Worlds Without Number

Posted 04 Aug 2021 to Fantasy

This science fantasy game has all the tools for creating your own worlds.


XP Card

Sessions GM'd: 7
Sessions as Player: 0

I Used

I purchased the Print On Demand book from DriveThruRPG and it was good. 400 pages. One book is all you need. I used the Trilemma Adventures book to provide some dungeons.


Science fantasy is a genre that is new to me, yet I quickly became attracted to it. On a world that has been ruined by uncounted centuries of misuse by technology and magic, characters with swords ride dinosaurs around. It has a wonderful gonzo weirdness to it. I ran a campaign set in the default setting of Gyre. After 7 sessions I had learned that WWN is it's own thing, and is not just another fantasy heartbreaker. Magic is powerful and game changing, and those who wield it are rightly feared.


The Good

  • Comprehensive world building tools. If you want to build a fantasy world of your own, the book provides 130 pages with all the tools for randomly generating towns, wilderness sites, political groups, etc. The keyword tags they use are all linked to GM ideas for plots, allies and complications that do a terrific job of helping ideas flood into a GM's mind. They provide these tools and also a broadly defined default setting, which has little specificity. I really enjoy how this combination encourages the GM to go wild and have fun creating their own version of the default setting. Mine was quite alien, for example there were no horses, but rather riding cockroaches. Even if I never play WWN again, I will be pulling out these tools and repurposing them for other games.
  • Excellent GMs Guide section. Guidelines for running investigations, social challenges, and combat. Advice on how to handle money, magical items and player goals. I read these sections several times over and their advice is really solid and suits my style too.
  • Tools for player projects. Apart from going adventuring, killing stuff, and going up levels, the game provides a lot of offscreen options for wealthy heroes to blow their cash and work on downtime projects. If a PC wants to become a tinkering blacksmith or alchemist, there are guidelines on how to let them make their own potions and magic items. If the PCs want to buy a castle or tavern and start their own domain, this is catered for. If a PC wants to build a permanent magical device to modify the weather or world, there are rules for it. If a PC wants to start a political campaign to influence lawmakers of the kingdom to outlaw slavery, it's covered. Very flexible and it is great to have the tools that support a long term campaign. So many game systems seem to work fine for one-shot short stories, but fall apart with longer campaigns. This game is solidly built to support it. The fact that there are pages in the book dedicated to these activities, encourages players to pursue them. I really appreciate this section, even if my campaign wasn't long enough to use them.
  • The Factions system. People get excited about this aspect of the game, but I never used it. This is a minigame for the GM to play between sessions, similar to the one from Stars Without Number. You can stat up your various kingdoms, cults or factions within the world, and roll dice with yourself to see if their plots are succeeding. I appreciate its inclusion, because it is yet another way that ideas for adventures and story hooks are generated for the GM.
  • It's free. Everything you need to play and run the game is available in the free edition. There are some extra classes in the paid version, which are definitely worth it. Making hundreds of pages of game book available for free is a bold move, and I hope it helps to spur a healthy following for this excellent game.
  • Homebrew friendly. The system is very flexible and written in a way that encourages the GM or group to create their own worlds. It's quite easy to create a homebrew species for that player who really wants to play a cat-person, for example. The game is compatible with loads of OSR material, including years and years of adventures and monsters made for AD&D and older editions.

The Not-So-Good

  • Magic is super powerful. No, really. I mean it. It took me by surprise, in our first session, when a level 1 PC cast the sleep spell, and knocked out a whole gang of bandits. No saving throw allowed. Another level 1 spell, for mind control, allows a saving throw but if failed, the target is enthralled and drooling obedient ... permanently. Your novice necromancer can take permanent command of the ghouls in the crypt. I appreciate that this is intentional. "Magic is artillery". Level 5 spells flatten castles. To balance this, mages get very few castings per day. 1 per day, later 2. You only get 3 spell castings per day by level 5.

    I understand that hard-hitting magic is a way the designer has differentiated this fantasy system from the hundreds out there, and that's fine. For my part, I feel it's important to give prospective GMs a heads-up about the ramifications of this choice. It means that abilities such as Flight and Invisibility are available right from the get-go to newly created characters. If the group has a Healer, they will never run out of hit points unless they relentlessly face encounter after encounter over a day of adventuring. Sometimes this means that if you run an old school adventure from the archives, things could play out very differently when played using WWN rather than BX or similar OSR system. The power level is calibrated differently. Just be aware of this.

    I wasn't fully prepared for it. This game system works best in a setting where magic users are rightly feared and respected. When a single level 1 Sleep spell can take out 15 soldiers, without a saving throw, I found myself being careful to describe the soldiers not standing near each other, for example. In other words, I had to be familiar with what the spells could do, and portray the NPCs in a way that incorporated them.

    Another example was our party Healer. In one battle, his healing output each round was greater than the damage the enemies could inflict on the warrior. This prolonged the battle to a 2 hour marathon, as they did a tank / heals tactic that was straight out of World of Warcraft. It was a sound strategy, but everyone agreed it was boring. We later agreed that healing needed a nerf. Next campaign, I'd just ban that class.
  • Classes can be a bit complicated. The three core classes sound simple: Warrior, Expert, Mage. But dig a little bit and you will see that the Mage class includes 11 different subtypes of mage. Most PCs in my group were partial classes (multiclass): mage/mage being very popular. Any player who goes down this road, will be referencing tables in different areas of the book to determine how many spells or abilities they get, and from different lists. For example, you could build a shapeshifting druid by choosing mage/mage (High Mage / Skinshifter). It allows a lot of freedom to build a variety of bespoke character concepts, but it ain't straight forward and could be a hurdle to new players. This shouldn't be your first introductory RPG.
  • The default setting, Gyre, is a bit of a kitchen sink. In a region the size of France, you have a province of Conan-like sword and sorcery, next to the land of the orc-like mutant horde, beside the land of steampunk, bordering on generic fantasy-land. You have deserts, jungles, grasslands, mountain peaks and icy wastes. I appreciate that one always wants to cater for any kind of adventure within a setting, but it lacked a purity of vision, in my opinion. I chose to expand the scale of the map and zoom in on just the sword-and-sorcery land. Our entire campaign took place there.
  • Spell names are ridiculous. I understand that this was a stylistic choice, probably aimed at demonstrating how pompous and high-falutin' mages in the default setting are, but the names of spells are overly long and complicated. For a player, it might be fun to know that the "Feign Death" spell is now renamed "Prudentially Transient Abnegation of Life" (I'm not even kidding). But a player only has to worry about a handful of spells on their character sheet. A GM, however, who quickly needs to look up the range of the "Control Weather" equivalent spell, will be frustrated because, I am sorry, but "Sigil of Aeolian Auctoritas" is not obvious. I had to hand-write sensible names in the margin of my book. I shouldn't have to do that.
  • Combat system is quite technical. On the surface, it uses the familiar old BX system of hit points and d20s. Straight forward. There are, however, some technical points that make this game significantly more complex than other OSR games. There are different kinds of actions; Main Actions, Move Actions, Instant Actions, On-Turn Actions. These Action types interact with the Initiative system in subtle and important ways. The end result is that winning Initiative is very important, especially if you have spell casters on your side. Those players who take the time to master these combat rules will be able to employ them, and work the system. For example, there are tactics that can be used, such as the Swarm Attack move, that allows groups of weak monsters to pose a threat to even powerful heroes, or Snap Attack that allows a PC to act outside of their turn. The Delay Action and Hold Action moves are subtly different actions. All of this comes together to create an OSR combat game that feels more complex than I expected. It also means that there is a clear divide between normal play mode and combat mode. When you roll initiative, the game shifts into a markedly different mode.
  • Dull Monsters. The stats for a variety of basic monsters are provided, but they are quite simplistic. One stat line only. Hit Dice, AC, Attack, Saves. No special attacks. No save versus poison. No special immunities. Even the spellcasting mages do not detail what spells they know. Every monster in the book, as written, is simply a bag of hit points with an attack. There is a section of the book devoted to guidelines for creating your own monsters with special abilities, and a point-buy system for building them. But this system is not applied to any of the monsters provided.

    This is a lost opportunity to take advantage of the technical combat system, and give monsters moves that interact in fun and unexpected ways. I suspect the author expects you to have access to the AD&D Monster Manual, or other OSR sources. The game is theoretically compatible with those. As written, however, I found monsters a bit underwhelming.



It's a great collection of GM tools for world building, more than 100 pages of tables and guidelines. Wonderful stuff - if you intend on diving deep into building a homebrew world. As a fantasy game engine, I found it does the job fine, but I wasn't ready for the heavy impact of magic on the way scenes play out, and it wasn't to my taste.



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