Dungeons & Dragons: Spelljammer Is Gorgeous, But Still Plays It Safe

Dungeons & Dragons' new Spelljammer box set is one of Wizards of the Coast's most dynamic and gorgeous-looking products, but it's still hindered by the company's continued attempts to jam an entire campaign setting into one release. Spelljammer: Adventures in Space is a brand new three-book box set that officially brings the space fantasy-themed Spelljammer campaign setting into Fifth Edition. Wizards of the Coast has teased Spelljammer for years, dropping nautiloids, spelljamming helms, and other references to the bold and original setting in various adventures. While the revival of Spelljammer had become something of a meme amongst Dungeons & Dragons fans, the new box set provides fans with a ton of rules for exploring Wildspace and the Astral Sea and gives Dungeons & Dragons campaigns a universe of possibilities to explore. 

Spelljammer: Adventures in Space is split into three books, each of which is 64-pages long. The three books are equivalent in size to a single campaign setting book like Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft or Eberron: Rising From the Last War, but come with a few distinct advantages. For one, the smaller books are easier to manage at the table – players can pull out Boo's Astral Menagerie if they need a monster statblock or they can hand over Astral Adventurer's Guide to players when they are choosing their spelljammer ship. It's a more practical setup that hearkens back to the splatbooks of old while not abandoning Wizards of the Coast's current model of releasing only a handful of D&D products per year.

(Photo: Wizards of the Coast)

The three books each serve a different purpose for supporting the Spelljammer setting. Astral Adventurer's Guide is a player-focused book that provides rules for six new races, statblocks and rules for over a dozen Spelljammer ships, and an overview of traveling the Astral Seas. Boo's Astral Menagerie contains over 60 different statblocks for creatures that players might encounter during their jaunt into Wildspace, featuring a mix of Spelljammer (and Dark Sun) monsters and a handful of new creatures. Finally, Light of Xaryxis is a mini-adventure in which players must stop an empire of astral elves from destroying their planet. 

Spelljammer itself has received a not-insignificant overhaul with Spelljammer: Adventures in Space. Gone are the crystal spheres of phlogiston that defined the old Spelljammer. In its place is the Astral Sea and its weird blend of cosmic eeriness and nautical tropes. Players can sail across the stars alongside space whales and space seagulls while simultaneously dodging classic monsters like Astral Dreadnoughts and Solar Dragons. While the nautical theme is a bit jarring for those expecting a setting closer to Star Wars, I really enjoyed the entire vibe of the new Spelljammer setting, which is helped by a ton of genuinely gorgeous artwork found in all three books. During a recent press conference, lead designer Chris Perkins noted that Spelljammer: Adventures in Space had the largest art budget of any 5E product and its shows. Frankly, Spelljammer: Adventures in Space really sets the bar for future releases – the layouts, artwork, and maps are beautiful as are the standard and alternate covers.

My main criticism for Spelljammer: Adventures in Space is that the setting simply isn't done justice by a single product, even one split into three books. While the Wizards of the Coast team does its best to make every word and page count, the overall result feels a bit thin. There are no space-themed subclasses (the original Spelljammer had no classes specific to that setting either) nor are their good feats to help build a character truly changed by their trip into the Astral Sea. There are plenty of really cool threads and character archetypes that Wizards could explore further, but limited resources and page counts seem to have restricted what they could do in one product. 

(Photo: Wizards of the Coast)

Additionally, other than the Rock of Bral (which is meant as a hub for a potential campaign) and a pair of new Wildspace worlds in the Light of Xaryxis adventure, there's not a lot of detail to help players build a Spelljammer campaign setting... unless they want to build out entire worlds of their own. While I'd be fine with Spelljammer: Adventures in Space if I knew Wizards of the Coast planned to support Spelljammer with more adventures and campaign resources, the company's current product cycle has me cynical that there will be more support outside of DMs Guild supplements and perhaps a few more statblocks on D&D Beyond. 

Luckily, the new product type itself offers a potential solution to these problems. While Dungeons & Dragons has aimed for a "less is more" approach to its releases since the launch of Fifth Edition nearly a decade ago, the individual books in Spelljammer: Adventures in Space show that Wizards can produce smaller books that focus on a single aspect of the game. Given that Wizards is juggling multiple campaign settings at the moment, I feel like these smaller 64-page books could help soothe the criticisms that Wizards pushes out a single campaign setting book and then never mentions that setting again, leaving it to wither and die without any support. Imagine a 64-page Eberron adventure (the first "official" Eberron content in several years) or a 64-page Ravenloft adventure that focuses on one of that setting's new Darklords. Perhaps a future Spelljammer book could serve as a gazetteer of sorts, detailing some of the strange worlds that only get fleetingly mentioned in the Spelljammer: Adventures in Space boxed set. 

Overall, Spelljammer: Adventures in Space is definitely a must-have for D&D fans. The boxed set is gorgeous and builds out the Dungeons & Dragons universe in new and interesting ways. While the books will leave fans wanting more Spelljammer content, this is not an unusual feeling. Hopefully, Spelljammer: Adventures in Space will be a runaway success, as it definitely shows that there's a whole universe of adventure waiting to be explored.