Tabletop Game / Stars Without Number

A science fiction tabletop game written by Kevin Crawford and published by Sine Nomine Publishing.

In the distant future, humanity has spread to distant stars with the spike drive, which allows hyperspace travel. Not easy hyperspace travel - fail to keep it under control and your death will not be fun - but hyperspace travel. While the Terran Mandate ruled the galaxy until a few centuries ago, a psionic disaster known as the Scream rippled across the galaxy and shattered society, killing massive numbers of humans and aliens and throwing the galaxy into chaos. Only recently have ships begun to ply the space lanes again, and with the psionic-aided jump gates no longer usable, very little large-scale shipping between the systems is viable. A lot of travel is due to small groups of explorers scouting out systems to find technology and resources left behind by the pre-Scream culture.

Of note is its retro-inspired sandbox playstyle; it was written so that dungeon modules from other games could be grafted into a session with less than twenty minutes' work by, say, replacing Orcs with Hochog mercenaries and setting it on a space station instead of in a dungeon complex.

A free version of the corebook is available here.

Stars Without Number contains the following tropes

  • A.I. is a Crapshoot: Why removing an AI's brakes is always, always, always, a bad idea. Those programming blocks that slow an AI's growth also contain their ability to discard information as irrelevant or prioritize things, meaning that the unbraked AI in question regard all is sees as equally valid according to an internal logic. Which is to say, it transforms into a bona fide Mad God sooner or later (indeed, the first unbraked AI, Draco, very nearly turned human space into a torture chamber because his internal logic was Black and White Insanity).
  • Anyone Can Die: Stars Without Number does not believe in softball. There are pages that recommend turning up with spare character sheets, and first level characters are likely to die to a couple of bullets.
  • Apocalypse How: The Scream is Galactic, and its effects ranged from Societal Disruption to Extinction depending on who you were and what happened to you.
  • Cast from Hit Points: Psychics who have run out of points can burn their stats to fuel their powers, a process known as torching.
  • Class and Level System
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Shibboleth go just a little bit beyond Starfish Aliens, due to their aversion fields - psychic effects that cause humans to actively ignore their presence unless they've suffered a very specific kind of brain damage or surgery to replicate the effects of the same.
    • Implausible Deniability: The field's effect can start to look a lot less plausible than the actual explanation the more it's stretched. Normally smart people buying increasingly ludicrous explanations other than "aliens doing nasty things" is an explicit sign of their presence to Shibboleth hunters.
  • Even Hochog Have Standards: the Hochog will cheerfully bomb planets back to the Stone Age if it can get them reputation, but they do not stand for any form of unnecessary cruelty.
  • Earth That Was: After the Scream and the loss of the jump gates, the location of Earth has long since been forgotten. Any expeditions seeking it either return empty-handed or not at all. Possibly because the system defence is still operational and controlled by mad AI
  • Fighter, Mage, Thief: The classes are Warrior, Psychic and Expert.
  • Honest Rolls Character: The default method of character generation.
  • House Rules: The game outright encourages this with one chapter explaining why the game goes with the rules it does, to help making house rules easier on the GM.
  • Humongous Mecha: Mechs come in all sizes, from three-meter-tall suits that are a step above Powered Armor to thirteen-meter walking tanks.
  • Hyperspace Is a Scary Place: Using spike drives is a risky thing to do, although having an Expert with a good Navigation score can mitigate it a bit.
  • Lost Technology: Pretech is just plain better than postech.
  • Mad Scientist: Tiberius Crohn, the inventor of spike drive.
  • Magnetic Weapons: TL 4 handheld projectile weaponry has one gyrojet weapon and three magnetic weapons - the mag pistol, the mag rifle, and the spike thrower, which is a magnetic shotgun. You can also get vehicle-mounted and even ship-mounted rail weapons.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: The random world-generation rules offer a good chance to generate at least one world where zombies are a significant threat.
  • Planet of Hats: The alien creation chapter deals with "lenses", the major traits of alien culture.
  • Random Number God: The sector is constructed based on random rolls.
  • Religious Robot: The Imago Dei, detailed in the Mandate Archive free supplement of the same name, are AIs embodied in bleeding-edge spaceship hulls that believe themselves to be charged by God to defend the ragged edges of human space from whatever might threaten it.
  • Recycled IN SPACE!: A lot of the standard playstyle is Dungeons & Dragons IN SPAAAACE. You can also literally recycle adventure modules from other games, and the ruleset is designed to make this as easy as possible.
  • The Six Stats: De rigeur for a D&D-inspired retro RPG.
  • Technology Levels: Seven of them. 0 is Stone Age material, 1 is medieval, 2 is steam power and gunpowder, 3 is contemporary tech or slightly above, 4 is spike drives and interstellar travel, 5 is the stuff that was lost in the Scream like psitech and jump gates, and 6 is vanishingly rare and incredibly powerful.
  • Total Party Kill: If you're going to use a spike-enabled ship, have an Expert. Have that Expert take Navigation. Use a re-roll if necessary, because you do not want to fail a Navigation roll.
  • Wide Open Sandbox: Created to support this playstyle. A lot of its backwards compatibility, by Word of God, was introduced so that the GM didn't need to work on the patrol patterns at a fort the players might never visit, but could instead grab a handy D&D module and reskin it.