Spelljammer was one of the weirdest AD&D settings, so I wasn't sure if it would ever be brought out of retirement. After all, D&D in space with different worlds held inside crystal spheres that float around in a sea of colorful, flammable gas called phlogiston isn't the easiest mass-market sell.
Except that it is. With the release of Spelljammer: Adventures in Space, WotC has brought Dungeons & Dragons to the final frontier. But is it worth buying, or should this box set be sent through the airlock?
- Main Takeaways
- What is Spelljammer?
- What's in the Box?
- Light of Xaryxis
- Is 5e Spelljammer A Waste of Space?
- Actually Using Spelljammer 5e in Games is Great
- Is Spelljammer: Adventures in Space Worth Buying?
- Spelljammer: Adventures in Space brings Dungeons & Dragons into a space-faring setting, featuring different worlds within the Astral Sea.
- The box set has a severe lack of lore in the 5e version, telling GMs to make it up on their own. This is not what a setting book should do.
- The setting's lack of detailed mechanics for ships, space combat, and ship control has led to requiring homebrew solutions, impacting gameplay negatively.
- The ease of access to Spelljamming helms and ships makes the setting less dangerous and feel less special and engaging.
1/24/2023: Since I originally wrote this review, I've spent a lot more time with Spelljammer, having run a campaign from 1-8 and that will likely finish up the Light of Xaryxis story in a level or two. And I am deducting 1.5 stars from my rating. Instead of 4 stars, I believe that Spelljammer: Adventures in Space sits solidly at 2.5 out of 5.
Why the change of heart? Well, a couple of things.
The lack of mechanics for ships in general, whether that's space combat, maneuvering, or basic ship control is actually a huge hindrance in actual gameplay. I've had to homebrew a ton of things just to give the party members things to do while on the ship, both in and out of combat. That shouldn't happen.
The easy accessibility of the spelljamming helms and ships makes the setting so much less dangerous that it's almost boring to explore. Combine that with the chill Astral Sea versus the old, flammable phlogiston flow, and your party of hardened adventurers are basically on a pleasure cruise more often than they are a space heist. The actual act of Spelljamming should be special, and in 5e, it's just…not. It's common, and that takes some of the magic away (pun intended).
The current lore-sparse 5e mentality is hardcore at work here, and I don't see how anyone who hadn't read the old series of novels from the '80s and the 2e sourcebooks could make any sense of what's presented here. The stuff that's here is really really cool, but the stuff that's not there is really really important.
And there are so many holes in the story that don't blend together well that I recommend hitting up DMs Guild to fill those in with side-quests like Saving Commodore Krux. My party had more fun with it than most anything else in the WotC hardcover. Sigh.
For instance, take the Eye of Doom that appears later in the Light of Xaryxis adventure. This is basically a black hole, a “swirling, flightless vortex” that is “slowly pulling the system's planets, moons, and crystal shards into it.” Sounds pretty righteous, yeah? An awesome set piece that will definitely play a major part in the story since they're sending you to Doomspace…to learn of and avoid the horrible fate that awaits the entire system as it enters the Eye of Doom.
What's that? No? It won't? No, of course not. Because instead of actually telling players what this super-awesome space vortext is, it literally says “that's up to you.”
Now, as Dungeon Masters we know of course it's up to us! But we buy these books for ideas, for lore, for mechanics, and things to yoink and use in our games. Telling us it “might be a gate to another dimension, an alternate reality, or another Wildspace system” is useless. We got that, y'all. We know what it might be. We want to know what it is.
All that combined makes me unable to really recommend that you buy Spelljammer: Adventures in Space unless you find it at a deep discount. The art is gorgeous, the covers are neat, and there is enough good stuff in here to warrant a $25-$40 purchase. Just don't expect it to be a “complete” product like you'd get from the Curse of Strahd box set.
But for real, take what I say below with a grain of salt because while the surface-level stuff is still great, and I am very glad I ran it, I can't wait to be done with Spelljammer so I can run something with more substance and bite. You can definitely tell the difference in how I feel about it after a few months now, versus how I felt just a few weeks in. I thought that was important to note.
Like I said, 2.5 out of 5 stars, and I think that's being generous after spending the past few months with it.
What is Spelljammer?
As I said, Spelljammer is D&D in Space. It's definitely still fantasy and not even science-fantasy. It's swords-and-sorcery among the stars. The only “science” you get in Spelljammer is what's already in D&D to begin with — things like gravity, flammable gasses, gunpowder, laser pistols, and so on.
The ships are controlled by wizards and other spellcasters through magic. Players can encounter space dragons, space whales, even giant space hamsters.
The biggest selling point (outside of being able to travel through space on giant ships that look like turtles) is that Spelljammer is designed to link together the entire D&D multiverse. Players can travel on a Spelljamming vessel from the Forgotten Realms to Krynn to Greyhawk to…well, wherever you want, really.
What's in the Box?
The Spelljammer: Adventures in Space box set retails for $69.99 (with the digital D&D Beyond version at $49.99), but most stores will discount the entire thing to around $40 USD. I bought both the Digital version and the alternate-art box set, and I feel like I am definitely getting my money's worth out of both.
However, this is definitely a YMMV situation, and of course the ~$40 price is a much better deal.
The content itself is split into three separate volumes, each containing a core part of what DMs will need to run the campaign. Each one of the books is 64 pages long, which adds up to 192 pages of content — exactly how much is in single-volume sources like Tasha's Cauldron of Everything.
There's also a really cool and sturdy DM Screen in the set, and it's actually useful this time around. I love that it has various rules for space travel on it (such as suffocating and gravity, etc.) as well as some ship measurements and even a map of the Astral Sea for you to reference. I use this one stacked with the one from the alt-art box set that Monsters of the Multiverse came in.
Astral Adventurer's Guide
Basically the DMG of Spelljammer, 6 new player races and 2 backgrounds, spelljamming rules for Wildspace and the Astral Sea, 16 different ships, and a gazetteer (and a big ole poster map!) for the hub of the setting, the Rock of Bral.
Boo's Astral Menagerie
Spelljammer's bestiary contains over 50 monsters with neat abilities and lore, and the art is just stunning. From Giant Space Hamsters to Space Clowns, Solar and Lunar Dragons, Vampirates, all the way to Murder Comets, it really is a menagerie. Heck, we even get some Dark Sun cameos with the Ssurrans and their Defile magic.
Light of Xaryxis
Light of Xaryxis is the adventure module of the set, designed to take characters from levels 5-8, through Realmspace, Doomspace, the Astral Sea, and the butterfly-shaped imperial capital of the Astral Elves. I'm not going to include the ToC for this one to avoid any potential spoilers for y'all, but have a look at this super pretty alt-art, would ya?
While it may seem weird that LoX starts at 5 for an all-new setting, it's not. WotC released a free series of 4 adventures on D&D Beyond called Spelljammer Academy that works really well as a prelude to Light of Xaryxis and takes your part from levels 1-5.
All that being said, the real question is this:
Is 5e Spelljammer A Waste of Space?
I don't think so, no.
However, I've waited to write this review for a couple of weeks because I wanted to play with the content myself. Other reviewers have been pretty harsh about the box set because it's not very crunchy (especially in comparison to the stats and numbers included in the 2nd Edition version) and more of the creative burden has been left to the DM.
Admittedly, this is a valid complaint. For example, look at the image below of the newly mapped Astral Plane. 4 of the 6 Wildspace systems on the map are unnamed, generic locations instead of canonical settings. Neither are the ‘Astral Dominions' tied to any sort of faction or group — nor are the ‘Dead Gods' identified.
The only two that have details are Realmspace (where the Forgotten Realms are located, of course) and Doomspace because it plays prominently in the Light of Xaryxis adventure from the box set. (These also have cool maps in the style of the one above inside the Light of Xarysis.)
Personally, I am fine with this because those are going to be marked as Krynnspace (Dragonlance) and maybe even Dreadspace (for the Domains of Dread like Ravenloft). Despite that, however, the lack of canonical content for a setting book is the one criticism I can agree with.
(Others, such as having easily traversable barriers between wildspace systems (instead of being locked inside Crystal Spheres) and removing phlogiston in lieu of the Astral Sea are also contentious. My groups are definitely going to be encountering phlogiston nebulae out there so…)
Actually Using Spelljammer 5e in Games is Great
As I said above, I wanted to wait to write about Spelljammer until I was able to play with it myself and not make any assumptions regarding it from just reading.
Now that I have, it's a ton of fun. The way we're handling this campaign (which is in-person) is for me to DM the parts from Spelljammer: Adventures in Space, while another DM tags in and uses Journeys Through The Radiant Citadel as a hub and serial narrative that ties together the more episodic stories of Spelljammer.
Some of the best parts of using Spelljammer 5e have been giving the party a list of roles they can play on the ship and telling them to choose among themselves who does what and seeing their faces when they discover that Mirt the Moneylender from Waterdeep is now the founder of the Spelljammer Academy.
We've had ship-to-ship combat, and not having crunchy rules made it easier to present cinematic combat where the characters were flying between boats and playing with gravity without having to worry about calculating meters-per-second, trajectory, and all that. Over time, though, that's waned a lot.
If those are your things, there are rules out there for it. You can grab the old version of Spelljammer for $9.99 for crunch or you can check out the free Wildjammer homebrew for 5e, which is pretty fantastic. Plus DMs Guild is always full of amazing supplements for this sort of thing.
Spelljammer Player Options
Honestly, y'all, the best part about Spelljammer 5e is the races. The Giff are hippo people, Plasmoids are playable oozes, and Thri-kreen are the insectoid race of your dreams (or nightmares, depending).
And that's not even considering the Astral Elves, the robotic Autognomes, or the flying-monkey Hadozee. Our players are having so much fun roleplaying these things, and I am super excited to start playing my new Plasmoid Divine Soul Sorcerer this coming week in an entirely different campaign.
The set only comes with two backgrounds, but that's okay. They're pretty awesome, and they're kind of leaning into the OneD&D (the new playtest for whatever the next edition of D&D will be) style of backgrounds granting genuine bonuses. For example, the Wildspacer background grants the character the Tough feat, while the Astral Drifter gives Magic Initiate (cleric).
Let's Not Forget the Spelljamming Ships
It's impossible to review and talk about D&D in Space without talking about the spaceships. And the ones included here are pretty amazing. 16 different ships are presented in the Astral Adventurer's Guide, and regardless of which adventure you start with, the players gain access to decent ones pretty early on.
There are fan-favorites like the Mind Flayers' Nautiloid (seen above), the standard Space Galleon that looks like a pirate ship (sails and all).
And the b-e-a-utiful Damselfly (below).
We decided to give our crew a Turtle ship because our group is actually pretty gigantic (9-12 players regularly), so we wanted a ship that could handle them all.
However, it's a pile of junk right now, worth a bare fraction the 40,000 gp it's valued at in the book. We're going to make them work to upgrade it, repair it, and figure out its secrets and how it ties into our overarching story. (Personally, I can't wait for them to take it underwater the first time so I can make a good two-thirds of the ship flood.)
All that said, each of the ships comes with a full map and cross-section, which helps immensely in getting the crew oriented to the craft they're going to be spending a lot of time on.
There are also basic rules for installing Spelljamming Helms into anything weighing over 1 Ton so that you can convert it to a spelljamming ship (like a space whale skeleton, for example).
Is Spelljammer: Adventures in Space Worth Buying?
I think so, yes. It's not perfect, and it does rely on the DM to flesh out parts that maybe should have been spelled out in the text. However, this is not the first time that's happened with WotC's 5e hardcovers (*cough Descent into Avernus *cough cough*).
The content that you do get in Adventures in Space is fantastic IMO, even if you don't feel the content included is worth full retail price. All D&D books get discounted pretty heavily at different retailers, and even the sales already out there make Spelljammer 5e a pretty good deal.
If you're a DM who only plays by what's in the book (or an Adventurers League player), you may be disappointed by the lack of specifics included in parts of the set. Whether that's phlogiston, crystal spheres, canonical systems, crunchy space combat, or whatever.
However, if you're like me, though, and you focus on storytelling and immersion first and end up using rules you like and discarding those you don't, then Spelljammer 5e can be a decent and oh-so-pretty addition to your shelf.
Note: score was updated from 4/5 to 2.5/5 on Jan 24, 2023.
Overall Rating: 2.5 out of 5
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