Revising the Spelljammer Rules

Table of Contents:
Using the Spelljammer rules as an add-on
Helms and Combat
Flitters and non-magical engines (NME's)
Spelljamming crews
Gravity, air, and atmospheres
Combat part 1: Encounters, and ship movement
Combat part 2: Ship combat
Combat part 3: The price of failure
Combat part 4: Ship repairs
Spelljamming ships: game design issues
Other aspects of the Spelljammer setting
The phlogiston
Thoughts on the development of a spelljamming society


Using the Spelljammer rules as an add-on

    It was stated that the intent in creating Spelljammer was to "take AD&D into outer space". This was accomplished (though I’ll leave final judgment of the degree of success up to you) but I must say that I believe the Spelljammer material was needlessly saddled with the notion of connecting other AD&D world settings while performing this task. The reason is that too much focus was placed upon the latter and the former suffered because of it. While many existing campaigns have had Spelljammer rules "attached" to to them and have turned out fine my own experience with it was a mixed bag. I have come to believe that Spelljammer suffers from some fatal flaws and the worst of them is this idea of simply adding it on where a campaign already existed.

    Spelljammer essentially comprises a whole new setting for AD&D in the same way that the Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance or Dark Sun are self-contained settings, but Spelljammer was not presented as a stand-alone setting. Indeed, with its initial release the worlds that would comprise a Spelljammer setting required personal efforts on the part of a DM to create from scratch. Not that this was necessarily a bad thing (the need for a DM to get creative) but it certainly didn’t make it easy to actually make practical use of Spelljammer "right out of the box". In fact it wasn’t until a year later when the various "-space" supplements began to be released that anything beyond the barest framework for actually running an "AD&D In Space" campaign was seen. Even this could not be called a proper setting for Spelljammer as it simply expanded the details of the existing settings to make full use of Spelljammer rules - they were not truly Spelljammer settings, merely settings being made Spelljammer compatible.

    The reason I didn't (and still don’t) care for this approach is that the sudden introduction of such things as spelljamming ships could - and should - cause drastic changes in a campaign. E.g., with access to flying ships there is virtually no area the PC's cannot reach with great ease that were previously inaccessible to them because of terrain. Traditionally, many adventures are designed around the very fact that it takes time and great effort to reach remote locations in a typical campaign world. Now, with spelljamming ships at their disposal, PC's are never going to travel overland for any significant distance without first having been denied access to their ship. Journeys around the planet that used to take weeks or months now take only minutes at best. If a civilization has had access to spelljamming for a decent length of time they should have at least mapped all of their planet if not actually explored it.

    This is not to say that exceptions and accommodations can’t be made for introducing Spelljammer to an existing game, but such simple, logical effects were not properly considered in Spelljammers’ presentation and when added to a campaign instead of starting over afresh, a campaign is not likely to be able to accommodate these sudden shifts very well unless the DM and players studiously ignore the importance of spelljamming in a non-spelljamming world. In a campaign that has been running for a while the DM has spent some effort to figure reasonable reactions and consequences to events that have taken place in the world. Spelljammer did not recommend starting from scratch to avoid the problems of the sudden changes in the campaign, nor did it provide a true self-contained setting as it should have, nor did it even have a reasonable approach toward dealing with those problems of the sudden change. The result is that if you use Spelljammer in combination with ground settings such as Greyhawk or the Realms you must be willing to make rather extreme changes in an existing campaign, and/or flatly ignore glaring continuity errors - and then still have problems left to solve.

    One such "continuity error" is that throughout Spelljammer materials PC and NPC perspectives on wildspace & spelljamming are just not reasonable or logical, even within the framework of the game. Let’s examine three different approaches to this subject.

    First, is a Spelljammer game where peoples throughout the former ground-only campaign haven't known about spelljamming and those from space haven't made their presence known. Now, they are suddenly mixed together when one discovers the other. According to Spelljammer the spacers tend to consider themselves somewhat superior to the "groundlings" and don’t give them much thought. The groundlings in turn feel that the happenings of wildspace are not of concern to them and maybe never will be. Sure, the initial groundling explorers would return with some pretty unbelievable tales, and groundlings hearing of Orc fleets, ships full of Illithids or Beholders as well as new dangers such as the Neogi will decide that wildspace is probably a good place to stay away from. However, the same can generally be said about what they know of their own worlds wilderness areas with tribes of Orcs, the Underdark full of Drow, and greater dangers like dragons.

    It would be ludicrous to assume that a few tales would keep the interaction of the two worlds to the bare minimum. Those dangers in space need to be guarded against and that means that groundlings will have to learn the ways of spelljamming in order to defend themselves. However, there are allies to be found in space as well as formerly unknown dangers. How can it be assumed that the political opportunities and dangers will simply be ignored?

    Not all of wildspace is in danger of being swamped with evil creatures you know, and those areas will contain new markets for groundling products and new products for groundling markets. Merchants the world over will begin to take advantage of this - how could they not?. Even if they don’t wish to expand their territory the investment in a spelljamming ship - no matter HOW expensive - will be easily paid off when they can move goods from Calimport to Waterdeep to the Dales in a matter of turns instead of months. No more paying for horses, or camels, or oxen, or wagons or all the guards that are needed to shepherd a caravan through the wilderness. A shipment from Calimport can be loaded aboard a spelljammer in an hour, flown to Waterdeep in a few turns where it is unloaded and a new cargo bound for the Dales is loaded, and is in turn delivered and the ship returned to Calimport where it can easily repeat the process before the day is out! A single spelljamming ship could carry as much goods in a day as a ground caravan might move in a month - and over a greater distance!

    And this revolution in moving goods will not be without a price. Eventually, there will be so many spelljammers flying same-day deliveries as if they were UPS or Federal Express that the only ground caravans that can make money are those which only move a short distance and which the spelljammers would consider too small to be profitable. So, what happens to all those towns along the trade routes who used to thrive by serving the caravans that passed through? What now when they have suddenly lost their livelihood? What services can they offer the new merchant fleets that they couldn’t get at their home ports? What happens to the hordes of men who used to guard caravans for a living? What happens when merchants of one country are quicker to adapt to the new spelljamming business than another? Will they go to war to protect their country's’ economic health?

    What happens when Thay assembles a fleet of a dozen spelljammers and bombs Waterdeep? What happens when they fail but return with a fleet of 40 spelljammers?

    Then there's the second approach.  These simple questions I've been asking are but the tiniest portion of those that must be asked when spelljamming comes to a new and well-established world. If you were to attempt to dismiss these questions by saying that the groundlings and spacers have been aware of each others existence for years and "this is simply how it is" my response would be "WHY? This state of affairs makes absolutely no sense!" Certainly any PC in such a hopelessly static campaign would be foolish not to attempt to take ruthless advantage of the situation. When the PC’s state that they are going to spend a week dropping rocks on an enemy castle before attempting to assault it from the ground you can be sure the DM will begin to make changes but then why wouldn’t those changes that would be necessary to defend against PC actions have been made the world over long ago because NPC’s would have tried the same thing somewhere else?

    And the third approach is still no better.  As can be seen from the above, planning ahead to play out within the game those changes caused by the introduction of spelljamming could make for some interesting play, but this still ignores the full potential of Spelljammer which simply requires that it have a full setting all its own without "interference" from other settings. The sheer bulk of population on established worlds like Toril of the Realms or Greyhawks’ Oerth would be problematic without placing arbitrary and artificial restrictions on the availability of helms to the groundling populations and then trying to explain those restrictions in a way that makes sense.

    Even the very nature of the adventures to be played in a Spelljammer game will be different simply because of the uses of spelljamming ships. Example: the PC's are following an ancient map to get to a ruined temple. Why would they walk on the ground instead of fly? What happens then to all the encounters that would have contributed to the adventure that are now missed? Instead of allowing them to cruise directly there aboard the ship tell them that they MUST be on foot in order to be able to follow the map and see the appropriate waypoints. It is helpful to compare Spelljammer to sci-fi rpg's where player characters have a similar relationship with a ship to see how even though the campaign pivots around the PCs ship the individual adventures don't have to. But, this points out the nature of the changes spelljamming has on a groundling campaign.

    Consider that the very concept of Spelljammer largely revolves around having PC's aboard ships, especially a ship of their own. It was my experience that this creates a natural tendency to concentrate on that aspect (ship-to-ship combat) because it simply replaces so much of what took up the game-time in the campaign. Random monster encounters become random ship encounters. While it can be exciting and fun, this aspect of Spelljammer is more like running a board game than playing a role-playing game and isn't for everybody, especially since as a pure board game Spelljammer ship combat is quite lacking. Thus there is a need for the DM to work to get the PC's to adventure off their ship at least as much as they do while on it in order to keep some of those old adventure elements alive. They need to engineer adventures where the ships role is minimized or is of secondary importance compared to the other actions of the characters. This keeps the ship itself from becoming too much the focus of the game.

    Some of these difficulties can be eliminated simply by centering the campaign upon, say, a single planet or city (such as the Rock of Bral). After all, you can run a Forgotten Realms campaign without the characters ever leaving Waterdeep or going beyond the Dales, but again, such campaigns aren’t for everyone and that leaves problems for those players and DM’s who would like to see Spelljammer reach its’ full potential.

Helms and combat

    Helms, even though they are at the heart of the setting are the worst of the offenders in the system for creating problems. Their sale values, indestructible nature, and the drain upon helmsmen (which is disproportional to their use in the game) combine to make their revision a must.

    Helms of some kind power all spelljamming ships with the standard Major and Minor helms being the most common. Even in a sparsely populated Spelljammer setting that's a large number, yet these helms are supposedly not producable by normal means and unobtainable except in special circumstances. This begs the question of how there came to be so many helms in existence. It is similar to the difficulty many have with the existence of so many +1 magical weapons since the difficulty of producing +5 weapons is not seriously greater yet they are so much more rare. It is suggested that the Arcane are the only ones who know the secret of their manufacture, yet there are also simple spells which create temporary helms. By AD&D magic item creation rules these could be used in enchanting permanent magical helms in a normal fashion by a sufficient level mage or priest. There is no indication of why this should not be possible so again the monopoly by the Arcane goes unexplained.

    It is suggested that the supply of helms is controlled to a degree by the Arcane.  They are supposedly the only suppliers of new helms (as well as other spelljamming materials), yet the helms themselves are all but indestructible. So, with every helm the Arcane create and sell the available supply of helms gets bigger with an insignificant number of them being lost or destroyed - helms are otherwise too valuable NOT to be removed from any ship wreckage. Without some special provision for helms being returned only to the Arcane one must conclude that they have no real control over the helm market whatever (given the large number of helms that must be present in any campaign) and that they would have only the gall to make such a claim.

    Helms are very important to everyone in a Spelljammer campaign. They are what makes a campaign a Spelljammer campaign.  Without ships to travel between worlds Spelljammer would effectively be Planescape instead.  Without helms the ships have no ability to travel between worlds.  Their great expense was probably intended to reflect this importance, but consider what happens when the PC's get attacked by other ships. When they win they get to take the entire enemy ship hull and its helm to sell (assuming they didn't completely destroy it). Even if they did destroy the hull, amidst the wreckage is a helm worth upwards of 250,000 g.p. {NOTE: if you can buy it for that much then somebody is selling it for that much and you can damned well do likewise.  Moreso, since they are indestructible and so do not depreciate in value.}  After only a few victorious ship engagements the PC's are filthy stinking rich having sold off several hulls and helms. There are ways to get around these windfall profits of course, but this would be treating the symptom and not the disease. That disease being that with hulls and helms as spoils for the victor of any ship engagement, instant wealth is assured for PC’s. Especially since if they are not victorious - they are generally dead. {More on this below.}

    Without an economic setup to keep such valuable items in perspective their sale values make for economic chaos. There is a difference between an item which is valued for its innate capabilities and one which is valued for it's rarity and this difference is not being taken into account in Spelljammer. The best steps to take would be to drastically lower the g.p. value by at least a factor of 10 if not more and/or to make them vulnerable to normal kinds of damage (perhaps as a hull is damaged the helm attached to the hull is similarly damaged). There are side benefits to making this change other than keeping money out of the players hands. It now becomes much more attractive to conduct boarding actions rather than just duke it out ship-to-ship to the finish (a damaged ship and a damaged helm being worth a lot less and a new helm being worth less than it used to to start with). Running boarding actions also gets the characters involved on a much more personal level than the boardgame action of typical ship combats.

    Given that the way helms power ships is by converting the energy of memorized spells into motive force the need for spellcasters to act as helmsmen is obvious. But there are a number of problems or failings regarding this simple method of function:

    I can't understand these sorts of drawbacks being in any way necessary or even desirable for the setting. Does the honor of making the ship simply go forward need to be balanced with such heavy restrictions as this? Certainly the problems created by spell drain are unnecessary in light of the fact that there are other types of helms without such drawbacks to the helmsman - and which don't even need spell power to function. This would seem to invalidate the entire idea that spellcasters alone should be allowed to be helmsmen and makes it hard to rationalize why the less universally effective major and minor helms would be the more common ones. Now, I realize that I can create whatever types of helms I wish for my own campaign and so eliminate these aberrations; the point is that I should even find it necessary. The major and minor helms are the games’ "backbone" of power sources for spelljammers and I would have thought that the implications in their use would have been better thought out.

    And doesn't all this smithing and refining of ore require coals and flame? Unless we are going to start altering physics as we see fit (a less than elegant proposition) that would use up air so fast the ship would never be able to leave orbit for more than a matter of hours- a day or two at best. Since the flame prevents traveling beyond a sphere into the flammable and explosive flow (and no other helms are listed which are capable of propelling a ship the size of a Citadel) even the usefulness of this type of ship as a merchantman is horribly limited. These ships would have to be constructed specifically within the sphere they are to operate in and are obviously worthless for pursuing warfare beyond a single sphere. Even then their range is limited within that single sphere because of the tremendous speed with which air is used up.

    Tactical speed for the forge is given, but how many workers are required to travel at full spelljamming speed? Finally, is it just me or does it seem silly for a crew of rough and tumble guys like dwarves to be forging ornamental swords, hammering out tin lamps, and doing finish work on a batch of belt buckles while their ship is being maneuvered in the middle of a deadly combat?! That is the very scenario created when dealing with the forge helm.

    No, the need to even begin thinking up all sorts of additional helm types (which Spelljammer materials began to do right away) is an indication that perhaps the basic concepts of how and why helms function needed to be re-thought in order to fit a wide variety of campaigns to which Spelljammer might be attached.

Flitters and non-magical engines (NME's)

    Besides the magical helms there are the second-rate non-magical engines (NME's) which will also power spelljammers, though at much slower speed. These are problematic too and I find it ironic that the explanation for why they should be dumped is vastly longer than the explanation given of their original use and purpose for the game. There is such a tremendous range of possible NME types that it's quite impractical to include all the necessary details to run them properly. I would have found it much easier to just ignore NME's entirely if it weren't for one particular ship type - the elven Flitter. These fighter-craft don't generally need long-range travel capability and so they are nearly all powered by NME's. Full-blown magical helms were correctly, and logically, noted as being far too expensive to be a practical power source except in isolated cases as when a flitter would be used as a long-range scout or messenger craft.

    Some are of the opinion that the details of the function of NME’s do not matter, but like many other aspects of Spelljammer the devil is in the details. There are many possibilities here, too many in fact. Rockets, pedal driven propellers, water jets, GSH’s (Giant Space Hamsters) on wheels... Do they use fuel? How long can they be used for? Will using more than one increase the speed? None of these questions were brought up and the Flitter is (IMO) a very distinctive ship - one which helps to make the Spelljammer "setting" what it is. In order to have the Flitter retain the role it was given using NME power it is necessary to begin to make significant alterations to some of the more basic parts of the Spelljammer system.

    There is also some question as to just how fast flitters are. In some places flitters are said to be capable of only 1 SR (and this is supposed to be the maximum speed capable with NME's) but most references to flitters give an SR of 2. An editorial oversight possibly but even if the references were consistent there are still more questions regarding NME's. It seems silly at first to state the obvious like this, but if a non-magical engine isn't magical then it must be technological. There are any number of methods that can be imagined for propelling a fantasy craft like a flitter in a "weightless" environment, but some semblance of physical laws must still apply even if it’s fantasy physics. These details just can’t be left undefined. And even when we apply those physical laws new problems arise as we try to solve old ones because a NME must fulfill some demanding criteria.

    What sort of technological approaches to propulsion are we talking about here? How about a pedal-driven propeller, Leonardo DaVinci-style air screw, or a large bellows? Compressed air held in a balloon of some sort might work. Most of my own thinking here involves some sort of combustion chamber and Greek fire or some similarly volatile chemical combination creating crude rockets. Given these sorts of ideas there are some questions concerning their use that should be dealt with.

    While it isn't stated, it would seem that an engine must work equally well in powering a 1 ton Flitter, a 30 ton Tradesman, and a 100 ton Armada. If it isn't magical shouldn't this require making the engine larger or by using more of them, thus drastically increasing the cost? How much larger, or how many more would be required? What if their size or numbers just barely fail to meet minimum requirements for an SR of 1? What if you add even more engines or a larger engine than necessary in an attempt to increase the SR? If it runs by some form of combustion what rate of fuel consumption does it have, how readily available is the fuel and what does it cost? Most people think of combustion as producing flame. If so, it won't be much use in the phlogiston. Even if it doesn't produce flame what by-products does it produce, if any, and will these affect the atmosphere envelope of the ship? If it is pedal-powered or something similar that requires effort from crewmen, how long can they maintain speed without exhaustion? Will the SR increase if pedaled faster by a larger crewman like a giant or if the crew are Hasted?

    There must be some good reason why this engine is not in general use as a means of travel on civilized planets everywhere. Small spelljamming craft are relatively cheap, at least as little as normal sailing vessels, and the NME is also cheap. Why then shouldn’t these be in heavy use for overland travel?  Even if you assumed that regular spelljammers should remain horribly expensive, which I personally find uncalled for, there has to be a reason why NME's aren't filling the gap as a much cheaper alternative for so many functions.  Even if it is difficult to use these engines continually in the presence of gravity (as would be the case for overland travel as opposed to merely lifting off and landing) they have to have some uses besides that of powering flitters in space. This is a particularly important aspect: these engines are non-magical and therefore must move ships by producing some sort of thrust which would be equally applicable on the ground as in wildspace. Not necessarily as useful mind you but applicable nevertheless. What about their sale prices? For an engine that uses rare, expensive chemicals to produce thrust I can still see their original 10,000 g.p. price as reasonable - but for a pedal-driven wood and canvas airscrew? Even given the need for exotic materials in their construction it would be hard to justify the cost, not to mention difficult to justify the need for exotic materials in constructing a simple non-magical device. To simply say "it just works" is an excuse for magical effects. To state that it isn’t magic but "it just works" nonetheless, exceeds any reasonable level of suspension of disbelief. How vulnerable are they to damage and how would it affect their performance if they were damaged?

    If I wanted to bother I could probably think of a lot more questions - but why bother? It should be painfully obvious by now that the idea of a non-magical engine is either something that should not be an integral part of the setting due to the practical complexities involved, or else should be thoroughly overhauled and fully incorporated into the setting - perhaps even to the exclusion of magical helms! If they are used, and if its use is widespread (as in flitters) there must be a reason for it not to have been in use as a means of common transport over the ground and not just interplanetary transport.

    If you want to further explore the possibilities of NME's go ahead (I could easily build a very interesting campaign by doing away with magical helms altogether and using only NME's), but I suggest in its' place a third type of standard helm instead to go with the Major and Minor types - the Non-Jamming helm. It would be a magical helm like the others and standard purchase cost from the Arcane would be 5000 g.p.. It functions like other full helms except that it cannot move a ship at spelljamming speed - only tactical speed which it provides at a ratio of 1 SR per 4 levels of the helmsman - and cannot move ships over 10 tons.

    Exploring in depth the possibilities inherent in elven Flitters proved to be very revealing of Spelljammer shortcomings. Another that came up as a result was that further description must be given of the physical duties required for steering a spelljamming ship. Why, you ask? Well I noticed that for whatever reason the elven Flitter is left without a deck weapon (ballista, catapult, etc.) although its primary function is supposed to be combat. Okay, so it has very little (if any) deck to place one on, but I still see no reason why at least even a light ballista could not, nor would not, be built as an integral part of the hull if it couldn't be installed normally. This would give Flitter pilots something to do besides be targets as they attempt to get close enough to fire bows or cast spells. Considering their extreme fragility (1 hull point) flying a flitter into combat - even when 40 other flitters are going along - is for all practical purposes a suicide mission.

    In order to fire bows or cast spells the flitter must be within one hex of the target. At this point the flitter pilot comes to a full stop which is necessary if they want to take some kind of action. If they want to be firing bows or casting spells they can't be doing a lot of piloting now can they? However, since they had to move into range this turn they can’t shoot or cast spells on the round they reach firing range. Now, if the flitter pilot is fast enough on initiative or is lucky enough that the target ship cooperates and remains within that 1 hex range for another round they can attempt two long-range bow shots or a single spell with enough range.  Then the ship they were firing at moves away and unless it turns the flitters have now exhausted their sole combat opportunity.

    The only other recourse than the above procedure would be for the flitter to actually enter the gravity envelope of the enemy ship so that it could not be left behind. Yet there is still the question of survivability of a flitter. It has 1 hull point. Any hit whatsoever by a deck weapon destroys it. Flitters thus must have a HIGH rate of turnover in their pilot ranks and the cost of constantly replacing lost flitters has to mean that an Armada carries a LOT of spares or seldom uses them in combat since they are, in large part, one-shot weapons.

    I simply find it hard to see how a flitter in the original setting could be of great practical use unless their Armada mothership first overlaps envelopes so that flitters could pass through.

    But I digress, there still remains the question of how useful a flitter pilot is in combat if he's occupied with piloting. Without knowing more about what is required to pilot a flitter, or any spelljammer for that matter, it's a question without an answer. Just what the heck is required for steering a spelljammer?

Spelljamming crew

    Large ships in particular have a very high number of minimum crew and it's anyone's guess as to what their job description really is. If we were talking about seagoing vessels the answer would be more obvious since it’s safe to assume that we've all seen galleons, ships-of-the-line, and similar vessels in the movies or on TV and even the most landlocked of us have at least a vague notion of duties performed aboard a ship. If not, it’s easy to do some light reading at the library and find out. Mostly they're up in the rigging and moving back and forth on deck as they make continual adjustments to the sails to take the best advantage of the wind. But remember that in Spelljammer the traditional functions of the sails and the helmsman are reversed - the sails steer the ship and the helmsman provides only the motive force. At least that's supposed to be the idea - it seems to be assumed in many places that the helmsmen does have some steering ability. However, since there are no details on how or why that would be the case the exact degree of such control is entirely unknown. Consider that many spelljammers don't have any sails, and some don't even seem to have any movable parts (like vanes or oars) for steering! In these cases should it be assumed that the design of the ship gives the helmsman an added capacity to maneuver it? If there are no sails or vanes or other obvious things for crew to steer with, what are all the "minimum" crew needed for in the first place?

    You might ask why it is important to know the crews' specific duties, thinking that it only matters to know that they do have duties. If Spelljammer were only a board game I would say you're right, but it's supposed to be a role-playing game and combat action can take place anywhere aboard a ship. I think these bits of otherwise useless trivia provide necessary background information for general role-playing purposes. More specifically, it's useful for running boarding actions and resolving ship combat results that have effects on the crew or anyone on deck. For example, when an area-effect combat spell is targeted on the ship's open deck it becomes important to know how many crewmen would likely be in that area of the ship, how vital their duties are for maneuvering the ship should they be killed or their equipment destroyed, and where the replacements for casualties are drawn from (and what have those replacements been doing in the meantime?).

    The primary duty for all of the "minimum crew" is probably just maneuvering the ship. They need to pull the ropes, lift the levers, and crank the gears that move the sails, wings, and maneuvering vanes - in short they are the absolute minimum number of men needed to properly steer the ship at its' normal MC and this number is generally far lower than previously indicated by the "minimum" ratings. I have had difficulty accepting the idea that many of what were formerly labeled as "minimum" crew actually had anything to do since there is no description of their duties and it can't be deduced from simply looking at deck plans and a single 3/4 view illustration.

    Here, simply as an example, is a much better definition of a "minimum" or skeleton crew. Rather than being based solely on the ships size, it is the number of men that are needed to steer the ship at its' listed MC rating given whatever type of steering mechanisms the ship has (if any). It does not include any extraneous officers, the helmsman, the navigator, men to man the weapons, or anyone other than the steering crew.

    A ship generally requires as minimum crew a number of men equal to 1/10 of the ships tonnage (a 50 ton ship requires 5 men to maneuver it). This assumes that the ship has some standard form of rigging like sails, vanes, wings, etceteras. Some do not, and their minimum maneuvering crew is only half that of an ordinary ship rounded down (the example 50 ton ship would thus only require 2 men to steer). Remember that landing legs can, and do, double as steering appendages. Also, if the ships design with regard to rigging fits somewhere between normal and none then the DM will have to decide the minimum number of crew required based on these definitions. "Topping out" a ship still means adding to existing rigging or attaching rigging to a ship that has none and it adds 50% to the minimum crew. Ships which are conversions of traditional sailing vessels (like the galleon) should have an additional 50% added to their minimum crew tally.

    If you decide to use the above method I’d suggest that for each ship design you use in your campaign you go over the deck plans and recalculate the minimum crew. Make up essential duties occasionally for certain ship types or even for individual ships. For example, the main steering vane on a particular ship or type of ship (the Squidship springs to mind) may be so large it requires an extra man or two to handle it. Mark vital crew positions on the deck plans and make note of those who don’t generally have a "fixed" position.

    To the minimum steering crew is added the helmsman (or helmsmen, as there may be more than one on some helm types). As ships get larger, or their operation becomes more complicated, additional men are needed simply to coordinate actions effectively. One officer or an additional crewman in a supervisory position is typically required for each 5 crewmen required. Each such position left unfilled will not only affect maneuverability due to uncoordinated efforts, but also results in a -1 to initiative rolls for the same reason. [Perhaps this could be mitigated by the level of the crews training?]

    Remember that the above is still just the minimum steering crew. What would be a "standard" level of crew? What other positions aboard ship need to be contemplated?

    First, add on a number of crew needed to fully man the deck weapons. Now go over the deck plans again and decide where backup crew would be most desirable and where they would usually be stationed when they are aboard. What positions would be doubled-up for safety or would have extra crew simply standing nearby to fill in when the ranks are thinned from combat?

    Although they might not add to the minimum crew tally, with increases in the ship size there are duties that can, or must, be performed other than steering the ship. Such positions might include damage control/firewatch, lookout, navigator, and signalman and would be filled by off-duty crewmen.

    Damage control parties would be tasked to perform any repairs that may be possible in combat. They would also be making repeated visual assessments of damage throughout the ship which they would then report to the captain or one of the officers since the captain would not necessarily be able to see the full extent of damage, particularly on a large ship. The helmsman can "feel" the damage to the ship which he could then report to the captain as, say light/medium/heavy in a given area, but it still should take a visual inspection to determine any specifics. In fact, damage control parties might be dispatched primarily by the helmsman! Firewatch might also fall under that same description but on the largest ships might actually be a separate, specially equipped and trained squad, whose duties would revolve around watching for and putting out the fires that often start during combat.

    Lookout positions might be taken up by any man not otherwise occupied or might have specific posts and orders. Keep in mind that a traditional "crows nest" would be replaced by locations on deck which simply have a wide, unobstructed view. The captain is the man who has to take in the whole picture during combat and he can't watch everywhere at once - especially in a three dimensional environment like wildspace. Thus, lookouts might be assigned to follow the movements of a specific enemy ship, to keep alert for particular tactical dangers, or on very large ships might also act as message runners as needed since the captain can only shout so loud.

    Note: unless attackers are using flames or smokepowder weapons the possible sources of fire are quite easily known aboard ship. These would be: flame/heat producing weapons like Greek fire projectors, firearms and bombards; the magazine/powder room which stores the ordnance for these; the ships galley where the probability of the cooking fire being lit is proportional to the number of crew on board who have to eat because they are on separate watches; light sources aboard ship could (and should) be primarily magical such as Continual Light spells to avoid the fire hazards, but even so there should be backups in case these are dispelled. So, items such as backup oil lamps might still cause fires when broken in their place of storage; finally, the cargo in the hold may possibly present fire hazard as when carrying a shipment of lamp oil or the like.

    A side note: the problem of communicating orders from the captain to the other end of the ship and vice versa could be serious, and again, the problem increases as the ship size increases. One clever means of handling this is with the simple speaking tubes like you see in old steamships. Instead of the captain hollering into the brass mouthpiece "Engine room... more steam!", he hollers "Helmsman... increase to spelljamming speed!", or "Aft jettison... stand by to fire on my order!", or "Navigator... give me a heading on that escaping Mindspider!", or something similar. Then the reply comes back the same way, "Ach! I canna' do it Cap'n! The ship, she's like to fly apart any time now!", or "Aft jettison aye... incendiary canisters loaded!", or "I'll try skipper but the fire in the chart room melted my sextant so it'll only be a rough guess!". Well, you get the idea.

    I suggest a minimum cost of 10 g.p. per ton to fit a ship with such devices but only if you feel that the level of craftsmanship and technology is compatible in your campaign. In the absence of such devices the most common method of communicating would be with messengers although a number of other magical or mechanical solutions could be found as well. Communicating between widely separated ships is also possible if there is a signalman using colored lamps, semaphore flags, or some such and again this might be a task assigned to a specific crewman if there is a need for ships to communicate in battle. Alternately, you might wish to let the players have their characters develop their own methods of combat communications and use it as a secret advantage over enemies. It wasn’t until the battle of Trafalgar (?) that signals were communicated between ships in a fleet during a battle. Prior to that all ships attempted to follow a pre-set battle plan and the ability to signal to one’s allies proved a devastating advantage.

    There is something else to be considered when PC's travel aboard a spelljammer which I like to compare to parking an expensive sports car in a crime-ridden neighborhood. That is, when the PC's leave the vicinity of the ship for any length of time the ship is left vulnerable because it is without the umbrella of protection that only experienced adventurers can provide. A DM who runs a dangerous or "realistic" campaign will not ignore a ship staffed only with 0-level crew forever - although the danger to the ship doesn't always manifest itself when the PC's leave. To solve the problem by saying you'll hire a crew that consists entirely of 3rd level warriors goes against one of the commonly accepted premises of AD&D which is that persons who advance to any degree in a character class are exceptions rather than the norm. Such characters should be henchmen and followers - characters who have a special status through association with PC's - whereas spelljammer crew are dealt with strictly as hirelings who are almost by definition 0-level and certainly to be treated differently and given more significant duties than crewing a spelljammer.

    Despite all the magic and unusual circumstance involved, the job of crewing a spelljammer is not much different than crewing a traditional sailing ship with the exception that a spelljammer crew occupies a far more important place in the campaign than a typical ocean vessel crew would because so much of the campaign revolves around spelljamming ships - probably the PC's ship. So, should PC's be expected to crew a spelljamming ship with henchmen and followers as opposed to mere hirelings? I cannot see how they should. By definition (in the PH) hirelings will not join in an adventure because of the dangers involved. Followers join up with an individual PC because of the status he or she has attained at title/name level. Followers are by and large dedicated, offensive military units which generally excludes them from being sailors. Besides, in order to attract followers a PC must have achieved title level and built a stronghold whereas even a 1st level PC can come into possession of a spelljammer (an alarming thought). Henchmen don’t fit the bill either as they are very special, loyal individuals who are to be treated as equals of a PC despite the fact that they must always be of lower level. This makes them unsuitable for the menial station of crewmen even if they could be attracted by a PC in usable numbers, which they couldn’t. The obvious option then is to make a spelljamming crew a new, special type of NPC similar to henchmen or followers but having special rules about them all their own.

    What rules should govern the ship crew? First, there must be a proper hierarchy of command for them to follow without which their efficiency will drop. Somebody has to be in command and though a PC may be the most powerful member of an adventuring party he may not be qualified to give orders to a crew! You may have a ship that is actually owned by an adventuring party as a group, many or all of whom have equal authority over the crew as they have equal stake in the ship, but they may also give conflicting commands to a crew depending on their personal judgement of a given situation and that’s not a good thing in the heat of combat. Therefore a ship, especially a PC run ship, needs to have something like a pirates charter. In fact very much like a pirate charter. It should lay out clearly the chain of command among the owners and/or officers, the loyalty expected of the crew, and the method of treasure distribution.

    Wait, you say. Treasure distribution? You mean the PC's have to share with the crew? Frankly, yes. I didn't used to think so but in discussing Spelljammer with others I was given reason to reconsider. After all, the crew are embarking upon a very dangerous enterprise when they sign on with adventurers, moreso than they would with a merchant spelljamming ship. Adventurers actively go forth and seek out trouble, and like followers or henchmen a crewman who takes a risk equal to a PC adventurer will expect an equal reward. If adventurers do not forewarn their newly hired crew about views they hold to the contrary they will rapidly lose crew (if the crew doesn’t mutiny outright when they find out) and will soon be unable to hire more unless they begin to make it worth their while. Of course, like a pirate ship the captain and other top dogs (read: the PC's) will get a much larger share than the lowly spacedog crew but a good portion of the adventuring take must be paid to the crew. This is where the primary flow of cash from selling prize ships will disappear to and thus eliminate the last of the windfall profits from simply winning ship combat.

    As for the chain of command you have to remember that not all the PC's can be in charge at once. Whether the PC's appoint a permanent ships captain from their own members, take it in turns, hire someone, or appoint a qualified member of the crew to the post is immaterial - so long as everyone knows who has the final say and what the penalties will be for breaking the established chain of command. This last is meant to apply not only to potential mutiny or insubordination among the crew but among the PC's as well. If you have PC officers constantly contradicting each other without prior agreements in place to maintain order the crew are again going to jump ship or mutiny and might just get away with it. How's that you say? Read on:

    The crew must be willing to put their butts in the sling when the PC's call for it as would be the case aboard any ship, though this would almost never be anything approaching "laying down their lives simply so that the PC's might live" actions. The crew are every bit as much adventurers as the PC's, yet must be NPC's who are loyal to their commanders as well and the line between the two will get muddied from time to time. In addition to sharing in the treasure they will get to share in the experience awards too. This means that whether or not the crew contribute meaningfully to combat (they are likely to always be outshone by the PC's in that regard) they will get equal shares of the XP as long as they wholeheartedly participate in it. The same as would happen if a 1st level adventurer joins up with a group of 9th level adventurers - if he participates, however ineptly, he gets his rightful XP share. Even if the PC's maintain a separate force of marines aboard ship to help protect the crew, if the crew is expected to participate in defense of the ship and does - they will share the XP.

    In addition to the ships charter helping to define the role of the NPC crew the DM should secretly keep track of their loyalty. This would rise and fall with the ships fortunes and their treatment by the PC's. For example, a crew which is treated fairly according to their charter and which maintains an acceptable rate of attrition will never have to be a concern to the PC's. Treating crew unfairly, taking the ship into unreasonably dangerous situations on a consistent basis, severe crew losses on a regular basis, poor treasure, and the like will all adversely affect the loyalty and morale of the crew - whether these are the fault of the PC's or not. On the other hand, a crew that receives more than their fair share and for whom the PC's unselfishly put their butts on the line for will be extraordinarily loyal and PC's could expect reciprocal actions on a regular basis.

    The very nature of the Spelljammer setting can draw away from the role-playing aspects of the game. The players must decide which characters control what during combat. If characters aren't controlling something is it to be assigned to a player, or taken control of by the DM? As a group the player characters will likely have NPC crewmen under them who are at least in part steering the ship and manning the weapons, but if some players aren't particularly interested in controlling a group of NPC crew or taking part in the boardgame aspect of ship combat one or two players can easily end up doing all the work while the rest wait around until something happens which they can have their characters participate in directly.

    At first it might seem that players should not be blamed for such attitudes, but as long as the DM has explained to them prior to their joining the game that such activity will be expected of them this should not be tolerated any more than a hack-and-slash player amidst role-players who sits around bored waiting for the opportunity to roll dice and kill things. The very nature of the Spelljamming campaign will demand certain concessions be made by the players where role-playing and participation are concerned.

    If the campaign is set up such that the PC's are not actually in command of the ship they are still going to have to assist in playing some NPC roles and making tactical decisions regarding the ship. If the PC's don't "lend a hand" with the command of the ship when the ship enters combat it would seem all the tactical decisions would have to be made by the DM. This is a far from ideal situation because the DM thus winds up "playing against himself" - one group of NPC's versus another - with the players all sitting around waiting for an opportunity for their characters just to join in.

Gravity, air, and atmospheres

    Let's move on to air/gravity envelopes and a related erratum - lifting off from planets. This, by the way, is another topic stirred up by looking closely at Flitters. The original approach of assigning a set amount of time based on the planets size is certainly simple to use but fails to take into account the fact that there is also going to be a difference in the tactical speeds of ships and therefore a differing amount of time to take off and land. This is also related to the lack of a proper examination of ship movement in atmospheres. Making adjustments to allow ships to escape a planets gravity well seems only to cause unmanageable repercussions elsewhere in the scheme of movement.

    Obviously, the gravity and air envelopes of planets are different than those of ships. Ships and creatures are said to have envelopes which extend outward in a radius equal to their dimensions, but since a 3000 mile diameter planet obviously does not have an envelope 3000 miles deep where does the change occur? The simplest solution is to better define what constitutes a planet (which is more likely to have a gravity well than gravity plane). Another solution is to devise a new formula for making this calculation and I have made the first step.

    I looked at statistics from the real world and began to apply them to the fantasy environment. I found that 99% of the Earth's atmosphere is within 20 miles of the ground and that sounded like a good practical number to base things on. 20 miles is approximately 0.0025% of the diameter of the Earth and as you increase the size of a given planet upward it continues to be a good representation of the depth of an atmosphere in a fantasy environment. However, as the size of a planet is scaled down it becomes problematic, particularly as the "planet" shrinks to near the size of an asteroid as opposed to a true planet. 0.0025% just becomes too thin an atmosphere to be a practical representation yet the formula of depth = size is also impractical as the objects have atmospheres far larger than seems reasonable. An intermediate formula must be devised to bridge the two extremes.

    The very definition of fantasy gravity for Spelljammer was ignored by the original set in at least one place. Non-magical engines are supposed to be too weak to allow liftoff from any but the smallest of planets, yet the definition of gravity for Spelljammer is that it is an all-or-nothing phenomenon. Jupiter's gravity would have the same amount of pull as would Earth's moon. So then if a NME can lift off from a small moon it can lift off from any planet because the pull of gravity is always the same.

    That got me to thinking about just how much time is needed to escape from a small planet as opposed to a large one. It apparently doesn't matter if your helm is powered by a 30th level arch-lich or a 1st level novice priest, all ships move upwards out of gravity wells at the same pace despite a vast difference in horizontal velocity. The lich in the example can fly his ship on the level at something like 255 mph compared to the puny priest's 17 mph but they both go straight up at the same speed? Sorry, even fantasy physics has its limits of believability and even if I chose to believe this was the intention why wasn't it clearly mentioned? Certainly a little detail like that could have serious implications in a battle in an atmosphere. For that matter why wasn't ship movement and combat within atmosphere discussed in any kind of detail? What is needed is a Unified Gravity Theory that resolves some of these conundrums or at least gives a plausible explanation.

    By the way, exactly how fast do you drift at the gravity plane? One foot per round? Five feet? Shouldn't there be a simple formula for how long it takes you to settle at the gravity plane if you're bobbing there?

Combat part 1: Encounters, and ship movement

    Obviously the spelljamming ship has a very important position in the Spelljammer setting. Despite being in outer space, spelljammers function very much like a sailing ship. Now, waterborne travel is dealt with only lightly in AD&D and definitely not enough to stand up to conversion to the constant-use requirements of the Spelljammer setting. What happens is that so much time and action is spent aboard ships that it becomes imperative to have more details of crew positions and crew duties as noted earlier. When combat occurs aboard a ship, decisions must be made for the individual crewmen by the DM whether to join the fray or stick to their duties. Any decently experienced DM can handle the extra NPC's in combat but it would be a tremendous help if he had a good idea of where those crewmen should be at any given time, what they would be doing, and what level of importance to place on those duties. Should seaman Jones fight or continue to help steer the ship? Besides, while spelljammers are similar to sailing vessels there are some distinct differences and these must also be accounted for.

    There are several distinct speed scales that a spelljammer moves at and this leads to encounters aboard a spelljammer falling into similarly distinct categories. If the ship is at spelljamming speed and the encountered object or creature is big enough (10 tons+) then the ship slows to tactical speed. The crewmen then would begin looking around to see what caused them to slow down because the range between the ship and whatever causes the slowdown is 11-20 hexes (or 5,000 to 10,000 yards, or about 1 to 2 miles!).

If the encountered object is not large enough to cause a slowdown then the ship sort of "runs it down", it enters the ships gravity envelope and immediately begins moving at the same relative speed as the ship. This is a handy safety feature to prevent crashes at spelljamming speeds and it also means that creatures will appear instantaneously, seemingly out of thin air and that their distance from the ship will be no greater than the limit of the gravity envelope. So what you have here is either something so far away it's even difficult to see (1-2 miles is the standard encounter range), or monsters that are immediately in your face, so to speak, and you either kill them or get them out of the ships envelope (whereupon they will be outpaced by the ship at 11.5 miles per second - a little over 40,000 mph). There is no middle ground in these situations as these are purely the result of Spelljammers physical laws. These phenomenon are barely hinted at in the rules but they are vitally important for DM's and players alike to know and keep in mind.

    Now then, if the ship is moving at tactical speed there are other considerations. Most important is that even the slowest tactical speed for spelljammers is faster than nearly every monster known with but a few rare exceptions. Which means that as long as you can see the monster first and can keep moving faster than it you can usually do what you like - destroy it with ballistae, prepare to engage it in melee at your leisure or simply outrun it if you don't want to take the bother. To put it another way, when a ship is not at full spelljamming speed monsters cannot catch up to it unless the ship is not moving at all, or the ship "runs into them" before they can be seen and/or avoided. This last possibility is indeed quite likely given the high speed of ships even on the tactical scale, and though monsters in wildspace are always right out in the open they are moving against a background that is quite black which logically makes it difficult to distinguish between a monster that the ship is rapidly closing in on or, say, a twinkling star.

    Of course all these little peculiarities may be acceptable to you (though they may not have been apparent to you in the first place), but it still puts some severe restrictions upon the way encounters take place while aboard a ship and these should have at least been well explained if they couldn't be eliminated.

    Use of spelljamming ships in an air-to-ground combat capacity was simply not considered or else very studiously ignored because of the difficulties it presents. Face it, ships are going to be used by players for bombardment, as an air ambulance or medivac service, as well as uses such as helocast-like troop insertions and a host of other modern day equivalents. There always seems to be somebody who wants to invent parachutes, hang gliders, or somesuch to go along with their flying combat platform. DM's have to be ready for this and either be able to properly discourage it or fully incorporate it into the game.

    Speed in ship combat is vitally important. The ship with the higher speed usually has the ability to set the range between the ships and always has the option of breaking off an encounter and attempting to escape. A faster, but less maneuverable ship may not be able to turn fast enough to set a desired range for firing but unless they lose the ability to turn altogether they can always turn fast enough to make use of their speed advantage against a more maneuverable, but slower, ship and prevent it's escape.

    There needs to be an increased parity of some sort between ships. My personal suggestion would be to re-engineer ship stats and helm functions at a game design level so as to have small, fast, agile, difficult to hit, low-damage capacity ships versus large, slow, lumbering, easier to hit, but high-damage capacity ships. Smaller ships would have a better chance to survive encounters with larger ships by virtue of being significantly harder to hit. Speed would be determined more by the ship design than the level of helmsman and thus become a factor for balance in the game not against it.

Combat part 2: Ship combat

    The ranges of the ship's weapons and the distances at which ships conduct combat in wildspace overstretch the boundaries of belief. Consider that a light ballista has a maximum range of 6 hexes, which is about 3000 yards, or approximately 1.7 miles! At this range, even given the gravity-free nature of wildspace, it is absolutely absurd to assume that you can accurately aim a weapon against a target moving in three dimensions from a firing platform that is also moving in three dimensions unless you have a lot of magical aid. For smaller targets it would be difficult enough simply seeing the target against the dark backdrop of space at that distance much less anticipating its movements and calculating the appropriate lead time to hit it.

    I also found the tremendous differences in weapon ranges inexplicable. Since any missile fired beyond the gravity plane will travel until it hits something, without slowing down, and without altering its strait-line trajectory, its range is just as infinite regardless of the weapons size. Any differences in missile velocities would be accounted for very simply by adjusting the lead time for the shot, and would not affect the ability to hit the target.

    This brought into question why there was such a difference in accuracy between, say, a heavy catapult and a light ballista. It is easy to compensate for the speed of the missile and range is immaterial without gravity and air resistances so there shouldn't be such a difference in their accuracy. Yet obviously, from a game design standpoint there has to be some differences between weapons. Perhaps the more the lead time has to be increased the more difficult a shot is going to be and this is what accounts for the difference. But this still doesn't account for a difference in range!

    Then there are normal hand-held missile weapons whose use in ship combat raised more questions. The difficulty here arising because of the effort to vastly simplify missile fire to combine it with other ship-to-ship combat. It was stated that hand-held missiles could be fired at ships in the same hex, meaning an effective range of up to 500 yards but nonetheless using the medium range "to hit" penalty (unless the ships contacted each other as might occur in a ramming attack in which case the range would be considered short). This was unacceptable. In the case of most hand thrown weapons even their longest range wouldn't reach the edge of the envelope of most ships much less beyond it. In this case, an enemy floating at the edge of the envelope would already be at long range, yet they were being allowed to hit enemy crewmen as far away as 500 yards? Certainly it is possible to fire weapons or throw hand-held missiles a far greater distance than the long range they normally have listed. The question to ask is: at what range are they no longer accurate due to the extensive lead time involved?

    All missile targets must be at least as difficult to hit as if they were at the edge of the ships envelope. So, for example, let’s say we have two missileers. One is using a composite longbow with sheaf arrow (ranges 12/24/42) and the other a sling stone (8/16/24). Both are standing at the rail and the envelope extends 180’ from them. To the longbowman, the edge of the envelope is still within medium range but to the slinger it is already at long range. Therefore, anything beyond the envelope must begin with those ranges and any additional distance beyond that to the target should accumulate minuses to each weapon equally. The reason is that gravity and air resistance are no longer factors in their accuracy or effective range - only the lead time.

    To discourage missile fire in the midst of ship combat I'd say that the speed of both the firers ship and the target ship should be taken into account in the to-hit roll. Since ship weapons seem to have this factor already assumed into their thac0's I don't think it's unreasonable to assess a further penalty upon individual missile fire for ship speeds since these weapons take their thac0 directly from the firer and thus do not factor in this additional difficulty. A -1 to hit for each SR of either ship should suffice assuming normal penalties for range are reintroduced as suggested above. However, there is a tactic that would negate any attempts at such close range missile fire - simply rotate your ship 90 degrees so that the bottom of your hull is toward the enemy. Assuming you can maintain this orientation this would prevent an enemy from using massed archers against your crew but would also largely negate your own ability to fire. I suppose what I'm really getting at is that use of individual missile fire during a ship engagement might possibly be rendered impractical unless both sides are attempting it simultaneously.

    [In dealing with this particular question I suddenly realized that another one of the reasons for all these complications was that the rules for combat between spelljammers were being written as if it were a board game and not a role-playing game. Instead of adapting ship combat to a hand-to-hand scale they were attempting to adapt hand-to-hand combat to the ship combat scale which I believe was not the best approach. To reverse that process and deal with ship combat as a wholly separate thing from hand to hand it might be best to simply rebuild the ship combat rules from scratch.]

    In direct contrast to Spelljammer rules I don't think that ship weapons are accurate enough, nor of sufficiently sophisticated construction to be able to specifically target an individual. Despite certain alterations or improvements that may have been made over their groundling counterparts (which is a vague reference really and begs the question of what changes would be needed) and which allow their use in wildspace they are still very much alike in that they are generally built to be fired only at very large targets. The target in the case of spelljammers is generally a moving ship and not a stationary castle wall but the overriding concept is still the same, a ship being far larger than a man. The Spelljammer catapult, for example, must logically be designed somewhat differently from what you might see on the ground. Because the projectile is only under the influence of gravity for a short time it is re-designed to be used as a direct-fire weapon, not indirect-fire as an earthbound catapult. It is also designed to be freely pivotable through as wide a range of movement as possible (quite unlike it's earthbound relative which depends on a certain degree of immobility for sustained accuracy) all the while keeping the projectile in place until the weapon is actually fired. This means that it must be much lighter and more compact than earthbound counterparts. It's usefulness lies in the fact that it can still throw a rock with sufficient force and accuracy to cause damage, but it can still only do so with a decent chance of success because its target is big (smaller than a castle, but still quite large). To further reinforce the differences between the two it should be noted that since there is no severe ballistic arc to a catapult shot in space there is also no reason it shouldn't be able to hit ships in the same hex as Spelljammer originally ruled. Ground catapults have this restriction only because they must deal with such a severe ballistic arc. There, it is an advantage in being able to lob projectiles over high castle walls but in space the ballistics are different (or, more accurately, ballistics are often insignificant) and the needs are different.

    Still, if the crewmen are exposed on deck there should be some chance that they are the ones hit instead of the ship. This worried me until I realized there already was such a chance! The Critical Hit table includes results for deck crew casualties, weapon crew casualties, and even casualties among interior crew. Though this didn't seem like a high enough chance for typical combats, to combine it with specific crew strikes seems not just superfluous but excessive. Noting that only about 5% or 10% of hits with deck weapons would result in a critical hit, and only 20% of those results would be crew casualties I realized that damage done by deck weapons is very generalized and that the critical hit chart was in place more to add spice to an otherwise bland system for combat rather than as a truly logical extension of combat results. Perhaps, instead of the critical hit table there should be a much more comprehensive hit location system.

    Then there's jettisons. Frankly, I don't even see the reason for their existence. From its description, for all intents and purposes a jettison is a catapult. Specifically, it is a grouped bunch of small catapults loaded with some kind of small shot instead of a single large projectile. Yet it is clearly stated that any catapult can be used as a jettison. Wouldn't it be better just to equip the ship with another catapult instead of a jettison and have the option of the additional firepower when you want it? It is particularly unfathomable when you note that the only statistical advantage the jettison has is cost - which is marginal savings at best.

    It has been shown above that ship weapons should not suffer from practical differences in useful range. The considerations therefore in choosing weaponry would be placed more on available deck room for more weapons, the number of crew needed to man the weapons, their thac0, rate of fire, and the damage potential. Before, range and rate of fire were virtually the only considerations of note, thac0 ranked third since those variances were minimal. Now that range is no longer a notable factor in weapon choice there is a need to look closer at those other statistics. The number of weapons that can be placed aboard a ship is one that sticks out.

Combat part 3: The price of failure

    Here's a further problem with encounters: what if the PC's lose? Combat as it now stands is very much an all or nothing proposition in space and the random rolls of the dice are very much a factor when two sides are evenly matched. When the players arbitrarily opt to go on the attack, the DM can feel perfectly justified in giving them what they deserve. If the situation is reversed, such as when the players have an encounter they cannot evade or outrun, the DM must have a very clear picture in mind not only of why the attack is taking place but must have thought out what he plans to have the players opponents do in case of either a win, loss, or a draw.

    Primarily you should consider what the enemy will want to do with the ship hull and helm should they win. If the enemy is always after the ship and helm the players will find themselves in one of three general post combat situations. In one they find themselves cast adrift which means that you will also have to provide some sort of dramatic rescue or deus ex machina. Or you might take option two which is to have them enslaved by either the victors of the battle or anybody else who comes along. The third possibility is that the PC's will be dead and they can roll up new ones. True, this renders the original question moot but unless your players actually enjoy generating a constant succession of new characters I would use this option sparingly.

    Other reasons for an attack upon the players: the aggressors want food, treasure, or air. Perhaps they need only a few captives to feed on as opposed to the whole ships complement. If the attack is in defense of territory they may settle for simply chasing the PC's away. After all, the same do-or-die danger that PC’s face is faced by their enemies as well. They may simply be afraid of the PC's and may have decided the best defense is a good offense, but what will they do if the PC's don't just give up or refuse to go away? It is a question that must be dealt with.

    Perhaps the problem can be solved by trying to think more from the perspective of the enemy commander. He is in the same predicament as the PC's, which is to say that he may want to attack, but if he pushes his luck he'll be the one floating in a cloud of wreckage hoping for another miraculous rescue.

    Be sure to emphasize to the players from the get-go that if they push their luck needlessly you'll burn them, then stick to your word. You see, in most campaigns the player characters are the best thing to come down the pike. They are heroic figures after all and have the strength, magic, and power to dominate most people in the world. If they board ship after ship manned by 0-level sailors with only a few higher level captains and marines for a challenge they will be encouraged to throw caution to the wind. If, on the other hand, you establish early on that a policy of no quarter asked or given will consistently backfire on them you instill in them the will to be appropriately cautious about attacking what they do not know. They should be lenient and chivalrous when they win encounters. Instead of slaughtering enemy crews to a man every time the PC’s should go out of their way to maroon captured enemies rather than slaughter them, set them adrift without a helm or weapons, or given some similar option other than death.

    Though players are sure to balk at the notion of giving the enemy a chance at revenge there is certainly ample precedent for this. In our own Earth history, seafarers are in the practice of saving enemy sailors from drowning after winning a battle as a matter of tradition, humanitarianism, and chivalry. They themselves are all too aware of the horrifying fate of drowning and continue this practice in the expectation that the enemy will treat them the same. Yes, exceptions abound to the circumstances just described, but Spelljammer has to regularly deal with circumstances that rarely crop up in another setting, and it would be enormously advantageous to use this as a built-in mechanism to help keep the characters actions in control.

Combat part 4: Ship repairs

    The repair formula is something that just screams for revision. It would seem to be a fact of life in wildspace and particularly so for an intrepid group of player characters that their faithful vessel is going to regularly sustain damage (often quite heavy damage). It seems that the original system for repairs was engineered solely to help pull money out of the characters coin purses. I'm all for that (as any DM would be) but the system given is over-simplified and when examined to any close degree is revealed as vague and contradictory.

    Using the original system the costs for repairs range between 2000 g.p. per hull point at a shipyard and virtually free if done by a character with carpentry skills. If the ship is more than half damaged the costs at a repair yard increase to 5000 g.p. per point but is still free if done by the PC’s personally. What player in his right mind would have his character pay that kind of money when he could just hire a carpenter for 20 g.p. a month (which if he repairs only one hull point in 8 years of employment he’s been a bargain compared to dockside repair fees) or do the work himself for free (assuming he has carpentry skills) while tied up at the dock? Look at the following example:

    A 60 ton Hammership limps into port just over half damaged having taken 31 points of damage out of its normal 60 pts. Repairs at the shipyard will cost 155,000 g.p. - over three times the cost of a brand new hull! Even worse, suppose that the ship has 59 points of damage to it. It is effectively on the verge of breaking up and repairing it would logically seem to be just short of complete reconstruction. At the shipyard repairs will cost 295,000 g.p. - for which cost you could ostensibly buy six new Hammerships! Yet, by cutting their own wood and performing their own repairs, characters under the guidance of the ship's carpenter can accomplish those same repairs for free. The discrepancy is patently ludicrous and must be eliminated.

    The cost and method of repairs must be a much more involved formula to be believable within the environment of the game. It must be geared to the varied sizes of ships, structural complexity, the extent of the damage, the number of and skill of the repairers, as well as the quality and availability of repair materials, tools and facilities. While it is conceivable that contributing factors could increase the cost of repairs to exceed the cost of building or buying a new ship this should very seldom be seen and should even more seldom be deemed a viable option. Here's a much better system:

    [Note: the details of this system will change if the combat system & related ships stats are revised as is proposed throughout this work.]

    A typical repair crew normally consists of 5 men, one of whom must have either carpentry or shipwright skills. One such crew can easily repair 1 hull point in a day. At a shipyard this will cost 75 g.p. per point including the cost of materials. If a ship is over 3/4 damaged the entire project must be supervised by a shipwright in addition to the other workers and his fees and additional repair costs will usually amount to an additional 10% over the cost of repairing at least 75% of the ship. Even if partial repairs have been performed in the mean time his fee will be calculated using at least the 75% mark as a base. If no shipwright is available in such a situation at least 1/4 of the ships hull points will not be repairable until one can be employed.

    For more rapid completion of repairs additional workers can be added but costs increase by another 2% for each additional laborer. A maximum of 1 repairer per point of damage can work at one time except that at least 5 may work on any ship. Any more than this will usually just get in the way, causing delays and canceling out any benefits they might otherwise provide. Repair of a ship's weapons are extra and must be calculated separately. Each hull-holed critical counts as an additional point of damage - but only for purposes of determining repair costs and such - the actual number of points of damage to the hull remain. The same holds true for each class that MC is reduced and each point of SR. They count as additional points of damage for determining costs, time, etc. but the actual damage to the hull is unchanged. Repairs to a ship's MC can be done by any reasonably experienced crewman (i.e., other than green status) as this sort of knowledge is endemic to why they are on board in the first place.

    Any ship of 10 tons or greater can carry tools and materials to repair (at most) 20% of it's hull points without using up additional cargo space. Smaller ships can carry enough to repair 1 hull point. Each points' worth of additional repair materials takes up 1/2 ton of cargo space. Costs of purchasing additional repair materials are up to the DM but 50 g.p. per point should be reasonable considering that the materials have to be particularly sturdy, and possibly specially treated, pre-fabricated, or imported from elsewhere due to rarity.

    All this assumes that the repairs are performed in a properly equipped and staffed shipyard. If performed in wildspace, repair time is increased to as much as 3 days per point depending on circumstances. If some or all of the repairers lack the necessary training, or if there is a lack of tools and materials, the time may increase further to 5 days or even a week per point, and there arises the possibility that after the time is spent and materials used up their efforts may have failed.

    If the characters are attempting to manufacture their own repair materials from scratch the cost is probably going to be free but time increases by at least a factor of 2 or 3 (to account for the preparation of the materials) and the quality of the repairs may suffer, meaning full repairs are not likely to be possible. Very seldom should a ships crew be allowed to repair more than 1/2 it's hull points without some form of proper docking facilities. If damage exceeds 3/4 then full repairs will definitely only be possible at a shipyard and at least 1/4 of the ships hull points will remain unrepairable until then.

    In cases where there is a chance of repair efforts being unsuccessful, such as when using makeshift or scratch materials or inexperienced repair crews, the exact penalties are best left up to the DM. This avoids unnecessary complication of the repair system as there are a great many factors that can become involved. For example, if the characters are attempting repairs using wood from some sort of tree they've never seen before it is the DM's judgement as to whether it will work at all, how well it will work, whether it will last and so on.

    A list of materials for spelljammer repairs can include such diverse items as rope, sails, oars, mallets, glass panes, poles and fabrics for steering vanes, glues, tars, pitch, paint, vises, block and tackle, spare masts and yardarms, nails, pegs, bolts, saws, drills, brass fittings, gears, and wood or metal linkage rods for use in repair of maneuvering wings or landing legs.

    A good ship's quartermaster will see to it that the more versatile and oft-used items are stocked. Rope, sailcloth, and simple lumber are the most common, but obviously not all spelljammers are made entirely of wood. Elven Flitters, Man-O-War, and Armada's being prime examples. In many cases it must again be left up to the DM to determine necessary details of construction should they be needed and whether it requires additional and/or special skills or adds to costs of repairs.

Spelljamming ships: game design issues

    I find the primary statistics of ships (MC, AR, & HP) are not consistent with the rest of the combat system. Certainly they are not comparable to similar statistics in normal AD&D combat. This would be fine except that where the ship combat system varies from the melee system the statistics do not conform to the new requirements. Particularly when these stats are examined in regard to smaller ships they show the need to be revamped across the board. Once again this is a problem that arose from a close look at Flitters (darn things are more trouble than they're worth). Flitters have the highest maneuverability class of almost any ship (certainly so among those most frequently encountered) yet this would seem to have been ignored in giving it an AR of 8 which is lower than most any other.

    Given two ships that are made of the same material, moving at the same speed, and at the same range, shouldn't the smaller, more agile ship be harder to hit? I can’t figure out what could be the reason for such a poor AC except that the same principles applied to creatures were applied to ships and that is a mistake. In melee, a small creature is seldom able to defend well against a larger opponent and thus they receive much worse armor classes despite being quick and agile. But, as the question at the start of this paragraph shows that rule of thumb just can’t be applied to ships.

    I believe part of the problem here might also have developed when "tonnage" was defined for spelljamming ships. It should be simply a measure of size - and nothing else. The Concordance of Arcane Space even said so in defining the term (p.25). Then it inexplicably goes on to say that it also can define a ship's crew requirements and it's capacity to absorb damage. It does this without providing for other factors that should obviously enter into those statistics. For example, the idea that the number of crew needed to man a ship being determined solely by the ships size is very simple and easy to remember but hardly a proper solution. I'm all for simplicity wherever possible but sensibility definitely took a back seat here.

    How should these statistics be defined? Well the minimum crew needed for a ship should certainly have a more complex means of determination that just the size of the ship. The kind of maneuvering gear it uses should be of more importance with the size of the hull being a modifier to that in some fashion. Maneuverability class should influence armor rating in the same way that dexterity influences a characters armor class. Hull points should be the reflection of a ship's ability to absorb damage based on a combination of size, material of construction, the excellence of its' design, and the quality of construction. If you were to draw a comparison to the creation of a character this would equate to the characters initial selection of class which determines his hit-dice type and his constitution. Armor rating is a combined measure of the difficulty to hit a ship and to a lesser extent the difficulty of actually causing damage to it once it is hit, but it should not be a factor in how much damage it can absorb any more than the type of armor a character wears directly affects his hit point total. Was this the reason for the low Flitter AR? Were they trying to further reflect its’ fragility by lowering the AR even when ships made of similar materials and of far worse maneuverability had better AR? AR should be based on the size of the ship (with the smaller ship being a better AR) and modified by maneuverability and the material of which the ship is constructed.

    Something that occurred to me is that it should probably be a little harder to actually cause a ship to break up than by just reducing it's hull points to 0. Sort of like the difference for characters between death at 0 hit points and irrevocable death at -10, or the difference between mere death and having ones body broken up into chunks and spread about an area.

    A better system might be that when it reaches 0 hull points a ships structural integrity has been reduced to the point that it is unmaneuverable by the crew and that a helm will no longer power it. [Side note: if it was in motion would it coast to a stop or continue coasting at its former speed until forced to stop?] If it is then forcibly moved (as by towing) or an attempt is made to maneuver or move it - then it begins to break up, though it will still not necessarily break up completely. Each additional hull point it sustains beyond 0 would cause another large part to break off and increase the chance that the whole structure will finally fail and then the ship will break up under the stresses of gravity. Obviously, any ship that is reduced to 0 hull points, whether or not it has begun to break up, is so structurally unsound that repair is impossible - or at least impractical since it would be far cheaper and faster to build a new one from scratch with the end product being stronger and more durable.

    I suppose it might be an option to re-build it. This would be much the same as building a ship from scratch except that you already have at least some of the parts. This might be a desirable option if the ship in question has some historical or inspirational value or particularly if it is constructed of a highly valuable material. It should be noted, however, that this is somewhat akin to rebuilding a historic house: you want to try to preserve as much of the old parts as possible, but because they are so damaged it would actually be quicker, easier, and less expensive to just build a new one from the ground up, and the end product would be stronger and less likely to have hidden defects.

Other aspects of the Spelljammer setting

    Naturally occurring portals in the crystal shells need to be discussed in more detail. Their frequency of appearance, the length of time for which they remain open, and where they will appear on the shell are actually very important details which were not included in the original set and given very short shrift in the later "?-space" supplements. The reason is that they are very important for determining how much additional time will be needed to leave or enter a given sphere. For a ship on the phlogiston side of the shell the problem is even worse because of the question of speed and navigational reference in the phlogiston. That is, if you're in the phlogiston and detect a portal how can you tell how long it will take to reach it if there are no rules to tell you how fast you're going? Speaking of which, if you have a few Portal spells couldn't you do this: establish your position inside the sphere, create a portal and enter the phlogiston, fly a straight course along the outside of the shell for a specific length of time, create another portal, reenter the sphere, calculate your position again and see how far you've flown? Though it wouldn't cover the issue of speed in phlogiston rivers it would at least tell you how fast you move in the basic phlogiston medium wouldn't it?

    The gigantic scale of the Spelljammer style game setting also becomes a problem in that it takes so long to get anywhere. Assume you're going to travel from one sphere to another - let’s say from Toril of Realmspace to Oerth of Greyspace. Given the times and distances as defined in Spelljammer such a journey would take 4 to 7 months - one way! Not exactly an incentive to travel is it when a round trip averages almost a year? Now consider the impact it would have upon inter-sphere trade and warfare. It would become a thoroughly unfeasible proposition - not impossible perhaps but seldom a practical option. You can’t draw an analogy to a groundling caravan either because there is no trading of note to be done on the way - only at the beginning and end of the journey when there are other planets around. Players aren't likely to want their characters to wander far from their home sphere if every adventure is going to take them a year or more in just getting there and back again. Do they really expect a DM to run a years worth of encounters aboard a ship just to have the characters travel to another sphere and return? What about the effect this should have on a campaign? Large systems in particular would be fairly isolated, even if close to other spheres, simply because their size can make it take so long to get anywhere within them much less beyond them. This is particularly true if the inhabited planets are concentrated at the center of the sphere. And, the prospects for intersphere warfare are that any decent war would last for decades or even hundreds of years simply because it takes so long to get your fleets to where they need to go.

    This problem of the passing of so much time is easily fixed though, and that's good because I believe the highest potential of Spelljammer lies in a galaxy-spanning, epic scale sort of environment and not just concentrating on a single sphere. What's necessary is to drastically reduce the distance between an outermost planet and the sphere. This can be done by simply using many more small spheres, or for large spheres having that distance reduced. Combine this with a definition for travel in the flow that results in shortened transit times and the problem is easily solved. Of course, it’s easy to say that and another to do it but since I’m talking about restructuring just about every aspect of the game this is a minor part of the overall effort.

    If there is to be a proper setting for Spelljammer a restructuring of character races, classes and kits is needed - changing them to be something more endemic to Spelljammer than recycled AD&D stereotypes with a different backdrop. For example, throughout all the Spelljammer material Elves have been given a unique spin. They are depicted as being one of the largest and most militarily powerful races in Spelljammer to the point that they act as galactic protectors and policemen. Their ships which range from the single man Flitters to the aircraft carrier-style Armadas are designed using a single butterfly motif which makes them immediately identifiable. The elven military can even be perceived as having it's own agenda which it has the power to carry out despite elven civilian authorities and this makes the elves seem bossy and snobbish. This is very much against the usual elf stereotype and makes the elves as a race come alive within the setting. This does, however, also beg for their racial abilities, class combinations, and kits to be adjusted to match since they obviously have much different racial backgrounds. Even moreso when you consider the differences that must exist in the histories of the two.

    Psionics in Spelljammer is a subject which should be covered. Not everybody likes psionics. Some hate it with as much passion as some who love it. The most common argument against it is that it’s too powerful. I say this is inaccurate. Psionics just work differently than magic (not necessarily better), targeting the individual more than groups of enemies. This is its strength and its weakness. It has the ability to lay low high powered NPC's and individual monsters as easily, if not more so, than magic. This leads people to believe it is overpowering. However, it works predominantly one target at a time and so large numbers of opponents are not easily handled at all by a psionicist and thus some balance is maintained (although the ability to more easily kill NPC’s is perhaps still too powerful).

    The second most common argument is that psionics fit much better in a science fiction setting than in a fantasy setting. I think Spelljammer fits that bill. Spelljammer and psionics would fit well together due to the science fictional elements of Spelljammer, but psionics does indeed add an additional layer of difficulty for a DM to deal with. Thus, I feel psionics inclusion should be encouraged to make Spelljammer a more unique setting but must still remain optional in order to maintain a decent level of simplicity for DM’s.

    Firearms are another matter. This is one game aspect which fits in with Spelljammer perfectly and has no real drawbacks. This has as much to do with the Spelljammer staples of ships and piracy as anything else. Much of my own perception of Spelljammer is heavily woven around the golden age of piracy on Earth and that means cannons, muskets, pistols, etc. Firearms are seldom considered overpowering by anyone because they really aren’t. Similar to psionics, the most common argument against the inclusion of firearms is that they do not belong in a traditional fantasy setting. But in Spelljammer, they do not detract from the setting they add to it. After all, Spelljammer is not your traditional fantasy setting! For this reason, firearms should be fully embraced by the Spelljammer system. The only drawback would be that once again you have issues to deal with regarding the impact that heavy firearms use might have when Spelljammer is mixed with, say, an existing Dragonlance campaign. However, I believe I’ve already shown that sort of thing to be a mistake so let’s move on.

    What is the speed of the planet's movement on the planetary display? What a novel concept that is! One square per day? Per week? One revolution per year for all planets? Even if a standard speed were given for planets (and it isn’t) it would not address the interesting ramifications of using different speeds or a combination of speeds in planet revolution around the system primary. In what ways would a sphere of rapidly moving planets tend to compare with planets that move slowly or remain in place? What effect might it have on the early development of civilizations?

    It should be mentioned that many of the difficulties of life in space can be mitigated through the use of spells and magic items. If existing spells cannot be found to solve problems encourage the players to create some of their own. Spelljammer is rife with such opportunities for new spells, mostly because it lacks a setting of its own wherein a proper set of traditional spells could be set forth. The DM could create the spells personally and let the players find them in captured scrolls and spell books, or let them find magic items that fill the need. However, be mindful of the implications this can have on the campaign as a whole. Things that could use spell solutions include: inventing improved means to get passengers and crew back to safety or civilization if their ship should be destroyed; communicating efficiently over interstellar distances; detection, interception, and pursuit of other ships at spelljamming speed; et.al..

The Phlogiston

    Information on the flow is sketchy, meaning both that it is inadequate for more than the most superficial use and that it is spread thinly throughout the Lorebook and Concordance from the original set in but a few key sentences. The whole of this information is recounted below in italics. Some of it has been paraphrased for increased clarity, but this is in fact all the official information there is to go on.

    The phlogiston has varying thickness' or densities in space and forms rivers between the spheres. When the spheres drift too close the phlogiston between them thickens, becomes more dense, and they move apart. Along these rivers the greater the density of the flow the faster a ship can move. A ship can adjust its speed by adjusting its "depth" in the river. A ships speed is at least partially dependant on the surface area it presents to the flow so many ships carry sails for the purpose.

    The flow allows spelljamming ships to attain even greater velocities than the "full spelljamming speed" of 1,000,000 miles per day achieved in wildspace. These speeds have defied measurement since the flow is without permanent landmarks.

    From these statements it may be inferred that this is the basis of reasoning for giving travel between spheres as a wildly variable 10-100 days though this is not specifically stated. It can also be inferred that the helmsman is still necessary in the flow whether travelling at maximum possible speeds or at tactical speed, though again this is not specifically stated. Tactical speed in the flow could be assumed to be identical to tactical speed in wildspace. This is also not specifically stated but it’s a safe assumption since we have not been provided with the alternate rules. How it can be determined that phlogiston speeds exceed "full spelljamming speed" when in almost the same breath it is stated that speeds cannot be determined is a mystery. Actually, with a bit of clever thinking or a specifically researched spell or magic item it could be easily determined - and indeed, should, and would have been determined long ago because this is a rather important and useful bit of information to have.

    The hint about surface area being a factor in speed is interesting despite the lack of any further rules to define the effects. It also directly contradicts the idea that a helm provides only the speed and sails are used only for maneuvering, and this is why there is some question as to whether a helmsman is needed in the flow.

    Entering the phlogiston river you can follow a planned course, or if you have none then the sphere reached will be random unless a spell or an Arcane locator device is used.

    There is no mention in any Spelljammer materials of an Arcane locator for spheres - portals, yes, but not spheres. Oh, and just how do you set a course through a medium that has no landmarks to navigate by? It seems obvious that simply wanting to go to a certain sphere will not suffice for navigation.

    In general, it takes 10-100 days for intersphere travel. Over time the spheres do shift positions relative to each other (thus the random time for moving between spheres) but the courses of the rivers almost never change. Some spheres drift into and out of proximity to each other so a particular sphere may not be accessible every time. A sphere with a variable chance of accessibility, if it is out of position, can still be reached on a direct route - that is by not following the rivers. To travel this way is very slow - to such a degree that it is faster to take an alternative route along the river past one or more different spheres and thus arrive in a roundabout way.

    Once more we have a contradiction. While it is understandable that a direct route is slow it is also an impossibility given that it cannot be determined which direction to travel in. In point of fact, if any ship ever finds itself out of sight of a river it is forever lost until it can find one again.

    The flow prevents decay of bodies and prevents departure of the soul upon death (most likely due to lack of contact with any Powers in the flow).

    Not much to comment on here except that if I were appointed Benevolent Dictator over the Spelljammer setting I’d make some changes in this setup of clerical interference to make Spelljammer clerics a more unique class.

    The preceding is ALL the information there was about the phlogiston. Obviously, it needs some serious work in order to be given a decent place in the Spelljammer rules. I believe that the problem stems from the presentation of Spelljammer as a means to "bridge" the existing campaign settings rather than for use as a setting in and of itself. Since the phlogiston in particular is given as a medium to move through and not a place to travel to there is no reason to be providing details of movement while you're in it. Why else would it be suggested that there are no landmarks to navigate by? Without landmarks the only information that is relevant to travel in the flow is your destination and the duration of the trip. Since there is nothing else IN it (at least not officially) there is NO reason to be there except as a necessity to move from A to B.

    A map would have changed everything but without a multi-sphere setting for Spelljammer all its own there is no reason to have a map. Without a map there is no reason for detailed movement rules in the flow; and without detailed movement rules there is again no need for a map.

    My own thinking is that by extrapolating some parallel phenomena between rivers and oceans of water and the rivers and oceans of the phlogiston you begin to bring it to life. Add in some atmospheric and outer space parallels and you have something that begs for a full-blown setting.

    Phlogiston rivers can have "rapids". Like their earthly counterparts these would provide for rapid movement but create dangers for damaging the ships. The roughest rapids would actually have to be "portaged" around, with the ships leaving the river and taking a circuitous route around the dangerous portion. Perhaps the larger ships would be better able to handle them but small ships like flitters and mosquitoes would be tossed about and easily destroyed. Eddies, whirlpools, and forks would be other things to watch out for.

    As an ocean the phlogiston could have tides instead of tradewinds to carry the ships along. You would want to leave a crystal sphere on an outgoing tide and either time your arrival or plot a course to take advantage of incoming tides at your destination. What would be the Spelljammer equivalent of a red tide? Ocean currents could either be represented by the rivers or as a milder version of them - one that is not actually seen but does have a long-term effect on the speed of movement. Sargassos could exist in the flow too as places where the flow becomes so thin that movement ceases.

    Atmospheric or weather effect would obviously include storms from squalls to hurricanes and tornadoes. What would their effects be? What form might "precipitation" take in the flow?

    Space phenomenon would include massive, fixed navigational landmarks like horsehead nebulae and supernovas. Black holes might be portals into the negative material plane or simply gates into other dimensions - perhaps even allowing for a rearrangement of the multi-planar structure of a standard AD&D game. In such a case invading hordes of tanarr'i might pour out of a black hole rather than be able to come out anywhere in the prime material plane they might like. Or perhaps they are simply wormholes that allow instantaneous movement between distant parts of the phlogiston. In this case they might be well-guarded places where the Scro pour into the "civilized" parts of the flow from far-off portions that might otherwise never be accessible.

    What other sorts of landmarks might you find in the flow? Time/space anchored navigational buoys set up and maintained by the Arcane? Man-made waystations along the busiest rivers? Lots of small crystal spheres containing a single planetoid? Empty spheres that are only a few miles across (perfect for setting up bases!)? Impenetrable spheres that serve only as waypoints?

Thoughts on the development of a spelljamming society

    As you may be aware, in our real world a great many cities and entire empires were built along river networks (Egypt along the Nile for example) and there are a number of good reasons for this. One is that the river is like a low-tech highway, allowing rapid travel and communication. Riverbanks are also an excellent place to grow crops, and the river itself provides food through fishing. Also, in conventional ground warfare it gives cities a natural defense of sorts against enemies.

    But what would have happened if one of Earth's ancient peoples were given the use of spelljammers while still just beginning to develop? Many of those reasons for living along rivers are no longer very good reasons. With spelljammers you could fly around the world in a matter of hours so you don't much need a river to act as a highway; you can bombard your enemies from the sky and fly troops nearly anywhere you like so the river isn't much of a defense; since you have such rapid access to an entire planet you don't need to stick to rivers to grow crops - you grow crops wherever they grow best with the least work regardless of the "isolation" of the locale. This also applies to finding good places for mines, the best forests for logging, or the best rivers, lakes and oceans for fishing. Would the Egyptians have settled for using palm trees and papyrus reeds for construction when they could fly to Lebanon for cedar, to California for giant redwoods, and to southeast Asia for teak?

    If the needs of a civilization could not be easily or adequately supplied by their homeworld there are often plenty of other worlds only a few days away! Because of this it seems likely for a spelljamming culture to quickly expand to other planets in search of the easiest and best sources of materials if they can't readily be found at home.

    This is, of course, a generalization and circumstances would vary a great deal. Let's say two cultures develop for the same amount of time but one gets spelljammers and the other does not. The spelljamming culture might be spread out over several planets while the other culture lives on only a small portion of a single continent of their planet - yet both might have the same size population. Then what if we throw a twist into this and say that the spelljamming culture is spread out among very small and resource poor planets while the non-spelljamming culture has had the good fortune of a sizeable world whose resources seemingly have no bounds? Just having spelljamming does not necessarily guarantee easy success for a civilization. A point to consider then is that spelljamming is not going to be universally available or accepted. A small but rich kingdom may wish to stay small and rich, even choosing isolation from spelljamming cultures rather than risk losing what they have.

    So, there may be cultures in an undiscovered sphere which could conquer stellar empires if they ever learned of spelljamming and at the same time stellar empires may view spelljamming as little better than a necessary evil despite being vital to their survival because the empire is hanging by its fingernails. You may wish to keep this in mind when you begin to wonder (as I did) why all cultures who are aware of spelljamming wouldn't immediately make spelljammers the focus of their civilization.

    Giving spelljamming to a long-established world like the Realms is like asking them to take over the galaxy. They simply have such a huge population base that there will come a time that the number of ships possessed reaches a critical mass and they start conquering. And don’t bother with the claim that the Arcane control the supply of helms. First, there is no good reason to assume that any appropriate level mage couldn’t enchant a helm as easily as any other magic item. Even if that were the case they could still easily create an acceptable, less powerful substitute. Also, since helms are all but indestructible they always survive battle. Since they are so valuable they are nearly always salvaged from ships wreckages. Even if the Arcane were able to cut off the supply of new helms entirely (and being good merchants they wouldn’t be so foolish as to do that) the supply of existing helms would not change and once a conquering fleet gets rolling they would be expanding their helm supply by merely being successful conquerors. Ergo, if a populous world like Toril begins to gain spelljamming ships, eventually some country or portion of its population will eventually begin to take over (or at least attempt it) - it just stands to reason.

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