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Art of the Genre: Spelljammer Reloaded: AKA Pathjammer!

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012 | Posted by Scott Taylor

Distant Worlds, or as I like to call it, 'Pathjammer!'

Distant Worlds, or as I like to call it, 'Pathjammer!'

So as you may have seen last week, I was on my annual pilgrimage to Indiana for a full week of hardcore gaming with my boys. The ‘Week 2012’ included several games like AD&D 1E, Deadlands D20, Stars Without Number, and even a go at Pinnacle’s Savage Worlds: Tour of Darkness, which was outstanding.

My responsibility during the week was to DM what is considered our ‘super campaign’ which will take up to five full days of gaming. At a bit over 14 hours a day, that equates to roughly 70 hours behind the DM screens (this week I was enticed to do 6 days and 84 hours). To do this I’ve got to come up with an original idea, typically something that will throw the players for a loop, and certainly hold their attention as we move through an epic tale of adventure.

This year, as I sat staring at my shelves of RPG books, I couldn’t help but keep coming back to the old AD&D 2nd Edition campaign setting, Spelljammer. Now Spelljammer was an interesting and inherently simple idea, take D&D and put it in space. To do this, the development team found a way to make fantasy ships fly through space while they explored worlds around the base worlds TSR had created through the 1980s like Krynn, Greyhawk, and the Forgotten Realms.

Back in the day, I’d played Spelljammer no more than three or four times on mini-adventures with my most famous elven thief, Sefron Silvershoe. Thus, my DM, Mark, dubbed the game ‘Sefron in Space’ to be funny. Because of our devotion to Forgotten Realms and other science fiction games like Paladium’s Robotech, Spelljammer didn’t stick and we quickly went back to other things.


Early in 2011, however, Jeff Laubenstein and I were doing a comic for Wizards of the Coast and in one scene we gave a shout out to the classic Star Frontiers cover by Larry Elmore in which we had a Spelljammer vessel crashed on a planet instead of a classic spaceship. That little strip got me to thinking about Spelljammer once more and later in the year when I founded the Fans of the Art of Jeff Easley page on Facebook, a few hardcore Spelljammer fans appeared to sing the praises of Jeff’s cover for the game’s initial boxed set release.

Easley covers the original Spelljammer Boxed Set, so how could I resist, right?

Easley covers the original Spelljammer Boxed Set, so how could I resist, right?

Once again, Spelljammer was on my mind, but it wasn’t until Christmas that I fully accepted the hand of destiny concerning the reanimation of Spelljammer when I discovered Paizo’s Distant Worlds supplement that detailed the solar system around Golarion in the exact same fashion as was found in the old Spelljammer sets.

James Sutter had penned the Distant Worlds supplement, and I most highly recommend it to anyone who would like to throw a curveball to their players. He brings in some really intriguing settings that can be very easily visited by use of portals and there is no doubt that it helps open players’ eyes to the infinite possibilities of a more expanded universe.

Anyway, once I saw Distant Worlds, I took down my Spelljammer collection and began going over it once more. The initial cover, as stated above, was done by Jeff Easley. When I was putting together Jeff’s art book, I came across a picture of Jeff actually painting this cover, so I’d had a bit of nostalgia already brewing concerning it. I well remember when I first saw it, and was completely taken by the incredibly beauty of the red-haired elf, the power of the noble knight, and the darkness of the Illithid who sit upon an asteroid while a shadowed elven ship fades into the starscape behind them.

As Jeff always managed to do in his cover work from the 1980s, he creates a scene that is impossible for the viewer not to want to be a part of. However, as much as Jeff’s cover impacted gamers at the point of sale, it was really the incredible work of Jim Holloway that gave the game a very distinct flavor as he did every other piece of art in the initial box. [Note: Brom’s first cover work for TSR came on a Spelljammer supplement]

Holloway, who is known for humor, tones it down to a more serious note in the two interior volumes, both with spectacular color covers. Inside, his black and white illustrations sing with high adventure of the space lanes, and his standard 1980s oval-faced and small breasted women define his magnificent muse for that era.

Here is Jeff in 88 actually painting the above cover!  How cool is that?

Here is Jeff in 88 actually painting the above cover! How cool is that?

Above all this, however, his ship designs are what make Spelljammer happen. Holloway, for all the flack he’s taken over the years, most assuredly takes his place as a true industry icon for his work on this game alone. From Elven Armadas to Hammerships, to Illithid Nautiloids, the scope of his incredible mind plays out in unreal detail among these ships.

Going through the pages of ship designs, color artwork, and incredible gaming concepts of just how a Spelljammer vessel works in a galaxy devoid of oxygen, I couldn’t help but feel this was my chance to make a tale that was truly memorable.

However, I no longer played 2nd Edition D&D, and I’d already been on the hook for a 1E AD&D original dungeon adventure to be played on Saturday, so I needed to find another system that would work. Since my current gaming world had transitioned to Pathfinder in 2009, I sat down with a notebook and started making conversions for a campaign I entitled PathJammer Reloaded.

It was an awesome experience, and the Pathfinder rules, now holding hardcover expansions like Advanced Players Guide, Ultimate Arcane, and Ultimate Combat, gave me a vast resource line to begin creating a fresh and full solar system around my venerable Nameless Realms.

The process was somehow cathartic, new races, storylines, and an underlying current of Tolkien-inspired nobility ran through my notes as I’d just completed reading his masterwork, The Silmarillion. I detailed prophecy that spoke of the Five Princes of Nimbar, Varuun the Interloper of Shadow, and a series of interpretive sub-prophecy ‘drams’ called the Emerald Cascade.

A classic Jim Holloway pirate attack!

A classic Jim Holloway pirate attack!

My players, all happy and prepared to play their 1st level characters to go dungeon running, were stupefied when Neogi slavers and their Umberhulk thralls showed up and stole them from their home planet. Now that is a way to pull the rug out from under comfortable gamers, and on top of that take all their weapons and equipment so that those first level feats no longer apply. Evil DM indeed, and I certainly got many curses for my efforts.

Nonetheless, the success of Pathjammer was unmatched, and my old school players devoured it with such ferocity that they added two extra days of playing until the bulk of their characters ended out the week with 14 levels of hard-won experience, which isn’t a bad run in the new world order of post 2nd Edition advancement.

I was able to describe Miyazaki-like worlds of white towers and gold-sailed windmills, waterworlds with planer rifts larger than continents that spilled thunderous mile-deep waterfalls into their depths, World-of-Warcraft inspired violet fungal forest planets filled with voracious and carnivorous plants, and ice shards inhabited by great wyrms of absolute frost. I mean, with Pathjammer, the possibilities are endless, and as my players were apt to say after every encounter, “That wasn’t a goblin, that was a SPACE goblin, and adding SPACE to any creature makes it 10x cooler!” Indeed, with SPACE Pirates, Liches, Dragons, Giants, Assassin Vines, etc, you can imagine the fun that was had by all.

In my mind’s eye, the images of each encounter were made all the more vivid with Holloway’s art, and I wondered what a true Pathjammer Easley/Holloway collaboration would look like today. Certainly I’d be first in line to buy such a product … now to see if WotC would part with the license for a couple of years 😉


If you like what you read in Art of the Genre, you can listen to me talk about publishing and my current venture with great artists of the fantasy field here or even come say hello on Facebook here.

12 Comments »

  1. It only counts if you have Vampiric Fire-breathing Phase Giant Space Hamsters.

    Comment by TW - May 30, 2012 7:56 am

  2. Once again, a great article. The Brom trivia is really interesting, especially if you consider the “slavers” plot-hook you used for Pathjammer, coming straight out of a typical “Dark Sun” campaign 😉
    Also, the merge of Tolkien and space sounds really interesting. Have you considered releasing your campaign as open-source pathfinder material (perhaps on DrivethruRPG?). I can’t say that I’d have the stamina to DM something so massive, but to read it alone would be interesting…

    Comment by periklis - May 30, 2012 1:27 pm

  3. TW: Ah, the old VFbPGSH! Rare, but certainly a campaign maker! 😉

    Comment by Scott Taylor - May 30, 2012 1:49 pm

  4. Periklis: It would be fun, wouldn’t it, but the rights thing certainly throws a wrench in it.

    Comment by Scott Taylor - May 30, 2012 1:50 pm

  5. I always enjoy hearing about ‘The Week’. It takes a special kind of DM to be able to mix scifi and fantasy. I don’t like my genres crossed but you make it sound so much fun.

    Comment by Glenn - May 30, 2012 7:20 pm

  6. Glenn: It’s not easy. One character was a Pathfinder Gunslinger. He found a plasma pistol at 1st level that did 2D10 points of damage and had a 25 shot clip. Without the ability to reload the clip, it worked very well as a kind of throw away 3D4 magic missile type item for a low level party that could help them escape nasty situations. By 4th level the gun was out of ammo, but it was a huge help, and that is just one way I blended the two.

    Comment by Scott Taylor - May 30, 2012 9:51 pm

  7. With all the new projects showing up on Kickstarter, making use of the OGL, would creating something pathfinder compatible be possible, do you think? Doing something that is clearly an homage to SpellJammer could be done without taking elements directly from the old setting.

    We know so much more about space mechanics these days that it could be done! (Heck, as someone who lists planetary geology among his fields of study, I’d be more than game to volunteer designs and ideas to such a project!).

    Very much enjoy your writing – sent you a message on facebook as well. Looking forward to reading what’s next!

    Comment by Seismosaurus - May 31, 2012 3:38 am

  8. Seismosaurus: It is all about licensing, and since Spelljammer was 2nd Edition and doesn’t fall in the OGL of 3rd Edition I’m not sure it would work. I am going to look into it, however, just because I had such a great time with this campaign.

    Comment by Scott Taylor - May 31, 2012 2:37 pm

  9. I know two people who used to work at WotC, one of whom is currently a lawyer elsewhere on the west coast – I’ll ask around as well and let you know if I find out anything!

    Comment by Seismosaurus - May 31, 2012 3:43 pm

  10. It was a great campaign, and a great week as always.

    One example of what makes Scott such a great GM, and why we let him be evil to us for 12 hours a day, resulted in the decision to continue this campaign instead of moving to another game we had planned.

    One player was going to be back on Wednesday who wasn’t in the campaign, so I created a character for him. A bard. Now, paying a bard, especially one you were just given so you’d have a character to roll dice for, can be very boring.

    With little time to prepare, the gaming that day not only made the bard interesting, but showcased him. Shayne had a great time playing him.

    Comment by Murph1908 - May 31, 2012 3:47 pm

  11. Seismosaurus: Indeed, and I’ll pester my contacts as well. As a matter of fact, WotC has me as a guest for E3 in L.A. next week so perhaps I’ll have some luck there. :)

    Comment by Scott Taylor - May 31, 2012 4:10 pm

  12. Murph: Indeed, and getting a bard to mean something wasn’t easy, but boy was it fun when it worked. I’m still shaking my head that half that week was totally done on the fly..

    Comment by Scott Taylor - May 31, 2012 4:11 pm


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