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With the release of Spelljammer: Adventures in Space, the Spelljammer setting has come to 5th edition. Much to my surprise, I discovered that I can turn a regular boat into a spaceship for as little as 5,000 gp by casting create spelljammer helm on a chair. The spell has a 5,000 gp component and…that’s it. 5,000 gp, a suitable boat, and now I have a spaceship. The cheapest ship in the DMG is the Keelboat at 3,000 gp, so I could have a spaceship for as little as 8,000 gp.

Notably, putting plate armor on your horse costs 6,000 gp. Four sets of horse armor or three spaceships. The choice is yours.

This seems really cheap. The comparison between horse armor and spaceships is probably a little bit of an exaggeration, as the cheapest properly outfitted spelljammers provided in the Astral Adventurer’s Guide are 20,000 gp. But this still seems really cheap, as there are mundane boats in the rules that cost 25,000 - 30,000 gp.

Therefore, I must ask: have spelljamming ships always been this inexpensive? In earlier editions, were spelljammer captains laughing at mundane galley captains for spending more on their water-bound vessel than they would have on a space-faring craft? Or is 5e retconning the monetary value of spelljammers?

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Not for a permanently spaceworthy ship

I looked it up in my old Spelljammer box set for AD&D 2nd Edition, and the new rules greatly simplify the creation of Spelljamming helms and vessels. And you’re right - it’s gotten a lot cheaper to get into space.

Creating a Spelljammer helm with a spell is technically more expensive in 5E; in AD&D, Create minor helm was a fifth or sixth level spell (for priests or wizards, respectively) with no costly material component - it just required a suitable chair, and even that was optional for the priest version of the spell. However, the catch is that the old version of the spell did not create a permanent helm; the minor helm from the spell only lasts one week per level of the caster (or one hour per level, in the case of the priest spell cast without a suitable chair). From the Concordance of Arcane Space booklet, page 21 and 24 (the spell is given for each class):

This spell does not replace the need for a permanent helm onboard, and is used primarily as a back-up system or in emergency situations.

Methods for creating permanent helms (or their alternatives, which did exist in AD&D) are not detailed, but they can be salvaged, found as rare treasure, or - most reliably - you can buy one from the Arcane. This is a spacefaring culture of merchants, who were renamed in later editions; they appear in third and now fifth edition as the Mercane (thanks to KRyan and Danila Smirmnov in the comments for info on this). A minor helm costs 100,000gp, while a major helm costs 250,000gp. The difference is in how efficiently they convert the magical energy of the user into motive power; minor helms give a ship’s rating (which measures speed and power) of 1/3 the caster’s level, major ones 1/2. The cheapest hull listed in the book to fit one in is a Coaster, which costs 5,000gp, for a minimum cost of 105,000gp plus crew.

For a cheaper option you could buy a gnomish helm - they cost 50,000gp, but 40% of them don’t work at all, and the rest need constant repairs to keep them going. Or, if you can find one, you could buy a much slower nonmagical engine of limited power for 10,000gp. That brings down the price to 15,000gp, but it’s a pretty substandard ship that might not be able to get into space, depending on the size of your planet.

For comparison, horse barding was actually cheaper in AD&D 2E: for a plate set it cost 2,000gp, or a bit over 1/8 of the cheapest spacegoing ship. (Thanks to John Dallman for providing this figure in the comments.)

You probably don’t want a spelljamming vessel that small

Of note, in both old and new editions of Spelljammer, having a small ship is dangerous. Most obviously, a small ship is easier to destroy, having fewer hit points and a lower (or nonexistent) damage threshold. In the old edition small ships had various limitations, not least on weaponry and crew; the Coaster was also hard to steer and imposed a penalty on ship rating as a result. If two ships touch the gravity plane of the larger one overrides the smaller one. (The new edition changes this to the one with the most hit points, which except in extreme cases will usually have the same result.)

Perhaps most dangerously, a small ship has a very small air envelope. This doesn’t matter too much if you stick to the crew size limit, but if someone falls overboard you have a very small window to bring them back onboard before they’re left behind.

So there are plenty of reasons a small seagoing ship might not be a good choice for spelljamming, and most ships are space galleons for a reason.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The price of plate barding has also increased over editions. In 2e, it was 2,000gp, and in 1e, it was only 500gp. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 17 at 14:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JohnDallman that’s a good point - need to compare apples to apples after all! \$\endgroup\$ Aug 17 at 14:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ Oh no, the inflation has even reached horse armor markets! \$\endgroup\$ Aug 17 at 14:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ I’m not sure exactly what the origins are, but “mercane” definitely predates 5e (which basically means it must be found in 2e, since to the best of my knowledge, neither 3e nor 4e did anything with Spelljammer). \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Aug 18 at 0:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan 3e had Mercane in the Manual of Planes as interplanar merchants, without references to Spelljammer. Creature description is the same as 2e arcanes. I think that's where the name change originates. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 18 at 4:41
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As far as I know - and I don't have the 2e source material yet - getting a Spelljammer helm in 2e meant having to buy one off of the Arcane for 100-250k gp (depending on whether you wanted to have a minor or major helm). So as far as I know, no...it was not always this cheap.

https://forgottenrealms.fandom.com/wiki/Spelljamming_helm

This site has some paragraphs about the Acquisition process of spelljammer helms.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ please can you quote and cite your sources \$\endgroup\$ Aug 23 at 14:17

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