For the past several weeks, I’ve been enjoying a Friday night game run by Jacob Possin of Jadepunk fame. This past week, after our previous Rift micro-campaign ended, we moved onto a new game: Stars Without Number. ‘The Jake’ had no shortage of good things to say about this game, which I’d heard very little about beyond its name and the fact that it was an OSR sci-fi game. I’ve been playing RPGs for the past 20 plus years. Many OSR actually go back to a time before I started playing. At the same time, those games that mimic earlier games and the games I played while I was younger hold little draw for me. Let me explain. I have access to those old games. Do I really need a rewrite of the same rules? So, I wasn’t full steam ahead when someone pitched running a regular game of an OSR game. Heck, I have an enjoy Hulks & Horrors, another science fiction OSR game. I honestly don’t know if I could go for a long campaign with the rules. It’s fun. It’s easy to play. But, I don’t know, it’s just missing something that I really enjoy for the long haul games. I’d have to say it’s the customization.
Customization in Old School Games
Back when I started playing, AD&D 2nd Edition was one of my first games. We did a lot of house rules and hand waving when it came to customization. It was fun, but we’d inevitably run into something that was broken and then have to deal with a bit of a mess. Then, they came out with those thing, softback, blue and brown books. But, then those books came out and there was this whole new variety of rules and exceptions and suggestions to help customize our characters and power our games. I kind of fell in love with that customization—customization that didn’t require a calculator such as GURPS or Champions, but more like what I really liked about D&D 3x, Palladium, and other games.
In fact, I’ve seen a couple OSR games do this including Against the Darkness and Dungeon Crawl Classics and Dungeon Slayers. I’ve enjoyed what I have seen and played of such games. But, so much of what I hear my friends and fellow gamers talk about what they enjoy includes removing the complexity added by various customization efforts, and that’s why they like OSR. So, whenever I hear OSR, I have a knee jerk reaction. It’s probably the wrong reaction, but it’s a reflex.
So, What Happened with Stars Without Number?
Well, I downloaded the free edition of the book and waited more than a week before I actually started delving into it. I still wasn’t fully sold on the idea. And, I wasn’t sure how this was going to be different from Hulks and Horrors. Once I choked back on my apprehension, I was pleasantly surprised. Right off the bat, I noticed that Stars Without Number did encourage customization. Players would choose a class as well as a background and training package for their characters to start out. Even within those choices, there would be skill choices.
There were not so many choices that I was overwhelmed or caught in a delimma of opportunity cost. I did really stumble a bit with my warrior, deciding whether I wanted him to take the Urchin background along with the Mercenary training package or the Security background with the Commando training package, but that’s hardly as difficult a decision as I’m faced with in games that have literally hundreds of options when I’m just starting out.
Jacob mentioned that the full book—the paid version—had more stuff in there, particularly mecha. We don’t plan on having mechs in this game, but it’s there. One of the other players held up one of my favorite mecha RPGs: Mekton II. Hmmmm. I wonder. I might end up running through the Mekton II Lifepath for my Stars Without Number character. Still, it was pretty neat. Character creation was fast and fun. The choices not only made sense, but made a difference.
The New Rules
Okay, so here I am with an OSR game. I rolled my 2d6 for 6 stats, in order. I didn’t do too badly. Now, where is my d20? Oh wait! This sci-fi OSR game doesn’t use a d20. Instead, checks and dice rolls are made with 2d6. Oh, that’s new. I kinda like the spread. The limited yet robust list of skills—it’s a difficult feat in being able to pull off a happy medium with the skill list, although it was done here—made sense taking everything from a -1, to a 0, to a +1 and beyond. It’s pretty neat and slick. I know I’ve seen a 1d6 mechanic somewhere before, but can’t remember where right now. It seems to work well with all the components leading up to that point.
Old School Gear
With pretty much any roleplaying game, you have one of three options you’re going to run into when it comes to weapons and gear. You have something that is too slim, something that has way too much, or somewhere right in the middle. Stars Without Number had a gear section that seems to me to have landed right in that happy little land of ‘just right.’ Like any other old school game, though, it showed me all this cool stuff I just couldn’t afford yet. It gave me some goals for my characters. You know, I’ve got a pretty good warrior-type class, living in a far future race, and I’m running around with a semi-automatic pistol—the same kind we have available to us today. That has got to get upgraded. Oh, and some of the upgrades they have go beyond BFG to “don’t mess with that dude…ever!” It seemed no section in the equipment chapter was lacking. I didn’t have a bunch of questions when I was done with it, including helping my wife pick out gear for her expert pilot character.
What Else Awaits?
The first night of our game was dedicated to character creation and a bit of world building. I’m definitely looking forward to playing this game—and, hopefully for the long haul. We decided against a ship of bounty hunters due to the suggestion of players more familiar with the system telling us how deadly such a game would be. That’s old school and I’m cool with that. There’s a lot of the book I still need to read and I need to get ahold of the Core version to do a full review. I overhead some discussion of some of the powers and trappings of our psychic character and those seemed cool. I’m also interested to see how the game handles mecha and AI. I expect you’ll be hearing more soon about my Stars Without Number experiences and I’m interested in hearing your experiences as well. Let me know if you’ve played the game, what you liked, what you didn’t, what I need to check out and what I need to stay away from.