GameJoy: GM Advice: Spelljammer but it’s 2021 (Part 1)

Back in early October this year we received a new Unearthed Arcana playtest PDF from Wizards of the Coast. ‘Travellers of the Multiverse’ offered up some deep cut character options not seen since 2nd edition in the early 90’s, all of them races from different parts of D&D’s multiverse of different worlds and campaigns settings.

The one thing most of them have in common is that they’re either originally from the D&D setting Spelljammer, or they could fit right at home there.

Reading over the text, I was immediately hooked. I needed to play these characters, or more likely, I needed to make and run a campaign for a party of these characters.

So I just kind of…did.

First a little preamble.

I’ve been aware of Spelljammer for almost as long as I’ve been aware of Dungeons and Dragons, but I’ve never actually played or run it before. It came out when I was still a child, and I wouldn’t see its influence on the game I would come to love until I picked up 4th edition as an adult.

But despite this, Spelljammer is 100% my jam. How could my Aquarian ass not love Spelljammer as a concept. The idea of D&D in space, with magical ships sailing through the astral sea, swirling colorful nebulae in the distance, with strange and mercurial eyeball monsters and alien squid people as your antagonists, is a collection of almost everything I love about games.

The original Spelljammer boxed set, Adventures in Space, released for 2nd edition AD&D in 1989. Within it were rules and lore for running the vast spaces in-between all of TSR’s established campaign settings at the time (Greyhawk, Dragonlance, and Forgotten Realms). I picked up a PDF copy of the boxed set from DM’s Guild and poured over it a few weekends back, and as a setting it is buck wild.

Rather than embrace a lot of science fiction concepts of the time, Spelljammer maintains its fantasy roots. Ships are powered by magic or similar means, swords and spells are the order of the day for combat, and technology is still rooted in either the middle ages or the 17th century as a reference. No lasers, robots, or spacesuits. It’s ‘D&D in Space’ to the very letter. Beholders and Mindflayers are especially important to the world’s lore, and much of that lore has informed them in later editions. While current 5e D&D doesn’t have a lot of Spelljammer in it, its influence on these monsters and lore is still there.

We had a world I’d learned the basics of, now we just needed characters to adventure in it.

After reading over all the lore and rules, I gathered up some of my local friends to create characters using the Travelers of the Multiverse PDF. The only rule I had was that we had to use these player options for race and no others. No humans, dwarves, elves, tieflings or any others from the PHB. Our goal was to create a Mos Eisley Cantina’s worth of colorful weirdos to adventure together with.

Here’s who we came up with:

The party consists of an astral elf warlock, a plasmoid rogue, an autognome druid, and a giff fighter. Here’s who they are in detail according to my players.

Mindartis Mystralath
Astral elf warlock, pact of the tome, great old one patron, noble.

A glitzy diva looking for excitement. Gay, glam, upper-crust. He’s looking for excitement in the later years of his life, unwilling to return to his home sphere and settle down as he’s expected to. Adventuring here is his last big fling. He’s siphoning magic from his patron without the patron’s knowledge, viewing it as a victimless crime. Except his patron is the great old one Yog’Sothoth or something.

Plasmoid rogue, thief, acolyte background

An ascendant ooze given life from the Juiblex Cluster of space. She adopts the form of a young halfling acolyte she devoured in her youth, and now adopts her mannerisms. The plasmoid takes on a humanoid shape and has a connection to the deity worshipped by the former acolyte. Now she feels an un-plasmoid sense of morality, which sometimes conflicts with her duties and desires as a space pirate.

Sprite Pepsi
Autognome Druid, criminal background

A splendid creation of the arbor gnomes, fashioned from dull star-metal and wood. They have distant memories of the woods and use their innate mechanical magic to transform into animals like a transformer. They cannot fully remember the life they lived before, who their creators were, or their own original purpose. They were stolen by neogi (Jabba the Hutt, but spider monsters) and longs to reclaim their memories.

Corporal Fiona Beauchamps
Giff fighter, champion, soldier background

A crack shot and a bruiser when needed, Fiona is the de facto mom of the group. Rising up the ranks among giff mercenaries, she rebelled against her people by questioning the role of rank and station. She wants equals and individuality, not a life of service to superiors. She’s sassy and cunning, but adrift in her own life. For now she’s satisfied with protecting those around her.

Now that we have characters, the party is eager to do some Spelljamming. Which means now I need to come up with some adventures and a setting in space, as well as some rules that will work easily with D&D 5e for sailing through space.

Thankfully though, I’ve already designed and published a whole rulebook with sailing rules and mechanics for playing pirates. In part 2 I’ll be using Weird on the Waves (available in our free PDF section!) as the base for handling ships in space and sailing them.