Title: Worlds Without Number
Publisher: Sine Nomine Publishing
Author: Kevin Crawford
Artists: Jeff Brown, Joyce Maureira, Ede Laszlo, Balázs Pirók, Asanee, breakermaximus, Camille, Dominick, grandfailure, laslolf, liuzishan, nyothep, thanawong, vukkostic, warmtail, and Warpedgalerie
Genre: Old school styled fantasy roleplaying game
Pages: 400 pages
Price: $59.99 for the hardcover or $19.99 for the PDF at DriveThruRPG. There’s even a free edition!
Kevin Crawford’s Worlds Without Number builds on the excellent foundation established by its science fiction predecessor, Stars Without Number, to deliver a compelling and unique fantasy game with special interest for GMs.
Worlds Without Number takes place in the Gyre, a region of Latter Earth. On its surface, Latter Earth bears some resemblance to Tides of Numenera or even Blue Rose, but quickly establishes its own identity. Made up of six nations once loosely united under the rule of the Reaping King, the Gyre is a world fraught with danger and ripe for exploration. Each nation is given a brief summary, complete with callout boxes for relevant information, and each is designed to facilitate a specific style of play, ranging from court intrigue to classic sword and sorcery to even steampunk and fantasy wild west.
At its core, Worlds Without Number hinges on an ethos of style over mechanics. Though the book includes rules for its native system, the game is designed with enough flexibility to run on virtually any rules system. If you prefer your sword and sorcery on the grindier end or your court intrigue with a touch more streamlining, Worlds Without Number can accommodate you.
What sets Worlds Without Number apart is its emphasis on sandbox storytelling rather than the standard campaign arc. Under this paradigm, GMs provide players a variety of plot hooks and craft around their selections on the fly. Sandbox storytelling is meant to alleviate the friction of keeping characters along a predetermined narrative path and to help prolong the shelf life of an adventuring party. As such, for the purposes of Worlds Without Number, the setting is the campaign and the campaign is the setting.
For most GMs, this might sound intimidating. It’s one thing to build a world to support a story, but the idea of creating one that can support an endless number of stories is another matter entirely. If you can never predict what your players will do, how can you prepare?
That’s where the real standout of Worlds Without Number kicks in.
There is no shortage of games that offer good –even superlative— advice on the ins and outs of running a session; there are far fewer that provide the same kind of detailed insights into building a world that feels lived in and believable. By breaking down world creation into three levels (world, region, kingdom) and assigning each a series of direct decisions, Worlds Without Number implements a system with applications far beyond any one tabletop game. Roll tables are used to generate maps without undue angst and a similar system is in place for designing nations, societies, governments, histories, religions, and so on. Readers with any interest in fantasy storytelling will find these sections alone to be more than worth the price.
Visually, Worlds Without Number benefits from a clean, two-column layout that’s easy to navigate on screens, as well as the inclusion of a hot-linked table of contents. The art is full color and beautifully rendered, though it tends not to draw attention to itself save for the occasional full page spread.
Admittedly, Worlds Without Number was built with a love for classic gaming mechanics, which may be a turn-off for some. The book, however truly is built to be system agnostic and its core elements, including its approach to storyworld creation, are easy to implement in whatever your systems of choice happens to be.
Worlds Without Number brings tabletop roleplaying back to an earlier time and, in the process serves as an invaluable guide to building a world from the top down. For players, an emphasis on episodic, free choice gameplay helps to avoid campaign burnout while GMs will delight in the easy to plan sessions. A smart, semi-procedural generation system makes the book a must-own for those interested in both the mechanical and narrative design of fantasy settings. True system agnosticism adds to an already broad appeal, making Worlds Without Number a worthwhile addition to any fantasy roleplaying library.