Sunday, July 26, 2020

Spelljammer Reimagined

I've been thinking a bit lately about how I might revise Spelljammer (not that I haven't done Spelljammerish riffs before) and so this serves as a bit of a companion to my Dark Sun and Ravenloft pieces. Here are my notes:

Greater Economy of Space. While it's certainly an aesthetic choice, how I would want to run a game of ships sailing between worlds isn't enhanced by a lot of crystal spheres. The detailed one's only seem to connect D&D IP and made up ones would tend to be like systems in Star Trek or Star Wars--generally only with one place of interest. I think a denser packed, smaller setting is better--though of course smaller is relative. We're still talking a system that encompasses numerous worlds. I'm think one very overstuffed primary system (cosmos or cosm), and perhaps a couple of other, more mysterious ones. There might be other cosms out there, but they aren't as closely linked.

No Spelljamming Helms. Space travel should be due to a specific technology, but I have something more like the alternate physics of Garfinkle's Celestial Matters, maybe. Some special material like Cavorite or lift wood will likely be necessary.

No Elves. Well, maybe there might be something somewhere named elves, but what I mean is, I think I would avoid standard D&D species/races in favor of more science fiction ones, maybe just reskinned from stuff in D&D. The Star Frontiers borrowings in Spelljammer might well show up.

More fantastic. There's just air in space, or at least the in-cosm space ships typically travel through, no need for all the rules about ships and air envelopes. Rock or earth generates gravity (maybe it's a property of elemental earth?), but ships themselves or other objects.

Psionic/Psychic Powers Over Spells. I'm not completely sure of this one, but I feel like framing magic more as psionics without out and out trad wizard rare and notable would enhance the sort of planetary romance feel.

Flash Gordon, Alex Raymond
Storm "The Pandarve Cycle," by Don Lawrence and others.
Celestial Matters. Richard Garfinkle
Iron Wolf and Cody Starbuck both by Howard Chaykin
Brass Sun: The Wheel of Worlds, Edington and Culbard.
The Rediscovery of Man stories by Cordwainer Smith
The Airtight Garage, Moebius
Treasure Planet (2002)


Tanner Yea said...

You ever read that 3.5 adaptation of Spelljamer they did in one of the Dragons back in the day? Think it was called Spider Moon or something similar. Definitely has that density of space you're looking for. This also reminds me of the Savage Worlds setting, Slipstream

Dick McGee said...

Thoughts in response:

Maybe take a look at the Savage Worlds Sundered Skies setting for some ideas? It's a "floating islands & airships" that might be good for inspiring a Spelljammer asteroid belt or somesuch. Maybe a crystal sphere filled with the shattered remains of former worlds but no intact planets at all would fit your "economy of space" better than the more traditional models?

A sphere full of skylands would be a good place to run a point crawl with the points' relative positions moving around slowly if you wanted to go that route.

Replacing helms is a good idea, in part because it keeps the party from needing a couple of casters who are essentially stuck playing bus driver for everyone else. Something less readily transportable than the helm is probably the way to go, maybe you need a keel (maybe with attached figurehead?) made of some magical material for a ship to spelljam? Something too big and too integral to the ship to just be moved to a new hull easily when the old one gets shot up. Hmmm...having a figurehead and making the spelljammer itself an intelligent magic item on a grand scale might be interesting, if not a universal approach to the "tech" used.

No elves? Have you been playing Talislanta? :) I like the Star Frontiers idea. Yazirians would be right at home on a spelljammer, I always like seeing Dralasite blobs as a PC race, and Sathar make great baddies no matter the setting IMO. Somehow I see them slithering around with repeating crossbows and magical barbed whips and the like, and using obscure psychedelic poisons. Maybe teamed up with the tsochar from Lords of Madness? The mind-control worm-parasite things, think they were in Eberron too.

Actual, Eberron used a lot of weird psionic stuff. Might be some ideas to mine there too.

Air in space would relax the main "resource management" problem for long journeys. That might or might not be a good thing depending on how you set up your travel times between locations. Makes for more interesting encounters too, since there are more critters that could just flap around in space.

Never a huge fan of psionics as such but reskinning magic as psi is easy. Bonus points if you give everything newer, more properly Vancian names while you're at it. Raises the question of what you want to do with deities and the difference between divine and arcane "spells" in setting. Maybe instead of gods there are extradimensional psionic entities with conflicting goals that grant some lesser mortals part of their power in exchange for service? Hmmm...that's basically a god anyway, isn't it?

Trey said...

@Tanner - I have the Spider Moon issue and liked parts of it at the time, but it's been so long, I don't remember much about it. I don't have much Savage Worlds experience at all.

Trey said...

@Dick - Regarding the economy of space idea, I have in mind things like Pandarve (a habitable Jupiter size world with a lot of moons) and Burroughs' Beyond the Farthest Star setting where multiple planets occupy the same orbit and atmosphere torus.

Dick McGee said...

Beyond the Farthest Star was a fun read, always wished ERB had done more with the setting. Pandrave is from the old Don Lawrence comics, yes? That was an interesting one too, although looking at the wiki I missed most of it.

Pulpatooner said...

I'm very enchanted by the promise of Spelljammer, but I quickly lose interest in the actual setting/mechanics. I'm onboard with a lot of what you're discussing, however, and will follow any further developments with interest!

Celestial Matters sounds like 100% my cup of tea. I'm ordering a copy right away!

Jay Dugger said...

Look up Larry Niven's "The Integral Trees" and "The Smoke Ring" for a hard SF version.

Trey said...

I'm sure familiar. :)