As a player who started in Fourth Edition, I didn’t fully know what to expect from Spelljammer: Adventures in Space, Dungeons & Dragons’ return to its wild spacefaring setting. It’s been about thirty years since the last officially published material in this realm, and since acquiring the game in 1997 Wizards of the Coast has only alluded to aspects of it sparingly.
However I’d now argue, as an outsider, that it’s been worth the wait for this triumphant return.
Spelljammer: Adventures in Space differs from most other D&D releases in that it’s a box set of three books: Astral Adventurer’s Guide, a combination Player Handbook and DM Guide introducing the setting’s basics; Boo’s Astral Menagerie, a Monster Manual; Light of Xaryxis, an adventure path for levels 5-8; and of course, a themed DM Screen for atmosphere and reference. This was a wise move on the development team’s part, instead of cramming condensed material into a single book as other setting guides do.
I don’t love this reference, but it’s the easiest way to sum it up: Spelljammer gives you everything you need to run a Guardians of the Galaxy-esque space adventure in D&D. There’s inspiration drawn explicitly from Flash Gordon serials, you encounter bizarre alien creatures (both monstrous and playable) and visit the colossal husks of dead gods floating in the void, and there’s a comparatively goofy, neon tinge to a lot of the art elements. There’s even a dedicated soundtrack available.
Instead of sci-fi spaceships, however, you’ll be sailing on a variety of more traditional fantasy vessels across the Astral Sea. In short, each world in D&D exists in its own unique Wildspace void; fly deep enough into Wildspace, and your party will break into the Astral Sea Any vehicle with a spelljammer’s helm—a sort of magic chair spellcasters can attune to and use to pilot a vessel—can traverse these realms.
To this end the Astral Adventurer’s Guide includes a motley crew of options from galleons to insect-shaped fighters to living vessels. The rules for flying them are fairly simple for the most part, with guidelines laid out for ship combat and the unique inner workings of gravity bubbles and breathable air. Piloting a spacefaring vessel might seem complicated, but the dev team have made celestial travel approachable.
“Spelljammer: Adventures in Space also presents a handful of colourful alien races and some setting-specific character options…”
In the same tome, Spelljammer: Adventures in Space also presents a handful of colourful alien races and some setting-specific character options—a handful each of backgrounds, magic items, and spells. I’m not personally rushing to try any of the races except the astral elves, but there’s certainly a market for them, and I’m sure somebody’s excited for the monkey-like Hadozee or the bipedal hippos, the Giff. (Though the Githyanki, as natives of the Astral Sea, would’ve been ripe for a reprint here, even if they appeared in Monsters of the Multiverse earlier this year.)
On one hand, there’s more material in the setting guide than some recent books, which came as a pleasant surprise; on the other, I was still craving more background from Spelljammer: Adventures in Space. It presents an excellent hub for your space-faring adventures, the Rock of Bral, and enough inspiration for DMs to shape their own version of the astral realms to their campaigns—which opens the doors for countless story hooks, since players can technically travel to other worlds or the Radiant Citadel.
If the spelljammer vessels themselves didn’t sufficiently drive home the connection between space and nautical travel, Boo’s Astral Menagerie certainly will. Spelljammer: Adventures in Space has one of the most bizarre rosters of enemies to date, from more mundane threats like solar and lunar dragons or combatant versions of the new playable races; to spacefaring variants of aquatic creatures; straight through to Lovecraftian horrors.
(There’s also space hamsters like the eponymous Boo, a figure in Forgotten Realms media recently featured in Magic: The Gathering’s second crossover set. Though this set’s cover art highlights Boo and his companion Minsc, the actual heroes are not to be found within—kind of a strange creative decision.)
What may have impressed me most is the adventure path, Light of Xaryxis. While reviewing Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel last month, I lamented that D&D’s adventure paths could be more accessible to DMs during gameplay with more clearly defined formatting—and Spelljammer: Adventures in Space has answered my complaints by laying Light of Xaryxis’s scenes out in a more easily referenced format.
“Spelljammer: Adventures in Space passed the ultimate final test of any D&D product…”
Each section consists of several elements that would suit a flow chart, or even a “choose your own adventure” style of layout. For instance, the text lays out the very first scene and presents various options for how the player might respond; if they stand and fight, proceed to the encounter that follows, or otherwise you can find subheadings for the other available options, like investigating certain things or trying to hide from the initial threat.
As I said in the Radiant Citadel review, this is largely subjective and based upon personal DM styles, but I for one welcome this new format. There’s plenty of room to breathe and improvise around the events as written, and it’s easier to jump around when you’re already occupied with running the game.
It also helps that the adventure was designed in four parts of three chapters each, conceived as 2-3 hour sessions. True to the Flash Gordon inspiration, chapters end on cliffhangers that will leave players wanting more. Combined with the player inspirations and plot hooks presented here and in the Astral Adventurer’s Guide, it should be pretty fluid to weave this spacefaring quest into any campaign or setting, and it serves as a great kicking-off point for longer campaigns, just like The Lost Mine of Phandelver in the Starter Set.
All told, Spelljammer: Adventures in Space passed the ultimate final test of any D&D product: when I put it down, I immediately reached out to my friends to rave about it and schedule our first foray into Wildspace. It’s a well-designed set that adds a literal dimension to the game, and means for accessing one of the most imaginative realms. Now that One D&D is on the roadmap, Wizards of the Coast should keep this set in mind as an example for new products.