Let’s Read “Star’s without Number” – Equipment and Vehicles

A part of my Let’s Read “Stars without Number” series. Go grab your free copy of SWN and join in.

Equipment and Vehicles


  • Readied Items – half Strength, rounded down
  • Stowed Items – full Strength

A readied item is immediately available during a character’s turn. A stowed item is on the character’s person, but require more time to draw out.

The system appears quick and easy to adjudicate. Some items require more than one slot for being readied or stowed.

Credits and Money

A quick concession on the interchangability of credits from planet to planet, followed by stating that even precious metals may not be precious after extensive asteroid mining.

Equipment Legality

A reminder that different systems may have different laws for weapons and armor.

Forbidden Science

Thou shalt not:

  • make tools of humankind – no genetic tech to enslave or control humanity
  • create unbraked minds – AIs must be braked
  • create devices of planetary destruction

Technology Levels

Postech – Any technology that is functional and maintainable since the campaign wide Scream Pretech – Pre-Scream technology more sophisticated than Postech

From sticks and stones (TL 0) to 2st century tech (TL 3) to Postech (TL 4) to Pretech (TL 5) and beyond.

To build a Spike-drive (and FTL transporation) you need TL 4.


Because no one likes getting shot.

  • Primitive – useless against TL 4 and up weapons, but it’ll help against bows, arrows, revolver bullets
  • Street armor – lightweight and wearable under normal cloths
  • Combat armor – for military and law enforcement
  • Powered armor – immune to TL 3 or lower weapons, a step below a mech

Different armor takes up 0, 1, or 2 slots along different tech levels.

Ranged Weapons

A variety of weapons from TL 1 up to TL 5, each taking 1 or 2 slots. Advantages of TL 2 weapons are ease of maintenance; most any planet with minimal tools will do.

Some weapons can fire in burst mode; Spend 3 rounds of ammunition to get a +2 to hit and damage.

Melee Weapons

An abstract list of weapons with two variables: size (small, medium, large) and technology (primitive and advanced). From there you, as a player, name the weapon. Monobloade, knife, pulse-guisarme, chainsword, etc.

Larger weapons do more damage, inflict more shock, and require more slots.

Plenty of variation and options.

Heavy Weapons

These weapons require tripods, fixed support, or vehicle mounting.

Some heavy weapons can lay down suppressive fire, using double ammo, and automatically hitting everyone for half damage to anyone not under hard cover.

General Equipment

  • Ammo and Power
  • Communications
  • Computing Gear
  • Field Equipment
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Tools and Medical

A wide variety of equipment to support hacking, healing, communication, tinkering, and power.

Of particular note is the Lazarus Patch; A one time medical device that greatly reduces the difficulty (to 6 instead of 8) of the Heal skill check for reviving people.

Lifestyles, Employees, and Services

Guidance on how to pay for the type of lifestyle your character wants (or is living).

A quick chart of wages for employees by skill type and skill rank. And a chart for services and their costs – Bribes, forgeries, intensive medical care, interstellar mail, workshop rental, passage, and wildly decadent party. A laundry list of services an adventurer might want.

Vehicles & Drones

A list of vehicles and drones, and their game statistics. Plenty of interesting options.


Expensive personal modifications, that incur system strain; which reduces a character’s limit for psionic healing and stimulant drugs.


Stars without Number assumes a past when technology was more potent, even bordering on magic. This chapter provides some ideas of what that tech could be.

Modding and Building Equipment

Stars without Number provides a ruleset and framework for building and modifying equipment.

Modifications require three things: time, money, and pretech parts. Characters have ample time and can earn money, but to get pretech parts, they’ll need to search, scrounge, and adventure for it. And then spend time to maintain.

Characters may also build new equipment, choosing to jury-rig something, build it out normally, or even strive for a masterwork device (which allows a mod installation that requires no maintenance).

A character has a threshold of maximum maintenance – better of Int or Con modifier plus 3 times the character’s tech skill.


As is traditional with sci-fi, characters have access to a laundry list of equipment, many of which will require a significant number of credits or pretech components. All of which drive the characters towards adventure.

Which is what an equipment list should be; A list of aspirational items that the players seek to acquire.

Let’s Read “Stars without Number” – “Systems – Hacking, Advancement, and Hazards”

A part of my Let’s Read “Stars without Number” series. Go grab your free copy of SWN and join in.


Stars without Number details:

Remaining are:

  • Hacking
  • Character Advancement
  • Environmental Hazards


A quick discussion about accessing computers. You can hack in a Main Action if you spend an hour planning, or spend 10 minutes for an off-the-cuff. If you don’t have 10 minutes, you can spend a single Main Action at an increased penalty.

You can acquire data or control a system (for a short period of time). Progressive hacking attempts get harder. And failure means there is a chance of triggering an alarm.

And if you are hacking something corporate or government, you’ll need to have direct access to a line and sometimes through two points (via line shunt).

From hacking you can:

  • Answer a specific question
  • Get general information
  • Complete database acquisition
  • Suppress a system
  • Subvert a system
  • Sabotage a system

What I like about this system, is planning matters, but also sneaking in to gain access to a terminal or plant a line shunt matters. The planning of a hack is a team affair, and the skill check for hacking is a quick matter.

Character Advancement

Characters advance quick during the early levels – a session or two per level – up until level 4, then advancement begins slowing down. So that by level 11 you’ll need 12 or so sessions for advancement.

When you level up you:

  • Roll your hit points again. Take the new result if its higher, or take the previous result + 1 if its lower.
  • Increase your attack bonus, if applicable. Warriors increase each level, others gain a bonus every even level
  • Improve each saving throw by 1.
  • Gain and spend 3 skill points; Experts get 1 extra skill point.
  • Choose a new Foci at level 2, 5, 7, and 10. If the Foci grants a skill rank, check the additional considerations.
New Skill Level Skill Point Cost Minimum Character Level
0 1 1
1 2 1
2 3 3
3 4 6
4 5 9

Psychic’s may buy additional discipline techniques with their skill points.

Attribute Boost Skill Point Cost Minimum Character Level
1st 1 1
2nd 2 1
3rd 3 3
4th 4 6
Final 5 9

Characters may buy, at most, 5 attribute boosts.

Environmental Hazards

SWN details the dangers of space:

  • Falling
  • Poisons
  • Diseases
  • Radiation
  • Hard Vacuum

Training in Heal or Biopsionics can make all the difference in treating exposure to these hazards.


The Hacking system reminds me of Divination spells in D&D. Consider the availability of a tremendous amount of information, and its possible impact. Characters will most certainly seek information in their planning.

Let’s Read Stars without Number – Scenes, Saves, and Skill Checks

A part of my Let’s Read “Stars without Number” series. Go grab your free copy of SWN and join in.


Stars without Number details more systems than combat and healing. SWN also details:

  • Scenes and Durations
  • Saving Throws
  • Skill Checks

Scenes and Durations

Instead of copious tracking of time by the minute and hour, there is the concept of a scene. Powers that last for a combat, or the duration of a break-in job, or a hostile negotiation.

I like this unit of measurement. There are further guidelines that its about 15-minutes and assumes a bit of rest between scenes, but is not a hard and fast rule.

Saving Throws

A quick discussion of saving throws. Somewhat familiar territory for anyone that’s played any version of Dungeons & Dragons. Like 2E and before, you roll a d20 and get above your save score.

The three saves: Physical, Evasion, and Mental – akin to 4th Edition D&D’s saving throws where the better of Str or Con modifies Physical; Dex or Int modifies Evasion; and Wis or Cha modifies Mental.

I like the following quick statement:

Mental saves can also be used when no other saving throw category seems to apply and only blind luck and ineffable intuition can save the hero.

I know as a GM there are times where I’m looking for a luck roll. This little sentence gives me clear permission to use the Mental saving throw as a luck test (considering that the luck save did not make it from the Core edition to the Revised edition).

Skill Checks

Here we have a deviation from the modern D&D systems. Skill checks use 2d6 plus skill rank plus ability modifier plus a possible situational modifier. And no ranks means -1 to the check, if you can even make it at all.

I like the explicit advice that failing at a check need not mean that you don’t accomplish it, but could mean you succeed with a complication; This is up to the GM.

And this advice is crucial for keeping a game going. If the characters need to get through a door or make a landing for the adventure to continue, let failure mean they get through the door or make the landing, but notify the guards, it takes longer, or the ship sustains serious damage on the landing. (see a previous blog post for more in depth discussion)

And as one would hope Stars without Numberprovides concrete guidance on setting the difficulty of a skill check. See the table below:

DC Skill Check Difficulties
6 A relatively simple task that is still more than the PC would usually be expected to manage in their regular background. Anything easier than this isn’t worth a skill check.
8 A significant challenge to a competent professional that they’d still succeed at more often than not.
10 Something too difficult to be expected of anyone but a skilled expert, and even they might fail.
12 Only a true master could expect to carry this off with any degree of reliability.
14+ Only a true master has any chance of achieving this at all, and even they will probably fail.

It also discusses when to call for a check and when not to call for a skill check:

As a general rule of thumb, if failure at a particular task would make the PC seem notably incompetent at their role in life, then they shouldn’t have to roll a skill check for it. In addition, if failure or success at a check really doesn’t matter in the game, if it won’t produce some interesting result either way, then a check shouldn’t be made.

With the 2d6 system opposed skill checks notably favor the player characters; As compared to the usual “ties favor the aggressors.” Below is a table of probabilities of success for a PC.

Mod -3 -2 -1 0 1 2 3 4 5 6
PC -3 56% 44% 34% 24% 16% 10% 5% 3% 1% 0%
-2 66% 56% 44% 34% 24% 16% 10% 5% 3% 1%
-1 76% 66% 56% 44% 34% 24% 16% 10% 5% 3%
0 84% 76% 66% 56% 44% 34% 24% 16% 10% 5%
1 90% 84% 76% 66% 56% 44% 34% 24% 16% 10%
2 95% 90% 84% 76% 66% 56% 44% 34% 24% 16%
3 97% 95% 90% 84% 76% 66% 56% 44% 34% 24%
4 99% 97% 95% 90% 84% 76% 66% 56% 44% 34%
5 100% 99% 97% 95% 90% 84% 76% 66% 56% 44%
6 100% 100% 99% 97% 95% 90% 84% 76% 66% 56%

Something feels right about 2d6 for skill checks. A bit less swingy.

Let’s Read Stars without Number – Combat and Healing

A part of my Let’s Read “Stars without Number” series. Go grab your free copy of SWN and join in.

Systems – Combat and Healing

Breaking apart the Systems chapter into:

  • combat, injury, death, and healing
  • scenese, saving throws, skill checks, hacking, character advancement, and environmental hazards

While the introduction to the Systems section reiterates the dangers of combat; And nowhere does SWN better highlight the dangers than the injury, death, and healing subsection.

On to combat.


Yes. Its dangerous, and thank you again for reiterating. You roll 1d6 for your starting hit points.

PCs should be very certain that the odds are in their favor before they reach for their laser pistols, and even then, the gods of battle can be cruel.


We roll a d8 + Dex for initiative and don’t re-roll at the end of the round.

Now some good news for PCs:

Most [of the time] PCs are not subject to surprise unless their guard is genuinely down at the moment of the ambush or attack.

SWN assumes that the characters are cautious. And only sudden and very unexpected attacks could even trigger an ambush. That’s some good news for players.

Types of Actions

There are four types:

  • Main action – one per turn, can be used as a move action
  • Move action – one per turn
  • On turn action – any amount on your turn
  • Instant action -any amount, any time

Easy movement is 10 meters; climbing, swimming, rough terrain halves that. You can’t split move between your main action.

“On turn” actions involve dropping an item, falling prone, speaking, drawing a Readied item, etc.

Hitting an enemy

To hit: Roll d20 + your base attack bonus + skill rank + ability modifier + circumstance modifiers. Untrained counts as -2 for skill rank.

Damage: Roll damage die plus relevant attribute modifier.

Shock: Some melee weapons do damage on a miss to those in insufficient armor; Add your relevant attribute modifier to that shock damage.

Neat. Melee combat is dangerous, and shock ensures sword fights don’t last too long. I like that it reiterates that HP reflects bumps and bruises until you get to those last HP, which reflect real damage.

Combat Actions

  • Melee [Main] – is straight-forward
  • Ranged [Main] – can’t attack using 2-handed range weapon if engaged in melee; take a -4 to hit if using a one-hand or thrown weapon in melee
  • Make a Snap Attack [Instant] – if you haven’t went you can interrupt and make a Melee or Ranged attack at -4.
  • Total defense [Main] – immune to shock, +2 AC until next turn
  • Club up a weapon [Move] – shift your rifle to bash in some heads
  • Run [Move] – move again
  • Fighting withdrawal [Main] – Break out of melee without getting hit
  • Use a Skill [Main]
  • Ready or Stow an Item [Main] – move items from Stowed to a Ready state (eg. grab a potion from your pack)
  • Reload a weapon [Main] – Looks like you better have ammo readied or you’re going to be spending two main actions reloading
  • Pick up an item [Move]
  • Stand Up [Move]
  • Go Prone [On Turn]
  • Hold an Action [Move] – Spend your move action to prepare to inject a main action later in the round before some other action.

From the list of actions there is a lot of tactical decisions. If you are a melee fighter, get up there and get in their business. You are a serious threat.

Should you as a player make a snap action? If you’re a pistol wielder being charged by a monoblade, a snap shot is just as good as firing into melee. So take it. Is someone disengaging form you as a melee master? Take a snap action to lay into them before they flee.

And if you’re a warrior, and have yet to use your auto-hit, snap with impunity; The best defense is a good offense.

Stars without Numbers advises that GMs not use snap actions for most NPC.

The second considerations is transitioning from Stowed to Readied. Don’t yet know what all can be Readied, but it appears that you’ll want those go to items to be Readied – pistol, ammunition, and knife.

Combat Complications and Maneuvers

  • Forcing Enemy Movement – hit with Punch (or Stab), deal no damage, then win at Punch (or Stab) or Exert. If you win move them 3 meters.
  • Disarming a Foe – make an attack roll, deal no damage, then make weapon based skill check with the weapons used. The defender gets a +3 bonus. If attacker wins by 3 they get the weapon, otherwise it skitters 1d4 meters away.
  • Execution Attacks – Spend a minute not drawing attention to yourself, don’t take any obvious action, then you can skip to hit and armor class, and instead roll a combat skill check (6 for point blank, 8 for normal, 10 for extreme); If you hit, it does max damage and must make a Physical save or be mortally wounded. PCs are vulnerable to this.
  • Two-Weapon Fighting – You must have Skill level 1; take a -1 to hit and do +2 to damage. Do not add the second weapons Shock bonus.

The execution attacks are the biggest surprise. I’m fine with PCs setting up for an execution attack; It would likely require a series of checks to get into place. I’d have to think about executing a PC.

Injury, Death, and Healing

If an NPC drops to 0 hit points, its GM’s discretion. If a PC drops to 0 hit points, they have 6 rounds to live.

For a PC at 0 hit points, someone will need to take a Main Action to stabilize them – with Int/Heal or Dex/Heal. Use of the biopsionic technique Psychic Succor automatically stabilizes.

Base DC Tool
10 No special medical tools
8 Medical kit
6 Lazarus patch

Increase the base DC by the number of rounds since they went down. Without tools this is a rather grim prospect.

Ten minutes after someone stabilizes you you wake up and regain 1 HP. From that point, until you get bed rest, any damage you take kills you outright. Treatment from advanced pharmaceutical stims or Biopsionic techniques avoids this fragility.

The recovery system bakes in recovery times based on tech level treatment available. Lower tech levels results in slower recovery, and at TL 2 or less recovery is not guaranteed.

If you plan to enter into combat, make sure you have a biopsion available, otherwise recovery is 1 HP per level per day of rest in a TL 4 medical care center.


Stars without Number combat shows the basic bones of B/X D&D with updates and clarifications drawn from the 3.X D&D lineage. The Shock and Snap Attack aspects of combat intrigue me and are something I look forward to seeing in play.

If you plan to get into combat, make sure you have a friend trained in Heal or Biopsionics. You’ll also want to have access to three lazarus patches; And have at least one of those Readied (so as to not spend an action retrieving them and raising the difficulty of the skill check).

Let’s Read Stars without Number – Psionics

A part of my Let’s Read “Stars without Number”series. Go grab your free copy of SWN and join in.


Opens with game setting, psionic abilities are a congenital curse that unless trained lead to insanity. Nice fluff. Highlights that NPC psionics could be crazy. Also establishes that not every system or person is welcoming towards psionics.

It further explains that humanity’s past glories were built on insanity psionics, but collapsed during the Scream – a catastrophic event that drove every living psychic mad or killed them outright.

Nice. The game lays out the dangers of psionic usage, and the public’s potential distrust.

Psionic Powers and Techniques

Not everyone can access psionics. If you are Psychic you may gain ranks in each psionic discipline. If you are an Adventurer that is part Psychic, you may only gain ranks in one psionic discipline.

Psionics are a trained skill. Each psionic discipline is a skill and has a baseline technique. As you gain ranks in the discipline, you gain new techniques. And, if interested, you may use your skill points to buy additional techniques.

Psionics are fueled by effort, which look like power points. Effort is calculated as 1 plus highest Wisdom or Constitution modifier plus highest skill rank in a psionic discipline.

Some powers require you to spend effort for the day, others for the scene, and others require no effort at all. Interesting. Committing for the day and none at all seems easy on the book-keeping. The effort for a scene may create some complications in tracking effort.


The push your luck mechanic of Torching looks great. Roll on the torching result table to gain 1 point of effort that lasts until the end of the scene. Does that mean you can’t use this bonus effort for things that require committing effort for the day?

d6 Torching Result
1-2 Lose 1 point from your Wisdom score
3-4 Lose 1 point from your Constitution score
5 Lose 1 point from an attribute of choice
6 No harm done by this torching

If you burn below 3 Wisdom, you go “Feral”. If you burn below 3 in any other ability, you die or become non-viable. Does that mean any character, regardless of Torching that drops below 3 for any ability score is removed from the game?

Feral psychics become NPCs and may torch with impunity (and without rolling on the chart). They have burned a pathway to unlimited effort, at the cost of sanity. And once “Feral” you can never go back.


First we get an introduction to system strain. How much psionic healing, cybernetic implants, and powerful drugs can a character endure. Did anyone say Shadowrun?

Medic! This discipline is all about healing and physical tissue manipulation. The core technique provides the healing, and from there you can

  • treat poison
  • perform remote healing
  • keep pressing on as their dying
  • regenerate targets
  • burst heal
  • quicken healing
  • shapechange
  • inflict massive damage and cancer
  • boost strength and dexterity and hit points
  • self-resurrect

An interesting set of effects, albeit healing focused. I think I’d add biopsionic weaponry as a level-1 technique. But for now, lets move on.


The how-I-make-my-other-disciplines-stronger discipline. The core technique increases your saves vs. psionics, allows you to detect psionics, gain effort, and unlock a less permanent torching option. An interesting meta-grab bag.

The techniques are:

  • conceal psionic capabilities
  • trace the origins of a psionic power they notice
  • learn to apply biopsionics and telepathy to Virtual Intellegence (VI) and Artificial Intellegince (AI)
  • fail a psionic save, accept the effect, to have an auto-success against the original attacker
  • disrupt ongoing psychic effects
  • queue up a psionic power that can later be triggered quickly
  • connect psychic minds and everyone shares their psychic skills
  • create a static haze that inflicts damage on the target when they use psionics
  • become a psychic tutor
  • inflict saving throw penalties on psychic powers
  • remove the requirement from one technique for committing effort
  • develop an immunity to one psionic discipline, and extend that immunity


Always tricky to do this right. After all, does anyone know what’s going to happen in a game session?

The core technique, oracle, allows the psychic to ask a question and gaze into the future to gain a vision from their vantage point.

Additional techniques are:

  • go first in initiative
  • declare that they brought some gear
  • gain Spidey sense
  • enable a re-roll on a failed hit, save, or skill check
  • force a re-roll against someone attacking the psychic
  • rewind 6 seconds of time
  • force a target to roll with disadvantage until they succeed on a save (that is not disadvantaged)
  • force a seemingly random physical event to happen (eg. pick a roullette number)
  • secure yourself from death
  • declare a prophecy and it comes to pass (some restrictions may apply)


The core technique moves objects with your mind.

Other techniques:

  • wall climb and water walk
  • create equivalent of a vacc suit for you and even your 6 best friends
  • create weapons and armor out of force
  • negate a physical attack
  • grease!
  • move things with your mind without committing effort
  • burn things with your brain
  • create a force construct
  • bash things as though a heavy weapon or ship canon
  • reflect a missed attack at an opponent
  • pick someone to be a puppet
  • fly and bring others with you


The core technique probes a person’s mind, without that person being aware of such probing. Needless to say, nobody likes a telepath.

Other techniques:

  • ease the effort of contacting another mind
  • enable two-way communication via telepathic connection
  • very long distance telepathy
  • force someone to not think about something
  • instill an impulse to take action
  • clobber them with your brain
  • edit their memory
  • link several minds to operate in coordinated concert


The core technique allows teleportation, extending to planetary range at rank 4. They need to have been there or seen it. Nice.

There is a nice segment on teleportation and legal systems. Most systems will summarily execute someone that commits a crime using teleportation.

Other techniques:

  • teleportation requires a move action instead of your main action
  • gain 360 vision; a little odd that this is not precognition
  • teleport self and others
  • perceive a location that you could teleport to
  • know the location of an imprinted object (within range of your teleportation)
  • blur yourself and even dodge an attack
  • teleport in and out disallowing others to respond
  • teleport into places you haven’t seen – even from one spaceship to another
  • teleport people against their will

Teleportation boarding party! Or pop in, drop a bomb, and pop out.


I enjoy the varied psionic powers and the niche of each discipline. The effort mechanic looks simple to understand and straight forward to use. And torching provides a mechanic that cleaves close to the narrative assumptions that psychics can press their powers to a point of pain and nose bleeds.

Psychics have a powerful toolkit, but a limited pool of effort to draw from – the most effort you could have is 9 (1 + 2 for a modifier + 4 for rank + 2 for core metapsionic technique). That is a lot of mind magic, but a clever player will burn through that quite fast.

Let’s Read Stars Without Number – Character Creation

A part of my Let’s Read “Stars without Number” series. Go grab your free copy of SWN and read along.

Character Creation

Page 3 quickly explains what the players need to know about the system, rules, and expectations of play. This game is not for the passive nor loners, nor does the challenges scale to your character level.

In actual play, your character should be motivated to act, and to act as part of a group. The game does not deal well with hostile loners, apathetic brooders, or other characters that have to be coaxed into engaging with the world and cooperating with the rest of the group. The world of Stars Without Number is dangerous, and characters who cringe from peril or insist on facing it alone will find only boredom or an early grave.

For everyone interested in playing Stars without Number, read this page!

Summary of Character Creation

I love this section: a detailed procedure for how you make a character, step by step, as well as a visual map of the steps as they apply to the character sheet.


I love rolling for stats, and 3d6 straight down in order (with a stat tweak) is the oldest of school.

For my house rules, I’ll go with:

  • 3d6 straight down, replace one stat with a 14
  • If you want you may replace those stats with the default array assigned as you choose

And we use the old standard abilities (Str, Dex, Con, Int, Wis, Cha).

A quick glance at the ability score and modifier table:

Score Modifier
3 -2
4-7 -1
8-13 0
14-17 +1
18 +2

Nice. I’m not much of a fan of the 3.X+ era of stat modifiers; I find they bring tremendous bloat to all numbers (HP, AC, Skill Modifiers), and strain the underlying system far more.


A deviation from B/X D&D, because there are actual skills. And instead of using a 1d20 for skill resolution you use 2d6.

So 2d6 + skill rank + ability modifier. This formula does not apply to combat (which instead uses the venerable d20 mechanism). By using 2d6 we get a bell curve, and a somewhat less swingy skill resolution system – and that feels right to me.

The skill-level table describes the relevant competency: level-0 trained with basic competence to level-4 superlative expert.

It initially felt a bit odd that when you get your first rank in a skill you open at +0. Untrained you have a -1. There are underlying system reasons that become self-evident as you look at the whole, but for now lets just make note of this proud nail.

Then comes the skill list, 19 non-psionic skills and 6 psionic skills, all highlighting how you interact with the world and game.

And I love the Connect skill:

Find people who can be helpful to your purposes and get them to cooperate with you. Roll it to make useful connections with others, find people you know, know where to get illicit goods and services, and be familiar with foreign cultures and languages. You can use it in place of Talk for persuading people you find via this skill.

It sits in a similar spot as Burning Wheel’s Circles, and provides crucial tooling to play in the sandbox; This skill gives you the player agency to bring forth NPCs that you need to advance your goals.

Choosing a Background

Yes and more yes! I love random backgrounds (see my 5th Edition Character Funnel rules). And the rules are clear, you can choose from or roll on the table.

With background chosen, flip to the that background and flesh out your character a bit more. You get a free skill then choose either to:

  • pick 2 skills from the Learning sub-table or
  • roll 3 times amongst the Learning and Growth sub-tables.

I love this, you can build out the character you want, or you can let the dice guide you towards your character.

Take a look at the Barbarian example below.


Free Skill: Survive-0

Roll Growth (d6) Learning (d8)
1 +1 Any Stat Any combat
2 +2 Physical Connect
3 +2 Physical Exert
4 +2 Mental Lead
5 Exert Notice
6 Any skill Punch
7 Sneak
8 Survive

Character Classes

We have 4 basic classes:

  • Expert – skill monkey
  • Warrior – murder monkey
  • Psychic – brain monkey
  • Adventure – multi monkey

Each class has a unique feature:

  • Expert gets the “once per scene reroll a failed skill check and take the better result”
  • Warrior gets the “once per scene choose to choose to auto-hit or an opponent to auto-miss you”
  • Psychic gains access to all psychic skills
  • Adventure chooses two other classes and gets pieces of their class (but never the unique feature)

Each class feels unique, yet broad in its application. I can see each of the backgrounds choosing each of the classes.

Choosing a Focus

Everyone gets to pick a Focus, while warriors and experts get a bonus. Each Foci has two ranks, each providing a substantive perk.

These Foci break (or expand) the rules for your character’s skills. There are several combat oriented foci, as well as non-combat oriented foci. All allowing for a greater character refinement.

The concept of Foci is new to the revised edition of Stars without Number, and is a welcome add.

Below is the Connected focus, which I love.


You’re remarkably gifted at making friends and forging ties with the people around you. Wherever you go, you always seem to know somebody useful to your ends.

  • Level 1: Gain Connect as a bonus skill. If you’ve spent at least a week in a not-entirely-hostile location, you’ll have built a web of contacts willing to do favors for you that are no more than mildly illegal. You can call on one favor per game day and the GM decides how far they’ll go for you.
  • Level 2: Once per game session, if it’s not entirely implausible, you meet someone you know who is willing to do modest favors for you. You can decide when and where you want to meet this per- son, but the GM decides who they are and what they can do for you

Final Touches

This is your last chance to grab a skill you want (non-psychic), or improve a rank-0 skill. You get one skill (your choice).

Then roll those hit points. It’s 1d6 plus your Constitution modifier (minimum of 1 HP). As a warrior you get an additional 2 more hit points.

And set your base attack bonus and saving throws. Physical saves are 15 minus the better of your Con or Str modifier; Mental saves are 15 minus the better of your Wis or Cha modifier; Evasion saves are 15 minus the better of your Dex or Int modifier (harkening back to 4E D&D).

And last choose an equipment package or roll your starting credits (2d6x100) and go on a shopping spree.

Equipment Packages

An assortment of equipment packages, along with quick instructions for your attack bonus and armor class. Plenty of flavor wrapped into each of these packages.

Quick Character Creation

Want something faster than the already quick character creation, you can roll for a random class and style (e.g. Expert[Smart]), background and associated skills, relevant foci, and your bonus skill. Not to bad to whip up something in an extreme hurry.


Character creation provides a path for players to choose what they want or to cast their lot to the wind and draw forth a character concept from the ether. I like that flexibility, as often times the most interesting characters I’ve played were ones that came about through the constraints of randomness.

Let’s Read Stars without Number – Into the Waiting Light

A part of my Let’s Read “Stars without Number” series. Go grab your free copy of SWN and read along.

Into the Waiting Light

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
  • 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.

Social Interaction:

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.