Playing Spelljammer in DnD is a bit different than normal DnD. In normal DnD you try to find quests, get hired, or have to try and find downtime. In Spelljammer, everything is different.
Playing Spelljammer in DnD is an action-packed sci-fi fantasy mix of insanity, creativity, and downtime when traveling from sphere to sphere.
I have been playing Spelljammer for a bit now and it is amazing! I want to share with you some tips on how to run your games, and how to make this one of the most fun experiences you and your group will ever have.
Are you bored of your standard games? The dungeons, politics, or just…. land? Why not try something new! Why not try something creative, interesting, and possibly more deadly than anything else that you could possibly have in a normal DnD setting?
If you are interested in this, then you should check out Spelljammer. Spelljammer takes place in DnD space which is not very hostile. Space in our reality is a cold, unforgiving void of death. Space in DnD is a mild temperature, easy to breath in (for a while), and is easily traversable since magic doesn’t care about a silly thing like gravity.
Worlds are also able to be crazy. You could have a flat world that makes Jupiter look as small as our moon is to us. A world could be circling a black hole, nothing, or even be a cluster of small rocks that are tied together through plants or eldritch magic! Anything you want can happen, and there doesn’t have to be a strong rhyme or reason to it.
That said, there usually is a reason for things being the way that they are. The reason doesn’t have to make sense for our universe, but it should make sense in the DnD universe. For example, it might be important to explain why 1 planet in a sphere has sci-fi technology while another planet is primitive with only stone tools.
Gods are also less important since you can traverse the very rivers of creation, and go to ludicrous speeds through the vast emptiness of space.
This is the setting of Spelljammer, and you are probably interested by it. The only question you need to answer now is how you can go about playing Spelljammer.
Now that you understand the setting, you are ready to understand how to play Spelljammer. Playing Spelljammer is different from normal DnD. Just like how the setting differs, playing Spelljammer differs in a lot of key areas.
In normal DnD your players might have to find quests or have a problem come to you. While this is possible in Spelljammer, you are more about the exploration in Spelljammer than in DnD. Going to new alien worlds, viewing different ideas and possibilities that would never have been possible otherwise.
For example, my players are currently in a sphere that has at first stop a dead planet. Why is this planet dead? That is a tale for them to uncover. Once they figure out that the civilization destroyed itself, they will be able to find pieces of that surviving civilization in the rest of the sphere. Some are factions of nobles that live on a small planet. Others live in an Orwellion 1984 civilization.
A 1984 civilization might be a realistic response to a species that was almost wiped out by war and free thought, but what would that look like? How was this sphere cut off from all others? How did the creator race and space dragons play a roll in this sphere’s fate?
That is a lot of questions that you have to answer, and this is only from the overall political layout of 1 sphere. There are infinite spheres, and you can test out infinite ideas. This is the first part of playing Spelljammer, using creativity and ingenuity to explore topics that would never be normally covered in DnD, but how should you play those games? How should your characters interact with each sphere?
As a character, you aren’t always thrown into the action. There may be a plot, problem, or mystery but at some point you will need to go looking for trouble. In playing Spelljammer, exploration should always cause a scene.
Every step that you take off your ship should put yourself in danger, or an altercation of some sort.
The likelihood of this realistically happening is not very high. Just getting off your ship on a planet might not normally cause a scene since you have an entire planet to explore, but that is the logical approach. Here, we are playing a game of high fantasy and maybe high tech. In these games, we want to do something and thus every step off your ship should be interesting.
I would go as far as to say that the only downtime you should have is when you are on the phlogiston. The travel time from sphere to sphere is 10-100 days, so you will have downtime. The rest should be a non-stop chain of events from the time that you enter the sphere to the time you leave. Even then, you might still be involved in whatever mayhem you have stired up.
How would you still be involved? Well, the universe is a big place and you are not the only ones out there.
Creating a universe
That is an example of what your universe could look like. All nice, mapped out, and technically official. Or, you can make each sphere and create a unique universe of your own.
If you create a universe, then you need to take it one sphere at a time. Beyond that, you should take it one encounter at a time. We talk about this in how to create a DnD plot. You could fall into the trap planning every single encounter in a sphere and go insane.
You could go even more insane by creating an entire world with intricate detail like Toril, or just making an entire universe! These fall under the same principals as our D&D world building article. Just don’t go too insane, and you should be fine.
If you want rules on how to create each planet/sphere, there are some great guidelines in this Spelljammer pdf. It will help you understand how to create planets and spheres, but it won’t tell you about playing Spelljammer, or the villains that will appear in a Spelljammer campaign.
Villains in Spelljammer
Villains in Spelljammer are generally more mobile and have a bigger impact. Villains in DnD at a low level will affect a small village or town, but won’t do much more. Since the scale of Spelljammer is much greater, a low level villain might not threaten a planet, but they will be more difficult to deal with.
A low level villain in Spelljammer might be jumping from planet to planet, trying to get a cult formed around an idea. The story then changes from the players facing a villain in a dungeon, to them chasing a villain in a mad dash to stop their evil corruption.
Plots based around the players chasing a villain are rare in DnD, but in Spelljammer chasing a villain will become a staple thing. Even higher level villains may jump from sphere to sphere, possibly trying to throw the players off their trail with these jumps.
Higher level villains, or even mid level villains can be a galactic threat. A beholder might rally other beholders somehow to form an alliance and threaten all of known space. In the unknown a door to the far realm has opened and your group needs to close it. There are an infinite number of ways playing Spelljammer can make your villains different than normal.
Embrace this weird difference and have fun with it, but don’t forget to consider the small things when playing Spelljammer.
There are many small details to consider when playing Spelljammer. You might need to consider how the players find food, how long they have in the void of space before the air is fouled, and much more.
For these details, you shouldn’t forget them only when they are relevant. If a player is stranded in space, they just die. If a player is stranded and trying to get back, they probably will. You don’t need to know the exact mathematical calculations of each detail. Just know that they exist and use them to make the game more thematic.
Spelljammer has many unique details that make it interesting. For example, ship fighting. If a player jumps from their ship to another, but lands on the bottom of the enemy ship this is fine. It is the exact same as landing on the ‘surface’ or top of the ship since the center of gravity is pulling the player towards the enemy ship, no matter where they are.
These small details can really add to the game and make the idea of fighting in space seem whacky and special. On the ground, you can still have a lot of fun with the small details.
The players land on a planet that is a gas world. This world has breathable air, but only has floating islands as a source of land. You don’t need to know fall damage. Just declare a player dead and gone forever if they fall and have no way to get back up. That is, unless the players pull some crazy shenanigan’s. You don’t need to calculate the details of fall damage, but you should add that they need to jump from some islands to make the distance.
All of these small details will add to the experience making it an interesting session and campaign for everyone involved. But one thing we have not discussed so far is the concept of monsters in Spelljammer.
Playing Spelljammer still involves monsters. In fact, monsters are more plentiful in Spelljammer and weirder than ever! Think of what the weirdest monsters are in DnD. One of these creatures might be the mind flayers. They are creatures from space, and are extremely interesting. This goes for other races as well, and all of the races from space are extremely odd.
You can keep up with this tradition and make new odd creatures. Space whales are for some reason common in every sci-fi game, so you can make your own space whale. Space dragons exist, and many more. Here is just a brief list of some of the weird space creatures that exist in Spelljammer.
As you can see, monsters are whatever you wish them to be. They are almost always alien and even their societies don’t need to make sense. This is due to the fact that they are so different than us that comprehending them is beyond our means. That lack of understanding can be deadly, and spark a lot of conflict.
Many sentient beings band together, and can make galactic empires! You might even have a galactic war in your Spelljammer campaign, or you can make strong primitive monsters.
Primitive monsters can be stuck on planets or able to traverse the space in their own right. There have been many sci-fi examples of this. Almost all originate from the Tyranids in Warhammer 40k, but Starcraft and many other games have created their own variation. You can as well.
This article is fully dedicated to teaching you how to play Spelljammer. We did not go over the specifics of how the universe functions since those details are put into other documents. These documents unfortunately do not go into detail on how to use them, and that is why running a Spelljammer campaign is extremely difficult.
Spelljammer is different than normal DnD. It can be an outlet for immense creativity. Spelljammer is also a constant adventure into the unkown. Wherever the players step, there should be be something waiting for them. Constantly giving them a reason to explore.
Playing Spelljammer is extremely fun and I hope that I have helped you understand the setting a little bit better and what to expect when playing.
This has been Wizo and keep rolling!