Spelljammer is the return to an Advanced Dungeons & Dragons setting, in a sense. While there have been several changes since the 30+ years between releases Spelljammer: Adventures in Space seeks to take the high fantasy of Dungeons & Dragons and inject a bit of fresh sci-fi into the theme. How well does Spelljammer manage to create that sense of deep space adventure for a game familiar to so many?
Unlike the previous setting releases Spelljammer is comprised of three separate books, but are all included in a single purchase. The Astral Adventurer's Guide is filled with information for DMs and Players to understand new player races, Boo's Astral Menagerie holds stat blocks for friendly creatures and fearsome foes, and the Light of Xaryxis is a campaign for players and DMs to get right into the action. Immediately the separation of information between what's needed for players to have access to, what is important for the DM to keep to themselves, and what is needed for combat is a fantastic idea. It improves table dynamics and has the DM feeling less worried about wandering player's eyes spoiling anything too interesting.
The final addition to this collection is a DM screen containing additional information that the DM might want to keep track of. Some useful information on this DM screen includes different tasks that players might need to complete on a ship or random encounters that they'll run across in space. All of this information is great for any adventure into the Astral Sea and can generate random fun for the players.
Spelljammer: Adventures in Space - Astral Adventurer's Guide
Two different backgrounds have been introduced in the Astral Adventurer's Guide. The Astral Drifter and the Wildspacer. Astral Drifter is the equivalent of a monk, setting out among the Astral Sea. With it, they meet a deity and gain magical abilities. The Wildspacer is a hard left turn from this where your character takes on the role of someone who has seen some stuff in Wildspace and the Astral sea and comes out of it hardened. There's some great background in both of these for your DM to tie into. Whether it be the chance to come across your chosen deity once more on your adventures, or if you're being forever hunted by what left you with a devilish scar.
There are six different player races introduced in Spelljammer. All of these are wildly unique and continue to expand upon the exotic character races introducing the Hadozee, a race of simian creatures, the Giff, a hippo people with a penchant for firearms, and the Plasmoid slime race.
There are some more fun takes on the returning classes including the Astral elves and the auto-gnomes. The changes here are slighter, with things like the fey step being flavored to be a disappearance in shimmering light. It Is nice to have the bridge made between the world of high fantasy that dungeons and dragons fans might feel safer in and the far-off world of Spelljammer.
Moving away from the more generic options of what race you want to play and what backgrounds a Spelljammer character might have the next part of this book is where the story starts to be dedicated to what a Spelljammer is, the different ships that are available for parties to pick from, and how they work. Included in the Astral Adventurer's Guide are sixteen different variants of Spelljammer ships. Each equipt with its own weapons, layout, and statistics you can use the information found in this section when dealing with your party on board.
While navel ship combat isn't new to Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition there are a few more intricacies with the Spelljammer ships including some very out there mechanics that you'll need to learn. Each ship gets to act as its own point of gravity when up in the Astral Sea and even create its own envelope of breathable air. Each of these systems is explained thoroughly but isn't too difficult to understand. There's an up-down gravity plane along the flat axis of each ship that if you were to cross the gravity would invert. This can allow players to simply walk to the underside of the ship, or if free-floating would alternate falling upwards, and then falling downwards until you'd come to rest on the plane of gravity.
Last but not least the Astral Adventurer's Guide covers The Rock of Bral, a location important to the story of the Light of Xaryxis, the campaign found within the Spelljammer collection, but also a great starting point for any outing in the Astral Sea. This location is fully fleshed out featuring a government and ruling body, interesting locations across the Underbarrons and High City, and even details a tavern run by a friendly Beholder.
Spelljammer: Adventures in Space - Boo's Astral Menagerie
What good would it be going to outer space if it wasn't filled with all kinds of friendly aliens or strange foes to take on? Within Boo's Astral Menagerie are 72 different stat blocks. While some of these stat blocks are for friendly creatures that you'll encounter like a Hadozee Shipmate or an Astral Elf Honor Guard there are also new big bads that will be making a name for themselves in this release.
Hot off the release of Fizban's Treasure of Dragons the Lunar and Solar Dragon have been introduced in this book. The Solar Dragon is a creature born from within a star, that can eventually become its Lair, These creatures have awesome powers dealing radiant damage with their breaths and creating blinding aura. These kinds of Dragons will need to be taken on by flying near and gathering their attention as to enter the star or start your turn inside it will have you automatically taking 24d10 worth of damage.
There are plenty of horrors to encounter in space too. The Feyr, which is literally pronounced 'fear', is a tentacled aberration that will stow aboard your ship and attack while you're asleep. Turning itself invisible it will attach its tentacles to your face while you sleep to feed on your emotions and deal 5d10 worth of psychic damage. There's plenty of other eerie creatures that you might expect would go bump in the night in space, all have the makings of a tense combat encounter with your party.
The book is also quite encouraging for you to find any way to take what might already be a favorite monster to use at your table and turn it into a Spelljammer-worthy enemy, even if it just means you add the Unusual Nature feature to them removing their requirement to breath air.
Spelljammer: Adventures in Space - Light of Xaryxis
Knowing how to helm your Spelljammer and with a book full of enemies to fight off the last thing that's needed is an adventure to embark upon! The Light of Xaryxis is a level 5 to level 9 adventure. Players will get to begin their story with their feet firmly on the ground of a port town or coastal city before launching the characters into a world they could have never dreamed of.
Conveniently the story is also broken out into chapters, each of which the game explains should take 2-3 hours to complete. Of course, mileage will vary depending on how efficient or rambunxious your players are but for a taste of a space adventure, 12 sessions seem just the right amount of time to enthrall players while not overstaying the welcome.
The adventure starts with a bang as immediately the port town the characters are in gets attacked by Astral Blights. With an invitation from a sailor, the adventure immediately sets up that players will constantly have choices for how they want to tackle a situation. Sections of the book describe what might happen if players chase after the sailor, hide in a building, attack the blights, or try to make their way out of the city. Choices have always been part of being a player in a game of Dungeons & Dragons, and the DM must always be prepared to some level for what path they might take. The care and detail that have been provided for each of these alternative paths allow the DM to direct the adventure, while also ensuring that they stay on track.
There's a downside that might be construed from this illusion of choice when you know at the end of the first chapter that the players will all end up on a ship called the Moondancer, but even trying to be "off rails" there's a necessity for some rails in a story. How the party gets to the end of that chapter though is up to them.
Continuing through the adventure you'll get to fulfill all manner of space pirate fantasies. Battle other vessels with ship-to-ship combat, even getting alongside them to board and fight in person, interact with an Astral Elf aristocrat who sets in motion high stake events and stumble upon a space fight club. The fate of not just one world but multiple will be in the hands of the players.
The best way to put this adventure is just as it is explained by the book itself, it's an adventure that pulls inspiration from pulpy sci-fi like Flash Gordon. With the colorful cast of characters and episodic format, players will always be able to remain engaged as new plot points and cliffhangers leave them counting down the days until the next session.
Final Thoughts on Spelljammer: Adventures in Space
The complete collection of Spelljammer isn't just a good Dungeons & Dragons adventure, but for a group of players that high fantasy might not be their jam is a great hopping on point. The adventure isn't going to span years and it's a strong story filled with memorable characters and big story moments. All you'd need are dice, and the DMG/PHB and you could hop right into this fun adventure. Changes like breaking up the different resources between the three books are a nice quality of life change and the DM screen filled with random encounters and other key information is greatly appreciated.
Should I buy Spelljammer: Adventures in Space?
If you're already a fan of Dungeons & Dragons then the additional information in regards to new player races and new mechanics is always interesting to look into. Picking up Spelljammer: Adventures in Space is going to be the most valuable for those looking for a new adventure, especially if it's an adventure that you're not expecting. The fresh locations, mechanics, and encounters are one of the largest selling points of this adventure. This celestial take on an adventure might impact those who have spent a lot of time in Dungeons & Dragons even more than newcomers as it takes them into the complete unknown.
Spelljammer: Adventures in Space was reviewed with a copy of the collection provided by the publisher.