Happily 'ship goes on a mission' is a solid set up for nice, contained adventures. To start off, we had the tiny Realmspace gazetteer in the back of SJA part 3 - and I liked the look of Coliar. A giant air-world, they have lizardfolk who trade with spelljammers, lots of potential here.
For a hook, I just had an envoy come hire the players and their ship as a deniable asset. Due to the players previous actions the academy as a whole is short on cash so they were strongly inclined to take whatever jobs were going. This envoy, a representative of one of the fractions within the lizardfolk commune, needed someone to go after a downed ship in dragon territory. They were not able to do it themselves without causing a potential war so they needed outsiders, off-worlders to do it.
Session plan, first version
The players set off, running into a murder comet on the way (swiftly dispatched with two first round crits) and are guided to the lizardfolks fraction capital to get last information from the survivor of the wreck. This place I rolled up using Skycrawl (as was the target rock) and got for the capital some tags like 'lazy' 'ceremonies around reproduction' 'paradisical' 'disc-shaped' 'hovering over a firestorm' 'river of lava' - so clearly we have some kind of disc rock with a molten heart, which the heat-loving lizard-folk of Spelljammer will love - a place to them that is a paradise of just lazing about and focusing on perpetuating the species.
For the target place I got 'spore-fairies' 'toxic clouds' 'stories of destruction' 'dour' 'ubiquitous' and 'culture influenced by destruction' - so some sort of fungal forest with toxic spore clouds and inhabitants and dragon-cultist obsessed with tales and acts of destruction - fitting for the worshippers of a red dragon.
The players flew down through Coliars skies to the target; masterful ship-handling rolls making it a virtuouso powered dive that avoided notice on the way in.
They spotted the crash site - a hole punched through the fungal canopy - and after hiding the ship from dragon-sight under an overhang, they trekked out to the crash. Dragmarks and signs of a fight hinted that there were hostiles about. They tracked the drag marks back to a cavern with the wreck.
The dragon cultist lizard folk (ssusurans) ambushed them and after a nasty fight thanks to the defilers 'life drain' area effect the party won and relaunched the badly damaged (45/150hp) wreck.
On the way back out they spotted the dragon and alerted their own ship as they passed. A quick crew transfer as the dragon closed in and the warlock took the wreck off to safety while the rest of the party turned to fight the dragon. Net-shot deployed from mangonels managed to slow the dragon enough for them to get away and after a detour out of atmosphere to clear their trail, they returned to the lizardfolk with the recovered cargo, richer one near-wrecked waspship.
The key difference to a standard campaign is that for Spelljammer, the voyages between the points should be interesting and eventful, at least as much as the destinations. While this does map to long-standing 'travel in the wilderness' practices, it stands against 'we start at the dungeon entrance' and there can be a tendency (I know I do) to handwave travel. I think to maintain the sense of scale and keep the settings uniqueness travel needs to stay interesting, not necessarily hazardous, but eventful. Wildspace has a lot more activity than our own void so we should be running into things more often. All this works well for one shots, the voyage out and back provide good time-tuning opportunities if you are running late or early.
I found a 'pre-voyage map' session plan was very handy for setting out what happens where and what do I need to know. Things like 'they will arrive at this city, they will probably talk to folk, I need lizardfolk NPC names'. Since Spelljammer is all about the travel to and from, tagging things to the runs between places is also something to be ready for.
Lots of handy mechanics for this kind of thing are found in SJA which back-fills gaps from the Spelljammer box set itself. I guess when the writers had to actually run through a space voyage and went looking they found that there were no mechanics in the setting book and so they included them all in the adventure (sold seperately). On a practical basis, it means I am using my print of SJA as my rules reference along with Boo's Astral Menagerie (the bestiary).
Ship speed makes all the difference - depending on what ship type you have some ships either dominate or get crushed. Range duels are kind of interesting depending on the ship. A dragon can fly rings around a Spelljammer in atmosphere and there is also the interesting challenge of planetary gravity always being down while in atmosphere - one would assume that all the top mounted weaponry of your average Spelljamming ship cannot be brought to bear against a dragon approaching from below in-atmosphere unless they roll the ship and lose a bunch of crew and cargo doing so.
To make sure the lizardfolk of such a big world were not just a monolith I based them off my Lizard High Culture ideas - having fractions based around their perceived best sources of heat - naturally occuring, the sun, the planes and magical artifice.
Coliar as a whole is a great location for Spelljamming - I was shocked how much leeway there is in the canon information - Realmspace wastes a bunch of words on Elminster having a hideaway there. Practically all we get is 'enormous air-world, floating islands, relatively organised lizardfolk, aaracokra and dragons as your major factions' tons to work with there and otherwise a blank slate.
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