High roller: Dungeons & Dragons launches a die, space 'pilot' into stratosphere

A little chaos magic flew a Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) die high in Earth's atmosphere.

A 20-sided die from the famous role-playing game launched high into Earth's atmosphere on Aug. 3 for a new D&D space-themed expansion released two weeks later: Spelljammer: Adventures in Space.

The high-altitude balloon soared to 74,000 feet (14 miles or 22.5 km) before bursting in the stratosphere. You can watch the whole two-hour journey on YouTube, resplendent with a 3D-printed Star Moth Spelljammer ship. (For those with young children within earshot, note that some of the video's song lyrics may be explicit.)

"We wanted a fun, whimsical, and unexpected way to celebrate the release of a fun, whimsical, and unexpected product," Shelly Mazzanoble, senior brand manager for D&D at Wizards of the Coast, told Space.com.

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Dungeons & Dragons Spelljammer: Adventures in Space | $41.99 at Amazon

Dungeons & Dragons Spelljammer: Adventures in Space | $41.99 at Amazon

Explore the Astral Plane and the oceans of Wildspace with this space-themed Dungeons & Dragons campaign. This collection comes with a 64-page hardcover book explaining your options in the Astral Plane, Boo's Astral Menagerie filled with game statistics and descriptions, a double-sided poster map of an asteroid city, and other tools for dungeon masters to guide their teams.

D&D was first published in 1974 and is widely heralded as the game that launched modern tabletop gaming, while also heavily influencing the development of role-playing video games. 

Players serving as dungeon masters help guide the gameplay through storytelling and world-building, and players shape their own characters through honing skills, collecting experience and engaging in collaborative problem-solving. The D20 die is used throughout the game to determine the outcome of complex actions through chance.

The new Spelljammer campaign focuses on the Astral Plane, which D&D says is "an infinitely vast celestial void where the stars and portals to the divine and demonic planes reside." Spelljammers, or pilots, steer ships around the Astral Plane using a "spelljamming helm," which operates through magic.

Wizards of the Coast commissioned the stratospheric balloon launch to celebrate the new game, and kept the campaign a surprise to even the most seasoned influencers. "We didn’t pre-announce our plans to send a D20 to 'space' ⁠— what if the mission failed? ⁠— so our community was truly surprised and delighted," Mazzanoble said.

Explore the Astral Plane and the oceans of Wildspace with this space-themed Dungeons & Dragons campaign, called Spelljammer: Adventures in Space. (Image credit: Amazon)

After the launch, Wizards of the Coast worked with Chris Funk from the indie rock band the Decemberists, along with the record label Kill Rock Stars, on a Spelljammer tribute album called "Spelljams." The multi-artist music also forms a backdrop to the YouTube video and is meant to be played during D&D sessions.

"It's a fantastic collection of artists who lent their talents to create original music inspired by this 'out of this world' setting," Mazzanoble said.

She joked that it was a good thing the Star Moth ship flown on the balloon did not end up in the wrong spot, as the astral elves that usually fly them "don't like it when these ships end up in the hands of others." Her favorite part of the video, she added, was watching "the sun shining through its gorgeous wings as it makes its ascent into the atmosphere."

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for Space.com for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace