Interview: Michael Wolf – Stargazer from Stargazer Games and Stargazer’s World

The name Stargazer in RPG circles has become synonymous with not only Stargazer Games, publisher of games such as Warrior, Rogue & Mage, Resolute, Adventurer & Genius, and Thrilling Noir Stories. but also with the Stargazer’s World blog where he shares his thoughts on the roleplaying industry at large along with Corvus (Andrew Modro), Sunglar (Roberto Micheri), Shnobicow (Gregory Schuster), Pointyman2000 (Jay Steven Anyong), and many others.

Stargazer’s World is one of the blogs I check out on a regular basis along with Gnome Stew, Critical Hits, Roleplaying Tips, and others. Michael and the gang always have interesting, well-written posts sure to inspire me to write or do some gaming myself!

Though I think Michael likes to stay behind the scenes more than in the limelight, he agreed to answer an interview. So let’s shine the light on him, shall we?

Q1: Michael, though you’ve been a gamer for quite a long time, what prompted you to start blogging about the industry?

That’s a good question. Back in 2002 or so I created a personal website that looked pretty much like a blog. I am not sure if I actually called it blog, but that’s what is was. I wrote articles about everything I was interested in: from books and computer games to science and roleplaying games. But it was in 2008 when I decided to start a blog focused on pen & paper roleplaying games alone. I think back then I was inspired by some of the great bloggers that helped to shape the RPG Bloggers Network back in the day.

Q2: With your experience publishing free games like Warrior, Rogue & Mage, what’s the hardest part of the process?

This question is not so easily answered. There are various parts of the process that are quite hard. Among the hardest parts is probably coming up with a new idea or at least to come up with a way to combine well-known concepts in a new form. Warrior, Rogue & Mage is a bit of both.

I also suffer from what I jokingly call “game designers attention deficit disorder.” I have a lot of ideas for new games in my mind and often, just as I start working on one new project, I have a new idea and want to work on this one instead. As you can imagine this doesn’t really help to get projects finished. Luckily a lot of people were quite enthusiastic about WR&M and helped me to keep focus. I have to especially thank Andrew Modro for this. Without his help and moral support WR&M would have never seen the light of day.

Q3: What are you playing these days as far as pen-and-paper RPGs?

A friend of mine is currently running Deathwatch for us and from time to time we try out some new games at out monthly RPG pub meeting. Back when I was still at the university I played a lot of games on a regular basis, but today I am glad when I can play at all. Currently I’ve been trying to get a new gaming group together, but scheduling is a major hurdle. I am currently flirting with both Fudge and Traveller and may use the one or the other for a SF campaign.

Q4: What are you playing game-wise on the computer or console? How has that changed or affected your view of tabletop roleplaying games?

I’ve always played a lot of computer roleplaying games. Among my favorites are classics like the Ultima and Final Fantasy series, but also more recent titles like Mass Effect, Dragon Age or the Witcher series. My all time favorite is definitely the Fallout series, especially the first two titles which still used 2d graphics and turn-based combat.

I’ve always used CRPGs as inspiration. Some computer RPGs have great settings and characters, that can easily be used for your tabletop games. There have been also rare cases when I was inspired by a computer game’s mechanics to write a tabletop RPG. One of those examples is Arcane Heroes, which is the result of playing too much Fable III.

Q5: Now that PDFs have really taken off, what’s your opinion of the exploding number of new publishers and content in the RPG industry? Any surprising trends you’ve spotted?

I am really glad that modern technology makes publishing roleplaying products easier than ever before. A lot of great products would never have seen the light of day without PDFs and Print-On-Demand. Some people may disagree but I think the more RPG products there are the better. Of course the big publishers like WotC may actually be hurt by this development, but in my opinion their market share was way to high anyway. But I digress.

I am really surprised by the great interest in FATE-based games recently. Don’t get me wrong, I like FATE a lot and I think it’s one of the most interesting game systems released in the last few years. But I am very interested how popular it has become. What positively surprises me even more is that a lot of FATE games are SF roleplaying games, and that’s something I would never have anticipated.

Q6: Do you find designing games to be as much fun as playing them?

It’s fun, but it’s different. The first steps of designing a new game are a lot of fun, but the further you get, the more work it becomes. Of course it’s a great feeling when you finally have a finished product, but the way to get there is not always fun and games. But said that I still enjoy working on new games, but it’s definitely a different kind of fun than sitting around a table with a group of friends, munching snacks and playing a roleplaying game.

Q7: Were you surprised at the reaction to WR&M? There seem to be variants of the Wyrm system for nearly every genre – pulp adventure (RAG), fantasy (WR&M), cyberpunk (Wyred)… What’s next for the system?

Oh, yes, I was. Of course I had hoped people would like it, but nothing prepared me for what happened after release. Only weeks after the release I gave my first interview for an audio podcast, people from all over the industry congratulated me for my little game and people offered to write supplements for WR&M. I was totally overwhelmed. Hehe, I felt like a rockstar for a time. Heck, sometimes I still feel that way, but I hope I am not acting like one. 😉

Hmm, what’s next for the system? I seriously don’t know. I have started working on a SF variant some time ago, but currently this project is on hold. One reason is probably my aforementioned game designer ADD, but the other reason is that I am not sure what direction the Wyrm System should take. With the SF game I wanted to try out a new direction for the game, by changing the die used for task resolution from a d6 to a d12 and adding more granularity to skills. But is this really the way to go or shall I keep the rules closer to what I did in WR&M? It’s a hard decision.

So, I am currently taking a break from the Wyrm System, but I am sure I’ll get back working on it sooner or later.

Q8: What are your favorite games to play? What games do you think are great examples of solid, elegant design?

There are a couple of games I love to play but these are not always great examples of solid, elegant designs. I always had a lot of fun with Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 1st Edition for example. RIFTS
has always been one of my favorites, heck my Google Mail email address is based on one of my RIFTS characters, but I wouldn’t call Palladium’s rules system as elegant or solid. But there are a few games I think are great examples of excellent game design.

Evil Hat’s FATE is one of the best rules systems I’ve read. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea but it has a lot to love. Pelgrane Press’ GUMSHOE system is another example for a solid and elegant design. When it comes to running investigational campaigns there’s nothing better. I’ve run both Call of Cthulhu and Trail of Cthulhu (which uses Gumshoe) and I have to admit that Trail is definitely my favorite. That’s why I am so excited about the upcoming Ashen Stars.

Another game I like a lot is Savage Worlds. Yes, it has it’s flaws, yes, it’s far from perfect, but when you are looking for an easy to learn game you can use to run games in any genre, it would be my first choice.

Q9: How do you feel about technology at the game table? Is it a boon or a bane to gaming?

When it comes to technology at the gaming table I am a bit conservative. I use my iPad to view PDFs and to play background music, but that’s it. I know there are groups who use more elaborate tools to enhance their roleplaying experience, but for me most of it is just distracting. Technology is definitely a boon to the hobby in general, but I am not sure how much technology we actually need at the game table. And I think there’s something wrong with a game when you can’t run or play it without computer support.

Q10: Where do you see roleplaying games going over the next year, five years, or ten years?

Hmm, let’s see what my crystal ball says… Seriously I don’t think anyone can make accurate predictions at this time. The roleplaying hobby is in constant flux right now and things could change one way or the other fairly quickly. At least I don’t think that our hobby will die in the next years. Even in 10 or 20 years people will still play RPGs the way we do today. Digital versions of games (in PDF or other formats) will likely play a larger role in the future. I am also pretty sure that the big players in the RPG industry will lose some market share in favor of smaller publishers.

The most interesting question of the next years will be what direction Dungeons & Dragons is taking. And I am not talking about Pathfinder here, which is basically D&D 3.5 with some tweaks, or the retro-clones, but the brand held by WotC/Hasbro. I can’t shake the feeling that Hasbro doesn’t really know what to do with D&D. I think, in the long run they’ll either sell it, or D&D as a roleplaying game will vanish even if the brand itself survives in the form of board games, computer games, miniatures etc.

A huge thank you goes to Michael for agreeing to do the interview. I think he was a bit surprised I asked – but whether he admits it or not, Stargazer’s World is definitely a blog to be reckoned with. I wish Michael, Stargazer’s World, and Stargazer Games all the best in the future!

Would YOU like to be interviewed? Drop me a line at the GKR Contact page and let me know!

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7 comments to Interview: Michael Wolf – Stargazer from Stargazer Games and Stargazer’s World

  • Sunglar

    And he’s a great guy too! That was a great interview, nice seeing someone turn the tables on Michael.
    And thanks for mentioning me; it’s an honor to be part of the team at Stargazer’s World.

    • Fitz

      @Sunglar – You bet. I can’t forget to mention you and the rest of the folks behind the great work you’re doing at Stargazer’s World. It doesn’t go unnoticed. 🙂 Keep up the great work!

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