Spelljammer: Sea of Sorrows

Module review

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Recently updated for 5e, Spelljammer has been around a long time, and the D&D team used to release a lot of material during previous editions. One source for new adventures was Dungeon magazine, which contained adventure after adventure for various AD&D settings. In issue 36, published in 1992, there was a Spelljammer adventure called Sea of Sorrows. I have not run this adventure, but I've unearthed the issue in an attempt to find more Spelljammer material for an upcoming campaign. This post is my review of that module, and contains minor spoilers. Because I'm reviewing this content for use in 5e, I use 5e terminology ("Wildspace system" instead of "Crystal sphere", "Mercane" instead of "The Arcane", and so on.)

To over-simplify, Sea of Sorrows is Moby Dick in space. Player characters are hired to hunt and slay an evil radiant dragon called Blacklight.

The adventure starts on Refuge, which is a base on a moon by the same name in a Wildspace system near Realmspace. Refuge is run by the Mercane. They use the base to build and repair ships, and the moon is protected by a ring of 24 stone golems. These are actually giant mechs, operated by hired human spacers, and they act exactly like you'd expect a golem to act, hitting and grappling intruder vessels as needed. The Mercane themselves make themselves sparse on the base, with most outward activity being merchants and labourers of various races. Ed Greenwood wrote a gazetteer, of sorts, for Refuge in Dragon issue 159, so you can find out all about it if you want, but you don't need to know much for this particular adventure and in fact once the player characters leave Refuge it doesn't really come back into the story. I think it's just used as a starting point based on the assumption that player characters in a level 7-9 Spelljammer adventure are already Spelljamming, and therefore are likely to be somewhere out in space rather than in a specific Wildspace system.

There are rumours on Refuge about a ghost ship roaming the region, way out there in space. It's hard to tell whether it's just a tall tale used to scare landlubbers or whether it's actually happening. It's very possible that your players could suspect that it's the plot, depending on how you present the information.

As the player characters do whatever they do on Refuge (shop, eat, sleep, repair their ship), they're secretly observed by the base's highly telepathic and Psionic elven chief of secret police. No reason. He's the chief of police. It's what he does.

Later, when a badly damaged hammerhead ship is towed back to base and reports its two sister ships destroyed, everyone on Refuge is understandably upset. The player characters are summoned to the mansion of the Mercane mayor of Refuge.

The mayor reveals that the Mercane have lost several ships in a dangerous Wildspace system known as Pirtelspace. A story about a ghost ship has sprung up around thees events, but Mercane divination reveals that an unnaturally ferocious radiant dragon is to blame. Her name is Blacklight, and the Mercane want her destroyed. They'll provide upgraded weapons up front, and a hefty reward later, as payment.

In addition, though, they need Pirtelspace's charts updated. They provide old star charts of the system, and offer to pay an additional 10,000 gp for updates.

Dragons and space

The player characters may try to rush in and fight Blacklight, or they may attempt to sneak around and explore first, but I think I'd play up the tension here. The adventure seems to assume that players are going to rush in for a fight, but it ensures that Blacklight flees before being destroyed herself. Whether you force a fight up front to instill a little dragon fear in your players or whether you tease them with dragon-like shadows on every asteroid they pass, the PCs probably get around to exploration eventually, because it's worth 10,000 gp to do so.

There's about six pages of locations, including a settlement called Skyport. It's a little unclear why Skyport and the ships at its docks are unmolested by Blacklight. The adventure does acknowledge that traffic is reduced here due to Blacklight, but why the Mercane ships have apparently 100% been attacked and destroyed while other ships are fine seems almost like a plot point. It's not, though, so you'll need a casual explanation for this. I can think of a few:

  • Blacklight is attracted to the Mercane ships because of the high levels of magical goods onboard.
  • Blacklight just really dislikes the Mercane.
  • Skyport pays tribute to Blacklight to keep her at bay.

There are probably several other good reasons, but these seem like they'll appease most players.

Exploration mode

While Light of Xaryxis favours a plot propelled by a trail of clues and encounters, this adventure encourages players to not only have a clear goal (kill the dragon!) but also to just experience Wildspace. Both tactics have value, and I could envision starting with Xaryxis and finishing with Sea of Sorrow (leveling the dragon and random encounters up accordingly.)

I'm a fan of Pirtelspace, too. It's a small system, and that's why it's useful. If you have your players visit a known system like Ravnicaspace or Krynnspace or Eberronspace, then you're likely to end up in an entirely different campaign. Spelljammer is great for getting from setting to setting, but it's also a setting itself. Pirtelspace lets your players appreciate Spelljammer as a setting by exploring a system where they'll find lore, they may find items to help them in their main quest (kill the dragon), but they're not going to end up on a planet with its own source book.

A satisfying adventure in space

There's no need to try dress this adventure up in a Flash Gordon costume. This one's good. It's got exploration, it's got lore, it's got mystery, and a fair few surprises. One thing I feel it lacks is a proper dungeon crawl, but there are plenty of asteroids and locations you could drop a one-page dungeon into if that's your style (it certainly is mine; why reveal any information to players that's not hard won by either social intrigue or a dungeon crawl?)

This is a good Spelljammer adventure, and I'm excited to run it.

Cover image of Dungeon issue 40 is probably copyright by Wizards of the Coast, used under the fan content policy.

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