Why is it my favorite? Well, mainly for what Stars Without Number is not. It's not an attempt to lay down physics in game form. It's not an attempt to weave an entire, pre-built universe. It's not an attempt to create a rule for every conceivable situation.
Stars Without Number is, frankly, a stripped down old style D&D with a science fiction facade nailed up around it. The game easily provides me the ability to project my view of science fiction to the players - assisted with simple game mechanics that I already enjoy. There is nothing in the way of telling the story I want to tell. Traveller was close, but I was really never fond of the rules.
My view of science fiction comes primarily from the stories I read as a child. Of course, Star Trek was an influence as well, but I was already on the road to being well read in the science fiction realm before Star Wars came to smother the genre. When I think of science fiction, my mind always drifts to stories such as these:
- Issac Asimov - Foundation
- Ray Bradbury - The Martian Chronicles
- Arthur C. Clarke - 2001, Childhood's End, Rendezvous With Rama
- Ursula K. Le Guin - The Left Hand of Darkness, The Dispossessed
- Harry Harrison - Stainless Steel Rat, Deathworld
- Robert Heinlein - Stranger In a Strange Land, Starship Troopers, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
- Frank Herbert - Dune
- Larry Niven - Ringworld, Known Space stories,
- Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle - The Mote in God's Eye, Lucifer's Hammer
- Fred Saberhagen - Berserker
That's the core of my science fiction, give or take some books that I've forgotten, and that's the feel I go for when running the game. I make an effort to steer away from Star Wars and Star Trek. They are too . . . pop-cultury for me. It's that same attitude I get when I scream - 'Someone scrape the gosh-darn Tolkein out of D&D. I can't take it any more!'
Interestingly, in my gaming group, I'm the greybeard. They haven't had the same diet of science fiction that I've had. They understand the concepts, but largely from a different source. They understand FTL travel from Firefly. They understand cybernetics form Deus Ex. They understand the concept of a ringworld from Halo. They understand uplift form Mass Effect.
It really hit me when I was helping a new player make a character.
Me: So we've got three classes. Warriors. That's a soldier dude, from swords to guns. Expert. That's someone who's good at something besides killing. Doctors, Pilots, whatnot. And then their is Psychics. They have psychic powers.
New Player: (Confused look.)
Me: (Trying hard not to make a Star Wars reference.) They do stuff with their minds. Ummmm . .
New Player: (Still confused.)
Me: Like a Biotic in Mass Effect.
New Player: Oh! That's kinda what I thought you meant. Gotcha.
With great effort, I did not facepalm. The new guard and old guard just have different words for thing sometimes.
And that brings the conversation around to Mass Effect series of games. Rather than just being a game about killing alien invaders, it's a tour of a future chock-full of science fiction tropes from all of my favorite books. It really carries the torch to a new audience. Time and time again I find myself explaining concepts to the players couched in Mass Effect terms. It's kind of a Rosetta Stone.
The ending of the Mass Effect trilogy was a let down for me. I won't get into it much, but the issue wasn't what happened at the end, rather, how the story was told. It was, frankly, just bad story telling, in my book. But I highly recommend the other 99% of the franchise - especially to those old grognards who want to interact with the younguns in an old style science fiction game.
I'll leave you with some Mass Effect 3 concept art by Matt Rhodes. Again, it's concept art, so it's not exactly what went into the game, but there are spoilers. It's great stuff for getting in the mood for a Stars Without Numbers game.
|Normandy Silent Running by Matt Rhodes|
|Rogue Sheppard by Matt Rhodes|
|Taking Back Normandy by Matt Rhodes|
|Red Hallway by Matt Rhodes|
|Illusive Office by Matt Rhodes|
|Presidium Hospital by Matt Rhodes|
|Crashed On Eden by Matt Rhodes|
Enjoy, and go get all spacey.