Stars Without Number is perhaps the best old-school inspired sci-fi game I have ever had the joy of reading. The author, Kevin Crawford, clearly knows his stuff, and masterfully conveys the simplicity of old-school mechanics and merges them with the vast and nigh-limitless possibilities of the sci-fi genre.
Normally I’d approach a game like this with no small amount of skepticism. I came into the hobby at the tail end of the old-school rulesets, and the bulk of my gaming knowledge was firmly rooted in the 1995-2000 era. White Wolf and Legend of the Five Rings were staples to me, and while I was tangentially aware of the old school rulesets thanks to the old SSI gold box games and Baldur’s Gate, I’ve never really played them.
That said, I’ve found the rules for Stars Without Number to be fairly light, easy to understand and perhaps with an overabundance of tables. Character creation is simple, my first attempt to make a character with the rules for this review took me less than fifteen minutes, with an extra few minutes when it came to shopping for gear.
The game is class-based, dividing the characters to Warrior, Expert and Psychics, each with their own moderate to strong niche protection. While character generation might feel a bit flimsy to those more used to modern systems, I found the character creation rules of Stars Without Number to be a refreshing change of pace, given that it focuses only on the bare minimum needs, and leaves a lot of the fluff to be something for the Players and GM to agree upon, a practice that I heartily endorse.
The system is also equally simple, and doesn’t break any new ground as far innovation is concerned, but that’s alright. Even if it doesn’t innovate, Stars Without Number makes up for it by being exhaustive. From Psychic Powers to Starship Combat and Mecha, the game has a something from everything.
In fact, over half of the book is dedicated to GM tools in order to generate nearly anything. Worlds, Factions, Religions, Governments and Societies are just the tip of the iceberg. Each of these can be life savers for a GM trying to put together an adventure.
Stars Without Number belongs on a “must-have” list for any gamer. The mechanics are easy to understand, but have a remarkable amount of mileage when it comes to usefulness. The game comes with its own setting, but any GM worth his salt can use the system for just about anything.
New gamers and old hands alike will find something useful in this book, and I personally find that it will be difficult to not recommend this book to anyone remotely interested in running a Sci-Fi campaign.