Freebie: Stars Without Number

SWN cover I’ve known of the existence of this game for quite a while now, but for some reason I just picked it up pretty recently. That’s why I don’t want to call this post a fully review.

Stars Without Number is a surprisingly well-made SF roleplaying game “influenced by the Old School Renaissance and partially inspired by the great fantasy role-playing game editions written by Tom Moldvay and Frank Mentzer”. Perhaps it was that mention of the OSR that put me off a bit initially.

Don’t get me wrong, I very much enjoyed Swords & Wizardry and I recently picked up Lamentations Of The Flame Princess but aside from that my interest in the old-school movement waned. It actually bothers me that people waste their time and creativity to recreate the 1970s’ fantasy RPG over and over again. But that’s the subject for another post…

Luckily Stars Without Number is different. While the system it uses has some resemblance to old-school D&D, it can pretty much stand on its own feet. SWN features three pretty broad character classes (Warrior, Expert, and Psychic), a sizeable number of Background Packages (from Adventurer to Worker) and a point-based psi system. Since the basic system is still pretty close to the d20 System, D&D veterans of all editions should get into SWN pretty fast.

Aside from the fact that it’s basic system is inspired by old-school D&D, Stars Without Numbers feels like a modern game, both in presentation and rules. Although the layout isn’t as fancy as some other games I’ve seen lately, it’s clean and has a good readability. The artwork is of a mixed quality (probably because it’s stock art – I recognize a few pieces I bought myself), but it usually fits the genre well.

Aside from the rules needed to create characters and run the game, the GM gets quite a lot of tools for his own games. There are rules for World, Faction, Adventure and Alien Creation, a Xenobestiary and a fully fledged out sector for you to play in. The author didn’t forget simple but effective Starship design rules either.

The 210-paged PDF version of Stars Without Numbers is free and can be downloaded from DriveThruRPG. You can also get this fine game as a softcover or hardcover book through DriveThruRPG’s POD service, if you prefer the hardcopy over the digital download. The printed books set you back $19.99 or $24.99 respectively.

SWN is definitely worth a look if you are into science fiction RPGs. The game supports various sub genres and gaming styles, so it should be pretty easy to adapt it to almost any campaign.

Michael Wolf is a German games designer and enthusiast best known for his English language role-playing games blog, Stargazer's World, and for creating the free rules-light medieval fantasy adventure game Warrior, Rogue & Mage. He has also worked as an English translator on the German-language Dungeonslayers role-playing game and was part of its editorial team. In addition to his work on Warrior, Rogue & Mage and Dungeonslayers, he has created several self-published games and also performed layout services and published other independent role-playing games such as A Wanderer's Romance, Badass, and the Wyrm System derivative Resolute, Adventurer & Genius, all released through his imprint Stargazer Games. Professionally, he works as a video technician and information technologies specialist. Stargazer's World was started by Michael in August 2008.

12 thoughts on “Freebie: Stars Without Number”

  1. In some ways, it seems like SWN's classes fit the same model as WRM's (3 broad professions), except that the structure of the rules isn't the same. Could be a starting point for making a sci-fi version of WRM though.

    I was thinking about that the other day, some. Both the fantasy and pulp versions of WRM offer three "classes" that are roughly the same:

    Functional Skills
    Academic Skills (and extra-ordinary abilities)

    Only, they use different names. I think, if I were to write the generic version of WRM, it would have 4 professions that had the same names across all genres (and have Talents that let you give them genre specific flair, so that the only difference between a "Fantasy Warrior" and a "Sci-fi Warrior" isn't just one carries a broadsword, and the other carries a laser-sword):

    Warrior (incl. "Resolute" from RAG)
    Adept (Mage/Psychic/etc. — Mystical and Paranormal abilities, but not the mundane aspects of "Scholar")
    Genius (incl. "Scholar" from WRM — Academic Knowledge, and creative endeavors)
    Expert (combining everything from Rogue and Adventurer: Rogue, Thief, Scout, Tracker, Con-man, etc.)

    My main problem with moving forward, though, is that I want to use Fudge mechanics as the core (just my preference). Fudge is OGL. WRM and RAG are CC. SWN is neither of those (free as in beer, not free as in speech). Kinda hard to mix material from all 3, when they're licensed in completely different ways.

    1. And by the way, if you want to use Fudge rules, you won't use the Wyrm system at all. And I can't keep you from naming your Fudge attributes Warrior, Rogue & Mage, so you're basically free to do what you wish.

  2. Actually, in my own notes, I added a 5th "Attribute"/Profession:

    Socialite (all social skills: Etiquette, Diplomacy, Negotiation, Con-Artist/Social-Engineering, etc.)

    So, non-social thieves (cat burglars, pick pockets, etc.) are "Experts", but con-artists are a negative version of a "Socialite".

    I also think I'm going to go forward with non-Fudgey mechanic so that I can avoid the OGL vs CC problem. But it wont be the exploding d6's of WRM/RAG. It's based on the old FASERIP chart, but not exactly (it evolved out of something I was going to do with Fudge, but sort of became its own thing).

  3. That's actually what I asked myself while flipping through it. Either it's an oversight in the PDF version or the author tries to take his chances with WotC's lawyers.

  4. Thanks for giving the game a look, Stargazer. I always appreciate people taking the time to give SWN a few words.

    The reason it's not OGL is twofold, really. Regarding the first, you only get one chance to do OGL correctly; there's no takebacks. I prefer not to make irrevocable decisions like that until I completely understand what I'm doing and know what it will mean for my future business plans. With regards to the second, I don't think SWN actually requires anything from WotC. It uses none of D&D's IP- no races, no classes, no magic, no monsters, no saving throw names, and mentions no WotC trademarks. Skills work completely differently from those of any edition of D&D and combat uses a target-20 system not found in D&D. The underlying framework was certainly inspired by D&D and the end result is mechanically compatible with many retro-clone efforts, but I'm confident that the game itself stands on its own foundation.

    1. You've got a few points here. Since game rules can't be copyrighted in the US (and many countries of the world), the law might be on your side, I only fear WotC's lawyers may see otherwise. Don't get me wrong, Stars Without Numbers has less resemblance to D&D than any retro-clone out there and can clearly stand on its own. Let's just hope WotC does see it the same way. But probably it's under their radar.

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