Hello, dear reader! As you probably know, I've been attempting to do my own game design project in the form of the FL RPG (Fallen London role-playing game). One of my favorite games that I've come across during the "research" is Stars Without Number, a sci-fi RPG by Kevin Crawford. It has lots of fascinating features, from its old-school Dungeons and Dragons stat system, to its expressive character creation, to its vague, yet intriguing history of the universe, to the psychic powers usable by its characters. But I'm not going to talk about any of that great stuff. I'm going to talk about the GM helper tools, and how procedural generation helps the GM create a vast yet comprehensible galaxy for the players to explore.
Aliens are typically small humanoids in Stars Without Number, as they often are in science fiction. To select what the species looks like, simply roll 1d6. I rolled a 3, for example, so this new species will be reptilian in appearance. Picture the Argonians from Elder Scrolls in space. Why not even name this race the Argonians? It's as good as any.
Now we need to pick two Lenses for this race's culture. Lenses, according to the manual, are emotional or social traits which influence the aliens' society, government, and individual behavior. To pick lenses, we roll 2d20 and tally the results. I rolled a 2 and a 1, so our Argonians will be Curious and Collectivist, meaning they'll be eager to learn about outsiders and have a fundamentally hive-like social structure. They're starting to sound a bit like the Borg from Star Trek, eh?
Part 1: Planet Creation
Easily the most impressive system I've seen is the planet creation system. And it's so easy, it's incredible. To make a new planet from scratch, all you have to do is roll dice: 2d6 to determine the atmosphere, and again for climate, biosphere, technology level, and population size.
But the most interesting part is the world tags. Each world has two prominent features (besides those mentioned above), chosen by rolling 1d6 and 1d10 to get a number between 1 and 60. This system yields interesting planets with distinct cultures from over 3600 possible combinations. Rolling 63, 26, for example, creates a desolate tomb world with freakish geology. Rolling 37, 40 results in a major shipyard where psychics are worshipped.
After rolling dice to randomly create each of the planet's features, it's up to the GM to knit those features together with their imagination and the power of prose.
For example, I rolled a planet with a thin and chilly atmosphere, human-tolerant biosphere, standard futuristic technology and a population of about five thousand. It's a radioactive world with flying cities. Now it's up to me to combine that information into a plausible, if fantastical, world.
I call my new planet Spintu, in reference to the planet Bespin from Star Wars. It's radioactive withflying cities, so clearly the cities are flying so high to avoid the deadly radiation on the surface. At that altitude, the air is thin and cold, so breathing masks must be worn at all times when out of doors. Perhaps these colonies aren't really cities, so much as mining machines manned by a crew like the oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. Since this is a radioactive world, perhaps they're mining for uranium. Each of these stations should have a name, so let's say that there are four stations, named Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta, each with a population around twelve hundred. There is some life on the planet, so perhaps there's a team of biologists studying how life could thrive in such a hostile environment. A planet like this has terrible living conditions, and the miners likely hate life here. So the corporation in charge of operation here is likely unscrupulous and cares little about its employees. Now all we need is a name for this sinister mega-corp. How does Edison Energy sound?
See what I mean? I couldn't create a planet this interesting on my own. These tags and tools act as inspiration, sparking the GM's imagination to create entire worlds of adventure, beyond the wildest dreams of any player or game master.
Part 2: Adventure Creation
There are also one hundred pre-written adventure kick-starters in chapter 9 of the instruction book. To randomly pick one, simply roll 1d100 and turn to the corresponding adventure. For example, I rolled Adventure #23, which says that an Enemy becomes convinced that a player has committed adultery with the Enemy's flirtatious spouse. This Enemy means to have the player trapped in a place and killed by the dangers there.
That's some heavy stuff. Let's have this adventure take place on Spintu, shall we? The Enemy could attempt to throw the player off of the station, and into the radioactive wastes below. But what sort of Enemy are we looking for? Perhaps an ordinary member of the station's crew. We'll call him Richard. He has a wife, Rachel, who's way out of his league. She's well-educated and widely-travelled, and hates living on a barren rock like Spintu. She's also a bit flirty, and Richard is a very jealous husband. So when Richard catches her flirting with one of the player characters, he'll swear to take revenge. Now, how do we make sure that the players are bound to meet Rachel? Well, if she's a merchant who sells important adventuring supplies to the players, they're bound to visit her a few times.
Now, we have not just a planet for the players to visit, but a plot for them to get tangled up in once they land. Isn't this exciting?
Part 3: Alien Creation
Finally, it's time to discuss one of the most fascinating systems of all: the alien generation system. It allows the GM to quickly and easily create interesting alien species for the players to fight, bargain with, or even romance.
Well, that's all for today. I hope you have an appreciation for the brilliant design of Stars Without Number. I highly recommend you pick it up on Drive Thru RPG. And did I mention it's completely free?
Thanks for reading, and have a great day!