A few setting design questions

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Man in the Funny Hat
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A few setting design questions

Post by Man in the Funny Hat » Sun Feb 24, 2019 6:58 pm

Actually working up a Spelljammer setting for the first time in about 25 years (may or may not ever get used). I of course have my own ideas, but I'm just curious about how the wildly non-specific parts of Spelljammer are handled these days by others and it's not the sort of material that seems to get discussed much, if at all.

1. What's your preferred take on the appearance of stars in a crystal shell? Windows onto the phlogiston but not actually portals? Natural portals in the shell? Fixed phenomena on the interior of the shell (such as portals to the plane of fire), or free-floating within the outer reaches of wildspace? Are they the same thing from one sphere to the next or do you prefer a mix? Are there constellations formed by the stars and are those constellations the same in every sphere or different?

2. What's your preferred take on the composition of water and air worlds? That is, do you assume that an air world can and does have a solid or liquid core somewhere deep inside or is it literally just a giant ball of gas? Do all your air worlds have gravity? How many of your air worlds are actually breathable atmosphere? Similarly, are your water worlds just giant oceans around a solid core, or is it liquid all the way down? Are they WATER worlds, either fresh or salt-water, or are they of other liquids?

3. How carefully do you track time? It typically takes many months to travel from one decent sized sphere to another as rules are written. Do you get a lot of aging characters or do you gloss over the passing time? Do you carefully monitor the movement of planets in the spheres that are visited by the characters or do you Ron Popeil it and "set it and forget it"?

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Re: A few setting design questions

Post by lookatroopa » Sun Feb 24, 2019 8:53 pm

1. I think the nature of stars should be able to be wildly different between different spheres, though I personally like them in mostly fixed locations or patterns so that groundling communities can interpret them as constellations that represent their deities or other mythic figures.

2. The way I treat these elemental categories is moreso as a means of classifying the planet late in the design process rather than a prescriptive thing (though I do see value in going out of your way to get a wide spread). All of the options provided sound like valid possibilities for air and water worlds.

3. I don't personally get into whether planetary rotation lines up perfectly, but aging definitely does come up over time if the game goes for long enough.

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Re: A few setting design questions

Post by Jaid » Mon Feb 25, 2019 8:30 am

1) varies from sphere to sphere. most spheres, if not all, have stars. many spheres have unique or unusual effects that represent said stars. sages aren't sure why.

2) varies from world to world. many water or air worlds are not purely water or air, and the parts that are something else are not necessarily at the core of the world. with that said, as noted, i'm not entirely convinced that the universe particularly cares about the elemental classification of celestial bodies; people have noticed planets (and other stuff) tends to work a certain way most of the time, and have invented a classification system that fits their assumptions, and then proceeded to force anything they encountered into that system.

3) i do track time. sometimes it matters, sometimes not. i don't pay super-close attention to orbital paths and such.

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Re: A few setting design questions

Post by Big Mac » Mon Feb 25, 2019 10:35 am

Man in the Funny Hat wrote:
Sun Feb 24, 2019 6:58 pm
Actually working up a Spelljammer setting for the first time in about 25 years (may or may not ever get used). I of course have my own ideas, but I'm just curious about how the wildly non-specific parts of Spelljammer are handled these days by others and it's not the sort of material that seems to get discussed much, if at all.
Good luck with your campaign. I'd love to know more about it, if you do get going. The map you made for Bral looks so awesome, that I'm sure that anyone who might get to play in your game would be amazed by it, if you went there.

There are a lot of non-specific parts of Spelljammer, aren't there. It makes me wonder what the setting would be like if WotC ever brought it back.
Man in the Funny Hat wrote:
Sun Feb 24, 2019 6:58 pm
1. What's your preferred take on the appearance of stars in a crystal shell? Windows onto the phlogiston but not actually portals? Natural portals in the shell? Fixed phenomena on the interior of the shell (such as portals to the plane of fire), or free-floating within the outer reaches of wildspace? Are they the same thing from one sphere to the next or do you prefer a mix? Are there constellations formed by the stars and are those constellations the same in every sphere or different?
Hmm. Well the canon has stars being different things in different crystal spheres, but Jeff Grubb only gave a few examples and many of the other designers didn't bother explaining what the stars were in every crystal sphere they designed.

I kind of like this being variable, myself, as I see the inside of the crystal sphere as something under the control of the local gods. (I like the idea of having a few - not too many - house rules for crystal spheres, including trivial ones that have no game effect.)

But I can see how someone else might think this is a waste of time and just go for all stars being one thing. I don't think it would make much of a difference to the gaming experience.

I have to say that windows onto the Phlogistion, that are not actually portals is a genius idea! It would probably trick crews into slamming their ships into the stars. And if you also have another crystal sphere where stars are portals to the Phlogiston, it would be pretty hard to know which is which. I guess a ship could approach the star and fire a weapon at it, to see if it bounces or passes through.

I think that constellations are a massive lost opportunity in Spelljammer. They don't have too much of an in-game effect, unless you can actually touch them, but are super-useful for navigation. The zodiac constellations (around the ecliptic of an individual sphere) can help a navigator track the planets. All those squares in the Planetary Diagram don't really have a fixed position unless you have something fixed and the stars are great for this.

I would probably be tempted to have constellations that tie into the local gods in many crystal spheres. From what I recall, Dragonlance canon has the stars moving if a deity is killed/replaced.

And if constellations are fixed and natural portals into the Phlogiston are fixed, a navigation chart could identify specific known portals as being close to specific stars in specific constellations.

I like the idea of most Phlogiston rivers and most crystal spheres being on a flat layer, with the portals from spheres and the ends of rivers being a knowable thing. That way Phlogiston navigation can amount to: "Look for a natural portal midway between the bear's knee and the bear's ankle, pass through and turn towards where the bear's knee would be for 1 day to find the end of the river to Examplespace." (I wouldn't nail it all down like that, but I would make it so that a navigator could look up a known route and attempt to follow some sort of knowable path to get onto the river.)

Having said all that, it might be fun to have an individual crystal sphere where the stars move, just so that the "rules" are not always the same.
Man in the Funny Hat wrote:
Sun Feb 24, 2019 6:58 pm
2. What's your preferred take on the composition of water and air worlds? That is, do you assume that an air world can and does have a solid or liquid core somewhere deep inside or is it literally just a giant ball of gas? Do all your air worlds have gravity? How many of your air worlds are actually breathable atmosphere? Similarly, are your water worlds just giant oceans around a solid core, or is it liquid all the way down? Are they WATER worlds, either fresh or salt-water, or are they of other liquids?
Practical Planetology has a mixture of types and I'd try to go with that. But it is hard work. It would probably be easier to have a standardised design for a water world and a standardised design for an air world and to use that as a template. I can't say I'd blame anyone for doing that, as there are a lot of finicky details in Spelljammer.

Water worlds and air worlds are in-character terms used by NPCs within the SJ universe. I guess there could be a debate by sages over a water covered world with a solid core either being a water world or an earth world covered with water. And I guess that it's hard to know if an air world is air all the way through if it's not possible to fly down into it and out of the other side. So these might not be details that need to be nailed down.

I think the average spacefarer wouldn't necessarily care about the exact details. A Planetologist probably would think this was super-important, as it is kind of part of their "science", so if the players thought this was an interesting part of Spelljammer, it might be worth sending them to explore the various layers of Alabeth and attempt to discover a solid core. :)

There is a canon SJ world with a methane atmosphere. I'm not too big a fan of worlds that are TKP machines, but I suppose that, with care, there could be ways to use airworlds with bad air (or other worlds with atmospheres that have bad air).
Man in the Funny Hat wrote:
Sun Feb 24, 2019 6:58 pm
3. How carefully do you track time? It typically takes many months to travel from one decent sized sphere to another as rules are written. Do you get a lot of aging characters or do you gloss over the passing time? Do you carefully monitor the movement of planets in the spheres that are visited by the characters or do you Ron Popeil it and "set it and forget it"?
My PC in AuldDragon's game has aged more from haste spells than real years, but we have aged.

I'm pretty sure he handwaves the movements of the planets. That's yet another one of these areas of Spelljammer that is easy to handwave and hard work to expand upon.

But I do think that you could get some use out of expanding the movement of planets, especially in the Inner part of the Planetary Diagram, where the orbital periods are short enough for the natives to experience short enough summers and winters to use them to track time.

The Dragonlance novel: Darkness and Light gave Lunitari (one of the moons of Krynn) an amazing ecosystem where plants rapidly shot up out of the red dust and then rotted down to nothing. They lived their entire life at an accelerated pace.

If a GM or the GMs players were into that sort of thing, they could tweak the rules for plants or things like mushrooms to create ways to make them tie in with longer or shorter years or longer or shorter days. But unless you want to change the rate at which spellcasters recover spells, you probably want to have some sort of standard day, standard month and standard year to measure campaign time by.
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Re: A few setting design questions

Post by Dalillama » Mon Feb 25, 2019 11:18 pm

1) I prefer not to have a uniform star appearance. In one of my spheres they're giant fireflies, another has a collection of hovering fire worlds, glowing patches on the sphere, whatever I can come up with really.

2)Once again, I like my fantasy space heavy on the fantasy side of things. A plane of water that stretches across a sphere, with continent patches, air bubbles, and a pair of pulsing nodes at either pole that light and fade in cycle (not the same cycle; the seas glow at night). Vast trees and vines that sprout worlds of earth, blazing sunfruits, and great hollow galls, while leaves cup enormous expanses of water the size of worlds; the asteroids are berries that fall in the Great Autumn, and mineshiners drill them for cosmic brandy. A sphere full of air, with floating jungles, lakes, and miniature suns drifting endlessly through it, a great ring of fire burning eternally in the centre around a portal to the plane of Air. Huge mushrooms, some that glow, others that hold endless varieties of fungal life in swamps and seas and caverns, in a hot and humid sphere where air may be fouled at any time by great drifts of spores.

3)I play by the MST3K mantra; things are where I need them to be, and the passage of time is noted when it's relevant, but adventures often slow things down, as it were.

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Re: A few setting design questions

Post by Lord Torath » Fri Mar 01, 2019 8:02 pm

Man in the Funny Hat wrote:
Sun Feb 24, 2019 6:58 pm
Actually working up a Spelljammer setting for the first time in about 25 years (may or may not ever get used). I of course have my own ideas, but I'm just curious about how the wildly non-specific parts of Spelljammer are handled these days by others and it's not the sort of material that seems to get discussed much, if at all.

1. What's your preferred take on the appearance of stars in a crystal shell? Windows onto the phlogiston but not actually portals? Natural portals in the shell? Fixed phenomena on the interior of the shell (such as portals to the plane of fire), or free-floating within the outer reaches of wildspace? Are they the same thing from one sphere to the next or do you prefer a mix? Are there constellations formed by the stars and are those constellations the same in every sphere or different?
I generally prefer them to remain stationary. What they are varies from sphere to sphere, though. Sometimes they're balls of fire burning on the sphere wall. Sometimes they are portals to the Phlo. Sometimes they are giant braziers filled with burning oil. Sometimes they're just hugh glowing circles.

Man in the Funny Hat wrote:
Sun Feb 24, 2019 6:58 pm
2. What's your preferred take on the composition of water and air worlds? That is, do you assume that an air world can and does have a solid or liquid core somewhere deep inside or is it literally just a giant ball of gas? Do all your air worlds have gravity? How many of your air worlds are actually breathable atmosphere? Similarly, are your water worlds just giant oceans around a solid core, or is it liquid all the way down? Are they WATER worlds, either fresh or salt-water, or are they of other liquids?
What ever is most interesting for your PCs (or you!). I'm not a fan of worlds that can't be explored, so planets that are full of super deadly conditions don't interest me much.

Man in the Funny Hat wrote:
Sun Feb 24, 2019 6:58 pm
3. How carefully do you track time? It typically takes many months to travel from one decent sized sphere to another as rules are written. Do you get a lot of aging characters or do you gloss over the passing time? Do you carefully monitor the movement of planets in the spheres that are visited by the characters or do you Ron Popeil it and "set it and forget it"?
I'm all for tracking time. I even created a spreadsheet to do just that: Orbit Tracker v1.2.

If you want to have a particular conjunction or alignment happen, however, you may want to just estimate things.

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Re: A few setting design questions

Post by night_druid » Fri Mar 01, 2019 10:07 pm

Man in the Funny Hat wrote:
Sun Feb 24, 2019 6:58 pm
1. What's your preferred take on the appearance of stars in a crystal shell? Windows onto the phlogiston but not actually portals? Natural portals in the shell? Fixed phenomena on the interior of the shell (such as portals to the plane of fire), or free-floating within the outer reaches of wildspace? Are they the same thing from one sphere to the next or do you prefer a mix? Are there constellations formed by the stars and are those constellations the same in every sphere or different?
Yes. Or, more precisely, all of the above. One of the fun parts about designing a sphere is coming up with some unique twist to what stars are. Sometimes they're just simple glowing gemstones. Or open holes leading to the Phlogiston. Or gates to other planes. Or giant fireflies. Each sphere need not be entirely unique.
2. What's your preferred take on the composition of water and air worlds? That is, do you assume that an air world can and does have a solid or liquid core somewhere deep inside or is it literally just a giant ball of gas? Do all your air worlds have gravity? How many of your air worlds are actually breathable atmosphere? Similarly, are your water worlds just giant oceans around a solid core, or is it liquid all the way down? Are they WATER worlds, either fresh or salt-water, or are they of other liquids?
Again, these worlds can be varied. I do go with a few baselines.
1. Air worlds generally have some form of gravity.
2. Typically the air is breathable, unless the air world serves no other purpose than to just be this big orb in the sky. Because I tend to fill mine with all manner of floating continents, islands, and cities/castles. If the air is toxic, then well that's no fun! Shouldn't need tons of high-level magic just to go trade with that air genasi Cloud City in my Bispin-ripoff air world ;)
3. Water worlds...eh, I sorta avoid these somewhat, due to how slowly things move in water. I do work on them from time to time, but I generally keep most of the interesting stuff at or near the surface.

3. How carefully do you track time? It typically takes many months to travel from one decent sized sphere to another as rules are written. Do you get a lot of aging characters or do you gloss over the passing time? Do you carefully monitor the movement of planets in the spheres that are visited by the characters or do you Ron Popeil it and "set it and forget it"?
I'm not overly picky about time. I generally avoid "ticking timebomb" plots in my games. Let the PCs set their own pace. I assume fair amounts of downtime between adventures; whether that time is spent in a city tavern-crawling, in town doing their day jobs, or aboard a ship depends on the campaign. For a long SJ voyage, I would toss in 2-3 encounters just to keep things interesting. More, if I want to keep them from their destination long enough for me to finish writing the adventure. ^_^
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Re: A few setting design questions

Post by sycarion » Mon Mar 04, 2019 3:44 pm

I'm all for tracking time. I even created a spreadsheet to do just that: Orbit Tracker v1.2.
Thank you for the links to your spreadsheets!

I began a similar project years ago, but the Alternate Ship Design spreadsheet is a work of art. I especially appreciated how you detailed the ships based on three different measurements of a ton.

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Re: A few setting design questions

Post by Lord Torath » Thu Mar 07, 2019 1:22 am

Glad you found them useful! Let me know if you have any suggestions for improvements!

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Re: A few setting design questions

Post by sycarion » Fri Mar 08, 2019 6:02 pm

Lord Torath wrote:
Thu Mar 07, 2019 1:22 am
Glad you found them useful! Let me know if you have any suggestions for improvements!
I can't think of any yet, but I'll let you know. Some of the work on the spreadsheets for me is adding/removing items for my world, but your work is high-quality, so my changes for homebrew work well.

I'm looking for my spreadsheets that calculated the speed of different ships. I created a houserule for variable spelljamming speed, but I don't remember my calculations.

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