Spoiler alert! This article discusses the new Spelljammer adventures from WotC in detail, so any player cadets reading this may want to turn their ships now before we head into the depths of Wildspace spoiler territory.
TL;DR; In a rush? This article covers 4 key tips for DMs running the first in the new series of four Spelljammer adventures recently released as freebies on D&D Beyond. Spelljammer Academy is a standalone module and you do not need any new rulebooks to play it. The tone is fun (borderline silly at points) but if you can roll with that, it is an entertaining way to get introduced to the new Spelljammer setting… and, did I mention, it's free? … oh, and I’ve only gone and made some free maps you can use too (link below)! 😊
- Link to D&D Beyond module here: https://www.dndbeyond.com/sources/sja
- Download my free 🗺️maps here: take me to the maps
What is it?
D&D Beyond is giving away a series of 4 adventures, based on the upcoming Spelljammer campaign setting. The first was released on July 11th, followed by another on 18th July and two further modules will be released in the weeks leading up to the official Spelljammer release on 16th August 2022. This review has now been split into a separate article for each of the four adventures - quick links below:
- Adventure 1: Orientation
- Adventure 2: Trial by Fire
- Adventure 3: Realmspace Sortie
- Adventure 4: Behold H’Catha
Adventure 1: Orientation
Ahoy there Spelljammer! Are you ready for blast off?
“Orientation” is the first of the freebie adventures on D&D Beyond. It is designed for three to seven 1st-level characters and introduces you to the Spelljammer Academy on the island of Nimbral, southwest of the Chultan peninsula in the Forgotten Realms campaign setting.
PLAY TIME: around 2-4 hours (it took us 4 hours but we did take our time)
DM PREP TIME: 30-60 minutes
This adventure does not take itself too seriously (e.g. there is a flatulent Giff and various other silly moments) and so may not be for everyone. However, for those who are happy to roll with the tone (or DMs willing to tweak it), it is a fun introduction to the new Spelljammer setting. It kicks off strong with some cool pirate combat, which also includes some rollable-table randomness thrown in.
Whilst you do not make it into Wildspace in this initial adventure, it does introduce a variety of interesting characters including a cigar-smoking Hadozee (deck ape), and several of the new Spelljammer races, such as Plasmoids, Giffs and Autognomes. Worth noting though, that you do not get to play as any of the new races yet, I suspect they are saving that for the official launch.
If there was a criticism, although there is some cool artwork mappin gout the Academy (below), the battle maps are very basic and leave a lot to be desired if you plan to run this on a VTT such as Roll20. However, given it is free, this is nit-picking! Plus, I thought I'd help out on that front and have included 2 free space-themed maps at the bottom for the main combat encounters at the bottom of this post (here) - enjoy!
Is it any good?
If you are interested in Spelljammer then it is a great introduction, and free! I played it with my two mini-adventurers in training and they loved it. More serious players may find it a little silly at points, although these aspects can easily be tweaked by the DM.
DM Tips for Running the Module
I have a few tips having run this adventure:
- Cadet types: Take note that players will be separated into casters (potential Spelljammers) and non-casters. Some of the initial “Orientation tasks” apply to only one or the other.
- Academy Events: There is a table of “Academy Events” that detail various interesting things the players see whilst in transit between tasks. These are easily overlooked but in my view are really strong narrative tools to give your table a real feel for Spelljammer and I recommend making sure you touch on most if not all of the events.
- Security Colour codes: There is a colour-coded “security clearance level” for each area of the academy. I spent a bit of time mid-game unnecessarily trying to work out where they would find the different coloured helmets/uniforms to grant clearance. In summary:
- Green does not require any clearance as this is for visitors (i.e. no coloured uniform / helmet required)
- Make sure the players do the “Welcome Pack” task first (they likely will as this is first on their task list they are given). In this task, players are given a red uniform and a blue helmet. Once they have these they can go anywhere except the Bridge Quarters at the very top, i.e. as long as they stay away from the top floor, you can forget about the colour codes after this!
- After they complete all the tasks they must report back to Tarto, who will give them the necessary Gold helmet to go up to see Mirt to complete the final part of the adventure.
- Mirt's Room: In the final encounter (Mirt’s bed-chamber), there are a couple of cool interactive elements within the room - the wardrobe and the map table. If you jump straight into combat, which is easily done as written, you may end up missing these (we did) so I would recommend not making any sounds from the crate initially, and giving the players some time to explore the room while Mirt snores away, and then wake him up or create some sounds from the crate once they have had a chance to play!
- Final Battle: The final battle can be deadly for smaller parties, a single hit can take out a squishy level one player! To counter this, reduce the number of critters, bringing in just one more than your party size (e.g. for a party of four, bring in five of them). Also if needed don't be afraid to bring Mirt into battle earlier than is written if needed. If things are going too easy, a few more can always crawl from the darker corners of the crate!
Spelljammer Academy is an entertaining introduction to Spelljammer from WotC. It seems that there is a deliberate tone being set for the new Spelljammer setting, which is light-hearted and fun. I don’t think this will come as too much of a surprise to anyone, given Spelljammer features giant space hamsters and bipedal hippos dressed in Victorian attire. Whilst this may not be for everyone, after my last campaign in Barovia🧛, it was a welcome respite and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Bonus - did you spot this lore?
The eagle-eyed among you will recognise some nice cross-campaign links, with key NPCs like Mirt the Merciless from Dragon Heist, and Prince Andru (the unfortunately named monarch of Bral) and Elmandar - who together are the founders of the Academy - and both appeared in the 2E Spelljammer sourcebook “Rock of Bral”.
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Free maps - huzzah!
Feel free to use these maps to level up your first game of Spelljammer!
Maps for Adventure 1: Orientation
Moonraider map with grid (I run this 33x38 grid squares on Roll20):
Moonraider map no grid:
Mirt's room with grid (I run this 14x11 grid squares on Roll20):
Mirt's room no grid:
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