Flipping through a Monster Manual is one of the great joys of preparing to run a game of Dungeons & Dragons, with every page offering potential friends and foes for your players to encounter. Spelljammer: Adventures in Space revives Dungeons & Dragons’ bizarre pulp science fiction setting after more than 30 years with a box set featuring an adventure taking place on the Astral Plane and a campaign guide filled with new character options and rules for spaceships. But the real gem is Boo’s Astral Menagerie, a bestiary packed with more than 60 new creatures that dwell in the magical oceans known as wildspace.
The book features plenty of creatures found in the original Spelljammer, like the magic item dealers the mercane, plus Lovecraftian horrors like the brain-collecting neh-thalggu. But if you’re really looking to make the most of the space opera setting, these are the five weirdest creatures you should include in your game.
[Ed. note: Definitely some clowns in here. Don’t say we didn’t tell you.]
Shopping has never been cuter than when it involves a group of dohwars, which are also known as a cartel. 3-foot-tall brightly colored penguin people like to cultivate an air of mystery by wearing cloaks and meeting in dark alleys, even when they’re just conducting mundane business. They’re tough negotiators since they can detect thoughts and often are mentally linked with each other, a process known as merging. They also worship every god of wealth and business in the D&D cosmos from the Forgotten Realms’ Waukeen to Greyhawk’s Zilchus in hopes of gaining their favor and becoming the multiverse’s top merchants.
Dohwars also breed space swine, flying boars that are used as trackers or beasts of burden. They can also be trained for combat and covered in armor, earning them the title of death squealers, or roasted and served with applesauce.
If you want to base an adventure on the Doctor Who episode “The Beast Below” or Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Spelljammer has you covered with these 80-foot-long space whales. They’re mostly chill, swimming through wildspace and feeding on sunlight while communicating with each other through blinding flashes from their eye beams. But they provide plenty of adventure hooks, since they’re hunted by dragons and are so big they have their own gravity and air bubbles where smaller creatures can live.
You might find a kindori followed by a scavver, effectively a space shark that likes eating the parasites that try to colonize the whales. When a kindori dies of illness or old age, scavengers will pick its flesh clean, but the bones are remarkably resilient. The great beast’s skeleton can even be turned into a particularly creepy spelljamming ship.
Inspired by Killer Klowns from Outer Space, space clowns are the fiendish denizens of a system known as clownspace. They sail in ships armed with pie-flinging catapults and giant klaxon horns using spelljamming technology purchased from the dohwar. The citizens of three-ringed worlds worshiped a god of revelry, but were corrupted by their priesthood, which got everyone addicted to an elixir called Thrill Joy that is distilled from demon ichor and the bozo flower. That potion eventually gave them their creepy clownlike appearance.
Space clowns eat other humanoids, attacking them at sea or luring them in at carnivals with the promise of fun. They’re skilled performers and acrobats who can always pull a trick out of their pocket, like shocking with a touch or firing a raygun that acts like the Joker’s gas and afflicts the victim with uncontrollable laughter. They’re also masters of illusion — in a nod to It, space clowns can make themselves look like a floating balloon.
There are a lot of animals in this book with the word “space” tossed in front of them, but few have the rich history of the space hamster. Giant space hamsters are the size of grizzly bears but just as cute as a typical rodent, making them a perfect companion for a ranger or druid. Gnomes have tried to power spelljamming ships with giant hamster wheels, but so far haven’t had any luck.
The book’s namesake, Boo, is supposedly a miniature giant space hamster, a species created by wizard experiments on their giant kin that made them tiny, smart, and telepathic. Boo is the animal companion of the ranger Minsc in the original Baldur’s Gate video game, and despite Minsc’s many claims to the contrary he seems to just be a normal hamster. But according to the lore he, and in fact all hamsters on the Material Plane, is just hiding his psychic powers from everyone except his best friend. As a tribute to Minsc’s most memorable line, space hamsters have the power “Go for the Eyes,” which lets them blind and damage their target.
Why have a ghost ship when you can have a clever portmanteau? Vampirates are pirates who have died but continue to travel wildspace stealing not just plunder but the life essence of their victims. They leach life through touch or a ranged attack rather than drinking blood. They don’t need to eat or drink but they like to do it, particularly enjoying swigging rum while singing dark sea shanties.
Vampires usually require a lot of work to kill, but these versions explode in a cloud of damaging necrotic dust as soon as they’re dropped to zero hit points. You don’t always have to fight them, though. In the adventure Light of Xaryxis, players are likely to ally with the vampirate captain Grimzod Gargenhale. He’s accompanied by Lefty, his own hand that he lost in a swordfight and animated as a crawling claw. It’s like a parrot except it can play musical instruments and communicate by making gestures. Presumably Lefty favors rude ones.
Spelljammer: Adventures in Space will be out on Aug. 16. It was previewed with a pre-release copy of the books provided by Wizards of the Coast. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.