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.

D&D Beyond

Let’s face it: Wizard of the Coast’s track record when it comes to their digital offerings is – let’s say –  spotty at best. So it was probably a good idea that they let Curse handle D&D Beyond. Over the last few days I’ve extensively used the website and app to look up rules and to play around with the character creation tools. And I have to admit I am impressed.

But let’s get some things out of the way first: D&D Beyond is in my opinion a bit too expensive. If you want to have access to the full rules and perhaps some of the sourcebooks or modules you have to basically buy them a second time – assuming you already owned them in print. I get that WotC doesn’t want to give the materials away for free, but $90 for the digital access to the PHB, DMG, and MM is a bit steep for my tastes. On the other hand, D&D Beyond allows you to share access with your gaming group, so the offer gets quickly more affordable if you split the costs with your players.

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So what does D&D Beyond offer? Even if you don’t want to pay a dime, you get a complete rules compendium including everything the Basic Rules have to offer. This compendium is fully searchable and the display was optimized for the web (or smartphone and tablet via the app). If you buy additional material, you get access to it as well. People who have subscribed to the Master Tier are allowed to share their library with up to 12 people per campaign (up to three). This sets you back about $6/month. There’s also a cheaper Hero Tier which is meant for players (it doesn’t include the sharing feature) which is only $3/month. Free users have limited character slots and can’t use other people’s homebrew material with the character creation tool.

There are also tools for creating characters, magic items, and monsters. From what I’ve read they plan to add more features in the future, but even now, it’s a pretty nice thing to have. You can also share your homebrew materials with other players but I haven’t really looked into this part of the offer.

The app (which is available for both iOS and Android) currently only gives you access to the rules compendium functionality, but this might change at a later date. What I really like is that it allows you to download your purchased content (including the free Basic Rules) to your device, so you don’t need internet access to look stuff up. If you want to read the D&D 5th Edition rules on your commute, then the D&D Beyond app is the way to go!

Aside from the fact that I consider it a tad expensive, D&D Beyond is – to my surprise – pretty impressive and I haven’t even tried every feature. The ability to look up rules, stats, etc. and a device-optimized display alone is worth it. And even if you don’t want to put down any money, the D&D Beyond app with the Basic Rules is a must-have for any serious D&D player!

The Long Way To Tal’Dorei

Repeatedly I have praised D&D 5th Edition as my favorite edition of the venerable fantasy RPG, but I’ve actually not played it that often nor would I consider myself part of the D&D 5E community. Over the last few years I was much more focused on other games. I knew that people were recording their games and then uploaded the videos on YouTube, and I’ve watched a couple of actual play videos to get a look at how other people played certain games, but it took me a while to look into the phenomenon which is Critical Role.

TalDoreiWhen I first heard about Matt Mercer and Critical Role I was pretty skeptical. Why should these D&D actual play videos be any better than all the others out there? Heck, it’s probably just another WotC PR stunt, I thought. But when I actually checked the show out and did my research I realized that it was actually a home game which turned into a show on Twitch, and it was definitely a real game and not some scripted bullshit. And yes, Matt and his friends are really, really good!

Matt is a pretty good GM. His NPCs and descriptions are awesome. It’s obvious that his skills as voice actor are helping, but he’s also well-prepared and dedicated to his game. The players are also voice actors and they love to roleplay. That’s probably the only thing which can be considered a problem with the show. While it’s fun listening to their banter, the story moves at a very slow pace. With over 100 episodes with a playtime of about 3 to 4 hours each, it’s impossible to keep up or even catch up if you have a full-day job and other hobbies than watching Critical Role.

But even if you watch just part of an episode you can watch how much fun a D&D game can be. Watching Critical Role made me want to run my own D&D game – as I’ve mentioned before – and as a first step I bought the Tal’Dorei campaign guide as published by Green Ronin. It looked nice, but I wasn’t overly impressed. The campaign world is actually pretty generic D&D fare. After leafing though it a couple of times, it went back onto the shelf while I was considering coming up with my own homebrew setting.

Unfortunately creating a homebrew setting is not just fun but also hard work. And my game design attention deficit disorder reared its ugly head again. I couldn’t make up my mind what elements I wanted to include in the setting. Every new idea was just too awesome to be left out, but it didn’t fit with the rest of it. It was a mess. After mulling the issue over for a couple of days I looked into alternatives. Nentir Vale, the implied setting of D&D 4th Edition sounded awesome on paper, but WoTC never released a proper setting book. Information about the world was spread about a couple of 4E adventures, sourcebooks, etc. and I wasn’t really willing to buy more 4E books. So I discarded the plan to use the Nentir Vale and looked for another setting to use.

In the end I came back to Tal’Dorei. At a second glance it’s weakness is it’s greatest strength. It’s not very original, which means that everything works as you expect it from D&D (and that’s a good thing – especially with newbie players). What has been published is also not very detailed, but there’s enough information for me to build one, but not enough to be overwhelming. The book is also schlock full of adventure hooks and Matt also shares his sources of inspiration for each area. This should make running games in Tal’Dorei a breeze. Luckily none of my players is a Critical Role fan, so they wouldn’t even notice any discrepancies between Matt’s portayal of the world and mine.

At the moment I am busy reading the Tal’Dorei setting book a second time, while planning an introductory adventure. After being on a GM hiatus for almost a year now it feels great planning a new campaign!

New D&D 5E Campaign Settings are Just Around the Corner

The site comicbook.com were the first to break the news. Obviously they spoke with Nathan Stewart, the Brand Director and Executive Producer of Dungeons & Dragons, at a recent event where he hinted at new campaign setting coming as early as this year.

This is good news indeed. The Forgotten Realms are not everyone’s cup of tea and D&D can be so much more than standard high-fantasy fare. Settings like Dark Sun, Spelljammer, Planescape, and Eberron have been fan-favorites for years, and many D&D players have hoped for their return in 5th edition.

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According to the article on comicbook.com we can expect treatments not unsimilar to the one of Ravenloft we’ve seen in the Curse of Strahd book. Personally this would suit me fine. I basically own almost every single book ever released for Eberron and one book covering the setting in broad strokes and including all the necessary rules would be all I need to get started.

A more subdued publication schedule compared to earlier editions also seemed to have served Wizards of the Coast fine, and the quality of the material released so far was pretty good. The only thing I and many other D&D fans missed was support for some of their favorite settings like the ones I’ve mentioned above. But this will probably be remedied in the coming months!