Spelljammer: Adventures in Space is a must-buy D&D set because you need magic space boats in your campaign
Spelljammer: Adventures in Space is a massive set of three different supplemental materials for Dungeons and Dragons DMs to explore, and this article will give you some concrete examples of how to use it in your own campaign — beyond the naturally effusive praise afforded to magic space boats, of course. Spelljammer comes with three books, the adventure Light of Xaryxis — which, as an adventure, is basically designed for you to use it in a game — the monster book Boo’s Astral Menagerie which by virtue of being a book full of monsters is even easier to use in a campaign, and finally the Astral Adventurer’s Guide.
One of the many useful sections of this book is the one detailing various kinds of Spelljamming Ships, the incredibly varied and diverse craft that can fly the Astral Sea and travel from world to world by entering and exiting Wildspace, the various regions where worlds with Dungeons and Dragons campaigns reside.
But I don’t plan on taking my game into other worlds or the Astral Plane, so what use is that to me?
You could end up in the Astral Sea because your players want to go there for so many different reasons it would be very difficult to enumerate them all. Why close that possibility off from yourself? Spelljamming craft don’t even have to go to the Astral Sea to be useful in your campaign. Even if they do, your players don’t have to be on one that does. Spelljammers are cool and unusual — ships shaped like moths, or spiders, or giant Nautiloids with tentacles for grappling other craft — don’t cheat yourself out of having them in your game just because you know you won’t go into space very often.
Let’s talk about a few ways to use a majestic Spelljammer to liven up or add complexity to your D&D campaign.
Spelljammers can fill the role of other ships, and then some
Just including Spelljammers in the background of your campaign opens up interesting possibilities. A Spelljammer, after all, can traverse an entire world as easily as it traverses Wildspace and the Astral Sea. Including such craft in your game means you have an established — if both expensive and limited in scope — way to justify traversing vast distances between places if you want to. You can designate specific settlements and cities as being big and important enough to be trade hubs that the Spelljammers visit, so while you could hire onto one for transit between Big Elftown and Dwarf Fortress you can’t just pop onto one any time you want and go anywhere.
Entire adventures could be built around the concept of your PCs hiring on as added muscle for a Spelljammer that intends to visit several important trade destinations across your game world, giving you a ready made excuse for how your party gets from where your opening adventures were to the higher level stories you intend to tell. You’ve told all the stories you intend in the heart of the Cosmopolitan Capital City and want to do a series defending civilization from a host of Giants? Luckily, the Merkane trader in CCC has business in Giant Fortress City and will bring your party along so that you can have Harpies attack the ship and make off with his daughter, forcing your players to give chase.
You get to add in weird people from space and plot complications without ever once actually leaving your campaign world.
A way around planar magic
Say your party isn’t high enough level yet to cast Plane Shift, but they need to follow The Great Devourer to their fortress on the 317th level of the Abyss. Rather than being able to pop directly there, a Spelljammer provides you with the means to make the trip from your campaign world to the Abyss an adventure in and of itself. A Spelljammer could make stops in various other Wildspaces — places like the Radiant Citadel in the Ethereal Plane and the Rock of Bral in the Astral Sea, and finally perhaps even planar metropolises like the City of Brass in the Elemental Plane of Fire, Sigil in the Outlands, or the Clockwork realm of Mechanus.
Since the Astral Sea touches almost all parts of the Prime Material Plane (that’s where your party lives) as well as at least one layer of each of the Outer Planes, a Spelljammer could take your characters almost anywhere they wanted to go, or at least get them a lot closer.
Spelljammers could change your worlds — or make for a multiverse
One thing I built into the Riatan campaign for Blizzard Watch was that there were Spelljamming ships all over it, traveling from the pirate city of Marserras to El’Aras, home of the godborn, to magical Piador, uncanny Unes the Mechanical City, forbidding Tel Karnethaz and Nazatan of the White Spires. Each of these cities were not only linked by a trade network to each other, but also to other realms of existence, with documented travel and trade from Sigil in the Outlands. One of the things I wanted to get into but never managed to work into the story is that the previous civilizations on the continent of Riatan also had such trade, and it led to the development of and destruction of at least one of those civilizations.
Having Spelljammers in your game means that you can control how much contact people who are not themselves able to pop between worlds via magic can actually have with beings from other worlds. Perhaps your campaign world doesn’t actually have native sapient beings — instead, eons ago, a fleet of Spelljammers fought a battle in Wildspace and destroyed an Illithid fleet bound for their homeworld, but in the process, many of their ships crashed and were believed lost on the world of your campaign. Unable to re-establish contact — most of their Clerics and Wizards died in the battle and the few that remained were their apprentices and acolytes, not capable of casting magic of that scale — they were forced to make a new home on this unfamiliar world.
In the modern day of your campaign, the alien origin of these PC races is potentially unknown, but the discovery of an intact Spelljammer in the ancient ruins of a lost civilization provides your party with not only a way to traverse their own world, but it time, travel beyond it seeking the origins of their civilization.
Flying magic boats are just cool
Not only are some Spelljammers really weird, like the ones piloted by the Neogi — giant spider-ships that can grapple enemy craft with their arms — but even ones like the Giff Bombard with the enormous cannon taking up the front half of the ship are pretty out there. You could easily have a group of Giff Mercenaries show up in your game with their enormous cannon-ship and start hiring on to anybody with the gold to pay them, and using their giant mobile flying cannon to end sieges in spectacular and potentially disruptive fashion. The Giff aren’t evil, they’re just looking to get paid doing what they’re good at, and from their perspective your campaign world is just one among infinite worlds in infinite Wildspaces.
But from your player’s perspective, a group of heavily armed Hippo-people with a lot of guns just blew up the Grand Duchy of Golivar and helped ignite a war between three great powers and it would be great for everybody if they would take their great big boomship and go somewhere else with it. You could do multiple sessions around the expanding war and the need to get rid of that mobile siege platform piloted by said heavily armed Hippo-people before they take out another fortress. Heck, maybe an Orc Warlord with a lot of plunder hires the Giff to blow up one of your player’s home bases.
Just be ready with this all to end up with the party managing to get the Giff to join up with them and now they’ve got a flying cannon at their disposal along with a few hundred clanking, gun-toting Giff to aim at that Orc Warlord. Because I swear PCs in D&D games find a way to make anything a pet.
Those are just some ideas for how to use Spelljammer ships and Spelljamming in your decidedly not-usually-set-in-space campaign. Maybe you want your PCs to go kick a Dragon’s butt on the moon. Maybe they end up on the Spelljamming equivalent of the Titanic, about to hit an asteroid and end up falling into the sun. There are a lot of uses for Spelljammer: Adventures in Space for any D&D campaign. We’ve barely scratched the surface here.
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