Dungeons & Dragons’ reboot of the imaginative Spelljammer setting is arguably the most anticipated tabletop RPG release of the year (closely followed by Dragonlance). Fans have been waiting for decades to discover the place between the stars and the new three-volume set, titled Spelljammer: Adventures in Space will be released on August 16th. But beware: the module contains a few items – including enemies – that dungeon masters may want to adjust or avoid altogether when playing with their regular party.
[Content warning: This article includes images of clowns and spiders.]
As well as Spelljammer’s hippo-folk (giff) and other astral oddities, the setting is also home to a particularly dangerous gang of extremely violent clowns. If you look closely at the image above, you can see their pale faces grinning from the shadows.
“What we’re looking at here is a modified space galleon,” creative director Chris Perkins said during a recent press conference. “They put a big horn on the bow and a cake-slinging catapult on the aft castle.”
Perkins said that the addition of demented space clowns was a nod to the 1980s cult classic Killer clowns from space – should not trigger anyone’s phobias. Far from it; These “quirky” creatures are actually there to provide a bit of comic relief, “a counterpoint to some of the more serious elements in the environment” that contain elements of “cosmic horror”. But if you have someone in your group with a serious clown problem, then you need to stay away from that particular encounter. Of course, a good DM should know their players’ hot-button topics well in advance, having established clear boundaries during a pre-game chat commonly referred to as Session Zero.
Another strange element of the original Spelljammer setting are the Neogi, ferocious creatures described as “a cross between a wolf spider and a moray eel”. So furry on the bottom and slippery on top. In the new Spelljammer, Neogi is one of the player’s enemies. Aside from their own fearsome appearance, the sight of their ships could also be alarming for arachnophobic players. The massive, 175-foot long ships are literally shaped like spiders, with gigantic clawed limbs that reach out to capture other ships so boarding parties can scurry over and do their dirty work.
Of course, DMs can make adjustments on the fly in your home campaign to make those enemies and their ships look the way they want.
“We’re presenting these ships as a sort of example,” Perkins said, noting that the original Spelljammer contained a strong wargaming element, with gridded combat maps and tokens for enemy and friendly starships. “They range from the expected kind of space galleons to bizarre things like this – and hammerhead ships and squid ships. Many Spelljammer ships are modeled after creatures. […] We have kept that. I think it’s one of the key elements that defines Spelljammer.”
The new art for the Neogi night spiders appears to be very faithful to the original called Death Spiders, with Jessica Nyugen’s brightly lit spaceship retaining the same lines and colors as the 1989 version, illustrated by Jim Holloway.
In recent years, Wizards of the Coast has made a great show of avoiding issues of racial essentialism, for example expanding the drow to allow for a variety of alignments other than true evil. The Neogi are canonically among the worst of the worst, with an entire social structure built around slavery. “Own or be possessed” is the Neogi way of life according to the original books. So will Wizards massage some elements of these and other canon races for a modern audience? Yes and no, according to Perkins.
Mindflayers will be present in the revamped environment, sailing through space in their mollusc-shaped nautiloid ships. The ones who played Baldur’s Gate 3 or who have visited the frozen north in Icewind Dale: Frost Maiden Rime have also encountered these evil, brain-eating squid-people in the past. They’re still essentially 100% villains, as are some of the beholders (huge, floating head-shaped monsters) you’ll also encounter in Spelljammer. But other races in the setting will have a lot more nuance than ever before.
“With other types of creatures, we just wanted to show that there are layers there [and] that sometimes […] Your expectations can be turned upside down,” Perkins replied to Polygon’s question. “This question reminded me of one of my favorite questions Star Trek: The Next Generation Episode called “I, Borg” in which we first see a kind of more sympathetic side of what was previously a kind of monolithic race in the Borg. I think that’s always possible in this environment, and many creatures that you encounter both in the adventure that appears in the product and in the art that is described more generally [Boo’s Astral Menagerie]that there is a range. […] Vampires can be mean, but sometimes you find a good one. And sometimes you can do business with them. And sometimes they are your friends, and sometimes they even sacrifice their lives to save you.”
Spelljammer: Adventures in Space will feature a 64-page adventure titled Light of Xaryxis. The box set, which includes a DM screen, is available to pre-order now online and at your local game store – where it includes unique cover art by Hydro64.