Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/03/07/tabletop-review-spelljammer-adventures-in-space-advanced-dungeons-dragons-second-edition/
Wow. I can’t express how happy I am to have the Spelljammer: Adventures in Space boxed set once again available to the public. Sure it’s in PDF form instead of in a fun box, but you can’t lose the maps and ship handouts with a digital copy like twelve year old me did with the physical version. Spelljammer is just such a fun and fantastic idea and along with Planescape and Ravenloft, it remains one of my three big campaign settings for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and is a big part of why 2e is my favorite version of D&D.
Spelljammer somehow manages to change everything you know about D&D while still holding true to the mechanics and core ideas of the game. Through it, you can have a wonderful blend of sci-fi filtered through a high fantasy lens along with the ability to travel from say Oerth to Krynn and then on to Toril. It’s really a wonderful idea and in fact, one started by Gary Gygax himself with Expedition to the Barrier Peaks. After all this earlier OD&D adventure had characters entering a sci-fi location with strange aliens and technological marvels a plenty. What Spelljammer did was simply flesh out the sci-fi aspects of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons while still making them work with wizardry and iron age combat. Spelljammer is the setting where Beholders and Mind Flayers were given complete ecologies, histories and homeworld. It’s the setting where the tinker gnomes of Dragonlance were given a serious look. It’s where Lizardmen were first treated as a playable PC race. It’s the setting that gave us Giffs, Neogi, my beloved Rastipedes and of course GIANT SPACE HAMSTERS. I could go on for hours about everything that makes Spelljammer so entertaining, but suffice to say, the fact that you are getting the full boxed set for only $9.99 makes this not only a must buy, but perhaps the biggest bargain on DNDclassics.com
Spelljammer: Adventures in Space gives you two core books. You get The Concordance of Arcane Space and Lorebook of the Void. The original physical boxed set also came with eleven handouts and four maps. These are now included with The Concordance of Arcane Space‘s PDF. Everything looks as crisp, clear and colorful as with the original print copies and it’s easy to read all of these on either computers or e-readers like a Kindle Fire. Now, the maps and handouts are only the size of a regular page now that they are in PDF form, but that’s a minor kibble at best.
The book you should read first is The Concordance of Arcane Space as it gives you the introduction to Spelljammer. Here you get an overview of the setting and what to expect from it. This is where terms like Wildspace, Phlogiston Spheres and other Spelljammer specific jargon gets explained for the very first time. Even if you never play a Spelljammer campaign, the explanation for everything is just so fascinating, fun and imaginative, that you’ll enjoy reading it. I can’t believe how fresh this feels even twenty five years later. Rules for air quality, gravity, temperature and time are all things that you’ll find in The Concordance of Arcane Space – mechanics you’d never need or even think of for other campaign settings.
Although most of the playable new races are found in The Complete Spacefarer’s Handbook, you will find rules for Lizardmen PCs here. You’ll also find some very important rules for playing a Cleric in Spelljammer and how it can be quite hard to gain spells outside of you God’s sphere of influence. Conjuring and Summoning spells also take on different characteristics. Fire however may have the biggest impediment. This means a lot of common spells and especially healing magic take on a new twist, causing players to think different about what kind of a character to make and the tactics they will use.
Of course, what would Spelljammer be without rules for how to buy and/or build your own ship? That’s all in here too. Of course, building a ship is extremely expensive and you have to maintain a crew to boot. This means Spelljammer is an excellent way for long running characters to use that hard gained loot that is just sitting around somewhere. You’ll also find rules for ship on ship combat, saving throws for all sorts of potential hull materials, crew based morale checks and interplanetary travel.
The last thing we’ll look at in The Concordance of Arcane Space is “The Rock of Brawl,” which gives DMs and players alike their first playable Spelljammer location, complete with story seeds, a cast of memorable characters. There is a lot of great stuff here and the map still looks great. The map does have one minor problem with it though. In coverting it from an oversized map from the boxed set into a standard PDF page, the words “The Lesser Market” and “Dungeon” are warped and blurry. There’s also a red dotted line going through the entire map towards the top. A minor quibble, but one purists might grumble over.
Now let’s talk The Lorebook of the Void. This second book in the “boxed” set is also a lot of fun. The first chapter in the book gives DMs a lot of ideas and suggestions for running a campaign in space as well as one that flitters between worlds. You are also given a glossary of terms and a fun ideas on making alien versions of common D&D creatures. One great example is the Beholder bartender who has a Detect Lie eye instead of the Death Ray one. This lets it be an effective bartender and patrons don’t have to worry about being killed instantly. They do have to worry about disintegration or petrification if they don’t pay their tab however…
Chapter Two is all about Spelljammer vessels. You’re given a whole host of crafts along with their stats. These are common spacefaring vessels and should help DMs running a Spelljammer campaign immensely. The Gnomish Sidewheeler and Neogi Mindspider are amongst my favorites. Chapter Three is entitled “Spacefarers” and it talks about the culture of various D&D races in space. You get a really nice look at all the PC and NPC races common to the game, regardless of setting and how alien versions might be different from established worlds. Goblins, Ogres, Giants, Centaur, Dragons and even Undead have their own listings here. Of note are the entries for Mind Flayers and Beholder, as this is the book and setting that really defined both as a species instead of just creepy looking antagonists. Lycanthropes too have a long and highly detailed section in this chapter – for obvious reasons. The chapter then ends with Monstrous Compendium entries for a lot of creatures, all of which are tremendously entertaining and worth using. Chapter Four is “Known Spheres” and it talks about the core D&D worlds: Krynn, Toril and Oerth, along with important planets or moons within their sphere. That, my friends, is the entire book.
So yes, you’re getting all this plus maps and handouts for under ten bucks. It’s a terrific deal and one any D&D fan can make great use of. Even if you don’t play Second Edition AD&D, the ideas, mechanics and creatures presented here can be applied to any version of the game with a little effort and the end result will be well worth it. Out of everything on DNDclassics.com so far, this is by far my favorite offering (so far) and with a little luck, it will be yours too. Now, let’s see those Ravenloft and Planescape boxed sets on the site as well, am I right?