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.

How I Stopped Worrying And Just Played The Game …

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Sometimes being me sucks. If there’s something I am really good at then it’s worrying. I can worry about the most minor things all the time. And don’t me started on the really serious stuff. It’s probably not a surprise if I tell you that I worry about my hobby a lot. I fear my players might not like the game I picked. I worry about my choices as a GM. I worry about rules, about settings… Unfortunately things haven’t gotten a lot better since I started blogging. I eventually became quite well-known in the RPG blog community and my game Warrior, Rogue & Mage is probably among the better known free roleplaying games out there.

Recently I had the urge to run some White Box and to my big surprise it went extremely well. What surprised me the most was that I was actually able to enjoy the game without worrying too much. Even when I ran my Ultima-based game I didn’t worry too much about the fact that the classes, the magic system, and a few other aspect didn’t fit perfectly. Sure, my perfectionism regularly poked me, and I seriously considered rewriting the whole magic system, to fit the source material more closely, but at this moment I am more like “stop worrying and just run the game”. We all were having a blast even with D&D magic shoehorned into the Ultima world. It was a huge relief when I was finally able to stop worrying. The game was fine as it is. No, I don’t need to “fix” it.

I actually think this change started with me running Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 1st Edition a while ago. I know that the game has its problems. The magic system is definitely wonky and there’s the “Naked Dwarf Syndrome” (in WFRP dwarves often have ridiculous high Toughness values which means they can’t easily be harmed even if they are not wearing any armor). Nostalgia probably helped me ignore this issues and just enjoy the game.

I noticed that something has changed when I was looking into other games to run. Games which I would have discarded outright earlier now become viable choices. Just weeks ago I wouldn’t have even thought about running a game like Shadowrun 3rd Edition (or any edition for that matter). As I see it now, it’s definitely playable and I can easily run it. My players usually don’t mind if I don’t get every rule right at the first time, and we usually just improvise and move one when a rule is unclear. So why should I worry about not knowing any single rule and exception? It just doesn’t make that much sense. Suddenly even crunchier games become more interesting again. I think for a long time I avoided rules-heavy games because I worried getting things wrong. But is making mistakes really that bad if you are a GM?

I know that I am a pretty good GM. I can improvise like the best of them and my characters are usually memorable. My players keep coming back and openly share their excitement about my games. Of course I still worried I might suck. But right now, I am not worrying that much anymore. And this is a very, very good thing!

More White Box Shenanigans

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This Saturday we had to cancel or regular Titansgrave game, because three of the players couldn’t make it, so I pulled out White Box: Fantastic Medieval Adventure Game, and we quickly rolled up characters for the four players who could make it (yes, I have a pretty large gaming group). I offered the players to roll 3d6 six times and then distribute the results as they saw fit, but they decided to go all old-school and roll “3d6 in order”. This led to some pretty interesting character choices, like the highly-intelligent but not-so-wise cleric, or the all around mediocre fighter. But all these characters are actually pretty viable in a White Box game.

The session itself was 100% improvised. I randomly created a dungeon using some special dice my friend Marcus has brought with him. The world was made up on the spot and I used a lot of common tropes. The adventure started in a tavern, the “quest giver” was a mysterious robed figure, the dungeon was located under the destroyed tower of a wizard who had terrorized the whole area decades ago. It quickly became clear that we were all interested in a light-hearted game. Explaining some old-school concepts to the players I mentioned that the GM is basically God at the game table. So the player who rolled up the Cleric decided to worship St. Michael, a god clearly inspired by me.

One of the player characters fell asleep during watch, which allowed a lucky thief to almost rob them blank. Their unlucky streak continued when they got lost in the mountains and stumbled upon a basilisk. Only a couple of lucky rolls (and a mistake on the GM’s behalf) saved them from a TPK. Eventually they made it to the dungeon where they had to evade devious traps, face numerous skeletons and a pretty nasty Mimic. But in the end, they found the artifact they were paid to bring back.

What this session showed to me clearly is that White Box is a perfect pick-up-and-play kind of game. And if you’re not planning to start a serious campaign, you can easily improvise simple adventures. Because everyone knows the common D&D tropes, no long explanations are needed. The rules-light nature of White Box also has some issues. Mechanically the two thieves in the party were basically identical. This is not a big issue to me, but some more mechanically minded players might see this as a drawback.  White Box also makes it very easy to just handwave things away you don’t like, which is something you often don’t dare to do in crunchier systems. Someone really wants to use a sword as a Magic-User? Let him. If you go 100% old-school, all weapons cause the same damage anyway, so it’s mostly a cosmetic thing. Even if you use the damage values given in White Box: Fantastic Medieval Adventure Game, the difference between a sword and a staff is negligible.

Next week I’ll probably run something completely different, but White Box will definitely one of my go-to games in the future. By the way, my friend Marcus also wrote down his thoughts about Saturday’s game in a blog post. He focuses on the random character creation and it’s definitely worth a read!

Through the Moongate

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Yesterday evening I had the chance to run my first White Box game set into the world of the Ultima series, Britannia (or Sosaria as it was known before). Overall I have to say things went pretty well.

The player characters were all humans from Earth, who got lost in a renaissance faire and ended up in front of a gypsie’s wagon. The mysterious woman inside asked them 28 moral dilemmas which determined the characters’ professions.

Yes, I actually took the questions from the Ultima games to determine which Virtue was favored the most by the players. I could have reduced the number of questions if I asked each person seperately and then picked the questions more cleverly. But since I wanted to get the answers in one big swoop, they had to go through all 28. In the end we had a Paladin, a Druid, a Magic-User and Ranger. Continue reading Through the Moongate