From the Website:
Out of the depths of wildspace come astonishing new ideas for SPELLJAMMER campaigns. Now you can create player characters from the nonhuman races of the giff, dracons, scro, grommams, and more. Equip you characters with kits like the Corsair, War Mage, and Aperusa. Then add some new space-oriented proficiencies and equipment, enlist your character in a spacefaring organization, and head off into the Void!
CGR1: The Complete Spacefarer’s Handbook, designed by Curtis M. Scott, was the first book in a new “Campaign Guide Reference” series; it was published in November 1992.
Introducing the CGRs. The Complete Fighter’s Handbook (1989) introduced a new concept to AD&D second edition (1989-2000): the character “kit.” These packages of required skills and related benefits and penalties helped to introduce archetypal templates to AD&D play and were very popular throughout the second edition era. The biggest problem with kits was that they tended to be quite generic. Amazons, berserkers, cavaliers and many other classes could offer up distinct details for roleplaying, but they didn’t take advantage of the histories and backstories of TSR’s many campaign worlds.
Enter the “CGR” series: Each of these books tied in to a specific campaign setting and provided kits for it. The Spacefarer’s Handbook of course focused on Spelljammer (1989), while later books would cover Dark Sun (1990) and Al-Qadim: Arabian Adventures (1992) – before the “CGR” series came to a rather abrupt end in 1994 after just three releases.
The Leatherette Format. Given its similarity in content to the “PHBR” series, it’s no surprise that the CGR” series was also released as a series of prestige paperback leatherettes. However, TSR also liked the format for another reason: it was very cost effective. The printing cost was low, but TSR could retail the books for $15, the same price they’d been charging for their final 1e hardcovers, just a few years earlier.
Unlike the rusty red PHBR books, the sea blue DMGRs, and the solid green REFs, the CGR leatherettes weren’t consistently colored. The first two books were black, but The Complete Sha’ir’s Handbook (1994) was cream-colored.
A Mixture of Content. Each of the books in the CGR series included some character kits, but they also covered a wider span of information, including specific rules for the setting and even GM advice. This mixture of player material and GM material is somewhat surprising given how focused the PHBR and DMGR series were on players’ and GMs’ content, respectively. However, this mix may have reflected a new experiment at TSR, as the company had organized the HR series similarly, beginning with HR1: Vikings Campaign Sourcebook (1992), which was published several months earlier. Like the CGR series, the HR books includes some character creation rules and some setting background.
The rules content of the Spacefarer’s Handbook – which included mechanics for provisioning ships, docking ships, building strongholds, and space warfare – is also of some note. It’s reminiscent of what TSR did in the latter part of the 1e period, with books like the Dungeoneer’s Survival Guide (1986) and the Wilderness Survival Guide (1986) – each of which was replete with rules for a specific setting.
Expanding Spelljammer. Besides providing kits for Spelljammer, Spacefarer’s Handbook also expanded the Spelljammer game (and its universe) in a few notable ways.
First, it turned numerous Spelljammer races (many of them unique to that setting) into PC races, including the dracon, the giff, the grommam, the hadozee, the hurwaet, the lizard man, the rastipede, the scro, and the xixchil. At the time, this was the biggest (official) expansion ever of races for the AD&D game. Unearthed Arcana (1985) had added subclasses of dwarves, elves, gnomes, and halflings, but beyond that the playable races were still very similar to what they’d been when AD&D first appeared (1977-79). Mind you, Spacefarer’s Handbook wouldn’t hold this title for long, as PHBR10: The Complete Book of Humanoids (1993) was just around the corner. (Basic D&D had also started experimenting with this sort of material a few years earlier with their “PC” series, which ran from 1989-92.)
Second, the Spacefarer’s Handbook connected Spelljammer up with some new settings… sort of. That was required because three new AD&D campaign settings had appeared since the original publication of Spelljammer: Dark Sun, Ravenloft: Realm of Terror (1990), and Al Qadim: Arabian Adventures. TSR had also begun publishing new adventures for Lankhmar: City of Adventure (1985), a line that had ben abandoned from 1987-89.
Unfortunately, the Spacefarer’s Handbook only touched upon two of the four new-ish settings, and only in a fairly perfunctory way. As a demiplane, Ravenloft clearly didn’t lie within a crystal sphere, and thus wasn’t accessible to spelljamming; Spacefarer’s Handbook noted, however, that Ravenloft’s mists might appear in wildspace and drag spelljamming ships away. Somewhat more disappointingly, theSpacefarer’s Handbook says that Athas “is not on the spacelanes where Realmspace, Krynnspace, and Qreyspace can be found” – maintaining Dark Sun as a unique and probably unreachable world.
Score One for the Lizard Men! It was about time the lizard men got some attention as player characters, because by 1992 they were one of the oldest and best-known D&D races. They dated all the way back to Supplement I: Greyhawk (1975) and had since appeared in theMonster Manual (1977); in the Fiend Folio (1981) under “lizard kings”; and in Monstrous Compendium Volume One (1989). They’d also featured prominently in adventures like U1: “The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh” (1981), U2: “Danger at Dunwater” (1982), I2: “Tomb of the Lizard King” (1982), and N5: “Under Illefarn” (1987).
Now players could finally take on the roles of lizard men, too. It’s worth noting that “lizard man” was the one race from the Spacefarer’s Handbook who also appeared in the Complete Book of Humanoids – though the rules in the two books are somewhat different.
Making Spelljammer Inconsistent. TSR was quite big at the time that Spacefarer’s Handbook was released, and the Spelljammer publication schedule shows that – to the deficit of some of its books. Because of the company’s size, two different books were being worked on simultaneously: Curtis M. Scott’s freelance-driven Spacefarer’s Handbook and the TSR-driven War Captain’s Companion (1992). When the two books were released, they had some inconsistencies between them, particularly in the non-weapon proficiencies that each suggested for use in the Spelljammer game.
The “Sage Advice” column in Dragon #197 (September 1997) tried to lay out how the skills in each book were unique and they could be melded together meaningfully, but in reality a GM would probably be better to use the skills from one book or the other, but not both.
Future History. Spelljammer ended its production run at TSR in 1993, but the races featured in this book have occasionally appeared in other releases. The scro were moved to prime material campaigns in “The Scro” in Dragon Annual #1 (1996), while the giff and the scro both appeared as 3.5e races in “Races of Spelljammer” in Dragon #339 (January 2006).
About the Creators. Curtis M. Scott was a freelancer working in the RPG industry, with his main publications being for TSR and Steve Jackson Games. On August 19, 1992, while driving to Gen Con/Origins 92, he was killed in a tragic automobile accident. The Complete Spacefarer’s Handbook was one of his final published works.
About the Product Historian
The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons – a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to email@example.com.
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