The Crown of the Stars - A Spelljammer 5e Tale
The Deep Core
“The Deep Core is a maze full of anomalies that skew the senses! The task of finding one world within it is impossible!”
―Deep Core Mining Guild Representative
The Deep Core is a small region in the galaxy that hides unusual worlds. The Deep Core is home to some of the galaxy’s oldest stars, and at its center was a massive vortex surrounded by clusters of systems. In some areas they were in such close proximity, stars would collide and rip the cores from each other. Due to the gravitational pull of the vast number of stars and the prominence of dark matter concentrations, local space-time was severely warped, making Spelljammer travel difficult at best. Remains of an ancient civilization have been found near the edges of the core making sages believe that this civilization had found a way to navigate the core’s maze.
“Sooner sail blind through the Grinder than trust a Neogi”
- A Bralian asphorism
The Grinder is a dense asteroid field. It is composed of countless millions of asteroids and planetoids, ranging in size from about 100 miles in diameter down to the size of golf balls. The vast majority of the bodies fall into the middle of this spectrum, with the average object being several tens of yards across. Some of these larger bodies are named, but there is no generally followed naming convention. For example, what is called “Ceres” by some travelers is known as “the Pup” to others, and as “that big rock there” to yet others. The larger asteroids-those with a diameter of a mile or more-usually have breathable atmospheres, although there are some exceptions. Smaller rocks are generally barren and lifeless, although there are exceptions here, too.
Unlike a typical asteroid belt, the Grinder is not atorus (a donut shape) that lies in the ecliptic. Instead, the planetoids of the Grinder are spread out into a hollow sphere, completely surrounding the Deep Core and the inner planets. This means that every spelljamming vessel bound for the Deep Core from the outer systems must pass through the Grinder. There is simply no way to avoid it.
The Grinder is a chaotic place indeed. Because they all lie in approximately the same orbit, all of the asteroids and planetoids making up the Grinder move at approximately the same speed. Unfortunately, they do not all move in the same direction. Each body has its own distinct orbit, inclined at its own angle to the ecliptic and traveling in its own direction. Some move clockwise within the ecliptic while others move counterclockwise. Some arch high above the plane of the other planets, and some dive below. This, of course, leads to many, many collisions. Rocks are constantly slamming into each other, shattering, or bouncing off in new orbits. The 200 or so largest bodies have orbits and positions aligned so that they will never collide with each other. (This does not mean that the large bodies will not collide with smaller bodies, of course.) Some people think this implies some kind of intelligent planning. Thus, the only way that large bodies could survive to the present day would be if their orbits serendipitously avoided such collisions.
Although the Grinder is a dense asteroid field in astronomical terms, it is still much more empty space than rock. The average distance between objects is measured in miles. This means that a spelljamming vessel could conceivably blaze right through the Grinder at full speed without coming near an obstacle. This is the theory, at least. In practice, the only sane thing for a captain to do is slow to tactical speed when the vessel reaches the outer margin of the Grinder. Lookouts must then spot the largest and most threatening objects, and the helmsman must weave a course around them. Lookouts must keep a sharp eye out for planetoids coming from unexpected directions.
What might happen if a captain did try to take her ship through the Grinder at full speed? She could make it unscathed; in fact, the odds favor this …just. It could also lead to catastrophe. The ship could come close enough to a large rock to be forced to
tactical speed … and find itself right in the path of another large rock, coming from another angle. Many ships have been damaged or lost to the Grinder in just this way.
For obvious reasons, pirates and other rogues of the spaceways-such as predatory dragons find the Grinder to be a perfect place to ply their trade. First, their potential prey will almost certainly slow to tactical speed, making an ambush much easier to orchestrate. Second, there are many planetoids large enough to hide a ship behind, maximizing the element of surprise. And third, the density of the asteroid field lessens the chance that the prey can simply turn tail and flee at full speed. (Of course, this can backfire on the unwary captain who finds his intended prey is tougher than he had guessed …. ) One of the many mysteries of the universe is the origin of the Grinder. Some sages believe that it is the constituents of a system of planets that, for some reason, never formed properly. Others hold it to be the wreckage of systems destroyed in some cosmic calamity, still others believe is was created as wall to keep something or something out.