Based on the 2nd Edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D) Spelljammer rulebook, Spelljammer: Pirates of Realmspace leads the player into a fantasy world to a pilot a ship (spelljammer) that may travel into Realmspace and visit eight worlds of inner and outer planets for exploration and trade.
During the course of space travel (first person perspective), the player while travelling in wildspace, may encounter other spelljammer vessels. If the player determines the vessel is hostile, space combat may commence by attacking (or being attacked) by said vessel. Combat consists of two different areas:
- Vessel-To-Vessel combat, where the player can battle other spelljammers with the ship’s weapons. These weapons (depending on the spelljammer type) consists of ranged weapons (catapult, ballista); ramming, shearing attacks, and grappling the enemy vessel to board it.
- Hand-to-Hand combat, where the player boards or is boarded by an enemy vessel after a successful grappling attempt (top-down perspective)
In hand-to-hand combat, participants are divided into the ship’s mates and the ship’s crew. The player has complete control of the ship’s mates, whereas the artificial intelligence (AI) takes control of the ship’s crew.
Victory is decided when all of the enemy mates and crew are destroyed.
Achieving victory over an enemy vessel will result in the possibility of the player changing ships, as there are various different spelljammer ships in the game. These spelljammer ships may later be repaired or upgraded with weapons/accessories in any planet port.