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From 455 reviews

Stars Without Number

Revised Edition


Publisher Description

The year is 3200 and mankind’s empire lies in ashes.

The Jump Gates fell six hundred years ago, severing the links between the myriad worlds of the human diaspora.


A Newer Space RPG With Old School Rules and a Sandbox Focus [ edit ]

Having first been published in 2010, Stars Without Number is a relative newcomer when compared to GURPS (35+ years old) and Traveller (40+ years old).  Written by Kevin Crawford, the game has quickly grown in popularity for two main reasons. First, its OSR rules are both familiar to fans of Dungeons and Dragons, and yet at the same time they've been heavily revised, and tailored for science fiction gaming.  Second, Stars Without Numbers embraces the "sandbox" style of gaming wholeheartedly, and provides a great deal of support for it.

Stars Without Numbers also has a great, if somewhat generic, campaign setting.  In the SWN universe, humanity spread across the cosmos using interstellar gates powered by psychics ... until a catastrophe killed off nearly all psychics, rendering the gates useless and stranding countless systems from each other.  Hundreds of years later, the survivors' descendents use an older and slower space travel technology, sticking mostly to nearby systems as a result ... but opportunities for adventure abound for those brave enough to explore.

In a traditional campaign, a GM would need to plan out dozens of systems in advance, buy (and learn) a published set of systems, or they would simply limit adventures to a small predefined set of planets.  But with its sandbox focus, Stars WIthout Number instead provides a plethora of resources to help GMs easily create entire space sectors (ie. collections of systems).  It also helps them to easily build "factions" within those system, along with rules to control how those factions interact with each other and the PCs.

Stars Without Number, Revised Edition - Rules SummaryCollapse

Character Creation [ edit ]

As an "old school" RPG, Stars Without Numbers character creation includes a healthy amount of randomness, much of which will be familiar to older Dungeons and Dragons fans.

You begin by rolling 3d6 six times, to generate your six attributes (which are the same as in D&D: Str, Dex, Con, Int, Wis, Cha).  You can then replace one with a 14, and assign the rolls however you want.  Unlike D&D though, SWN attributes give lower bonuses: an 18 in an attribute only gives a +2 bonus (vs. +4 in D&D), while a 14-17 gives a +1.

Next, you pick your character's background (eg. Criminal, Merchant, Noble, Spacer), which provides a free skill and either a choice of two other skills, or three random rolls (for either skills or attribute increases).  Skills start at level 0, and if a character acquires the same skill twice, they instead gain it at a higher level (with 4 being the highest possible).

After that, you pick a class. There are three core classes to choose from: Experts (who can reroll a failed skill check), Psychics (who gain psychic powers), or Warriors (who can reroll a failed attack).  You can also "multi-class" by choosing a fourth class, Adventurer, which let's you get partial benefits from two of the other classes.

Next character get to pick a Focus, or two if they are an  Expert or Warrior.  Focuses provide a benefit under certain conditions (some combat, some not), similar to feats in Dungeons and Dragons. Most also provide a bonus skill.  For example, the Assassin focus provides the Stealth skill, let's you conceal a weapon under your clothes, and then let's your produce it to make a surprise attack (which can't miss).

Finally you roll your character's hit points and choose their starting equipment.  To determine hit points you roll add your Con modifier, and 2 if you are a Warrior (or Partial Warrior), to a single d6.  This makes starting SWN characters somewhat fragile (just like old school D&D characters).

Core Mechanics [ edit ]

As a skill-based system, whenever a character wishes to accomplish something outside of combat, they must make a skill check.  To do this they roll 2d6, then add their skill level and relevant ability modifier (with unskilled checks suffering a -1 penalty).  If the result is higher than the target number for the task (set by the GM) the action succeeds.

Psychic powers are organized into disciplines (eg. Telepathy, Biosionics), with each discipline having its own associated skill; to trigger them the player must make an appropriate skill check.  Raising a psychic skill to a higher level also unlocks further powers (which vary by discipline).

In another throwback to early Dungeons and Dragons, Stars Without Number also utilizes Saving Throws, only instead of Fortitude/Reflex/Will, SWN has Physical/Evasion/Mental.  Saves are made to avoid damage of a specified type (eg. a Physical save is made when a character is poisoned).  To make a save a player must roll 15 or higher on a d20 (after modifiers, eg. from attributes).

Combat [ edit ]

Similar to Dungeons and Dragons, Stars Without Number organizes combat into 6-second rounds.  However, in SWN initiative is recalculated every round, making for more dynamic fights (but also a bit more work).  Groups that want to keep things simpler can instead opt to have the PC with the highest Dex roll for the entire group, and then the GM does the same with the the highest Dex NPC.

In each round a character can take a single Main action (eg. attack, apply first aid), a single Move action, and any number of "On Turn" actions (eg. dropping something) and "Instant" actions (eg. many psychic powers). To make an attack the player rolls d20, and adds modifiers that are based on their level, weapon skill, and related attribute ... as well as circumstantial modifiers for things like cover. If the result equals or exceeds the target's Armor Class, it hits.

Just as in D&D, on a successful hit a weapon applies its damage (eg. 1d6 for a laser pistol, 2d12 for a Distortion Cannon).  Unlike D&D however, some weapons have "shock damage", which always applies, even if the attack misses.  For instance, a knife automatically deals at least one damage, even on a miss, unless the target has at least 16 AC).

The Best RPG for A Sandboxed Space Campaign [ edit ]

The rules themselves are only about half of the Stars Without Numbers book, with the bulk of the rest being dedicated to GM resources.  This isn't (just) your standard "here's how to create an adventure": there are entire chapters dedicated to creating space sectors (ie. adjacent solar systems), creating NPCs/robots/beasts, or creating NPC factions (organizations).

That latter chapter even has an entire "mini-game" the GM can play to see how various factions interact with each other, and respond to PC actions, in-between sessions, making it easy for GMs to create a "living" campaign world that feels like a giant "space sandbox" for the PCs to play in, instead of a more traditional/linear RPG structure.  In fact, even fans of other space RPGs have been known to purchase SWN, just so that they can use its excellent sector/faction sandbox features.

And just in case you're still on the fence about Stars Without Number, here's one more great detail about the game; most of it is available completely for free.  The free version doesn't have much of the great GM resources, or optional rules for things like "Space Magic" that the paid copy has, but it does have everything you need to create and play characters, and even start a campaign (just without the support).

And if you're still not convinced consider that on DriveThruRPG the paid version of Stars Without Number has maintained an incredibly high 4.9/5 average rating (with over 300 reviews). (The free version has a similar number of reviews, and a slightly lower rating, of 4.7/5.)  On top of that the game has also won the 2010 Indie RPG Awards for best free game and the 2012 
​Three Castles RPG Design Award.​