Aliens without number

Stars Without Number – a Sci-Fi RPG system that takes a good amount of pages out of Old School DnD rules. It has some obvious overlap with ODnD when it comes to stats, HP, etc, but has only 1 spellcaster (psychic) class, not two, one specialist and one fighter. Again, no cleric, as it is often the case, but it makes sense in a non-fantasy-setting with a focus on technology. Like our world. Clergy tends to dominate pre-tech worlds, business tends to dominate tech worlds. [citation needed]

Stars Without Number also – and this is the main and most important part of the rules – adds skills and and so-called “Foci”, which are essentially extra skill-packages or stunts … or feats. In other words, Stars Without Number is ODnD minus cleric plus thief, with modern/sci-fi skills to learn and expand on.

All of us are newbies in Stars Without Number. But not to old school play, so this part here, about the will to act and move things forward, rings familiar and enticing to us:

It states the same thing twice, even, to be sure that the call gets heard:

The system does that, it explains, maybe even over-explains things.

But that is a boon: It is rather newbie-friendly, with offering lots of helpful options, including random generators and quick pre-gen choices, along the way towards a character; and since the book is well ordered and easy to navigate, experienced Stars Without Numbers players can skip explanations without trouble.

For us n00bs though, much of it is very helpful, especially the parts about character building:

Character generation is quicker than in very crunchy systems, but a lot slower than in the inspiration to this rules set, Original DnD. The selection of foci and skills slows the process down considerably. In combination with the deadliness of combat (which we would find out eventually) this makes combat doubly dangerous.

On level-up, characters gain additional skill points and, sometimes, foci, so they can branch out into new areas of expertise pretty widely over time.

A little negative in the book is that the chapter about levelling up is quite far after character generation, which causes a lot of page flipping or, in case of PDFs, furious back-and-forth scrolling. That could have been ordered slightly more skillful.

Speaking of skills:


The skill system is interesting: As a basis, you roll 2d6 like in Chainmail or Turn Undead, or Maze Rats. If you do NOT have a skill, the GM will decide if a particular skill can be tried at all (i.e., piloting a space ship will likely not be an option with no skill, but trying to Fast-Talk someone will be). If the GM says yes, the skill is at 2d6-1.

If someone is a trainee in a skill, it is 2d6, a professional would be at 2d6+1. Target number for an easy task is 6, for a challenge is 8, for hard is 10, but it can be even more for extra-hard tasks. Routine tasks will not demand a roll if someone has the skill at all.

Depending on foci and species (we have aliens!) there might be advantage or disadvantage on tasks, or even double advantage etc. That is just 3d6 drop lowest or, with double advantage, 4d6 drop lowest two, to get a result for a skill check.

Apparently it is not “a skill system” bolted on, as I thought, but “the Traveller skill system” bolted on. Or the other way around, as some people have put it: That it is a D&D-ish character system bolted onto the Traveller skill system. Depends on perspective, I guess! I have no experience with Traveller.

(Source: Hearsay)

Finally, much in keeping with the philosophy of Original and Basic D&D the author invites us to change whatever we want and make the game our own:

Alien races

By the book, (which is, in this case, the revised version – there are some important differences between the classic and revised Stars Without Numbers, bigger than the differences between B/X and BECMI) the standard starfaring species will be your normal human with two eyes, two ears, and two legs.

In our particular game, we first designed alien races with random tables and then made a character for each of them, resulting in a ship crewed by four aliens of various origin, one of them amphibious, one of them an underwater species, and the rest breathing gases. Which makes for quite interesting technical challenges to get all of the crew together in one room… or to allow the pilot access to the controls, given that he is a balloon-fish with cat ears, a snake tail, and gills.

But modern technology does all kinds of wondrous things, so given the right suits and waterproof data slabs, all inter-species hurdles can be taken in some way.

What is immediately apparent is that Stars Without Number allows player actions a lot of impact on world building and the game, even before it starts. Character generation, even if you play a standard human and not whatever kind of multi-armed creature the dice tell you to live with, includes several points where the players must make skill combination work in some way and make something up about their home worlds and past, so players are quickly partial in creating the universe.

Drakan Mor
Captain Tobet Z'net
Members of the Mowbo species at work

Actual Play

We are the small crew of the Trading Ship Prospector, understaffed, underequipped, and held together with shoestrings and tape. Our valiant captain is Tobet Z’net, a clever Diplomat and staff-fighter who fixes our jobs. The gunner for our meager defense systems is Drakan Mor, a sneaker and survival expert. Riaw the Mowbo, a 1 meter tall asexual underwater species, is the pilot and tech-guru who fixes what gets broken. And Katron of the Halkot is our cyber-guy, a hacker and comms-officer extraordinaire, and Axolotl/water dino/centaur crossover.

Our destination is the Remnant, an unstable planet with volcanic activity and lots of quakes, but, as rumor has it, valuable goods to be found on its dangerous surface. In orbit above it is the space station Euphoria, the base of operations for anyone with an interest to do anything on that poisonous dirtball.

As the Prospector nears orbit, it gets hailed by someone antagonistic who demands that we report to URC immediately. A bit odd, as URC is responsible for mining ops, and we don’t do that, but hey. Why not.

Four other vessels are docked on the Euphoria, one small shuttle, one trader like ours, the Dalliance, and two big huge frigates barely able to land with their bulk. One is the Star of Tomorrow, an ex-military frigate with torpedo bays, laser phalanxes and a spinal beam cannon, an opponent for someone larger and hardier than us. And a luxury liner called Burden of Usury, which is a surprise, because luxury liners don’t usually cruise here.

Riaw elegantly docks close to the Dalliance, a choice it will soon regret. For as the crew leaves the Prospector, they pass six three-legged bird-like oddballs who go on aggressive mode immediately. They start posturing as dangerous and raise a stink, and try to frighten us.
This works very well with Riaw, but the little orange fish in water-filled exosuit braves the situation by sticking close to its crewmates.

A station full of oddballs

The URC guy, one Delton Keens, was one of the very few humans around here, and giddily happy that someone takes him seriously enough to actually come to him after his threatening radio message. He is much nicer in person and a fount of good hints. We hear that the URC got an office here only after threatening legal action against Euphoria Station. We learn that the captain of the heavily armed frigate is called Ivan and hangs out at the local shooting range. We hear that whenever there are tectonic movements and fresh treasures to be found, there is a public announcement, so people can speed off… but usually one Jebediah is first of the pack.

We promise Delton that we will inform him when we are prepared to fly off, and that we respect his tough job. He beams like a patted dog.

Then we go to the bar and soak up the atmosphere, and seek information. Basically we make asses of ourselves and don’t fit in, much like the “Strider”-type we see cowering under a wide hat in a dark corner, avoided by all. But at least we learn that the luxury liner is flown by a captain Amber St. Cloud, a woman who enjoys full trust from her crew, even though that trust does not go both ways – none of the crewmen have any idea what Captain St.Cloud wants here. But she knows what she is doing, so it will be alright, they figure.

Jebediah is there too, and Drakan slithers over, compliments him for his cool re-breather, and starts to “make friends”, but Jebediah shoots him off right quickly, making clear that he knows that the only reason people hang out with him is to either suck up to him or to try and trick him. Drakan does his best to retreat with dignity.

No Humint … so Sigint

We gather again and conclude that we don’t make the best carousers. But we are a pretty tech-minded crew, so we may try hacking. We find a data terminal with access to public services and try it the “normal” way, fully expecting problems. And we find problems, as our request for tectonic movement data is not included in the chatbot functions, we have to wait for an actual person to talk to, and that person demands that we fill out a complicated form and wait 10 to 14 business days for a yes or no.

We fill out the form (using the administrative skill!) but also already scout out our options for illicit information gathering. The terminal must be primed for it, then hacked, but there is camera surveillance. The necessary items to hack it remotely from our ship would be available on the black market, but we fail horribly at finding them. The captain goes shopping and gives the shopkeepers winks to insinuate that he wants “the special parts”, but nobody understands him and he just comes across as creepy.

Riaw, the fixer, devises a list of mundane items to get the job done — rolling 13 on Fix! With +2 bonus on the hacking attempt, Katron rolls a 14 on Hack! This gives us another +2 on the actual hacking. Our ragtag group of misfit nobodies actually managed to prepare a very, very decent prep for a hack.

As an aside, the crew of the Dalliance remains antagonistic and paranoid, watching us and our ship like hawks. It seems to be clear that at some point in the not so distant future we will meet, crew to crew, trying to solve Conan’s Riddle of Steel together, until only one of us returns to Euphoria.

Distraction Alpha

Now for Drakan to install it at the terminal, without being seen. To aid his stealth, Riaw is going to start a ruckus somewhere completely different. The shooting range! The little 1-meter orange blob, small and easily overlooked, walks in there like he owns the place and tells the big burly mercenary types to get out of the fucking way because he wants to shoot now.

The relevant check to make an impression falls flat with a roll of 4, very fitting for such a small guy. But Riaw pulls out the gun and waves it around, declaring that he now up, breaking all security protocols for gun ranges. The mercenaries do not call security, they just walk up to take the gun off him. “Give this up, you can’t just wave it around like that, you loser!”
“Oh my, you are right!” Riaw meows while keeping hold of his gun (punch vs punch struggle). “And it is loaded too!”

That gets a lot of attention, and the room erupts in almost-violence. The captain sees the moment and texts to Drakan that the time is now, and quickly intervenes to save Riaw from a pretty salty beating.

He makes a cool entrance as a warrior type, and commands attention. Riaw immediately desists and begs his forgiveness for acting out of line. The captain makes clear that he knows some fighting moves, and that interests the mercenaries. Their interest in the little foolish orange blob vanishes, and they make friends with Captain Z’net. Even more, Captain Ivan Girat of the Star of Tomorrow tells Z’net that he may have a side job for someone not part of his crew … they decide to have a meeting about that the next day cycle.

Predictive Analytics

Meanwhile, Drakan fixes the remote control to the data station without trouble, and Katron rolls an awesome hack to download all the tectonics data for a later analysis and prediction, so we may be at the next optimal treasure seeking place before anyone else knows.

Katron also tries to find out if Jebediah’s secret of success is access to data, and maybe another hack .. but he finds no traces of such meddling with the system.

So far we had such outstanding success that Katron becomes a bit overconfident and plays with the idea to start hacking all kinds of other data, even though the difficulty gets higher and higher with every extra attempt and his string of excellent rolls cannot hold forever. Luckily, he is not alone, and Drakan manages to keep him real and jack out before he starts trouble.

Combat free session

Apart from a slight scuffle at the shooting range, no combat yet, so we have so far no clue how combat works. We will surely find out soon… (Looking at the Dalliance)

“Magic”-free session

Neither have we done any Magi…. Psionics. Because none of us is a psyker. But I am sure we will get to witness some psy-stuff soon too… (Looking at Jebediah)


So our first day started quite low, but ended in fatastic successes. We have info, we have friends, we have a job opportunity, we have enemies that look like we might be able to handle them if we get the drop on them, and we are ready to kick ass. The future looks bright.

And we get 3 XP for the session, which already gives us our first level-up. More XP, 3 more skill points, and a new focus. We are moving up in the world, or rather, the universe among Stars Without Number.

Or are we??

Aliens without number is continued in
Alien Disasters ,
Aliens Missing and
Alien Blunders

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