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Spelljammer Dispatch: Intro to Creatures & Monsters

Teos Abadía

Teos Abadía

Cadets, I hope my missive finds you well. You wouldn’t believe what was in those crates in my cargo storage… or maybe you will once I tell you about the varied life forms in Wildspace and the Astral Sea!

Encountering Allies and Foes

A plasmoid ecologist once said there are more creatures than there are grains of sand on a beach. Given how many different Wildspace systems there are, and the infinite vastness of Astral Plane, that may be possible. Today, I’ll focus on the ones you are most likely to meet… and the ones you better know about to live to see my age.

Now, not everything will try to eat you, capture you, or steal your ship. Knowing friend from foe is important, because a platoon of giff sure look ominous, but trust me when I advise talking to them instead of fighting.

DMs should know that Boo’s Astral Menagerie includes 72 monsters of CRs 0-20. You will also find three excellent encounter tables: Astral Sea Encounters, WIldspace Encounters, and Ship Encounters. The tables include a handy column called Attitude Roll, which is used to determine their initial attitude (friendly, indifferent, hostile). This excellent system builds in the creature’s disposition, while allowing for the variance found across individuals.

When rolling on these tables, especially Ship Encounters, it is important to note that these do not account for the party’s average character level. A giff bombard ship has a lot of giff, plus three mages. Just the three mages could threaten 10th-level characters! Take a moment to consider the potential narrative hooks behind any random encounter and how to communicate the level of challenge – or indeed if there should be any chance of confrontation at all.

And, draw inspiration from the ship encounters! The table entries are excellent examples of how to make a ship come together around a concept, starting with an interesting captain and a fun name for the ship, and adding creatures as crew that round out the ship’s theme.

Your First Voyages (Tier 1 – CRs 0 to 4)

Allies

The good news is that many a friendly creature sails the Astral Seas and Wildspace. A friend of mine found themselves in a bind, only to be saved by a chwinga astronaut (CR 0) riding a space guppy (CR 0 to 1/2). The tiny elemental spirit was as friendly as it was adorable.

I told you about the hadozees (CR 1/2 to 2) in my first missive, and a crew of them is a sight to behold. Natural acrobats, their ability to climb and then glide down safely makes them excellent on ships with rigging or other vertical aspects.

While extremely cute, give space hamsters and giant space hamsters (CR 1/4) a bit of distance unless you know them well. I’ve seen the giant kind eat a hadozee, and a tiny one blind a pirate!

Don’t forget to drop in friendly encounters as characters travel from one place to another. These encounters break up the action and the allies can offer news or point the characters in the right direction. When characters show particular interest in an ally, make them recurring so the relationship deepens over time.

Foes

Space is wondrous. Even the plants can eat you! Especially if they are aartuks (CR 2 and 3), intelligent plant creatures that love waging war. They look like a serrated sea star with a pop-up head, and they are far more deadly than they look! Beware their tongues, which they use to pull you closer so their appendages can tear you apart.

DMs, this is an example of a great creature to use when you want an alien encounter. A derelict spelljammer could have aartuks hiding on board, clinging to the ceilings, under refuse, and hiding in closets. Freaky! Or, have them fall into a ship’s air bubble balled up, like living meteors that then unfurl to reveal their true horror. Since some are spellcasters, they can actually spelljam. One might even climb around a hull to try to pilot the character’s ship when they least expect it, while the rest of its kind draw everyone’s attention!

Landing on a desert or sandy planet? Watch out for the gaj (CR 4), a beetle-like creature that buries itself to ambush passers-by. Its mandibles can grab you and tear you apart, but that’s nowhere near as bad as its mind-probing antennae or its ability to psionically paralyze you. Ssurans (CR 1/2 and 3) are a strange type of lizardfolk found in arid planets and in space. They defile and poison the land around them, making fighting them a serious hazard. Wherever desert planet they come from, I hope we never find that horrible world!

Yes, these two monsters (and several others) originally appeared in the Dark Sun setting! They serve well as outlandish creatures that will captivate your players, and can help flesh out the ecology of any arid planet.

A good captain knows to keep a clean ship, and that includes checking the hull often for jammer leaches (CR 1). When one attaches to your hull it damages the ship until you scrape it off, at which point it lashes out and may even incapacitate your helm. I hate those leeches!

Visit any port and you will hear crews trying to keep track on the presence of any neogi (CR 3 and 4) in the system. Neogi seek to dominate other creatures – including other neogi. Neogi look like a spider with an angry eel for a neck and head, and even their ship looks like a black widow spider. If you see their ship early in your career, be smart and run!

In a campaign, consider seeding taverns and allies with increasingly frequent stories of neogi, rumors of outposts ravaged by them, and nightspider sightings. A full ship is a formidable threat, but initial skirmishes can establish their dangerous reputation and set up the fun for a full battle later in the campaign.

Space sharks, known as scavvers (CRs 1/4, 4, 5, and 11) can grow up to 20 feet in length, and have no problem swimming right into an air envelope and then hanging out, feeding off of scraps. You can scare some of them off, but a few varieties will swallow a giff whole and circle back for more.

Want to show off an important NPC? Have them ride a scavver into battle!

You might laugh the first time you see space clowns (CR 2) and their unusual ships (think giant unicycle, or a flying shoe), but when a seemingly impossible number of angry clowns emerge from their ship, it isn’t funny anymore. Do they carry things called ray guns? Yes. Do their shoes squeak? Also yes. Do they explode when killed? I wish I could say no.

Spelljammer has a fine tradition of mixing epic space encounters with humor. This can help keep your campaign fresh and make space wondrous.

Did I scare you? I assure you, most cadets make it through their first voyages just fine. My next dispatch will look into the most dangerous creatures, and the most powerful allies, you might come across in Wildspace!

Start your own Spelljammer: Adventures in Space on Roll20!

Teos Abadía

Teos Abadía is a Colombian-American freelance author and developer working with Wizards of the Coast, Penny Arcade, Dwarven Forge, Hasbro, and several organized play programs. Teos was a primary author on the Acquisitions Incorporated D&D book and on the vast Dungeon of Doom and Caverns Deep adventures for Dwarven Forge. Board game work includes the recent HeroQuest game relaunch. Blogging at Alphastream.org, Teos shares knowledge and advocates for diversity and better industry pay. Reports that he was created by tinker gnomes in a device powered by space hamsters are incorrect… it leaves out the important role played by flumphs.