With the release of Spelljammer for D&D 5th Edition, I decided to break out an old Spelljammer book for some adventuring material. The second Spelljammer adventure book to be released was Skulls & Crossbows. I'm reading through it as prep for an upcoming Spelljammer campaign, so I figured I'd give my thoughts about it over the span of a few posts. I'm looking at it particularly with quick conversion in mind, but also for story and general usefulness.
The first proper adventure in the book is, conveniently, the hunt for the first name on the list of wanted pirates that's been provided to the PCs in the introductory adventure. As I said in my previous post about this book, there is some flexibility in how you deliver the adventures. Particularly, you could spring Flying colours on your players before they have the letters of marque from Prince Andru. They're well within their rights to defend themselves against a marauding pirate, and you could have them learn of his notoriety at the end of the battle. When they bring his corpse in to collect a reward (or when someone on the Rock of Bral sees some signature item of loot they've taken off his body, or whatever), they could attract the attention of the Pragmatic Order of Thought representatives.
Whatever order you place the first few adventures, this one is first in the book, and it's pretty straight-forward and therefore pretty easy to run. There's an elf pirate, and he likes to attack ships and steal their cargo. He attacks the PC's ship, and so they must defend themselves.
That's the adventure.
It's short, simple. You might even argue it's not so much an adventure, but an ecounter. Which is exactly what the book advertises: adventures you can use to create a complete story, or as drop-in diversions.
But there's a metagame to this adventure, too. An early simple encounter like this one has the added benefit of establishing in-game tone and setting expectations. From this encounter, depending on how the DM delivers it, the players get to learn what a Spelljammer swashbuckler is like, how his crew interacts with him, what a common tactic of a pirate in the Astral sea might be, and so on. Sure, by now your players have probably already gotten familiar with the Astral sea through the Light of Xaryxis but this introduces them to the setting without an urgent threat directing their moves. They have all the time in the multiverse to find their bounties, so there are important cultural lessons to be learnt from this encounter, as well as from a few of the other early adventures in this book. Be ready to mix it up a little bit, to give your players just enough direction to prevent them from feeling like you've lost the plot, but enough freedom that their bounties don't just pop out of the æther as if they were each lined up waiting to be found.
This isn't a bombastic start, and probably even feels underwhelming if you started your adventures in space with Light of Xaryxis. But it's a good start to an exciting new career as bounty hunters of the Astral sea. Next up, another bounty, another "Small Package Trade."