Review: Worlds Without Number

2020 was a very important year for Angel’s Citadel.  Aside from being our first year in existence and releasing the first product for our Hope’s Horizon line, it also was where we set the tone for how we were going to operate.  While we did, in fact, start with reviews of Monte Cook Games products, and still love them, it was always our intent to branch out and look at other properties.  One of the very first companies that Joann and I both discussed doing because we were already familiar with the quality product he had put out was Kevin Crawford and Sine Nomine Publishing.  Stars Without Number is a Science Fiction masterpiece, and will also be reviewed in the coming weeks.  Shortly after we started, however, Kevin came out with another Kickstarter for a similar property, but grounded in the Fantasy genre.  The result, Worlds Without Number, was an instant-back for us.  Recently, we got our Print on Demand copy as the Kickstarter has started fulfilling.

Manufacturing and Production

The Kickstarter offered an offset print level that we did not back at and is still outstanding, but the PDF and the Print on Demand book from DriveThruRPG are both available and were part of our pledge level.  The 396-page tome is actually a really good page count for hardbound Print on Demand as a solution, where the page bundle is not so small that it pulls away from the hardback cover.  While the pages are not as glossy or the ink quality quite as good as it would be in an offset print book (affecting the art resolution as well), it is absolutely serviceable and is not what I would consider a “poor quality” book by any stretch of the imagination.  The artwork and text are still sharp and the pages do not smear on use.  On top of that, as he has done with all of his previous releases, Kevin has released artwork into the public domain for royalty-free use from this publication. (And it’s SEXY!)

Content

Worlds Without Number is a book in two parts.  The first part of the book, comprising the first 93 pages) is a roleplaying game system.  While not profoundly original or innovative, it is, nonetheless a solid system that he has developed and used successfully in Stars Without Number for about 10 years.  Worlds Without Number adds a few things to change the flavor of the system to feel correct in a High Fantasy game, but for those that have played Stars Without Number, the core mechanics will be familiar and ready to pick up and play.  Based primarily around a d20 or 2d6 roll plus static modifiers depending on what you are trying to do, it is a fairly simple system to pick up and to teach to others, despite the tweaks from the common d20 system of Dungeons & Dragons fame.

In Worlds Without Number, there are only four classes, and your background (a list of twenty) matters, informing the starting skills of your character.  Along with a long list of Foci, ways that your character is specialized, a starting character has a good opportunity for a decent breadth of things they are skilled at right off the bat.  The rule system is simplistic for the stated reason that the goal of this system is to be a good system for sandbox style GMing.  In other words, player-driven narratives in a living world style of setting rather than a GM-driven directed-plot style of play.  It is why the bulk of the book is not in the section on rules.

That second part is, in my opinion, where Worlds Without Number truly shines.  As I mentioned before, Kevin has stated that this was designed to support a sandbox style of play.  The rest of this book is where that magic happens.  It is a massive toolbox, containing both a “built” world called Latter Earth (only about 20 pages, but with enough detail to get a Dungeon Master started), and tons of tools to help a GM run a sandbox fantasy campaign in any setting you can imagine.  He has tools and advice for building campaigns, adventures, encounters, NPCs, and much more.  The value here is tables.  Much like Ultimate Toolbox from AEG (one of my favorite, system-agnostic GM tools), this section of the book offers table after table of things that come up in a fantasy game with the kinds of detail that a good GM needs to tie it into the setting and location that they are currently working with.  As with both Stars Without Number and another game he has released called Godbound, Kevin Crawford spends a lot of time putting together useful helps for his fellow GMs and I have to say, it is greatly appreciated.

Critique

Both Joann and I took a look at Worlds Without Number.  And both of us only have a single critique about the book itself.  For an initial read through of a book, I absolutely understand the readability advantage to placing the tables in-line with the text of the section where they are used.  I get it.  But looking at it from the perspective of wider use, we would personally have preferred that all the tables go at the back like the ones that are already there and then get referenced in the text by page number.  That way, once you have the gist of the system (if you’re using it as such), you have only a small section of the book to refer to.  If you are not using the system, it is still convenient to where all the tables of the book are in one place that you can use your worldbuilding resources without having to flip through text that you have no intention of using.  I understand that this is a personal preference, but it is ours and is, really, the only issue we can find with what is, otherwise, an incredibly useful resource.

Summary

While Dungeons and Dragons (with Pathfinder a close second) remains the King of the Hill of the fantasy genre, Worlds Without Number by Sine Nomine Publishing is a very worthy entry into that arena.  Packed with tons of worldbuilding advice and GM aids, it is a valuable resource that any GM running a fantasy game would find advantageous to add to their library.  And if you’re not convinced, like with most of his games, Kevin has put out a free edition of Worlds Without Number so that you can check it out and even play without paying a dime.  I know we will absolutely be watching Sine Nomine with interest to see what Kevin Crawford gets up to next and how we can support it.  Happy gaming!

  • Josh Walles

2 thoughts on “Review: Worlds Without Number

  1. Thanks for the article. I bought an offset print copy from the overage, and it’s excellently made. Your review is spot on. The system is good, with some novel (or novel to me) ideas, but the world building is beyond great.

    Like

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