The 5e Spelljammer sourcebook has just entered the preorder stage, and I’ve already reserved my spot. Spelljammer, as you may have noticed if you’re an avid reader of these Divinations, is a beloved campaign setting for me. I love the creatures, the races, the plots, and especially the ships.
I’m not sure exactly which of the ships from AD&D Spelljammer are going to be brought over into 5e (or if they’re going to bring any over at all – they may very well invent their own). But I certainly know which ones I’m hoping for. And which ones I’m going to adapt myself if they don’t include them in the official material!
This blog post uses terminology relevant to the Spelljammer campaign setting. If you aren’t familiar with the language, or just want a quick rundown of the world, check out our brief explanation here: Dungeons and Dragons' Science Fiction Campaign Setting: Spelljammer (d20collective.com)
Here are just some of the best Spelljammer ships available in the game
The Dragonfly is one of the most common ships in Wildspace, and for good reason. This human-designed vessel, which looks like the creature it’s named for, is a fast and easy-to-maneuver vessel. It can be flown by a single pilot in a pinch, although it works best with a crew of three, and has a variety of uses.
Dragonflies are used to transport small load of goods and adventurers (both legally and illegally), to house wizard laboratories far from distracting civilizations, and to dart through and explore uncharted areas. They do have light combat abilities, usually either a ballista or a catapult, but aren’t too concerning in a fight unless you encounter a whole swarm.
The Spelljammer Ship Recognition Manual describes the Bolaship as “perhaps the strangest contraption in fantasy space”. And they’re right! For one thing, it doesn’t even actually have a Spelljamming Helm.
Instead, the gnomes who designed (and who operate, since hardly anyone else does) the ship has 6 whip-like appendages that squirm and strike through space in order to generate power. These tentacles-of-sorts also act as an effective head-on weapon that can smack at any enemies that make the mistake of getting too close.
Since they aren’t powered by magic, though, it takes physical power to keep this strange ship moving. A crew of at least 12 man the foot pedals, like bikes, to keep them going. Fewer peddlers can man the craft to move it at a lower speed, of course, with a minimum of 10. And it can hold up to 25, so that crew members can take the occasional break.
Built by the humans of the far-east on Toril (the land of Faerun and the Forgotten Realms, the Tsunami is a massive, ki-powered vessel. It requires at least 10 ki points to fly (which can be provided by up to 8 individuals), carries 36 smaller ships which can be sent out in combat, and can hold up to 200 people aboard. It’s also armed to the teeth, with 3 jettisons, 6 bombards, 12 heavy ballistae, and 10 heavy catapults. That’s a lot of firepower!
There are only 6 of these craft, canonically. And only 2 are ever active in Wildspace. This makes them a fairly rare sight, even in highly inhabited areas.
If you do get to see them you’ve got either amazing or terrible luck, since “seeing the Tsunami turning in space is a most beautiful sight to behold but seeing it turning on you is the most terrifying”.
The so-called “civilized species” aren’t the only ones in Wildspace. Beholders are probably the best-known monstrous spacefarers, but they, too, aren’t the only ones. The Mammoth is a ship designed by and for Ogres, accommodating their large size and taking advantage of their often-ruthless culture.
This is prime example of a ‘deathhelm’, which powers the ship from the life energy of people onboard (usually slaves). They’ll typically take as many ships as they can, cramming them in among the already-crammed warriors (as many as 600, which is far too many for safety, since the ship’s maximum operational crew is 90), and drain them while they use their taken ships as battering rams against their enemies.
Suitably, each of these warships has 4 heavy ballista, 4 heavy catapults, 1 heavy jettison, and a battering ram of its own.
Of course, if you don’t play ogres as an evil group, you can have this kind of ship manned by anyone you like. Human pirates and mindflayers are both attributed as common pilots in cannon, and one cruelly manned ship need not reflect against the whole civilization that you’re crafting for your game. Regardless of who pilots them, they make for good no-ambiguity enemies for your adventurers to take out in heroic combat.
While not the most common ship within the cannon of Spelljammer, the Nautiloid is probably the best known among players. These are practically symbolic of their Mindflayer pilots, with a design that perfectly suits them.
They use multiple helms, often connected to each other, and require several pilots to keep the ship going. But that’s okay, because they don’t need too many other actual crewmembers to run the rest of the ship – they’re got mind-controlled slaves for that. Imagine if you could get your snacks to do some of the driving on a road trip!
While these aren’t technically warships, so to speak, they are surprisingly well armed. They have at least 3 medium ballistae, 1 medium catapult, 1 medium jettison, and 1 battering ram. These armaments serve as protection against the Githyanki and other enemies who are sworn to bring them down, as well as handy tools for taking prisoners from other ships and civilizations when they get low on slave/rations.
What’s your favorite Spelljamming ship? Have you ever made your own? How did it work? Let us know in the comments below!