Worlds Without Number is the latest flagship release from Sine Nomine, a long-awaited fantasy sister to the fantastic Stars Without Number game.
Although on the surface "SWN for fantasy" it might seem like a simple and viable enough product pitch, in truth, Kevin Crawford had quite the challenge ahead of him when writing this - how do you match (let alone surpass) the level of quality people have come to expect out of the Sine Nomine books, and how do you make it a viable alternative over the countless existing fantasy OSR products already out there (given that SWN was at least somewhat unique as a sci-fi offering)?
And yet, the man has once again delivered - clocking in at just shy of 400 pages (and 340-or-so for the free version), WWN is a marvelous book, featuring the familiar, captivating style of writing, clean and functional layout, great art, versatile game rules, and of course, the thing that Mr. Crawford has built his brand on, the Game Master tools and advice.
The first few chapters of the book are distinctly player-facing, covering character creation, equipment, magic and basic game rules - concepts that should be readily familiar to any RPG player (especially those of the D&D or OSR background), though with some interesting twists and clever implementation here and there.
While Sine Nomine games are hardly at the forefront of character customization minutia, between the classes themselves, foci, backgrounds and magic traditions, there's enough to cover a broad range of character archetypes, especially if you consider the class options in the back portion of the Deluxe Edition of the book. Not only that, the options are very well balanced against one another, so your mages will never get so out of control that they no longer have a need for other party members, and multiclass adventurers' versatility will only do so much in the face of a dedicated warrior or expert.
Next up is a chapter that covers the game's default setting of the Latter Earth and the region of Gyre, itself set in the unrecognizably far future of the Terran Mandate and Earth as seen in Stars Without Number and Other Dust, evoking fantasy works such as Jack Vance's Dying Earth or the Numenera RPG from Monte Cook - fret not however, the author is very upfront that it is more than okay to disregard it and run the game using something else, be it a world of your own creation (which we'll get to in moment, for that this where the bulk of this book lies) or one brought over from another fantasy RPG entirely.
Nonetheless, the presentation of the Gyre and its nations is pretty sharp, and the region supports a variety of classic playstyles and genres, from dungeon-crawling to pulp sword & sorcery to steampunk to court intrigue to domain play, and serves as a solid example of the kind of adventuring and storytelling WWN is built to accomodate.
Finally, we get to the meat and potatoes of Worlds Without Number, the GM's section - covering everything from the basics of creating a campaign and its associated setting, to constructing world facets such as geography, history, nations, societies, governments, religions, locations, creatures and factions - all with state-of-the-art guidelines, advice and rolling tables that people have come to expect from Kevin Crawford. If you liked the huge list of world tags and associated worldbuilding and adventure element ideas in Stars Without Number, there's even more waiting for you here, broken up by category, letting you flesh out adventures and plotlines concerning anything from a wizard's ruined archive to a local religion undergoing an internal schism. And it's not just the ingredients that you get, but solid procedures on how to put them all together into coherent prep that you can bring to a session and run with confidence.
It's also worth pointing out just how considerate Kevin Crawford is of the primary target audience for this book - the GM, a person with limited time, energy and creativity, constantly pointing out how all these tools are best used with clear intent and campaign needs in mind; while it might seem obvious enough, being cognizant of it can tremendously help build good habits and prevent the ever-frustrating situation of spending time and effort on planning an adventure or some section of the world that ends up going to waste.
Of course, being explicitly aimed at sandbox style of play, WWN also comes with systems both player- and GM-facing for facilitating things at a level and scope that goes beyond dungeon- or hexcrawling - with major project rules for players (which might seem familiar to Godbound players, and can be easily backported to SWN with a little tweaking) and the return of the fantastic faction turn, there's plenty to help make the world itself come alive, and allow the players to meaningfully impact it without relying entirely on GM fiat to do so.
Being a Sine Nomine-family OSR game, Worlds Without Number easily lends itself to bringing forth content from games both old and new that fall into those categories with little effort required, be it B/X D&D, Old School Essentials, Stars Without Number or Wolves of God, be they monsters, spells or magic items, though each of these contain additional guidelines and considerations in their respective sections.
Lastly, the Deluxe Edition portion of the book contains additional classes for fulfilling various character concepts (druids, paladins, psions, duelists, etc.), heroic and Legate character rules for enabling even more powerful characters dealing with even greater threats and affairs, and additional Game Master tools concerning Iterums (WWN jargon for any kind of alternate dimension or plane of existence), architecture creation, as well as fractal adventure seeds and other tables for inserting further twists and texture to one's adventures and NPCs.
Overall, the book is simply stellar - the one major overarching issue with it that I have lie in the writing, which does rely on some fantasy tropes that are considered dated in some circles and are rooted in racist and imperialist ideas, with words such as 'savage', 'tribal' and 'primitive' being used pretty liberally, and it's really not a great look, especially in the year 2021 - it's not the absolute worst, but it's not good either, and deserves being pointed out.
I still do highly recommend the book, even if you aren't interested in playing or running WWN itself - you can grab the free version of the book and easily supercharge any fantasy campaign you might find yourself running, and it's very hard to go wrong there.