[Let's Read] SJR1 - Lost Ships

Dalillama

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Yeah, I found a copy in Miami almost ten years ago. I'm still amazed they managed to get it approved by WotC, because it's barely a parody at all; most of it's as serious as Spelljammer gets and focused on resolving issues with the original rules. The main Q&A with two of the three writers is here.
WotC never cared about the property, that's why most of the rights are held by Beyond the Moons these days.
 

MacBalance

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What the hell are those chicken legs made off?
The ones the Shrike lands on? yeah, they'd be likely weak points. And let's not talk about balance issues. I think in my head they 'compress' when it lands and just soften the landing, but it rests on the lower hull.

Today's ship is one that I'm amazed didn't creep into Spelljammer canon earlier: The Skeleton Ship!



it's got a deck plan that makes the Goblin Blade look complicated. It's like a 2d platformer level sketched out. Also totally ignores Gravity Planes as a concept. Charitably, I'd expect the plane to be somewhere along the deck just behind the lower jaw, assuming the spine is dense enough to 'raise' it above the middle. At 1-12 tons (yes, it varies) maybe the assumption is it really doesn't have much of a plane... But hat makes it even worse.

The "Boneship" or "Flying Skeleton" (clever names, well OK no.) is predictably of Undead manufacture and mostly used by undead. Specifically, it's undead humans... And the users are usually liches for some reason. Nonhuman undead, death knights, and similar are not the market the Skeleton Ship is going after. It's one of the few ships using the "bone" save (unsurprising) and many use traditional helms instead of lifejammers. Some do use Furnaces, however.

Spelljammer thought: This book has some rough notes on the idea of multiple helms on one ship... Which it breaks. Imagine if there was a firm rule against multiple Helms on a ship put in place purely to make 'resale' of captured helms more difficult. So ships can only carry one Major/Minor helm but might carry a Lifejammer or similar as an emergency device. It would make 'Fighters' a bit rougher, so might need to add a sort of smaller helm (the oft-mentioned 'impulse drive' concept) to make Fighters viable-ish. But back to the skele-boat:

It's long for it's mass at 200' long. The length is noted as "200' (varies)" while the beam length is "30-41' (29+1d12)" which seeems like a great AD&D example of being vague and precise in two lines of text.

The skeleton is usually taken from a Kindori (a space whale, usually a 12 ton vessel) but Radiant Dragons (only 11 tons; usually incomplete skeletons) are used as well. These ships are highly individual: Some are treated to keep joints working, while others are just lashed together bones. Crew notes have a surprisingly complex note about air for air-breathers despite the normal crew being undead: It's noted that undead can just hang on, and such a ship might carry 100 undead!

They're used for piracy and as personal yachts. The former gets a crew breakdown (and often uses lifejammers) while the latter might be lich's personal transport. They're noted as unsuitable as cargo haulers (they're noted as carrying 1 ton, which is explained as small items strapped to the hull) and minimal options to add armor or guns. There's a few special rules for the 'hull' buried in the Other Configurations section: A Skeleton Ship involved in a Shearing Attack takes an automatic 'Crash' result, for example.

Kobolds and Goblins can also use them as fireboats, loading them with explosives and launching them towards enemies.

It's a great idea, poor execution. The basic idea of a giant skeleton converted into a ship of the dead is wonderful, but the rules make it near-useless. The idea should be explored: Maybe a zombie space-whale that has a more traditional layout, with smaller skeleton craft like this as assault and boarding craft?
 

Leonaru

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The ones the Shrike lands on? yeah, they'd be likely weak points. And let's not talk about balance issues. I think in my head they 'compress' when it lands and just soften the landing, but it rests on the lower hull.
Fair point. They are probably more like landing gear.

Reverse Pinocchio zombie space whale has my vote.

Also, 1-12 tons? Did they use a bird skeleton for that one-ton ship? Also, you'd think that the undead would get rid of the air to make it harder for the living to enter the ship, but the air bubble is probably good for the PCs.
 

MacBalance

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Also, 1-12 tons? Did they use a bird skeleton for that one-ton ship? Also, you'd think that the undead would get rid of the air to make it harder for the living to enter the ship, but the air bubble is probably good for the PCs.
I feel like the '1-12' might have been a holdover from an early draft that should have been removed. The listed examples cover the narrow range of 11-12 tons. It's mass, so I guess it's a little flexible.

Removing/fouling the air envelope is certainly possible, but not easy.

Today's ship is the Space Leviathan which is basically a 'not-ship' even moreso than the box set's Dwarf Rock. It's a 400 ton metal ship that is kind of forced into the ship template: It's another example of the common AD&D trope of making a template, then trying to force things in that don't really fit. See many Monstrous Compendium entries. In this case, we get '?' for the Built By entries (elaborated as "(vanished alien race-Titans?), the Used entry, the Crew ("?/400"( and power type/ship's rating. It carries 8 Heavy Catapults, 3 Bombards, and a Blunt Ram, and can be loaded with 290 tons of cargo.

Thematically, it's an excuse to do a 'dungeon in space' and doesn't get a deck plan. There's two known examples, one of which is near Redeyes, which gets a sidebar we'll cover soon. They're mysterious metallic hulks (and old, crumbling, metal that isn't a known kind which is cast or grown as single pieces without joins) the Arcane won't discuss even for money. Despite the two known examples being covered, there's unspecified examples that have been moved to act as ram ships, defense platforms, mobile bases, etc.

The 'Titan' theory is based off the massive size of the ships, and is popular with human sages but discouraged by Elven sages who think an old spacefaring race just built huge ships.

No Ship Uses are listed, despite the talk of usage as bases, ram ships, and similar.

Good concept, poor execution. Plus, no deck plan makes me unhappy. A more self-aware book would spin this idea (which is a good idea!) to discuss how to use large objects (ranging from the Dwarf Rocks to include the Spelljammer itself) as both 'dungeons in space' and as a manageable thing in tactical play. That would have been useful and an interesting read for the setting, not that it wasn't covered later.

Our next ship continues the no deck plan, but it's an interesting concept at least.
 

MacBalance

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The Redeyes sidebar discusses the crystal sphere where a Space Leviathan is found. It's a sphere dominated by two massive deep red fire worlds, thus the name. It's located between Human and Illithid areas, which would be great if Spelljammer had ever really set out a 'world map' on a political basis like that. The sphere is littered with debris, but salvagers need to worry about a range of threats including a rogue Death Tyrant, scavvers, and Space Stirges (Identical to normal ones except for red eyes, cinnamon-brown skin, and immunity to temperature changes and bad air) as well as more human threats. We don't get any real 'payoff' for the sphere beyond it being a lawles splace and somewhere that many groups send new members into to recover a space-stirge corpse as an initiation rite.

Next up is the Stoneship which is the first (and I believe only) craft created and used by the Xorn! Xorn spacefarers seem like a weird idea as they're often considered tied to the Elemental Plane of Earth, but I like them as a 'weird alien race' for Spelljammer. They're aggressively non-humanoid: Star Trek of the era would have had to put some work in if they had shown up. I'm thinking puppets.

The Stoneship is another' ridiculously big' ship at 300 tons as it's basically an asteroid with added weapons (8 Heavy Catapults, 2 Heavy Jettisons, 3 rams... 3?) and engines. The engines are either a Foundry, Series Death Helms (yikes!) or "Elemental Power" with the later being 70%. Hopefully that's covered below... The Giant Rock can carry 75 tons of cargo and supplies which, Xorn, is probably More Rocks.

The description suggests Xorn (which are extremely rare spacefarers and don't like to talk about it) are looking for routes to the Elemental Plane of Earth that avoid the Dao or simple colony vessels.

(An idea for a Crystal Sphere is one 'under construction' where massive gates to the Elemental Planes exist and open to release mass quantities in as needed to literally mix up the worlds inside like making a large, lumpy, spheroidal cake. Xorn might show up and eat the supply of gems or use the gate.)

Predictably, Dwarves find these ships attractive as they're basically Citadels in need of beautification. A fun comment is that wars between Xorn and invading Dwarves may last years to determine ownership of a Stoneship.

Power sources do get several paragraphs: The Xorn use gear confiscated from ships that landed in their controlled areas or bought gear from the Arcane with gems. They then developed a way to hook death helms together in serial. This works, but the vessels go through slaves quickly. Before this, I tended to think of Xorn as relatively harmless 'aliens' who can be worked with if they're left to their own matters.

Newer ships use fire elementals in an unknown process. It's not specified if this works in the Flow (actually, this gets touched on later) but there's a comment that Elminster and Khelben investigated and believe the Xorn use sealed chambers they phase into, so perhaps it's a workable plan. This is followed by a discourse on the existence or nonexistence of Xorn mages.

Xorn are long-lived (one known Xorn captain is 960 years old) and passive. This means if they can get away with it they'll just go silent and drift by especially to protect their special engines. It also says they use mechanical paddles and 'xorn "ramjets"' to slowly travel through the Flow. The latter are systems of tunnels and devices where air is compressed and then released providing slow propulsion. The Evil Xorn thread comes up again: Xorn int he flow work slaves to death because it's better than feeding them.

The ship has a crew of 54/300 if it was somehow crewed by humans. With Xorn, that's 8/40 and they even get to run the guns easier. The only listed use is as an Explorer. The description of this usage does mention it's the only ship that can practically mount multiple rams along with a buried rule that the ship is immune to Hull Holed and Interior Crew Strike criticals due to being basically solid rock without hatches between the limited living space since the Xorn can phase through solid rock.

I'd rate this as 'good idea, bad execution' as I feel like it'd be a neat setting for an adventure or similar, but is kind of a non-participant in the normal ship stuff. Used in tactical combat it's slow and has poor maneuverability, but it's also got a ton of weapons and 300 hull points. Most of my plot ideas for this ship go down the route of helping Dwarves take one intact to convert into a Citadel (perhaps even landing on it not realizing the Xorn were onboard!) or the Elemental Plane ideas.
 

Gyrfalcon

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Also, 1-12 tons? Did they use a bird skeleton for that one-ton ship? Also, you'd think that the undead would get rid of the air to make it harder for the living to enter the ship, but the air bubble is probably good for the PCs.
I'd guess that at least some 1-ton ships are what happens when you can only salvage and get spelljamming a small bit of whale skeleton. Like, a third of a skull and about four vertebrae.
 

MacBalance

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I'd guess that at least some 1-ton ships are what happens when you can only salvage and get spelljamming a small bit of whale skeleton. Like, a third of a skull and about four vertebrae.
1 ton would also put it at around what Spelljammer avoids making a Fighter or Support Craft scale ship. In another setting, there’s a whole raft (heh) of undead craft ranging from a 1 ton shuttle/boarding craft up to a massive undead space-whale that moves under its own abilities by eating helms or something.

Tonight lets get to what 8 feel may be Maximum Spelljammer Weirdness in the form of the Swan Ship!

It’s a swan that flies through space. It like a bird flies, but like a bird swims. And not a penguin-style, but a swan’s LLC-energy “float” posture.

Here’s the deck plan;


(I’m having some share link issues due to being on a tablet at the moment... plus this is one of the largest plans in the book. I’ll fix it during the week if it’s problematic.)

So yeah: it’s a swan in space. It does include a gravity plane, which shows how much of a novelty design this is as it at least pays lip-service to the ‘center of gravity’ concept with a massive ballast zone below the lowest normal deck. Although the gravity line is a typo or the cargo deck isn’t meant to be reversed, I favor the latter theory. The mimicry includes wing which are somewhat functional (they act as loading ramps and shields) and a massive swan neck so the bridge can be in the head which I guess gives it good visibility. There’s also a duck-butt loading ramp.

It’s a truly ludicrous design for anything but a parade float.

By the numbers it’s a 32 ton halfling vessel, also used by humans and elves (they planned to avoid heigh issues, I guess) that can land on water and seems otherwise relatively mediocre. Halflings do get the expected Short Crew Bonus.

The write up is actually quite short. I guess they blew the budget on the deck plans. It’s used as a trader, and Illithid and Giff have been modifying them to use as deceptive raiders. Otherwise, not too much, and the ‘special features’ don’t get any real rules.

That said, despite being a totally crazy design I like it. I would clear up a few issues and maybe give it some bonuses: the wing-ramps and rear hatch suggest it might be able to load/unload quickly, which would have a lot of value for traders and cargo haulers. Maybe give the bridge some rules for being able to watch the deck better.

It shouldn’t be a common ship, but it deserves a place in the Spelljammer canon.
 
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