D&D Direct 2022 Part One: Spelljammer Confirmed!

Picture3Hm . . . what’s been happening lately? There have been a few TV shows I’ve been watching. How about that Thor: Love and Thunder trailer? Oh, and Spelljammer and Dragonlance confirmed! Yeah, I want to touch base on some of the things that were announced at D&D Direct. I will be doing this in two parts, with Part I being Spelljammer, and part two being everything else.

There was a ton of speculation going into this presentation on what exactly was going to be announced. I think it’s probably worth noting all of the things this didn’t address (most of which I wasn’t expecting, but were swirling around the internet):

  • Nothing about the acquisition of D&D Beyond by WotC
  • Nothing about a proprietary VTT or other digital plans from WotC
  • No purchase of an existing VTT
  • No announcement of the end of licensing with an existing VTT
  • No Magic: the Gathering D&D Setting Announcements
  • No Dark Sun setting announcement even though it hasn’t really been hinted at
  • Nothing about the 2024 re-release of the core books
  • Nothing about Jakandor (okay, that one was just me)

So, what did we find out?

Spelljammer Confirmed!

The very first thing we found out from D&D Direct, by way of a trailer, is that Spelljammer is finally confirmed. This one is both surprising and not surprising. There have been years of non-denials on this, and some outright, extremely blatant statements. Despite that, Spelljammer was never the next announcement, and WotC representatives never officially said anything.

This announcement also answered one of those looming questions from last year. Chris Perkins had mentioned a “new format” release that wasn’t a traditional hardcover, and since this wasn’t long after the vaguely foreboding surveys about digital content, there was some speculation on what this new format would be, and what it meant going forward. It turns out, the Spelljammer content will be release in a three-book slipcase, dividing up the setting material, the new monsters, and a setting adventure in 12 parts.

That’s not as radical as the vague discussion of the new format would have implied. I saw some discussion of why they would split was the same amount of content from a hardcover into three books and a slipcase. I think that there are some data points that make this a logical trial for a different presentation. For example, The Beadle and Grimm’s premium products split hardcovers into smaller bits, and this is a popular breakdown of material. And as someone that has several of the Goodman Games OAR products, I would love to have the 5e material separated out from the interviews and retrospectives instead of being in the same giant tomes (or split across two tomes, in the case of Temple of Elemental Evil).

As I said, this one has been telegraphed for a while. We specifically had an Unearthed Arcana article all about PC races that were adapted from Spelljammer material. There does appear to be some tweaks to the setting:

  • Wildspace is no longer contained in Crystal Spheres, but bleeds into the Astral if you travel far enough
  • Spelljammer helms don’t drain a spellcaster’s ability to cast spells, and instead only require an open attunement slot for a magic item (which would imply that you may not be able to make a fast getaway if the standard one-hour attunement rules still apply)
  • Spelljammer helms appear to be items that can be created by individuals, and aren’t locked behind access granted by Arcane merchants
  • The connection between Wildspace and the Astral also seems to rope in Githyanki as potential PCs, as seen in some of the art (the original Spelljammer setting in 2e had its own Gith subspecies for space travel, given the Illithid activity in space, so it makes sense to streamline this)

What have we seen from the previous incarnation of Spelljammer in this reveal?

  • We’ve seen Elven Man-O-War ships and Neogi ships both in the art and the miniature teasers from WizKids
  • We’ve seen Plasmoids and Hadozee as PC races
    Chris Perkins specifically mentioned Sun and Moon Dragons
  • Art of the Dohwar (penguin people) and their winged pig mounts appeared in the presentation
  • Zodar appear as one of the miniatures teased by WizKids
  • The Rock of Bral, a prominent spelljamming port in Wildspace, appears in the trailer
  • There appears to be space whales of some kind which could be Kindori (we don’t really see the front of them)
  • Scavvers, the nasty giant space fish, are also referenced
  • Huge, serpentine dragons that don’t appear to be sun or moon dragons appear in several pieces of art, which are likely to be the space dwelling Radiant Dragons

Things we haven’t seen yet:

  • Beholder hive ships (which is interesting in part because beholder reproduction got an overhaul between editions)
  • Dwarven citadels (Spelljamming fortresses that are powered by the work being done inside the citadel at any given time)
  • The Spelljammer itself (the mysterious city sized ship whose appearance in the Wildspace near a planet is usually seen as a momentous omen)

I really liked Spelljammer back in the day and ran adventures in the setting for a while in my 2e days. I also incorporated bits of the lore into my long running 3e Forgotten Realms campaign. There are some things I hope they avoid this time around. In the original Spelljammer boxed set, they mention that it’s easier to sail away from some worlds and towards others. In other words, in the 2e days, it was supposed to be difficult to sail towards Krynn, but easy to sail away from it. This was meant to keep outside influence in that setting minimal. Then, as the line went on, Krynn was sending council members to inter-system war councils and there were suddenly spelljamming ports in Ansalon, and all of that really broke the feeling of the setting for me.

Chris Perkins mentioned that Spelljamming is about traveling the multiverse and taking the “scenic route,” and I would love it if the number of people and the amount of influence that Spelljammers have on established worlds is minimal. I don’t care if powerful characters like Elminster know they exist, I just don’t want regular spelljammer visits to Waterdeep’s ports, or terrestrial nations to own spelljamming ships as terrestrial weapons of war, because that shifts the entire paradigm of fantasy worlds.

In other words, I want more places like the Rock of Bral, ports that exist in space without really influencing established worlds, and having spelljamming as more of a “one way ticket,” where players come from established worlds to meet up and go visit weird stuff in the unknown.

Picture2The Astral versus the Phlogiston

On one hand, I liked the idea of the Crystal Spheres from a standpoint of the weird alternate stars that different systems had, and the mysterious spells etched on the inside of Realmspace, and all the other cosmological strangeness. On the other hand, Crystal Spheres were an issue.

The concept that all the Prime Material is a single plane, only divided by infinite space, was kind of introduced in Spelljammer, and seems to be the default assumption in D&D 5e’s cosmology. We also know that Earth exists in this cosmology, because people from Oerth and Toril have both visited Earth. Additionally, we know that traditional science-fiction based starships have crashed on D&D worlds, as seen in Expedition to the Barrier Peaks. We also know Earth isn’t encased in a Crystal Sphere, and that traditional starships would have an awkward time navigating the Crystal Sphere/Phlogiston cosmology native to Spelljammer in 2e.

So just from a logic standpoint, which I probably shouldn’t be worrying about, because this is fantasy, it’s a lot easier to just envision some stretches of space that don’t naturally bleed into the Astral plane, and still work the way you would expect space to work.

But I’m going to posit another reason why I’m completely down for the Astral being the “hyperspace” of Spelljammer instead of the Phlogiston. It’s just cooler. The Phlogiston’s main claim to fame was that it was super flammable, which meant you had to be careful getting into fights where you might be tempted to throw flames around. But Phlogiston based encounters never seemed to be as much fun as Wildspace encounters. The Phlogiston (as envisioned) was created entirely for the Spelljammer setting, but it was never where the emphasis was placed. It’s that area of space that you shortcut through to get to another Crystal Sphere.

On the other hand, the Astral plane in D&D has a whole lot of history built up around it. The Astral is the conduit to the Outer Planes. It’s the place where the bodies of dead gods float for eternity. It’s the place where the Githyanki plot their revenge against the Illithids, and plan to conquer all of reality. It is a place where the material doesn’t age, because it is a realm of the mind. And, of course, there are impossibly large predators like the Astral Dreadnought that have been established there. The Astral is already a place where time and distance are weird and distorted, and a place that already has natural portals to different realities.

Other Spelljammer Related News

This seems to be most of what we got from D&D Direct, as well as additional information from gaming press like Brandes Stoddard. The other information that is Spelljammer related is in the miniatures realm.

It’s probably not going to be a surprise that WizKids is going to be producing Spelljammer miniatures, including a massive Astral Dreadnought. What might be a little more newsworthy is that they are going to be producing ship scale miniatures as well. In the promotional material, we can see some familiar ships like the Elven Man-O-War. I do wonder if we’ll see ship scale miniatures of enormous creatures like the Astral Dreadnought or Radiant Dragons.

I’d like to be excited about the miniatures news except:

  • I’m running entirely online right now
  • WizKids is getting very expensive

That Astral Dreadnought is going to set someone back a couple hundred dollars, and as much as I love them (and have ever since they appeared on the cover of the AD&D 1e Manual of the Planes), I don’t think I could justify the cost for how often they would appear in a game.

Because of other announcements which I will get to later, I do wonder if there will be resources for running tactical Spelljammer encounters in ship-to-ship combat outside of the supporting WizKids miniatures. The fact that they did dedicate a line to producing ship miniatures seems to indicate that tactical ship combat will have at least some real estate in the Spelljammer books.

Speaking of high end accessories, Beadle and Grimm’s have already announced that they will have Platinum and Silver Editions of Spelljammer available for pre-order soon. That also makes me wonder if those sets will have material for facilitating ship to ship combat. Ironically, that might make the high-end editions of the setting more economical than trying to flesh out a fleet via WizKids, but I guess we’ll be better able to evaluate that when we get more details.

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