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Into the Void - Old-School Spelljammer

Into the Void - Old-School Spelljammer

Not sure if this is the right area, as I'm not planning a game, per se. I'm more gauging interest in and wanting to start a discussion about the Spelljammer setting for AD&D 2nd edition, with the possibility of building up a game in the future. This is assuming I can find enough like minded souls who don't flee for the hills once I've run on about the setting.

If this should be in the game planning thread even at this early stage, I apologize.

Bit of background, I ran a tabletop Spelljammer game with my gaming group for many many years. Nine years of this was steady weekly gaming, with brief vacations, and then as we all grew up and moved on into real life, the games became smaller and less frequent, until we settled into the annual get together reunion of both the gaming group and the adventuring party. The rather unimaginatively named Company of the Void started as a way of bringing our Realms and Dragonlance PCs together, but then turned into this huge campaign that just went on and on.

I'm sitting on decades of notes, rewrites and house rules for the setting, a burning desire to keep exploring wildspace, even if just in discussion form, and I'd love to know if enough people on here even remember Spelljammer, particularly with a leaning more towards the Age of Discovery in space, rather than the odd anime/sci-fantasy/kitchen sink approach TSR went with back in the day.

I have tons more to say (spew) but anyone have any thoughts?

Love the setting; being an older edition it doesn't get quite as much play here and from the handful of game adds and apps I've seen come and go my experience on the Weave suggests the local color of fan is divided into two camps; - those who favor the kitchen sink pulp aspect and those who want an age of sail/age of discovery analog. I've seen games of both stripes here with about equal levels of interest? I'm more the later sort; there's something to the notion of sailing a great star ocean . . .

I could see a pulp angle working...a swashbuckling John Carter type game could work really well, especially in a smaller sphere with a dense planetary system. My games tended more towards Horatio much as you can with a wu-jen, an elven thief and a Krynnish Minotaur. lol

I had more trouble with the anime (Bionoids, Spirit Warriors), the silly (Giant Space Hamsters), and the sci-fi (the living escapes me atm). If every product had been as solid and cohesive as The Rock of Bral book, I think the setting would have been more popular.

And, if I'm being completely honest, I DID use Giant Space Hamsters once...silly does have its place.

Lately I've been toying with the idea of taking some of the old 1st edition classic adventures and adapting them to Spelljammer. I spent two years running my group through a (heavily) reworked version of Under the Dark Fist...losing the most blatant Star Wars riffs, and reworking it to make some logical sense, it made for a pretty epic campaign, but I think the really old-school adventures have some things that could fit really well in a solidified Spelljammer setting.

I suspect Giant Space Hamsters will be pried out from Spelljammer by way of the D&D communities cold, dead, Boo-loving hands

Oddly enough though I find the one of the other oddities - the Giff and their weird pantomime of colonialist-era braggadocio - to fit my conception of the setting, even though I tend towards the Age of Sail in space thematics. They're patently absurd but in a way that resonates with the invoked time period - I could see slotting them in as mercenaries for a Sphere-spanning East India Tea Company quite easily, complete with whole implicit onus for a militaristic cultural hegemon. Admittedly, I honestly never even caught the anime influences, but my exposure is limited to Braal and the main box set which I picked up piecemeal well after the line ended so I suspect there's a lot buried in the lore I've yet to stumble across.

Which ultimately is where I think the pulp vs.
in the Stephensonian sense of adventure fiction
adventure tension comes in - there's just so much, and the possibilities presented by the setting are rivaled really on by Planescape when it comes to the potential breadth and scale of things.

As for the reskinning of adventures . . . well, my other old-school D&D style sci-fi/fantasy fix is Stars Without Number and something I toyed with for a campaign of that was to recast some of the old megadungeon crawls into something palatable. Take the Temple of Elemental Evil, reflavor it as an abandoned outpost (or series of outposts) in the belt of some scorched Crystal Sphere dating back to the 1st Unhuman War, forgotten by time and village of Hommlet as a newfound colony, a toehold in wildspace for a startup colony suddenly beset by ancient threats and remnants from a conflict long past.

I would never fault anyone for loving Boo. I will always have a soft spot for mini-giant space hamsters.

I agree with you on the Giff. I like them as well. Looking past some of the wonky rules, the original core boxed set was almost coherent. I'd say that the boxed set, the Lost Ships accessory and parts of the first two adventure modules presented a fairly solid setting. It was some of the later additions that feel like they were trying to fill space more than anything else. The two MC appendices especially were a grab-bag, with winners like the Aperusa, and duds like six different types of living asterpoid/planetoid variants.

The Giff in my campaign fill the mercenary nitche, and are very much proper gentlemen (or gentle-lady) soldiers...that happen to like making things go boom. The Sindiath Line fills the East India Company role in the Known Spheres, but they do employ their share of Giff...and other mercenary races.

Planescape is my other go-to setting, but I think it succeeds where Spelljammer struggles, in that it had a solid premise from start to finish, a unified direction, and actually tied into the other TSR worlds, where Spelljammer seemed to want to keep things vague. The Realmspace/Greyspace/Krynnspace supplements seemed like they were written by folks who weren't familiar with the settings involved, and lacked any of the flavor each setting should have had. Don't think there was a single mention of dragons in the Krynnspace supplement, for instance.

It's funny you mention Temple of Elemental Evil as a starting point. I"ve actually thought about adapting the Slavelords series over, feature the Chainmen and a few other Wildspace power groups. There are a lot of elements that would work really well in a campaign.

Spelljammer was always such an intriguing setting, and the kinda-similar Starfinder looks very promising. I'd be interested in a Spelljammer campaign that incorporated the new rules (4e or 5e, I don't want to start with the THAC0 crap again) in the 'classic' setting. With maybe some alterations to that 'crystal spheres floating in phlogiston miasma' thing, that was the only bit of the fluff I didn't really like, though I understand that Spelljammer was trying to do something new while bridging the pre-existing campaigns. Like if you want to take a spaceship to the Dark Sun world, or Greyhawk, and just pew-pew the crap out of some high-fantasy dragons and such.

I remember being so disappointed when I found that the Mind Flayers/Illithids were not a player race - those squid-faced bastards really got me into the lore. Who wouldn't want to terrorize the cosmos in a Nautiloid?

If you're wanting more sciency sci-fi, there's Dragonstar d20, or if you want older systems, there's Star Frontiers. Both are more traditional spaceship and laser pistol type games with a side of fantasy. Dragonstar especially was Orcs & Dragons in space.

The crystals spheres and phlogiston are part of the character of the setting, I think, both based (really loosly) on early real-world beliefs about space. I think it fit the sailing ships in space theme.

If memory serves, there was an adventure towards the end of AD&D second edition, called Reverse Dungeon...I think that might have had rules for playing mind-flayers as PCs. But in a standard campaign, a mind-flayer PC would be a little unbalanced...especially after the Illithiad book came out giving them psi-tech. They WERE one of my favorite go-to bad guys, though.

If - if - I were to update the Crystal Spheres it would be to make their structure a bit less literal: inside a crystal sphere you've got a finite but unbounded space, sail far enough in one direction from the system primary and you loop back around and find yourself back where you started weeks, months or years later. Opening a gate/portal would be equivalent to "jumping" - a spatial gate opens, sucks the ship through and deposits them in the phlogiston orbiting the Crystal Sphere they just left. Entry would work similarly, with a caveat that without a portal or gate key/spell available for the sphere in question a ship could approach but never physically reach the surface of the sphere, Zeno's arrow style. Treat them as less physical constructs and more dimensional membranes . . .

I'm admittedly inspired in the treatment by the old
Region selection screen from Saga Frontier; wordlets floating in jewel like chains in extra dimensional space. It's not a necessary change - then again, few are in my mind; THAC0 and I get along swimmingly - but an aesthetic one. One that keeps the sentiment of the structure intact (crystal spheres floating in the sea of the multiverse) while blending a more more seamlessly with the larger metaphysical cosmology of D&D.

That said, Red Corsair is right in that the notion of Crystal Spheres comes from older ideas about the cosmos - it was thought that the planets moved, bounded to crystal spheres in orbit of the earth with the firmament of starts locked behind them and that the vibrations of those movements could govern physical phenomena. This "music of the spheres" was one of the early pseudo-scientific arguments for astrology. In that sense it certainly fits D&D.

That said, appropro of nothing - have a giant space hamster because what is seen cannot be unseen.

I love the SpellJammer setting and the whole theme that it can take to Buck Rodgers, John Carter of Mars etc. But with that said, one aspect I think that always held it back was it's inherent campy, silliness etc that while not necessarily a bad thing. definetely caused it to be relegated to back room of dnd settings where so many others eventually went: Mystara, Red Steel, Birthright, etc.

It's worth being explored again but it would need to have it's disjointed elements either reworked into a smoother whole and a serious discussion would be worth it in regards to the whole DnD cosmology. In fact I think in general DnD would benefit from a general look at it's settings as a whole.

Oh and on an unrelated note bring back Ravenloft, the real Ravenloft.

So what did you see as the silly aspects, Knight? We mentioned Giant Space Hamsters...what other elements?

The longer my game progressed, I tried to phase out some of the more campy elements, but be curious to hear your take.

And yes, Ravenloft, especially after the Grand Conjunction revised and cleaned up the setting, was fantastic. My group was never into the horror scene enough to really appreciate it, but I still own all the original Van Richten's Guides.

And Cirlot, that pic will haunt my dreams lol


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