Sunday, November 27, 2022

Influence & Inspiration for Spelljammer: Treasure Planet

This movie came out twenty years ago in campaign history. At the time I missed it, but I noticed Treasure Planet again was because the title popped up as a link in an article about the Spelljammer campaign setting on Wikipedia. That was back around 2014 when I started developing ideas for what became Aetherial Adventures, my homebrew space fantasy setting for the Pathfinder RPG. I think it was mentioned there because it has a similar feel to Spelljammer, and so I gave it a watch. I love it! In hindsight, it also gave some valuable inspiration for running space fantasy adventures and campaigns.

  • It gives viewers a good look at life aboard a ship in space. Once the vessel sets sail, there is nowhere to go that isn't aboard the ship. That makes it hard to keep secrets between factions, and conflict is likely to start brewing. While a spelljammer ship could just be a means of moving the PCs from Point A to Point B, one that carries a larger crew for operating shipboard weapons or for conducting exploration could see these kinds of factions arise.

  • The main NPCs are given really distinct personalities. Long John Silver is clearly a scoundrel, and many of the crew members are grumbling malcontents. I could see this playing out in a game with some of the NPCs muttering comments under their breath when given orders, another snooping in places where he shouldn't be, and the like.

  • Following up on that, it's interesting to see situations in which the PCs need to work together with their rivals and even their enemies for everyone to survive, setting aside their own conflicts until that escape has been achieved. In the end, we know that the overarching conflict will eventually boil over.

  • It is also fun to think how a treasure hunt in Spelljammer would go. I can imagine such plot devices as a captain's logbook containing cryptic clues; an orrery that relates to some kind of planetary alignment; and the like. In fact, just like in the movie, I think this kind of treasure hunt would provide an excellent reason and means for some low-level adventurers (such as Jim Hawkins and Dr. Delbert Doppler) to set off and explore their space system, finding clues in various notable locations.

  • The movie Treasure Planet is, of course, an adaptation of the novel Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson. He, in turn, drew inspiration from the book A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates. That book is a veritable encyclopedia for the Golden Age of Piracy, with tales of such cutthroats as Blackbeard, “Calico” Jack Rackham, Anne Bonny, and many others. In a setting that draws inspiration from this film, it is intriguing to speculate about how such a lawless frontier could develop in a location like an asteroid belt in a remote solar system. I think the Rock of Bral would fit nicely into such a place, serving as a bastion of civilization.

  • In the end, just like in the novel, one of the main villains survives. This is something that I don't do much in my own campaigns, but that I should explore in the future in order to build up the long-term sense of familiarity and drama.*

  • Finally, a treasure hoard like that of Captain Flint provides a number of plot hooks for further adventures. What if victims of the pirate attacks try to reclaim lost goods? What if there was evidence that someone betrayed a vessel to the pirates, leading to an attack? Finally, what happens when Silver, or another surviving pirate, comes back to steal it?

*In fact, based on the Wikipedia article, it sounds like there were already plans in discussion for a sequel, which is described as follows:

In the sequel, Jim Hawkins and Kate, his love interest and classmate at the Royal Interstellar Academy, must team with Long John Silver to stop the villainous Ironbeard from freeing the inmates of Botany Bay Prison Asteroid.


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