The Game: Stars Without Number (Sine Nomine, 2010)
The System: Old School Renaissance
The Appearance: Full-size (8.5”x11”) pdf with 210 pages. Cover is a color stock space image (NASA Space Telescope?). Interior layout is two-column text in a rather small font (not good for e-readers or maybe even tablets). Interior artwork is black-and-white, sparse in number, but generally appropriate to the setting. Tables are one- or two-column and use alternating shading to help distinguish rows.
The Setting: The year is 3200. Space travel created a new breed of humans that used psychic powers. In 2665 a psychic wave (“The Scream”) wiped out psychics and the universe broke down. The adventurers must survive and try to thrive in this hostile universe.
The Content: This is a complete rules and setting book. The 210 pages break down as follows:
- “Introduction” which is a (very) short teaser of the setting
- “Character Creation” introduces three classes; Expert, Warrior, and Psychic.
- “Psionics” introduces relevant rules
- “Equipment” is a standard ironmongery collection
- “Systems” explains the mechanics of the game
- “The History of Space” provides background
- “Game Master’s Guide” gives hints to running adventures in the setting
- “World Generation” provides rules for creating star sectors and planets
- “Factions” includes rules for creating these special groups
- “Adventure Creation” is a step-by-step assistant for creating an adventure seed
- “Alien Creation” and “Xenobestiary” give you the bestiary for the setting
- “Designer’s Notes” are Kevin Crawford’s thoughts on this game
- “Hydra Sector” is a pre-generated sector with planets and factions defined
- “Game Master Resources” includes a multilingual names generator and other quick generation guides
- “Index” and “Record Sheets” complete the package
The Verdict: Stars Without Number is very unashamedly an Old School Renaissance game. Character generation uses a very standard class-based approach. One also has to be big into psionics since so much of the setting relies on these rules. The system mechanic is very old school; roll 2d6 plus attribute modifier and skill level against a difficulty rating. In combat you roll 1d20 and modify the roll based on a few factors such as armor class to see if you hit.
World generation is very similar to Classic Traveller but with a great twist. You also create world tags that further explain the world in ways like enemies, friends, complications, things and places unique to the world.
Factions allows creation of domains by defining it using hit points (resilience), a force rating (physical violence), cunning (espionage and cunning), wealth, experience, assets and goals. In effect, a faction is a super NPC that he players can either face off against, ally with, or even control.
As I already alluded to, the setting is heavily dependent upon psionics. That is not to say that you MUST use psionics, but the setting drives you to it. I have to say that I like certain aspects of the setting as it seems to draw heavily from the great sci-fi masters such as Asimov and Piper.
In the Designer’s Notes, the designer makes it clear that he is a “sandbox” gamer and because of this bias the game is designed with that approach to play in mind. Like many old-school games, the best adventure group is composed on at least one character from each class to ensure that necessary skills are available to at least one member of the adventure party. The designer also provides many tables and idea aids to help the GM create the adventure within the sandbox of play.
As I have gone on and described this game, it is possible that you have had to refer to the top to ensure you are reading about a new sci-fi RPG. That leads to my biggest complaint – in the end Stars Without Number feels like old Dungeons & Dragons in space. Now I personally was never an old-school D&D player but rather preferred Traveller.
Stars Without Number is a good game and setting. It is a worthy regeneration of the old-school gaming world. But is it not without its problems, the largest for me being that it feels a bit to much like D&D in Space and the heavy use of psionics.