Spelljammer’s Steamspace – Light and Dark

Take heed, mighty explorer!  Danger is afoot!  Always prepare!

Free D&D playtest hints that Spelljammer reboot is on the way - Polygon

You are among the brave few, those who readied themselves for the great journey into a breathtaking new world, one of many that swarm around the very source of much great power.  The Steam Titan, as many call it, as a colossal body that anchors the many sites we aim to use for our cause.  Far from alone, there are others like us who remain friendly for now.  Likewise, other beings have existed on the micro worlds far before us.  Tread lightly and with caution.  For the environments beyond and their lifeforms?  Steady and prepare.  A carefree adventurer is a dead adventurer.  The Queen’s Voyage Adventure Charter will explain more.  Please report to them post-haste.

Author’s Note: Obligatory Victorian steampunk, almost arbitrary…  Likewise, far more grimdark steampunk, because that’s really the only way I like the genre.  Though, not enough look at over industrialization, to complete “Victorian High Tech, Low Life”.  Well, here’s a continuation of my mess.  Why am I tying all of these things into Spelljammer?  I’m not sure.  At least steampunk isn’t super trendy anymore, if I wanna be all hipster about it.



Space: 1889 - Mars Needs Steam! Original version by Everwho on DeviantArt
The Nation of Albion embarks on cosmic adventure, from Terra to STEAMSPACE!

New Albion is a colony found by several explorer guilds and a noble court from the world of Terra, within the moon dubbed “Victoriana”.  Thanks to a mixture of seasoned engineers and wizened sages, the land around the room became habitable and familiar all the same.  One of the native populations, called “the gangly people”  surrendered after brief conflict and reluctantly agreed to aid the crown.  The Gangly were gaunt, tall and rather awkward in their demeanor.  These grey skinned humanoids were taller than humans themselves, but possessed little in muscle or little in advanced steam-based technology.  Their technological level, according to the New Albions, was up to the Iron Age to Early Medieval at most.  None the less, they preferred cooperation over confrontation, even if they have made it clear they do not like the New Albions. Populations and rights were managed accordingly, however a land that is just too short for them is nothing short of humiliating.  No great ill has come to them, at least yet.  Likewise, no major plans have been made to revolt against the colonists yet.  Other creatures were not so lucky, especially due to resembling monsters of myth and legend such as the dubbed “Star Boggles”.  Subjugation came from battles drenched in blood, campaigns over several years for a new land for Albion.  Likewise, their forests of blue and orange trees were also razed to clear hiding places and for supplies alike. 

Not all native creatures of the Moon World Victoriana are good though.  Some saw the newcomers as meddlers to truly evil conspiracies and plots.  The Rock Roam Spiders, a race of sentient spiders within the depths of Victoriana or “The Harvest Fields” as they call the overworld, had been planning to use their spelljammers to infiltrate and subvert other populations to their ends.  They view the Victoriana crews as a setback, something to eradicate before continuing on with primary goals.  The Terrans proved to be formidable foes, with the devastation of the spiders being an ironic blessing to the wider multiverse.  They aren’t defeated though, as 2 quadrants belonging to New Albion fell.  Port Mercy and Bright Berry Fields were ravaged and torn apart by the arcane weaponry and occultic talents of the spiders, leaving cemeteries instead of towns and war zones instead of pastures.  In the end, the Gangly people see it as a battle of Lesser vs. Greater Evil, the latter being an enemy for many ages.  Their reluctance to aid New Albion is juxtaposed by their eternal loathing of the Rock Roam Spider, a race of creatures that tried to enslave them to further degrees.

Curiously, the use of the “occult” is a reluctant one, in part due to the peculiarities and quirks of the established church of the empire.  More divine means are acceptable, as are sanctioned esoteric practitioners who evaluate the arcane in interest of their faith.  In fairness, so too have the mechanical makers and technological inventors been criticized for taking attention away from the faith as well.  Religious institutions have turned from attacking to co-opting in more positive lights.  This has been exploited by the Rock Roam Spiders, who freely sample any discarded arcana considered dangerous by church or state leaders.  While small, the space spiders have quickly become a valid threat for emerging Victoria.  In fact, they’ve found a particular attraction to charming magic, either to create pawns or turn the colonists against each other.  Likewise, they have taken up alteration magic to disguise themselves as humans and demihumans, even creating a humanoid spider appearance for hijacking foreign vessels.  It is said that they have become similar to the Arenea of Mystara.  Slowly, they have begun to co-opt Terran technology and bend it to Rock Roam Spider magic.

Victoriana is divided between four current “quadrants”; Moorston, Desbarton, Dunstel and Stanton Nexus.  These four cities have the Governor’s Palace at the absolute center of the grid.  Each quadrant provides a focal point for each city and nearby landscape.  Moorston is on a slight incline and provides ample opportunity for hunting ranges, as many alien fauna dwell there.  Desbarton is a center for agriculture, with lands cultivated around the moon world’s wetlands.  An ample supply of domestic lumber hails from here as well.  Dunstel is an industrial powerhouse, a center for factories and metalworking, the basis for several technological innovations as well.  Stanton Nexus is a center for bureaucratic affairs, as well as education.  Crystal Gate University has helped turn the tides by pushing for sanctioned arcanum.  This change has allowed for “state-mages” to be work under a permit and close eye.  Currently, carefully selected work groups, colonists and tradesmen inhabit the 4 locations.  The governor and his closest allies tend to stay within the mansion, at least for the time being.  Things are moving rather quickly, as set up is ahead of schedule.  Being a new establishment, they are far more vulnerable to those set up on other moons.  For the time being, few care.  Planning implies Dunstel and Stanton Nexus seem to be the primary centers for urbanization.  But, what of the four micro-provinces more in depth?

An illustration showing people moving around in a London fog.

Moorstown looks much like the old countryside that many have grown used to on Terra.  Rolling hills and tranquil valleys see plenty of wandering beasts and wild plant life.  It is of little surprise that outside of their city and few towns, there are a number of already established lodges for the wealthy seeking a getaway.  The primary pastime of these lodges is hunting parties.  Alongside trusty hounds and plenty of firearms, the band goes off to hunt for all sorts of exotic trophies.  Due to the state of the colony, little of the strange beasts can be wasted.  While the head is often the focus of the trophy, creative thought is given on how to use almost everything else.  It was from here that the mounds and caves of “The Gangly” discovered and brought into the colony itself.  While Desbarton has more of a community feel, this one is far less.  The people who aren’t vacationing elites tend to be isolationists with strange agendas all their own.  Some are completely mad, harboring and scrapping innovations from the cities.  And for what purpose?  Uncertain, but likely something mad.  Barring that, many of these homesteads are run by the self-sufficient and tend towards the eccentric.

Desbarton is a humble swath of calm hills and farm-ready fields.  It’s no wonder that space-faring halflings have taken up citizenship for Victoria.  This isn’t to say that farm life is easy on an alien world.  Many crops do not take kindly to the alien soil and its nutrients, while others grow strangely.  Attempts to cultivate native plans have wielded interesting results, while various berries from Terra have quickly begun to overwhelm the world.  The lush forests make it a decent spot for hunts as well, but no where near as good as Moorstown.  In fact, there are far stranger noises in the Desbarton woods.  The bluish spruce-like trees carry something that doesn’t wish to be discovered, something powerful.  The residents don’t dare explore into it, preferring to tend to crops and livestock.  Unlike with the moors, there is genuine towns here.  While some towns in the quadrant have their quarrels, it rarely turns serious.  And should it?  Someone messed up hard.  Needless to say, numerous sheriffs help ensure the peace.  Their oath to The Queen demands it!  Meanwhile, many Gangly have been given some means of living and working here.  Small hiding places have emerged to discuss plots for freedom.

Dunstel is an upstart where several factories and mines have been set up.  The Gangly deeply protest this and have risked their already low status in revolt, something the Terrans dislike greatly.  More products for survival can be manufactured not just for personal use, but also trade.  Many of the citizens likewise grumble upon potentially dangerous conditions, but it’s a decent living for them.  Stanton Nexus is the face for visitors and tradesmen alike.  Both are building up into viable urban landscapes, with a sprawling residence, numerous districts, ports and more.  In the case of the far more industrial Dunstel, clouds of soot already alter visuals of the area.  The streets are hazy as suspicious characters gather by the docks ward of said city.  Low lives enjoy the thrill and danger, frequenting the pubs around the area too.  Many have set up underground markets, including for merc work.  Those who live in this city deeply wish that they didn’t, even the commuters by trainjammer have some minor regrets.  And for all the colony complains about pollution clouding the sky, it’s curiously rarely nighttime for long on this world.  The wafting smog actually helps block out the bright light for a time, allowing some shut eye, at the expense of one’s lungs and the environment.

Stanton Nexus more so favors wealthier colonists, as a center for diplomacy and relations.  Here one can see how a mix of Terran culture and cosmic influence blends.  In most regards, matters blend quite well.  It remains a satellite setting in dedication and service to her majesty.  As colonist qualifications and jobs expanded, so did the need for both families and education.  It would only be natural that a diplomatic hub would be the primary resource for education.  Stanton Nexus not only sports a university, but several academies to ensure that the future of the colony is secure.  Barring that, there’s always home schooling to hope their young catch up.  Unlike the somewhat more political simple quadrants, this one oozes with intrigue.  Even in early years, noble houses used proxies to ensure power was there’s before the bloodline even set foot off of their home world.  Trade companies are mostly a front for the various houses, as are guilds and corporations.  It is said that even the government is made of puppets who bend to whichever house has the most authority in the moment.  No matter the truth, there is always someone to ensure that order is upheld… civilly if possible.  Like with other quadrants, transportation is a must.  Attempts at a trainjammer are shaky, but their tethered locomotive machine, or just “train” proves functional as civilian transport between the various settlements.




Darkwatch Train by ForceFighters on DeviantArt

Noire, the realm of shadows.  It is here where light exists as a luxury and darkness reigns true. Extinguishing light is a capital offense, resulting in the deaths of everyone you know in addition to you.  Terrors lurk beyond dystopian societies, where doom greets those who flee their sorrowful lives.  Transportation is handled by well lit railways, with an emerging technology of mobile buildings.  It looks like the rail line is being phased out, due to the massive upkeep needed.  The Eberron roots of the colony expresses much disappointment in this, due to a deeply founded respect for the Lightning Rails that inspired their current set up.  Many fight back, trying to innovate light-based versions of the track foundation that would ward off monsters.  Ground of sand, clay and soot dots everything beyond points of light safe havens.  The ground is dry, but cold to the touch and mostly devoid of life.  Eternal darkness claims all, as nightmarish creatures have long since adapted to such an environment long ago.  Meanwhile, fringe people feeling unsafe elsewhere have brought their madness to an already bleak realm.  This moon world is where you are not safe, you cannot hide and where a lurking terror is just around the corner.  As such, one must always stay vigilant.  This is always done so thanks to the life force within the light.  It is light that is sacred, it is light that is order, it is light that is truth.  Many of the strange and distorted societies here subscribe to that, but in different ways.  But, who would be mad enough to live here?

The Abbey of the Last God is situated primarily upon a hill.  Unlike the other settlements, it doesn’t have “transporting compartments” or buildings with mobile attachments.  The abbey is more of a city, a series of retreats, churches, holy homes and more that congregate around a massive cathedral atop a hill.  The hill and the holy site give off a calming glow that helps repel the wicked things.  Likewise, a similar glow is channeled into braziers and sconces around the city edge walls.  Devotion to this source is a way of life, living in exultation to the wondrous gift bestowed upon them.  Of course, the other denizens live their normal lives, but they must stay within dogmatic guidelines.  Heretics are agents of the darkness, there are no arguments held about this.  Stray too far into shadow and you will be burned for your sins.  The reality of the church and the hill is far darker.  A Power of some sort was slain by forces of darkness and bound to a moon that received little light from the rest of the Crystal Sphere, as if it’s divinely blocked.  However, the Power’s body never made it to the Astral Plane and merged with part of the moon.  A mound emerged that rose up into a hill, which began to glow a heavenly light.  This is due to the lost power’s associations with the powers of light and the sun.  Pilgrims from elsewhere in the sphere found this incredible site and declared that this would be their holy project.  Salvation was to be brought to this wicked world.  These zealots had little in the ways of interpretation and were quick to judge anyone who’d dare question.  Their colony reflects all of their extreme mindsets.  True to the dark secret, The Cathedral of the Last God carries a name that almost none of the clergy know too much about.  Those who have discovered its origins have gone slightly mad.

Not all is dead in Karrnath, but all is under the power of a military dictatorship.  When many joined in with other groups to found Fort  Umbralspike, such politics were inevitable.  The mix of Karrnathi refugees (who still agreed with heavy handed approached but not undead), The Church of the Silver Flame (or at least more secular inspired outreaches within their home nation) and assorted Dragonmarked Houses spelled the end for a free society within months.  A new cobbled force became the ruling government, backed by some of the worst aspects that each faction had to offer.  The revolt against this ragtag force caused a coupe against the previous provisional government.  Karrnathi influenced authoritarianism mixed with other inspirations fused into one.  They were a supreme militarized state that scrapped all that came with their voyage, raided from other minor settlements and absorbed into a hungry machine that desired to destroy enemies.  And in a world like Noire, enemies were abundant and ripe for attacking.  It’s not enough to support, if not outright revere, the Umbralspike state.  You must expose those who want to use collective power for their own foolish motives, those clouded by religious pretense and those who would attempt to subvert the state either in the name of selfishness or the evils of the world’s shadows.  Those who don’t fall into rigid pseudo-patriotism are quickly cast as being aligned with shadow and marked for death.  Few civilians have made it outside of the territory proper, with the ensuing genocide marked squarely on the state and its forces itself.  Civilians as a whole have few rights.  Those who become full civilians and join the military for two years, they gain rights.  But, for a land so quick to ostracize its own, it’s well maintained and well protected.  In fact, the Lightning Rails always run on time within the settlement.  Granted, those who can’t operate like a well oiled machine are also marked for death.  Their bleakness is not solely their own fault though.  Many were already traumatized and desired power their own way when escaping from Shardspace.  The fact that these numerous groups didn’t turn on each other when faced with the horrors of Noire is something of a miracle.  The end result of their collaboration is far from one, however.  For the standard civilians, they are expected to act in response to the slightest issue to their leaders, whether it be a genuine emergency that could throw their new home into peril or some scapegoat to ensure that a stranglehold is maintained.

Cresset Up Close by njpearce via Instagram. # ...

The Commune of Absolute Unity, a solution created by the Warforged.  For countless years, they had seen themselves as exploited and oppressed.  They were wayward and misused following the Last War.  In the end, they needed direction and purpose.  A mysterious group brought them revolution and a means of balancing odds against a cruel and unjust world.  Legions of vanguards lead warforged in revolt, spilling much in blood and gaining all the more attention.  In truth, this is a ploy from the Lord of Blades, assembling a unity and purging the individual to greater empower him.  And as luck would have it, the deeper discovery of spelljammers has taken this effort to the stars.  Within Noire, their mission has slightly adapted.  Cut off from the racialist agendas, they still maintain their push towards a collectivist power.  Weary humans and demihumans have reluctantly joined their initiative at first, fearing retaliation.  However, they were instead met with a mixture of warm welcome and propaganda.  The mission had continued, keeping those within it strong against the grim adversity of Noire and its many torments.  These communalistic peoples, to the point of delusion, continue to operate in this enforced harmony thanks to appointed state commissioners, who claim to speak for the people.  Likewise, other representatives that embody the ideals are chosen to further their agendas.  Taking from previous world values, religion is considered a tool to oppress and condemn.  More often than not, they attack and raid caravans and settlements related to the Abbey.  Any ability to work with this religious enclave is only out of sheer desperation and reluctance.  Curiously, their opposition to Umbralspike is more so one of attempting to distance from their past, more than actual opposition.  In truth, many admire the rigid grip that their settlement has on its populace.  But, few would admit that as “it could hamper the collective spirit”.  As such, many are sent to attack them too, usually resulting in more likely stalemate.

All of this pales to a dread reality that one must accept about this moon, it isn’t quite a moon at all.  Know, it quakes when struck, it thunders when smitten.  And below and deep within the membrane-like caverns, a potent acid risks the dissolution of whatever falls to deep.  Diving further and features familiar to beasts might appear.  Teeth gnashing within the ground and eyes, so many eyes.  Structures of flesh and bone, remade almost like rock, twitch and shake with motion.  What could have brought about such a thing?  Was it born into existence like this?  Was it melded?  Did it will itself into being?  This moon is a living creature and it’s genuinely an abomination!  In fact, it has partially consumed the holy body that the church worships, which likely granted its life and sentience in the first place.  It is seemingly powerful beyond scope, but incapable of using that in greater practice.  Try to understand and it’ll push you away.  Try to gain an advantage on it and it will destroy you.  Many horrors exist beyond such a major eldritch dread.  The undead thrive on noire, as a world with little natural light.  Likewise, natural creatures have had to adapt in extreme and terrifying ways to make due on such a harsh world.  The angler spider has its own bio-luminescence to lure creatures to their dooms, the void bat can stun prey with sonar attacks and the gobbler snake hides in the earth before emerging to swallow prey whole.  Likewise, abominations are formed from the weavings of “mad heretics” who twist the darkness itself into a potent dark power.  In some cases, the three main societies of this moon world can be antagonistic if not truly hostile towards each other at times.  However, all are aware that a level of cooperation is needed for survival.  None the less, fights do still break out.

The settlers have been divided well before breaking Shardspace.  In fact, all of them hail from the world of Eberron, before a brief era of trade with other moons gifted them with glorious steam innovations.  Breland sports the majority of settlers, with some being outlanders from the remnants of Cyre who remain bitter over promises of Breland to do something about it.  Several Karrnathi spies have attempted at integration, only to find themselves more comfortable with the dark abyss that cloaks most of the world.  Others found a chance to break away from necrocracy, ironically being captivated by something resembling a more contemporary dictatorship from Terra.  Many disgruntled and vengeful Cyreans followed the outcasts of Karrnathi and later Thrane.  In attempts at maintaining an active diplomacy, Thrane inserted itself into the operation, in an effort to ward off hostile xenoforms should they seek a trail back to their home world.  Silver Flame operatives likewise saw opportunity in mission work, as well as providing an extra light in rather dark space.  Their mission only mutated over time, becoming the Abbey of the Last God today.  Other Shardspace settlers frown upon this moon, hailing it as a hive of extremism and untold terrors.  In fact, another colony on a frigid but brighter world plots to blow this one up completely… for the better of Steamspace, of course!

(As an aside, the monsters mentioned above actually came from an article for Threshold Mystara.  While BECMI, it shouldn’t be hard to adapt them to AD&D 2E.  Check them out here!)


Image Credit: TSR – Spelljammer Box; Talon Dunning – Mars Needs Steam;  Mary Evans Library/Illustrated London News – A London Fog; ForceFighter – Darkwatch Train; NJPearce – Colonial Williamsburg Cresset

Author: Doctor Necrotic

Hobbyist, amateur writer/screenwriter, wannabe-philosopher, music fan, history lover, cinemaphile, gamer, reviewer, and more. I'm a 30 year old hodgepodge of jobs and interests. My current projects on WordPress creating a wide variety of content for various tabletop roleplaying games, even showcasing published content here as well. When I have the time, I also create editorials and reviews spanning various bits of popular culture. I hope you take a moment to check my content out and maybe tell me what you think.

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