— Ian Williams, Geek & Sundry, June 2018
In March 2019 we presented two offers featuring Stars Without Number, Kevin Crawford’s Old-School sandbox SFRPG from Sine Nomine Publishing. First, we revived the October 2013 Stars Without Number Classic collection with the First Edition rulebook and early supplements. The new companion offer, More Stars, presented the 2017 SWN Revised Edition rulebook and recent sourcebooks. Each of these bundles stood by itself, with a complete rulebook and supplements. Those who bought them both expanded their starfaring in new directions without number.
A pillar of the Old School Revival, Stars Without Number is partly inspired by Moldvay-Mentzer B/X D&D, but its support line has evolved to become almost system-neutral — compatible with, well, everything. Stars champions the OSR tradition of “sandbox” emergent storytelling. In an SWN game there is no campaign arc or storyline. You start with a reasonably detailed world, a group of player characters, and their motivations and ambitions. The campaign consists of what those PCs undertake and how they succeed or fail.
At the end of each session the Gamemaster asks the players what they’re planning next time, then turns to SWN‘s adventure creation templates and cooks up a scenario. Many random tables, world generators, and “tags” make that process so smooth, the PCs can just go, without plot rails. The players bring the goals, and Stars Without Number gives the GM system-free tools to build paths to those goals: worldbuilding resources for planets and star sectors — guns, cyberware, starships, and psionics — adventure seeds and guidelines for integrating them with the worlds — and domain rules for experienced characters who want to set up their own colony, trading business, psychic academy, mercenary band, or (if things have gone well) their own private planet.
Stars Without Number has found an ever-growing community, especially through its popular Kickstarter crowdfunding campaigns — and let’s take a moment to praise Kevin Crawford as the unmatched cham-peeeen Kickstarter master. He’s run six campaigns and delivered every one, get this, every one of them on time or early. It’s because, as Kevin says, “I’ve known when to stop promising and when to start working.”
In an August 2015 RPG.net “Failstarter” forum post Kevin described his step-by-step process, which he called “by no means easy, but conceptually very simple”: Complete the manuscript to final-edit condition, lay it out, and line up artists before launch; offer no physical goods except the book, “and that via at-cost codes from DriveThruRPG and not you personally printing and mailing it”; offer no stretch goals that require further creative work; and spend no funds on anything but project expenses until everything ships.
This “simple” process served Kevin well in the August 2017 Kickstarter for the Revised Edition of Stars Without Number. Even as its total surpassed his previous campaigns, he showed iron nerve. His final stretch goal: “At $50,000, I will be extremely grateful to you all and have the wisdom to refrain from offering further stretch goals.” The campaign topped out at $192K from 3,143 backers.
1. STARS WITHOUT NUMBER CLASSIC
For this revival of the original October 2013 Stars Without Number offer (previously revived in July 2014), we tweaked the lineup a bit. There were three titles in this offer’s Starter Collection (retail value $35):
[revived from October 2013]
- Stars Without Number Classic: The complete original 253-page First Edition rulebook (2011), including all bonus content.
- Skyward Steel: Join the Thousand Lights of the Stellar Navy and embrace both the duties and the terrible freedom of a naval campaign.
- Hard Light: The first SWN adventure setting. In the radioactive glare of a red giant star, explore the hard-bitten mining outpost of Brightside and ancient asteroid Sky Tombs.
- Suns of Gold: Merchant campaigns and far-flung trade, including trade world tags and guidelines for building your own colony worlds and merchant empires.
- Engines of Babylon: Create vehicles and low-tech system spaceships for your campaign. This equipment book debuted in this offer’s July 2014 revival.
- Relics of the Lost: Long-dead technology from the Second Wave of human colonization. This sourcebook debuted in the original October 2013 run.
- Darkness Visible: Spacefaring espionage campaigns of classified perils, nameless heroes, and secret glory.
2. MORE STARS [new]This new More Stars companion collection presented the SWN Deluxe Revised rulebook, which improves the typography and layout, sharpens character creation to permit more individualized heroes, revamps space combat, and adds 40 new world tags plus tools for transhuman sf campaigns, space-operatic heroes, stellar wizardry, artificial intelligences, and sf society-building. “I have been careful to keep it compatible with the existing material for the game,” says Kevin Crawford, “so you should be able to use original-edition supplements with minimal fuss. Rather than changing the bones of the system, I have instead added material to help GMs and entertain players, expanding the scope of the game.”
See for yourself. Following his own example from the first edition, Kevin has released a free basic version of SWN Revised on DriveThruRPG. The Deluxe version in this offer adds lots of extra stuff.
There were three titles in this offer’s Starter Collection (retail value $45):
- Stars Without Number Deluxe Revised Edition: The premium full-color 324-page rulebook with 80 pages of bonus content covering transhuman tech, true AIs, mechs, society creation, and even Space Magic.
- Other Dust: Kevin Crawford’s 208-page post-apocalypse sandbox RPG completely compatible with Stars Without Number. Includes the freebies Grandfather’s Rain, Cult of the Wraith, and Cult of the Still Lady. (Previously offered in the original October 2013 SWN Classic collection.)
- SWN Revised GM Screen: A four-panel portrait screen with eight pages of useful reference charts.
Ten percent of each payment (after gateway fees) for these two Stars Without Number offers was donated to the charity designated by Kevin Crawford, Benzie Food Partners, a food bank serving Kevin’s home county in Honor, Michigan.
Stars Without Number resources
- SWN Introduction & Resource List (Google Sheet — note the tabs at the bottom)
- Online SWN Sector Generator
- SWN faction spreadsheet
- Started in December 2017, this 500+-post (and counting) RPG.net forum thread, “Stars Without Number Second Edition,” discusses the SWN line in deeeep detail, with frequent comments and answers from Kevin Crawford
- Kevin Crawford’s 2018 “Ask Me Anything” on Reddit’s subreddit /r/rpg
- In 2014-2016 Adam “skinnyghost” Koebel of Dungeon World fame ran “Swan Song,” a well-regarded 43-episode RollPlay series using Stars Without Number, now archived on the ItmeJP YouTube channel (and check the Swan Song wiki on Fandom.com)