Spelljammer–D&D in space arrives tomorrow in three-volume boxed set

Review by C.J. Bunce

No doubt the most eagerly-awaited gaming event of the year is Spelljammer: Adventures in Space, and at last it arrives tomorrow.  An inexpensive three-book boxed set (including DM screen and two of the most beautiful of the 5th Edition’s pull-out maps) that feels like a standalone RPG, it allows Dungeon Masters and players to explore Wildspace and the Astral Sea.  Combining themes of nautical exploration with deep space–think fantasy mash-ups like characters from H.P. Lovecraft, Jules Verne, Alex Raymond, and Edgar Rice Burroughs–Spelljammer brings new characters and places to 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons, while allowing characters you already know into another world.

One of the favorites of the many recent D&D tie-ins gets his day.  That’s Boo the miniature giant space hamster.  He’s no longer just an “item” in over-sized pal Minsc the Ranger’s inventory but a full-fledged character with stat block, as both space hamsters and giant space hamsters make the cut as one of more than five dozens creatures featured in Boo’s Astral Menagerie, the new Monster Manual supplement for Astral adventures.

Yes, Spelljammer of course depends on the three D&D core rulebooks, but otherwise you could take this away as a fully standalone game.  This year is a great time for bringing sci-fi to RPGs, with the previously reviewed Alien RPG (reviewed here), the Doctor Who Doctors & Daleks updated RPG (reviewed here) and the forthcoming Blade Runner RPG.  Any of these, including Spelljammer, could pull in the elements of Star Wars or Firefly, too, or any other sci-fi property, although Star Trek’s lesser reliance on fantasy would make that clunkier.

Frankly, there’s more room for characters that cross the sci-fi and fantasy genres in Spelljammer, like from classics of fantasy’s past such as Flash Gordon, John Carter, and Dejah Thoris.  Space Clowns look a lot like Beetlejuice, Megapedes conjure the Centipede video game, Jammer Leeches seem like Star Wars’ Mynocks, Neogi could be Bugs from Starship Troopers, the late Norm MacDonald’s Yaphit from The Orville could be a Plasmoid, and the Starlight Apparition shares commonality with the Ghost of Christmas Past (especially the Muppets version, and there’s also Space Swine which should remind you of the Muppets’ Pigs in Space).  Plus several Dragon variants!

The Astral Adventurer’s Guide–the Player’s Guide supplement for this set–teaches players how Spelljamming works, with spells and magic items appropriate to astral adventuring.  The two-sided Rock of Bral poster maps are among the best Wizards of the Coast has produced, the kind that actually will make it to frames and onto players’ walls.  The floating city, detailed in the final third of this volume, can be the centerpiece for an adventure with the addition of six new races: the well-developed Astral Elves, Autognomes, Giffs, Hadozees, Plasmoids, and the insectoid Thri-kreen.  Spelljamming is about travel, and accordingly the book is full of spacefaring ships, many that appear like seafaring ships pulled into the Astral Plane.  It’s the ships that sets this RPG apart from other sci-fi RPGs.  These concepts and designs are unique creations, quite artistic and fantastical–maybe inspired in part by Doctor Who encounters, but going beyond the organic spaceships of that series into something new and exciting.

The Astral Adventurer’s Guide and Boo’s Astral Menagerie all prepare you for the first adventure of Spelljammer: Light of Xaryxis, designed for character levels 5-8.  Light of Zaryxis is specifically inspired by the 1980 Flash Gordon movie.  It’s more of like a sequel than a re-imagining, with a big Guardians of the Galaxy potential for flare.  Princess Xedalli is especially a fantastic addition to the space fantasy genre, a character Alex Raymond himself could have created.

The Spelljammer set is three 64-page hardcover books, plus the fold-out poster map and the DM screen in a full-color cardboard storage box for roughly the price of a single 5th Edition volume.  There’s plenty to enjoy here even if the page count is a bit less than other adventure supplements.  Two editions are offered: the standard and one from artist Hydro74–probably his most fun and full of spectacle of all his designs so far.

The wait is over!  Pre-order Spelljammer: Adventures in Space today here at Amazon in standard format, or here for artist Hydro74’s shiny variant covers edition, arriving tomorrow, August 16, 2022.


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