Lore-Win: Spelljammer, Adventures in Realmspace
The Astral Plane. The Final Frontier.
These are the voyages of a party, to go beyond where most mortals go. Their mission is to find new life, explore new dungeons, and obtain comically large quantities of loot. This is Spelljammer.
Welcome to Lore-Win, the Dungeons and Dragons lore series. I, as always, am your humble Loremaster, Sokar. Today we’ll be boarding our ship and taking to the stars as we explore the lore behind the soon to be re-released campaign setting of Spelljammer.
Sailing The Multiverse
As I previously covered when discussing Sigil, the universe of Dungeons and Dragons has three ways that the multiverse works. Planescape, the setting that Sigil hails from, details one way of traveling between the various worlds.
In Planescape, you may use portals or teleportation magic to traverse the planes. Through these manners, you can go to all the heavens, hells, and the realms that lay between them. In Spelljammer?
Well, in Spelljammer, you sail in style.
At least, for a given value of "style".
Source: Spelljammer: Adventures in Space (AD&D 2e)
Spelljammers are magically-powered boats. By using spell slots to power them, a party can leave the plane that they are accustomed to and take to the Astral plane. Or, Astral sea if you’d prefer. There, you can sail among the stars, traveling to and from other planes, partaking in all the adventure that they have to offer.
A Faerunian crew could take off and head over to Krynnspace, also known as the world of Dragonlance. There they might fight pirates who are preying on the local populace. The drow city of Ust Natha, as seen in Baldur’s Gate 2, had a number of spelljammers that would dock there, some owned by pirates who would recruit crewmates and travel the Astral sea to claim riches. Others were owned by creatures such as Beholders, who would come to the Underdark for their own purposes.
In fact, Beholders are not originally from the planet of Toril. Their home lies elsewhere. In -2381, three Beholder colony ships were even recorded as crashing into the Alimir Mountains at the eastern border of the nation of Calimshan.
This makes them quite similar to another race feared throughout the Forgotten Realms: Illithids. Illithids too traveled across space to arrive on Toril using Spelljammers. There are even other bases throughout the solar system, or Realmspace, that Toril inhabits. Around Glyth, the sixth planet from the sun, lies a hollowed out moon named Haven. And it is an important base for the Illithids.
Haven acts as a meeting ground for rival Illithid factions. Only Illithid ships may land on this moon. If anyone else tries…
Well, the Illithids will thank you for your donation to the buffet at their negotiations.
Om nom nom.
Source: Monster Manual (5e)
All that is to say that aliens are among us, and they have Spelljammers. But how do these wondrous machines work?
To give a detailed explanation, each Spelljammer is a fantastic vessel, often featuring sails. These sails harness the wind or phlogiston to travel. Phlogiston, for those unaware, is the fluid that fills the space between the crystal spheres that make up different realms.
Within the emptiness between planets inside one of these crystal spheres, a Spelljammer can reach speeds up to 6.8 million km/h. At its helm, a Spelljammer has a “captain’s chair”, also known as the “helm” in a confusing naming scheme. This seat allows powerful magic users to transfer arcane (or divine!) energies into propulsion for the vessel, allowing it to travel freely between worlds.
To give a more simplified explanation: Spelljammers are powered by spell slots. The higher the spell slot burned, the more power that the Spelljammer gets.
And in return, the caster also gains an awareness of the spelljammer itself. They feel the ship as an extension of themself, while also being aware of their own body and surroundings within it.
Between the vast expanse of traveling between realms and the limitations of adventuring across Toril lies Realmspace. This is, in essence, the solar system that Toril inhabits. At its center lies a sun, and at its very edge a massive crystal orb that contains all of Realmspace within.
Around the sun orbit 8 planets of varying size, various moons, and many asteroids. Between all those? Some call it, “wildspace”, others, “an empty void”.
Going through the planets, the sun may seem like effectively what you’d expect: a big ball of fire that warms the rest of Realmspace. But the reality is more interesting. Its surface is covered in portals to the elemental plane of fire. In fact, creatures immune to fire may even inhabit the surface of the sun, which is largely fire and molten earth. Also, interestingly, are twelve spherical zones of dead-magic that orbit the sun at 64 million km. Each of these spheres is 160k km in diameter, and serve as the terror of many spelljammer crews.
The closest two planets to the sun are the “Dawn Heralds”. The first of these is Anadia. An amber-coloured planet, Anadia is mostly covered in wastelands thanks to the heat of the sun. These wastelands are hostile to most life. That is, most life except for umber hulks and other beasts that wander the wastes. But, at its poles, Anadia features two warm and humid regions. These were full of green, rolling hills and vegetation, with mountains at their center. They are also the habitable regions of the planets, with halfling populations.
An Umber Hulk. Not the friendliest beast in Realmspace.
Source: Monster Manual (3.5)
The next “Dawn Herald” is a blue world called Coliar. Coliar is a gas giant dotted with floating islands. The great wizard Elminster owns a hideout among these islands. But besides the occasional presence of famous wizards, other inhabitants have permanent homes there.
Three species call this gas giant their home: aarakocra, lizardfolk, and dragons. Many nations exist between the first two, and often the avian and reptilian peoples would engage in territorial disputes with each other and engaged in trade with visitors. The dragons, on the other hand, tended to ignore visiting spelljammers unless provoked. However, one massive dragon made their home on an island at the center of the world. This dragon considers any approach provocation. So, only head to the center if you're ready to fight an ancient red dragon.
Word to the wise: you're not ready to fight an ancient red dragon.
Source: Monster Manual (5e)
The third world from the sun is Toril, or Abeir-Toril, with its moon Selûne. Despite what you may believe, the surface of Selûne is not a barren rock, like it appears. That's just an illusion. Instead, Selûne is more earth-like than you'd expect. There are lakes and two large seas. There are cities and roads, three mountain ranges, and many spelljammer docks on the dark side.
Moving further out, we reach the outer planets, or “the Five Wanderers”. The first of these is Karpri, a blue world covered in oceans but for its polar caps. Those, like most polar regions, are cold and icy. They serve as the home of cold-loving creatures like polar bears or yetis. There is also a community of gnomes who live on the south pole, and aquatic elves who live in the waters.
But Karpri also has another feature of note. One far more dark and sinister. An elven station stitched together from spelljammers orbits the planet. However, none of its crew remain. Its inhabitants are long dead, and yet their spirits still wander the decks. That’s right, it’s a haunted, elven space station. Ripe for plundering.
The second of the Five Wanderers, and the fifth planet from the sun is Chandos. Like Karpri, Chandos is covered in water. Unlike Karpri, it also contains a number of unstable islands, which sink and rise at random.
In terms of population, Chandos has violent and primitive humans, dwarves, and collaborative yet isolationist orcs. Other inhabitants include various land animals like squirrels, rats, and rabbits. The boundless oceans are also the home of aggressive and intelligent fish. There are also intelligent and carnivorous plants that inhabit the more temperate regions, hunting other living beings. The polar regions also have islands. And despite what you might think, no, the ice in the polar regions does not make those islands any more stable.
Next in line: Glyth. Third of the Five Wanderers, sixth planet from the sun, and den of many, many Illithids. Glyth looks like a horrible gray orb in spite of its magnificent rings, and it is. The planet is thoroughly under the control of mind flayers. What regions they do not control, they have burned to the ground. That way none can hide from them. Illithids on the surface keep humans as cattle. Illithids in orbit on the moon of Haven host rival factions. The moon of Mingabwe at least welcomed all races, though its own, smaller moon of Polluter was home to two evil magical items.
Yet further afield orbits the world of Garden. Though, “world” might be a strong word. While it seems like a single planet, Garden is more interesting. In truth, its surface is a series of smaller bodies connected by a single massive plant named Yggdrasil's Child. The main trunk of this massive plant is woven together from hundreds of other trees. The limbs of it can spread out hundreds of meters.
Garden's population is mainly pirates. Of note, the asteroids and other masses that are connected by Yggdrasil's Child are actually far enough apart that a skilled spelljammer pilot could fly between them. Garden also has 12 moons, one of which, Dragon Rock, is shaped like a white dragon and was created by an evil wizard. Another, Farworld, serves as a trading port.
And so we come to the final world, H’Catha. H’Catha is weird. It is a flat, 480-kilometer thick disc of water with a single mountain at the center called the Spindle. The Spindle always points towards the sun, is 1,600 km tall, and 320 km wide at its base. All of these unique properties give H’Catha the appearance of a great wagon wheel, spinning through space.
Also interesting is H’Catha’s population. It’s all Beholders. These Beholders maintain six ports of trade run by six warring breeds. These accept spelljammers belonging to Beholders, a race known as the Arcane, or other species with goods to trade. However, they will only accept other species on the condition that they leave immediately after they finished their trade.
H’Catcha also has two moons. The first, Turnbetl, has an extremely flammable atmosphere. So volatile in fact that a single fireball would ignite it. Naturally, spelljammer crews keep a wide berth.
The other, Lumbe, is both metallic and cylindrical. That enough may give you the idea that it isn’t a natural satellite, and the doors at either end will further that line of thought. These doors allow access to the moon’s interior, a seemingly-abandoned wizard’s laboratory.
Of course, these are but the locations within Realmspace. There are many, many more that lay beyond the great crystal sphere. Whether those destinations are Greyhawk, Dragonlance, or a realm of your own creation, only you can decide. But whatever they are, you still need to get there.
Where to find a Spelljammer
Alright, so, you’ve got an idea where to go with your brand new spelljammer. But where exactly are you going to get a spelljammer?
Well, beyond stealing one from a Beholder or Illithid crew, or traveling down to take one from the drow, there are a few options. The elves of Evermeet maintain a small fleet, though they may not easily part with them. Plus, spelljammers have been seen flying through the skies over several southern nations in Toril.
However, the sourcebook for Spelljammer from AD&D 2nd edition provides a quest of its own. Your party has heard tales of a great vault at the bottom of a mine or cave network. After fighting through the usual dangers and guards of appropriate level, they find not a cache of treasures, but a strange, vast ship.
Or, vast to them at least.
The book suggests nothing larger than a Tradesman. It's a smaller space ship.
But, it's still a space ship.
Source: Spelljammer: Adventures in Space (AD&D 2e)
Playing with the switches and levels inside, something happens. The earth above them opens up, and reveals that the ship was hidden beneath a protective dome. Congratulations, you have just defeated a crew of space pirates, taken their port, and claimed yourself a spelljammer.
This article has been a long time coming, and I hope that it has provided you with some ideas on how you might incorporate spelljammers and the wonders of the multiverse into your campaign. Traveling the many worlds can be a great time, whether you’re fighting Illithids, acting as pirates, or just trading with the many different worlds.
And if you’d like a source book to help with your adventure beyond Toril… well, be sure to preorder Spelljammer: Adventures in Space at the Tower today!
Until next time may all your rolls be crits.