Void elves and Monarch armada

Spelljammer module review

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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 second and third adventures are "Void elves" and "Monarch armada."

By now it's clear that this book has basically two hooks. Player characters hear rumours about piracy, or player characters are in Wildspace and encounter a ship. That's the setup for these adventures, as well.

These two adventures are directly related to one another, taking up about 9 pages in the book. That makes this the longest contiguous adventure in the book, and I as such I think it does raise speculation about how you might make it the main quest of a campaign. There's not that much to go on, but then again it's more direction than any other quest so far, and that's what intrigues me about it. I don't like meandering campaigns. Some people thrive on it, and I've had game masters who manage a "sandbox" or "open world" adventure really well. Personally though, both as a game master and a player, I lose interest and focus quickly if there's not an obvious goal within view.

The "Void Elves" adventure is an encounter with a modified Wasp ship that turns out to be crewed by drow. Drow aren't terribly common in Wildspace, but there are some prominent houses that have managed to venture out of their home crystal sphere. The Nation of the Eternal Twilight is one of them, and they have a small armada. This Wasp vessel is nowhere near the armada, luckily, and is actually a sort of diplomatic ship. It turns out that the drow (they identify as "void elves") are forming an alliance with the (appropriately enough) spider-like neogi.

That seems like the beginnings of a campaign to me. It's a little fuzzy, but it's a better start than "here's a list of pirates, have fun finding them in the entirety of Wildspace." I haven't gotten to the end of this book yet, so I can't say yet what the big finale is going to be (apparently there is one involving the assassin Cain), but I have a feeling that this is the adventure I'd structure a campaign around. Maybe "Small package trade" and "Flying colours" could be combined, with the package being some relic significant to the void elves. This reveals to the player characters that the drow have come to Wildspace. The elven navy wants to know why, and so the player characters are hired to find out more. Insert a few random encounters and side quests, until something connects the drow and the neogi (maybe a variation of "The brain trade," with a void elf representative rather than a mind flayer.) This leads the player characters to "Void elves." Insert a few more random encounters. Then continue on to "Monarch armada," and then to the rest of the book (which I haven't read yet, at the time of this writing, so I'm taking on faith.)

Monarch armada

This adventure is a little confusing, and is less an encounter or adventure than a setting. It describes the void elf armada and crystal ships, and suggests that player characters will want to interact with it. No reason is given. It seems that the author wants the scenario to involve sneaking aboard, gathering intelligence, and then leaving.

I don't understand what the intelligence is, I don't understand why the player characters would interact with the ships at all, or how they would know which ship within the armada to go to. The idea is there, though. It's written out, the ship is essentially a dungeon crawl, there are rooms and enemies and loot. In a campaign, I'd give the players a clear goal, point them to the right ship, and let them go for it.

The plot could thicken

These two adventures are, as many of the encounters are in this book, great inspirational material. It gets me thinking about a campaign, and how I might weave a consistent plot through all of these excellent scenarios. Whether or not I ever will, I can't say. These kinds of build-it-yourself campaigns are great for some people, but personally I prefer to just get the whole adventure, Paizo style, when I pay for a book. Then again, I don't always know that a campaign is going to last for two years when I start playing with a group. Sometimes, you don't want to start out with a 200 page book. Instead, you want to play a simple scenario. And then another. And another. And the next thing you know, a year's gone by and you've been making up the plot of a big story just by stringing together little adventures, and the players themselves have told you who the big bad is, based on which NPC they hate the most. So there's value here, and I think these two adventures add a lot to this book.

Skull & Crossbows cover copyright by Wizards of the Coast, used under the fan content policy.

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