The year was 1990. I was a twelve year-old kid who had fallen in love with TTRPGs. Most of my friends played AD&D (at this point, most of us had started shifting to 2nd Edition [2e]). That meant that I played AD&D, and occasionally managed to talk them into trying out one of the new games I picked up, but we were primarily AD&D kids. TSR had started releasing boxed sets during the tail end of 1e, with the first Forgotten Realms set being released before the switch to 2e. TSR really cranked up the release of setting boxed sets with 2e, though. Just for my own sake, I’m going to list off all of the settings that got boxed set releases, and in some cases how many boxed sets were released per campaign setting. Let’s go!:
- Al-Qadim: Land of Fate (10 boxed sets);
- Birthright (5 boxed sets);
- Dark Sun (4 boxed sets);
- Dragonlance (3 boxed sets, not including Fifth Age sets);
- Forgotten Realms (13 boxed sets, although the core set was actually 1e. This doesn’t even cover all of the sets, because there were also additional sets for other areas of Toril outside of the Faerun region);
- Greyhawk (4 boxed sets);
- Lankhmar (1 boxed set);
- Mystara (5 boxed sets);
- Planescape (6 boxed sets);
- Ravenloft (7 boxed sets); and finally
- Spelljammer (4 boxed sets).
Now, I just went based off of the number of boxed sets. Forgotten Realms had a massive amount of additional supplements, adventures, and accessories during the 2e era over at TSR. This is by no means a comprehensive list, and I probably got some numbers a bit off. Dragonlance Fifth Age had some boxed sets, but technically it wasn’t AD&D 2e, because it used a short-lived system known as the “saga system”, which is why I did not include those in the list.
If you were a kid like me, during the 2e era over at TSR, there was no way you were going to be able to procure all of the boxed sets on a very limited weekly allowance. By the end of 2e, I think I owned maybe seven of the sets above, and two of those were from #11: Spelljammer.
Among all of those settings, Spelljammer was the most divisive among players. It was very much a scenario of either you loved it or you hated it. There seemed to be no in-between.
I was in the camp that loved it. I still do. I’m honestly thankful for TTRPG Twitter for allowing me to discover that there were many people who also had fond memories of that setting. It really wasn’t around for very long. The first boxed set was released in 1989, and the last published game books were released in 1993 when TSR was on its way out. Publication of the Spelljammer setting would cease prior to the acquisition of TSR by Wizards of the Coast, and in the 29 years since has seen no official support, even though there have been references scattered throughout the editions since.
Until now, that is, with WotC announcing that a new official Spelljammer setting book is coming this year (August 2022). Oh wait, there’s more! Early reports indicate that the new “Spelljammer: Adventures in Space” for 5e may in fact be a return to the boxed sets of old. I know that Beadle & Grimm’s has been repackaging (under licensed approval, of course) some 5e content as special edition boxed sets, and it looks like WotC has picked up that those B&G special editions sell out remarkably fast, so there is a market for boxed sets.
For some, this is fantastic news, as WotC has been hinting that Spelljammer is still around based upon lore drops in 3e, 4e, and 5e, without actually releasing a fully devoted setting book. That was understandable, as Spelljammer was never one of the more popular campaign settings back in the heyday of 2e. Lankhmar was the only setting that had less support, and that was largely in part because it was a licensed setting based on the works of Fritz Leiber (d. 1992)1. So the announcement that there is going to be official 5e setting support for Spelljammer is surprising to most, even folks like myself who have been hoping that we would see something.
So why is it that Spelljammer has somehow managed to be revived while more successful settings have fallen by the wayside? Of the 11 settings listed only Forgotten Realms, Ravenloft, and with the recent announcements Dragonlance have seen renewed support. How did Spelljammer manage to slide into that mix of three established and popularly demanded settings, while Greyhawk, Mystara, and Al-Qadim are still stuck in Limbo? Dark Sun and Planescape also have a very vocal fandom, and even Birthright had some unique features.
Here are my guesses:
Greyhawk was Gygax’s setting. After Gygax was effectively run out of TSR, support for Greyhawk started to wane. Similarly, Mystara was the default for “basic” D&D2 and was originally created by Lawrence Schick and Tom Moldvay for their home table, and then officially supported when both went to work for TSR. Later on, Mystara would get supported in AD&D 2nd Edition when TSR started to wind down the other version of D&D. While Greyhawk and Mystara had some unique characteristics3, overall they felt like fairly generic fantasy settings. TSR also went really big on novels, and Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance were dominating during the 80s and the early 90s in that arena. Mystara (aka the Known World) tried to build around actual real world cultures, which was precisely the same lane that Forgotten Realms decided to occupy, with a lot of the human civilizations acting as analogs to real world historic civilizations. Effectively, why do you need three settings that are filling the same role? The answer is, you do not need three extremely similar settings. So, it is unlikely we’ll see official support for Greyhawk or Mystara in the future outside of the occasional reference.
Al-Qadim falls into a similar spot as Kara-Tur (D&D’s attempt at a fantasy feudal “Japan”). To put in bluntly, WotC isn’t going to do anything with those two settings unless they bring on developers/writers/artists who have actual connections to the real world cultures those settings act as analogs for. Meaning that they aren’t going to make those settings with a team of white creatives. It really wouldn’t surprise me if we see Al-Qadim in the next couple of years, especially with a product like “Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel” coming out in June 2022. I think that Kara-Tur may effectively remain in Limbo, although it is still (like Maztica) a part of the overall Forgotten Realms setting.
Dark Sun is a huge pile of problematic, even though WotC did bring it back for 4e. Times change though, and what was acceptable 10, 20, or 30 years ago may not be acceptable now. I won’t go into details on all the issues surrounding the Dark Sun setting here, but it is a veritable mine field of issues.
Planescape? Don’t rule out the possibility of Planescape coming back. Sigil has been referenced multiple times, but part of the core of Planescape is the various factions operating out of Sigil and the other planes. While not exactly the same, the MtG setting of Ravnica with its various guilds kind of covers similar territory. And really, the bulk of the assets to run a Planescape game already exist in 5e. To really get there, they just need to release a 5e Manual of the Planes (or equivalent) as opposed to a Planescape setting sourcebook.
Birthright? While it was an interesting concept back in the day, the idea of playing a party where only one of the Player Characters was a bloodline scion and the rest were just run of the mill characters was just a mess at the table. The setting idea was that one player would play the hereditary ruler, and the other players would play that character’s advisors and inner council. It really was a cool concept, but in my experience just caused a ridiculous amount of infighting at the table. Think if someone smashed Risk into D&D, but the party only controls one nation and the DM controls all the others, and you kind of get the gist of Birthright.
Now we loop back to Spelljammer, and why it was one of the old settings that WotC deemed ripe for reinvention, and my thoughts on that.
To start, the 2e iteration of Spelljammer was a hot mess. Fortunately, I love a hot mess. Always have. At the time that Spelljammer came out, I was also playing Mayfair’s DC Heroes, WEG’s Star Wars, and a variety of other TTRPGs. Most of them were hot messes. Systems back then were often clunky and frequently contradictory. There would be references to tables that were nowhere to be found in the book, and since there was no internet, you were just SOL if you didn’t get a corrected printing. Maybe if you wrote a letter, put a stamp on it, and mailed it via USPS to the publisher they would send you an errata booklet. Maybe. It was, as they say, a different time. TSR was in a unique position in that they had not one, but two regular magazines: “Dragon” and “Dungeon”. If there was a misprint in an officially published book, they had “Dragon” to print the corrections in. TSR also had dedicated editors, something that most of their competitors just couldn’t afford to have as permanent staff.
Spelljammer would provide an answer to a question that a lot of D&D players like myself had been asking: “What if I want to have a game featuring characters from Krynn (Dragonlance), Toril (Forgotten Realms), and Oerth (Greyhawk) in the same campaign?” Before Spelljammer the only way to do this was via extremely high level (and unpredictable) magic. Pretty much just magical portals, that you couldn’t necessarily recreate to get back home. Think something along the lines of “Sliders”, if you were even able to open another portal. So, it could be done to set up your game, but your PCs would likely be permanently cut-off from their land of origin. If it happened, it was usually a plot device by your Dungeon Master to strand you in a hostile setting with no way home. If you were a Cleric or a Paladin, that could also mean that your connection to your god was severed, meaning no more special class abilities or spell-casting until you managed to reestablish connection with your god.
Spelljammer changed all that. It gave a way to travel between what were considered the core worlds of D&D at the time. The quick and dirty of it:
The Prime Material (the plane where all the primary settings are located) consists of all of these massive crystal spheres floating in an infinite sea known as the Phlogiston4. The Phlogiston has currents, which most ships are at the mercy of. Some of those crystal spheres are empty, but most contain a star and one or more worlds. Basically, every crystal sphere contains a star system. Since the setting is high fantasy, these star systems don’t obey real world physics. The Dragonlance world of Krynn exists in a crystal sphere known as Krynnspace. Toril is in Realmspace. Oerth is in Greyspace. Both Krynn and Toril orbit their respective stars in a heliocentric model. Oerth though is a geocentric model with Oerth at the center, with its star and other planets orbiting it. The constellations are not other stars. What most think of as stars are either glowing crystalline outcroppings on the interior of the crystal sphere or similar features (could actually be transparent holes in the sphere and the viewer is seeing the light from the sea of Phlogiston beyond). There are spherical planets, cubical planets, flat planets, and probably even non-Euclidean planets5. Travel from sphere to sphere is done aboard spacefaring vessels colloquially referred to as spelljamming vessels. These vessels are capable of traversing the depths of space by utilizing magical ship’s helms also referred to as spelljammer helms. (The term “spelljammer” gets the same amount of use as “Endor”6.) Some of these ships look exactly like seafaring vessels, because they effectively are seafaring vessels that have just been equipped with a spelljammer helm allowing them to fly, basically. Oh, and ships also have a gravity plane. That gets a bit weird with some of the designs, and makes for entering planetary gravity wells a challenge. When ships leave a planet they take along a bubble of clean air. That bubble will get depleted and “dirtied” until the ship can dock someplace with a clean air supply, like a world with a breathable atmosphere or a large asteroid settlement with its own air supply. There are also magical items and spells that allow the air bubble around a ship to be purified or poisoned7. Spelljammer may also refer to a specific ship, that looks like a giant manta ray with a city on its back. No one knows what’s up with that Spelljammer, but most spacefarers consider spotting it to be an ill omen. Oh, and no one has ever made contact with the Spelljammer and returned to tell the tale. That’s the basics.
On top of that, Spelljammer let you play space pirates. I was a big fan of the 1984 movie “The Ice Pirates”, and Spelljammer definitely had a similar feel. For young me, at least. But that would be part of the setting’s issues: tone. The original boxed set and supplementary materials would swing wildly between high fantasy, cosmic horror, and outright comedy. You have to keep in mind that during the heyday of 2e, AD&D was considered by many players to be for real super serious high fantasy with a dash of pretend historic basis. Spelljammer was considered by many of the established players to be an affront to their sacred game which they kept playing despite the “Satanic Panic” of the 80s. Then here comes Spelljammer, just tossing in stuff like SpaHam (giant space hamster meat) and Dohwar (intelligent space penguins). I loved all the ludicrous pop culture reference goofiness. Many did not share my enthusiasm.
When Spelljammer was initially released there was another question hanging around:
“Is spelljamming magic new, or has it just been around, but just not on the established worlds?”
Well, the lore got a bit messy there, which is where a lot of preexisting players started having issues. Basically, spelljamming magics have been around longer than anyone can remember. The reasoning for why people on Krynn, Oerth, and Toril aren’t aware of all of this space travel is because of the Elven Imperial Navy. The Elves basically decided to basically interdict most populated worlds because of…reasons. So there’s this quasi-Prime Directive thing going on by the Elves. Oh, and the Elves of Evermeet in the Forgotten Realms are 100% aware of all of this. Elven Imperial Navy ships regularly fly down and have active communication with Evermeet. This of course didn’t stop pirates and smugglers from making landfall on those worlds, but they usually took measures not to have their ships spotted by the locals8. In the Spelljammer setting, Elves were the dominant empire…and also potentially guilty of significant war crimes.
This is where I expect the new setting to deviate most significantly from the lore in 2e. In the 2e Spelljammer the Elves had waged massive wars across hundreds of spheres against the “unhumans”. Hence the Unhuman Wars. Really oddly named, seeing as how humans weren’t much involved on either side. You have the Elven Imperial Navy versus a collective force of Orcs, Goblins, Hobgoblins, Kobolds, Xvarts, and basically every humanoid categorized as a “goblinoid” back in the 2e era. The Elves, or course, depict these conflicts as the noble and protecting Elves against the corrupt and brutal goblinoid threat. Yeah, even when I was 12 this didn’t sit well with me. The Unhuman Wars were fought in the distant past, but in the contemporary Spelljammer setting of 2e goblinoids were rarely seen, but there were rumors that they were amassing a new force under the leadership of the Scro9. This would lead to the 2nd Unhuman Wars in 1357 DR10. At least during the 2nd Unhuman Wars there were humans involved (on both sides, which makes the naming convention even more wonky). One of the last 2e Spelljammer modules11 was SJS1 “Goblin’s Return”, that covered the opening of the 2nd Unhuman War, and was continued in SJQ1 “Heart of the Enemy” where the adventurers are tasked with taking out a Scro superweapon that could turn the tide of the war in the favor of the goblinoids.
The 2nd Unhuman Wars arc was so bad it is considered by some to have been the downfall of the Spelljammer setting. Added to the failure of that adventure series, there is also the failure of the last big boxed set, “The Astromundi Cluster” (TAC). The cluster in that set is basically a whole crystal sphere where the planets were all blown up, so there’s just these clusters of planetary chunks and asteroids. Oh, and ships can’t get into the sphere but they can’t get out, because reasons. This was a repeated trope in Spelljammer: the Hotel California12. Here’s an excerpt from Book 1 in that boxed set:
“You hold in your hands the keys to some of spelljamming’s greatest mysteries. Are all neogi necessarily evil? What do the Arcane really want? Do the illithids have a home world?”TSR, “The Astromundi Cluster” (1993)
“The Astromundi Cluster” promised to answer all of those questions. And it did. But it shouldn’t have. TAC really illustrated where TSR and its creatives had made some major mistakes: providing elaborate lore dumps that were frequently contradictory, tonally inconsistent, and answering “questions” that should have stayed unanswered. So, I’ll quickly run down TAC’s answers to the above:
- Neogi: no, not all of them are evil. Writers over on Spelljammer were pretty consistent in breaking Gygaxian bioessentialism (eugenics).
- Arcane: they made a pact with Tanar’ri (Demons) to open a path for their invasion in exchange for “services to be determined”. This ignores that the Arcane are knowledgeable of planar travel (they also appear in Planescape), and should know that Tanar’ri do not honor contracts (that would be the Baatezu/Devils).
- Illithids: revealed to be mutated humans originally from the planet Astromundi, who dedicated themselves to an ancient god named Lugribossk (who is definitely totally not Cthulhu), who stabilized their mutations. After emerging on the surface of Astromundi for their revenge against their surface kin for exiling their ancestors to the underground depths, they found the surface humans already conquered by invaders and just decided to use their connection to their god to just blow up Astromundi. Then they left, spread out across Wildspace, until they eventually returned to the Astromundi Cluster to finish their conquest/revenge. There’s over a billion Illithids dwelling in the Cluster. Oh, and they don’t have to eat brains (brains just make them more powerful?), and they apparently don’t reproduce through the whole tadpole thing.
With the exception of the Neogi question (which shouldn’t have been a question, but certain writers for 2e were already trying to ditch the alignment restriction crap, and that was very needed at the time), the others shouldn’t have been answered because the answers were bad. The whole Arcane/Tanar’ri alliance was absolutely baffling, and very out of character for the otherwise enigmatic Arcane. TAC turned the Arcane into clear antagonists whose goal was the domination of all reality through, well, capitalism. Honestly, not the worst concept, but the execution fell flat and didn’t make sense that a species known for their negotiation skills would enter into a bargain with forces that were renowned for not upholding their end of a deal. The Illithid thing was just a major retcon/contradiction. You may be asking, “Was that supposed to be the origin for all Illithid in AD&D?” Yes. It was. It was almost immediately ditched, and it looks like the new Spelljammer’s Illithid will just go with the current lore where they were survivors from a dead universe locked in a pact with Elder Gods who…well…it’s still basically the same origin, just tweaked.
“What about the system mechanics for ship-to-ship combat?”
I’ll be honest, I don’t remember much about them. The rules on speed and maneuvering were a bit complex, but were basically the same for flying creatures in 2e. It wasn’t terrific, but it was playable. The main issue was making sure that every party member was able to fulfill a role on their ship, otherwise that player would just be bored during every combat scenario. I never felt like the system’s writers really took that into consideration.
Which leads me to the next issue with the 2e iteration of Spelljammer: mechanics. There was the usual “in this setting spell X does Y effect” section common in that era’s boxed sets. Casting was extremely imbalanced in 2e, so the only real complaint to the mechanics of magic in the setting is a complaint about spellcasters in 2e generally. However, a Wizard or Cleric was required to pilot a standard spelljammer helm. The only way in or out of a crystal sphere was via a portal. Locate Portal was a 2nd-level Wizard spell requiring a minimum 3rd-level Wizard14. Create Portal was a 5th-level Wizard spell requiring a 9th-level Wizard. Create Minor Helm was a 6th-level Wizard spell requiring a 12th-level Wizard. Create Major Helm was 7th-level Wizard spell requiring a 14th-level Wizard. Don’t have a Wizard in your party? Too bad, unless your DM handed you an arti-furnace or similar extremely rare and hard to find helm. Which led to some interesting consequences in that the party’s Wizard became absolutely indispensable to the point that it was better for the party to leave the Wizard on ship with some hireling bodyguards than to bring them into whatever space dungeon you were venturing into. If your Wizard dies, you are stranded. There were some ways to mitigate that situation with things like magic beacons, but losing your Wizard was effectively a TPK15. Clerics got some new spells that could save a party indefinitely if stranded, and could use a spelljamming helm, but they had no way of detecting or creating portals in a crystal sphere. Druids were considered a subclass of Priest (as were Clerics). Paladins and Rangers could pilot a spelljamming helm once they gained the ability to cast leveled spells. With the way that Druids were restricted to only certain spells from the greater Priest listing of spells, that meant that Druids would gain access to most of the new Cleric spells, but not helm creation.
I know a lot of people today like to act like having an abundance of charts and tables is bad, but back in 2e they just expected players to do math. For instance, instead of providing a quick and easy to read table of how to determine Spelljammer Rating (SR), we get this:
“A major helm converts magical ability to energy at a 1 per 2 level rate. Round fractions up. A 1st- or 2nd-level wizard provides a ship’s spelljamming rating (SR) of 1, while a 20th-level cleric provides a spelljamming rating of 10. (SR = level/2 rounded up.) Chapter 4 details the importance of the SR number.”“Spelljammer: Concordance of Arcane Space”, TSR (1989), page 18.
It gets worse:
“Both major and minor helms require “fresh” and well-rested spellcasters to function at their best. A spellcaster that has cast any of his possible complement of spells before activating a spelljammer helm loses one spelljamming rating for each spell cast (minimum SR of 1).
Using a major or minor helm even for a short period removes all spellcasting ability from the spelluser until the individual rests long enough to recover spells.”“Spelljammer: Concordance of Arcane Space”, TSR (1989), page 19.
Some of you may be asking, “Wait, so a 20th level Paladin has the same SR as a 20th level Cleric?” According to the Concordance (which was one of the books in the original boxed set that covered rules systems for the setting), the answer is, “Yes.” Both Paladin and Ranger are only mentioned once, and it is here:
“Character classes such as paladins and rangers gain spelljamming abilities at the point that they may cast spells, but cannot spelljam until that time.”“Spelljammer: Concordance of Arcane Space”, TSR (1989), page 18.
I even checked through the various other sets, supplements, and modules to see if there was an errata somewhere regarding Paladins and Rangers when determining SR, and what the core book stated was never updated, so a 20th level Paladin or Ranger is equivalent to a 20th level Cleric or Wizard for the purposes of SR.
By the way, the above equation is only if the caster is using a major helm. Minor helms and other helm types have their own formulas. Not a lot of charts or tables to be found in the 2e Spelljammer books. The time of extensive charts and tables would not happen until 3e, and was inspired by other TTRPGs like Palladium and Rolemaster (the potentate of tables). Trust me, those charts and tables in 3e were a breath of fresh air after having to navigate the mathematical formulas of 2e. Tables were pretty much for the following three things: THAC0, Saving Throws, and what your stat modifiers were16.
Keep in mind that I haven’t even gone into the three books in the “Spelljammer: War Captain’s Companion” boxed set. Book 1 contains ship construction information, which does include a plethora of tables. Book 2 is a ship recognition guide, which covers a variety of new ships, some of which were introduced in adventure modules or other supplements. Book 3 is all about ship-to-ship combat, something that was glossed over greatly in the core Spelljammer set17. I want to delve into Book 2 a little more closely, just to further illustrate some of the strengths and weaknesses of 2e. It runs 68 pages, with the bulk of those being dedicated to ship entries, 2 per page with a few exceptions. Each entry has it’s own profile image of the ship. Let’s look at the Goblinoid Blade. This is a little 2 ton fighter craft that was often used in effectively suicide ramming attacks, and is controlled using either a lifejammer or deathjammer helm (both rely upon lifeforce to power). The Blade was equipped with a single Greek fire projector (GFP), that is listed as having a required crew of 3. The listed crew compliment of a Blade though is 1 for a skeleton crew, and 2 maximum crew. So, according to the entry the crew of the Blade is not capable of actually crewing the GFP. Why mount a GFP? It is not stated in the entry, but it means that after impact from a ramming maneuver, the Blade would explode thanks to the GFP fuel. The crew capacity versus armament crew requirement issue is common in these entries. Some of these make sense. A Galleon wouldn’t normally house a crew compliment capable of firing all ship’s guns at once. Your gunnery crew would only be manning weaponry in certain firing arcs where the enemy vessel is located. The crew complements seem to be determined based upon the ship’s physical parameters (after all, where does the crew sleep). This is where the designs also frequently run into issues. The Drakkar, based off of the real-world longships used by northern European peoples colloquially referred to as Vikings shows the crew complement as 20/10. That means 20 people are required to man the ship, but the ship can only support 10 crew members over long voyages. The Drakkar is also listed as only being a 10 ton vessel with a keel(length) of 100 feet. We don’t have any intact Drakkars in the real-world, only historic references, but they were said to be modified Skeids, which had a similar keel as the spelljammer Drakkar. Skeids could carry a crew of up to 80. The historic record suggests that a lot of these “Viking” people also engaged in long-range trade into the Mediterranean using their longships. While they may not have maintained full warband crew compliments, they would have more than enough people to maintain a skeleton crew, and managed to travel very long distances.
I’ve gone quite a bit further than I intended, and I have not even addressed the problem that was general horrible writing in 2e. Things like racist halflings, the prevalence of slavery in the setting, and some pretty misogynistic depictions of women characters. Unfortunately, this was not unique to the Spelljammer setting. That was all over 2e, and it is one of the reasons why going back and reading these is a bit masochistic.
Anyway, I’m going to cut off this post here, because the entire thing is a bit of a jumbled mess, not unlike 2e Spelljammer! (I may edit it later.)
- Leiber was in general a good sport with letting TTRPG publishers use his world, but the setting was never a major draw considering that Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser were a bit past their prime by 1980. That’s not to say that Leiber didn’t have a following (I enjoy the tales of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser more than Conan or Kull, for instance), but that style of pulp fantasy just never quite clicked with most D&D players, even if they drew inspiration from Leiber’s works.
- Back in the 70s through the 90s, TSR actually published two D&D games. What we currently refer to by edition numbers started with Advanced Dungeons & Dragons in 1978 (AD&D is now referred to as 1e by many). The other was just Dungeons & Dragons, which went through several iterations including versions referred to as BX (Basic/Expert) and BECMI (Basic/Expert/Companion/Master/Immortal).
- Just about every named spellcaster (Mordenkainen, Bigby, Tasha) and a lot of gods and other legendary figures (Vecna, Iuz, Pelor, etc.) were originally associated with the Greyhawk setting.
- Phlogiston is a highly flammable substance, meaning even a candle could ignite an inferno that would completely torch anything like a massive fireball. I really hope they ditch this feature.
- The core three all had spherical worlds.
- “Star Wars” reference. The “forest moon” of Endor with the Ewoks is also just known as Endor, which orbits a gas giant known as Endor, which orbits a binary star cluster where the stars are Endor I and Endor II, and the system as a whole is also named Endor. So the Ewoks live on Endor, which orbits Endor, which also orbits the star(s) Endor, in the star system Endor.
- Cloudkill (level 5 spell) would basically destroy an entire ship’s air bubble, killing entire crews, even after the spell’s duration ended.
- Most human ships look just like seafaring vessels, and were capable of sea travel as well, so they would just splash down in the ocean under cover of night far enough away from the coast, then sail in under regular means the next day.
- That’s just “Orcs” spelled backwards. The Scro were orcs. Orcs with an advanced civilization capable of spelljamming magics.
- Spelljammer used the default Forgotten Realms method of dating known as the Dale Reckoning or DR. This was simply so that players had some sort of reference point, and the Forgotten Realms setting had the most detailed dating system. Odds are, the standard metric of time would have been whatever the Elven Imperial Navy used or whatever the local standard was.
- During the TSR era adventure books were called “modules”. They could run anywhere from about 50 to 100 pages, were typically just folding paper with staples for binding, along with a cardboard dual-fold or tri-fold “cover” that could double as a DM screen that had a lot of quick reference on the inside for the DM. The WotC adventure books are the contemporary version of the module, and still follow a very similar format, but with a greater focus on overall presentation at the expense of content. Modules could be played as self-contained or connected to the other modules in their series. Spelljammer wound up with three different module codes (SJA, SJS, and SJQ), which led to some consumer confusion. For instance, SJQ1 was actually a sequel module to SJS1. Apparently someone at TSR just didn’t like the SJS code, possibly because it stood for “Spelljammer Saga”, and TSR was releasing a new system called “Saga” and didn’t want to sow confusion that the SJS set used the Saga rules system.
- “You can check out any time you like, but you can’t ever leave.”
- All of the old Spelljammer sets and supplements are available to purchase in PDF format over at DriveThruRPG.com. I have no affiliation with DTRPG or its parent company OBS. They are, however, a great resource for good quality PDF scans of some of those older era books.
- Portals would appear at random points at random intervals with most crystal spheres. Others were practically inaccessible as they had no naturally occurring portals.
- “Total Party Kill”. Significantly more common in the TSR era. A big red flag during that period was DMs (sometimes players) bragging about the number of TPKs they had experienced.
- In the TSR era, you had stat modifiers for things like “Bend Bars/Lift Gates” for Strength. 3e would introduce the single modifier rule to stats that would affect saving throws, attack roles, etc. all with the same number. It was ingenious, and makes having a mass of stat modifiers on the character sheet clutter things up. I was going to post an image, but the old official green character sheets for AD&D 2e (the kind you could order from TSR with a DM’s screen) are not available for free. I’m sure you could find something analogous for that edition online with all the little spaces next to the six stats for all the different modifiers.
- Despite popular takes on social media, AD&D 2e contained the earliest (questionably) cohesive attempt at non-combat rules through the non-combat proficiency system, which was “optional” in the first printing of the AD&D 2e Player’s Handbook. The proficiency system would get developed further as that edition moved forward, but was never really streamlined. However, combat was not always the focus of 2e games. Still surprising that they pretty much fell asleep on developing the Spelljammer combat rules until after the setting’s release.