All posts by Stargazer

Michael Wolf is a German games designer and enthusiast best known for his English language role-playing games blog, Stargazer’s World, and for creating the free rules-light medieval fantasy adventure game Warrior, Rogue & Mage. He has also worked as an English translator on the German-language Dungeonslayers role-playing game and was part of its editorial team.

In addition to his work on Warrior, Rogue & Mage and Dungeonslayers, he has created several self-published games and also performed layout services and published other independent role-playing games such as A Wanderer’s Romance, Badass, and the Wyrm System derivative Resolute, Adventurer & Genius, all released through his imprint Stargazer Games.

Professionally, he works as a video technician and information technologies specialist. Stargazer’s World was started by Michael in August 2008.

A Look At Shadow of the Demon Lord

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imageThis morning, when I thought about writing about Shadow of the Demon Lord, I was totally amazed that I haven’t actually mentioned it on the blog at all. Robert Schwalb’s Shadow of the Demon Lord is an amazing dark fantasy game which rested for too long on my shelf basically unread. I bought the hardcover book back in December 2016 but I now finally had the time to give it a closer look.

Shadow of the Demon Lord was influenced by a lot of games and settings I love. The rules remind me of a streamlined version of D&D combined with Novice, Expert and Master paths reminiscent of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay’s careers. The setting, the world of Rûl, takes inspiration from the classic Warhammer World, but also from the fantasy-noir world of Eberron and the steam-fantasy setting of the Iron Kingdoms. This melange of different influences could easily end up in a weird Kitchen Sink setting, but Robert Schwalb managed to make everything fit together neatly.

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When I first picked up SotDL I thought it might be an interesting alternative to Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay with a more modern and D&D-like ruleset. But it is so much more. Over the last few days I realized that SotDL is a flexible rule set which could be used for more than one setting easily. There is support for Green Ronin’s Freeport setting with the SotDL Freeport Companion. Schwalb Enterprises also released a sourcebook for Mad Max style gaming called “Godless”. People have also used SotDL for games set in Eberron, the Forgotten Realms, and even the Warhammer 40,000 universe. What makes SotDL so easily adaptable to other settings?

Continue reading A Look At Shadow of the Demon Lord

Contagious Excitement

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I have to admit that I am easily excitable. When someone comes up with a roleplaying game which tries to tread new ground, makes things a little different, or just has inspiring artwork, I am immediately excited and make plans to try it out. I focus on the things I find interesting and tend to ignore the problems. Often I don’t realize my error before actually playing or running the game.

This was the case with Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition. I was very excited as it came out, applauded some of the changes, but when I eventually played it, I quickly realized it was not the right game for me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad game, just not a game I particularly enjoyed playing.

Back in the day, a lot of people – me included – were excited about 4E, and it was – in a way – contagious. Sometimes it’s hard not to get excited in something when everyone else is telling you how awesome that thing is.

The same happened to me just recently with the Index Card RPG. It has a couple of cool ideas, and the author’s videos on YouTube and Hankrin Ferinale’s (that has to be a pseudonym, right?) artwork made me extremely excited about the game. I thought the effort mechanic was a stroke of genius and I particularly enjoyed the wild creativity within the core rule book.

Unfortunately this was another case of contagious excitement. The game sounded awesome and in the end it turned out to be perfectly suited for what it was designed for … which was unfortunately not my style of running games. In the ICRPG the player characters have to be on their toes all the time. The game works best if they never stop, there’s always something going on, there’s always a timer ticking down, and enemies breathing down their necks. Phew, even thinking about it, makes me get out of breath.

Personally I don’t mind some action from time to time, but in between the action scenes, I prefer to run things a bit slower. A lot of the adventures I’ve designed have a heavy focus on investigation. There’s time for the player characters to do their research, interact with NPCs, discuss options, and prepare for what’s to come. Unfortunately this doesn’t really work well with the ICRPG. Its strengths are wasted if the game is not moving at a high speed.

The effect of contagious excitement is something we have to keep in mind when planning campaigns or even when reviewing something. From now on I will avoid making huge plans for a game which I haven’t played before. I was actually planning to run a fantasy campaign with ICRPG before I realized that it might not be what I was looking for. I also tend to be very excited about a lot of games I write reviews about and a lot of these reviews are based on me reading the book, since I don’t have the time to actually play everything.

Will I try to be less excited about games in the future? Definitely not. I think being able to have sometimes childlike excitement for a new game is something wonderful. The important part is not to let the excitement turn into anger when things don’t turn out as we hoped. I think I’ll still use the ICRPG for one-shots (like con games) in the future. It will just not remain standing on the pedestal I put it on awhile ago. This position is reserved for the next exciting new game that comes along. Zwinkerndes Smiley

P.S.: The image I use above is from that video meme with the young boy excited about getting a Nintendo 64 for Christmas. I am usually not that excited about new games, but sometimes it’s close…

More Thoughts On The Index Card RPG

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Last Saturday I finally had the chance to give the Index Card RPG by Runehammer Games a try. My players were interested in a space opera/space fantasy game, so I thought Warp Shell – which is one of the included settings – would be a perfect fit. So I sat down and wrote an introductory adventure including an ambushed bonding ceremony on Xevos 1, a damaged warp shell, the search for a piece of  “Plotonium”, weird NPCs, strange locations, a labyrinthine mine, and a fight against the player characters’ evil doppelgangers from a different timeline.

Character creation was extremely quick but also showed a problem with the games’ classes. The Alfheim classes are pretty much modeled after common fantasy tropes. Unfortunately the Warp Shell classes are not that easily recognizable. What exactly is the difference between a Blip and a Shadow? How’s a Zubrin like? We eventually just made stuff up as we went along, but some more hints would have been nice.

The effort mechanic worked fine, especially when the characters were pressed for time or in a combat. If they had all the time they want, it was pretty pointless to roll for effort, since it was basically unavoidable that they eventually succeeded. At its best, the effort system (especially in combination with timers) can be very effective – but often it falls flat and feels like pointless dice rolling. The trick is to keep the player characters on edge all the time.

Combats were fast and always felt dangerous, but I should have put more preparation into both the opponents and the combat areas, since combat ended up being not that mechanically interesting. But that’s basically my fault and not the game’s. Overall I got the impression that the game works best if you keep a high pace at all times. There has to be action and excitement at any moment, because when the action comes to a halt, some mechanics just don’t work their magic anymore.

Personally I am a bit torn after my first session. On the one hand I appreciate a lot of what the Index Card RPG does. It’s fast, furious, simple, fun. On the other hand, I feel as if I have to drive the players from scene to scene at a break-neck speed to get most out of the mechanics. Sometimes I prefer a more relaxed pace which other systems might support better. I’ll definitely run the Index Card RPG another time, or at least reuse some of its ideas in other games BUT it probably won’t become my go-to game.