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Friday, February 21, 2014

Let's Read: Spelljammer Part 1

"Keep alert. That mind flayer could be anywhere"

Next year I plan on running a huge Spelljammer campaign using D&D Next (5th edition?) rules. I played Spelljammer a lot in the early 90's, but it's been a long time. I've decided I need to read the whole boxed set and get myself re-acquainted with it.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this. Spelljammer is not D&D with laser guns and space ships. It is wooden ships that fly through space through magic. There are gunpowder guns, but they're optional.

The set has two booklets, poster maps up the ying yang and a bunch of other kewl stuff. Let's do this!

"Your armpit fart noises shan't dissuade me"
Concordance of Arcane Space

The Jim Holloway cover is great. A space pirate guy is looting a necklace vial off a wounded mindflayer. The mind flayer is either clutching at his wound or reaching for his vibrissagauntlet to tear out the pirate's brain.

This is written by Jeff Grubb, who I met at a convention in the early 90's. He told me a story about how TSR almost trademarked the term "nazi".

Ad astra per aspera - "To the Stars through hardships"
- Latin proverb

The Foreward:

Jeff tells us that d&d space does not operate like outer space in our real world. "...the laws of Mordenkainen, Elminster, and Fistandantilus rather than Galileo, Newton and Einstein."

There's two books. Concordance of Arcane Space (lays out the rules for space travel, building ships, new spells, items, etc) and The Lorebook of the Void (races, monsters and weird things that can be encountered).

The box comes with full-color heavy sheets with deck plans and ship details. TSR loaded their boxed sets up back then with bonus stuff.

And there's a bunch of poster maps. One lays out the actual Spelljammer ship itself, which he calls "a huge, powerful ship of legend. It is the Flying Dutchman of the space lanes, the ultimate goal and dream of many a space pirate and adventurer."

There's a map of a space citadel.
There's an outer space hex grid! For ship-to-ship combat.
And a complicated-looking map of a typical solar system with planetary orbit diagrams.

Chapter 1: Arcane Space

There's two kinds of space: Wildspace and The Phlogiston.

The Phlogiston is a turbulent multi-colored gas. Little is known about it (except that if you cast fireball in it, you will kill your whole party).

Floating in the phlogiston are massive crystal spheres. Inside a crystal sphere is a universe. Wildspace is the vast emptiness that lies between the planets and the stars.

Celestial bodies

Planets, asteroids, a planetary mass. Most have a regenerating atmosphere. There are flat worlds, cubic worlds, ring-shaped worlds, maybe even a mobius world.

Some are suns, fueled by internal activity or links to the plane of fire. They often provide heat and warmth for the crystal sphere.


OK, this is a weird rule but essential: When you climb a mountain and the air gets thinner and thinner and finally, unbreatheable, your gravity creates an air envelope around you. The envelope is small, however. You'll exhaust the air in your envelope in 2d10 turns (a turn is 10 minutes).

If you're on a large vessel, then you're inside the vessel's air envelope and thus there's a lot more air for you to breathe. Ships need to be a least 100 feet in length to be able to provide air for a crew.


Attracts from both top and bottom.

If you fall off a ship, you will oscillate back and forth across the plane of gravity. You'll bob up and down.

The Helm

A helm is what powers a spelljamming vessel. It's a magical device that converts mystical energy into motive force. Often, a helm is a magic throne. A spellcaster sits on it and flies the ship (and loses all his or her spells for the day!).

Crystal Shells

Usually a sphere has a radius twice as big as the orbital radius of the outermost celestial body in the system. Because they're so big, the outside of a crystal sphere looks perfectly flat.

The spheres are made of unbreakable ceramic material. No spells work on them, except for spells that cause portals to open in them. They're immune to wishes and the wills of planar powers!

Five ways to get from one side of a crystal shell to the other:

1. Teleport or Dimension door past it.

2. A phase door spell allows the ship to become immaterial, and can pass through the shell.

3. The crystal shells have naturally occurring portals which appear at random.

4. Sometimes, stars embedded on the inside of the shell are portals which reach through to the outside. "Stars" are often affixed to the interior wall of a crystal shell, and sometimes they turn out to be weird things like geysers of unstable energy or "great cities inhabited by alien creatures".

5. The legendary Spelljammer and space dragons (~!) seem to have an innate ability to open portals through (SPACE DRAGONS!!)

The Phlogiston

Has varying thicknesses, and forms dense rivers. The denser the river, the faster your ship can move.

It's very flammable. We get a chart that shows us how big the explosion is if you light a candle, a lantern, a cooking fire, etc. If you cast a fireball spell, it has three times the size and the effect. And the fireball is centered on the caster, as it ignites at the very first spark.

Most phlogiston rivers flow in both directions, so you can go back the same way you came.

The spheres containing Toril (Forgotten Realms), Krynn (Dragonlance) and Oerth (Greyhawk) form a triangle. Elminster could go hang out with some kender. Lord Robilar could go beat up Driz'zt, maybe.

Breathing in Space

For each ton a ship weighs equals 100 cubic yards of space, which is enough air for one human-sized crewmember for 4 to 8 months (!). A 30 ton ship can support 30 crew. Pretty neat.

Air Quality

There's three classes of air quality:

1. Fresh Air: Breathable and succulent. Air on a vessel remains fresh for four months.

2. Fouled Air: Humid, smells bad. This happen after 4 months of fresh air. You now have -2 to hit and skill checks!

3. Deadly Air: Depleted, cannot support life. This happens in month 9. Anyone stuck in this deadly air must save vs. poison. First failure means you pass out. Second failure - you die.

We are given a couple handy ways to figure out if air should deplete faster than normal. Like if there's 25% more people on board than there should be.

Your air is replenished when you enter a larger air envelope, like one of a planet. If your fresh air ship comes close to a deadly air ship, you lose weeks of fresh air, The bigger the other ship, the more you lose.

In the phlogiston, when you succumb to deadly air, you don't die. You lapse into suspended animation. Your flesh turns gray and stone-like. You can be revived with fresh air. That is really cool.

Matters of Gravity

Anything 25 feet long or bigger has enough gravity to attract other objects (insert penis joke here). Gravity extends the same distance as your air envelope.


If you fall overboard, you bob up and down, "falling" down, then up, then down. Slowly, you end up hovering weightless on the horizontal plane of gravity - but you are slowly pushed out to the edge of the gravity plane (and the air envelope). You'd then be pushed out into wildspace and your own gravity plane would kick in, so you can float out there and breathe for about 20 minutes and then die.

This is good to know: If you're floating next to your ship, and the ship turns, there is no relative motion. You don't turn, too. The ship would just smack into you.


If you fall uncontrollably more than one mile, you can heat up and ignite from friction with the air (become a shooting star)!

Weightless Combat

Penalty of 6 to initiative and -2 to hit. When you shoot arrows and ranged attacks in space, the projectile just keeps going forever. Extreme ranged attacks with a bow have a -10 to hit.


Most Wildspace has a temperature equivalent to a "moderate summer day".

Sidebar - Ships have a gravity plane that runs through horizontal axis of the ship. So this means you can stand on the bottom of your ship when it flies through space.

You could build a ship with a deck on top and on bottom, but it is "human nature" to make it like a boat (Plus, most spelljammers need to land in water).

Also, when two large bodies meet in space, the larger gravity plane takes over.

Multi-Sphere Churches: Most gods only have influence in a few crystal spheres. The wording is a bit confusing here.. I think the cleric doesn't have access to spells above second level. There's details on a faction too..

The Polygots: They worship an entire pantheon rather than a specific deity.

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