//BLUF: Stars Without Number: Revised Edition is an elegant and straightforward RPG complete with outstanding GM tools and exceptional flexibility. I highly recommend it. The Deluxe printed version would be well-worth the price even if it didn't include the excellent bonus material.//
Kevin Crawford's Stars Without Number: Revised Edition is, in a word, elegant. The presentation is straightforward and clear. The systems are robust yet simple and easy to learn for those familiar with D&D 5e. Kevin's GM advice is actually helpful, assisted by extensive roll tables that reduce the stress and burnout of GM prep. Topics are thoughfully organized and laid out in sections that begin and end on the top and bottom of the page (or the adjacent page);-- I can only imagine how difficult that must have been to organize and edit, but it is much more pleasant to read and reference than the other RPGs I have. Whenever I read this book, it's almost like I can hear Radiohead's "Everything In It's Right Place" playing in my head. (OK not really but you get my point.)
I'll highlight a few of SWN's best features (Caveat: I haven't GM'd SWN yet. Not for lack of trying. Probably won't get to until my group's Shadowrun 4e and D&D 5e campaigns end):
- System: This is my first OSR game. I've played and/or GM'd D&D 5e and Shadownrun 4e (yuck). SWN uses the swingy D20 (+ attack bonus) for combat and more reliable 2D6 (+SKILL) for skill checks. I suspect this will help establish how dangerous and unpredictable combat can be while mitigating D&D's most annoying problem: highly specialized characters failing D20 skill checks that they're supposed to be good at. There's also no advantage/disadvantage mechanic (in the rampant D&D way), which I think is too impactful on success/fail probabilities for how common it comes up. In other words, SWN is similar enough to other systems to be quickly learned while avoiding some of other systems' pitfalls.
- Classes / Character Creation: The D&D crowd has a Pavlovian response to teased classes and sub-classes. Who am I to judge?-- I've have like 7 D&D books. For what it's worth, Kevin's character classes are comparatively lean, and, as a GM and player, I think I will like this change of pace. Though it's too early to tell, I suspect there will be less pressure to min-max. Psionic abilities seem more balanced to me (excepting perhaps telekinesis, which seems underpowered). Maybe the game will feel less like a puzzle to solve (mechanically) and more like a RPG? Again, too early to tell and obviously group dependent. Kevin's character creation guide is easy to follow and should be pretty easy to explain to people.
- GM Tools: If you've read anything about this book, you know how good the GM roll tables are. Since OSR RPG worlds don't revolve around the player characters, the GM doesn't have to fiddle with enounter difficulty and challenge ratings (which I really found tedious about DMing D&D 5e). 'Nuff said.
- Faction System: People really like the faction system as a way of animating the major organizations in your sector. Perhaps they are on to something. To be honest, I can't tell whether I'll like it until I try it out (hopefully soon). It's not really like anything I've tried before as a GM. Seems interesting though.
- Flexibility: The Deluxe edition has transhumanism, space magic, and mechs along with all the free edition content (drones, ship combat, hacking, etc.). If there's a sci-fi trope or setting you want to try, it's probably in this book in one way or another. You can have a hacker in your party without it feeling like he/she is playing a totally different game from everyone else.
If it helps characterize how I feel about this book, I read the free PDF edition first and bought the Deluxe POD version just to support the creator, even though I don't see myself running a transhuman or space magic campaign (some the unique Deluxe content) anytime soon.
One comment on the POD version. My copy arrived in excellent condition (at least as well as RPG books ever do). The binding seems strong although I'm not sure how well it will hold up to abuse (it's in that gray zone where I'm just not sure how it will hold up-- could be no problem at all). My only minor complaint about the Deluxe POD version is that the margins on the outside of the page should probably be smaller so there's more space for text on the inside of the page. As it stands now, the text on the inside of the page curves towards the binding. It's totally readable and nothing is cut-off, but it is annoying and seems like something easy to fix.
If you're reading this, Kevin, write more adventure modules for SWN! Hard Light is awesome and I'm lazy. Cue the 'take my money' meme.
[5 of 5 Stars!]