Saturday, April 20, 2024

Find Your Spacelegs In Spelljammer With The ‘The Astral Adventurer’s Guide’

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Ahoy! The newest Campaign Collection from Dungeons & Dragons has dropped and it’s the most out of this world one yet: Spelljammer: Adventures In Space. This three-part bundle is the first of its kind from Wizards, containing not just a full campaign (Light of Xaryxis) but also a monster manual (Boo’s Astral Menagerie) and a setting guide (The Astral Adventurer’s Guide). Each of them is a little shorter than the standard releases of the past (Call of the Netherdeep had 224 pages, for example), but together with the included DM’s screen make up a complete package. I’ll be giving each book its due, but I wanted to start with The Astral Adventurer’s Guide, which is set up as the sort of “gazetteer” for the setting of Wildspace while also containing all the new options for players who want to jam spells with the best of them!

What IS Wildspace?

Spelljammer The Astral Adventurer's Guide cover
A Nautiloid is attacked by a Tyrant Ship crewed by a malicious Beholder

Spelljammer expands the scope of Dungeons & Dragons to brand new levels by adding literal space travel in as a way for players to adventure. But the space travel in D&D isn’t your normal rockets and astronauts. No, in Spelljammer you’re traveling through what’s called Wildspace, a place where the Astral Plane and Material Plane collide. You’ll be going between planets not on big rockets or FTL ships, but on what are essentially ocean vessels fitted for travel on the open sea. Piloted from magical chairs called “Spelljammer helms,” crews can go between different planets at will and even go between different planetary systems via the Astral Sea, where nobody ages or needs to breathe.

It is a weird, weird setting. And that’s before we get to the trigger-happy hippos.

Crewing The Ship

Spelljammer's Hadozee
The simian Hadozee are naturally dexterous and can glide short distances with their loose skin flaps.

With a setting like Spelljammer, the designers can get a little funky with the designs of new races. Astral Elves are relatively tame new additions to the game, being simply more long lived versions of regular elves with a few extra benefits from being closer to the Feywild for so long. Autognomes will feel a bit familiar for any Warcraft veterans, and are reminiscent of Eberron’s famous Warforged by being mechanical beings who can still think, feel, and emote in an emulation of their gnomish progenitors.

Spelljammer's Giff
Nobody can agree on how to pronounce the word Giff, not even the Giff

Then we get to our more outright alien species like the Giff, a race of hippo people with a special connection to the Astral plane…which they use to help make really big guns. Unlike the sturdy and stout Giff, the Hadozee are simian folk uplifted by a wizard who eventually turned on their creator before striking out on their own as a new species.

Weirdest of all might be the Thri-Kreen and the Plasmoids, a race of bugs and oozes, respectively, that are the biggest departure from our normal races to date. The Thri-Kreen don’t sleep and communicate with telepathy, and can use their secondary arms to wield light weapons or do extra tasks. The Plasmoids, being a race of Oozes, don’t have a set form but can harden into humanoid shapes in order to wear humanoid armor and use weapons. While they lack many of the immunities of your standard ooze, they still have the benefits that come with being a sentient ball of jelly.

Players also get access to two new backgrounds to help connect with the setting. The first, the Astral Drifter, is a being who has traversed the Astral Sea for decades or even centuries, and in doing so have made contact with a wandering deity. The second, the Wildspacer, is a character born and raised in Wildspace. This has given them experience with the denizens of Wildspace and a natural affinity for zero-g movement.

Space Anchors Away!

Spelljammer ships passing by in The Astral Adventurer's Guide
The crew of a Space Galleon hail the crew of a Squid Ship

The biggest chunk of the book is devoted to the action of Spelljamming itself and the ships you can pilot in the game. While adventuring you’ll need to keep track of your air pockets, your gravity wells, and the unique makeup of both Wildspace and the Astral Sea that lies between the different systems. Some of the rules are things you’d expect from a space game (weightlessness, air quality, physics) but others are much more “out there,” like the way the Astral Sea gives you an innate sense of direction or the fact that you can fish in space.

Not much new magic added in this book outside of an air pocket spell and a way to construct a spelljammer helm, and the only new magic items are the fish suit, which is just a suit for space walks where there’s no air, and the Spelljammer Helms and Wildspace Orrerys you need to travel. Each of the 16 included ships have their strengths and weaknesses, and many of them can work on land or in the sea as well as in Wildspace. My personal favorite is the Turtle Ship, which can not only fly but also work as a submarine.

Ship combat isn’t nearly as exciting as it could be, since the only new things the ships have are fancy siege weapons that the book actively discourages you from using. Which doesn’t seem entirely fair to the DM, but if I know D&D players they’ll want to use those big guns if they can.

Bral So Hard

Spelljammer location The Rock of Bral

If you’re going to have space pirates and seafaring adventures, you need a good hive of scum and villainy to help set up adventures. For Spelljammer, that’s The Rock of Bral, where a city founded by a pirate of the same name has become a sprawling city full of traders, scoundrels, sailors, and nobles. Everything you could want can be found here, and most of the plot hooks for the game are set to start here. There’s a thieves guild that rules the underworld that honeycombs the rock of the asteroid, and a monarchy that rules Bral in name but might not be as powerful as they seem.

The worldbuilding here is lighter than in comparable locations like Baldur’s Gate or the Radiant Citadel, but it has the same little touches of whimsey and adventure that DM’s will need when setting things up. And that’s what kind of makes this book strange overall. It’s just so short. While there is no doubt be more setting work done in the other books, for a splatbook this feels lacking. It’s no wonder they’re not selling this on its own. Overall I definitely think The Astral Adventurer’s Guide is light on details and heavy on novelty, but it’s interesting and unique enough to be a worthwhile gateway to the world of Spelljammer.

The Astral Adventurer's Guide alt cover by Hydro 74
Don’t forget to hit up your FLGS for the special edition version of Spelljammer: Adventures In Space

The Astral Adventurer’s Guide releases August 16th (September 13th in EMEA) as part of Spelljammer: Adventures In Space bundle, which contains the three core books as well as a DM Screen. It can be bought physically on Amazon, at Barnes & Noble, or at your FLGS, the only place to get the Hydro74 alt-covers. The whole shebang will run you $59.99. The digital edition can be bought at Roll20 or D&D Beyond, where it’ll run you $49.99.

Images via Dungeons & Dragons

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