Lots of excellent Spelljammer content but lacks the lore to accompany it. A higher page count would have really helped this book out, especially with the higher price point.
For a long time now, there’s been a niche corner of the D&D community that’s been clamouring for the Spelljammer setting to be updated for 5th Edition. The setting that not only plays out in wildspace, but also ties a lot of the other settings together with its interconnected space travel, hasn’t been around since 2nd Edition. It’s the epic fantasy of D&D that we’ve come to expect, but played out in space with astral ships (that look very much like naval ships along with many other weird and wonderful designs) known also as Spelljammers. Wizard’s of the Coast has finally answered our prayers and updated the Spelljammer setting for D&D 5e and we’re here to review the lot so buckle yourselves into your spelljamming helm while we review the latest setting book/books that’re up for grabs.
|Lengthy campaign for a setting book|
|Lots of great monsters|
|Shorter than other setting books|
|Distinct lack of lore|
|On the pricey side|
What’s in the box?
You may be questioning why we’re telling you about what’s in the box, when we’re reviewing a setting book. Do not fear, we’ve not gone space crazy! Instead of simply offering us a single book, WOTC have provided us with a pack of 3 books, a map of the Rock of Bral (the main area detailed in the books) and a DM screen, all nicely packaged in a durable sleeve. While this may seem like you’re getting a lot of content with 3 whole books, the reality isn’t quite that generous.
Yes, each book is a beautiful hardcover, but each is only 64 pages long giving you a grand total of 192 pages of content. For comparison’s sake, most setting books like Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft, are 256 pages long making this set more comparable to something like Xanathar’s Guide to Everything or Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything. While this isn’t a miserly amount of content, in some respects it feels like we could really have done with the full 256 pages (more on that later). This combined with the fact that if we want to own the set, we’ll need to shell out $50/£50 (considerably more than other setting books), it’s easy to come away falling short changed.
That’s not to say that what’s provided doesn’t deserve the price tag. 3 hardcover books, a DM’s screen a very durable sleeve and a large map certainly justify the cost in terms of production costs, but this feels like it should have been reserved for a special edition. I’m unlikely to be sharing one of the books while using the others and I already have a DM screen (even if this one is nicer). I’d have much rather knocked $20/£20 off that price and enjoyed all the content I needed.
With gripes about price out of the way, we absolutely do need to address the artwork on offer. Put simply, it is sublime! While D&D 5e has brought us an excellent evolution of artwork, somehow, Spelljammer: Adventures in Space takes it to a higher level. With cosmic smatterings of pinks, blues and purples, wildspace feels less like the emptiness of real space, and more like a cosmic fireworks display, rich in detail and colour. Monsters look both majestic and, at times, appropriately terrifying. The artwork not only captures the majesty and vastness of the setting, but also the zaniness and weirdness that alien life might bring to a fantasy setting (that admittedly, already contains plenty of zaniness).
For the rest of the review, we’ll pull apart the 3 different books, their contents and how they stack up. For reference, the 3 books are:
Astral Adventurer’s Guide: This is primarily the setting book itself detailing races and backgrounds specific to the Spelljammer setting as well as rules unique to wildspace, spelljammer use and some of the locations you might visit in Wildspace.
Light of Xaryxis: This is a 10-12 session adventure in the Spelljammer setting designed to take players from levels 5-8.
Boo’s Astral Menagerie: This is essentially a mini monster manual for the Spelljammer setting. While most monsters from other manuals can be used within the setting itself (after all, Spelljammer is simply a setting that connects each planet in D&D through space), these monsters better fit what you might expect to find out in wild space.
Astral Adventurer’s Guide
The Astral Adventurer’s Guide is the meat of the Spelljammer setting. Here you’ll find out all about the additional races you can find in the Spelljammer setting, unique backgrounds, rules regarding spelljammer flight, gravity and wildspace, and information about a large asteroid colony known as the Rock of Bral.
Unfortunately, this book is where Spelljammer: Adventures in Space really shows why it should have been a full 256 page setting book. It just tells you so little about the lore of wildspace! But let’s go into a bit more detail about each section first.
The Astral Adventurer’s Guide gives you 2 brand new backgrounds in the shape of the Astral Drifter and the Wildspacer. These are good options to have with the Astral Drifter being for characters that travel the cosmos, travelling and experiencing what they can while the Wildspacer is more for experienced sailors of Spelljammers. There’s nothing groundbreaking here though (we expect backgrounds to get more important with One D&D though).
On top of this, we get 6 new races! In here, you’ll get:
Elves that ventured into the Astral Plane ages ago to become closer to their gods. While they remain very much elf-like, their culture and abilities have been shaped by their time in the Astral Plane. Of particular note is their ability to teleport 30ft innately with starlight step and gain temporary proficiency in a skill when they make a long rest with astral trance.
Autognomes are built by rock gnomes as sentient, mechanical beings that vary wildly in shape, appearances and even how they work. While they usually serve their creator, for whatever reason, some autognomes become separated from their creator and strike out on their own. Autognomes benefit from a higher natural armour class (due to their armoured casing), can add a d4 to certain rolls to help them succeed certain checks and are more resistant to effects like poison, disease and paralysis.
The giff are hippo-like humanoids that are stocky, strong and see beauty in warfare. This is reflected in their abilities which include a mastery of firearms, advantage on strength checks and saving throws and additional force damage when they hit an opponent.
The hadozee are an offshoot of other simian cousins. ape-like creatures made sentient, bipedal and more resilient by a wizard that captured many of these creatures ages ago. Since then, they have become their own species that took to the stars and now travel the cosmos. They’re able to use their feet as hands, glide and take less damage through a greater resistance to damage.
Plasmoids are amorphous blobs that can mould their bodies into any shape they like, often taking on a humanoid appearance so they can use humanoid tools. They are very different from most humanoids though, having no internal organs and absorbing oxygen rather than breathing but they are sentient and capable of intelligent thought. They are able to squeeze through tiny gaps, can hold their breath for an hour and shape themselves into whatever form they desire.
The thri-keen are insectoids with a protective carapace. They communicate using clicks that most species find difficult to understand and impossible to reproduce so often communicate with other species via telepathy. They benefit from a slightly higher natural armour class, a body that can change colour as required and secondary arms that can be used alongside their primary arms.
Mechanically, these are great character options with unique abilities such as teleportation, telepathy and gliding that make these races stand apart from others and also give them some cosmic flavouring. Unfortunately, lore-wise, these races fall short. The lore is sparce with little information about each race. While some may like the freedom to make of the races what they want, many, like myself, will likely be frustrated that we have to fill in so many gaps about the characteristics, history and culture of these races.
Rules and Mechanics
The Spelljammer setting is like no other in D&D. Rather than being concentrated on a particular planet (like the Forgotten Realms) or a particular plane (like Ravenloft), it covers the areas of space between the planets of the Prime Material plane. That not only includes space, but also other planets, asteroids, monsters and the entire cosmos between. And unlike real space, wildspace (as it’s referred to) is a much denser affair with spelljammer ships flying around, inhabitable asteroids and even creatures that can survive in the vacuum of space.
All of this means that there are some rules and mechanics that apply in Spelljammer that don’t apply elsewhere. This section is clever in that it addresses these elements of Spelljammer without overburdening us with rules. You’ll find rules on how air envelopes work in wildspace, how gravity operates on smaller surfaces (like asteroids, Spelljammer ships and even very large monsters) and you’ll also find out how operating and combating on a spelljammer ship might work.
In this instance, there’s enough information here to understand what to do but not so much that you need to learn swathes of new mechanics. On top of this, it details 15 spelljammer vessels you can encounter (or buy) with stats, costs and artwork. There’s a great variety here and there’s also some weird and alien designs that are exciting to see. It’s a true success that this section makes you crave for some space combat.
The Rock of Bral
Unfortunately, the joy of the mechanics of Spelljammer are quickly dashed by the final section of this book. The actual setting lore. Here you get 6 pages (7 if you include a 1 page picture of the Rock of Bral) dedicated to a single (admittedly, densely populated) location within wildspace! Sure, it may be the jumping off point for many adventures, but the writers had the entirety of Wildspace to write about and they could only come up with (or fit) 6 pages of interesting lore, locations and adventure hooks.
This is where the biggest issue with Spelljammer: Adventures in Space comes in. There’s a distinct lack of lore that could have easily been filled by making the book as long as other setting books. It would be kind of like writing Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft and only including information about Barovia or a setting book about the Forgotten Realms that only includes information about Baldur’s Gate! Hopefully the upcoming Planescape setting book doesn’t only cover off one of the planes of existence!
Light of Xaryxis
Light of Xaryxis is the adventure found in Spelljammer: Adventures in Space. It’s a 64 page book of about 12 sessions, each about 2-4 hours long taking players from levels 5-8. While 64 pages isn’t much to cram 12 sessions of material into, Light of Xaryxis does a great job of not making things too complex and sticking to the important details. It accomplishes much of this by railroading parties a fair bit. It may be a matter of taste whether that’s for you or not, but after slating the lack of lore in Spelljammer: Adventures in Space in the last paragraph, it’s phenomenal that the writers actually managed to squeeze an entire campaign into the book! For comparison’s sake, Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft managed a single adventure of 2-3 sessions with a much larger page count.
What you get is a wild and rollicking adventure that hurtles you through space. You never stay in one place too long to get bored and everything along the way really is fun to experience. The stakes are high too with planet-wide dangers to stop and creepy, derelict spelljammer vessels to explore. It certainly is a great way to introduce DMs to Spelljammer and how to run a Spelljammer campaign and, unlike most much larger setting books, manages to fit an entire campaign in a fairly short space.
While we’ve moaned in this review about the lack of lore, this campaign is very efficient on space and accomplishes a lot with very little. All in all, we’re impressed and consider it a campaign well worth your time adventuring in, especially if you want to get a sense for how to run a Spelljammer campaign.
Boo’s Astral Menagerie
Last but not least Spelljammer: Adventures in Space packs in an entire, Spelljammer themed monster manual! There’s 87 different monsters in here including variations of the new races we got in the first book such as astral elves and the thri-keen. On top of that, there are terrifying, cosmic horrors like the neogi and, well, the cosmic horror. Add to that some mounts and other potential allies like space hamsters and space guppys and there’s a real assortment of creatures in here.
This is certainly a heftier offering than in previous setting books, but with the vastness of wildspace and the fact that it needs to accommodate some fairly unique life-forms, it does feel justified. On top of that, there’s some really exciting monsters you’re going to be itching to throw at your players such as eye mongers and feyr. Other enemies, while well-designed, seem less well named, like vampirates and the murder comet (which by the writer’s own admission, was named purely for how it would fit in the book). These feel a little too much like a joke for this writer, though some may appreciate the more campy, humourous vibe they’re going for.
Regardless, as with Light of Xaryxis, Boo’s Astral Menagerie stands in direct contrast to the almost complete absence of lore, with a hefty, well-considered and interesting set of monsters. Boo’s Astral Menagerie certainly helps to justify the collection and really fleshes out this cosmic setting.
Spelljammer: Adventures in Space is an extremely difficult setting book to review On the one hand, it absolutely over-delivers on artwork that’s literally out of this world, and really brings the setting to life, it provides an entire campaign’s adventure, solid rules for wildspace and spelljammers, 6 new races and the chunkiest bunch of monsters outside of the actual monster manuals!
On the other hand, the lack of lore is a glaring hole in the books’ otherwise filled to the brim pages. All of the 6 playable races lack almost any kind of lore and the only location detailed has 6 pages of information (that’s fine for one place in wildspace, but what about all the rest)! On top of that, we are offered a shorter than usual setting book that’s been placed in a collection of 3 books and a DM screen to maximise price and profits. While I can understand playing around with collections to gauge interest, it does feel a bit lacklustre to not give a similar amount of content when the books really need it and then charge extra for the material.
If the books were the same price as most setting books, I’d gladly hand it a 3.5/5, but it loses a point for being too pricey. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth the purchase, if you want a fancy Spelljammer DM’s Screen and are keen to play in the Spelljammer setting, there’s a lot to love here. Unfortunately, it also comes with some fairly major caveats too.