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.

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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.

More Fun, In Space

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My son and I went to Nuke-Con this past Saturday. I am hoping that next year we will get more time to game. He could only attend from about 3pm - 8pm due to an overnight camping trip Friday and a library event on Sunday. Still, he comes up with a few gems no matter where we are.

Tonight I reminded him about the Howerter post. I mentioned it because I shared that I was proud of him for being imaginative. Before I could say much more, he looks at me and says,

What if the dolphins could make their own bubbles and float into the sky? Why not into outer space?

See, I've been sitting around trying to figure out the ecology of some kind of huge creature that floats in the atmosphere due to a huge air bladder filled with hydrogen. I figured that it goes into low-orbit to escape predators, thus humans take advantage of these creatures to fly into outer space.

While I am pondering the questions of how and why, my son asks the most important question in any game: Why not?

I posted about a race of dolphins that adventured on land because I like ideas that are so far removed from anything I could invent. The more I thought about it, though, I wondering why they would go through all the trouble to create the equipment necessary to adventure on land. On land, they can use swords, but they can't take them home. Even if they did, they serve no purpose. Potions don't work underwater either. Many spells do not function or cannot be controlled underwater. Again, why would they bother?

To see what's there.

I had to admit to myself that OSR games that I play are similar. Why does a group of sentient folks adventure in the Elemental Plane of Fire Seriously, the plane of Fire. In my 1e days, we went to the Plane of Magma. Why did TSR actually make a book about adventuring in Hell?

Why not? My high school group went to Tiamat's lair just to knock on the door. They went off the map in Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth just to see what was North and West. Spell research turned out to be mostly useless in game play, but it was great to have spells like Itchy Teeth, Boomerang Sword, and Explosive Diarrhea. I think one of the guys actually tried to make evil Ioun Stones and launch them in a sling against various monsters. (Critical fail and the stone circled his head draining hit points until the Cleric stopped laughing and cast Remove Curse.)

So, I look forward to sailing the spaces between the stars in a small crystalline sphere. With a dolphin. Maybe the bubble can somehow interface with another's ship navigation system. The dolphin are mildly psionic, so why not?

For what it is worth, Explosive Diarrhea did get one use in play. The mage cast it on Iuz the Evil and he failed the save. Mind you, it didn't save the party, but at least one researched spell actually worked.

Let Me Tell You About Spelljammer

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The primary reason that I love Spelljammer so much is that it provides an in-game reason to mix together elements of multiple settings, genres, and ideas. Our high school group rotated GM duties and having Spelljammer allowed us to add and remove just about anything. The overpowered laser pistols from the last adventure?

They only work on the planet you just left. Considering that you are being chased by half of all organized crime on that world, going back isn't really an option. You might get a decent price from the Mintakans† - they tend to be less discerning than the Arcane.

Then there was the third group of Gith followers, the Githxaren. They were neutral in the struggle between Githyanki and Githzarei. They drifted in and out of the Ethereal Plane quietly building a peaceful homeworld away from the mind flayers and the other Gith. Since they were based off the Githyanki and Githzerai in Fiend Folio, they basically had the same limitations, but they also had a druid-paladin type of class that I have since lost to time and several moves.

On the home world where all the PCs began before heading off into space,there was one mech from Battletech, an ancient Atlas that had just enough energy to launch either one shot of the PPC or a short-range missile. I put it there to battle the Tarrasque if the players managed to wake it up. (They never did.)

I had my minotaur cleric from Krynn, but others had human fighters, thieves and magic-users that wouldn't have raised an eyebrow. There were worlds with all sorts of odds and sods from all over. Yes, I had the giant space hamsters, gnomish ships (though I claimed that they were from Krynnspace). The name Iuz was thrown around a lot as if Greyspace didn't have enough issues with an evil demigod. There were time travelers, grey aliens and even Voyager I (though the PCs never found it).

If that wasn't enough, then a trip through the Phologiston would bring you to Space 1889 (Thanks Polyhedron 73-74!). There were zat (SJR4 Practical Planetology) found here and there in every sphere. You could find scro and nilbogs just about everywhere, whilst orcs and goblins were pretty rare. Did I happen to mention the phraints and the planet of the gorilla bears?

We Get It: Spelljammer is Gonzo

Well there is that, but I didn't always run it that way. Some adventures were  cargo missions and many were just exploratory. Things really didn't get really weird until we all went to the Outer Planes. The point is that I felt free to add things I liked, but I had a convenient way to remove things from play if I needed to. In some ways, it was like continuity in the Doctor Who universe - The Great Paradox is that there is no Great Paradox.

I overthink settings quite a bit. Recently I posted about generating a reason for Clerics to use maces instead of edged weapons that required a rewrite of ancient history where mankind skipped the bronze age due to a lack of copper. This further necessitated that the universe uses tin pieces and that copper pieces are used the way most people use silver pieces. Once the iron age came...

I can get lost in all of that because I want something to be internally consistent and passingly logical.

With Spelljammer, elements of the universe simply exist without explanation or reason. You could try, but why bother?

Who built the great Spelljammer ship? While you spend time in the Library at the Nexus of the Multiverse answering that question, we're just going to throw a lasso around it and see if we can steal it.

Why do the Arcane sell Spelljamming Helms, but not other advanced technology? You still buy from them? Those has-beens are outclassed at every turn by the Mintakans†. Besides, the Mintakans are more fun at a party.

So gravity goes to the center of the ship in most spheres, but there is no gravity in others. What's up with that? Your biggest concern is finding a sphere where air envelopes don't work. We got plants all over the ship just in case, but that only buys us 15 minutes of air. If we find one of those spheres, I think we'll throw you off the ship first.

With the ability to move in three dimensions, how can a ballista be an effective weapon in ship to ship combat? You just took 8 hull points of damage from an accelerator. The scro have magic missile guns on their ship. Shut up and load your cannon. We can't take another hit like that one.

How can making things in a planet-sized forge move a ship? Can you really take a giant hamster seriously? You didn't mention that all ships are shaped like animals, except a human Tradesman ship. Don't get those, they're Maneuverability Class C on a really good day.

The setting wasn't perfect - I disliked that mages were the only pilots. Even with that, the game was fun. Crawling around in dungeons are fun, too. I like a good hexcrawl and trips to unknown planes, too. Spelljammer represented to me an escape from Gygaxian Naturalism and Jacqauy-ed dungeons. After a session or two of Spelljammer, even if there were no laughs, I found it easier to enjoy the "real world" of a more typical fantasy world.

So there you are, I talked about Spelljammer for an entire post without drifting off into the ether. Next time, I get to talk about the d12. Oh the d12...

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† I don't remember the name of the trading rivals to the Arcane. Since they were loosely based on the Orion Free Traders in Star Trek, I took the name of one of the stars in the Orion constellation as an easy way to reference them.