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.
It is an interesting setting (at least when compared to anything else from AD&D), but people have been trying to drag it into Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition since 3e came out. Recently confirmed for 5e, after two supplement's worth of drip-feeding hints and iconic monsters from the setting into the game. According to the 5e development team, this was a ruse and that we shouldn't think about Spelljammer so much. But, why would the writers be up to such trickery?
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.
Why are There Ships in Space?
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. 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.
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: a device that feeds on magical energy (typically, by sapping the powers of a spellcaster, in a controlled manner, although necessarily depleting his powerlevel, but there are various other ways this can be accomplished, many of them on the grimdark side.) 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 hive 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).
|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 - 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
|4th Edition:||Blackmoor - Dark Sun - Eberron - Forgotten Realms - Nentir Vale|
|5th Edition:|| Dragonlance - Eberron - Forgotten Realms - Greyhawk |
Nentir Vale - Ravenloft - Ravnica - Spelljammer
|Third Party:|| Dragonmech (3E) - Dragonstar (3E) - Golarion (3E) - Kingdoms of Kalamar (2E/3E/4E) |
Midgard (3E/4E/5E) - Midnight (3E/4E) - Ptolus (3E) - Scarred Lands (3E/5E)
Spellslinger (3E) - Wilderlands of High Fantasy (Basic/3E)