Wizards of the Coast has announced the release of his “new” setting: Spelljammer. The announcement, in addition to having hit the entire fan base of this role-playing game and in particular the players “of a certain age”, struck me very personally since in 2019 I hosted – in collaboration with the organizers of Lucca Comics & Games – Jeff Grubb the creator who invented Spelljammer, setting published for the first time in 1989 for AD&D 2nd Edition.
Jeff he was an extraordinary host who shared many of his memories as an employee at TSR and how that setting was born. I have felt it these days and I asked him if it was possible to share some of these memories with Italian fans. He was very helpful, as usual, he gave me his approval and told me that he would do it with the American fans too!
Spelljammer: the genesis told by Jeff Grubb
“The original idea by Spelljammer was born during a work session from Augie’s to Lake Geneva (headquarters of TSR Ed) near the Horticultural Hall (where the first Gen Con Ed took place). Jim Ward, my manager, called the meeting to discuss boxed settings for the following year. It was funny that from our conversations the waiters thought we were working for Hollywood and were there to pick locations for a movie, and that Jim’s assistant, Warren Spector, was Steve Spielberg. In TSR we had already developed several settings (Jeff in particular had put together Ed Greenwood’s ideas to bring the setting of the Forgotten Realms to life and had created Al-Qadim Ed.) But this time we wanted something more. And what’s better than infinite space? “
“All the settingalmost, comes from a single image that had occurred to me: a knight, standing on the deck of a ship in space. From there they were born the questions that all followed: how did the rider stand without “falling” into open space, how he breathed, how the ship moved, and so on. At TSR at the time the formats of the boxed sets were fixed: two booklets of 96 pages, 4 large maps and some cards. We had to find a way to fill them… somehow. The first thing was deciding the name of the setting: Spelljammer derives from the Windjammers, ship at pole, only instead of wind, wind, he used magic, spell. Spelljammer is however also the name of a very particular “ship”almost mythical, of which I will not give much information so as not to spoil the surprise for the players. At first the setting it had to be merely AD&D in spacebut then it was thought that he could join together the various worlds already developed for AD&D, then they chose to enclose them in various crystal spheres. Each sphere represented an entire world, functioning autonomously, with its own peculiar rules. An illustration in particular gave me the cue for this idea of the spheres. (You can find it reproduced in this article Ed.). “
“A great contributionespecially to the various ships, it came from Jim Holloway (main illustrator of the setting Ed.) to whom I gave simple general indications that Jim developed into fantastic space craft. My favorite ship is definitely the NautilusLa ship of the Mind Flayers, one of the races that became iconic of Spelljammer and even less hated than it once was. This forced us to invent even more bad guys. So it occurred to us to cross a moray eel with a giant spider and voilà i Neogi with their Humber Hulk slaves. Besides them Clockwork Horror has also arrivedinspired by the Daleks featured in Doctor Who e the Giffs, the large humanoids with hippopotamus heads which are all my own flour. I liked large humanoid animals, in fact I had already given birth to the Yak-Men in Al-Qadim and the Thanoi, walrus men, in Dragonlance. Giant space hamsters are… Only partly my fault. The gnome ship had these two big side wheels and someone asked what they contained and I jokingly said that obviously there were giant hamsters. Roger Moore (Editor of Dragon magazine published by TSR NDR) thought it was funny and so he gave birth to the race of giant space hamsters! Other monsters were actually “imported” from other TSR products such as Star Frontier. This is the case of the Yazirians who have become Hadozee in the fifth edition. “
Spelljammer: a break with the past
During his visit to Italy Jeff told me openly that he was a decidedly corporate employee, who cares a lot about the company he works for and who always tries to do the best with what he is given. And he still is years later. When I asked him if Wizards of the Coast involved himor at least contacted, before giving birth to this new incarnation of Spelljammer he told me he was as surprised as I was by his release and that none of them were heard. Neither before nor after. But on the other hand not even Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman have been consulted about the upcoming release of Dragonlance. But I told myself that in any case many years of work for TSR earned him health insurance and therefore it is already a good thing. Jeff has remained very attached to Spelljammer and when he came to visit us in Italyduring Lucca Comics & Games 2019, wrote an unedited adventure set… in space!
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Spelljammer: what awaits us?
The Wizards of the Coast he had given us a preview of Spelljammer in the Dungeon of the Mad Mage campaign, for the fifth edition of D&D, where a Spelljammer ship and its crew of Mind Flayer shipwrecked in the 19th level of the dungeon appear and in the video game Baldur’s Gate III in which a ship, a Nautilus, crashes attacked by a group of rebels. We look forward to find out what innovations and changes have been made to the original setting and how Jeff’s ideas were picked up. For now there are all the conditions for a great Setting and also the new format with the three volumes seems to us an excellent idea. Meanwhile, Wizkids / Neca has also announced an avalanche of pre-painted miniatures so we just have to wait for August!