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.

Kickstarter: Esoterica

It seems Greg Saunders is on a roll! He just started a Kickstarter for Esoterica, his newest Open D6-based roleplaying game. The other two, Exilium and Summerland, were finished in early 2017 and 2018 respectively and were pretty successful considering Greg is not an industry titan like Monte Cook. But when it comes to quality Greg’s products are on par with the ones released by major publishers.

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So what is Esoterica all about? The Kickstarter page describes it as a tabletop roleplaying game of occult mystery and the quest for power. Characters are so-called Adepts, people who have realized that beyond the mundane world lies a greater reality hidden by the Veil. They have learned to use the powers that permeate through that Veil. But using these powers cause physical corruption. But there are artifacts called soul jars which can protect from the corruption. So all Adepts are in search of these in order to find the power to pierce the Veil and venture into the reality beyond.

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The game will be using a simplified version of Open D6, probably based upon Antipaladin’s MiniSix which Greg has used before. What really sets  Greg Saunders’ games apart from a lot of the competition is that it’s not just about killing monsters and taking their stuff. His games pose questions about life, about the human condition. Exilium was about guilt and penitence, Summerland was about past deeds which are not only a burden but may shield us from losing ourselves. Esoterica seems to be about power and how it corrupts.

The artwork alone makes me want to back this project (I actually did back it while writing this article) and I am very excited for the final product. If you’re at least remotely interested in what Esoterica is about, you should head over to the Kickstarter project page and check it out!

White Wolf: The Edginess

Currently an article is discussed all over social media which claims that White Wolf Publishing is actively marketing towards a new audience: Nazis and the alt-right. On first glance some of the points brought up in the post seem to make sense. But some of the claims made are obviously pure conjecture or obvious lies. After talking with a few friends and following several threads by people who have actually worked with White Wolf in the past, I decided that the article itself is not worth anyone’s time. It’s mostly bullshit. But there are some issues with that company.

If you haven’t been following the development you might probably not know that the current White Wolf is not the same company that was formed in the early ‘90s. Back in 2006 it was bought by CCP Games, which is mainly known for EVE Online. There were plans to create a Vampire MMO, but this game was eventually cancelled. So in 2015 Paradox Interactive bought White Wolf from CCP Games. In 2012 Onyx Path Publishing entered the picture. Since at that time CCP Games was not interested in pen & paper roleplaying games they licensed WW’s properties to Onyx Path (aside from Scion and the Trinity universe which they fully own) which has been developing the various game lines at least until Paradox took over. To sum it up in a few words: it’s complicated and it’s a mess.

Since there are so many players involved and since White Wolf changed hands several times, it sometimes becomes unclear who did what and who really is responsible for questionable decisions and content when it comes to games like Vampire.  For the most part I would say that the old White Wolf was trying to be “edgy” but still managed to be highly inclusive for the time. Remember that the 1990s were a much different time compared to 2018. They had a few missteps like their treatment of minorities like the Roma people, but overall I don’t remember any huge scandals. Please correct me, if I got that wrong.

Onyx Path did in my humble opinion a great job with the various game lines when they were in charge. Sure, CCP always had the last word, since Onyx Path had only licensed the IPs, but I didn’t notice any meddling on their part during that time. WW switched to POD during that time, which means that even products which have been out-of-print for a long time became available again. In my opinion they also handled the various 20th Anniversary Editions very well. I definitely didn’t regret getting the anniversary editions for Vampire, Werewolf and Mage.

But when Paradox entered the picture things changed. I mostly know Paradox Interactive as a Swedish publisher of computer games. A game by their subsidiary Paradox Development Studio, Stellaris, is one of my all-time favorites. From what I’ve gathered during the last few days, Paradox might not be actively catering to certain right-wing groups, but they might have subscribed to the thought that “edgy is the new black”.

One freelancer talked on Twitter about how texts he wrote have been changed by people from White Wolf, to make the Garou (Werewolves) transphobic, and pretty much anti-vaxxers. As far as I understood, this was done above the heads of the people at Onyx Path who he was working for at the moment. He was also blocked from the Onyx Path forums preemptively. There are also quite a few changes in the vampire lore in the upcoming Vampire 5th Edition, which are highly controversial among fans. Perhaps you remember the scandal around the V5 playtest which included a pre-gen character who was a pedophile.

Things also got quite heated in parts of the White Wolf fandom when Zak Smith was hired to write for a mobile game by White Wolf. He’s highly controversial in the RPG community because he’s known to be highly aggressive in discussions which sometimes crosses into harassment. There were also claims that he asked his fans to harass his critics on social media. When they were criticized for hiring Zak, they said that they looked into the allegations and didn’t find anything, which again angered a lot of people.

At this point I am not sure what to make of all this. I don’t think they are marketing to the alt-right (or other fringe groups) on purpose. But they are trying to be soooooo edgy. The changes to the lore are obviously meant to make the game more dark, more avant-garde, more shocking, more offensive. That they are driving away a lot of their loyal customers, is seemingly of no concern. Their treatment of the one freelancer mentioned before also shows, that they might be aware that this shines a bad light on them. In other cases – when confronted – they immediately offered to make things right.

This whole affair is a damn shame, if you ask me. I actually had some high hopes for Vampire 5th Edition after reading that Kenneth Hite was lead developer, Fria Ligan was doing the layout, and Modiphius is acting as publisher. I am still willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. In the best case they are just a bit tone-deaf and extremely clumsy when it comes to PR. We’ll see when Vampire 5th Edition is actually out. Perhaps things are not as bad as they seem. If they are, we can just keep playing the older editions untouched by White Wolf’s new masters, and avoid WW products in the future.

What’s your take on the whole kerfuffle? Might the new V5 be too edgy for its own good? Did I get something wrong in my research? Is my reasoning flawed? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!

Rovers

A while ago, my friend Marcus introduced me to World of Dungeons: Turbo, a streamlined version of Dungeon World with a quirky setting, in which blue-collar heroes fight against monsters, take their stuff and destroy incursions of other realities into our own.

WoD: Turbo looks like it could be easily hacked into other genres and so I was delighted to hear (but not that surprised) that Catherine Ramen of Aviatrix Games created a WoD: Turbo hack which is basically a Traveller hack with the serial numbers filed off.

It’s called Rovers, and it’s available for free as a 7-paged PDF on Aviatrix Games’ website. It contains a character creation system reminiscent of Traveller’s in which the player decides how many terms the character wants to be enlisted. Each term grants a new skill, but ever term after the first causes a scar. Before the character can go on adventures they also get mustering out benefits depending on how many terms they served.

The core rules fit on just one page and like many other PbtA games you can probably run it with no prep at all. The game even contains rules for creating your party’s starship, which almost becomes a character in its own right, and a world generator, which is of course not as detailed as the one in Classic Traveller (or later editions) but it should serve it purpose just as well – especially when considering the narrative nature of the game. By the way, did I mention that Rovers is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-Share Alike license?

Since the game is free and only 7 pages long, I highly recommend you check it out!