Spelljammer

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"There were nights when the winds of the Etherium, so inviting in their promise of flight and freedom, made one's spirit soar."

– Narrator, Treasure Planet

Spelljammer is basically FANTASY PIRATES IN SPACE with shitloads of strange stuff, like elves that have symbiotic weapons, mechanical gnomes and anthropoid hippos obsessed with dakka.

Unique creatures include space whales, space squid, space dragons, and, of course, giant space hamsters. However, in terms of sapient races, the setting also features the first playable lizardfolk, who get smarter when their eggs are warmed up by the sun in space, the Dracon, a race of Lawful Good dragon-centaurs with European-esque dignity culture and hilarious racism, the Arcane, a race of magically-advanced, mysterious aliens who created the spelljammer and sell its secrets to anyone who'll pay, the Giff, a race of explosion-loving hippo-men and consummate mercenaries, the Scro, a lawful-evil orc sub-species that are the brutal, disciplined Nazis to the regular orcs' barbarian horde, and the Neogi, a loathed race of eel-spider men who're despised across the cosmos for their inability to stop enslaving everything for five seconds.

And also some weirdly-chill Beholders and Mind flayers, though the former still try to exterminate all beholders not like themselves and the latter are still evil, just more business-predatory and less actual-predatory about it.

As it appears in Advanced Dungeons and Dragons[edit]

Why are There Ships in Space? Because why the fuck not? Jeez, do you even RPG, reader?

Spelljammer was originally conceived as another setting for Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, but instead of making yet another stand-alone setting, Spelljammer was designed to link together all of the settings of the time into a single universe. Or perhaps multiple unified universes, because each setting has its own Ptolemaic universe, called a Sphere.

A Sphere is a massive black orb of unbreakable crystal containing an entire solar system(and extending roughly twice the diameter of the farthest orbit). Inside the Sphere is what is known as Wild Space. Around the surface of the Sphere are burning portals that allow ships and creatures to pass into and out of the Sphere. These are typically seen from the surface of the planet(s) within as "stars".

Physics in Wild Space doesn't quite work like normal physics. Every object has it's gravity, but it's a little more pronounced, and is established as a flat plane going lengthwise. This means if you fall overboard a ship, you'll go down to roughly the waterline of an oceangoing vessel before you pass the gravity line and fall back "up". In addition, all objects leaving a planet's atmosphere will drag a portion of it with them that surrounds them in Wild Space like a bubble. A human will only have enough air with them for a few minutes of breathing before it becomes stale, but a Spelljammer can carry a few months worth, more if you have some greenery with you to refresh it. This is usually more than enough to get the ship through a typical voyage from one Sphere to the next. When two air envelopes meet, their atmospheres will mix together and diffuse. This can be bad if a Spelljammer gets closer to a larger ship whose atmosphere has already gone bad.

All of the various Spheres float within a space called The Flow, filled entirely with a substance known as Phlogiston. Phlogiston is gaseous, highly flammable, cannot exist within a Sphere, and not soluble in water. The Phlogiston flows between spheres like a mighty river or ocean current, providing propulsion and direction to ships sailing it. One of the more stable routes in the Flow is Radiant Triangle, circulating between Greyspace, Krynnspace, and Realmspace.

As the magical arts within one of the spheres became sophisticated enough in the long past, someone took to the stars in a magical spaceship. Literally a space ship, because the first Spelljammer was probably a sailing ship with a Spelljammer's Helm strapped on. They got lucky because Spelljamming physics is just messed up enough to permit this kind of travel, and the rest was history.

There's also the Spelljammer, a mysterious living ship that is the namesake of all other Spelljammers. Resembling a giant manta ray with a city on its back, it flies across space at random and is said to have existed since the beginning of recorded history, spawning countless legends in the same manner as the Flying Dutchman. It "feeds" on heat and light, which it converts into food for its inhabitants. Very rarely, it seeks a captain to pilot it- when it does so, it spawns numerous copies of itself known as Smalljammers. Legend has it that only one Spelljammer exists at any given time, and when it dies one of the Smalljammers grows into a new one (no word on what happens to the others).

Star Frontiers Heir[edit]

Before Spelljammer, TSR worked on a sci-fi RPG called Star Frontiers, and so they recycled a number of monsters from it for Spelljammer. The winged ape-folk known as Yazarians became the playable Hadozee in Spelljammer, whilst the centipede-taur Vrusk became the playable Rastipede race. Even the sapient slime race known as Dralasites appeared as monsters called Plasmoids.

Playable Aliens[edit]

Playable races of Spelljammer are... well, there's a lot of options, technically, but the ones associated with the setting came out almost entirely in the Complete Spacefarer's Handbook, alongside a more intelligent variant of Lizardfolk in the Spelljammer boxed set. They are surprisingly beastfolk centric, on reflection.

Unplayable Aliens[edit]

In addition to all the playable races there a pages upon pages you can't play as whether due to being only used as NPCs, to being monsters, or just random flavor for a Sphere's jungle planet.

Some of these later became playable races in 3rd or 5th edition but as Spelljammer was basically dropped at that point they're being put here.

Third Edition[edit]

Given that it was regarded as a bottom-barrel setting even by TSR, Spelljammer didn't really fare very well in the editions that came after Advanced Dungeons & Dragons finally kicked the bucket in the tail end of the 90s.

In Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition, Spelljammer fell from a major part of the overarching canon to being literally a nothing burger. Planar splatbooks like the Manual of the Planes didn't even mention Wildspace or the Phlogiston. There were one or two articles in Dragon Magazine and Dungeon Magazine that kept the embers smoldering, but as a setting, Spelljammer was left to rot. It wasn't even farmed out to other publishers the way that Dragonlance and Ravenloft were.

Fourth Edition[edit]

Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition somehow managed to grind those embers even deeper into the ashes; whilst spelljammers appeared as an official kind of magical vehicle, none of the iconic Spelljammer monsters ever made into the new Nentir Vale setting, and the new World Axis cosmology basically made the Phlogiston obsolete. Even the Spelljammers were changed on a fundamental level, going from magical flying ships hurtling through fantasy outer space to magical flying ships that did that, but could also Plane Shift at will.

Fifth Edition[edit]

When Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition came around, Spelljammer fans obviously weren't holding their breaths. But then there was a trickle of hope; references to Spelljammer began to creep into the game via splatbooks and adventures. The concept of illithids as a spacefaring race was brought up in Volo's Guide to Monsters, whilst an actual Illithid nautiloid would feature in both the adventure Rime of the Ice Maiden and in the video game "Baldur's Gate III". This finally went so far as to result in an Unearthed Arcana that offered several Spelljammer races as PC options; former monsters Autognomes and Plasmoids, as well as the iconic Giff and bowlderized Hadozee races, plus the thri-kreen (who actually do have spelljamming significance) and the new "Astral Elves" (because we needed a distinct spelljamming elf subrace...)

Then came the big one: in April 2022, it was confirmed that there was going to finally be some official Spelljammer splatbooks! Fans were ecstatic; at long last, their beloved setting was returning to D&D!

...Then came the revelation that this would in the form of three 64-page long mini-splats that would be released as a boxed set in mid-August 2022: The Astral Adventurer's Guide (to compress all the player and DM lore into that pittance of pages), Boo's Astral Menagerie (Spelljammer monsters), and Light of Xaryxis, an adventure. The icing on the cake, the emphasis is now on sailing through the Astral Plane - in a throwback to 4e's Astral Sea, with Wildspace being a different layer of the plane. Still better than nothing.

In the weeks leading up to Spelljammer's return, the project's creators released several videos about Spelljammer on their channel. Amongst other details, this confirmed that the six new races for the setting would be those of the earlier Unearthed Arcana: Giff, Hadozee, Thri-Kreen, Autognome, Plasmoid and Astral Elf. Sorry if you were hoping for the Xixchil or Dracon!

Reviewers have gotten their hands on the Spelljammer boxed set and officially revealed its contents to the world though Youtube:

  • Individual spelljammers still have their own gravity wells and air pockets, so falling off your spelljammer means you risk suffocating in the void.
  • Rules are thus provided for weightless environments and suffocation, but are pretty much useless.
  • The terms Wildspace and RealmSpace at the least are still around. But the term "Astral Sea" is back from the World Axis too.
  • The Rock of Braal is back.
  • Two new backgrounds; Wildspacer and Astral Drifter.
  • Wildspace and the Astral Plane are still different places.
  • Two new spells; Create Air Bubble, which works as an emergency life support mechanism, and Create Spelljamming Helm.
  • Three magic items; Fish Suit, Spelljamming Helm, and Wildspace Orrey.
  • Spelljamming rules include crew, crashing and repairs.
  • Spelljammers confirmed to have returned: Hammerhead, Giff Bombard, Damselfly, Flying Fish, Lamprey, Living Ship, Nautiloid, Nightspider, Scorpion, Shrike, Space Galleon, Squid, Star Moth, Turtle, Tyrant Ship, Wasp.
  • Hammerhead jammers come with a bar built into the ship as standard.
  • Monsters in Boo's Astral Menagerie: Aartuk, Astral Elf, Autognome, Braxat, Brohg, Chwinga, Cosmic Horror, Dohwar, Esthetic, Eye Monger, Feyr, Gaj, Giff, Githyanki, Hadozee, Jammer Leech, Kindori, Lunar Dragon, Megapede, Mercane, Murder Comet, Neh-thalggu, Neogi, Plasmoid (Boss, Explorer, Warrior), Psurlon, Reigar, Solar Dragon, Space Clown, Space Eel, Space Guppy, Space Hamster, Space Mollymock, Space Swine, Ssurran, Starlight Apparation, Thri-Kreen, Vampirates, Zodar
  • There's also a segment on converting regular Monster Manual type critters to astral or wildspace denizens.
  • Keen eyes will observe several Dark Sun monsters have been slipped into the party in Boo's Astral Menagerie.

Not only all this, but a recent interview revealed a new race of Fiends, the SPACE CLOWNS! Based on the cult classic 1988 Sci-Fi Horror Comedy "Killer Klowns from Outer Space", which at the same time as the reveal of Space Clowns seems to be having a cultural resurgence with a Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights attraction, a Multi-player Vidya Gaem, and talks of a potential sequel, "Return of the Killer Klowns from Outer Space in 3D". These Space Clowns hail from a system known as "Clown Space" formed of 3 ring worlds. They have reality-warping abilities based upon classic clown gags.

Links[edit]

Dungeons & Dragons Campaign Settings
Basic D&D: Mystara (Blackmoor) - Pelinore
AD&D: Birthright - Council of Wyrms - Dark Sun - Dragonlance
Forgotten Realms (Al-Qadim - The Horde - Icewind Dale
Kara-Tur - Malatra - Maztica) - Greyhawk - Jakandor
Mystara (Hollow World - Red Steel - Savage Coast)
Planescape - Ravenloft (Masque of the Red Death)
Spelljammer
3rd/3.5 Edition: Blackmoor - Dragonlance - Eberron - Forgotten Realms
Ghostwalk - Greyhawk (Sundered Empire)
Ravenloft (Masque of the Red Death) - Rokugan
4th Edition: Blackmoor - Dark Sun - Eberron
Forgotten Realms - Nentir Vale
5th Edition: Eberron - Exandria - Forgotten Realms
Greyhawk - Ravenloft - Ravnica - Theros - Strixhaven