The Spelljammer logo
Wizards of the Coast
|Publication date||November 1, 1989|
|Genre(s)||Fantasy Tabletop role-playing game|
|System(s)||Dungeons & Dragons|
Spelljammer introduced into the AD&D universe a comprehensive system of fantasy astrophysics, including the Ptolemaic concept of crystal spheres. Crystal spheres may contain multiple worlds and are navigable using ships equipped with "spelljamming helms". Ships powered by spelljamming helms are capable of flying into not only the sky but into space. With their own fields of gravity and atmosphere, the ships have open decks and tend not to resemble the spaceships of science fiction, but instead look more like galleons, animals, birds, fish or even more wildly fantastic shapes.
The Spelljammer setting is designed to allow the usual sword and sorcery adventures of Dungeons & Dragons to take place within the framework of outer space tropes. Flying ships travel through the vast expanses of interplanetary space, visiting moons and planets and other stellar objects.
Like the Planescape setting, Spelljammer unifies most of the other AD&D settings and provides a canonical method for allowing characters from one setting (such as Dragonlance) to travel to another (such as the Forgotten Realms). However, unlike Planescape it keeps all of the action on the Prime Material Plane and uses the crystal spheres, and the "phlogiston" between them, to form natural barriers between otherwise incompatible settings. Though the cosmology is derived largely from the Ptolemaic system of astronomy, many of the ideas owe much to the works of Jules Verne and his contemporaries, and to related games and fiction with a steampunk or planetary romance flavor. A strong Age of Sail flavor is also present.
Spelljamming helms are the central setting concept which allow interplanetary and interstellar space travel for vessels which would otherwise not be spaceworthy, in the form of a helm. Any spellcaster may sit on a spelljammer helm to move the ship. The mysterious race known as the Arcane is the sole manufacturer and distributor of spelljamming helms. Within the Dungeons & Dragons universe, they are a method of converting magical energy into motive power.
Gravity and air
All bodies of a sufficiently large size have gravity. This gravity usually (but not always) exerts a force equal to the standard gravitational attraction on the surface of an Earth-sized planetary body. Gravity in the Spelljammer universe is also an exceptionally convenient force, and almost always works such that "down" orients itself in a manner most humanoids would find sensible.
All bodies of any size carry with them an envelope of air whenever they leave the surface of a planet or other stellar object. Unlike real-world astrophysics, this air envelope is not dispersed by the vacuum of space. These bubbles of air provide breathable atmosphere for varying lengths of time, but 3 months is considered "standard".
A crystal sphere (also known as a crystal shell) is a gigantic spherical shell which contains an entire planetary system. Each sphere varies in size but typically they are twice the diameter of the orbit of the planet that is farthest from the sun or planet at the center of the sphere (the system's primary).
The surface of the sphere is called the "sphere wall" and separates the void of "wildspace" (within the sphere) from the "phlogiston" (that surrounds and flows outside the sphere). The sphere wall has no gravity and appears to be impossible to damage by any normal or magical means. Openings in the sphere wall called "portals" allow spelljamming ships or wildspace creatures to pass through and enter or exit from a crystal sphere. Portals can spontaneously open and close anywhere on the sphere wall. Magical spells (or magical items that reproduce their effects) can allow a portal to be located. Other magic can open a new portal or collapse an existing one. Ships or creatures passing through a portal when it closes may be cut in two.
Note that unlike the Ptolemaic system, the crystal spheres are not nested within each other.
Wildspace is similar to the outer space of science fiction, with planets, asteroids and stars, but with different physics. Gravity is either none or the same as that of Earth, and is directed towards the center of planet-sized bodies; on large objects in space like spacecraft and enormous creatures gravity is directed towards a flat plane running through the object's long axis, allowing characters to stand on the decks of ships.
The phlogiston is essentially a big ocean of a unique element that is neither air, fire, water, or earth. The phlogiston (also known as "the Flow") is a bright, extremely combustible gas-like medium that exists between the Crystal Spheres. A signature property of the substance is that it does not exist within the boundaries of a crystal sphere, to the degree that it cannot be brought into a crystal sphere by any known means up to and including the direct will of deities. Every crystal sphere floats in the phlogiston, very slowly bobbing up and down over time. Travel between Crystal Spheres is facilitated by the formation of "Flow rivers" — sections of the phlogiston which have a current and greatly reduce travel time. Travel through the "slow flow" (i.e. off the Flow rivers) is possible, but very dangerous.
The Spelljammer is a legendary ship which looks like a gigantic manta ray, and houses an entire city on its back. All spacefarers (people who live in wildspace) have heard of the Spelljammer but very few have ever seen it themselves. It is this ship that gives its name to "spelljamming", "spelljamming helms" and anything else connected with spelljamming. The ship has been reported to have been seen in countless spheres for as long as records go back. Even some groundlings (people who live on planets that have very little or no commerce with spelljamming communities) have legends about it. There are hundreds of conflicting legends about this ship, and a mythology has developed about the ship that is similar to the legends surrounding The Flying Dutchman.
As a living thing (although it does not consume any matter, it does absorb heat and light through its ventral (or under) side and uses them to produce air and food for its inhabitants), the Spelljammer has a complex life cycle and means of procreation. Normally the ship has no captain and wanders the cosmos seemingly aimlessly. When the Spelljammer has a captain, obtained through another complex process, it will create Smalljammers (miniature versions of the Spelljammer) that go forth as its spawn. Apparently there can only be one Spelljammer at any one time. One Smalljammer will mature into a full Spelljammer ship if its predecessor is ever destroyed.
Alien races inhabiting the Spelljammer universe included humans, dwarves, xenophobic beholders, rapacious neogi, militant giff (humanoid hippopotami), centaurlike dracons, hubristic elf armadas, spacefaring orcs called "scro", mysterious arcane, the Thri-kreen insectoids, and bumbling tinker gnomes. Illithids were another major race, but were presented as more mercantile and less overtly evil than in other D&D settings. The Monstrous Compendium series added many more minor races. The simian Hadozee were also introduced into the setting, and later incorporated into the 3.5 rules in the supplemental book Stormwrack.
Shannon Appelcline commented on Spelljammer's 1989 release as the first of TSR's new campaign settings: "The first of these new settings was Jeff Grubb’s innovative science fantasy Spelljammer (1989), which introduced a universe of magical starships traversing the ‘crystal spheres’ that contained all the earthbound AD&D campaign worlds. It suggested a method to connect together all of TSR's settings and at the same time introduced fun new Jules Verne-esque technology that had never before been seen in the game. It was innovative and popular.":26 He added that "Spelljammer (1989), which offered a way to connect every single D&D fantasy world, was thus one of the first true crossovers" in role-playing games.:219 Appelcline commented on the end of the setting: " TSR’s fifth second-edition campaign world, Planescape (1993), was released to replace Spelljammer, which had just then ended. TSR wanted a new world-spanning setting and Slade Henson came up with the answer by suggesting a new setting built on Jeff Grubb's first-edition Manual of the Planes (1987). [...] Unlike Spelljammer this new setting had a strong geographical centre, the City of Sigil, resolving a flaw in the Spelljammer setting that denied players a good home base.":26
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (2nd edition)
The Spelljammer space fantasy supplement was released in 1989. Several of TSR's other campaign worlds had their own sections in the Spelljammer Boxed Set - Realmspace for the Forgotten Realms, Krynnspace for Dragonlance, and Greyspace for Greyhawk. Along with the new sphere - Clusterspace - they were known as the "Big Three and Astromundi". Dark Sun, Ravenloft and Mystara weren't included, as the first two did not fit with the setting and the Mystara only used the D&D rules, not the AD&D rules.
The core Spelljammer product line consisted of four boxed sets:
- Spelljammer: AD&D Adventures in Space (ISBN 0-88038-762-9) introduced the setting and provided the basic rules for spelljamming travel
- The Legend of Spelljammer (ISBN 1-56076-083-4) expanded on the setting, in particular the Spelljammer itself
- The War Captain's Companion (ISBN 1-56076-343-4) provided more detailed ship-to-ship combat rules
- The Astromundi Cluster (ISBN 1-56076-632-8) provided a roleplaying campaign for the setting
The line was expanded by a number of accessories:
- Lost Ships (ISBN 0-88038-831-5) expanded the number of ships
- Practical Planetology (ISBN 1-56076-134-2) assisted DMs who wished to create their own spelljamming setting
- The Rock of Bral (ISBN 1-56076-345-0) provided a home base for adventuring parties
- Realmspace (ISBN 1-56076-052-4), Krynnspace (ISBN 1-56076-560-7) and Greyspace (ISBN 1-56076-348-5) gave information about the crystal spheres housing TSR's three main campaign worlds
A series of five connected adventures was released in the modules:
- Wildspace (ISBN 0-88038-819-6)
- Skull & Crossbows (ISBN 0-88038-845-5)
- Crystal Spheres (ISBN 0-88038-878-1)
- Under the Dark Fist (ISBN 1-56076-131-8)
- Goblins' Return (ISBN 1-56076-149-0)
A full product list is given in the external links.
Dungeons & Dragons (3rd edition)
The Spelljammer line of products was discontinued by TSR before they were acquired by Wizards of the Coast.
In May 2002, Paizo published an article for Spelljammer in Dungeon #92 titled "Spelljammer: Shadow of the Spider Moon". Using the D20 system, it provided new rules for firearms and spelljamming, as well as skills, feats and prestige classes. Spelljammer monsters such as neogi and giff were not used. Instead, it featured creatures from the Monster Manual such as drow, formians and yuan-ti.
In May 2005, Wizards of the Coast updated the Neogi to 3rd edition rules in hardcover supplement Lords of Madness. The book included a chapter with a sample map of a crashed Spelljamming vessel, cultural habits of the Neogi, and the monster's stat blocks.
Dungeons & Dragons (4th edition)
Spelljammer content appears in the 4th edition Manual of the Planes, referencing Spelljammer ships as one method of traveling between planes (and providing information for in-game use for an example Spelljammer vessel).
Dungeons & Dragons (5th edition)
Spelljammer content also appears in the 5th edition Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage. In the adventure, a Spelljammer ship and its Illithid crew appear stranded in level 19 of the titular dungeon.
As was common practice at TSR at the time, a number of tie-in products were produced for the Spelljammer line.
Fifteen comics set in the Spelljammer universe were published by DC Comics between September 1990 and November 1991 with the creative team of Barbara Kesel, Michael Collins and Dan Panosian. Spelljammer comics also uses Jasmine, a winged human character originally introduced from Forgotten Realms comics, as one of the lead characters.
Six novels set in the Spelljammer universe were published by TSR, before TSR was incorporated into Wizards of the Coast. The novels were interconnected and formed "The Cloakmaster Cycle". The novels tell the story of Teldin Moore, a 'groundling' farmer on Krynn who has a powerful and apparently cursed magical cloak that was given to him. He then ends up on a quest, which takes him first into wildspace and then away from his home sphere to distant crystal spheres. The series showcases the wonders and perils of the Spelljammer universe. The novels are now out of print.
- Beyond the Moons by David Cook, (July, 1991) (ISBN 1-56076-153-9)
- Into the Void by Nigel Findley, (October, 1991) (ISBN 1-56076-154-7)
- The Maelstrom's Eye by Roger E. Moore, (May, 1992) (ISBN 1-56076-344-2)
- The Radiant Dragon by Elaine Cunningham, (November, 1992) (ISBN 1-56076-346-9)
- The Broken Sphere by Nigel Findley, (May, 1993) (ISBN 1-56076-596-8)
- The Ultimate Helm by Russ T. Howard, (September, 1993) (ISBN 1-56076-651-4)
In 2002 a team of freelance game modification developers created "The Arcane Space Tileset" for Neverwinter Nights. This tileset included Spelljamming ships, space and atmospheric terrains, along with monsters and NPCs, all set within the Spelljammer Campaign setting.
- Rolston, Ken (February 1990). "Role-playing Reviews". Dragon. Lake Geneva, Wisconsin: TSR (#154): 59–63.
- Appelcline, Shannon (2011). Designers & Dragons. Mongoose Publishing. ISBN 978-1-907702- 58-7.
- "The History of TSR". Wizards of the Coast. Archived from the original on 2008-09-24. Retrieved 2005-08-20.
- Collins, Andy (May 2002). "Spelljammer: Shadow of the Spider Moon". Dungeon (92). pp. 16–65.
- Baker, Richard; Rogers, John; Schwalb, Robert J.; Wyatt, James (December 2008). Manual of the Planes. Renton, WA: Wizards of the Coast. pp. 20, 159. ISBN 978-0-7869-5002-7.
- Perkins, Christopher (November 2018). Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage. Renton, WA: Wizards of the Coast. p. 243. ISBN 978-0-7869-6626-4.
- "The Arcane Space Tileset"