Stars without Number’s Factions chapter provides a system for setting the campaign in motion; With tools for mechanically describing campaign elements and pitting them against each other.
The section on Using Factions in Your Game argues that a formal, yet simple, system to manage factions creates surprises for the GM; A lucky die roll from an underdog faction becomes a major news story in your campaign. Something that the players might be curious about.
There are analogues to Random Encounter tables, Reaction rolls, and Morale Checks; Let a system decide how creatures of the world react. Thus creating surprises for all at the table.
Stars without Number describes factions with: Hit Points (HP), Force rating, Cunning rating, Wealth rating, FacCreds, XP, Homeworld, Tags, and deployed Assets. Each Faction Asset has HP, purchase cost, Attack value, Counterattack value, Type, Location, and Tech Level.
The Faction turn is something the GM resolves in between sessions. And looks to take no more than 30 minutes. During a Faction Turn, each Faction may take one type of action: Attack, Buy Asset, Change Homeworld, Expand Influence, Refit Asset, Repair Asset/Faction, Sell Asset, Seize Planet, Use Asset Ability.
Faction actions are informed by their faction goal: Military Conquest, Commercial Expansion, Intelligence Coup, Planetary Seizure, Expand Influence, Blood the Enemy, Peaceable Kingdom, Destroy the Foe, Inside Enemy Territory, Invincible Valor, and Wealth of Worlds. When a Faction achieves their goal, they gain XP.
The Faction’s rating for Force determines the highest “level” Force asset they can buy.
Table 1: Force Assets
Security Personnel (1)
Force vs. Force 1d3+1 damage
Strike Fleet (4)
Force vs. Force, 2d6 damage
Psychic Assassins (5)
Cunning vs. Cunning 2d6+2 damage
A - asset can perform special action; S - asset has special feature or cost
The above table encodes quite a bit of information. Cunning, Force, and Wealth each have about 25 different asset types.
Stars without Number provides a page detailing how PCs can interact with factions (or even run their own). And a page on example factions:
Thinly-populated worlds with limited infrastructure tend to have weak colonial governments concerned chiefly with issues of basic survival rather than expansion or intrigue. Attributes: Force 4, Cunning 3, Wealth 1 Hit Points: 15 Assets: Guerrilla Populace/Force 2 and Saboteurs/Cunning 2 Tags: Colonists
This world is the mightiest military power in the sector and leads a half-dozen neighboring worlds in a “voluntary confederation” that it ever seeks to expand. Attributes: Force 8, Cunning 5, Wealth 7 Hit Points: 49 Assets: Space Marines/Force 7, Planetary Defenses/ Force 6, Blockade Fleet/Force 5, Extended Theater/Force 4, Pretech Manufactory/Wealth 7, Shipping Combine/Wealth 4, Tripwire Cells/ Cunning 4, Cyberninjas/Cunning 3 Tags: Imperialists
Closing out the chapter, Stars without Number provides an example of Faction Play.
I appreciate having an easy to adjudicate system to advance the background events of a campaign. As a GM, I would spend some time setting up the initial campaign factions. And as the campaign moves forward, these charged factions would exert their own influence on the campaign and adventures that play out at the table.
This system reminds me of a streamlined version of the AD&D 2E Birthright campaign system, and it’s domain level play.
Stars without Number’s Xenobestiary chapter sets the tone by reinforcing a sandbox-style play. The following paragraph opens the discussions about encounters; Give players notice about looming hellbeasts; Street thugs won’t likely fight until the bitter end; And most importantly, reiterating that combat is dangerous!
Before picking foes from this chapter, however, a GM should make sure that the enemies chosen and the perils generated are appropriate for the situation. This does not mean that the enemies have to be an “appropriate” combat challenge for the PC group, one that they have a reasonable chance of defeating. It means that they should be appropriate to the location and role they fill in the setting.
From here, Stars without Number dives into the Reaction Roll: its usage and importance—“they help a GM adjudicate a situation in a potentially surprising or interesting way.”
A brief discussion on the degrees of danger, with a reminder that when the GM should ignore the PCs when setting an NPCs potency.
Then we dive into the stat blocks. First off a “Humanity” section. Below is a table of general stat blocks as reference.
Table 1: General Humanity Stat Block
General NPC Type
By weapon +1
By weapon +1
By weapon +3
Robots and VIs
Robotillo by Grzegorz Pedrycz
This section dives into Robots and Virtual Intelligences (VIs), clarifying that each sector, and by extension campaign, has a varying presence of robots. With one clarification, True AIs are almost impossible to create in bulk (but they can exist, and have their place).
Basic robots are governed by Expert System; Janitors, Civilian Security, Repair, Industrial Work Bots, Companion Bot, Soldier Bot, Heavy Warbot.
If something is outside their programming, they need to make rolls against confusion. They are also destroyed if dropped to 0 HP.
Virtual Intelligences cost 10x their Expert System counterparts. Dropping to 0 HP does not destroy VIs. Some VIs are capable of learning; players can choose to be a VI character.
To be a VI, a character must spend their free focus to pick one of the origins: Android, Worker Bot, or Vehicle Bot.
Everybody wants to play Crushinator.
Let’s make one. I’ll choose a Gengineered Murder Beast (HD 10, AC 18, +10 x4 attacks, 1d10 dmg, 20m, ML 11, +3 Skills).
Table 2: Genegineered Murder Beast
Amphibian, froggish or newtlike
Hunts as a lone, powerful hunter
Wet and Slimy
Harmful discharge, Acidic spew doing its damage on a hit
The last section goes into Aliens. And as with most sections, Aliens are entirely optional. Or limited to non-player characters. Or playable by players.
When adding an alien race to your sector, it’s necessary to keep in mind the ultimate purpose you have for including them. A given species might be fascinating to you, but if they don’t actually help to accomplish something for your game it’s likely that the players will simply gloss over their existence. By having a concrete purpose in mind for a race you can ensure that the players have a useful reason to interact with them.
We get a table to generate Alien Biology. And more fascinating, a table to generate the the Lens (or Lenses) through which their society, relationships, etc are viewed.
I’ll roll up two of them…Subtlety and Journeying.
This species has an incurable wanderlust. Perhaps they roam the stars in fleets of massive spike drive ships, or they may make steady circuits of the nearby stars to connect their worlds and exchange people among them. More technologically primitive species might sail the waves of alien seas or make nomadic journeys across the continents of their world. Few of these aliens can ever be happy in remaining in one place for long, and they are forever scouting new worlds and new lands simply for the pleasure of being there a little while.
Such a species is enormously cunning and patient in character, willing to endure years of suffering calmly in order to bring about some intricate plan. They shun open display of emotions or opinions, masking such things behind protocols of bland correctness. To reveal one’s true opinion about some contentious matter is a mark either of profound trust or a sign of obvious incipient treachery. The true ruler of such a species is almost never who it seems to be.
Imagine a species of tacit travelers, always in the background of space stations and transport ships, tourists each and every place. Yet reserved and distant. How would humans react to these silent travelers? What conspiracies might run rampant?
Especially, when we roll up their social structure: I got a monarchy. Why do they travel? How do they demonstrate allegiance? What does the monarch desire of this sector?
Stars without Number further discusses Alien Technology. Some may be primitive, others contemporary, and fallen alien technology could be “magic”.
Last, there are rules for making Alien characters; This is some work on the GM and Players part; And is frankly something I wouldn’t allow in the first batch of characters for a new campaign.
There are a few more chapters to go, but I love the short stat blocks. I despise multi-paragraph stat blocks (adding lots of unnecessary overhead to GM-ing).
I very much appreciate the discussion about Alien Lenses; How to make something not human (while building on an exaggerated human emotion/approach).
Within this chapter Stars without Number provides a mix of advice, tables, and examples. Four major sections comprise this chapter: Adventure Creation, Adventure Rewards, Creating Adventure Elements, and an Example of Adventure Creation.
The method that follows is by no means the best or only way to devise an adventure, but it’s a procedure that will do the job for a working GM. This method work best if you’ve already generated a world using the tools in the Sector Creation chapter, but the basic outlines can function even without such support.
A fair disclaimer, as adventure creation is, in my experience, a personal affair.
Adventure Creation Section
Art by Tan Ho Sim
From here, Stars without Number breaks down five steps, common to the writing process.
Identify Your Needs
At the end of the session ask your player’s about their intentions for the following session. But remember, as players are prone to do, hold those intentions lightly.
Review the sector you’ve created. Sift through those Friends, Enemies, Complications, Things, and Places. Bring those forward, tweak them, and look for callbacks to previous adventures. Look for cohesion of these elements.
Assemble the Outline
Create an unstable or untenable situation from those ingredients; A situation that will change as the characters interact with it. Connect problems to people; either Friends or Enemies.
Fleshing it Out
Answer the following questions:
What maps do I need?
What places do I need to make interesting?
What NPCs will I need to detail?
What default outcomes will you need to establish?
What are the rewards to dealing with the Problem?
Lastly, how will the PCs get involved?
Polish it Up
Think through the adventure as your players. Is the adventure logical? Approachable? Engaging?
Stars without Number discusses adventures created with in a “sandbox-style” and “story logic-style”. In a sandbox-style adventure, there aren’t written-out paths. You navigate a situation. In story-logic style, the adventuring makes efforts to maintain genre feel.
Creating Filler Adventures
An advice section for GMs; Have an adventure waiting in the wings. It should be something that demands their immediate attention (e.g. a terrorist attack, a close friend calling for help) and it should be short (less than a session) and simple (and perhaps somewhat isolated). It’s purpose is to help out a GM that is caught flat-footed by player actions.
Adventure Rewards Section
A discussion about approaching adventure rewards: Not worrying about too much money or keeping them hungry for more money. Instead ensure that rewards are logical (and Stars without Number provides a table with guidance on reward types).
You can use this principle when the PCs want anything, whether it’s a ship, a particular ally, a base of operations, or anything else that can’t reasonably buy. Make them adventure for it. You can give them suggestions and ideas, but it’s up to them to come up with a plan for getting their hands on what they want.
I know as a player that I am somewhat conditioned to “take the adventure path in front of me.” And in my next campaign, I’m certainly going to call out the “Adventure for It” mindset.
Adventures in Middle Earth’s creates a separate Adventuring Phase and Fellowship Phase. The Adventuring Phase is very much in the Loremaster’s control, what are the problems in front of the players. The Fellowship Phase is a chance for the Player-heroes choose direction (e.g. train, create a Sanctuary, create a holding, etc.). The Fellowship Phase is used to telegraph what is important and interesting for the players. Not quite “adventure for it”, but it is instead a subsystem that allows players to get off the adventure path and bring more breadth and depth to the character’s context.
Closing this section is a discussion on Awarding Experience Points, with five possible award systems:
Creating Problems, People, Places, and Adventure Seeds Section
Stars without Number provides a series of tables to flesh out a Problem, People, and Places.
are comprised of: Conflict Type, Overall Situation, Specific Focus, Restraint, and Twist.
Rolling on the tables, I get:
Conflict Type: Revenge
Overall Situation: Someone was murdered
Specific Focus: Both sides were wronged
Restraint: Religious principles are constraining the conflict
Twist: The PCs could really profit off the focus of the strife
A classic case of revenge, with religious considerations, and a chance for PCs to exploit the overall situation. That sounds like a problem that will just keep making problems.
have tables for: Their Motivation, Their Want, Their Power, Their Hook, Initial Manner of Approach, and Default Deal Outcome.
Rolling on the tables, I get:
Their Motivation: A sheer sadistic love of inflicting pain and suffering
Their Want: Kidnap or non-fatally eliminate a particular NPC
Their Power: They have pull with the local religion
Their Hook: Always seems to be in one particular mood
Initial Manner of Approach: Extremely well-informed about the PCs’ past
Default Deal Outcome: They’ll want a further small favor to pay up on it
That dovetails surprisingly well into the Problems roll.
have tables for: Hazards, Specific Example, Possible Danger, Reward, Civilized Ongoings, and Wilderness Ongoings.
Rolling on the tables, I get:
Specific Example: Gear-eating microbial life
Possible Danger: Lose some equipment
Reward: Forbidden but precious drug
Civilized Ongoings: Merchants and peddlers active
Wilderness Ongoings: Refugees are hiding here
I rolled both Civilized and Wilderness Ongoings, and think both could work as locations for the Problem and Person.
Pulling Problem, People, and Places together,
I’m envisioning a preacher that arose from a flock of refugees. They’ve learned the secret about harvesting a drug from the byproduct of the microbes. In their flock, strife broke out (sadism a psychological byproduct of the drug?) and someone was murdered. Both, were in fact trying to smuggle the microbe off-world.
has a d100 table. This table stands separate from the Problem, People, and Places.
Rolling on the table I got:
A courier mistakes the party for the wrong set of offworlders, and wordlessly deposits a Thing with them that implies something awful—med-frozen, child-sized human organs, for example, or a private catalog of gengineered human slaves. The courier’s boss shortly realizes the error, and this Enemy tries to silence the PCs while preserving the Place where his evil is enacted.
Looking at the results, substitute Enemy and Thing with one of the Enemy and Thing from generated sectors; In the case of a Pilgrimage Site system, I might choose the Enemy as the “Saboteur devoted to a rival belief” and the Thing to be “Precious offering from a pilgrim”.
An Example of Adventure Creation
I found this section to be a nice “transparency in thought” exercise in using the random tables provided. Use the tables to spark ideas. With each roll, interrogate the results to understand why that result is true.
For this section we’ll dive into Sector Creation: the wheelhouse of all Sine Nomine products..
Where there are starships, there are sectors and star systems.
Most campaigns are going to involve substantial world-hopping, however, and the GM needs to be ready to deal with this. This chapter will give you the tools you need to fashion a sector of the void that will be worth the reckless daring of a band of heroic PCs.
Within the first page of sector creation is the following advice/admonishment:
You are advised to carefully read the following pages and take heed of the advice on how much content you should create for each world. A GM would not be a GM if they did not take pleasure in creating wondrous new worlds to explore, but the most enthusiastic demiurge still has a limited amount of creative energy, time, and focus to spend on a campaign.
Stars without Number goes on to provide a procedure for populating an 8x10 hex map. You’ll place 20 + 1d10 systems on random spots on this 8x10 map (roll a d8 and a d10 to determine location).
Each system will have a primary world. And you’ll roll up 2 random tags to give it shape (from the d100 table, each result providing a list of possible Enemies, Friends, Complications, Things, and Places).
Below is an example:
The world is noted for an important spiritual or his- torical location, and might be the sector headquarters for a widespread religion or political movement. The site attracts wealthy pilgrims from throughout nearby space, and those with the money necessary to manage interstellar travel can be quite generous to the site and its keepers. The locals tend to be fiercely protective of the place and its reputation, and some places may forbid the entrance of those not suitably pious or devout.
Enemies: Saboteur devoted to a rival belief, Bitter reformer who resents the current leadership, Swindler conning the pilgrims
Friends: Protector of the holy site, Naive offworlder pilgrim, Outsider wanting to learn the sanctum’s inner secrets
Complications: The site is actually a fake, The site is run by corrupt and venal keepers, A natural disaster threatens the site
Things: Ancient relic guarded at the site, Proof of the site’s inauthenticity, Precious offering from a pilgrim
Places: Incense-scented sanctum, Teeming crowd of pilgrims, Imposing holy structure
Its on you to connect the systems via known trade routes, polities, factions, and relations.
Once that is done, you’ll roll up each star system’s Atmosphere, Temperature, Biosphere, Population, and Tech Level.
From there, it’s on you to decide if there are additional points of interest: other worlds or other things. Stars without Number provides random tables for each of these options.
This chapter is the heart and soul of Sine Nomine products; Random campaign creation tools.