Friday, April 22, 2011

S: Spelljammer

Aah, my other beloved campaign setting -- though, ironically enough, one I have never managed to actually run though I tinker with the setting all the bloody time. (reasons for this are varied and in some cases withheld to spare someone who crops up on this blog from time to time ~)

Spelljammer was by and large already on the way out by the time I seriously dug into 2e, but that didn't stop me from pining after the material. It took some doing -- and moving away from the virtual barrenlands of my native terrain -- but I snapped it up and have been happy as a clam ever since.

I mean come on. Giant space hamsters. Of course I love Spelljammer ;3

Joking aside, those same hamsters and other strange critters seem to have cursed the setting with a label of "goofy" and "stupid" that it doesn't really deserve. Are a lot of the SJ monsters weird? Sure they are, just like the bizarre critters found in classic scifi. Is the idea of sailing ships flying through space stupid? Well, I guess that depends on just who you ask -- some of us enjoy the sheer out-there factor and, well, swashbuckling piratical derring-do. In space. Because it's just that awesome. That some other SJ features are the most gleefully, brazenly obvious easteregging of scifi and sci-fantasy anime (elven bioroids = Guyver units, to say nothing of the name "bioroid"; and the flamboyant reigar and their shakti are ripped clear out of Tenkuu Senki Shurato ... just the two most obvious examples) just adds to the fun.

I do have to address one SJ critter directly just on principle, and that's the giff. Here we have burly, hippo-headed humanoids with an obsession for both overly-grandiose military trappings and explosive firearms ... Now, I've seen giff called goofy, silly, and various other things that basically boil down to "not good for much other than bad comedy". Maybe I'm just looking at them sidewise, but it seems to me that hulking militaristic humanoids that look like one of the most dangerous mammals alive, with a fascination over the most unpredictable weaponry in the setting and no self-preservation instinct to speak of aren't goofy, they're downright impressively imposing (if not just a little panic-inducing). Especially when your enemies/antagonists/rivals have hired on a few ships' worth of them ...

The crystal spheres and phlogiston are a clever sendup of antiquarian cosmology, and I was sorely disappointed when the 3e/d20 Polyhedron mini-campaign "Secrets of the Spider Moon" discarded them in favour of more conventional space. (you even need to wear spacesuits. how .... mundane.)

But then SotSM was really a kind of disappointment all over, I'll freely admit -- there's adapting and updating, and then there's deliberate gutting. SotSM very deliberately removed everything that was Spelljammer except the concepts of ships in space and created a bland system (game and solar) that reads more like generic scifi than it's predecessor as often as not. And it was wrapped up in a kind of faux-grimdark set of trappings (dwarves as grim former illithid slaves, ditto half-orcs, gnomes had lost their planet and not a tinker in sight, etc etc) that all but screamed "Look! Look, a Spelljammer that you can take seriously we're being serious yes we are". The scant nods to original SJ's liveliness, like the spelljammer ace prestige class (or whatever it was called) were oddly dissonant.

Oh, and of course one of the major adversaries, the source of the game's name even, were the damned drow. Of course.

Bleh.

(at least the elves were rightfully called out as arseholes. that was kind of nice.)

Not being one to turn up fresh fodder, mind you, I've been happily tinkering around with SotSM to make it into a serviceable crystal sphere in Spelljammer proper. Because why not?

4 comments:

retrorpg said...

Spelljammer is cool, because of the magical principles of how the vessels work. The Hackjammer clone of it is even more bizarre!

I only played Spelljammer once, but I would like to run it myself, too. So many games, so little time.

Another fun post of yours, as always.

Superhero Necromancer said...

I couldn't have said it better myself, Taichara. Agreed on all counts.

Chris said...

Spelljammer! Where "Second star on the right and straight on till morning!" is a legitimate course heading.

Agree with you on the Giff. The comic-opera Prussian look and feel didn't help them at all. The whole 'big, burly, pompous, obsessed mit firearms, but unaware of how absurd they are' thing is straight out of a Tenniel illustration or a Punch or Strand Magazine caricature. They had real potential as big bads of the Unhuman War. Forget the Skrull, sorry, Scro: Giff revanchism FTW!

We see SJ a little differently though.

I loved the 'space is an ocean' aspects: the krajen and kindori, the ship designs, the neogi, the beholder nations and the nautiloids, the navigational hazards and the unimprovable COAS cover (which should have been the box art IMO). The tinker gnomes, giff-as-written, starbeasts, radiant dragons and pointy-eared Starfleet I could all quite happily leave to drift in the Flow.

I kinda liked the worlds of SotSM; they had a rather Space:1889 meets Forgotten Futures vibe going on. Sure, SotSM isn't the wide open expanse of Grubbian Wildspace, but it's still good fodder.

And I will maintain to my last breath that both the blessed St. Grubb and Mr Andy Collins missed a trick when they didn't drink more deeply from the Ulysses 31 well.

kelvingreen said...

And I will maintain to my last breath that both the blessed St. Grubb and Mr Andy Collins missed a trick when they didn't drink more deeply from the Ulysses 31 well.

Absolutely.