Space, the final frontier. D&D made space-waves last week when it announced Spelljammer: Adventures In Space, a set of three books to take your D&D campaigns from a medieval setting to fantasy, but in space.
A fan-favorite from previous editions, it’s been a hot minute since the greater pop culture sphere was introduced to the world of Spelljammer. What does it mean when sword and sorcery head to space?
As an addition steeped in legacy, we’d need someone who didn’t just work on Spelljammer- they’d need to have their own personal attachment to the previous editions of the space adventure.
We caught up with Chris Perkins, Game Architect for D&D 5th Edition and Lead Designer on Spelljammer to walk us through the return to an equal part beloved and bizarre chapter of the D&D Multiverse.
“When you leave your world in D&D on a Spelljamming ship and you head into space, what you’re really heading into is a new ocean of adventure called WildSpace. It’s a living place, it feels like an ocean. Creatures abide there”, Chris says.” There’s stuff going on there. You can basically have a whole campaign which is just the characters making the journey across this vast ocean. Visiting other worlds, visiting asteroids, visiting cities in space, and that kind of thing”.
While each of the systems in Wildspace will no doubt have their own host of things to do, Spelljammer also contains information for those who might want to head out into open space:
“If you travel out far enough from the star in your system and you get to the edge of your system, the space starts to get all sort of silvery and hazy”, Chris says. “If you keep going into that haze, you transition from Wild Space into a realm we call the Astral Sea, which is this place we’ve introduced in earlier editions where Githyanki lived there, dead gods are trapped there, there’s sort of Astral Dominions and Gods there, there’s also Astral Elves and creatures that live there”.
“It’s sort of an ageless silvery void where thought governs how the mechanics of that existence work. It is a realm of thought but if you travel deep enough into the Astral Sea you may eventually come to the edge of another wild space system, with worlds in it and a star in it and then you’re back in wild space again. This is a medium through which D&D players can travel between the worlds of the D&D cosmology. Different from, say, just using a planeshift spell or teleporting or something like that”.
Considering the vastness of Wildspace, don’t expect a detailed breakdown of every star in the night sky. According to Chris, designing your own corner of the cosmos is something for DMs to look forward to. Instead, he describes these wildspace like corks floating in the Astral Sea- and the root of Spelljammer is more about the journey between these corks rather than finding one to settle down on.
“We leave a lot of the world building to the DM. What this product is doing is exploring the oceans that separate those worlds and making that journey interesting”, Chris says.
“We do however present a couple sample wild space systems so that a DM can understand how they build their own. They’ve got their homeworld which they’re already running campaigns on, now they can start thinking on “where does that world sit in the wild space system? Is it like ours where its like the third planet from the sun? and there are other planets also orbiting the sun?” or is it something weird like in Greyhawk where the sun actually orbits the world?” “, he continues. “Once they make those decisions and the DM creates other worlds in their system, now suddenly this product can help them get the characters from the world they’re on to any of those other worlds nearby”.
Of course, that doesn’t mean Chris hasn’t given Wildspace the signature Wizards-coat of worldbuilding. One of the locations described in the Light of Xaryxis adventure book might ring familiar to long-time fans:
“We get to visit two new Wildspace systems on that adventure that you’ve never seen. There is a brief stop at the Rock of Bral”, he reveals.
“For those of you who don’t know the Rock of Bral is an asteroid city in space, this product includes a big poster map of it”, he continues. “It’s the perfect stopover for characters- they can go shopping, they can go drinking, they can go meet contacts. Its like a campaign hub in space”.
Fans of the original Spelljammer may remember some pretty hefty costs to wanting to voyage through space- it basically ate away at your spellcasters’ resources, meaning a) your crew needed to have one and b) that spellcaster would be at a disadvantage in any combat situations since they’d burn spell slots on the ship.
“Here, when you attune to the chair it does not deplete your resources. You still have to attune to it, and that can take time, but once you do it does not deprive you of things you need in order to survive encounters”, Chris explains.
While some may see it as toning down the intense nature of previous D&D editions, Chris brings up a valid counterpoint: it’s supposed to be fun. And ultimately, that’s the side that they erred with.
“We toyed with the idea of it draining your spells but that kinda just sapped the fun from the character who had to give that resource up just to pilot the ship. I won’t go into anymore details than that, you’ll see when the book comes out that there’s rules for not only spelljamming helms but how you can make them yourself and then the details of what you need to be or what you need to have to attune to one”, he says.
Murder Comets, Whales And Giant Hamsters
But what about the denizens of Wildspace? One of the three books in the Spelljammer Set is a dedicated creature tome, full of space-born creatures to make your life harder, brought to life with fully-rendered illustrations.
“Yeah, part of my excitement for some of these creatures was actually inspired by the artists who just gave us glorious illustrations of some of them. I’m really a fan of the space whales which we call Kindori, they trace their origins back to the original Spelljammer”, Chris says.
“Basically these celestial whales with these bright beam like eyes that course through space. One of the things that enamors me is the idea that you can build a cottage on the back of a whale and basically have your own spelljamming ship which is a living whale guiding you through space”.
The idea of a giant whale floating through space is inherently beautiful and serene. That’s why to balance it out, Chris introduced us to another denizen of Wildspace- the descriptively named Murder Comets:
“Another creature that I really liked are the Murder Comets which are these elemental creatures that race through space and smash up ships and they’re generally bad. You don’t wanna encounter a murder comet in space and if you do, it’s probably trying to destroy your ship which is never good”, he says.
Chris also took the time to share about a big inspiration for the contents of Spelljammer: Adventures in Space. These were his own Spelljammer adventures in his youth, which themselves drew from the episodic and occasionally lighthearted adventures of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
“When Spelljammer came out in 1989 at the height of Star Trek: The Next Generation which I’m a big fan of, it hit me at the right time. Because I was looking to do a campaign in space but I didn’t know how to do it with D&D”, he says.
“I ran a Spelljammer campaign for 5 years and it was very episodic, like Star Trek: The Next Generation. My characters were just on a ship. And every session they’re just visiting a new world and dealing with a new problem, and then they resolve it and they move on. Boo’s Astral Menagerie, which is our creature book in this set gives DMs lots of fodder for creating those kinds of episodic experiences”, he adds.
He also took a moment to shill another great addition to the cosmic bestiary- the space hamsters, whose number include the titular Boo.
“I’d be remiss if I didn’t comment on Space Hamsters. I think when I run another Spelljammer campaign there are going to be space hamsters on every ship”, Chris continues. “They tell you something about Dungeons & Dragons that no matter how serious the conflict might be, no matter how dangerous the situation the characters find themselves in, this is a game that has Space Hamsters. And we need to remember that D&D is an escape, and this is the best escape”.
One stand-out feature of the Spelljammer presentation was a sick soundtrack, consisting of synthwave, sea shanties and some Flash Gordon-inspired music. While he was light on details, Chris said he understood the public’s excitement and wanted to do something with all the music they’d created too.
“So the sea shanty that you heard that accompanied the video, I believe was written by our own Jeffrey Stewart, probably in collaboration with some of his friends at Wizards or whatnot. It’s very much an in-house-borne song”, he says. “I don’t know what the fate of that will be but enough people have asked me about the song now that I’m inclined to say we need to put it somewhere where people can get their hands on it”.
“We are currently working on a top secret project, with a top secret individual to do some Flash-themed music”, Chris continues. “We’re going to have basically an album drop in the not too distant future, and part of the reason for that is one of the great inspirations for me is the old 1980 Flash Gordon film, which I admit is not great- but it’s near and dear to my heart and the music is timeless in my mind, and sensational, and it’s by Queen for those who don’t know”.
Our thanks to Chris for answering our questions about all things Spelljammer- you’ll be able to get your own set of books which include everything for your adventures including three books as well as a DM screen when Spelljammer: Adventures In Space launches on August 16th.