Tag Archives: Stars Without Number

No Plan Survives First Contact With Your Players

I haven’t posted much about it, but my Sunday night Stars Without Number G+ game has continued on, and boy have my players been keeping me on my toes.

They’re still adventuring on Hard Light Station and last night’s adventure was shaping up to be a climactic event. Tensions between the cargo haulers and the station security had reached an all-time high and it looked like the foreman was going to try a coup d’etat against the administrator. He in turn had the entire security force kitted out in riot gear ready to bust heads to restore order. I was prepared to GM a running gun battle inside a space station, because everyone loves firearms in a sealed environment.

And then the players got hold of my adventure.

Through a combination of luck, amazing dice rolls, taking advantage of position, and applying just the right pressure at just the right moments, the team managed to diffuse the situation without firing a shot.

This is exactly the kind of game I love, where the players ingenuity and audacity can swing the adventure in directions I had not anticipated. It’s the give-and-take that makes the GM think fast on his or her feet and keeps it fun on both sides of the GM’s screen.

The element of chance also played heavily in the game, as there were two die rolls that had a critical impact on the game. The first was made by the team’s pilot, who was using a computer roll to compare multiple camera feeds to identify a saboteur who has been working on the station for some time. The pilot has gained a reputation as a master-hacker, a reputation he lived up to in this situation by identifying the culprit.

This case is even more memorable because the master-hacker doesn’t have the computer programming skill! However he is amazingly lucky with the dice, and when you keep rolling critical successes you get the reputation that goes with it. I’ve decided that, to use old internet slang, the pilot is actually a “script kiddie” who really knows how to work it.

Best of all the player is now paranoid about picking up real computer skills. He’s afraid that it would ruin his luck.

The second critical roll was when they went to arrest the saboteur. When the team’s security chief walked in to confront her, she moved her hand under her desk. I called for an initiative roll and the player nailed it, drawing his pistol and telling her to freeze.

Under her desk was a button she’d installed. If pressed it would have launched a program she’d hidden in the station’s operations system. It would have immediately crashed most of the station’s critical functions, including lights and life support, throwing everything into chaos and giving her a clear upper hand.

However thanks to that initiative roll she was staring down the barrel of a laser pistol, held at point blank range by a combat veteran who she knew was willing to use it. She opted to surrender.

Had either roll gone differently the game would have raced off in a very different direction. That’s the fun in letting the dice land where they may. But as important as those rolls were it wouldn’t have mattered if the players hadn’t been on the ball. If they hadn’t thought to collect and correlate all those video feeds, if they hadn’t approached the saboteur the way they did, if they hadn’t put their team members in the positions that let them take advantage of events going on, or thought on their feet fast enough when opportunities presented themselves.

That mixture of good luck and better game play is what creates gaming legends and keeps us coming back to the table.

Stars Without Numbers Small

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Posted by on November 3, 2014 in Gaming, Science Fiction


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Bundles Without Numbers

Greetings Programs!

Just popping in to plug the current Bundle of Holding collection. It’s a great stash of Stars Without Number books.

I’m a big fan of Sine Nomine’s books and the Stars series in particular. I’m currently running a campaign on G+ using the Hard Light book offered in the base level bundle and I already own most of these in both PDF and hard copy.

This is a great opportunity to get into the Stars system. If you’re still on the fence, download the free version of the core rules from Drive Thru RPG. The GM’s tools alone make it worth a look.

Okay, back to Pennsic prep.


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Posted by on July 31, 2014 in Gaming, Science Fiction


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Stars Without Number, Number One

Check another ONE off my Gamer Bucket List!

Last night I launched my Google+ Stars Without Number campaign.

The previous week I ran my one-shot to fill in for a short roster and kick the tires on the game system. I’m glad I did, as actually letting the dice roll helped me understand a few things about the game. That let me focus this week on preparing the star system and the adventure itself.

And boy, I’m glad I had that time. The system creation tools for Stars is a game in itself, and it’s easy to get swept away with building out the sandbox. The more you build the more details you develop, and if you aren’t careful each new detail will make you feel like you have to add more or it won’t feel “complete”. Eventually I had to pull back and say it’s good enough to run with and I can add on the fly.

To kick things off I decided to use the Stars Without Number adventure, Hard LightThis is a nicely set up location based adventure in a sector dominated by an active red super-giant star. It comes complete with a space station, some alien Sky Tombs, plenty of NPCs developed just enough to run with but not overly done, and being a Sine Nomine product it includes tools to develop more aspects of the system.

In short, it’s the perfect adventure to drop into my sector and let the players and me get our feet wet.

Which is exactly what they did. The hook I used is that an old friend of the characters was dying. Before he kicked the bucket, he told them the location of a starship, damaged but salvageable, that was abandoned in a sky tomb until its radiation levels dropped enough to recover. The rest of the pirate crew was killed not long after, leaving the characters’ old friend as the only one who knew where it was. The only stipulation was that they had to promise to lay his body to rest inside the tomb where the ship is docked.

Our Sunday night crew plays from around 7:00 to 10:00 and we managed to break in a new player to our online setup and get the characters up and running. The crew managed to reach the space station, get settled in, and engage in various shenanigans. Intelligence was gathered, possible transport was located, and a fair bit about the station and its crew was learned.

Not bad for a first session.

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Posted by on June 2, 2014 in Gaming, Science Fiction


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Despite a crazily busy weekend, I managed to get into some gaming.

First, my son wanted to take another crack at Sentinels of the Multiverse and this time my daughter joined us. My son has fallen in love with Ra, I use Haka, and my daughter picked Wraith, who she took to with great glee. The three heroes faced off against the nefarious La Capitain and her time pirates, who sought to plunder the Tomb of Anubis. The heroes took a good beating, but triumphed before any of their number fell.

My daughter loved Wraith’s combat stance power, that lets her do damage to a target that damages her. She decided that the power let her punch the villains in the face and proudly announced, “I have anger issues,” while occasionally growling. I am such a proud geek dad, though I wonder if there will be any “stories” from the playground from this. I can imagine her leaping from the monkey bars shouting that as her battle cry.

Our normal Sunday night G+ game was broken up due to people’s holiday schedules, but I got in a small G+ game on Monday night. We decided to kick the tires on Stars Without Number, which I’ll be running when we resume our normal session. This is the first time I’ve run the game and the first time my players have had a crack at it and I’m pleased to say that everything went well. I had two players and they each created two characters in a little over 20 minutes, not bad for a first time.

I based the adventure on Dungeon from a Distant Star, a great one-page dungeon that’s free to download. I’ve been wanting to give it a try for quite a while and this was the perfect opportunity. As things turned out we got a good look at how Stars Without Number worked and had fun doing it. The party explored a good chunk of the crashed spaceship, got into one fight, and made plenty of skill rolls. Through good fortune they avoided most of the more dangerous encounters and got to play with several alien artifacts. In the end one character was both seriously wounded and suffering mental trauma from one of the alien devices, but at least he survived.

I am definitely looking forward to running the game. It plays fast and easy, and while combat is lethal it does offer ways to mitigate the risk for groups that play smart.

If you’re not familiar with the game system, you should be. Stars Without Number is one of the crown jewels of the OSR movement. It’s a science fiction game based on original Dungeons & Dragons mechanics, but it offers more than that. It also offers a fantastic toolkit for building space sectors, worlds, cultures, adventures, and alien species. The tools are system agnostic, which makes the whole package even more useful.

And you can get the core rules for free. Not a stripped down starter version, not even a complete version without artwork. The whole game book is available as a free download. There is a paid copy of the core book that adds a few chapters on robots and mecha, which I own in print and PDF format, but those are extras.

Stars Without Number can be downloaded here. Be warned, once you read it you may find yourself collecting everything Sine Nomine Publishing puts out.

An affliction I enjoy greatly.

The Wraith(1)



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Posted by on May 27, 2014 in Gaming, Science Fiction


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Wandering Thoughts Table

I’ve had various wandering thoughts this week.

1. Battle Royale is a weird movie. Not bad, but weird. I see where the inevitable comparisons with The Hunger Games come from, but the similarities are superficial at best. It’s like comparing Lord of the Flies to Spartacus.

If you’re not familiar, Battle Royale is a Japanese movie about a class of children dropped on an island and forced to fight until only one remains. There are key characters, but I wouldn’t say the movie is really about them. The heroes don’t have much depth and it’s obvious who is going to live and die. From that aspect the overall story it’s rather bland.

The movie works much better when viewed as a collection of connected vignettes about what happens to young people in such violent circumstances. I have not read the original novel or the manga adaptations, but it’d assume that this is how the story was presented in those mediums.

There was a gaping plot hole that kept bugging me. The story is that the government created the Battle Royale death game in response to an out-of-control teen culture. The movie opens with a media frenzy around the winner from one of the games. Yet when the class we’re following is thrust into the game they don’t seem to know what is going on. This helps give exposition to the audience, but makes no sense. If the games are a secret, then they serve no purpose towards keeping teen culture under control. If the games are not secret, as the opening shows, then the students should know what they’ve fallen into. It’s a big enough plot hole to make me wonder if the subtitles were an accurate translation.

Battle Royale is a solid B movie. It has good action, it’s very violent, and has plenty of good moments. But it’s definitely a niche movie and not to everyone’s tastes, and it has a number of flaws holding it back.

2. I’m still catching up on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and am now only three episodes behind. The show continues to get stronger and I love it. The agents live in a world between the superheroes and the regular secret agents, and they walk that line well. I also appreciate that they don’t shy away from their comic book foundations, embracing it instead. I will never understand why so many shows have tried to draw in fans based on a comic book character and then discard as much as possible of the character’s comic book nature.

Another thing I like about the show is that despite the dark and grim events that happen the show frequently injects a sense of optimism and hope. This is usually thanks to Clark Gregg’s performance as Agent Coulson and is a welcome tonic in a world where too many superhero stories focus on angst instead of hope.

3. I’m prepping to run a Stars Without Number game for our Google+ group. My love of science fiction games is well documented and I’m excited to give this one a try. I love the Stars Without Number books and own almost all of them, many in both print and pdf. I’ve mined them for ideas and simply read them for entertainment value, but this is the first time I’ve run the game itself. The rules are like the lovechild of Basic Dungeons & Dragons and Classic Traveler and look fast and flexible.

The genius of the Stars Without Number series is that they focus on giving the GM tools for building game settings and adventures. The tools are powerful, cover a great deal of territory, and are largely independent of the game mechanics. This makes the books invaluable for any system you want to use them with.

Sine Nomine Publishing gives their core book away as a free .pdf. This isn’t a stripped down version of the rules, it’s the whole thing at no cost. The latest edition of the paid book does add a couple new sections, but they’re certainly not necessary.

Check out the core book. You won’t be sorry that you did and you’ll probably end up snapping up more of their products.

4. Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is ridiculously fun. It’s a first person shooter spun off from the Far Cry franchise. Blood Dragon is a parody that uses 80’s action movie tropes and solid game mechanics to make a game that is far more entertaining than it has any right to be. If you grew up on Predator, Terminator, Aliens, and any other movie where a commando wearing a bandanna is out to avenge the death of his best friend, this is the game for you.

Major bonus points for having Michael Behm do the voice of the main character, Sgt. Rex Power Colt, Mark IV Cyber-Commando.

5. Disney and Pixar have confirmed that Incredibles 2 is going to happen. This thrills me to no end. I love The Incredibles, for many of the same reasons I love Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and I have a lot of faith in Pixar. If ever there was a movie I’ve been craving a sequel to, it’s The Incredibles.

6. In other movie news, director Steve Martino will be bringing us a CGI Peanuts movie in 2015. I have mixed feelings about this one and not only because my opinion of Peanuts as a comic strip has gone down as I’ve gotten older.

On the plus side, the short trailer they released looks good. The translation of the art style works better than I expected and the action has the right flavor. They also nailed the sound of the show, both for the characters and the music. This is important for a cartoon that has such a unique audio history.

On the negative side, I question their ability to keep a Peanuts story engaging for the length of a feature film. Peanuts has never been about the long story and it’s never been about big things. If they make the all too common mistake of trying to make a blockbuster adventure out of this, then we’ll have another Garfield or Marmaduke movie on our hands.



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