Game Name: Stars Without Number Revised Edition
Publisher: Sine Nomine Publishing
Author: Kevin Crawford
Artists: Jeff Brown, Christof Grobelski, Norah Khor, Aaron Lee, Joyce Maureira, Nick Ong, Grzegorz Pedrycz, and Tan Ho Sim
Genre: OSR styled science fiction roleplaying game
Retail Price: $59.99 for the hardcover POD or $19.99 in PDF from DriveThruRPG
The Stars Without Number Revised Edition is a sci-fi storytelling toolbox, inviting players and GMs to explore their slice of the galaxy.
Set in the year 3200, six centuries after the cataclysm that ended humanity’s golden age, Stars Without Number drops players in the midst of a vast diaspora. As worlds recover from the disastrous Silence, exploration has begun to make a return in earnest. What your character will discover and who they will become are up to you.
The world of Stars feels vibrant and complete. Included in the book is a detailed history of human space exploration and colonization, beginning with the discovery of the spike drive by Dr. Tiberius Crohn allowing for faster-than-light travel. This leads to an international push into space, with allied countries and continents each seeking glory in the great beyond. With exploration comes new discovery, as well as new dangers. In time, a new disease begins to emerge, one that curses children with incredible psychic gifts at the expense of their very minds. Known as Metadimensional Extraversion Syndrome, its eventual solution – the development of a rigorous program of meditation, tailored to symptoms, and taught in psi academies—would enable the next great leap forward: Jump Gates, powered by master teleporters.
It’s a dizzying ascent and a devastating fall as the catastrophic Scream leads to a mass die-off of psychically-gifted individuals and the subsequent collapse of the Jump Gate network. Those who survive are instantly driven mad; those still on Earth wreak havoc, destroying infrastructure and triggering the defense system, cutting hundreds of worlds off from vital supply networks.
Efforts to rebuild are slow and uneven, requiring centuries of work. It is only within the past hundred years that spike drive exploration has resumed in an attempt to recapture lost knowledge and re-forge interstellar connections.
What happens next is up to you.
Stars Without Number is described as a sandbox style game. While it’s possible to create traditional campaigns within the setting, it’s by no means the only way to explore the Stars galaxy. This emphasis on exploration may be new territory for players and GMS, but fear not: author Kevin Crawford provides ample system support, with tools included for the construction of drones, spacecraft, and whole worlds themselves.
Mechanically, players familiar with Dungeons and Dragons and other D20-based systems will feel right at home. Those coming from a different system or new to tabletop roleplays will have only a slight learning curve, thanks to reader-friendly directions. Even complex topics, such as the creation of stellar sectors or the upgrade of starships, are easily grasped and facilitated by the generous inclusion of reference charts.
No matter your playstyle, a character archetype and skillset exists to support it. While psychic characters are powerful, it’s not to the imbalance of the game with their mechanical handicaps smartly supported by the narrative story world.
The mentality of Stars’ mechanics is best summed up as, to quote Walt Disney, “if you can dream it, you can do it.” Whatever your particular niche, Stars has systems to support it — which is possibly its greatest strength. Whether you’re interested in AI intrigue, political maneuvering, mech combat, or interstellar trade war, you’ll find the means to create it.
This flexibility gives the book a broad appeal. Interested in a Firefly-style yarn of a hardscrabble crew getting by on the edge of space? How about a more Babylon 5-influenced struggled of psychics working against a corrupt and oppressive system? Maybe, you’d rather something else entirely — it’s all on the table. No matter your interest, the odds are good Stars Without Number has the means to support it.
That being said, the nature of the game also means that player-characters may not be particularly important people within their narrative world. Death is a clear and present danger, and players will need to think carefully when making decisions.
For dedicated sci-fi fans of any stripe, Stars Without Number is a hard title to beat. Experienced or ambitious GMs with a passion for well-thought out mechanics and an expansive sci-fi setting designed to accommodate a wide variety of stories and interests will find Stars to be rich with opportunity for new styles of gameplay. Newer GMs will still find lots to love, but may want to avoid the sandbox option in favored of a more structured campaign when first getting to know the system.