on their own.

 

dave2008

Legend
The category you want to look for is "Guild Adept." These are DM's Guild content makers who have WotC's offical stamp of approval. They often become WotC freelancers so much of their stuff is as official as you can get without a paycheck signed by Hasbro. Perhaps even better when you consider such products are not designed by committee or gets the suits involved.

So far, it looks like no Guild Adepts have done any spelljammer content. By contrast, Eberron has 18 Adept products and FR has 31.

And to me, there's a bit of irony for waxing on about TSR's glory days of lore heavy projects while insisting on "quality product" as TSR was also known to wing it on occasion. On that note, most of the TSR library is on DM's Guild. One can pick up SJ stuff as inspiration to use for reskinned monsters and NPCs.

And there's also 5e sci-fi material to draw on like Esper Genesis by Rich Lescouflair, who also happens to be a Guild Adept as well. Heck that whole setting is probably as close as you are going to get for 5e sci-fi until WotC does something on their own.

The Guild Adept program is no longer supported. Nothing new has been posted in that category since July 2021.

However, Authors of both the Radiant Citadel and Spelljammer have posted content on the DMsGuild

Journey's Beyond the Radiant Citadel
Spelljammer's Guide to the Galaxy
 
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DaffCon1

Professional Lurker
The category you want to look for is "Guild Adept." These are DM's Guild content makers who have WotC's offical stamp of approval. They often become WotC freelancers so much of their stuff is as official as you can get without a paycheck signed by Hasbro. Perhaps even better when you consider such products are not designed by committee or gets the suits involved.

So far, it looks like no Guild Adepts have done any spelljammer content. By contrast, Eberron has 18 Adept products and FR has 31.

And to me, there's a bit of irony for waxing on about TSR's glory days of lore heavy projects while insisting on "quality product" as TSR was also known to wing it on occasion. On that note, most of the TSR library is on DM's Guild. One can pick up SJ stuff as inspiration to use for reskinned monsters and NPCs.

And there's also 5e sci-fi material to draw on like Esper Genesis by Rich Lescouflair, who also happens to be a Guild Adept as well. Heck that whole setting is probably as close as you are going to get for 5e sci-fi until WotC does something on their own.


True, TSR quality was sometimes spotty -- but I still think that even the most questionable TSR product is still comparable with some of the best WotC 5E material.

And I know that the original SJ stuff is available for download. I've already got most of it in pdf, and all of it in print. That doesn't change the fact that someone buying just the new Spelljammer set today is getting one adventure, claiming to be a setting, and nothing more -- for a $70 price tag.
 

Micah Sweet

Legend
The only thing from WotC I need at this point is their legal right for others to produce product on DMsguild. Since we have that, I can let them do their own thing.*

*in concept anyway. In practice, I'm clearly having a hard time letting go.
 

True, TSR quality was sometimes spotty -- but I still think that even the most questionable TSR product is still comparable with some of the best WotC 5E material.
Hard disagree on this one.

And I know that the original SJ stuff is available for download. I've already got most of it in pdf, and all of it in print. That doesn't change the fact that someone buying just the new Spelljammer set today is getting one adventure, claiming to be a setting, and nothing more -- for a $70 price tag.
I never see complaints from actual new players, it’s always older players that are upset on behalf of hypothetical new players.
 



BovineofWar

Explorer
Same here. I was debating on running a Spelljammer campaign, but there doesn't seem to be enough meat in the 5e boxset, which means a lot of work for me come with the elements I think are missing or steal from 2e.

And I totally agree that a lot of the 2e TSR stuff was low grade filler, I was hoping that we would get a 'definitive' version so I don't need to fix the problems with the 2e content...

I'm currently running a 5e Planescape campaign using all the 2e boxsets and it's been a blast. I don't know how they plan on cramming all of that into one 60 page book, and I'm scared for how much they'll need to cut. Sure, some of it could use some simplification, but I found Spelljammer just went too far.
 

Faolyn

(she/her)
Same here. I was debating on running a Spelljammer campaign, but there doesn't seem to be enough meat in the 5e boxset, which means a lot of work for me come with the elements I think are missing or steal from 2e.

And I totally agree that a lot of the 2e TSR stuff was low grade filler, I was hoping that we would get a 'definitive' version so I don't need to fix the problems with the 2e content...

I'm currently running a 5e Planescape campaign using all the 2e boxsets and it's been a blast. I don't know how they plan on cramming all of that into one 60 page book, and I'm scared for how much they'll need to cut. Sure, some of it could use some simplification, but I found Spelljammer just went too far.
To be honest, there's only two things that are really needed for Planescape:

Deciding exactly how the factions work. Should they be done like the guilds from Ravnica (with benefits you get as you increase your rank), be treated as feats, get turned into backgrounds, or something else entirely?[1]

Deciding if spells and magic items still work differently on different planes and how you want to implement that.

Everything else is already available, except for some of the monsters. But monsters are easy to convert or make, or simply replace with a creature you already have. The DMG already has sections on how the planes work, including planar effects, and even though it's a very short section, it gives enough of a guideline to expand them for planes, layers, and areas of interest.

At the moment, I'm thinking the 5e Planescape book would have to be very good for me to want to spend money on it.

[1] Actually, that would be an interesting forum project--crowdsource the factions. Especially if the forum can give each faction a reason to adventure and a better purpose in Sigil and the various planes.
 


delericho

Legend
I think based on Ben Riggs reporting, later 2e settings like Spelljammer and Planescape were absolute failures...
Just about everything TSR did from ~1985 onwards was a failure of some sort or another - from the publication of "Unearthed Arcana" they were mostly desperately staving off the inevitable.

But that's why I made the comparison to 3e and 4e. Those were successes of varying degrees, but 5e just blows them out of the water.

The 'problem' with WotC's current model is we're just not going to get anything else Spelljammer related. So take out the ship diagrams out of the Astral Adventurer's Guide, and that's what? 40 pages to describe a whole universe?
Another problem is that their new version has deliberately invalidated chunks of the old lore, but not replaced it with anything. So even the advice to go look at the old stuff is of limited value.

(Of course, some of that old lore was problematic and needed adjustment. My issue is not that it was done, but that it was half-done.)

In my mind, WotC should have probably just given up on doing a 'campaign setting' without the setting information, and just did a solid adventure path like Curse of Strahd for Ravenloft or Ghosts of Saltmarsh for Greyhawk.
The thing is, WotC have done two classic settings well (at least in terms of format) - the Eberron book is great, and while I don't care for the content of "Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft", the coverage is good, IMO. Had Spelljammer been done in that same style I might well have made a purchase (even at the $70 price point).
 

Hussar

Legend
The fact that those companies are as successful as they are proves the demographic exists. Just because WotC has chosen not to cater to it (which, by sheer coincidence, I'm sure, means less work for them), doesn't mean the demographic isn't there.

This thing of barebones support (if that much) is a new direction for WotC. Even as recently as 4E, they still provided real setting support.

Not sure if ten years now counts as “new”.

And, again, they are doing exactly what the ogl promised back in the day. If you want all this setting detail, there’s Dms Guild right there.
 

Micah Sweet

Legend
Not sure if ten years now counts as “new”.

And, again, they are doing exactly what the ogl promised back in the day. If you want all this setting detail, there’s Dms Guild right there.
That is what they're doing, but I wish WotC would just tell people that they expect DMGuild to pick up the slack on setting detail, instead of assuming it with their sketched-out shiny new products.
 

My opinion is Hasbro is more focused into the brand to sell different types of products, and the TTRPG is only the initial hook. With the DMGuild they haven't to spend a lot of money to hire a creative team, but more like reviewer and to watch the feedback from the fandom. They want to understand what the players want or dislike.
 



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.
 

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