Saturday, June 4, 2011

Wandering monsters--in SPAAAAACE!

In brainstorming for the starship campaign I want to run, I've come to envision it as akin to a traditional roleplaying game.  However, instead of running a single character with numbers describing physical and mental attributes, each player will operate a single starship (with the possibility of acquiring additional ships similar to how RPG characters gain henchmen during the course of a campaign).  While the combat rules will take care of a ship's physical attributes, I devised additional rules to describe the intangible characteristics of the ship and its captain.

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:
  1. check for wandering monsters
  2. party moves, enters room, listens, and searches
  3. turn ends if no wandering monsters, otherwise roll number appearing
  4. determine distance between monsters and party
  5. check for surprise
  6. roll for initiative
  7. roll for monster reaction
  8. determine outcome (talk, retreat, combat)
  9. end turn
The Dave Cook version of the D&D Expert rules (blue book with Otus art) has a virtually identical sequence for wildnerness play, with the addition of checking to see if the party gets lost.  These rules for encounters should translate pretty easily to outer space.  However, despite the picture above, I don't think I'll include any spacedragons on my interstellar encounter table.


Porky said...

As you point out, this kind of thing is old and good, and using it even in space combat really is a very natural thing. I love the idea of a starship sandbox.

The dragon in space idea makes me think of GW's Tyranids. It's how they struck me in Space Fleet back in the very early '90s, with an oceanic influence too - maybe more sea drakes - and I love their strangeness in the art then and the first generation minis.

Andy Strauss said...

You should try I think that game has all the elements you want to use within the box.


Kaptain Kobold said...

Sorry to comment on an old post but ...

If you can find a copy of the 1970s RPG 'Starships and Spacemen' that had a random encounter chart for spaceships which offered potential adventures. we certainly had sessions which just involved the crew flying around a blank map, dealing with random encounters.