Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Stars Without Number Session 1

We started playing SWN on Sunday, with me at the helm.

I love it. Love. It.

Combat is ultra fast, although I am a little curious about why a d8 is the initiative die instead of the venerable d6 or d10 of older D&D.

Combat is deadly. The PCs started out with five NPC companions/henchmen and the only big combat of the session quickly left them with two. First level characters have a lot to be afraid of...most weapons in the game will probably kill a first level character in one shot.

SWN doesn't really give you much guidance with regards to experience awards. This is something my group actually discussed afterward and will merit its own post. 

SWN is dead simple but feels substantial enough to satisfy me.

Some of the group seemed to be a bit iffy on the combat roll mechanic. (d20+Attack Bonus+Attribute Modifier+Combat Skill+Opponent's AC, target number 20) Yes, the math is pretty much the same as older attack tables or THAC0 formulas or the like, but I might go ahead and make up tables if that is what the group prefers.

The psionics seem a little weak at 1st level, but then the group psychic took Telepathy and Precognition as his starting disciplines.

For those that care, our campaign set up:

Half our PCs belong to the Gecko Corporation, a mining concern made up by Mindy. I added the detail that Gecko Corporation buys prisoners as indentured servants as part of a trade deal with the planet Galdera, a newly self-appointed regional hegemon. (Self-appointed with battleships, that is)

The other half of our PCs were prisoners aboard the Galderan transport ship Guardian, bound for the penal colony Tartarus, unless they were picked to become part of the Gecko Corp indentured service program...

The deal for half the PCs to buy out the other half was interrupted by the Guardian being blasted by the pretech automated defense systems on the uninhabited moon they were orbiting to seal the deal. A frantic romp to the escape pods ensued.  Luckily, the computers on the escape pods found that the nearby planet Valifor was habitable and listed as in the "pre-colonization" status. The Gecko ship was blasted as well, but managed to make a crash landing on the surface of Valifor, though separated from the PCs downed escape pods by miles of inhospitable mountains.After making contact with their ship, they determined that repairs were necessary.

The party is now engaged on a sort of free roaming planet crawl. They have located several points of interest -indigenous and xenophobic indigenous humans likely descended from a fallen pretech colony, sapient frog men with poisoned arrows, acid-spitting fauna, flying plants, a remote research station with heavily armed soldiers and headed up by an insane scientist, several other escape pods from the Guardian (most of them not responding to contact, some possibly having been commandeered by inmates from the ship), possible pretech ruins in a foreboding swamp, and their own damaged spaceship, which they are now having trouble raising on the transceiver.

Hot damn I love this game.


  1. As I said in my review of SWN, "you can sneeze a hole through a 1st level character."


    The author took slight umbrage with my assessment.
    : )

  2. I'm glad you're having a good time with the game; it's always a pleasure to see people enjoying it. There's a new "Mandate Archive: The Dust" freebie up at DTRPG as of a few days ago if you want to pull that; its details on fashioning enigmatic pretech might be handy for those ruins.

    As for the attack sequence, you can convert it to a THAC0 system just by subtracting their base attack bonus from 20. The target-20 system just reshuffles the exact same math into a roll-to-hit-a-static-number situation that some people find easier to deal with.

    For combat, you're right- it _is_ lethal, and it doesn't get un-lethal for quite some time, even with the "reroll HP each level and keep the best" rules. The Death section in the GM notes covers some ways to deal with this, but as you've noticed, having henchmen or alternate targets along is a very useful survival tactic. Because your group doesn't seem to have a Biopsionicist among them, I'd lean heavily on ensuring they have access to a supply of lazarus patches. Moving quickly with a patch is almost guaranteed to save a downed PC, though there's always the temptation to spend another round finishing off the opposition before you patch an ally. Setting them up with some pretech healing stims might also be a good idea if they're not going to have access to level 2 biopsionic healing for a while.

    Psionics at low level do tend to be modest in their effects, but it's balanced against the fact that a 1st level psychic is just about as handy in a fight as a 1st level expert. The Omen power is particularly handy when exploring places, since it can be used to get a general idea of whether or not a user's going to regret pulling that lever or opening that sealed door, and Terminal Reflection makes it essentially impossible to ambush the psychic's party. Telepathy is handy largely in that it's impossible to detect its use unless the subject is equipped with advanced pretech mind shielding. A telepath can prod someone's head with impunity, knowing that the worst that can happen is that the specific power will be shut out for 24 hours. The effects are pretty subtle compared to B/X D&D combat spells, but through the Mastery option and judicious use, psychics can get a lot of mileage out of them.

  3. I will be officially abandoning my efforts to build my own game system. I played in the SWN campaign, this game system is awesome! I also like skyward steel, now I need to talk my group into leaving the extremely complex Rifts system... I am playing an expert, and another player has an expert. We are too similiar to each other, I'm guessing as the game progresses we will become more differant. To be fair, we had no idea what the other PCs would be, including each other. I can see alot of areas that will be fun to customize, and look forward to creating my universe using Stars Without Number as the base game system!

  4. You're right that 1st level experts can end up looking similar skill-wise if they both aim at similar specialties. This'll go away once one of you hits 1,500 xp, as your 3 skill points will let you take a class skill from untrained to level-1 in one leap, or spread out into three level-0 class skills.

    One thing to keep in mind is that while your skills may be similar, the two of you each have a class power usage. Even if both of you have the exact same skills, as soon as one of you uses your reroll, it's smarter to have the other try the next skill check unless they're totally untrained at it. Assuming you both have +1 on a difficulty 8 roll, the one without a reroll has about a 50% chance of failing it, while the one who still has their class power has about a 25% chance of failure. This tends to promote similar experts "taking turns" at dealing with problems- not just out of table courtesy, but just because it's the mechanically smarter thing to do.

  5. Mindy- Your game universe would be so easy to do with SWN... maybe that can be your next outing if you're truly tired of RIFTS.

    Sine- We do not have a biopsi, it's true. I've actually been thinking a bit about the healing items. The psi player isn't totally comfortable with his powers yet, but I think it's just because they're new.

  6. In hindsight, the other expert and I were in the same situations...causing us to both use the same skills. I had a security 'background' and he had comm crew. We both had taken pilot 'training pkg', and used those skills mostly. I can see us diverging very quickly as the game progresses.

    We used and like the expert re-roll feature!