Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Mail Room: Worlds Without Number

I got this in the mail today, the offset print version of Worlds Without Number. I like both this and its sibling game, Stars Without Number, and it is nice to have an offset print (higher than POD) quality book for this game.

This is the fantasy version of Stars Without Number and it is a very cool sort of "dying Earth" fantasy game, so far in the future technology and culture of today's world has crumbled into the dust and only magic remains. We are way past destroyed future style games such as Gamma World or Rifts and into a savage new world where you are free to create your own continents and lands, strange alternate parallel realities, and an almost dream-like world of fantasy where alien runs cross the world and there are no such things as laser pistols, 20th century culture, roads, cities, and computers.

It is like like the Earth has been terraformed a million times by a million star civilizations, many with magic, and then the tired world forgotten and left to its feudal ways.

Or, you can play traditional fantasy with this with orcs and elves on a new world. Or use it as a world generator for Old School Essentials. Or 5th Edition. Or Mythras. Or Aftermath. Or Gamma World. Or Pathfinder 1e or 2e. Or AD&D.

Whatever floats your boat.

It is a game that gives you a cool setup, simple but expressive rules, the best world generation tools out there, and then lets you play however you want.

Which is cool.

More on this soon.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

First Look: Traveller Core Rulebook Update 2022

Okay, I am happy I took the leap of faith on this one. Above left is the 2016 book's table of contents. On the right is the 2022 book's ToC. Here is a short list of the first things that jumped out at me with this version of the main rulebook:

  • 23 pages added
    • Lots of flowcharts and how-to diagrams were added
  • Better artwork throughout
    • All of the bad pieces and eye-cringe are gone
  • Much better presentation
    • Use of facing pages where they can!
    • Cleaner layout overall
      • Bullet points!
    • The all-black pages that ate toner are gone
      • Much more printer friendly
      • Style does not jump around between sections
      • Less confusing
  • More color in the artwork
    • Looks "happier"
    • Less of a dreary, dark "Alien RPG" look
    • Getting a Star Frontiers vibe overall
  • Better equipment and starship images
    • The weapons, suits, and tech look "cool" now
  • Spacecraft construction is back in the main book!

Overall, it feels like a team of graphic designers went over the 2016 book and made a lot of hard choices on presentation, and the work they did looks great. The bulleted rules and facing pages layouts help a great deal, and the cleaner and consistent presentation overall helps the organization of the book tremendously.

And the universe, ships, gear, and guns look cool too. Not overly high-tech and clean, but rugged, functional, dirty, and functional designs that do not look too "concept art." Great job on the art revamp.

It feels like someone took a long, hard look at Old School Essentials and ask themselves, "What did they do right?"

Granted, they would need to rewrite a lot of the book and rules to get this to an OSE-level of cleanness, but with the  game they have and keeping it compatible, they did a pretty good job here.

I can't wait for my hardcopy coming in January 2022, this is one I am looking forward to. I am pleasantly surprised by this one.

Friday, October 22, 2021

News: Traveller Core Rulebook Update 2022



Oddly enough, I say the words "I wish the Traveller core rulebook was reorganized like Old School Essentials" and I learn of this. From the above link:

Traveller is a science fiction roleplaying game of bold explorers and brave adventurers. The Traveller Core Rulebook Update 2022 contains everything you need to create one of these adventures and begin exploring the galaxy.

Spaceports, ancient civilisations, air/rafts, cold steel blades, laser carbines, far distant worlds, and exotic alien beasts – this is the futuristic universe of Traveller, the original and classic science fiction roleplaying game.

Come visit the far future.

The Traveller Core Rulebook Update 2022 has been fully revised for this edition and contains many tweaks and rules updates, as well as a brand new, highest quality interior format with lashings of top tier art to immerse you in the far future.

Now, this is still 2nd edition, so it DOES NOT invalidate your other books, which I feel is a good thing. They redid the organization, put in new art, and cleaned up the presentation.


I am on the fence. I don't play enough Traveller to justify it, honestly, and I have a 2nd edition rulebook. And there is Stars Without Number to play with too, and that is OSR, so I have tons already compatible with my other OSR games.

If I get bought into playing a 3rd Imperium setting, yes, I would get it. For generic sci-fi I would not. Then there is that question in your mind, if the game were easier to use, would you play it more?


Yes. The current 2nd Edition rulebook I have is not really the easiest thing to use. The confusing layout and hard-to-find rules is a reason I did not play this version more, and also a reason why I went looking for alternatives. Like Starfinder. Like Stars Without Number.

It is nice to see some love and care given to the game with the update, and I hope this is a huge improvement, since it would mean I would get something out of my investment in the other books in the 2nd edition line.

This is expected to release in January 2022.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Empires & Federations (Without Number)

From the Stars Without Number rulebook we get this quote: 

Above all, Stars Without Number is your game now. There is no one “correct” way to play it. There is only your way to play it, and you should feel free to make it the game you want to play.

Let's take this great OSR space game and turn it into a quick OSR Star Wars or Star Trek style game. Yes, I know there are official licensed games for both of these, and they are great, but back in my day when all we have was Basic and Expert D&D, we hacked that game to play whatever we wanted to play. If the numbers and systems were "close enough" and "like the movies" then that was mission complete.

Note: None of this is official material, Stars Without Number and all content is property of Sine Nomine Publishing, and Star Trek and Star Wars are properties of their respective license holders. This is presented for free as fan material for simulating genres "like" the ones mentioned. The names of weapons and defenses from the Stars Without Number game are NOT presented in their entirety, but only as names for possible conversion notes between genres, and are not official.

Generic Genres

Because we don't want to step all over licensed products, we will be using generic genre names for our new universes, such as "Star Federation" for a genre like Star Trek, and "Space Empire" for a genre like Star Wars. This way the genres are a bit more generic and we can use the standard names for what they call things here, like "blaster" or "phaser" since those are generic sci-fi terms but some more closely associated with one genre than another.

Also note, while those two properties are used as examples, there are plenty of other movies, books, anime, and games in those genres you could be simulating. Never get stuck on the names given in the book, and if you want to change them - this is your game and do so!

Remember, what we are trying to do here is OSR-ify the genres and make them play like an OSR game. We are not looking to create a game that plays like a licensed game, or create anything super complex and detailed. All we want is an "OSR hack" for each genre, and only making minimal changes and fixes to make things work.

When it comes down to it, being able to quickly spin up an OSR space hero and jump into an iconic starship and start having adventures is what the goal is with this project.

Rename Everything!

So, what is the strategy? Well, since I don't want to be creating huge lists of items and equipment lists for each new genre, I am just going to change the names of what we have in the main rulebook to make what we have - and what is tested and well-balanced - into the things we need for each genre.

For example, we need a hand-blaster for out Space Empire setting. I would use the laser pistol, and the laser rifle for a larger blaster rifle. What about the hand phasers of Star Federation? We have those too in the thermal pistol and the rifle-like plasma projector for our "phaser rifle."

Is this cheating? Heck yes it is cheating. But when you look at it, calling a Vortex Tunnel Inductor a "Heavy Ion Cannon" in the Space Empire setting or a "Heavy Disruptor" in our Star Federation setting makes sense from a movie perspective. The main, heavy energy gun in each setting if used in a movie would produce approximately the same dramatic effect. Also, since the source material, the VTI weapon in the main game, was play-tested, our balance in play is guaranteed.

And this is quick-and-easy, we don't want to get bogged down in creating huge lists and conversions, and we are done.

Limit Genre Equipment

The Stars Without Number has a lot of cool personal and starship equipment, such as the perfect for our use "teleportation pads." We need to limit equipment availability by each genre and this is just asking the question, "Does this item work in this universe?" For teleportation pads, yes for Star Federation and no for Space Empire. Cold sleep pods? Have not really seen them used in either setting that much unless they were medical stasis pods, so limit them for that use only. 

Most items are dual use in either genre, such as cargo space or luxury cabins, so just use them as-is. If you need something genre-specific, such as a holo-deck, use the closest approximation, such as an advanced lab or workshop - whatever feels closest in terns of function and technology, rename it and use that. Write it in like "holo-deck (advanced lab)" and you are good.

Again, convert something already there that is close enough and get playing.


One issue that may come up is shields, which are prevalent in both genres. I say, these are included with the ship's AC and hit points. There will be some inconsistencies with things said in the movies like, "max power to shields" or even "shields full forward" but when you get right down to it that all could be just letting the audience know the ship has shields and a dramatic device. If the ship's AC is ever lowered by a crisis, that means the shields are down.

As an option add a "Full Power to Shields" combat action for 2 CP under Engineering Actions and make it work exactly like Evasive Maneuvers, adding the engineer's Fix skill level to the ship's AC, usable once per round. Note this may affect balance if stacked with evasive maneuvers, so if you find is it causing issues only allow one or the other (or better yet, the higher of the two) to be used in a round.

So, a list of suggestions? Sure, let's do that, and your may vary but here is a start that I could come up with:

SWN Defense Star Federation Space Empire
Ablative Hull Components Enhanced Shields Enhanced Shields
Augmented Plating Armor Plating Armor Plating
Boarding Countermeasures same same
Burst ECM Generator Electronic Countermeasures Jammers
Foxer Drones Decoy Decoy
Grav Eddy Displacer Angled Shielding Deflector Screens
Hardened Polyceramic Array Super Dense Hull Hardened Armor
Planetary Defense Array NA NA
Point Defense Lasers Point Defense Phasers Point Defense Lasers

You could use the planetary defense array as an anti-orbital bombardment screen, a large solid force field projector, or a sort of energy projector that can stop fission reactions, so this is still useful as a plot device or "large defensive thing" replacement.

Starship Weapons

Given all the crazy things they did in the movies, you could come up with really any reason for something to "work" and fit in the genre. For example, point defense lasers as anti-starfighter weapons are pretty apparent in the Space Empire genre. In a Space Federation genre they would be anti-torpedo weapons, and while not really seen too much in films, it is possible they exist so use them if you want to in this genre or don't - it is up to how you see the genre working.

Some ships in Space Empire have these "forward mounted turbolasers" so that is like a spinal mount. Could a Star Federation ship possibly have a single large phaser mounted forward? It could, though we haven't see this too much, it could be done.

Also in Star Federation you see a difference between the accurate "phaser" style ship weapons versus the more destructive and clumsy "disruptor" style weapons. In Space Empire these are Ion Cannons.

Also, some weapons are listed as NA since they don't have a great match in each genre. This doesn't prevent you from using them, or you may know of some obscure weapon that was used in a TV show, movie, or book that fits into that space, so just fill it in yourself. So let's do my suggested list of replacements for each genre, and yours may vary:

SWN Weapon Star Federation Space Empire
Multifocal Laser Phaser (small craft) Laser Cannons (starfighter)
Reaper Battery Disruptor Beam (small craft) Ion Cannon (starfighter)
Fractal Impact Charge Photon Torpedo (small craft) Proton Torpedo (starfighter)
Polyspectral MES Beam NA NA
Sandthrower NA NA
Flak Emitter Battery Point Defense Phasers Point Defense Lasers
Torpedo Launcher Photon Torpedo Launcher Proton Torpedo Launcher
Charged Particle Caster Disruptor Cannon Ion Cannon
Plasma Beam NA NA
Mag Spike Array NA NA
Nuclear Missiles Atomic Mines Orbital Bombardment Bays
Spinal Beam Cannon Phaser Cannon Turbolaser Cannon
Smart Cloud NA NA
Grav Cannon NA NA
Spike Inversion Projector Phaser Battery Turbolaser Battery
Vortex Tunnel Inductor Heavy Disruptor Heavy Ion Cannon
Mass Cannon Heavy Photon Torpedo Heavy Proton Torpedo
Lightning Charge Mantle NA NA
Singularity Gun Anti-planetary PhaserAnti-planetary Laser

Sandthrowers and mag spike arrays make good "gauss weapon" replacements for universes that use those. The Polyspectral MES beam could be seen as a high-tech phaser or laser variant that is highly armor piercing. The plasma beam seems like an ion cannon or disruptor variant that sacrifices power for aim, so if you had a "light" version this would be a good fit. Smart cloud is like a laser armed drone cloud and that was used in at least one modern Star Federation movie. A grav cannon is like a weaponized tractor beam, so again, use it if you need it. The lightning charge mantle is an energy field weapon, good for an alien force field weapon.

Again, we are not trying to be sci-fi nerds here and asking the question, "Is a phaser battery better than a turbolaser battery?" In movie effects these are similar enough to a "large energy weapon for a large ship" that we just handwave away the differences and call them functionally equivalent. The weapon names are deliberately generic, since through the source material of these genres they do change frequently.

Federation versus Empire

This is where the fun begins. Now that you have a common set of rules and conversion notes, you could run a campaign where the Star Federation takes on the Space Empire. You know all those memes where the universes get crossed up and the what-ifs start flying around? Those are all yours now, and the OSR nature of the game provides the common framework for everything to work together.

The characters can all interact, the ships can fight each other, and given a little care on converting personal equipment, everything just works and you can even play a sandbox campaign where the two sides fight for control of various worlds, work together, or get caught in situations on neutral worlds where they are forced to interact.

Want a battle between a Space Destroyer and Federation Cruiser? You got it. Want a transhuman science officer facing off against a dark space knight? You got it. The OSR has you covered as a compatibility layer between the genres.

This is one of the great things about hacking the game to simulate the genres, in general no two licensed games will every be cross-compatible with each other (unless they are the same publisher). Here, because we modded the base game and renamed a few things to say "X is really Y" we can have a system that handles either or both in the same setting and with the same rules. You cold play OSR Star Federation one night, and OSR Space Empires the next with the same rules. You could do the "versus" campaign. You could further refine and modify the weapons and equipment to better fit an era with in the genre, or just use it all as-is.

As the book says, there is no "one" correct way to play the game.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Sci-Fi: What I am Playing

I am currently playing Starfinder, and while it is that good-ole d20 fun, I find the need to use the Starbuilder computer program to manage my characters taxing. I know, the program makes it easy, and I do highly recommend this one if you are bought into Starfinder (with a subscription) like I am.

I miss the days of DIY, sheet-of-paper no computers needed character sheets, so I am giving Stars Without Number another look. The OSR seems universally against character building apps, and the games are so simple they rarely need them.

There are times I feel the model Paizo, Wizards, and a lot of other companies are using by using system complexity as lock in makes me tired. I love the complexity, and who am I to complain having a complete collection of Pathfinder 1e and 2e books, but there are times when I feel all that complexity gets in the way and is 99% of the time fluff, unneeded minutia, and gets in the way of stories and playing.

Ultimately the fun in some of these big-box complex systems "is" navigating the rules and figuring out the puzzle. Pathfinder 2E has this appeal of building a valid character and seeing how they work as a part of a team. I am feeling the same thing in Starfinder, it is fun building your character and working through the adventures the team wrote for you to have fun with. It is a sort of "turn on the steaming movie and watch" sort of fun for me, where you build your team, make theories and plans on your group, and play through and see what happens.

What worked? What didn't? What could we do better next time? What is our next step? What gear do we need? What do we do when we level up?

On a lower mechanical level it is fun, and the tinkerer and builder part of my brain loves this stuff.

But I do like systems that step out of the way and focus on story. Stars Without Number can even be used "with" Starfinder as the "space generation game" part of an exploration game. However, when I started reading deeper into the rules, which are only about the first 25% of the book and under 100 pages, the system started to grab me. The starship combat system especially, being a d20-style space combat system that I am feeling I prefer to Starfinder's system.

To be fair, I also have the excellent Traveller system, and also the fan favorite classic, Star Frontiers. While I love Star Frontiers I feel the system needs a revision, especially in the area of unarmed combat. I played the first Volturnus module and having a group of unarmed, unskilled in melee adventurers pound on space pirates with their fists and do 2 points of damage a turn to 45 STA with a 23% chance to-hit (knockouts on 01-02, and every tens rolls, 10 and 20 in this case) was pretty painful.

I know, grab a club, but having a group with the martial artist getting the space pirate in a hold while three other characters beat on the poor idiot turn after turn felt sloppy and not the fun, pulp-adventure sci-fi that I crave. At that point I may just swap out the older rules and use Savage Worlds instead. I love the universe and the aliens of Star Frontiers, but the rules I am not so tied to. I am currently playing in this universe with the Starfinder system and it is different, but fun.

Traveller I have a good set of books with, but I have not played as much lately. The system feels deeply tied to the 3rd Imperium, and while I am fond of the setting, I have not found it compelling enough to start a game in yet and explore. The layout and organization could be better, and I find myself struggling to find things and wishing someone would do an Old School Essentials style reorganization of the rules and split the system from the setting.

I know, heresy, but I like the split between rules and setting since it makes everything ten times easier to find during play, and the setting book becomes very useful and rich by not having to sacrifice page-count for basic rules concepts.

Stars Without Number seems like it holds a lot of promise, and with a little work I could reskin this to cover either Star Trek or Star Wars - or both. Or not, and just play it as-is. There is something to be said for generic sci-fi adventures with a simple-to-play system, and this game seems like a great fit. I know there is a licensed Star Trek game out there and it has good reviews, but I remember the days where people hacked Basic D&D to play Star Trek style games and it worked just as well, without the need to use computer programs or an hour's worth of work to generate a character.

Or buy a new book, though I like doing that too.

Again, the DIY sort of "play a Space Federation" style Star Trek game with an OSR rules set appeals to me, and I just may do that with this game for fun. And also, an OSR Star Trek style game would take the focus of the game off of "getting cash" - which the other three games discussed here all focus on, to a more adventure and mission based game that is not so focused on profits and space cash.

If there is one flaw in a lot of sci-fi games, and Starfinder has a really strange way of dealing with this (keep pocket cash poor and give ship upgrades for free), it is the constant focus on wealth equals power. Admittedly Star Frontiers in a Star Law style campaign can also sidestep this (and you could do this in other games), but still, having the cash to load up on the best weapons and defenses is still the path to victory. Traveller is very "space capital" focused and you often start the game in debt and struggling to make mortgage payments on your ship.

Is that fun? For some, but I don't feel it is a reason to get out and explore the stars since it is just a numbers game.

Yes, fantasy games have this "cash equals power" problem too. It is part of the genre, honestly, and there is that Diablo-style fun to equipping your character and powering up.

I like the stories, and I like the OSR style space games that I can mod into anything I like. For this reason I am giving Stars Without Number another look since it checks a lot of boxes and can sim most anything I want to play in a fast and easy way, a lot like Savage Worlds but this game has a structured d20 style ship combat system that I find interesting.

More soon as I hack, mod, and play.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

My Go-To Games

Of the two B/X games I keep coming back to it would have to be Old School Essentials: Advanced and Labyrinth Lord. OSE at this point has become something of a D&D-like cultural phenomenon and is becoming the de-facto OSR rules set, and deservedly so because of its organization, clarity, art, and quality. OSE is very B/X, and even with the "advanced" style additions to this version it still feels like a new game to me, a B/X "what if" AD&D never happened and the ideas logically flowed into the original B/X rules and there was never a brand split.

The new additions to the game are balanced and "fit" well within a B/X world and design philosophy. There are some great additional classes that just beg to be played, like the bard and paladin, and they have been reworked to fit within the overall class balance of the game. OSE is also very approachable for those coming from 5E and other games and can replace 5E in many situations for that old-school experience you can't get with a more "play experience" engineered game like 5E.

Not to say that this is a fault with 5E, it is just very slick and does things to enhance the fun much like a videogame, MMO, or casino slot machine does. For example, death is hard because the game is designed to keep you engaged. Quitting or changing games is very hard if your story does not end. Your character can be an extension of your identity, and that is a further design choice to increase your emotional investment and keep you engaged in the game. Again, not bad things, but game designers know how to manipulate your feelings through an experience and they naturally want to keep you involved.

I still like Labyrinth Lord as my AD&D replacement (I know about OSRIC, I need to check that out). There are grumblings here and there about there not being any new developments for the game, how people wish it was as cleanly presented as OSE, and how it feels like it is getting on in years and needs a revision. I would like to see a cleaner and better organized edition, yes, but to me part of the charm of the game is "it is what it is." AD&D was by no means cleanly laid out, and if you can print out a few "quick reference sheets" you will have most of what you need. By the book reference will always be easier in OSE, but once you do it enough you know the book by heart.

If you grew up with AD&D, Labyrinth Lord feels more like that type of experience than OSE. I like it almost like I would an "AD&D emulator" where OSE feels like a "B/X emulator with reimagined AD&D content," they are not the same thing nor do I want them to be. There are things Labyrinth Lord does by keeping some of the class and build imbalances that I like, and once you start adding in variant classes from third parties that are not as cleanly balanced things feel right to me for an AD&D style experience. Pathfinder 1E to me is like this, there is plenty broken and unbalanced in that game and that is why I love it, even with Pathfinder 2E on my shelf.

When I want something balanced, the players may be new to this, and where every choice is great: OSE (either basic or advanced) and Pathfinder 2E are my top picks. And yes, OSE: Basic is still a great game, and not "less of one" now that OSE Advanced is out. I feel OSE: Basic is the more focused, classic and compatible game, where advanced is an evolution of that into an entirely new experience.

When I want something with the classic imbalances and an almost "modded Skyrim" level of customization with third party material: Labyrinth Lord and Pathfinder 1E are my top picks.

I don't feel I have to replace Labyrinth Lord for OSE, both can coexist and they are mostly cross-compatible.

When I want to play "what everyone else is playing?" Well, 5E, no question and no problem. I still appreciate the original version of that game, but we never really got into it, which I regret some. There is a new version coming anyways, so time to wait and put it aside to see what they do. And I have plenty to do while I wait with all these great games.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

The Rise of POD

So I tried getting my hands on a copy of Against the Darkmaster, a Kickstarter open-system clone of the Rolemaster/MERP game, and the book sounded great - 600+ pages, premium printing, and I did manage to get the PDF, but...

Out of stock.

And I checked a few other premium printings of games, Old School Essentials Advanced Fantasy? Out of stock. And I feel the great supply chain disruption of 2021 starts hitting the pen-and-paper gaming community pretty hard. Note this is all "at the time of this writing" so by the time you read this the problems could be resolved.

Note, any of these sites could be "in stock" at any time so my experience may or may not be a reflection of reality, this is just one attempt to get several games at one specific point of time in a supply chain crisis that is affecting everything from car production to supermarket shelves.

This isn't PS5 or XBox Series X bad since we can get the PDFs of these games, so they are not 100% unavailable, but it feels like the "premium printing" the community has been moving towards is starting to get bit by printing, shipping and supply chain woes. Larger games by bigger publishers? Fine, I can get D&D 5, Runequest, Traveller, Shadowrun, and Pathfinder 2 books all day. Even mid-tier games such as Zweihander, Mythras, or Forbidden Lands you can get hardcovers for on Amazon pretty easily.

But the premium games by the smaller publishers and also the smaller Kickstarter games seem hit pretty hard, and you may find yourself checking the sites daily to see when copies are in stock. This hurts for games like OSE Advanced Fantasy - this is a great game and I always want to see these books available for people to enjoy the physical copies for the game.

POD games from smaller publishers? In stock but with delays, and I am still getting these in the mail, which I am thankful for. If the supply chain problems get worse I would love to see some of the premium publishers put out "POD versions" of the games to help alleviate supply issues, but I have no idea how bad things are or if this is a situation that is going to last a while. POD at this time does have a huge advantage in that books can be endlessly created via mass-production from digital files without special custom printing, books with ribbons, fancy bindings, and other premium features (that I do love, but these things take special manufacturing and limited print runs to pull off).

If you have hardcovers for some of these games you may want to hold onto them, as I have the OSE Advanced Fantasy books and I treasure those. As I said, PDF is always an option, but I like being able to flip through a book and enjoy that experience.

I hope people someday can look back at this article as a historical note for 2021 and things get better soon, and this "dark ages of gaming" is a footnote.