Stars Without Number reads and plays like a combination of Original D&D and Traveler. It’s a hard sci fi in the vein of classic writers like Heinlein and Asamov, and more modern writers like Karl Schroeder and Scalzi. It’s a stellar (pun intended after I realized it was a pun) rpg written by Kevin Crawford. And best of all, it has a free, nearly complete version of the game. There’s a hard cover version of the game now too.
I like that it kept the basics of the game d20 for the most part. It makes it easier to get players into it. I also like that there are only 3 different classes, another aspect that makes it easier to get players to play it. They can quickly look at each class and build a character, then through play and skill choices while creating their character, they are able to personalize their character. However, even though there’s a lot of personalization in skills, there are background packages to help players to figure out what their character knows.
I love that the stats only go up to about +2 and you use 2d6 to roll. It helps to reduce the swinginess in skill checks, which is one of my biggest problems with d20 skill checks. a 2d6 skill check with a DC of 6 is easy for a trained player, but difficult for an untrained player without seeming impossible. Also, a trained player is very likely to pass a DC of 6 because they will have a modifier of at least +2 if not more, which means they only have to roll a 4 or better. However, my favorite part is the amount of the game that can be generated randomly. Between the worlds, the adventure seeds and everything in between, there’s a table for that. Also, there are quick and easy rules for creating level appropriate monsters. No one wants to spend hours creating monsters that last 15 minutes of game time. Well, some people might, but I know I like it when I can create monsters on the fly and this game allows me to do that. That way, if my party decides to go to a world I haven’t done much prep on, we can still adventure on.
Again, loathed might not be the best word here, but I was not a big fan of the factions. It felt too much like a little mini game for the GM to play. Later on the author makes it clear that the faction rules can also be used by the players, which makes them seem a lot more useful. The faction rules include a way to randomly determine (with modifiers) which faction is successful in their plans, which is great if you are including the PCs, but seems silly if you’re just using two GM factions.
The Mighty Atom: A very positive review, with the suggestion of combining Apocalypse World and Stars Without Number as well as some pdf sheets to use for character sheets, a starship record sheet, planet sheet, and faction files.
Grognardia: Grognardia’s very positive review of Stars Without Number, with a great summary of the RPG.
B/X Blackrazor: A somewhat negative review of Stars Without Number. The reviewer likes the mechanics, but isn’t a fan of the harder sci-fi aspects of the rules and game.
Stars Without Number Actual Play: A stars without number actual play. He noticed that first level characters are very very easy to kill, but he had a good time with the game overall.
Intersolar Campaigns: A mod for Stars Without Number, where the skip drive is removed, and the campaign takes place within one solar system. A neat idea for those who want a more Serenity/Firefly campaign.