RPG Mini-Review - Stars Without Number

One thing I've liked about Sine Nomine Publishing is they take the adage that old school RPGs should be all about the "sandbox" (i.e. players go wherever they'd like on the map with no predefined plot) and make games and supplements that actually help you do that. As I've built up a modest collection of 1970s and early 80s RPG products I have seen there were a ton of products designed to help GMs do just that.

System-wide, Stars Without Number is pretty similar to early D&D incarnations. It has three classes - Expert, Psychic, and Warrior. It has a simple, yet effective, skill system of which, not surprisingly, the Expert is the best at.

Where it really shines is a default setting which is really made for adventure. The idea is there were two waves of human expansion. The first of which made use of spike drives which allowed faster than light travel in bursts - basically you had to start it from the edge of a solar system and had to turn it off at the edge of another - and if you can't reach a destination in about six days or so - well, that would be bad as the protective field around your ship breaks down. The second wave involved psychics - basically over time humanity began understanding psychic powers and were able to channel psychic ability so it didn't drive its practitioners insane or dead. Eventually these abilities were used to create and maintain jump gates which allowed far easier travel. Who wouldn't want to use a jump gate? Spike drives became obsolete and were relegated to the far frontier. (Anyone who has seen the Doctor Who serial The Seeds of Death has an idea this was probably not the best decision.)

All was well in this golden age (aside from suggestions in the game that it had its own problems what with Terra futilely trying to maintain control) until one day some psychic wave came across all of known space and every psychic was either killed or driven insane. Say goodbye to your jump gates. That is bad news for most planets, with the small number of spike drive ships unable to supply  important planets like Earth. Civilization pretty much breaks down for a few centuries.

The game takes place at the end of this dark age, with civilization becoming re-established - but not united. This is a perfect time for adventurers - whether they are explorers, traders, conquerors, peacekeepers, or whatever. It clearly has a lot of debt to the classic Traveller RPG as well as the Rebellion-era of MegaTraveller and the aftermath of the fall of civilization in Traveller: The New Era. The game really shines with its random tables, something I usually ignore in most games. Instead of just generating pure stats its designed to also give you tons of adventure ideas. And the civilizations feel real. Why yes, this planet is a theocracy. But wait, let us also roll for what sort of heresies and splinter groups the religion has to deal with. 

After my ACKS game this is a super-strong candidate for a follow-up game.


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