Sunday, January 17, 2010

Spelljammer Advice

A friend of mine is planning a 2nd edition AD&D Spelljammer campaign. I really liked SJ many years ago, and from memory I compiled the following notes.

The Spelljammer rules and published adventures are chaotic, inconsistent. Sometimes they don't even enforce the major rule that the helmsman has lost all his spells for the day, or the major rule that the strategic (not tactical) speed of all ships is the same.

The former highlights the biggest problem for an adventuring party that controls a 'jammer, one of the characters (two, really, if the ship is running 24 hours) must give up his spells to helm the ship, which means either:

1) the players with spell-casters should have an extra character because one will be mostly-useless when out in wildspace, or

2) NPCs take care of the helming, often a lowish-level type since the low level doesn't affect strategic speed. But in battle either the players sacrifice one of their high level spell-casters, or they are at a disadvantage in maneuver (another reason to board, if you can get close enough).

The weapons are ridiculously too accurate. Yet rarely, in a battle, is a ship destroyed (I remember my 40 ton galleon disintegrating!); instead, boarding action is the order of the day. So SJ battles often become the equivalent of building encounters (castle, etc.), two or three ships locked together and otherwise-fairly-typical D&D combat going on (but more 3D action). I have deck plans found online that can be printed out at a size for actual play (square grids). One fellow made a physical Hammership (for combat, not for looks) that I still have, about four feet long.

The tonnage of ships (which is supposed to be gross tonnage, that is, volume) is way out of line. Somewhere I have a list of the squares of the deck plans compared with the tonnage, and it varies wildly. There evidently wasn't any editorial oversight on SJ.

SJ is really intended for characters up in the 7-13 range (first or second edition), not for lower ones. But insofar as much of SJ can consist of going somewhere and then exploring a place in the traditional manner, it can accommodate lower levels. Nonetheless, I'd get characters into SJ when they were already at least 7th level.

The Neogi are built up as major bad guys, but aren't really very tough. (Insane) beholder ships--Just Say No! Ships full of Illithids and their slaves are scary enough, thank you.