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
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."
There’d be more merit if the “campaign set” was $15-30 and you could pump it up with additional content. As much as I enjoy Spelljammer, the box set is poor for its price point - the format is an experimental failure (the 3 seperate books), and I hope we don’t see more of its kind.
 

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Stormonu

Legend
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.
I wouldn’t dare compare Forest Oracle to anything from WotC, myself.

TSR flung a lot of …stuff… at the wall back in 2E. A lot of it was churn for churn’s sake. While 3E had its bum releases, I haven’t seen anything in 5E as bad as a lot of that material got in late edition times.
 

delericho

Legend
I wouldn’t dare compare Forest Oracle to anything from WotC, myself.
I'd submit "Scourge of the Howling Horde" - a late 3.5e adventure that was an epic failure on every level, including being laid out in colour and then printed in black and white, leading to sidebars with dark grey text on a slightly lighter grey background.

(And, like Spelljammer, it was also a product in which they rolled out new, higher price points. Given how long they'd kept prices steady even in the face of inflation, the price increases weren't actually unreasonable... but it really did sting having them come with such a poor product!)
 

Hussar

Legend
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.
Hmmm, years of posting Dragon+ articles highlighting DM's Guild material. Years of highlighting DM's guild creators with things like the Adepts program. Opening up settings every time to the DM's Guild to allow creators to add to WotC publications. Ensuring that every Adventurers League adventure gets posted up on DM's Guild.

What more do you need? Just tell people? Dude, they've told you REPEATEDLY.
 

Micah Sweet

Legend
Hmmm, years of posting Dragon+ articles highlighting DM's Guild material. Years of highlighting DM's guild creators with things like the Adepts program. Opening up settings every time to the DM's Guild to allow creators to add to WotC publications. Ensuring that every Adventurers League adventure gets posted up on DM's Guild.

What more do you need? Just tell people? Dude, they've told you REPEATEDLY.
Allowing others to work on your settings is not the same thing as saying we're not going to do it.
 

Hussar

Legend
Allowing others to work on your settings is not the same thing as saying we're not going to do it.
Considering they haven't done it for TEN YEARS. No, wait, it's been longer than that. Because they never really developed Nentir Vale particularly either. So, it's been about fifteen years or so since WOtC has done any real world building.

Umm, I'd say they've been pretty clear about it. They were absolutely clear about the 3 book/year paradigm that they stuck to for several years, although that's crept up to what, 5/year now? They were absolutely clear that they are not going to do what you want and have been absolutely clear about it for over a decade.

Granted, they could change directions some time in the future and do deep setting dives. That's true. But, after over a decade, I wouldn't hold my breath.
 

Von Ether

Legend
Considering they haven't done it for TEN YEARS. No, wait, it's been longer than that. Because they never really developed Nentir Vale particularly either. So, it's been about fifteen years or so since WOtC has done any real world building.

Umm, I'd say they've been pretty clear about it. They were absolutely clear about the 3 book/year paradigm that they stuck to for several years, although that's crept up to what, 5/year now? They were absolutely clear that they are not going to do what you want and have been absolutely clear about it for over a decade.

Granted, they could change directions some time in the future and do deep setting dives. That's true. But, after over a decade, I wouldn't hold my breath.

On that note, for everyone who stating that WotC is doing "X" wrong, DMs Guild gives them a chance to show WotC how it's done.
 


Hussar

Legend
On that note, I have been trawling the DM's Guild for Spelljammer goodies. Haven't cracked open the wallet yet - but, even in the PWYW or Free stuff, there's quite a lot to get you started.

Off the top of my head - the Spelljammer Theater of the Mind book is pretty nice for a light ship to ship combat subsystem. Spelljammer 20 Wildspace Worlds is a nice assortment. And Worlds of Wildspace - Crakateg looks like it will be of some use.

Note, this is all freebie stuff, so, as usual, you get what you pay for. I have some time before I actually am starting this campaign, so, I'm sort of digesting as I go.
 

Stormonu

Legend
@Hussar, if you find anything good, let me know - monsters especially.

I'd like to tackle a revised Astromundi Cluster - it has some interesting ideas as a sort of planets-turned-themed-archipelago, but that product is fraught with stereotypes that probably just won't fly today.
 



delericho

Legend
I feel like there's an opportunity here to do a "greatest hits online" of Spelljammer content for folks who are looking for such things. Hmm.
Not just Spelljammer - with the mass of material out there, getting solid recommendations for any of it would be appreciated.
 


Von Ether

Legend
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

That is a pity the Guild program shut down. Then again, quite a few of them are now regular freelancers.

Beyond that, it's hard to establish a brand on DMs Guild due to all the output (hence why the Guild program was started.) You can't have a logo for starters.

My own stuff got 5 stars and sold great for half a day ... until if feel off the "Latest products" list. Then they both sank into the sea of background static with all the other stuff. I still see sales once in a while but I actually do much better in smaller markets where the sheer weight of output doesn't smother you.
 

Who needs the DM's guild when there's EN Publishing? With weekly delivery of 5E material through Patreon along with regular kickstarters that fullfill the minute the campaign is done, any player looking for more 5E stuff should be more then satified.
 


Jharet

Explorer
Not a fan of 5e, so I plan on using my stack of classic Spelljammer books to adapt it all to Pathfinder and use the Skulls & Shackles AP as the frame. Skulls, Shackles & Spelljammers.
 

BovineofWar

Explorer
Not a fan of 5e, so I plan on using my stack of classic Spelljammer books to adapt it all to Pathfinder and use the Skulls & Shackles AP as the frame. Skulls, Shackles & Spelljammers.
I'm more of a 5e fan then Pathfinder, so I was actually considering the opposite, running Skulls & Shackles in 5e Spelljammer. Hope it goes well for you!
 


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