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The Universe
Gravity
Air
Spelljamming
Ship Design
Helms
Long Range Movement
Atmospheric Movement
Ship To Ship Combat
Planets And Other Celestial Bodies
Languages
Religion
Magic
Economics
Notes

Worlds in SJ are typically planets which are part of larger systems called "spheres". Sphere systems are literally surrounded by unimaginably huge spheres made up of an unknown material which seems indestructible (called "Crystal Spheres"). These spheres in turn bob about in a substance called Phlogiston, or the Flow, which is incredibly flammable but seems to be incapable of existing within a sphere. Otherwise it is undetectable except for the brilliant, chaotic collors it is composed of. It is odorless and seems to have no effect on breathing. In the Flow planar contact of any sort is impossible, even for the gods/powers.

The "Big Three" AD&D settings when Spelljammer was created were the Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, and Dragonlance. The original boxed set attempted to link the three together, and Spelljammer books were produced for each of the three spheres which contained those worlds: Realmspace, Greyspace, and Krynnspace. Only the the Forgotten Realms setting made an attempt to incorporate Spelljamming into the setting itself, however. For Spelljammer canon purposes all three of these settings have some impact on wildspace.

The official status of the other D&D settings is more varied. Kara-tur, Maztica, and Al-Qadim are all officially on the planet Toril and thus part of the Forgotten Realms. Kara-tur does have more contact with Spelljamming the the rest of the realms, and two major SJ nations, Shou Lung and Wa. Ravenloft is a demiplane and interacts with Spelljammer and wildspace in the same enigmatic way it intersects with the other worlds. There may in fact be some Island Realms in Ravenloft which are in fact sections of wildspace that were drawn into the Demiplane of Dread. Dark Sun has no contact with Spelljammer and crossovers are officially impossible. Mystara originally had it's own system of fantasy space, but can be easily converted to the spelljammer system. DMs looking for new Spelljammer vessels are encouraged to explore the Mystaran products. Birthright came post-Spelljammer and was never any specific relation to it. Within Canon Spelljammer, Birthright is in a little known sphere, and the DM should use it at his discretion. The special 'blood' powers of some Birthright characters do not operate outside of that sphere, however.

Physics operate differently in the SJ universe. Gravity is a constant earth-normal powered force. Every object exerts this, but the direction alters according to shape, and only objects of a certain size (generally about 25' long) exert enough force for a gravity plane to develop. Spherical objects attract objects towards their surfaces uniformly, much as gravity works in our own universe. Objects with a more irregular shape develop a gravitational "plane" which extends along the most convenient axis, generally the longest. This plane works in both direction so that it is possible, for instance, to walk on the bottom of a ship.

Gravity planes exert a slight outward force, so that an object dropped overboard will osscilate across the plane until it settles there, and will then drift slowly outwards from the ship to be eventually expel from the air envelope.

This gravitational plane exerts a "field" which extends to the limit of a body's air envelope. When two such fields come into conflict the gravitational field of the larger body dominates. This makes it dangerous to be out of pitch or alignment with a larger ship if you enter its gravitational field/air envelope. Specifically, this means that when a 'jammer enters a planetary atmosphere the planet's gravity becomes dominant. (You can walk on the bottom of your ship in space, but in a planet's atmosphere you would fall off and land on your head.)

Also, though gravity fields only extend to the edge of the air envelope anything larger then 10 SJ tons in size produces a gravity "well" which extends 12,500 yards (at least; some planets have larger wells) out from that body. For those knowledgeable about these wells (and using a proper craft) one can "sail" or "ride" these wells much like a sailing craft uses the wind. This movement is always tactical and thus only practical for movement in dense astroid fields and similar locations.

The more common manifestation of these wells is the way they pull vessels out of spelljamming speeds when entered. Within these wells ships shift instantly to tactical movement. This shift is obvious to the crew as a lurching sensation but causes no damage.

Air

All objects drag air with them whenever they leave an air envelope [note, however, that unless an object leaves an air envelope the air tends to stay stuck to the ship. This tendancy is forceful enough for the air to avoid slowly drifting out at the gravity plane like a solid object). A typical human, for example, will drag enough fresh air with him/her to breathe for 2-20 turns. After that time runs out the air will turn foul for a like period of time and then become deadly and unbreathable.

For each SJ ton of size a ship drags enough air to support one man sized creature for 4 months. So, a hammership (60 tons) can support 60 crew for four months without needing to refresh the air. If the ship had 120 crew it could only last 2 months. When a vessel reaches its air limit the air becomes fouled; it smells bad and is stale and humid. All attacks and proficiency checks in a fouled atmosphere are at a -2 penalty. Air remains fouled for the same amount of time it remained fresh, once that time wears out it becomes deadly; each turn everyone aboard must save versus poison or pass out. If unconcious each turn they must save versus poison or die.

While important air is relatively easy to replenish, entering a larger air envelope, like that of a planet or astroid is one of the most popular and cheapest methods. Some spells, like Wall of Fog or Obscurement can also replenish the atmosphere. There are many magical items which also affect air use. Green plants will refresh air, some vessels make great use of these for just this purpose. Many astroid colonies keep at least half their surface area reserved for plants for this reason as well.

Spelljmming is the province of the helmsman, the individual who sits on the helm and directs the ship's general motion (sails, rigging, and crew provide fine maneuvering). In most cases this is a spellcaster of sorts, but there are a handful of helms which allow nonspellcasters to fill this role.

When spelljamming the helmsman in a sense merges with the ship, he/she feels as if the are personally flying through space, and can percieve the world around the ship as if he were standing on the aft deck. The helmsman perceives damage to the ship as white flashes of pain, but takes no actual, personal damage in most cases. Sometimes, however, the pain is intense enough to cause unconciousness; this is called "spelljammer shock" and is usually a result of a critical hit.

In many ways, helming a vessel is instinctual, because the helmsman feels he/she "merges" with the vessel he/she can generally control the vessel as easily as walking. It's possible, with training and practice of course to become much better (the Spelljamming non-weapon proficiency) but any helmsman can handle most functions. It's important to keep in mind, however, that the only time the helmsman controls maneuver on a vessel is when the mininmum crew is listed as 1 (there are few such vessels). Usually, the sailhands control all of the finer aspects of maneuveur, the more skilled they are the better the craft handles.

While spelljaming the helmsman retains his/her normal senses and can hold a conversation with those nearby. In general, spelljamming is no more difficult then walking (except during combat) so that anything a person can reasonably be expected to concentrate on while walking can be done while 'jamming.

Designing a spelljamming craft is a difficult, demanding process that requires long training. Many spelljammer engineers are spellcasters, though not all. The various SJ rules provide at least two systems for designing new ship designs, Leroy Van Camp has produced another on the web. None of these are presented here as they are not essential for play. Instead I am providing the standard ship statistic format with an explanation for each entry.

Name: Ship's name
Type: Ship's design, ie an eelship
Tonnage: How man SJ tons the ship comprises. 1 SJ ton =100 cubic yds volume
Hull Points: A ship's "hit points"; usually equal to tonnage (not always)
Crew: Min/Max. Min=helmsman+sailhands, Max=# man-sized creatures for 4 months air on most ships, on some ships this is how many the vessel can carry. A good rule is that Tonnage always represents how many
Maneuverability Class: How maneuverable the ship is, "A" is best
Landing; Land: Can the ship land on the ground w/o damage
Landing; Water: Can the ship land in the water w/o sinking
AR: The ship's armor rating, how tough it is to hit and cause damage
Saves As: Material the ship saves as on the item saving throw table
Power Type: Method the vessel uses to traval through space
Ship's Rating: The ship's tactical speed. 1 SR = 1 hex = 500yds in space
Armament: What weapons the ship carries and where they can fire
Cargo: How many "SJ" tons of cargo the ship can hold
Keel Length: Longwise length of the ship
Beam Length: Crosswise length of the ship

Helms are the primary method of powering spelljamming vessels. Simply put, a helm is a magical device which channels magical energy from a some source into motive force for the ship it's attached to. Some helms operate on slightly different principles but these are few and rarely seen in the Known Spheres.

There are several different types of helms of varying types and abilities. I list the types most common within the Known spheres below, and the "standard cost" for such a helm in an active spelljammer port like the Rock of Bral or Refuge. Note that in other places the price quickly becomes what the market will bear and thus can drop or rise considerably.

Cost: 100,000 gp

These Helms provide SR 2 and can travel at spelljamming speed for ships up to 100 SJ tons in size. The magical item is placed within the furnace where it is consumed by fire (furnace helms do not function in the phliogiston). Anyone can then pilot the furnace helm. An item with an xp value of 150 provides 1 days worth of power (items of greater xp bring greater duration: duration in days = Item XP/150). If two items are sacrificed at the same time SR is boosted to 3 but the helm might explode (25%). Some goblinoids are rumoured to power their furnaces with an incendiary, magical fuel. Some think this fuel might be related to smokepowder in some way but reliable reports are rare.

Cost: 100,000 gp

These are the most common helms in space, drawing their power from the spell energy of their helmsman (a spellcasters loses all memorized spells when they touch helm). These helms provide an SR of 1 for every 3 levels of the helmsman, rounding down [But always with a min SR of 1] so that at levels 1-5 SR is 1, and then so on. Minor helms can move vessels at spelljamming speeds. They will power vessels up to 50 tons in size.

Cost: 250,000 gp

These function just like minor helms but provide an SR equal to the users level divided by 2 and rounded down [But always with a min SR of 1]. A 3rd level helmsman would have SR 1, for instance, and one of 5th level SR 2. They will power vessels up to 100 tons in size.

Cost: 80,000 gp

Lifejammer helms are evil abominations which power ships by drawing on the lifeforce of their victim. Any living creature can be used, each day the victim is drained of 1d8 hit points and must make a save versus death or die. Lifejammers function otherwise just like minor helms, providing an SR equal to the victims level divided by 3 and rounded down [But always with a min SR of 1]. A 3rd level victim would provide SR 1, for instance, and one of 5th level SR 2. They will power vessels up to 100 tons in size. Aside from the victim, the lifejammer requires a navigator, who may be of any class and who does the actual piloting of the ship. Lifejammers are often used by neogi, mindflayers, and the humanoid races.

Many other types of helms exist, some are very bizarre. This list is just a starting point for "standard" spelljamming cultures, and as always in SJ expect the unexpected.

Spelljammers have two main speeds; "Spelljamming Speed" is very fast, 100 million miles per day. Think of it like lightspeed or warpdrive, you can only attain this speed when you are at least 12,500 yards from any object of 10 SJ tons or more in size. Conversely, coming within 12,500 yards of any object 10 SJ tons or more in size will immediately and uncontrolably slow you to tactical speed. With very rare exceptions all SJ helms move at this speed when "spelljamming".

"Tactical speed" is much, much slower. 17 mph or 500 yards per round per ship's rating. Ship's rating is determined by the helm, and the level of the helmsman. Higher level, higher SR. Some spells, proficiencies and magic items can increase it as well.

Ships travaling at spelljamming speed are immune to collisions with small objects. When a ship travelling at SJ speed encounters an object of volume less than required to drop it to tactical, that item is "picked up" by the ship's envelope. That object then bounces up and down in the gravity plane until it stabilizes. Once it's resting on the plane, it starts to drift outward towards the edge. When it reaches the edge, it is "let go", and is left behind in the ship's wake.

This protection doesn't work at tactical speed, objects enter the air envelope with their velocity intact. This permits ship to ship combat at this speed (otherwise bolts and catapult shot would be useless) and also makes travel through certain astroid fields and crowded shipping lanes hazardous.

Within most crystal spheres navigation is not difficult, just a more complicated version of terrestial navigation by the stars utilizing three diminsional instruments.

Philogiston Navigation is much more difficult, there are precious few landmarks or navigation aids in the flow. So how does one get from place to place? The easiest method is to follow a flow river. There are many major flow rivers through the philogiston, since most crystal spheres remain in relatively stable positions within the flow one can navigate by counting the spheres passed as one follows the river. Travel to sphere's outside a major flow is much more time consuming and difficult: the navigator must first determine his/her exact position within the sphere to be departed, then he/she must determine at what angle from the sphere the destination sphere lies and plot a direct course to it. Obviously this method is very risky, though some navigators are so good they hit everytime. It can take from 10-100 days to travel from sphere to sphere within the Flow.

Travel within planatary atmospheres is a very tricky buisiness, spelljammers are are not really designed to stand up to the stress caused by wind and weather and in many ways landing on a planet is the most dangerous maneuver a spelljammer might routinely attempt.

When a spelljammer is caught in a storm the vessel must make a saving throw versus crushing blow each turn. This save can be modfied in several ways. If all sails are taken down and secured (reducing the ship's MC to "F") then the save is made at +4. Additionally, if the helmsman has the Spelljammer proficiency, he can add +1 to the roll. Regardless, if the roll fails the ship suffers a random critical hit. Since some of these can be disasterous for a vessel within a gravitational field (such as spelljammer shock) atmospheric traval is often considered quite dangerous. Stronger storms impose penalties on the save, the DM informs the crew of this as appropriate.

Even when the wind is calm spelljammers are limited to a move of 24 in the atmosphere, the rough equivalent of SR 1. If the ship is pushed beyond this limit the vessel must make a saving throw again for each turn spent beyond SR 1, further more, the roll is penalized by the amount over. A vessel flying at SR 4, for instance, would have a -3 on the save. Positive modifiers can be used here as well when appropriate. Again the ship suffers a random critical hit when the save is failed.

Crew cannot normally work on deck when a spelljammer is moving faster than SR 3. The windspeed is simply too great. Anyone on deck of a ship moving SR 3 or faster must make a save vs paralyzation or be blown clear off the deck.

Spelljammers are inherently less maneuverable within the atmosphere, all MCs are reduced by one level. All spelljammers can hover, however, though they can't turn while hovering.

Note the saving throws for speed and weather are cumulative. If a ship is traveling through a hurricane at SR 6 that vessel would have to make two saves each turn, not one.

Finally, nearly all planetary bodies of size D and larger have several bands of very high winds in the upper atmopshere, similar in most respects to the Earth's jet streams. Passing through this band, whether on landing or take off requires a saving throw versus crushing blow as well. Again, if the save is failed a critical hit occurs.

Ship's suffer damage in this way often enough to keep spelljaming interference within most world's affairs to a minimum. All the major campaign worlds, (Oerth, Krynn, Mystara, Toril) possess such a band of high winds. A few planets smaller then size D have it as well.

Ship to ship combat is one of the primary features of Spelljammer, two different but very similar systems were developed, the original system in the first SJ boxed set and and "large battle" style system presented in the WCC boxed set. This system is a modified version of both of these.

First the combat sequence:

  1. Initiative (modified by MC)
  2. Initiative Winner Moves
  3. Initiative Loser Moves
  4. Return to 1 and repeat process

Fire from personal missile weapons, spells, and siege weapons can occur during any of the phases above, but must follow the initiative order within each phase.

Keep in mind that in space, each hex represents 500 yds across. Most "personal" weapons can only be fired when vessels are within the same hex, a few (longbow, heavy crossbow, for example) have a range of one due to the lack of gravity. Spell ranges should be carefully considered. Generally, those with a range of at least 100 yards can be cast at targets within the same hex, those with less then 100 yards range can only be cast at grappled or rammed targets. Some spells only work when the air envelopes are mixed.

Ships move on a hex grid. Beside each vessel counter, the ship will have a 3-d indicator showing the ship's height above or below that combat's "0" level. Each vessel's bow will point to a hex side, not the joint between two hex sides. Speed is determined by SR, and how often the ship can turn is also determined by SR but how far the ship can turn is determined by MC.

Maneuverability Class: The helmsman controls velocity and has some very crude maneuverability control, depending on the design of the ship. The crew, working the sails and control surfaces, determine most of a ship's maneuverability. All ships have a Maneuverability Class which determines how far they can turn each round.

MC    HFC   SC    IM    RS    CSv  Notes
A      4     3    -3     3    +8
B      3     3    -2     3    +6
C      2     3    -1     3    +4
D      1     2    0      2    +2
E      1*    2    +1     2     0
F      1**   1    +2     1    -2
G      0***  1    +3     1    n/a
  *Must move forward 1 hex before turning
 **Must move forward 2 hexes before turning
***Cannot turn

MC=Maneuverability class; HFC=Hex Face Change per round; SC=Speed change per round; IM=Initiative modifier; RS=Reverse Speed Max; CSv=Crash save modifier

Note: Vessels must spend an SR to turn the HFC.

Shipweapons: Weapon's have "ranges" which are really the SR of their projectile. The range of a light catapult is 5, which means its stone moves 2500 yards each round until it hits something or goes off into infinity. In planetary atmospheres the range is reduced to normal earthbound ranges.

Ramming: Ship's equipped with rams can inflict massive amounts of damage. When ramming the Thaco is that of the helmsman. If a hit is scored damage is: Attackers tonnage/10*SR. SR varies according to situation, for instance, if ramming a fleeing vessel from the rear the SR will be less then if the two vessels were colliding head on.

Ships which attempt to ram vessels more then three times their size in tonnage, or vessels which ram without having a ram 'crash' instead. The crashing ship usually takes a great deal damage, though it might inflict significent damage in return.

Shearing: Ship's equipped with piercing rams or shearing blades may attempt to shear away the rigging of opposing vessels. This is treated as a ram attack, except no damage is done. Instead, for each successful shear attack the target's MC is reduced 1 step until repaired (usually after the battle).

Grappling: First, the relative speed difference between vessels cannot be more then 1 SR when attempting to grapple (grappling rams exclude this). If both ship's crews wish to grapple the attempt is automatic, if not the base chance is 10 or less (d20) modified as follows:

Grappler has 2-1+ advantage in #s   -1
Defender has 2-1+ advantage in #s   +1

Degrappling is automatic if both vessels desire it, otherwise it's resolved just as a standard grappling roll except the defender ("degrappler") makes the rolls and gains the modifiers listed above.

Critical Hits: Crewed weapons often have a chance of inflicting a critical hit, this is listed in that weapon's statistics. Other events (ramming, some spells, turbulence, failing a save in high winds) can also cause critical hits. Finally, a vessel reduced to 50% of its hull points takes a critical hit. Note, since some critical hits reduce the ship's hull points there can be a short cascading of critical hits in this manner. When a critical hit occurs the result is determined by the following chart:

d20 roll
1  Loss of 5 Hull points
2  Deck crew casualty
3  Interior Crew casualty
4  Ship Shaken
5  Large weapon damaged
6  Deck Crew Casualty
7  Hull holed
8  Maneuverability loss
9  Loss of 10 Hull points
10 Ship Shaken
11 Fire!
12 Loss of SR
13 Deck Crew casualty
14 Large weapon damaged
15 Ship Shaken
16 Hull Holed
17 Maneuverability loss
18 Loss of 10 Hull points
19 Helm hit
20 Spelljammer Shock!

Most if the above is self explanatory. #20 causes the helmsman to save versus spells or go into a coma for 1d4 days.

Planets and other celestial bodies are quite varied within spelljammer. Planets can be round, flat, disc shaped, cube shaped, or even stranger. Astroids, stars, nebula and other oddness rounds this out. A quick rating system for various celestial bodies has become standard through out known space. It's origins are much debated but unimportant for our purposes.

Celestial bodies in this system are described by size, shape, and type. These ratings are standard on most charts, planetary almanacs like the legendary Geonomicon, include a substantial discussion on the planets ecology, inhabitents, and weather conditions making them valuable commodities.

There are ten size catagories as follows:

A= less then 10 miles across
B= from 10- 100 miles across
C= from 100- 1000 miles across
D= from 1000- 4000 miles across
E= from 4000- 10000 miles across (Earth, Toril, etc.)
F= from 10000- 40000 miles across
G= from 40000- 100000 miles across
H= from 100000- 1000000 miles across
I= from 1000000- 10000000 miles across
J= from 10000000+ miles across

Shape catagories are easier as they are descriptive: Amorphous, belt, cluster, spherical, cubic, flatworld, and elliptical are often used though descriptions like "tetrahedon" are used when appropriate. Finally, a planet is described by type:Fire, earth, air, water. The planet is named after the most predominate feature, though this is subjective. Earth is an earth type planet even though 70% of it is covered with water, for instance. Some cartographers include a fifth type, "Live" which indicates worlds join by giant plants.

One of the great mysteries of wildspace is the way so many worlds possess the same languages. Elvish, for instance, is intelligible to the elves of most worlds, the same principle applies to dwarven, gnomish, and most other demihuman and humanoid languages. Dialects, accents, and even a few "odd" languages appear of course, but the widespread use of these languages on worlds whose development was seemingly unrelated is remarkable. The "common tongue" of Toril is almost identical to the common tongue of Oerth and Krynn, as well.

A variety of explanations for this have been advanced by sages, a current popular approach is the idea that each crystal sphere is in fact an alternate prime material plane in which evolution took a different course, and thus the languages just show that each sphere is simply an alternate diminsion. Another suggest that each races vocal cords are structured in a way which makes certain language forming sounds unavoidable. A third says this all comes from the gods. Many other explanations exists but when it comes right down to it, most spacers don't care why it is so they are just glad that it is so. After all, wildspace is a difficult enough place as it is.

At least, that is the simplest way of handling language in Spelljammer. For the purposes of canon Common and the racial tongues are identical from sphere to sphere, unless a new, specific language is created (for example, The 'common' of Kara-tur is Shou, and thus can't be spoken by those who just speak common). Individual DMs who wish to add the complexities of differing languages from sphere to sphere are encouraged to, but for the purpose of canon, Common is Common, Elvish is Elvish, ect.

Nothing illustrates the limits of the gods better then the philogiston, where priests are completely unable to recover their spells (their ability to man a helm is not effected, however). Moreover, all deities cannot be contacted in all spheres. Unless a diety already has an established band of worshippers (100 worshippers for at least a year seems to be the minimum requirement) within that sphere a priest must go to extrordinairy lengths to stay in touch. For this reason many dieties highly encourage their priests to establish temples and centers of worship in new spheres, hoping to expand their influence. In some spheres, notably Realmspace, an "Overgod" exists who can deny a diety access to that sphere even if the required number of worshipers is reached.

In most respects Spelljammer is a typical setting in regards to magic. The only significent, constant difference is the way the phlogiston prevents any spell which contacts extradiminsional space or the planes in any way and the way fire spells tend to cause massive conflagrations in the phlogiston (just like any other source of fire). While magic does work differently in some spheres, in most of the well known spelljamming spheres it follows standard patterns. This is a major difference when compared to Planescape, for instance, where magic tends to change rules from plane to plane.

Fire cannot cross the void between air envelopes in wildspace, some fire spells are useless there as a result. Though not all, Fireball, for example, works since it summons the fire at the target. Fire is even more restricted in the Phlogiston which is highly flameable and explodes when contacting flame.

In ship to ship combat, a good rule of thumb for DMs adjudicating spell damage is that 10 hps of damage equals 1 Hull Point of damage. A spell can only harm a ship if it can normally harm objects. Magic Missile for example, cannot do any harm to a ship, though Burning Hands might.

Note this stability includes the existence of wild dead magic zones within wildspace and the Flow. These are somewhat dangerous as they are difficult to chart, a dead magic zone in space is often called a sargossa as it causes helms to cease functioning and leaves vessels adrift, unable to replenish air. Unless a non-magical means of movement is available these become slow death traps for ships. The most common method of avoiding them is to bank as hard to port or starboard as possible the moment one is encountered, hoping the vessel will drift out with it's incoming velocity.

A final note concerning magic. In wildspace it is somewhat more common then on many worlds, even worlds as rich in magic as Toril, for instance. This is especially true of "household" magic used to make living easier. Artifact level magic is no more common (aside from the helms, if they are seen that way) then elsewhere, however.

Spelljamming economics tend to revolve around high profit goods, though as always this is usually a function of supply and demand. The civilizations of most large worlds are self-sufficient, they tend to supply much of the raw material and basic goods needed by spacefaring civilizations. In return they often are good places to sell rare products from other worlds. Wildspace civilizations require virtually everything, especially staples like food, water, building materials, even air.

Spelljamming is a very expensive buisiness, the cost of the helm alone often takes a ship owner ten years or more to pay off. As a buisiness spelljamming ships require high intial investments and are high risk in addition, they are attractive only to the more adventurerous investor.

Economic conditions within any given sphere are highly variable, it is advisable to find a guide or at least purchase a sphere book before undertaking any trade ventures within or to a unfamiliar sphere.

The above contains TSR trademarked material, as well as paraphrased copyrighted material. This use should not be construed as a challenge to that status.

  • War Captain's Companion Boxed Set
  • AD&D Adventures in Space, Original Spelljammer Boxed set
  • SJR1 Lost Ships accessory
  • CGR1 Complete Spacefarer's Handbook

This Spelljammer Primer reprinted with permission of the author. For more information on this AD&D game setting, visit the official Spelljammer fansite, Beyond the Moons.