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D&D Skyships

D&D Skyships

Cover Image for D&D Skyships

D&D Skyships is a supplement to third edition Dungeons & Dragons set in a universe of ships that fly between the worlds and of battles in the air and in space. What you will not find here is a setting with descriptions of new worlds to explore, monsters to defeat and new races defined. You will not find any new feats and very few new magical spells and magical items. There are also no maps or ship plans.

What you will find here is a basic set of rules compatible with Dungeons & Dragons v3.5 that will provide a foundation for taking your D&D adventures into space.

These rules are based roughly on Spelljammer.

Differences between the Skyship system and the Spelljammer system

The skyship system uses some of the best features of Spelljammer and discards or replaces others.

Crystal Spheres and Phlogiston

The original Spelljammer system had “Crystal Spheres” that in turn bobbed about in a substance called Phlogiston, or the Flow. The Crystal Spheres allowed each different AD&D product line to exist in its own sphere, and the Flow allowed for travel between them. The skyship system eliminates all of this and instead uses “planetary systems” and introduces “interstellar teleport” as a way to travel between them.

Gravity planes

In the original Spelljammer system, every object exerted its own gravity, but only objects of a certain size exerted enough force for a gravity plane to develop. Spherical objects attracted objects towards their surfaces uniformly. Objects with a more irregular shape developed a gravitational plane. This plane worked in both directions so that it was possible, for instance, to walk on the bottom of a ship. The skyship system drops this concept and substitutes a simpler one as explained in the “Gravity” section below. Basically, only very large (planet sized) objects have enough gravity to make any difference and the magical device that controls the ship (the helm) also magically creates gravity on board the ship.

Objects dragging air

The Speljaming idea was that all objects would drag air with them whenever they leave an air envelope. A typical human, for example, would drag enough fresh air with him to breathe for 2-20 turns. After that time ran out the air turned foul for a period of time and then became deadly and unbreathable. Larger objects (such as Spelljammers) would drag larger amounts of air that would stay fresh longer. The skyship system abandons this concept entirely. The magical devices that propel the skyships also create breathable air. A PC that leaves an air envelope doesn’t die instantly (refer to the “Vacuum Exposure” section below) but will not last long unaided.

The Spelljammer Helm

The Spelljammer system used a magical devise called a helm. It was a throne like chair and the mage that controlled it was required to be seated on it to control the ship. When he did so, he lost all of his spells. It effectively removed one PC from all rollplaying activity other than controlling the ship. The skyship system also uses a magical helm. It can be controlled by anyone that can cast magical spells. After the helm is activated the pilot is free to move around the ship. He doesn’t loose his spells and can attempt to cast spells while continuing to control the skyship. The pilot can even leave the ship and travel a short distance away without losing all control. Spelljammer had other types of helms as well. The skyship system has only one type of helm, although it isn’t required to be in the form of a chair. There is no reason other helm types couldn’t be added to your campaign if you choose to do so. Simply use the modifications made here as a guide.

Basic Concepts for D&D Skyships


Sailing ships are fitted with magical devices that give them the ability to fly through space. These ships are often called skyships. Some races on some worlds have been building skyships for a very long time. Many create them specifically as flying vessels. Some of these are designed to land on land rather than water. Some are designed to never land at all.


With few exceptions, vehicles capable of interplanetary travel are powered by a powerful magical device known as a magical helm. This magical item can be any shape or size. It is sometimes incorporated into the ship’s wheel. The only requirement is that it must be bolted securely to the ship’s deck. It is most usually created in the form of a large throne like chair.  The helm not only allows the magic user that activated it to control the vessel’s direction and velocity, but also provides an envelope of breathable air at a comfortable temperature and creates an artificial gravity that allows everyone on board to move about on the ship as they would if it were on the water.


A helm maintains breathable air at a comfortable temperature that extends 300 feet in all directions centered on the helm itself. This air provides forward pressure on the sails as if the ship were sailing in a moderate wind. This allows a crew of experienced sailors to maneuver the ship as needed. Without sailors manning the sails the ship can only move forward or turn in a very wide arc.

Beyond the bubble of air created by the helm lies the vacuum of space. Most planets have breathable air surrounding them out to 32,000 feet (about 6 miles).


A helm creates a magical gravity similar to normal gravity on the Earth. This magical effect extends to the edge of the air bubble (300 feet). This magical gravity pulls down in relation to the orientation of the ship. Anyone falling overboard will fall as they would on the Earth until they reach the edge of the air bubble. Ten feet beyond the edge of the magical bubble they will stop falling and simply hover there weightless in the vacuum of space (refer to vacuum exposure below). This will be true for anything dropped. If the ship is moving, anything that falls overboard will simply be left behind once it has left the ships gravity bubble. Anything thrown or fired from the ship will behave normally, as it would on the Earth, until it reaches the edge of the magic bubble. It will then continue in a straight line at its current speed forever, unless it hits something or enters another source of gravity.

If two or more ships get close enough to each other that their gravity bubbles touch, they will automatically orient themselves so that “down” on all ships is in the same direction. If a ship enters the gravity of a planet, it will orient itself with that planet’s natural gravity. This alignment of gravity fields occurs almost instantly with no adverse effects to anyone aboard the ship.

All planets, even small ones or large asteroids, have natural gravity. The effects of a planet’s gravity extend 32,000 feet above its surface. All planets have gravity roughly equivalent to that experienced on the Earth regardless of the size or mass of the planet. Not all planets are ball shaped. Some may be disk shaped. Others may be in the shape of a cube. Regardless of the shape of the planet, natural gravity (in this fictional universe) always pulls down toward each of the primary surfaces. This will be toward the center of spherical planets, or towards each of the major flat surfaces of a planet with flat sides.


It requires someone with magical abilities to control a helm. A player character must be proficient with magic and capable of casting magical spells. The person that controls the helm is called the pilot.  The more powerful the pilot, the faster he can fly the skyship. Player characters are considered to have a pilot level equal to the highest level spell they can cast. For instance, a 5th level Wizard or 5th level Cleric or an 11th level Paladin can each cast 3rd level spells, so they would each be a 3rd level pilot.

Activating a Helm

It requires a minimum of a level 1 pilot (as defined above) to activate a helm. The helm must be securely bolted to a skyship that is in reasonably good shape. If the helm is currently inactive it takes one hour to activate it. This is called powering up. During this time the pilot must remain in physical contact with the helm and maintain full concentration. The air and gravity bubble expands slowly out from the helm at a rate of 5 feet per minute until it reaches a radius of 300 feet. At this time it becomes fully activated. The pilot can not use the helm to move the ship until it is fully activated. Once activated, as long as the pilot is on the skyship he can control the ship with no need to keep in physical contact with the helm. A pilot may disengage from the helm at will at any time. A helm doesn’t loose all of its power the moment it is disengaged. As soon as it is disengaged it stops moving and floats in place. It then takes an hour before it becomes fully inactive. During this time, the air and gravitational bubble grows smaller at a rate of 5 feet per minute until, after one hour, it completely collapses and the helm again becomes inactive. Any pilot can re-activate a helm while it is in the process of powering down. The new pilot must remain in contact with the helm and maintain concentration while it powers up. It must power up for the same amount of time as it has been powering down.

A helm deactivates and begins powering down if the pilot is reduced to 0 or fewer hit points.

If the pilot becomes unconscious or for some other reason is unable to provide the minimum concentration required to control the ship, it will continue at its current speed and direction.

Another qualified pilot can take over control of the ship by simply placing his hand on the helm while the existing pilot disengages. Pilots can not be removed from control of their ship against their will as long as they are in physical contact with the helm. If the existing pilot is not in contact with the helm and refuses or is unable to disengage, the prospective new pilot can gain control of the helm by maintaining contact with the helm and wining an opposed Willpower check against the current pilot.

Piloting the Skyship

The pilot is the individual steering the vessel and controls the general direction and speed of the skyship. He directs the ship’s general motion (fine maneuvering is provided by sails, rigging, and crew).

The pilot in a sense merges with the ship, he feels as if he is personally flying through space, and can perceive the world around the ship as if he were flying just above the ships highest mast. The pilot perceives damage to the ship as white flashes of pain, but takes no actual, personal damage in most cases. Sometimes, however, the pain is intense enough to cause unconsciousness; this is called “pilot shock” and is usually a result of a critical hit.

In many ways, piloting a vessel is instinctual, because the pilot feels he “merges” with the vessel he can generally control the vessel as easily as walking. The ship handling crew control all of the finer aspects of maneuver.

While flying the pilot retains his normal senses and can hold a conversation with those nearby. In general, piloting is no more difficult then walking so that anything a person can reasonably be expected to concentrate on while walking can be done while flying. This includes casting spells. Because it does require a bit of concentration to maintain control of the skyship, any spell he attempts requires a (DC 10) concentration check. A skyship always flies smoothly, so other spell casters do not require a concentration check due to the ship’s motion.

If a pilot leaves a skyhip that he is controlling it will stop moving and float in space at that location. He will not be able to make the ship move while he is off of it. He will regain full control once he returns. If the pilot travels more than six miles away from the ship the helm will disengage as described above.

Voyages often require several days or months of continuous travel aboard the skyship. The pilot requires 8 hours of rest or sleep each day. During this time and during the time he spends preparing his spells, praying, studying his spell books, meditating, etc. he can not control the ship. During those times the ship will continue at the same speed and direction he last set.

Vacuum Exposure

Beings exposed to the airless cold of space are not immediately doomed. Contrary to popular belief, characters exposed to vacuum do not immediately freeze or explode, and their blood does not boil in their veins. While space is very cold, heat does not transfer away from a body that quickly.

A character exposed to the vacuum of space can hold his breath for 2 rounds per point of Constitution. After this period of time, you must make a DC 10 Constitution check in order to continue holding your breath. The save must be repeated each round, with the DC increasing by +1 for each previous success. When you fail one of these Constitution checks, you begin to suffocate. In the first round, you fall unconscious (0 hit points). In the following round, you drop to -1 hit points and are dying. In the third round, your character suffocates.

In addition to the lack of air, you must also deal with the extreme cold which deals 1d6 points of lethal damage per minute (10 rounds), no save. At the end of each minute you must also make a Fortitude save (DC 15, +1 per previous check) or take 1d4 points of nonlethal damage. Those wearing metal armor or coming into contact with very cold metal are affected as if by a chill metal spell.

Characters (in this fictional universe) are not affected by radiation in any way. Whether this is because there is no radiation, or living beings are immune to it is left to your imagination.


Almost everyone on all planets can speak common. Also Elves speak Elvin, Dwarves speak Dwarven, etc. Sages have many theories to explain this, but the truth is that no one really knows why creatures on different planets would evolve to speak the same languages. Those who travel between the planets are just happy that they do.

Download the Skyship rules here (free): Skyships


23 responses to “D&D Skyships

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  3. Pingback: Plans for 2015 | Dungeon Master Assistance

  4. William Cady February 25, 2015 at 10:24 pm

    Any chance of getting a 5e version of this pdf?

  5. Pingback: 5E – Skyships | Dungeon Master Assistance

  6. Darin Crossland July 19, 2017 at 8:34 pm

    Fan of your work…

    Though, I honestly had to wait 1000 years stranded on Greyhawk before you were born to write about it. I believe it and your Skyship documents are fantastic!

    Ive had to pull a few favors in at the City of Brass to make FIVE interlinked helms (a single PentaHelm) for one TRULLY GARGANTUAN spelljammer craft found in an old edition module, S3 Expidition to the Barrier Peaks. The helms will be installed into the craft by the Efretti Engeneers Core so i can take the craft Ethereal before i drive the engeneers home.

    Thanks again, And if you need a lift ANYWHERE… Just give me a holler…
    Malagand Mamorphic.

    via Darin Crossland

      • Darin Crossland July 20, 2017 at 11:40 am

        … The character was unable to approach the Githzari… kind of a ling standing issue there (since 1983 or so been at war, lol)… so the lack of information on thier construction tequiniques wasn’t missed and myself and other amature game masters have always concidered that the githzari crafts had a “self destruct” that prevented thier falling into PC hands (also something that can turn the tides of a war). Smaller githzari craft were generally regarded as unencounterable outside of the large transports and accopanying warcrafts, and were always too fast to be “caught”.
        Though other minor mention within the D&D themeset gamesystem exist, yours finally brings to light in glorius fashion the style in wich it can trully be used. I only regret not actually having experianced the game systems that you draw upon in its writeup! lol

        Darin Crossland
        D&D, AD&D player and GM since 1981.

      • Ronny July 20, 2017 at 12:23 pm

        That all sounds like great fun. Thanks for sharing.

      • Darin Crossland July 20, 2017 at 12:44 pm

        pss: I know you state descriptions of planes and dimentions was beyond the scope of your paper, but the meer mention of “The Planer Bizzar” has me more than curious as to its location… lol 🙂

  7. Darin Crossland July 20, 2017 at 12:37 pm

    You Are Very Welcome… 🙂

    ps: I correct my poor naval terms… “selfdestruct”, i should have described more as “skuttle the craft”… 🙂

  8. Darin Crossland July 21, 2017 at 3:52 pm

    I do have a couple of gameplay queries and comments, noting interesting things for my own game and what is generally described. : )

    I have now finally noticed, that there seems to be a single helm for each craft from smallest to immence. I presume that the same style of “chair” is used in all cases and only the amount of imbued magic does. I support this concept in the nature of gameplay, but have to concider what I also am trying to attempt. The largest craft to my knowledge is some 200′ across and 100′ high and is described as a “citadel size” and continues with this concept of a single helm craft. The craft i wish to imbue with the helm is conciderably larger at 540′ across and some 220′ high.

    My initial querry is in a basic ruling, is still a single helm sufficent (increasing time and cost accordingly) in such a massive craft? Or is my presumption that magic has limits, and in order to have the craft move at even the slowest rates, that more than one helm be required? To continue just the train of thought, if one helm is sufficent, wouldtional helms increase manuverability and/or speed?

    • Ronny July 21, 2017 at 4:16 pm

      You are free, of course, to have your helms/skyships work any way you think is best for your campaign. The way I have described the helm is that it creates a magical “air and gravity” bubble that is a sphere with a radius of 300 feet. My assumption is that the magic to effect the movement of the ship also extends that far. That is plenty big enough to comfortably fit your ship if it is only 540′ across and some 220′ high. So only one helm would be required, but you might want to make sure it was mounted near the center of the ship.
      More to the point, say that you do have a ship that is larger than will fit into a 600′ diameter sphere, would it require more than one helm? I think not. You may need a more powerful helm, but more than one is not the answer. If you had more than one helm, you would require more than one pilot. For multiple pilots to coordinate their efforts to steer the ship could be problematic.
      I assume you are playing D&D 3.5. If you are playing fifth edition, you should be using the version I posted here:

      • Darin Crossland July 21, 2017 at 5:19 pm

        fhanTk you for your concice and very logical application of magic, i admit to having missed the point you make the realm of influence at 300′ was diameter and not radius but it was made mute by your further point of “stronger helm”. : )

        Thank you again,
        you probablynsaved me 3/4 a cubic meter of mithrel in costs… lol

        ps: as to the version of game… since i have played D&D since the ’80’s beginning with Basic Edition pretty much after Chainmail and have followed the game through its full lifetime of evolution, the version would be ALL. lol.

      • Ronny July 21, 2017 at 5:53 pm

        You may, then, want to read the fifth edition version of these rules. They are simplified somewhat and concentrate more on each individual PCs contribution to things like ship to ship combat.

  9. Darin Crossland July 21, 2017 at 4:05 pm

    This gameplay I place seperatly… as will become apperent why… : )

    I noted by the documentation that during battle, the ships planes of axis come into alignment such that each crafts deck is “level and parallell to the opponent craft”… interesting… and sorry to say, a load of bollox. lol.

    It is quite the viewpoint of a 2 dimentional sailor used to port and stern commands exclusivly outside of bearing and speed. A true Astral Piolet concideres this limited, and rewards it with tactics, that if you survive… will wake you in a cold sweat.

    A common Githzarii tactic is to assume such a “fair” position, and then shifting course will CORKSCREW into a position counter and above the opposing vessle. Which is quite defenceless against the cannon fire and arrows raining down on it from above… or worse.. FROM BELOW! You can imagine if they try to fire back?

    I might recommend that other piolets of insufficent Astral Sailing be wary of these tactics and not be so locked into such dangerously suicidal piolet error.

    Malagand Mamorphic

    via Darin Crossland

  10. Darin Crossland July 21, 2017 at 4:09 pm

    …and lastly… a querry into “magical physics” (oxymoron of the day) lololol

    With the helms control of up, down, and even sideways relative to the orientation of the craft… i really have to ask… Do we still need BALAST? lol

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