SJA4 Under the Dark Fist (2e) at RPG Now!

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Few creatures inhabiting the realms of Greyspace, Krynnspace, and Realmspace know (or even dream) of each other’s existence. Fewer still understand the celestial bonds they secretly share.

As the worlds of men and elves, dwarves and dragons are about to discover, no less than twelve unknown spheres stand poised for wars. . . a war as unexpected as it will be devastating!

Twelve spheres against three?hardly fair odds. But then again, Emperor Vulkaran the Dark, Master of the Twelve Spheres and Ruler of All Known Space, doesn’t like a fair fight. He’s never fought one yet!
Under the Dark Fist, a 64-page adventure for the Spelljammer setting, provides enough material to wage an intergalactic war across 15 spheres! It can be used as an epic stand-alone adventure or easily incorporated into an existing campaign. This challenging adventure is recommended for experienced players and referees.

This adventure is designed for a party of four to eight characters, levels 10 to 14.

Product History

SJA4: “Under the Dark Fist” (1991), by Grant Boucher, is the fourth Spelljammer adventure. It was released in June 1991.

Sources. In “Under the Dark Fist”, players fight for the “Free Space Alliance” against Emperor Vulkaran and his Vodoni Empire. The plotline feels like it was strongly influenced by Star Wars (1977).

Continuing the “SJA” Series. “Under the Dark Fist” is the fourth of the Spelljammer adventures. Like SJA1: “Wildspace” (1990) and SJA3: “Crystal Spheres” (1990) it’s an epic plotline. However, it has two notable differences from its predecessors. First, it’s marketed not just as an epic adventure, but as an epic campaign that could run for years … if the GM is willing to fill in details. Second, it’s quite high level. Where the previous adventures only went as high as 8th level, this one runs 10th to 14th level.

This was the final adventure using the “SJA” code. Though TSR continued publishing Spelljammer adventure, they changed over to using first the “SJS” code, then “SJQ”.

Adventuring Tropes. Much of this adventure is event-driven, with players moving from one episode to the next. However, they’re occasionally given options, which can affect which event they end up at. There are also several old-school “crawls” in the adventure — allowing the exploration of mines, colonies, and other Wildspace bases.

Expanding Wildspace. The Spelljammer line always presented more of a toolkit for GMs than an actual setting — though this adventure suggests what could have been if more attention was given to creating a coherent background. That starts with good use of the Rock of Bral, the only recurring locale in Spelljammer adventures. Here it’s used as a base for the Free Space Alliance, with the players returning to its twice.

Beyond that, “Under the Dark Fist” does a good job of setting up both the Free Space Alliance and their enemy, the Vodoni Empire. All of the major leaders of Free Space are detailed, while the twelve spheres that make up the Vodoni Empire are also outlined.

This could have created a stronger foundation for Wildspace campaigns than anything that came before … but as with the contents of all of the other early Spelljammer adventures, the background details here were forgotten as soon as they was published. The Vodoni were just mentioned once more, in one sentence in SJR4: “Rock of Bral” (1992), and that was the end of this potential foundation for a Wildspace campaign.

Perhaps TSR decided they didn’t want to return to setting material that was obviously derivative of a space movie, or perhaps they preferred to build a Wildspace setting that was more clearly its own. If so, they were more successful with the next two Spelljammer adventures, SJS1: “Goblins’ Return” (1991) and SJQ1: “Heart of the Enemy” (1992), which focused on a more innovative plot element drawn from the Spelljammer background itself: the Second Unhuman War.

About the Creators. Boucher started working with TSR when he contributed to the anthology WG7: Castle Greyhawk (1988). He also freelancedStar Wars books for West End such as Galaxy Guide 1: A New Hope (1989) and Planets of the Galaxy Volume 1 (1991) — which probably explains the inspiration of “Under the Dark Fist”.

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 shannon.appelcline@gmail.com.

Available at RPG Now! for $4.99 USD.

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