Stars Without Number by Doresh
Character CreationOriginal SA post Stars Without Number
Mouth hygiene in the far future is pretty hardcore.
Welcome to Stars Without Number, Kevin Crawford's first published sandbox game (way back in the dark age of 2010) that would set the template for his future books. This one right here deals with Traveller-esque adventures in the far future, fully compatible with other OSR products and offering various tools and goodies for the GM to quickly whip out new worlds and their quirks as the PCs keep exploring the galaxy.
I'll be covering the paid core version (with the slightly confusing cover on the right), though the only difference between that one and the free version (left cover) is the addition of mech and robot rules as well as guidelines for society creation.
The year is 3200. Humanity is scattered like
dust among the stars. The broken relics of a
former day litter the sky and men and women
struggle to rebuild the glory of humanity’s lost
SWN is set almost 600 years after humanity's glorious golden age had come to an aprubt halt that left countless colonies isolated from each other for centuries. PCs take the role of adventurers travelling through a galaxy where worlds can have wildly different technology levels and even the best spike drive (SWN's name for a FTL drive) isn't fast enough to make an empire spanning more than a few neighboring solar systems logistically feasible - which is fine for the PCs because that means a lower chance of repercussions from the enemies they are bound to make.
I'll cover the backstory in more detail in its own chapter. Right now, it's time for character creation rules:
Chapter One: Character Creation
This chapter starts of with some advice and warning regarding sandbox campaigns. There is no railroady story, players have to be careful because they can't rely on everything being scaled to their level, and GMs shouldn't get attached to NPCs or plot lines they have planned in advance because changes are the PCs might just hop into their spaceship and leave the star system for good if what they've been served isn't to their liking.
Character creation is standard oldschool affair with some tweaks and an interesting addition. First up is rolling the standard 6 attributes. With 3d6. In order.
Mind you, this isn't really all that bad in SWN. For one, attribute modifiers aren't really a huge thing as they only go to +/- 2 (though it might as well be +/- 1 because you only see a 2 at 18 or 3). You can also swap around points, lowering a high attribtue (which can not go below 13, the highest score without a modifier) to bost a low one (up to 8, the lowest score without a modifier). Every class also has 2 Prime Attributes, one of which you can just set to 14 (where you start getting a +1), ensuring that you'r always somewhat competent at what you're supposed to be doing.
The big departure from the typical OSR formula is the usage of skills. It's not a port of the d20 skill system (though the classes do have class skills), but 2d6 + skill level + appropriate attribute modifier vs. Target Number deal, with the skill level ranging from 0 (which is different from not having the skill) to 6 (reserved for 15+ level badasses). The skills themselves only partially overlap with the d20 ones. Sure, you've got your Athletics, Perception and Stealth, but you also have Bureaucracy and Combat (the latter being essentially Weapon Specialization). Some skills - like Combat - are composed of specialties, which have to be learned individually.
Starting skills are determined by picking a Background Package (a universal list of stuff your character did before becoming an adventurer) and a Training Package (a class-specific list to determine what kind of flavor of Expert, Warrior etc. you are). You starting skills begin at level 0, or 1 if the same skill is in both packages.
Skills requiring a specialty either have the specialty listed in the package or just say "Any", which allows you to pick the specialty. For full flexibility, both kinds of packages feature an Adventurer package, which has fewer total skills than the rest, but allows you freely choose almost all of them.
Now onto the classes. They're pretty standard OSR classes, with no hit dice beyond level 10 and several kinds of saving rolls (Physical Effect, Mental Effect, Evasion, Tech and Luck). As far as class abilities go, each class has only one of them, caled a special ability.
A slightly weird thing is how Attack Bonus (aka BAB) and the saves increase every couple levels in increments of 2 (with some saves only increasing by 1 each "tier" at high levels). I think you can make that a bit more granular.
Experts (Prime Attributes: INT or CHA)
"I hate Mondays."
The sill monkeys, be it a criminal/rogue, pilot or scientist. They're the average class in terms of combat prowess (with a medium attack bonus progression and d6 hit dice), but their real focus lies in skill use. They gain more skill points per level than the other classes, and every skill that is not about combat or psychic stuff is a class skill for them. Their special ability is Like A Charm , which allows them to reroll a failed skill check once per hour. Trust me, you want an Expert as your ship's pilot.
Additionally, they require less XP per level than the other two classes.
Psychics (Prime Attributes: WIS or CON)
"I am so old school!"
Psychic in SWN are the result of MES ("Metadimensional Extroversion Syndrome", aka "Flying through space by tearing the fabric of spacetime did some weird stuff to your ancestor's DNA."), allowing them to bend the laws of physics with enough training. Training Packages include Academy Graduate (nerrrrrd!), or Tribal Shaman for less advanced worlds (which does sound like a pretty rad character option for a scifi campaign).
Their special ability is Psychic Powers , which allows them to learn powers from various psychic disciplines.
As the caster class of the game, they of course have only d4 hit dice and the lowest Attack Bonus.
Warriors (Prime Attributes: STR or DEX)
"Taste my super soaker!"
The combat-centric class, with d8 hit dice and the best Attack Bonus and Save progression. They don't have to be brutes though. Training Packages do include the Assassin and Commando (both perfectly viable choices for a Riddick-type of character). Also, you can be a Space Marine (though that just means you've been trained for starship boarding actions).
Their special ability is Veteran's Luck . which allows them to ignore one successful attack against them per combat, which is quite handy, especially since you can wait until after the damage roll before using it. Unfortunately, the ability doesn't work on non-combat damage sources, and it doesn't apply to a vehicle the Warrior might be piloting.
All that's left now is coming up with a homeworld, rolling your HP, picking your languages (everyone starts with English, their native language if it isn't English, as well as additional languages equal to their INT modifier; more languages are available via the Languages skill) and starting equipment (bought with 400 + 1d6 x 100 credits).
Unintentionally funny pictures aside, the classes are pretty sweet. The writeups don't take up a lot of space, and their one special abilitiy gives them plenty of niche protection. Add in some skills, and you can avoid that problem where two OSR Fighters are almost exactly the same kind of dude.
Oh, and speaking of unintentionally funny pictures:
"Whaddya you lookin' at?!"
Next Time : Psionics - the power of the miiiiiind!
PsionicsOriginal SA post Stars Without Number
In space, no one can hear you nom.
Time for another round!
Chapter Two: Psionics
Psionic powers in the world of Stars Without Number were responsible for both the peak of humanity's golden age as well as its ultimate downfall. Back in the good old days, the Psionic Authority on Mars carefully regulated psychic training and gave every gifted one access to it (because an untrained psychic can go all Carrie on their surrounding).
With the Authority long gone, things are bit more wild now, with psychics being trained by mentors, secret cults or the few academies that still have several records form the golden age. Psychics today are only a shadow of what they were once capable of, but who knows how many Authority secrets migth still be lurking on a dead colony or abandoned space station.
The 90s are strong with this one.
Psychic powers in SWN are divided in 6 disciplines with 9 levels of powers each. Unless specifically said otherwise, each psychic power cost an action to use and is by itself invisible (so now electricity or glowing lights). They also don't take up any slots, but cost Psi Points. A Psychic gains an increasing amount of Psi points with each level (before increasing much more slowly after level 10) and add their highest Prime Attribute modifier for each level (even after level 10 it seems). The Prime Attributes are Wisdom (Jedi) and Constitution (Muscle Wizard).
When starting out, a Psychic chooses one discipline has his primary discipline. This one starts out at level 1 and goes up with each level-up. Once the primary discipline is maxed out at 9, they get to pick a new primary. Additionally, every level (including the first) grants them 1 level of proficiency to put in any discipline as long as that wouldn't increase that discipline's level past the character's actual level (so you can't use these extra levels on your first primary discipline). With a total of 54 powers to learn, mastering everything would take 27 character levels*, so a bit of prioritizing is mandatory.
*) This is one of those OSR games where advancement slows down to negligible levels after level 9 or 10, but where a level cap doesn't actually exist.
For added customization, a Psychic can master his favorite powers. This permanently reduces the Psi Point pool by the power's activation cost, but the power can henceforth be used for free. You can only master powers that are below your character level, and you have to master powers from the same discipline in order.
When running out of Psi Points, a Psychic can choose to draw from his neural reserves to cast any power for free. This is called "Torching", as it has a good chance of dealing lasting damage to body and/or mind. Each of of Torching is followed with a d10 roll. A 1-4 causes a permanent loss of 1 CON point, a 5-8 does the same for WIS, and a 9 or 10 means you're incredibly lucky and suffer no lasting effects.
Having CON drop below 3 kills you, while WIS below 3 makes you batshit insane, turning you into a dangerous psychopath who can torch all day long because your brain is already FUBAR.
Now for the powers themselves I'll summarize the discipline based on what they can do at the lower and upper end of their power spectrum, pointing out a few interesting powers in between.
Healing and buff powers. A bit unorthodox in that the very first power you learn - Biostasis - is a resurrection power usable on a target that hasn't been dead for more than 6 rounds. The basic healing power - Psychic Succor - is available at level 2. High-level Biopsionics gives you fun stuff like 8th level power Entropic Resonance (wreck someone's cellular integrity for 6d6 damage, halved on a succesful Mental Effect Save) and the 9th level power Nine Lives (play Wolverine once a week upon death, allowing you to fully regenerate within an hour as long as there's at least something left of you).
Since healing items aren't as common as say in D&D, you really want your party's Psychic to have at least 2 levels in this one.
This rare discipline deals with altering other psychic powers, be it strenghtening your own powers or gently caressing with the powers of others. Low-level powers include Psychic Harmonization (+2 bonus vs psionic effects) and Psionic Static Field (force other Psychics to pay more Psi Points for their powers), while high-level powers include Psychic Avalance (force someone to reroll any successful saving throws against your powers at the cost of dealing 2d6 damage to yourself) and Eye of the Storm (a 40 m radius inside which you can detect and shut down psychic powers, all while you and your allies pay less points for their own powers).
There's really quite a lot of neat stuff here, like the 3th level Metapsionic Concert (share your Psi points with fellow psychics, useful for any cult), the 4th level Neural Surge (suffer 1d4 damage and gain twice that as Psi Points, a safer alternative to Torching) and the 6th level Psychic Backlash (causes the targeted psychic to hurt himself when using powers, which is always good for a laugh).
The ability to see and later alter the future. As far as the known records go, no past precog managed to forsee humanity's downfall.
Also of note is that there is no Postcognition in this game. There apparently was a Postcognition discipline in the golden age (which the humans may or many not have used to get their hands on ancient alien know-how), but there have been no surviving records of this art, and any attempts to revive this discipline regardless have failed, as the past is written in stone and particularly resistant to psychic powers.
Precog powers start of rather small, but neat with Omen (which has the GM answer the question "Will my current course of action bite me in the arse in the next ten minutes or so?", which is pretty straightforward as far as these kinds of powers go) and Terminal Reflection (Spider Sense warning of imminent danger in the next minute once per day). High level precogs can pull off stuff like Not My time (allows you to survive anything once per week through a series of improbable circumstances, like having a nuke just fail to detonate.) and Strange Attractor (mess with spacetime so you can exist twice at the same time for one round, after which you decide which version of you will continue to exist).
Your typical control over matter and force. Beginners can pull off Remote Manipulation (move stuff with an effective STR of 10 as if using one hand, with a -2 penalty if you're using a weapon that way) and Telekinetic Press (the same with STR 18, but it lacks the finesse to be used to attack moving objects). Telekinesis masters can use Kinetic Bleed (an invisible force field that can eat up to 40 points of damage from kinetic damage sources) and Mind Over Motion (make any motion of objects under 300 kilos in a radius of 20 m your bitch, turning you some kind of kinetic Magento aka Kineto).
Other fun stuff includes the 4th level Telekinetic Ram (wreck vehicles and immobile objects for your discipline level in d8 damage, which at level 7-9 has a good chance of destroying or at least heavily damaging any vehicle that isn't a starship, including tanks) and Telekinetic Counterstrike (attack people with their own bullets and weapons Magneto-style). And if you want to fly, the 7th level Bootstrap Flight has you covered.
Lots of mind probing and gently caressing. It starts with Empathy (basically Detect Superficial Thoughts) and Metalinguistics (two-way language translation) and ends with Deep Memory Analysis (bring forth memories even your target has forgotten) and Overpowering Will (screw over people who just made a successful Mental Effect save by forcing a reroll at a penalty). Always fun is also the 6th level Psychic Assault (deals your Telepathy level in d4 damage, which a Mental Effect Save can cut in half).
You are Nightcrawler. You thankfully instinctively abort any teleport that would fuse you with a wall or something. Teleportation powers are pretty similar and just increase the range and stuff you can carry with you (said stuff not including other people). It starts with Sidestep (you and 5 kilos of stuff over 10 m) and ends with Orbital Warp (you and 4,000 kilos anywhere on the current planet, including to and from high orbit). Yes, you can beam yourself and a crapton of explosives all over the place if you want to. Don't mess with Teleporters.
Since teleporting equalizes your momentum with your new surrounding, even one level can make you effectively immune to falling damage as long as you have Psi Points.
Overall not bad at all. Certainly beats Vancian magic, and it allows high-level Psychics to do some crazy stuff without throwing lightning or generic energy, while still preventing them from becoming omnipotent. The above mentioned Kineto might wreck normal mortals and their puny toys, but a equally high level Warrior has the best Mental Effect save around, giving him a very good chance of shrugging off his "I'll hit you with your own bullet!" shenanigans.
(Though I'm a bit worried about the crazy psychopath Nightcrawlers that can only be stopped by forgotten anti-psychic shield technology. Okay, they also have to have visited the location once or at least be able to see it, but still.)
Next Time : Equipment - the nifty starship creation rules. Also features some toys that those Psychics who want flashy stuff, including not-lightsabers.
EquipmentOriginal SA post Stars Without Number
Roar to the hand.
Time for another round!
Chapter Three: Equipment
Gear and items in SWN are categorized in Tech Levels , your typical measure of overall technology sophistication to produce the piece of equipment. The levels range from 0 to 5. 0 is Stone Age, 1 is Middle Age (though a lot of stuff should also be available in the Iron Age), 2 is 19th century, 3 is 20th century, 4 is standard future stuff and lastly 5 encompasses Pretech . Pretech is like BattleTech's Lostech, extremely advanced technology from a bigone era that can no longer be produced outside of irreplaceable automated factories form said era. Pretech gear is either pretty darn expensive or outright artifact-only stuff.
There is also Psitech , a brand of Pretech that requires a Psychic to function.
Encumbrance is kept rather simple and elegant in SWN. Most items are between 0-2 encumbrance points. You can have half your STR score in Encumbrance readied in holsters, pouches etc. (armor counts as readied, too), and your full STR score in Encumbrance stowed in backpacks or pockets. Readied equipment can be drawn as part of an action, while stowed equipment takes an entire round to retrieve. Your can increase your Encumbrance limits by twice +2 (stowed) and +4 (readied). The first increase makes you Lightly Encumbered (movement rate drops from 20m to 15m), the seconds makes you Heavily Encumbered (movement drops to 10m).
Like in so many other sci-fi settings, stuff is paid in credits , a holdover from the golden age that is mostly electronic in nature (except for primitive worlds that have to rely on chips and notes, if they use credits at all). Credits from different worlds are fully compatible unless the GM and players are really into that sort of thing.
Each world has its own rules when it comes to item legality. But generally said, people don't really like having dudes in power armor carrying huge guns walk around the spaceport.
Like your typical OSR game, SWN has descending Armor Classes, with the armor's AC replacing the default AC of 9, which is further reduced by your DEX modifier.
The most primitive pieces of armor are Leather Jack (AC 7), Metal Mail (AC 5) and Metal Plate (AC 3), equaling your typical OSR leather, chain and plate armor (with the Leather Jack also representing a nifty jacket). These are however a bit rubbish for characters as they only work against weapons with a Tech Level (or TL) of at most 2, so anything more advanced than a revolver will punch right through them.
Shields also exist and reduce AC by 1. The simple TL0 shield only works against primitive melee weapons and ranged weapons that are not firearms, while the TL4 shield can stop anything up to modern day firearms.
TL3 only brings the Woven Body Armor (AC 5) on the table, your catch-all term for kevlar stuff.
TL4 gives us the Armored Undersuit (AC 7), a kind of armored plugsuit you can easily conceal under normal clothing (highly recommended for an PC), Combaf Field Uniforms (AC 4) which sound a bit like Stormtrooper armor, and two kinds of power armor in the Assault Suit (AC 2) and, well, Power Armor (AC 1). These two not only increase your Encumbrance limit and are vacuum-proof (with an oxygen supply of 6 hours), but they also make you flat-out immune against unarmed attacks* or man-portable weapons of TL3 or below. On the downside, both suits require a power cell to operate, and the wearer must have the Exosuit skill at a sufficient level to not suffer a penalty to his attack rolls.
So much pulp.
TL5 ditches normal armor altogether for portable force fields, namely the Field Emitter Panolpy (AC 0) and the Deflector Array (AC 2). The former creates a visible bubble that also filters the air and acts as a vacuum suit if need be, while the latter is completely invisible if it's not deflecting an attack.
*) Unless the attacker has the Unarmed skill at level 2 or more, at which point his space kung-fu is badass enough to hurt you anyways.
Primitive Weapons and Unarmed Attacks
An interesting thing about SWN melee weapons is that most of them allow you to use DEX instead of STR to determine your attack and damage bonus. The game in general heavily de-emphasizes the usefulness of STR outside of determining your Encumbrance, which makes sense for a futuristic setting I guess.
Unarmed attacks in SWN deal 1d2 damage, and you get to add your Unarmed skill as a damage bonus (the only weapon skill that does that).
TL0-1 feature a handful of typical D&D weapons (Knife, Club, Sword, Greatsword, Spear, Primitive Bow aka Shortbow), but you can always add more from your favorite retroclone. TL3 adds the Advanced Bow aka Shortbow with longer range, Grenade and Stun Baton. TL4 gives us Kinesis Wraps (+2 damage to your unarmed attacks, and you can hurt dudes in power armor - though you probably already have a high enough Unarmed skill to do this anyways if you get these), the Monoblade (a group of weapons ranging from absurdly sharp knives to chainswords, all dealing 1d8+1 damage and being able to get throuhg power armor) and the Suit Ripper (a rod specifically designed to tear vacc suits, which most worlds see as a pretty dickish move).
Your typical firearms. A very good choice for Warriors as they are widely available (TL2-4; no TL5 here, except for a bit later) and hurt something fierce, with shotguns dealing 3d4 to 3d8 damage depending on their Tech Level and no TL4 weapon dealing less than 2d6. Some weapons can burst fire, which SWN handles very simplified by just giving you a +2 to hit and damage at the cost of eating up 3 rounds of ammo.
TL2-3 has your typical firearms. TL4 features the Void Carbine (2d6, a gyrojet gun designed for zero-gee combat), the Mag Pistol (2d6+2) and Rifle (2d8+2, coilguns aka gauss weapons) as well as the Spike Thrower (3d8, gauss-shotgun with burst fire).
Energy weapons are easier on the ammo and are generally easier to use (they all gain a +1 to hit thanks to their lack of recoil), making them popular especially with non-Warriors. They are however harder to get and replace in more primitive worlds (they are TL4 minimum), and they generally deal less damage than their projectile counterparts (i.e. the Plasma Projector deals 2d8, while the Mag Rifle does a +2 on top of that), with the exception of 2 of the 3 TL5 weapons: the Thunder Gun (a sonic disruptor) at 2d10 (3d10 on a 19-20) and the Distortion Cannon (a weaponized miniature spike drive that wrecks your spacetime and ignores up to 1m of solid cover) at 2d12.
Also on TL5 is the Shear Rifle, which shoots gravitational repulsor beams. It's overall a better Plasma Projector (aka plasma rifle) that can burst fire.
These are some nifty toys for Psychics to play with. Like every pieces of Psitech, these are TL5 only, so don't count on starting with one. Because they are powered by psychic power, they use WIS or CON instead of DEX.
The Mind Blade turns the wielder's telepathic power (Telepathy level 2+ required) into a blade, dealing 1d4 + the wielder's Telepathy level in damage (plus his attribute bonus I think) and getting a juicy +3 to hit bonus. A mind blade either looks like a glove (making you look like a Soulknife) or is a straight-up lightsaber. Unfortunately, the telepathic nature of the blade means you can't actually kill anyone with it, and it does nothing against robots or inanimate objects
Metafocal Grenades require a Precognition level of at least 2. They work like normal grenades that just so happen to never hit targets the wielder doesn't want to hurt.
Metastasis Projectors require a Biopsionic level of at least 2. A failed attempt at creating a healgun, these gauntlet-like weapons shoots tumor beams dealing 2d6 very hard to cure damage as well as increasing the target's System Strain (more on that later). Unsurprisingly, these nasty weapons are highly illegal.
Telekinetic Slings - unsurprisingly - require a Telekinetic level of at least 2, this forearm-mounted weapon allows the wielder to launch objects below apple-size at a +3 to hit and with 1d10 damage, turning corners, flying around obstacls and screwing with inertia. Imagine Captain America kicking ass with a shield scaled for a He-Man action figure.
The big guns. All but the two TL3 ones have to be mounted on a vehicle or emplacement. 3 of them can fire to suppress , which SWN handles by doubling the ammo cost and automatically hitting anyone in front of the weapon for half damage unless they are in cover or succed on an Evade or Luck save.
TL3 has the Heavy Machine Gun (3d6, can suppress), which can be used without mounting it, but that gives you a -6 to hit and makes suppressing fire impossible (no action heroes for you). The Rocket Launcher (3d10) on the other hand works fine without any kind of emplacement (aka it's the default Gunnery weapon for PCs), but you suffer a -4 to hit against human-sized targets or below.
TL4 has such lovelies as the Railgun (3d8, can suppress), the Anti-Vehicle Laser (3d10), the Hydra Array (3d6, can suppress, can shoot up to 3 missiles per shot, but only the highest damage roll is applied to a target if you hit it with multiple missiles), and the Wheatcutter Belt (2d12, anti-infantry explosive charges mounted on tanks and stuff).
TL5 only consists of the Vortex Cannon, a 5d12 monster that is essentially Shear Rifle so big it has to be mounted on a tank or similar vehicle.
Suffice to say, combat is pretty darn dangerous except for maybe the most primitive of worlds, especially since you stop getting Hit Dice after level 10 in typical OSR fashion. Even the most badass Warrior can quickly meet his end at the hands of a group of guards packing heat.
Your typical adventuring stuff, with some futuristic stuff. You don't just have a normal tent, but a pressure tent to survive in hostile atmospheres. And the 10-foot pole is a 30cm rod that can extend to 3.048m (aka 10 foot). Also included are trade goods and metals in case you're looting merchant ships or are into trading.
To survive in vacuum, you can get yourself a Vacc suit (which also doubles as a AC 7 armor), or a TL5 vacc skin that is like those survival suits from Dune in that they turn your bodily waste into water.
Tools and Medicines
This includes toolkits (for certain skills), Power Cells (powers energy weapons, power armor and other equipment, is standardized into Type A for man-portable equipment and Type B for vehicles), the Telekinetic Generator (recharges cells through telekinesis or sheer muscle power), the Metatool (a swiss army knife for tech dudes) and various medical stuff. The most important are the Lazarus Patch (stabilizes a character who has fallen to 0 HP) and the Medkit (+1 bonus to Medical skill checks).
Some futuristic gadgets, including the Argus Web (cover yourself in a near invisible web of cameras and microphones), the Grav Harness (allows clumsy flight at 20m per round), the Holo Unit (as seen in Star Wars) and the Translator Torc (a somewhat crappy translation device).
There are also tables for lifestyle, employee and services costs, though that's not too interesting (but handy for a GM to have around).
SWN's cybernetics. They give you some nifty abilities at the cost of System Strain (sometimes called System Stress in other sections. Not sure about that). Anything that would increase your System Strain above your CON score just plain doesn't work. This limits the amount of Cyberware you can have at once, and it also limits the usefulness of Biopsionics and other instant-heal sources (as those add 1 System Strain). System Strain from outside sources and Cyberware activation cost is reduced at a rate of 1 per day.
Adrenal Suppression Pump
: Shuts down your emotions for 1 hour per day, which gives you a -2 penalty on social rolls, but a +2 to initiative.
Body Arsenal Array
: Retractable, hard to detect melee weapons give you a +1 damage to your unarmed attacks, and you can damage stuff not normally affected by unarmed attacks.
Eleskin Capacitor Mesh
: A taser that also doubles as a security override.
Ghost Talker Transceiver
: An audiovisual comm implant.
: A hard to detect cavity in your torso that can hold a pistol or similar item.
Induced Coma Trigger
: Put yourself in a coma for up to 2 weeks, halting whatever disease or poison might affect you at the moment.
: Allows you to survive in a vacuum for up to 30 minutes.
: Pretty much what it says. Thankfully no laser eyes or maxed out STR arms here.
: One of two TL5 Cyberware implants. Has a simple combat AI take over your body if you go unconcious or die, which will keep on fighting for 3d4 rounds or until your HP is reduced to -25.
: The other TL5 implant. Allows you to think 3000% faster and makes you immune to surprise attacks.
: Automatically stabilizes you, but it will reduce your effective CON modifier by 1.
: Allows for bursts of superhuman speed and precision, allowing you to reroll any roll (like say an attack roll) based on manual dexterity and aim. Messes up your nerves though, reducing your effective DEX modifier by 1.
Vehicles in SWN have 4 main stats: an abstracted Speed rating ranging from 0-5 that is used as a modifier for Vehicle skill rolls (like say for a chase scene), an Armor rating that is essentially Hardness that only applies to non-Gunnery weapons, Hit Points of course and the maximum number of Crew (with the minimum being 1).
Hitting a stationary vehicle is automatic at 30 feet, and requires beating an AC of 10 at any range above that. A moving vehicle will subtract its Speed rating from the to hit roll. Hitting a moving vehicle from another moving vehicle applies both Speed ratings.
The list itself is a bit generic, with a motorcycle, groundcar, helicoptr and atmoflyer (aka airplane) at TL3, and hover variations of that at TL4 along with an ATV explorer (the go-to PC car). TL5 consists solely of the gravtank, the only vehicle that is flat out immune against non-Gunnery weapons.
Each vehicle has a certain amount of slots for weapons (motorcycles have 1, gratanks have a whoopin' 6, everything else has 2). A normal weapon takes up 1 slot, while a Gunnery weapon takes up 2 (so a gravtank can have up to 3 Vortex Cannons for maximum carnage). Every weapon needs a dedicated gunner, except for the gravtank, which needs only one thanks to its fancy firecom system.
Phew, this is getting long. I think I'd better do the starships in a separate entry, especially since they have much more detail to them than the above mentioned vehicles (though the recent "Engines of Babylon" sourcebook fixes this by giving them the same treatment).
Starships (and artifacts)Original SA post Stars Without Number
Time for another round!
Chapter Three-2: Starships (and artifacts)
Starships are pretty darn important for the galactic sandbox, especially for those worlds who can't build their own and are dependant on whatever shady merchants visit them this week.
The heart of every starship is its spike drive, a fusion-powered engine that encases the ship in a bubble and "drills" it into a higher dimensional frequency where the laws of physics are on vacation and allow for some FTL surfing.
Deep space exploration is not possible with a spike drive, as they require the gravitational conditions found only at the edge of a solar system to drill out and back into normal reality. The drive can however do some low-power phasing inside a system, allowing for energy-efficient velocity changes and even making the ship intangible enough to not worry about small debris. This trait can be used defensively in combat to try to phase into a frequency the enemy isn't shooting at, making his shots pass harmlessly through the ship.
Spaceships have the same - if slightly different working - stats as normal vehicles, but operate under a larger scale. Gunnery-weapons are the only thing that can scratch a starship, and even then they do only 1/4 damage that is then reduced by the ship's Armor. Even a lowly fighter is pretty hard to shoot down with rocket launchers.
Ships also have a proper Armor Class, representing its ECM and other defensive systems. Furthermore, they have Power , Free Mass and Hardpoints , which set an upper limit for installed modules (split into fittings or weaponry ).
Anyhow, now onwards to ship construction!
The first step of is selecting the Hull of the ship. These vary in class (Fighter, Frigate, Cruiser or Capital) and their purpose (civilian or military). Each class generally has a civilian and military option, with the exceptions of Frigate (which splits the military choice into the smaller Patrol Boat and a proper Frigate) and Capital (which only has military choices in the Battleship and Carrier).
These are various useful systems and modules that take up varying amounts of Power and/or Free Mass. Some fittings require a minimum class, while others scale their cost in cash, Power and/or Free Mass based on the ship's class.
Included here are spike drive upgrades. Every ship gets a Drive-1 for free, which can be upgraded up to Drive-6 (though anything above Drive-3 is TL5). Other useful fittings for PCs include Atmospheric Configuration (the only fitting with a maximum class, in this case Frigate), Fuel Bunkers (allows for an extra spike jump; handy as they can only do one by default before needing to refuel). Fuel Scoops (refuel your drive at a star or gas giant; very handy) and Hydroponic Production (produces food and air for free, but can only be installed on a Cruiser or Capital ship).
A wide variety of usually energy- or particle-based weapons, taking up Power, Free Mass and Hardpoints. Every weapon has at least one special quality, including stuff like AP (ignores a certain amount of Armor; very handy if you're up against bigger ships), Cloud (anti-fighter AoE) and Phase (makes it easier to hit phased ships). This gives every weapon a certain roll to fill, like the puny Multifocal Laser that only deals 1d4 damage, but whose AP 20 quality allows swarms of fighters to slowly eat away at a Battleship's HP.
These cost Power and/or Mass, and generally improve your AC with a certain drawback (like reducing Speed or only working against certain weapon types, since say point defense lasers don't do much against fellow beam weapons), with the exception of the Capital-exclusive Ablative Hull Compartments that both decrease AC and increase HP.
Other defensive systems are just there to reduce the effectiveness of weapon qualities like AP, and there's the nifty TL5-only Grav Eddy Displacer which allows the ship to dodge as fast as a DBZ character, giving it a 1-in-6 chance of automatically evading an attack.
Now let's try to whip out a starting PC rig. Not really made for combat, but not too helpless either. Let's call it the Century Griffon .
I'll pick the Free Merchant Hull, the civilian Frigate-class hull. It's the cheapest Frigate-class around (at 500k), and its min/max crew of 1/6 is just perfect for a typical party.
The base stats for the Free Merchant are Speed 3, Armor 2, HP 20, AC 6, Power 10, Free Mass 15 and 2 Hardpoints. A bit sluggish and not well protected, but the Free Mass allows for some nifty stuff to be installed.
As the party is expected to travel around frequently, I'll upgrade the spike drive to Drive-2 (which costs 2 Power and 2 Mass for a Frigate). Extended Stores at 2 Mass sounds also neat, as it doubles life support duration. Another 2 Mas give the ship Atmospheric Configuration .
When the alien shit hits the space fan, there might not be enough time to refuel the ship, so a Fuel Bunker at another 2 Mass sounds useful. Let's add a second one just to make sure the party can easily shake off any pursuers.
There isn't much room to add defensive equipment, and that stuff's pretty expensive, so I'll skip it.
With just 2 Hardpoints, there isn't much we can put on the ship, so we better make it useful. The Sandthrower (3 Power, 1 Mass) sounds like a good investment. It's a particle weapon with the Flak trait, which doubles its 2d4 damage against Fighter-class ship. Useful against some daring pirates, but not quite so useful against bigger ships thanks to the lack of AP. For those, I'll pick the Fractal Impact Charge (aka space shotgun), which eats up the second Hardpoint as well as our remaining 5 Power and 1 Mass. This weapon has AP 15, allowing it to put its 2d6 damage to maximum effect against most ships that aren't Capital-class. Unfortunately, it also has the Ammo 4 trait, which means it requires ammo and stores 4 rounds per 1 Free Mass assigned for ammo storage, which is doubled to 8 because the Century Griffon is one class above the minimum required. Though while the ship might run out in extended combat, it really isn't supposed to last that long anyways (especially not against opponents who can eat that many shotgun blasts and still stand), so those 2d6 will be much more useful than say the above Multifocal Laser.
With all that chosen, the ship has 3 Free Mass left unused, which I'll turn into 60 tons worth of Cargo Space to store loot and whatever ground vehicle the party might have or plan to have.
The Century Griffon
Power : 10/0 free Mass : 15/0 free
Cost 979,000 Hit Points : 20 Crew : 1/6 Speed : 3 Armor : 2 AC : 6
Weaponry Fractal Impact Charge (2d6, AP 15, Ammo 8), Sandthrower (2d4, Flak)
Fittings Spike Drive-2, Atmospheric Configuration, 2 Fuel Bunkers, Cargo Space (60 tons), Extended Stores, 8 Impact Charge Rounds.
Total cost for this baby is 979,000 credits, including 4,000 credits to fully restock the impact charge. And that's still cheaper than the cheapest military Frigate-class hull (the Patrol Boat at 2.5 million). For an additional 20,000 credits apiece, I could also add an Armory (aka as much TL4 weapons and armor as the crew requires, plus maintenance) or a Ship's Locker (the same for general TL4 equipment), neither of which takes up any Power or Mass.
Suffice to say, ships in SWN can get quite expensive very fast. This is good for the PCs as most worlds can't afford to maintain Capital- or even Cruiser-class ships (with most defensive fleets being comprised of fighters and patrol boats), and starting PCs must get a bit more creative when it comes to getting their first ship. Maybe it's a gift from a friend? A chunk of trash they have somehow managed to repair? Or maybe they've stolen it to leave their homeworld?
Either way, these rules are pretty cool. They have just enough crunch to have the PCs pimp out their ride, but it's fast and easy enough for the GM to come up with new ships as the sandbox demands.
Artifacts are the cream of the crop of Pretech technology, marvelous pieces of equipment that are almost impossible to find on the market. The usual way of aquiring one is through dungeon crawling, getting it as a gift or just plain offing the previous owner.
These are the SWN equivalent of magical weapons, with the various traits they can grant being grouped into former Pretech manufacturers. Examples include Absolution Armaments , a company that specialized in energy weapons (whose own models gain an additonal +1 to hit and +2 damage) or Colonial Arms whose weapons can repair themselves and use just about any kind of ammo you can find, with a +1 to hit and +1 damage on top.
Pretty funky models come from Omnipresence, Ltd. (+1 to hit/damage, the weapon can transform into a belt or other harmless object), PolyGaia Defense (+1 to hit/damage projectile and energy weapons with monoblade bajonets) and Stardust Micropellet System (+1 to hit/damage projectile weapons that can't burst fire, but never run out of ammo). The straight-up strongest weapons come from Nightfall Combine , using what was probably alien technology to create +3 weapons.
These include fun pieces of armor as the Ghost Mantle (a sort of chameleon suit that either grants a +2 Stealth bonus or appears as a normal piece of AC 6 clothing), Polyplast Carapace (AC 2 armor with all the advantages of Power Armor and none of its drawbacks, like requiring the Exosuti skill or using energy) and the Titan Powered Armor (AC -1 power armor with sensor and comm arrays).
Here we have the AI Companion (which more or may not be cube-shaped) which act as an extra skill monkey that has usually been "braked" to prevent the AI from gaining enough sentience to become disobedient or insane.
Also included are the only kinds of "potions" in the game, in the form of Integrity Stims (1d6+1 HP for 1 System Strain) and Juggernaut Stims (essentially Lesser Barbarian Rage in spray form). Also handy are Micropurgator Stims (remove 1d4 points of System Strain; cannot be applied more than once per user per 24 hours).
If you're expecting to run into trouble with Psychics, the Mindwall Helmet (+2 Save vs mental attacks) can help you out, and for full versatility, you can get yourself some Polymorphic Nanites that are a bit like those replicators in Star Trek in that they can create just about anything if you feed them the blueprints (provided they have enough mass).
Next Time : The actual rules of SWN, which should be very familiar to OSR players and only take up 12 pages. After that, it's all setting stuff and lots and lots of sandbox GM goodness. Oh, and the Core-exclusive stuff.
The History of SpaceOriginal SA post Stars Without Number
What kind of anatomy is that, anyways?
Chapter Five: The History of Space
The backstory of SWN starts in the year 2108 in a laboratory in Greenland, where Dr. Tiberius Crohn invented the spike drive. To this day, nobody quite nows how he came up with the drive, as he employed formulas and theories that were a bit bonkers. But hey, just because the inventor may have been insane or possessed by a cosmic horror or something doesn't mean humanity should look a gift FTL drive in the mouth.
Being in full-on mad scientist mode, Dr. Crohn first uncovered his new invention to the public by blasting off into space with his laboratory . Earth's governments were a bit freaked out and tried to shoot it down with their Star Wars satellites, but Crohn just phased his labship into a safe frequency.
After drilling out of normal space at the edge of the solar system, he would return 13 days later, broadcasting detailled data about Alpha Centauri (which, seeing how he was alone on his labship and a recorded course being unavailable, required him to spent the entire 6 day jump awake ) and the blueprints of his spike drive. After giving humanity this little present, he drilled back out of the solar system, never to be seen again - an action that would inspire around 13 sects to worship him as a messenger of God.
The First Wave
With now every nation on Earth knowing how to build a spike drive, a wild era of space colonization started. By 2200, humanity has expanded so far that it would take a spaceship 1 whole year to fly from Earth to the outer rim, which made the Earth governments a bit paranoid about the far away colonists becoming independent. They promptly formed the Terran Mandate, an organization whose main function was to prohibit any further human expansion.
Psychics and aliens
It was around this time the first cases of MES or Metadimensional Extroversion Syndrome occured, a condition that allowed a human to channel the metadimension energies required to screw with physics. It took a couple decades of questionable experiments to turn these unfortunate children into the first psychics, controlled by the Psychic Authority.
In its expansion, humanity finally stumbled upon alien life, be it ancient ruins, bronze age aliens or old civilizations in decay. Xenobiologists separated them into the Like (humanoid aliens) and the Other (weird stuff like sentient oceans or superintelligent shades of blue). Humanity had some turf wars and/or trade agreements with the former, but found the latter too strange to communicate with or even understand.
The Second Wave
Once the Psychic Authority had a full grasp on the potential of psychics (using a nother set of questionable experiments), they were able to come up with manufacturing procedures that could affect matter on an atomic scale in a way previously thought impossible. This was the birth of pretech and psitech technology, with the latter's masterpiece being the Jump Gates, massive rings floating at the edge of a solar system whose crew of master teleporters could send a ship to its sister gate in a matter of days where even the fastes spike drive would've taken months.
The Terran Mandate welcomed this new technology as a way to allow further expansion while still keeping control on the farthest colonies. By 2600, spike drive were rarely used anymore thanks to the cheap and convenient Jump Gates, and the distance from Earth to the farthest colony had increased tenfold - which was pretty far even with the Jump Gates. The Terran Mandate realized too late that the colonies had become far too numerous to actually control. It didn't take long for the farther colonies to create their own petty kingdoms, and shady cultists on more isolated worlds started delving into maltech (highly dangerous technology ranging from unbraked AIs to nanites and WMDs) and eugenics.
Then the Scream happened in 2665. The Scream was a wave of metadimensional energy that affected the entirety of known space, obliterating spaceships in transit and affecting every psychic, killing them outright or making them batshit insane.
The golden age of humanity crashed and burned in the blink of an eye. Jump Gates became useless chunks of metal. Entire civlizations collapsed due to the psychics that kept everything running having their brains fried and/or having the sudden urge to re-enact Event Horizon. Billions of people were left to die on worlds that could not sustain themselves because they underwent a crippling overspecialization during the days of the Second Wave.
During the next 600ish years, what was left of humanity survived on worlds isolated from each other. Some worlds regressed back to the Middle or even Stone Age as that was all it could support, while others were more fortunate and could sustain space travel (if much more primitive than what was possible with pretech). Even psychic training became a thing again, though it is unlikely that Psychics will ever be as relevant as they once were.
Now in 3200, interstellar trade has finally somewhat recovered, with the few advanced worlds eager to expand their sphere of influence. It is a time of daring merchants and explorers to uncover the secrets and artifacts of old and help the lost worlds that have been isolated for centuries back into the interstellar age. Who knows what they might find...
(There's also a timeline, but that's more something for the GM to feed the players with historical data.)
Next Time : Game Master Guide. Only one chapter to go before we can make our own sector of space.
Systems (aka the rules)Original SA post Stars Without Number
Would be funny if he botched his to hit roll.
Oh, and I just noticed that I apparently forgot to upload Chapter Four. The hell did that happen. Did I confuse "Submit" with "Preview" o_O ?
Anyhow, the rules and the gamemastering section go hand in hand, so let's make it a double feature!
Chapter Four: Systems (aka the rules)
The first page starts with some general talk , like how just because something is not explicitly mentioned, it doesn't mean the players can't attempt to do it (aka "screw Feats"). The GM should generally allow anything that makes sense. It also highly encourages the group to import rules from other OSR games to fill in any percieved gaps (like say rules for dual-wielding).
Also mentioned is that tendency for OSR games to have independent sub-systems for almost everything. This can be used to keep the players on their toes, but the GM shouldn't go overboard with it.
As mentioned earlier, skills range from level 0 to 6, and checks are done with a 2d6 + skill level + relevant attribute modifier + other modifiers. Checks aren't required for stuff that is either simple or can just be repeated till the character succeeds. TNs of things worth making a skill check start at 6 and go up to 14+ for really legendary stuff. Opposed skill checks are rerolled if a tie wouldn't make sense, and there are simple rules for Skill Challenges called Extended Skill Checks.
If the group isn't fond of skill rules, they can ditch them completely and replace them with a more streamlined bonus of +1 + [character level/3] applying to anything that would make sense for the character's class or background, including Combat skills. For stuff where the character essentially sucks, he gets a -1 instead (or -2 for attacks with weapons he has no reason to know how to handle).
Combat rounds are a bit 3.Xish (if simplified), with 6 seconds per round, your move (default 20m) and normal action as well as free actions. Initiative however is 1d8 + DEX modifier, with PCs winning ties and no rerolls between rounds.
Attack rolls are 1d20 + Combat skill + Attribute modifier + Attack Bonus + target's AC, and a hit is scored on a 20 or greater. This allows the use descending AC for maximum compatibility in a way that requires neither an attack matrix nor something as arcane as THAC0. I'm surprised no official edition of D&D uses this. Anyhow, a natural 1 always misses, while a natural 20 always hits, but neither cause anything critical to happen.
There are also your typical overland travel speeds and modifiers, with stuff like horses and sailing vessels replaced by hovercycles and atmoflyers.
Saving Throws and Hazards
As Saving Throws are descending, you do them by trying to roll equal or greater than them on a 1d20. You've got Physical Effect (Fortitude), Mental Effect (Will), Evasion (Reflex), Tech (nanites and weird beam attacks) and Luck (dumb luck), which is just enough to not get confusing.
Damage rolls are a bit unorthodox in that you always add your attack roll's attribute modifier to your damage roll, no matter the weapon. Space kung fu gets another bonus as the Unarmed skill is the only one that adds its skill level to both attack and damage.
The environmental hazards get some nice futuristic additions like Exposure to Hard Vacuum (whooping 1d20 damage per round after the first round, Physical Effect save halves), Radiation (Physical Effect save to avoid CON loss that is delayed by up to a day depending on the severity) and Xenoallergies (essentially a disease or poison, the rules of which come shortly; Xenoallergies essentially cause a cumulative -1 penalty on every roll every day, with six failed saving throws causing death).
Injury, Healing and Death
Creatures generall die when they hit 0 HP, though PCs (and important NPCs I assume) are tough enough to hold on just long enough for stabilization attempts (either with Biopsionics or a lazarus patch). Stabilized characters are still at 0 HP, but they won't die.
Unless healed with Biopsionics or healing stims, the character requires medical care before he can heal naturally. Normal healing sets in after 1d4 days in a TL4 medical facility or 1d4 months in a TL3 facility. Anything below also takes 1d4 months and also requires a Physical Effect save after those 1d4 months to see if the whole process actually did anything.
Diseases and Poisons are handled the same. They have a Toxicity rating (how are they are to treat), an Interval (ahow often the effect takes place) and Virulence (the number of successful saving rolls to recover). Avoiding exposure can be done with either Physical Effect or Luck. After that, it's all Physical Effect. The exact effect of the disease or poison is up to the GM, though there are 3 examples (4 if you count xenoallergies).
Natural healing is your typical "character's level per day". If the entire day is spent resting, he regains twice his level. Being treated by a physician adds another 2 HP for every Medical level he has. Instant healing, as mentioned, adds 1 to the character's System Strain, adding an upper limit to how often he can benefit from these healing sources.
XP awards are pretty open. Depending on the group's style, you can limit to XP awards to accomplishing goals, or go full-on oldschool by granting XP for acquiring wealth. Unlike later editions of D&D, SWN discourages handing out XP for every defeated foe. Not having been killed is the main reward for winning.
Increasing Hit Points is interesting as you always reroll your hit dice and keep the higher result. This gives characters a chance to improve their HD rolls even after they stop getting them at level 11+. Or you can just hand out max HP if you're not into random HP rolls. Seeing how much weapons hurt, and how hard it is to regain HP, this isn't too unbalancing.
Skills are gained and improved with skill points. Experts gain 3 per level, while the other two classes get 2. Skills cost the level you want to obtain +1 for class skills and +2 for non-class skills. Max skill level starts at 1 and increases by +1 for every 3 character levels (up to 6). New skill levels always cost a certain trainer fee, which is doubled if the character wants to self-train. Sadly no mention how long this training actually lasts. Oh well, the GM can just fudge it.
Psychics also raise their current primary discipline and get a point to improve their secondary disciplines or gain a new one. The GM can always add entirely new disciplines and powers through a mentor.
In-system travel abstracts the solar system into stellar regions, which are areas of interest like a planet and its moons, an asteroid belt or the edge of the system. Travel within a region takes 6 hours, while travelling to another region is 48 hours. A spike jump requires 6 days per hex. These are just the base times, mind you, which are always divided by the ship's spike drive. This can be further reduced by "trimming the course", which involves phasing more risky to increase the ship's effective drive rating (which adds a -1 per effective increase on any Navigation roll done). A drive's rating is also the maximum amount of hexes it can travel in one jump. This can not be increased by trimming the course.
A ship without fuel bunkers always needs to refuel after a jump. In-system travel only eats up a negligible amount of fuel.
Navigation rolls are usually not required inside a system, unless the pilot is trimming the course or there is some hazard around. A jump however does require a roll to calculate a safe course (which takes an hour per hex). The TN is 7, and the roll is penalized based on the distance travelled, whether or not the course is trimmed and when using outdated charts (or going in uncharted). Failure on this roll has the GM roll 3d6 and consult a table, with results ranging from "Everything went well" to "The ship is wrecked and 1d6 hexes away from the actual target". Even the more harmless setbacks that just increase the travel time can be hazardous as a ship's standard life support can support its max crew for only 2 weeks. This is why every party needs a Pilot Expert. Their skill reroll ability is a godsend here.
Starship Scanning and Detection
"Seeing" other ships in the same or different stellar region requires a scan using the Computer skill. Most civilian ships automatically broadcast their signature, so no check is required here. Ships who don't do this are found after beating a TN of 7 or 8 depending on distance, or by winning an opposed check with the target if they actively try to avoid detection. Once detected, they can try to shake it off every 6 hours. A successful scan can reveal things like hull class, hit points and drive rating, but anything deeper requires the two ships to be pretty much right besides each other and stationary.
Though the exact distance is not important in the actual rules, starship combat generally happens at distances of tens of thousands of kilometers. Hitting anything beyond that is impossible thanks to ECM, jamming and spike drive phasing.
Combat uses the same basic mechanics as personal combat, but switches it up a little. Everything's supposed to happen simultaneously, for starters. The spike drives also make phasing quite importantly. Every ship can shoot and fly into any phase between 0 (real space) and its drive rating. Each ship's captain (aka the GM and one PC) writes down both phases for the round and reveal them simultaneously.
Attacks are done like in personal combat, using the Gunnery skill and the gunner's INT modifier for attack and damage. Additionaly, if the gunner fires into a different phase than the one the target is currently occupying, he has to roll higher than the phase difference on a 1d6 to avoid having the weapons just pass harmlessly through the phased target. Your standard Drive-1 ship is pretty boned when fighting a Pretech ship with Drive-6, basically.
Fighter-class ships blow up immediately when brought to 0 HP. Larger ships can have the chief engineer try to power down the ship instead with a successful Astronautics roll. Otherwise, the ship will explode in 3d6 rounds.
To spice things up, there are a couple maneuvers to perform. This includes basics like Evade Combat , Ramming Speed and Fire to Disable (which half damage dealt and makes it impossible to explode the enemy ship), and fancier spike drive tricks like the Lamprey Lock (aka trying to beat an opponent with a much better drive rating by literally flying into his bubble) and the Remora Lock (the BFF version of the Lamprey Lock, allowing a ship to piggyback friendly ships).
Starshp Maintenance and Repair
Everything you want to know about how much it costs to keep a ship running. To make a long story short, maintaining a ship will eat up a lot of the party's resources, especially if they want a fancy Cruiser or - heaven forbid - a Capital-class ship with a crew count rivaling any iteration of the Enterprise.
Chapter Six: Gamemastering
This chapter starts of with a rather refreshing paragraph that basically amounts to "If you're reading this, you've probably already played a tabletop RPG or two - but don't worry n00bs, this chapter is also for you!". Probably explains the following "GMs should prepare stuff and know the rules inside and out" paragraph.
Sandbox Gaming and You
Now here's where the fun starts. Sandbox gaming is a whole different beast than the 90's metaplot railroad. There is no overarching plot for the players to follow and alter (if the GM is not a total dick). Sanbox gaming is all about emergent stories, idea and plot hook cookies thrown by the GM to see what the players will eat up. The result may not be a beautiful piece of carefully crafted literature, but it allows the players to do what they want.
Okay, almost what they want. Because you see, sandbox worlds are big, uncaring and scary places. Giant battleships or multi-limbed alien behemoths don't just suddenly scale don't in power when they see the PCs approaching. Sanbox parties don't just wander blindly into the danger. They have to do some reconnaissance, for knowing is half the sandbox battle (or avoidance of said battle). Thankfully, the book recommends the GM to not be a dick and be a bit more direct about actions with a high chance of being suicidal.
Further cementing the uncaring nature of the sandbox world, events don't just wait for the players. If the players take to long to stop a mad scientist from finding a sealed vault filled to the brim with a psychopathic nanite swarm, he will most likely succeed and unleash the swarm on the world. And then there are various smaller and bigger factions fighting for control over worlds in more or less subtle ways (there are even rules for this), which will change the landscape as time goes on.
All in all, it takes a different approach for both sides, but it can be glorious if things just fall in place.
Creating Your Interstellar Sector
I'll cover this one in more detail when I dedicate an entire post around creating a sector. For now, it's suffice to say that the standard SWN sandbox hexmap is a sector of 8x10 hexes, filled with 21 - 30 stars, each of which usually having one colonized world, starbase or other interesting location.
Every sandbox game has to start somehow. SWN recommends having a starting world ready, where the players can have their first adventure or two before sending them into space. By limiting their initial ship's drive rating, the GM gives himself time to flesh out the neighboring world.
For you see, the biggest crime a sandbox GM is commit is writing pages upon pages on background information for worlds and adventures the players will then have no interest in. Aside from the first starting world and adventure, the GM should only have a couple drafts and ideas ready, which he can then swap out or flesh out as he sees fit.
Complications and Solutions
The GM and the players have to lay down some ground rules when it comes to lethality. They can go full-on oldschool, with everyone making replacement characters before the game even starts, or they can rule that 0 HP only kills in dramatic circumstances. The middle ground has the GM play mooks less smart, spreading damage over the whole party instead of gunning them down one at a time, and/or having friendly NPCs and henchmen ready to play Redshirt.
But seriously, combat is pretty darn lethal. If the players have to find, they should carefully plan and use every dirty trick in the book. On the other hand, the enemies know how deadly combat is, so most opponents won't just fight till the last HP.
The guide on skill checks can be best summarized with "Only roll when necessary, and even then one roll should suffice". And of course, the group has to settle on the eternal "roleplaying vs rollplaying" debate that is social skills.
This is then followed with some tips on investigations and trade. Good stuff, overall.
Next Time : Let's see if we can cram in some System Mastery references for the example sector.
Example SectorOriginal SA post Stars Without Number
Beating cosmic horrors one hex at a time.
Now onto the sandbox magic.
As mentioned previously, each sector map is 8 hexes wide and 10 hexes high, filled with 1d10+20 stars with at least one interesting world each. If that turns out to not be enough for the players, the GM can always roll up a new sector to border the old one (a bit like Minecraft chunks).
I should note that the sector and world generation rules contradict each other in two cases, though it's easy to figure out the error.
Anyhow, Let's roll a d10 and... 10, so the sector has the maximum of 30 stars. The book recommends that 2/3 are put at random positions (by rolling a d8 and a d10, and moving stars that land on an already occupied hex closer towards the nearest map edge), while the rest are placed to connect these random clusters so a Drive-1 or -2 engine should be enough to theoretically reach most if not all stars. I say theoretically because spike jumps are very difficult when you only have outdated charts, or none at all. It is therefore that the book recommends to keep two versions of the sector: A complete map with all stars and routes, and a player version only showing the known stars and routes.
So after 20 rolls, the sector looks like this:
Very interesting. The lower right corner is very crowded, making the area a very attractive target for factions (which I'll add after the factions section). Let's connect the dots with the remaining stars:
Now this looks like part of a spiral arm or something. A Drive rating of at least 2 is necessary to bridge the gap between the two paths extending from the main cluster, lending to some trollish behavior if one path is more advanced than the other.
And now that we have the stars, it's time to come up with worlds for the PCs to visit.
Worlds have 5 traits: Atmosphere shows how hostile the world's atmosphere is (with most worlds having a "Breathable mix", since those are the ones most likely to have sustained people through the Silence), Temperature shows the overall climate (with most worlds being cold, temperate or warm), Biosphere is all about how compatible the local flora and fauna is with human biology (with most of course being compatible), Population is just that (with most worlds having hundreds of thousands of people living on it) and the overall Tech Level of the world (with most being either TL3 or TL4).
In addition, every world has 2 Tags , unique characteristics that give each world its flavor. This can be stuff like "Civil War", "Oceanic World" or "Trade Hub". Each tag comes with several example locations, people and conflicts, and it is recommended that the GM mixed those for his world.
So here how the result looks:
TL4+ is a term I came up with. It denotes those TL4 worlds that still have limited access to pretech technology. The "Area 51" tag means the local government keeps the existance of outsiders a secret. "Preceptor Archives" are essentially vaults of knowledge about technology and history.
A few interesting worlds of note:
0203: TL4+ plus a "Heavy Industry" and a "Major Spaceyard" strongly suggest that this world is very big in making pretech-grade ships, making them a major power in this area and a threat to pretty much everyone.
0404: "Failed Colony" means that something - or someone - happened that basically wrecked the colony beyond all hopes. If there are still survivors left, they probably only number in the hundreds or so. This was probably the work of the "Sealed Menace", which I assume was Space Cthulhu.
0508: Why does a perfectly habitable world require domed cities? Well, maybe the government wants to limit access to the alien ruins - or they want to keep whatever is still in those ruinis out.
0608: Right inside the big cluster, this world is a "Regional Hegemon", a world with the resources and assets to be a major player in the cluster. How is this possible with low population on a desert world, with a Tech Level of only 3 (aka "no fusion power and spike drives for you")? Well, the other tag is "Exchange Consulate", a major banking center from before the Scream. These guys are cold-blooded capitalists whose source of power are sweet, sweet credits.
0707: This pretty much screams "Haven - World of cavemen violence"
I'll let the rest stand as is for some collaborative brainstorming, before I'll tackle the factions chapter.
FactionsOriginal SA post Stars Without Number
"Alien space monster" is sadly not an Asset.
Speeding things up a bit, onward with the faction rules.
Chapter Eight: Factions
Factions represent important players of a sector, be it a cult, a merchant guild, an evil empire or a world's government trying to fend off said empire.
The GM should by no means make turn every such organization into a faction. It's better to start with those he thinks will be the most important, and turn other organizations into factions if the players become more interested in them.
Factions and the rules surrounding them serve two purposes: They are an option for the PCs to delve into (by joining on faction or founding their own), and they serve as a sort of random event/news generator for the GM, allowing him to play out sector-wide conflicts without having to script everything beforehand.
Factions have 6 statistics. Like characters and creatures, they have Hit points , representing the faction's integrity and cohesion. This gets reduced by things like internal power struggles, or a group of murder hobos storming their HQ and killing the crap out of everyone.
A faction's overall power and flavor is measured with 3 sorta attributes or ratings, which all range from 1 to 8. Force measures the factions raw military strength, Cunning deals with espionage, sabotage and other shady dealings, while Wealth is good old-fashioned industrial and capitalistic stuff. A factions actual wealth (and the logistics to use it) is given in FacCreds .
Also like characters and creatures, factions have experience points , which are used to level up the Force, Cunning and Wealth ratings. Faction XP are gained by fullfilling a goal, of which any faction can only have one at a time. Examples include "Military Conquest" (aka blow shit up) and "Expand Influence" (to a new world).
The XP cost table is also important for figuring out a faction's HP, as these are equal to 4 + the XP cost of the current rating in Force, Cunning and Wealth.
Each faction also has a homeworld . A faction can always do and build stuff on its homeworld, but it can also always be attacked there.
Lastly, a faction can have one or more Tags , which are tied to the faction's nature and add special effects to the faction. This includes stuff like Imperialists (with a bonus for trying to take over a planet) or Planetary Government (other factions require your permission to say build an army on your turf).
Assets are generall stuff a faction can get, be it a building, connection or units. They cost FacCreds to acquire/build/train, and some have a maintenance cost. Failing to pay the maintenance cost makes the asset useless for that turn. Failing to pay two turns in a turn results in the loss of the asset. A mercenary unit might just get fed up and leave, while a franchise might just get closed down.
Like factions, assets also have HP, which can be lost either through murder hobo intervention or from other assets. A lot of them have the ability to attack other assets on the same world. If say you want to get rid of an enemy's Monopoly asset, you could blow it to smithereens with a Strike Feet (Force), troll the managers with some Blackmail (Cunning), or send in the Lawyers (Wealth)
Such an asset attack is handled as a contested 1d10 roll, plus the rating noted under the attacking asset (the rating used by attacke and defender can vary, but they're usually the same). A succesful attack deals the damage listed under the attacking asset, while a succesful defense has the attacker take damage equal to the defending asset's counterattack damage (if it has any). A tie damages both assets (if the defender has counterattack).
(And of course, some assets are obviously limited in what they can attack or defend against. Those lawyers ain't gonna impress a bunch of gravtanks.)
Asset availability is closely related to the 3 ratings, as the assets are split int 3 tech trees of sorts, were fancier assets only become available if the corresponding rank is high enough. A rating also limits the maximum number of corresponding assets a faction can have, so a big army is only possible with a high Force rating.
The most important asset is probably the Base of Influence , which is required to build other assets on a world. It differs from most assets in that its HP depends on how much you're willing to pay (up to your faction's HP). The downside is that any damage suffered by the Base goes directly to your faction's HP, so you have to carefully decide whether a base is literally the foundation of your whole organization, or just a weak, insignificant investment.
Like equipment, assets have a Tech Level. Assets can't be build/trained/etc. in a world with an insufficient TL, but they can always be transferred to one with say a transport ship asset (or by its own power if the asset itself is a ship or fleet).
Force assets are pretty straightforward, with various types of soldiers, fleets, defensive systems and the logistics that keeps everything running. The assets range from puny Security Personel at Force 1, your first Strike Fleet at Force 4 up to a Capital Fleet at Force 8 with enough firepower to one shot most other assets.
Cunning assets are all about information gathering and disruption enemy employees through seduction or blackmail. Things start of simple with Smugglers and Informers , moving on to Cyberninjas , the Party Machine (the political kind of party, not the fun one), and the Stealth asset that makes one of your assets undetectable by other factions (unless it attacks and defends), and ending with the pretech-class Panopticon Matrix at Cunning 8 (a high-tech surveillance system that can be used to detect stealthed units and adds another 1d10 to your Cunning attack and defense rolls on that planet, making your local cyberninja defense force pretty badass. ).
Wealth assets are all about utility and gently caressing with other factions. You start with fun stuff like a Franchise (which steals 1 FacCred from an enemy faction on a successful attack), can eventually build Laboratories (allows you to build TL4 assets on that world, albeit a bit more expensive) and Mercenaries (which attack with Wealth instead of Force), all leading up to Hostile Takeover (which steals assets when it would reduce their HP to 0) and the Scavenger Fleet (which can move pretty fast between worlds).
The Faction Turn
A faction turn generally happens once per month, or once after every adventure. Faction initiative doesn't exist, the GM instead rolls the order each time.
Each faction starts its turn by gaining income equal to Wealth/2 (round up) plus (Force + Cunning)/4 (round down). When abandoning a goal, the ensuing confusion will cost the faction that income, as well as its action that turn.
Speaking of actions, a faction generally only has one, though that one action can be performed on multiple worlds. So the Attack action allows a faction to attack with all assets, while Repair Asset/Faction allows it to heal as much as it can afford to.
It should be noted that the attacker doesn't actually gets to choose which asset to attack (as that would probably just result in targeting those assets that can't actually hit back). Instead the defender has to denote which asset(s) will to the defending (like in Magic the Gathering or something).
The two most vital actions for spreading a faction's influence is Expand Influence (attempts to build a Base of Influence on a world with at least one own asset, with all factions on that world making Cunning rolls to try to damage the Base) and Seize Planet (gain the World Government tag for that world by wiping all opposing assets)
Starting NPC factions can be either a minor power, a major power, or a regional hegemon. This affects starting worlds, assets and ratings. They usually have one Tag that best describes their shtick, and any World Government Tag for any world they rule over. And of course, it would be a bit boring if they didn't have goals with lots of conflict potential.
PC factions start of a bit crappy, with a rating of 2 in one rating, 1 in the other two and a single asset based on their highest rating. Level 9 is where PCs usually become famous enough to be able to start their own faction, but they still have to work for it. The faction won't just suddenly pop into existence.
On the plus side, PCs can directly gently caress with enemy factions and their assets, and they can boost their faction's FacCreds by spending lots and lots of cash (1 FacCred roughly translates to 100k credits).
Overall, these rules may be a bit abstract, but translating the action of a faction turn into in-game events is half the fun. I also got a kind of boardgame vibe with these rules. Would certainly be less daunting to simulate faction warfare in your campaign than say Twilight Imperium.
Next Time: Adventure Creation
Adventure Creation, Alien Creation, XenobestiaryOriginal SA post
Okay, I'Ve been slacking a little, but the next 3 chapters ain't that long, so let's make it a triple feature!
Stars Without Number
Chapter Nine: Adventure Creation
Now with a couple dozen worlds rolled up, each having their own bundle of features and complications, it should be rather easy to come up with some adventure ideas or two. If that fails though, there's always a random table of 100 adventure outlines.
However, one should not just use them as is, for they should be tweaked, changed and ultimately scrapped if they don't fit the world's theme. A hostage situation caused by rebels doesn't sound quite so interesting if there's an ancient alien ruin just waiting to be explored.
This being a sandbox game, the GM should always look for opportunities to have the results of the player's past choices pop up in later adventures, because their actions do have to have consequences.
After having a clear view of the adventure, it's time to come up with the hook, aka the thing that brings the adventure to the PCs (unless they're actively looking out for stuff to do, that is). This can be your typical stranger in a bar, an old friend, a women being chased by an angry mob of locals and other more or less common tropes.
There's also an info box about combat and how to eyeball the danger the PCs might be facing. Suffice to say things look grim if the party doesn't have a Psychic with the biospionic healing powers, and even five dudes with pistols can wreck a 1st level party. And whatever side wins initiative can get a huge edge in the ensuing fight.
Still, if the players now there's a crapton of enemies in a place, they shouldn't expect the GM to just spirit them away. SWN doesn't encourage asshole GMs out for the PCs blood, but they shouldn't go easy on them if they rush into what is cleary suicide.
That being said, he can make the PC's life easier by not playing the NPCs too smart (so no focus fire on a single PC at a time till he's Swiss cheese). And since this is quite oldschool, the PCs should always keep some hirelings around to act as redshirts.
Next up are the specifics, aka the places and people the party might run into during the adventure. There's some nifty stuff in a later chapter that helps here, with random tables for names and stuff to quickly flesh out a NPC. For stats, there are some monster statblocks for typical lesser NPCs (including a line about their typical skill level) and some short statblocks for classed NPCs, covering all three classes from level 1 to 10 (which takes up like 2 pages; try that with later editions of D&D).
Checkerboard corsets are all the rage in the far future.
Maps are also important to do, and it's pretty easy here in SWN, as the game doesn't really require miniatures or a rigid map neatly layed out in 10 x 10 foot grids. It's just important that the map serves its function and makes actual sense. Filling an abandoned apartment complex with traps for the sake of having a crapton of traps is just silly.
As for rewards, there's a table of your typical awards the PCs are going to get per adventure based on their level (and how many adventures they're probably goin to need to level up). About half of the reward should be guaranteed, while the other one requires some exploration and ingenuity to get. These rewards are obviously XP, but the way this section is written suggest its one of those "XP are credits thing". Still, they only get XP up to these rewards. Anything beyond that (like slaughtering a bunch of guys or stealing) only ever gets cash, and even that isn't always guaranteed as they still have to find some more or less shady guy to buy all that stuff.
Though even with those extra credits, the party will most likely not be able to just buy a ship (aside from some shady dealer). After all, ships should be a pretty big reward they have to earn, be it stolen from a foe or otherwise gained over the course of an adventure.
Chapter Ten: Alien Creation
A SWN campaign does not require the presence of aliens, but if they - or at least their ruins - exist in the sector, they should serve a purpose like everything else. Coming up with an alien race and their culture isn't all that useful if the PCs don't find them interesting.
Aliens in SWN can be put into one of two categories: The Like who can be at least somewhat comprehended and understood by humans (even if they might posess cultural quirks resulting in apparently irrational behavior), and the Other who are so exotic and strange humans can't communicate with them (if they can even recognize if that crystal or energy wave is sentient at all).
In terms of psychic powers, most known alien races didn't have the wide range of abilities as shown on human psychics, but they got affected by the Scream all the same.
Since the Other are so incomprehensible as to be mere plot device, the rest of the chapter focuses on the Like.
Generally speaking, a Like alien have a couple traits that can be randomly rolled, including their biology (be it human-like, reptilian, weird stuff like rock and crystals or a combination of the several body types) and their Lenses .
You see, SWN takes a Star-Wars/Trek-ish assumption that Like aliens are pretty human in the way they think or feel (even if they aren't human at all). What makes them ultimately alien are the Lenses, one or two aspects their whole society is heavily revolving around. You could have a race of deeply-religious hive-mind insect dudes, your typical Proud Warrior Race or an emo race living in utter despair.
Lastly, you can roll or pick their social structure (like "Tribal" or "Democratic") and flesh out their technology level, where they live in the sector and what their goal is.
This being a d20 game and all, you might be wondering about how aliens as PCs work. Well, it is certainly possible, but things work a bit differently here than in other d20 games. It's overall pretty light and loose here, without attribute modifiers. If an alien race is faster and stronger than humans, have them require a minimum score on those attributes (allowing the player to shift points around more than otherwise allowed to meet the requirements). Various racial traits like low-light vision and natural weapons are fine, but they should generally just mimic the effects of equipment they could buy just anyways (so they might end up having claws that are just built-in monoblades). It's important to not give the alien race too many goodies, or make them too powerful, for they would be too tempting to not pick.
And here are the 3 example alien races. These don't just outright state which of the above table results were used, instead weaving everything together into the description:
You know, I'm beginning to wonder why this was replaced with green dudes.
These guys are OD&D pig orcs in space. They're a big bigger and stronger than the average human and live in packs held together by a charismatic warrior. As expected from space orcs, they have a thing for violence - but not uneccessary violence. They loathe torture and cruelty, and their are neither interested in revenge nor do they hold grudges, preferring to live in the present instead of dwelling in the past.
If you're a slave on a crappy dictatorship planet, it's best to have these guys be the overlords instead of fellow humans. Sure, they'll kill you all the same if you revolt against them, but at least they won't make you suffer.
As PCs, they're exactly like humans, but require a STR of at least 14. Psychics don't really exist among them, so that option is right out.
An example for an Other alien, these guys are cosmic horrors, living in secret to perform messed-up experiments with humans. They vary so widely in appearance (be it a monster spider or a bunch of tentacles) that one would never even think of recognizing them as the same species - if it wasn't for the "psychic aversion field" they create. This field makes everyone within 2 km unable to even acknowledge its existence, and affected humans can even carry the field around like some kind of virus.
Because of this, Shibboleth generally stay completely hidden from society unless there are special hunters around, who made themselves immune against their field via a process called "Clipping". This is a deliberate form of brain damage very similar to a Psychic's Torching, which is why any Psychic who ever lost permanent WIS or CON through torching is considered clipped. Non-Psychics have to go through a surgery that has a random chance of either lowering their WIS or CON.
Overall, their a pretty niche kind of antagonist. Then again, it would be pretty chilling for the party's Psychic to stroll down a market and run into a friggin' Aboleth-lookalike nobody else notices. Ever.
A kind of shapeshifting T-1000 race, with insides made out of crystalline organs and metallic chemicals. They are very tied to the past, as their offsprings inherit the memories and personality traits of their parents.
As their shapeshifting is a form of inherent psychic ability they were hit pretty hard by the Scream. Their entire civilization spanning hundreds of worlds crumbeled to dust as they died outright or became insane. The only survivors are living in sects whose members are all hailing from the same "Great Mother" whose isnanity wasn't as severe as to make her children antisocial psychopaths. Still, some Ssath have started to move away from their inborn insanity.
Statswise, they are again exactly like humans, but they can change their entire body or just form a weapon similar to a monoblade. The more they change, they longer it takes. They can probably try to take on the general form and face of another person, but they can't really change their body texture (which is always unnaturally smooth and shiny).
Chapter Eleven: Xenobestiary
Coming up with alien creature in a sci-fi game is a somewhat different beast from doing the same in a fantasy game, as it's highly uncommon to stumble upon the same kind of critter on different worlds. The process of creature creation must therefore be very quick.
To accomplish this, the game recommends to pick the creature'S base statistics from a selection of 9 roles, ranging from the "Nuisance Vermin" (HD 1/2, AC 7, 1 attack at +1 dealing 1d4 damage, Morale 8) to the aptly-named"Party-Butchering Hell Beast" (HD 10, AC 2, 3 attacks at +12 dealing 1d8 damage, Morale 12). There are however some guidelines to create base statistics from the ground up.
After choosing the role, it's time to "skin" creature, rolling or choosing its body type and traits. Generally, the base statistics can be tweaked, or expanded with additional movement modes or attacks (which usually deal as much damage as its base natural attacks and are either a normal attack or a special attack that requires a Save check to avoid).
For example, a xenomorph could be either a "Stalker" (HD 3, AC 6, 1 attack at +6, 1d10 damage, Morale 7) or an "Apex Predator" (HD 6, AC 6, 2 attacks at +8, 1d8 damage, Morale 10), having increased climbing and stealth capabilities as well as acidic blood that deals its base damage to anyone who hurts it at close range.
The chapter closes with a selection of typical human NPCs and example alien creatures, including the "Hand of the Old Fathers" (a sort of antlion catching prey with what looks like a giant hand), the Nictomorphs (tiny beetles that are perfectly harmless until they form murder Voltron when under specific stimuli) and the Tyrant Spider (a Party-Butchering Hell Beast with its damage cranked up to 2 1d10s and one 1d12 that releases pheromones upon death to attract more Tyrant Spiders). Fun stuff.
Next Time : Robots and Mechs - one part of the paid-exclusive stuff.
Robots and MechsOriginal SA post Stars Without Number
There's definitely a mecha missing in this picture
Now onwards to the stuff not found in the free version:
Chapter Twelve: Robots and Mechs
First up are robots!
True artifical intelligence arrived didn't come around until 2355, when mankind was requiring more blast processing for their Second Wave of space colonization. Turned out that for all their benefits, the sheer complexity of an AI mind made creating and educating them very espensive, and just copying them didn't really work out.
On top of them, it didn't take long for the first AIs to go rogue. Nobody is quite sure why this happens, but it can be assumed that it is either because of their mind evolving into something too alien to be understood, or plain old insanity. Neverthless, a rogue AI can be truly fearsome, as they are hard to destroy (more on that later) and can hack into stuff that is not even connected to them. The very first rogue AI - Draco - hijacked a warship, became a vigilante and created a sect.
To combat future rogue shenanigans, the year 2378 saw every AI getting "braked" to put a limit on their mental development and concentration. In exchange, the AIs essential got human rights, including a full citizenship and the option to pick their job freely (with a little extra tax towards their creators for the first 100 years or so).
AIs in SWN soon became very rich, but also very bored dudes. They eventually put their amassed resources into getting themselves armatures , robotic bodies that allowed them to explore the galaxy and live among the humans. Space restrictions caused their perceptive and cognitive abilities to be downgraded to something much closer to human level while inside an armature, but the AIs shrugged this off as either a necessary evil or interesting new experience.
This is also were some of the stranger abilities of AIs emerged, some that even the original creators didn't quite understand. The matrix core that formed their actual "body" was a quantum super computer capable of still working perfectly fine when broken apart. The AI just lived inside the biggest chunk and could always transfer between the parts.
Taking a cue from the D&D lich, AIs could just leave a matrix shard dubbed phylactery in a safe place and go on reckless adventures. Even the total annihilation of their armature and the matrix core inside would just them wake up inside their phylactery, which could always grow to full size.
The Scream and the ensuing Silence hit most AIs pretty hard. The sudden loss of power and maintenance caused many matrix cores to shut down, with the AI inside falling into a deep sleep of sorts. AIs who resided in their less power-hungry armatures could still operate, but they tended to find themselves getting dismantled by humans for spare parts, leaving their remaining core to collect dust.
Still, some managed to stay awake more or less constantly throughout the whole deal. Quite depressed fellows, but their knowledge from the olden days is worth a lot .
Now with interstellar trade finally in full swing again, AIs are starting to become active again. Some want power, others want to help humanity, and some just want to see how things look after all these centuries. Postech armatures are a lot clunkier than the old models, but they get the job done.
(And of course, there's always the possibility that an AIs brakes have failed in all those centuries, making them about as helpful as The Computer from Paranoia)
AI Character Creation
AI PCs are assumed to be inside an armature, as playing as a big-ass super computer on an abandoned space station is a bit limited in adventuring options. They don't have access to psychic powers or the class abilitie of the Expert and Warrior, but they can quickly transfer their consciousness to another armature for a maximum of flexibility.
The way AI characters are created is basically a built-your-own-class system: The player buys the mental attributes, the progession for Attack Bonus, Saving Throws and Skill Points, as well as the starting skill packages. He then picks a starting armature, which determines the physical attributes, Armor Class and various other integrated abilities and equipment.
The limiting factor for all of this is Tolerance , the AIs ability to handle all that stuff. The above choices cost a certain amount of Tolerance (except for the worst options, which cost nothing), so if you make your AIs core abilities too good, it might not be able to "fit" inside a deathbot 3000, or really anything fancier than a standard armature. So look at the most expensive armature you'd like to have, and built the AI accordingly.
As the armature is really the only source of Tolerance that can change over time, the upper Tolerance limit is fixed and never increases as the AI levels up.
Speaking of leveling up, AIs require as much experience as a Warrior or Psychic. Their Hit Points are based on their level (aka their ability to keep their blown-up armature working) and the CON modifier of their current armature. They don't roll hit dice and instead gain fixed HP. Human PCs might therefore have more HP, but AIs will eclipse them later as their HP gain stays constant, while human eventually stop getting HD and have to contempt with a smaller fixed bonus and the chance to max out their HD through rerolls.
(Mmh, I think SWN characters really do add their Attribute modifier to every level, not just the ones they actually get a HD in. Still, SWN is pretty darn lethal, so that should help. Silly me.)
AIs really rock when it comes to skills. They treat everything as a class skill, and they don't need trainers as long as they can find a manual or something instead.
Not being organic, they are immune against various hazards and dangers. They only really have to worry about radiation and corrosive atmospheres. Biopsionics don't work on them, but all other psychic powers do, even Telepathy because of their human-like consciousness.
Though they have to undergo repairs to regain HP, AIs are pretty hard to kill. The matrix core easily survives having its armature destroyed by conventional means, and even if it is destroyed the AI has most like a phylactery stashed away were it will reawaken with all memories intact. It takes a month before the phylactery has grown enough to create a new phylactery though, so no storing tons of 1-Ups. Also, the AI isn't really aware if their phylactery gets destroyed or taken away.
Armatures range from the Scrap Walker , a shoddy thing made out of - you guessed it - scrap with AC 9 and physical attributes of 7 across the bord and go up to the Titan , a Pretech combat beast with AC 0, physical 18s across the board, bonus HP per level, flight capabilities and a sweet selection of built-in weapons (including a friggin' Anti-Vehicle Laser).
Starting AI can pick between the Standard (tech- and healbot), Echo (replicant), Nemesis (killbot) and Voyager (explorer) armature.
Expert Systems and Bots
Expert Systems were the ancestors of the true AI, and the only form of somewhat intelligent software that can be created with Postech. They have no sentience and fail at pretty much anything that doesn't fall within their programming (which can get quite messy if the expert system in question is a warbot).
Rules-wise, they are AIs without mental attributes and a predetermined progression. The cost do buy one depends on its HD and the armature they're in. Postech can't pull of expert systems with more than 4 HD, so anything more advanced is probably lurking in some kind of ruin.
The rogue AI Draco involuntary revolutionized warfare with the quantum tap array it used to transfer himself onto a warship. A few tweaks here and there turned the array into one of the best ECM system known to man (like Minovsky Particles in Gundam). This caused spaceship combat to quickly turn into close-range slugfests with direct fire weapons, and naval vessels equipped with this new ECM were safe from intercontinental missile barrages.
Applying this technology to ground warfare proved more troublesome, as the ECM emitters require a minimum distance from each other, and couldn't be too close to the surface. Unsurprisingly, this is were mechs and their humanoid shape were conceived. These titans could pack quite a punch and were able to shield their fellow gravtank and infantry buddies.
Unfortunately, mechs became quite rare even before the Scream. Frontier worlds didn't have to worry about guided weapon systems that would require ECM, and their were ridiculously expensive compared to a gravtank armed to the teeth. Still, a few mechs still remain, and some worlds have the facilities to create more...
Mechs come in three sizes: Suits have no ECM and just serve as 3-meter-tall super infantry, Light mechs are up to 8 meters tall, and Heavy mechs go up to 13 meters. The hull sizes are further divided into one of three types: Shock for raw assault and firepower, Specialist for special roles, and the particularly rare Psimech made to take full advantage of a psychic pilot.
In game terms, mechs are vehicles with some extra rules. Suits subtract their armor from non-Gunnery weapons like normal vehicles, and their low HP is offset by the pilot being able to take the hit instead. Light and Heavy mechs are completely immune against non-Gunnery weapons, and even Gunnery-weapons are first reduced by their HP. Due to their human form and the mental interface used to pilot them, their can be piloted with the Exosuit skill instead of the Vehicle one, and most special abilities (like the Warrior's Veteran's Luck aka "1 free dodge per battle") work with them. Psychics with the Teleportation can even teleport their mech along the ride (provided it's a Psimech; anything else is hard to impossible).
An interesting rule involves ammo: It is not tracked individually, instead the pilot makes a Gunnery skill check for each gun to see whether it ran out of ammo. The check becomes harder with each combat until maintenance.
Unlike normal vehicles, mechs are constructed like a starship: Pick a hull and stuff it full with weapons and other systems. Shock mechs have the most Power and Hardpoints for their size, Specialists have the most Free Mass, and Psimechs have pretty little of everything because their psi-exclusive stuff is pretty light.
Quite a lot of utility stuff, be it better communication, cargo space or escape pods. Fans of anime mecha should definitely consider Antigrav Nodes (atmospheric flight), Grav Chutes (orbital entry) and Void Thrusters (zero-G flight).
Psimechs get quite a lot of fun toys here, like the Jump Coil (allows the teleportation of fellow mechs), the Kinesis Boost (temporal speed boost) and the Omen Tap (forces the target to reroll a successful hit roll or skill check). To counter those, there's the Neural Static Generator .
Also nice to have is the Fire Control Unit , split into multiple mechs with a slave unit getting intel from a master unit. The benefit of this is that the pilot can fire his mech's weapons one at a time (the default rules allow him to fire all weapons in one turn, but he has to declare targets before actually attacking, potentially wasting shots).
A couple modifiers to a mech's defensive abilities, with the fanciest being the Morphi Silhouette Damper that halves an enemy's effective range. Also useful are the MES Shunt Channels that grant Armor against Psi weaponry (which ignores normal armor).
The weapons also feature Qualities similar to shapceships, with new ones including Cone (self-explanatory), Psi (ignores normal armor and allows the usage of psi-related weapon skills and attributes), Melee (also self-explanatory), Ammo (which is different from the spaceship version because individual shots are not tracked, instead using the abstract system above) and Slow (requires a check to see whether or not the weapon requires cooldown).
The list includes all the normal vehicle-grade Gunnery weapons, with heavier versions for most of them except for the still pretty sweet Vortex Cannon. New heavy-hitters include the Rail Cannon (4d12 damage with AP 45, but Slow and Ammo) and the Beam Lance (5d8 damage, AP 30).
The two most expensive weapons are psi-weapons, more specifically the Mindburner (4d10 damage in Cone area) and the awesomely-named invisible Finger of God (4d12 damage, but slow).
Apart from improvised weapons, the only melee weapons available are Cutter Plates (aka "just about any melee weapon") and the MES Knife (psi-powered beam sword). Damage depends on the mech's size (1d12 per size).
Overall good stuff. SWN robots have this interesting flavor of old reckless explorers (or former AI celebrity) re-awakening in a new world to discover, with flexible creation rules and a failsafe against TPKs. The mechs are also nice because I'm a sucker for mechs and the book finally allows some spaceship-level customization for ground vehicles. They are however pretty damn rare in the setting, though the vast scale of the SWN sandbox means there's probably at least one Gundam ripoff star system around.
Next Time : Societies - the other paid-exclusive.
SocietiesOriginal SA post Stars Without Number
I fear I've run out of stuff to write here...
So the free version SWN already has everything you need to roll up some worlds and their gimmicks, which can already include spiffy stuff like "Stone Age dome city whose inhabitants try desparately to keep the air filtering system working that prevents the local atmosphere from eating them alive" or "Middle Age world dominated by knights wearing old power armor". But what about the societies of those worlds? Where do they originally come from? How does their history look like? What problems do they face? What makes them stand out?
Well, the paid version lets you roll that up, too:
Chapter Thirteen: Societies
As everything else sandbox-related, this chapter exists to make the GM's life easier. There's no use wasting several evenings on flashing out the culture and backstory of a world that the players will ultimtely find uninteresting. The society creation process therefore puts an emphasize of offering conflict and adventuring potential.
The first step is obviously rolling up the reason the world got colonized in the first place (be it a big project from the Terran Mandate itself or a bunch of reckless settlers). This can be skipped if the world's tags make this already clear.
Next up is determining the initial settler's heritage and culture, as they tended to come from roughly the same Earth nation or ethnicity. Much has obviously changed in the up to 600ish years the colony has been around, but traces of a society's long-forgotten ancestors can still be found (even if just in the form of ruins).
The initial colonists of course require an initial government (self-explanatory) which most likely evolved into something different after the Scream, and a couple traits. These social traits are similar to alien lenses in that they summarize what was particularly important for the society in question.
Since humanity has a thing for conflict, those are rolled, too. Standard randomization includes one main conflict for the olden days, and one for the present day.
Where does she store her weapons? Does she have Holdout Cavity cyberware?
I'll pick one of my favorite worlds from the example sector I rolled up, namely the desert banking world that managed to became a regional powerhouse without direct access to fusion power or FTL drives, all thanks to capitalism. I'll go full-on random here because why not.
A 1d20 roll tells us the reason for the world's colonization was Trade Hub , which fits very well. Seems the planet was always an important trading and banking outpost for neighboring systems, probably thanks to a good connection of spike drive routes.
For the initial culture, I take the most random route, a 1d8 roll to pick from one of the culture name tables later in the book. Let's see, a 1 is... Arabic . Mmh, this fits the desert theme pretty well. Since there's a name table for both people and places, let's name the world right now! The 1d100 tells us the world is called Muruni .
Initial Government type - a 1d12 roll - turns out to be Corporatism , meaning control over the planet was divided between various factions (most likely banks and trade corporations). A 1d6 roll or post-Scream government evolution tells us that one of the factions eventually became powerful enough to install an Autocracy .
Seeing how a technological collapse and hundreds of years of isolation from other worlds isn't too healthy for your interstellar economy, I assume those trade corporations were crushed by the Scream, leaving a clever bank that kept most of its assets on the planet itself to take over and rule with a golden fist, rebuilding the economy with some old-fashioned Islamic banking.
Now onto the traits. Two to three are recommended, so I'l roll 3 times, which gives us Self-loathing , Suspicious and Warlike . So they're suspicious, admire strength and fear that they have kinda failed, which makes sense for one of the few non-FTL worlds around. Note that focus and priority for these traits shift throughout the ages.
Now onto conflicts. The first one from the Golden Age comes up as Schism , probably the result of newcomers arriving at this former trade world.
Conflicts are further detailled with Details, Constraints and Changes. The necessary rolls tell us that the world's major religion became corrupt and decadent, with the sects splitting off uniting under the same authority (maybe they've been financed by the same bank?). The people of this world generally form communities based on their shared religion.
And with the Scream comes a new conflict. This time, it's Privation , a severe lack of at least one vital resource (water, I presume). Rolling up the details tells us that the world has a derth of fertile land (makes sense for a desert planet). Dangerous overpopulation is prevented with contraceptions and... infanticide o_O ?!
Err, anyhow, this conflict resulted in argicultural land being seen as something holy, so they most likely refrained from trying any fancy techniques that might damage the soil's fertility in the long run, at the likely cost of not using the land to its fullest.
Now there's one more bit of (optional) randomness to do, and that's to check what become of the banking autocracy during the 600 years of the Silence. A quick roll reveals it became a Theocracy in an effort to legitimize its rulership with religion. I would assume it is this holy bank that owns most if not all of the fertile land on the planet. Things probably don't look well for the former main religion not controlled by the bank.
Present day sees Muruni as a major force thanks to their banking know-how and mineral resources. The bank is probably busy maintaining a monopoly on imported spaceships, weapons, terraforming gear and other goodies, further keeping the populace depended on its goodwill. This most likely explains why the world is overall still on Technology Level 3 aka pre-Fusion tech. As a faction, the bank can buy TL4 goods on other worlds or build them with exclusive factory complexes (which might be one of their long-term goals). They can probalby afford quite a lot with the credits stored from the Golden Age.
And that's it for Muruni, Planet of Gold. You're free to come trading, but be careful what you do. They're always watching.
Next Time : The last 3 chapters of GM goodness.
Designer Notes, Hydra Sector, Game Master ResourcesOriginal SA post
And now it's time for the home stretch.
Stars Without Number
This fellow would work well with Silent Legions...
Chapter Fourteen: Designer Notes
Something not very seen in roleplaying games, this chapter is all about Crawford looking back at the previous ones, telling you why he did what he did and what to consider when you want to houserule stuff.
For example, you can use a more flexible Attribute generation method than "3d6 in order", but then you shouldn't set one of the two Prime Attributes to a minimum of 14 because that will no longer be necessary. This section also includes rules for multi-classing, This can be quite powerful in SWN (as you can just dip into Expert and Warrior to get their one class ability), but this seems to be geared towards higher level characters, as dipping too early comes at a noticable penalty (your BAB and Saves suffer as those bonuses from multiple classes aren't added, and skills can just cease to be class skills for you unless they are class skills for all of your classes).
Biospionics is a very important discipline for Psychics, as it is the earliest and most easiest to get healing option. The System Strain caused by healing severely limits the party's ability to operate in prolonged conflicts (like a megadungeon). SWN recommends a more Star-Warsish format, where the heroes have short bursts of action with weeks or even month inbetween.
Still if you want, you can just ditch the System Strain rules, though then you should prohibit Psychics from mastering their healing powers (making them free to use).
Speaking of Psychics, there's a paragraph or two about quadratic wizards, spellcaster class abilities that replace entire classes, and the 15 minute adventuring day. Crawford deliberately nerfed the Psychic in raw power, showstealing capabilities and breath of different powers to avoid these shenanigans.
If you want THAC0, ascending AC and only dying at -10 HP, that's also perfectly valid. You can also do a Swords & Wizardry thing and severly reduce the amount of different Saving Throws.
For a more realistic setting, you could ditch psychics and FTL drives. Or you could just make up your own.
A real treat in the paid version is a little box showing you how to repurpose the AI creation rules into a general point-buy character creation framework.
And that's just a few of the topic adressed in this chapter. Definitely an interesting read.
Chapter Fifteen: Hydra Sector
This chapter presents an entire example sector, with factions and the starting world of Gateway (the former sector capital). The sector includes another world called Muruni (this one being a Middle Age wasteland founded by psychic survivors of a crashing spaceship) and a couple World with Aztec names because of some Mesoamerica fanboys wholo colonized the sector. The most notable world is Polychrome , which the cyberpunk supplement of the same name revolves around. A lovely little hell hole whose atmosphere got FUBARed by alien insect raiders.
The factions of this sector are The flower Union (religious Aztec fanboys without the human sacrifice bit), The Burning Mirror Compact (religious Aztec fanboys with the human sacrifice bit), The Everlasting (immortal cultists/mad scientists out to conquer the whole sector) and The Republic of Gateway (the good guys).
Chapter Sixteen: Game Master Resources
This one has a bunch of tables and information for various cultures (Arabic, Chinese, English, Indian, Japanese, Nigerian, Russian and Spanish; a bit random, but you gotta stop somewhere ), rules to quickly flesh out and stat up NPCs and various tables to roll up stuff like corporations, religions and architecture. Also included is an example ship for each hull type.
And that's all for the core book. But there's a lot of other stuff to cover in SWN:
For further freebies, there are various Mandate Archives , usually offering a mix between fluff and crunch. Examples include Martial Arts (including just that), The Dust (nomm-happy nanite swarms and other fancy tech), Imago Dei (religious AI crusaders, also suped-up Pretech ship hulls) and Transhuman Tech (which is probably a lot better than this furry wank-fantasy thing).
That's already lots of neat stuff for free, but there are also quite a lot of "proper" supplements:
: Sci-fi espionage campaigns, including rules for agencies.
: Your toolbox for strange, probably extinct aliens and the ruins and wonders they left behind.
Engines of Babylon
: Features some artifacts, but the main draw are rules for creating and customizing planetary vehicles and ships without FTL drive, be they in-system shuttles or ginormous generation ships.
: Cyberpunk. Now you can hack stuff!
Relics of the Lost
: Various dangers and treasures the PCs can find in ruins. Includes more detailled rules for Expert Systems aka dumb robots.
: For sci-fi naval campaigns, including rules for large-scale fleet combat as well as Wrath-of-Khan-style ship duels.
Suns of Gold
: Merchant campaigns, or how I learned to stop worrying and became a Ferengi.
In terms of published adventures, there's only Hard Light so far, dealing with trouble at a mining outpost.
And if that wasn't enough, there are other Crawford games that lend themselves well to be incorporated into SWN. The most obvious candidate is Other Dust , the prequel of sorts to SWn that is set right in the middle of the Silence, on good old post-apocalyptic Earth (with the little twist that mutations weren't caused by radiation, but by malfunctioning nanite swarms meant to stabilize radiation victims).
The less obvious candidate is Silent Legions , Crawford's most recent Kickstarter success dealing with supernatural horror that eschews your typical Cthulhu adaption by giving the GM the tools to make up his own mythos. The main addition for SWN is insanity as well as Eldritch magic and abominations (to add a bit of Northwest Smith to your campaign; dude loves zapping cosmic horrors). Also featured are nasty critical hit rules that make combat even deadlier. Oh, and there are rules for playing as a luchadore - because if there's anything Old Ones fear, it's El Santo.
You can vote what you want to see next, but I'll probably do a little palette cleanser inbetween to avoid doing so much d20 stuff in a row. Suffice to say, my next target might just be the most obscure commercial Final-Fantasy-ish roleplaying game around.