Thursday, 28 February 2019

Stars Without Number by Kevin Crawford

Stars Without Number is probably the best role-playing book I have read in decades.

Seriously, it is that good. If you are Game Master that likes to create your own worlds, factions, and NPCs, and have any interest in running a science-fiction game, you should really pick it up. Do yourself a favour and get the hardback print edition. I know it is pricey, but this is a book you are going to want to pull off your shelf again and again.

Why is it so good? Well, at its heart, Stars Without Number is a relatively simple OSR RPG. It’s a good system, with some neat ideas. The starship combat rules are especially intriguing. It has an
interesting setting that is purposely kept vague. What really sets this book apart though is the tools it gives to Games Masters. There is a chapter on creating sectors, which takes the GM step-by-step through creating a vast region of space and filling it with interesting and extremely varied planets. There is a chapter on creating adventures that is probably the best I’ve ever seen, with loads of mechanics for helping a GM at every step. It can be used to carefully craft an adventure or make one up on the fly. A chapter on creating unique alien races, a chapter dealing with transhumans, a chapter focused on Artificial Intelligences...

Probably my favourite section of the book is the chapter devoted to the various factions that play a major role in the campaign world. These can be planetary governments, mysterious cults, pirate fleets, mercenary organizations, anything. The rules for how they are created, how they function, and how they battle one another (literally and figuratively) is just one of the best pieces of game design I’ve come across. You could (and should!) lift this out to use in any game. In fact, you could easily use it as the meta-game to a wargame campaign. It’s practically worth the price of admission by itself.

Heck, the book even has some great rules for running mechs.

I had never encountered Kevin Crawford, or his work, before this book. That probably makes me late to the party compared to a lot of people (especially as this is the Revised Edition), but I will definitely be seeking out more of his works.

Highly, highly recommended.


  1. Yeah, his stuff is ace! Possibly also of interest: Much of Kevin Crawford's stuff was/is funded via Kickstarter, and he's very good at managing expectations with these projects. I've had this page bookmarked for ages under "How to do Kickstarters right" (scroll down to near the bottom, under Stretch Goals: "Why my Kickstarters Work"):

  2. If you kinda like the concept of Exalted but would prefer an OSR flavour, then Godbound is an excellent book. If transferring that kind of game to modern of futuristic settings interests you, then Lexicon of the Throne is an excellent book (which is also well worth using if you just want to create your own pantheons for your fantasy games).

    If you like Call of Cthulhu, but want a more sandboxy style with competing factions to interact with (or indeed, if you want to introduce cosmic horror to your science fiction), then Silent Legions is also well worth your time.

    His least interesting game mechanically is probably Spears of the Dawn, and even that's an excellent take on OSR fantasy gaming, with a really cool setting based on African myths and legends.

    1. I hope that some day people say my least-interesting work is 'excellent'.

  3. Crawford is a bit of a genius in my opinion. Stars without number is totally solid and a good example of his work. Other dust is his take on the post apocalypse setting and similarly filled with easy, fast, and useable tools for the GM to rapidly create and manage a sandbox campaign. Red Tides is a pretty cool asian flavoured hack of OSR labyrinth lord that I quite like, though I prefer to port the setting into a more modern set of rules. Again, the fluff/flavour and tools are well worth the admission price.

  4. I've run one-player old school D&D using his free "Black Streams: Solo Heroes" hack for years. Genius is right. I love Stars Without Number and Scarlet Heroes!