Note: Contains spoilers for Light of Xaryxis adventure
Last week we went through The Astral Adventurer’s Guide to get familiar with the new rules and setting of Spelljammer, and then we tackled some of the weirdest monsters in Boo’s Astral Menagerie. Now let’s look at Light of Xaryxis, the third book in the Spelljammer: Adventures In Space featuring a starfaring adventure for parties level 5-8. Like most adventures in a new setting, Light has to show off everything Spelljammer has to offer without compromising a good story. The Spelljammer release is the first new setting to take this approach, with previous books like Eberron: Rising From The Last War and Van Richten’s Guide To Ravenloft leaving the actual adventure writing to players and the DM’s Guild. With a much truncated page length to work with (64 pages vs a normal campaign’s 200+), did Chris Perkins and his team succeed in getting people hooked? Or is this new adventure just a big sinker?
Any D&D adventure is going to wear its influences on it’s sleeve, and from the jump Spelljammer has never been shy about its influences. Mixing classic sci-fi with high-seas adventures like Treasure Island and Pirates of the Carribean, it’s without a doubt one of the most ridiculous (and polarizing) settings for D&D. This adventure is a perfect example of that, mixing common tropes of the sea (marauding pirates, drunk sea captains, talking parrots) with a plot straight out of space opera (evil empire, lost princess, universal stakes). The big issue with this approach when it comes to this story is that it’s too big of a scope for the book. There just isn’t enough room and, like the other books in the case, just feels overly light. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have it’s strong suits!
Save The World By Blowing Things Up
The adventure begins with the planet your players are on (it’s not named it’s just a place you are) suddenly being attacked by rapidly growing crystal vines coming out of the earth and destroying everything. After avoiding (or trying to fight) the tendrils, your party is whisked away by a friendly sea-captain, and thus begins your journeys on a series of ships as you’re whisked from location to location, plot to plot, with the stakes growing ever higher through really no fault of your own.
The tendrils, it turns out, are controlled by the Astral Elf empire of Xaryxis, who have to steal other planet’s energies to feed their dying star. They’re kind of a mix of the Warhammer 40k Drukhari and Spaceballs. Naturally, their evil deeds have made them a wide range of enemies and it’s up to the player characters to gather a sort of coalition in order to battle them. These include a drunk hippo, a Flumph in a pirate hat, a wizard who’s ex-boyfriend leads a ship of Vampirates, and a dragon riding Gith who hunts mind-flayers.
Look Out, Here Comes The Plot!
The settings are all interesting and the bits of plot that essentially crib from their sources are great, like when you come upon a derelict Spelljammer and have to explore it while being menaced by mind-flayers.You almost get the sense that you’d rather just go explore than deal with the plot, but you have no choice in the matter since it frequently , and literally, crashes straight in on you. Other campaigns have been accused of this borderline railroading, but in such a cramped space as this it feels even worse.
As the adventure goes on and you board your second or third ship, you’ll meet Princess Xedalli, who’s evil twin is behind the destruction her empire has wrought. She’ll be the catalyst for the endgame, where you journey to Xaryxis itself to defeat Emperor Xeleth and put his benevolent sister on the throne. Except it doesn’t really matter what you choose since no matter WHAT happens the ruler of Xaryxis will try to kill them. It’s…kind of a bummer to be honest. Especially since the final choice of the adventure is whether to blow up Xaryxis or let your home planet die.
Several things could be done that would make Light of Xaryxis work. For one, functioning ship combat rules would be a huge benefit here, since you get into ship battles multiple times but mostly just end up doing melees or using them as backdrop for plot to happen. Plus, the very stakes of the adventure are murky. The whole thing is predicated on saving your homeworld from the evil empire, but you get about four pages total on that homeworld before you have to leave it. One of the issues with Spelljammer right now is that planets and things aren’t at all fleshed out like they are in Starfinder. The focus is all on things already in space or the different ports and “islands” you can visit. As such, when your characters enter space and see all the cool stuff out there…they probably won’t care what happens to Generic Desert Planet #34 where they started. Even Star Wars gave Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru a scene to make us care.
Also, ironically enough, space is a huge issue here. It’s wild to me that something like Rime of the Frostmaiden got a whole huge book when it barely leaves a single area of the Forgotten Realms, while Spelljammer’s big adventure debut gets crammed into 64 pages. While definitely a good introduction to the setting, and a boon to DMs who need some ideas for what a Spelljammer adventure should look and feel like, those DMs might want to beef it out more and change a few choices before they run it.
You can pick up Light of Xaryxis as a part of the Spelljammer: Adventures In Space bundle. For a look at another book in that set, check out my review of The Astral Adventurer’s Guide, and don’t forget to enter our giveaway to get your own!
Images via Wizards of the Coast
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