What I’d Like to See Published

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Credit to The SpellJammer Blog at WordPress.com (seems to be abandoned)

I know, I know. Many people have already created a conversion to SpellJammer in 5e. There’s Nerdarchy, the WorstDM, and the D&D wiki. What I want to see is what Mike Mearls and the crew at WOTC come up with.

As a person that likes older games, it may seem odd that I want it in 5e. I think I really want to see the art. Selfishly, I’ve also found that I can retro anything 5e back to The Black Hack fairly easily. I don’t know why.

D20SpelljammerDungeon92

I own this issue of Polyhedron, but it seemed to change everything too much. The Storykeepers were cool, but the whole effort felt off somehow. I promise that it wasn’t due to the missing space hamsters. The reason was that Spelljammer was no longer the void that connected all the game worlds. It was its own setting. Each race had its own planet.( Granted, I thought it was very clever in how certain races developed their outlook on life.) There was no mention of the crystal spheres.

Maybe the reason was that I wasn’t a true d20 player that was comfortable with feats and prestige classes. Anything that said “requires x feat” would make my eyes glaze over.

Shift of Gears

James Spahn once told me that he created White Star because of his love for Spelljammer. I love White Star and had a group for several months chasing ancient aliens, strange AIs, and a ship named Beyonce. I made my own classes based on Dune, the Fifth Element and the Algebraist. A great game that is loads of fun. I even introduced a friend to RPGs through White Star.

White Star, however, is straight-up space opera. Try as I might, I couldn’t get it to be anything like Spelljammer. It shouldn’t have been that hard, but I couldn’t separate the implied setting from the game. (My shortcoming, not James’). Returning to my central theme, what I want to see published is something like Calidar and Wyrmstone, with the interconnectedness of Spelljammer. Throw in a dash of Space 1889, too.

Do You Have Enough Links?

No, not yet.

Calidar uses magical oil for propulsion, but also features solar sails. Wyrmstone uses crystals formed in dragon bones to hop between worlds. Space 1889 uses liftwood and ether screws. Spelljammers, of course, used great artifact-like thrones. Thinking through these possibilities leads me to one question:

What if there were magical and non-magical ways to fly in fantasy space?

Let’s just say that there are areas of the void where magic works normally, magic doesn’t work at all, and magic works unreliably. Resources in a non-magic area would be highly prized in magical areas because their ships couldn’t reach it. Although non-magical ships can travel anywhere, magical ships have the overwhelming advantage of increasing velocity near-instantly. This keeps force in the different areas from attacking each other in their respective homeworlds.

With a variety of different ships and means of travel, our adventurers would be famous for using many of them.

Spelljammer Obviously Wasn’t Kitchen Sink Enough for You

Bear with me, I’m getting to it.

What I really want to see published is a rule light-ish system that feels like Spelljammer. Rules light means that you don’t worry about facing in ship combat. Rules light-ish means that there are player options that are just a bit fiddly.

Making a ship would be similar to the steps in this post that balance cost, mass, and thrust to make a ship. I’d have to include rules for solar sails.

Combat would be similar to White Star, which is to say similar to personal combat. If someone were to use, say the Black Hack, combat could be the same as both use damage reduction to represent the affect of using shields.

Classes would include the standard fantasy ones, plus a couple different pilot types.

The ships would not be allowed to be any form of galleon or Ship of the Line. Dragon Skeletons, sounds great. Ancient tree with a massive crystalline heart, bring it on. Small wooden diamond-shaped ship that explores the outer reaches of known worlds, awesome.

More than that, though, there would need to be the Crystalline Spheres or something similar. There would need to be settings to connect. Maybe Basic Fantasy’s Glain Campaign? Dolemwood? The world of Slumbering Ursine Dunes? (You gotta have space bears.) Anomalous Subsurface Environment?

Conclusion

Maybe I just near the potential to go to these places. After all, that is what Spelljammer really represented for me. The players never went to my Space 1889 sphere or my John Carpenter of Mars sphere or my Battletech sphere. They did make it to one of my fantasy worlds along with Dragonlance, Greyhawk, and the Forgotten Realms.

This leads me back to 5e Spelljammer. Maybe the reason it won’t work right now is that there is only the Forgotten Realms right now. Without a 5e Greyhawk, Eberron, Dragonlance, or other world, a 5e Spelljammer would be missing the most important thing.

The only way to truly escape to another place.

Looking at an OSR Mecha Game

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It's been said over and over. Where are the mecha clones?

Personally, I enjoyed playing Battletech and Centurion quite a bit growing up. I think Scott and I ran so many Centurion games, I thought about custom hovertanks in my sleep.

Not a hovertank, a battle platform!

I also had a perchant for making a lot of units for Battletech. I was terrible at tracking heat, so I usually lost by blowing up my own mech. Maybe that's why I liked Centurion so much more.

I really wanted these to work!

So when it comes to an OSR Mecha game, what do we need? After all, there is the Battleforce Quickstart Rules and the Classic BattleTech Quickstart rules, so why another game?

For me, that's easy to answer: It's fun to make. More than that, I have a mech hidden in every fantasy world I've ever designed. Spelljammer? Those spacehulks were massive dropships. The haunted mountain with ghostly voices that drive men mad? That's the computer system still looking for the TOG crew that died thousands of years earlier. (Yes, it has one more shot before it loses all its ammo.) The Shrine of the Iron Golem? An abandoned, yet intact Cyclops . (This one has a Gauss Rifle instead of an Autocannon.)

With a worlds-spanning concept like Spelljammer, it was easy to add yet another Crystalline Sphere that existed way beyond any known path through the phlogiston. Very few things made it from those distant spheres, but the handful of items that do lead to some very interesting magic items. I don't mean artifact-type weapons, but other things more mundane. I'm talking things like UHF communicators, AIs, non-addicting stimulants, and even some cyberpunk elements like cranial dataport jacks. When you cross magic and technology, you get all kinds of weird things.

Then again, sometimes I don't want a crazy fantasy world, I just want to run a lance from one side of the board to the other in a desperate blitz to get to base through enemy territory. No air support or planet destroying megaships involved, just tanks and mecha slugging it out on some far-flung scorched world.

Again, with one of the Quickstart rules I mentioned earlier, I could do that fairly easily. I still have my Centurion Box and original BatteTech rules (complete with a few technical updates and Maximum Tech.) Yet, there are things that I either house-ruled or just plain hated about each set of rules. I could deal with the heat rules in BattleTech, even though I was terrible at them. The heat rules force you to make strategy and save your powerful punches for opportune times. What I couldn't deal with, was facing. We would agonize over the board trying to set the facing in just the right way to move and point our primary weapons systems in the correct direction. Centurion had no heat rules, but once I reached a certain speed, I couldn't steer a hovertank correctly. (I kept turning too late and sliding sideways off the map.) I preferred the slower groundling tanks or massive hover tanks that always moved slowly. Note that my "brick" has a speed of 3.

These are not faults with the games themselves. No, the fault is mine. It's not that I just wanted to blast through everything or try to get away with things, it's just that I couldn't figure out where I'd be two moves ahead, so I got frustrated when I always felt out of place. I figured that any computer-assisted steering system could figure out how to move a tank/mech from one location to another accurately, so why not minimize those rules that blow me off the map?

Really though, I just enjoy Swords and Wizardry. With the third alternate combat sequence, I saw a tactical system that rewards quickness over flat-footed slugfests. Why not make a mecha system without heat and hover movement that feels like S&W?

The third alternate combat sequence is really simplified from OD&D. I looked for ways to track the segments and found stories of gamers using cribbage boards. Looking at the rules, though, I realized that I never really needed to know the actual segment number, I only had to know who's turn was next and when a round was over.

I made a custom board that allowed the rules as written in S&W Complete for alternate combat sequence #3 to work. Still, I wanted something a bit nicer. I discovered that if I used a backgammon board and changed the default number of segments from 6 to 7, the whole system just clicked.

In S&W fantasy, the referee had to fudge the dexterity of monsters. In my mecha game, however, everything had a dexterity score. This made the alternative combat sequence #3 a great fit. With the backgammon board, a players' choice of miniatures, markers, or even checkers to mark each combatant, a straightforward system emerged. Unlike my favorite Centurion or BattleTech, this game has quicker rules. At a glance, everyone knows who is taking a turn now and who will go next. I'm still testing it, but my 8 and 7 year old kids seem to get it. I've got it written, but now I'm testing it. I might even get a pickup game at Nuke-Con in October.

So,why an Swords & Wizardry mecha game? Because it fits once I houserule it. 🙂