A part of my Let’s Read “Stars without Number” series. Go grab your free copy of SWN and join in.
This opening chapter, and single page (p1), sets the tone for what lies ahead - both in the book and hopefully at your game table.
Sketching out the Three Pillars
The opening 3 paragraphs speak to the three pillars of table-top RPGs (as outlined in D&D’s Basic Edition): Exploration, Social Interaction, and Combat.
We have exploration:
The scattered sectors of the old Terran Mandate have been out of communication for centuries, and no one living can know all the strange wonders that have been born in the Silence. Every fresh world is a new marvel to discover, and the brave souls willing to repair the broken web of contact can expect rich rewards for their efforts.
New polities and young empires have sprung up in the centuries since the collapse of the Terran Mandate, and they struggle with each other as hotly as their technology and resources allow. The right hero at the right time can shift the fate of worlds, and heroes willing to fight for their beliefs can be the greatest resources a struggling star nation possesses. There are adventures to be had in dealing with the powers of a stellar sector, where men and women are needed to foil the sinister plans of enemies and bring victory.
Not every hero has a mind for high goals, however. Many desire nothing more than freedom and the credits to enjoy it. Whether hauling cargo to backwater worlds or selling their lasers to the highest bidder, these mercenary adventurers go where the pay is good and the danger is acceptable.
Through the above, Stars without Number sets expectations about its genre boundaries, as well as introduces its default setting - a massive event separated the various star systems and they are re-connecting.
This first column of text sets the narrative hook. If story is your thing, this column of text is your sales pitch.
Sketching out the Tooling
Where the first column aimed at drawing a picture of the stories you’ll tell, this section goes into the how those stories will get told.
SWN gives explicit permission to make the game yours, and lays out how.
First it clearly claims its place in the old-school renaissance (OSR). The rules create a familiarity for a wide-audience of players and create a loose compatible with wide source of game materials. And since the earliest days of the hobby, people were modding the basic B/X chassis to make the game theirs.
Then it lays claim to being a “sandbox” game (see Rob Conley’s blog post My Axioms of Sandbox Campaigns for further details). Yes, you could play an adventure path in Stars without Number, but you’d be setting aside many of its “wide range of tools, techniques, and guidelines for easing sandbox play.”
Hidden in this paragraph is the core principle of OSR sandbox play; something crucial and something to highlight:
PCs aren’t the only important figures, and where a hero doesn’t necessarily have any narrative armor against failure and death.
This section builds an awareness on the scope of a sandbox, and works to instill a desire to play in that sandbox, while ensuring the reader that this game provides the tools to help you do that.
Closing out this short section, SWN connects the Revised Edition back to the original 2010 version, clearly stating:
In compiling the revision, I have been careful to keep it compatible with the existing material for the game, so you should be able to use original edition supplements with minimal fuss.
Stars without Number reaffirms that the game is now yours. Run it your way.