This got me to thinking about the background for such a game, which could take the form of a sandbox setting so beloved of many roleplayers. In a sandbox game, the game master starts out with a map containing some interesting locations (and some idea of what each location contains), gives the players a brief background and maybe a few leads, and lets them wander about the setting in search of adventure. The Hill Cantons D&D campaign I play in is such a game--our characters started out with a vague idea of their surroundings and wandered around the area stumbling into and out of trouble.
Of course, this kind of play is pretty natural for sci-fi games--Traveller was an old-school SF role-playing game that encouraged this kind of play; Stars Without Number is a more recent OSR offering in the same vein. But while these games usually start out with each player controlling a single character with maybe one ship between them, I'd like to skip those intermediate steps and start each players out with his or her own spacecraft. Such a mini-fleet could then travel from star system to star system, in search of loot and glory like its fantasy RPG counterpart.
Which brings me (finally!) to my point: how to adjudicate what the players encounter as they roam the spaceways. I'm thinking about adapting the order of play from the old Tom Moldvay version of the Basic D&D rulebook (the one with the red Erol Otus cover).
The Moldvay encounter rules play out pretty wargamey for something we've come to associate with a more free-form sort of play. Here's the steps a referee follows during a turn in Basic D&D:
- check for wandering monsters
- party moves, enters room, listens, and searches
- turn ends if no wandering monsters, otherwise roll number appearing
- determine distance between monsters and party
- check for surprise
- roll for initiative
- roll for monster reaction
- determine outcome (talk, retreat, combat)
- end turn