With the release of Spelljammer for D&D 5th Edition, I decided to break out the second AD&D Spelljammer module Skulls & Crossbows. I'm looking at it particularly with quick conversion in mind, but also for story and general usefulness. Chapter 3 is entitled "Starfaring races," and the first adventure is "The brain trade."
There are a few suggested hooks into this adventure. The first is essentially the same hook provided for the past 30 pages: Rumours of piracy! The second hook is a new one, though: A ship is overdue at its destination, and so the player characters are hired to investigate.
On their ways to investigate, the player characters come across a neogi Mindspider ship. Assuming they go to battle or otherwise investigate this nefarious vessel, they uncover a trade deal between the ilithid (Mind Flayers) and neogi and a race known as The Arcane. The mind flayers hire the neogi to bring them sentient beings, so the mind flayers get easy access to fresh brains to eat. In turn, the mind flayers buy technology from The Arcane (who won't deal with low lifeforms like the neogi.) It's a pretty good deal for everyone involved, except the people's whose brains are being devoured.
Personally, I don't tend to love D&D adventures that present puzzles of morality. It's fine that some people do, but it's not what I'm looking for in the games I play. This adventure, though, has just the right amount for me.
The baddies directly involved in this plot are aboard the vessel. There's a mind flayer, and a bunch of neogi. They're evil beings, they're attacking people for nonconsenual brain consumption. Kill them all without remorse, no question about it. However, there are charmed human slaves aboard the vessel, as well. These humans fight to defend the ship, but only because they're charmed.
That's a nice touch of moral dilemma, but nothing so serious that the game has to grind to a stop for a full-scale ethical debate.
The 5e Nightspider is a suitable Mindspider, so no problem there.
The 5e Neogi are CR 3 or 4, but the Nightspider is a big ship so what the neogi lack in challenge rating, you can make up for in sheer number. Neogi officers have umber hulk body guards, so that's more diversity in a battle.
A mind flayer is still a mind flayer in 5e, so no conversion required there.
The Arcane have been changed to the Mercane in 5e. As written, the Arcane play no real part in the adventure. In 2e, they're so solitary that the people who even know they exist often believe that when you meet an Arcane, you've just met an aspect of a singular entity. In 5e, the Mercane are a little less mysterious, but they aren't exactly staffing their own shops even on the Rock of Bral. Instead, they use intermediaries for sales. The Arcane (and the Mercane) mostly build and sell Spelljamming helms, so they're dealing with a specific clientele. In case players want to follow up on this story thread, though, you have the stat block for it.
I'm getting acclimated to the fact that this book is a series of encounters that's heavy on ideas and light on structure. The more I read, the more I see it as a collection of side quests. I doubt I'll ever run the book as a book. There's just not enough plot for me. But this encounter is a good one, and I'd use it as a side quest or random encounter in a campaign.
The next adventure isn't just one adventure but two. It spans for 9 pages, which makes it the largest contiguous (sort of) adventure in the book.