The man behind the Stargazer! An interview with Michael Wolf…

I’ve been fortunate enough to be contributing for this blog for two and a half years now… How time flies! Through this time I have made many new friends, had the opportunity to interact with other fans and authors, but most of all I have been really lucky to know this guy sometimes called Stargazer after discovering his blog while searching for material about Savage Worlds. I was fortunate enough to be here when Michael invited other writers to contribute to the blog. So as a contributor I became a roadie to this show he’s been running, a roadie to the rock star himself, the STARGAZER!

Stargazer’s Worlds had its anniversary a couple of days ago and I thought it would be fitting that for the 4year anniversary I’d turn the tables on the our fearless leader and interview the guy responsible for the blog and giving us contributors a forum to talk about our passion, role-playing games.

Sunglar: Hello Michael, why don’t you begin by telling us a little bit about you? Who are you? Who is the man doing the stargazing?

Michael:  Who am I? Good question. My usual response is that I’m a 37 year old German guy who loves roleplaying games, gaming in general, has an interest in astronomy, science in general and who enjoys writing about his hobby.

Sunglar: I think you have talked about this before on the blog, but just in case there are any new readers, how did you get into gaming?

Michael:  Hmm. Before I actually knew what roleplaying games were I was into computer games. And back in the day it was almost inevitable, sooner or later you stumbled upon games like Bard’s Tale and the Ultima Series. I was also a fan of adventure games, but I really loved these computer roleplaying games. One day a friend of mine told me about a group of gamers he had met that played BattleTech and he asked me if I wanted to join them. I think I was 16 at the time. I agreed and so we started playing BattleTech regularly.

Sunglar:  So computer games and miniature games were a “gateway game” into RPGs?

Michael:  Yes. But it was my group of BattleTech players that introduced me to roleplaying. They also played Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and offered me to join as soon as the current adventure was finished. Before that happened I actually had the opportunity to play TORG at a con, after that experience I was even more excited about the WFRP game. Eventually I joined them and we played through the remaining The Enemy Within campaign.

Sunglar:  That is interesting, the games you began playing with may be different from the “typical” answer to “How did you begin gaming?” which for many of us was D&D. Do you think that had something to do with the gaming scene in Germany? Were those other games more prevalent or did it have to do more with the likes and composition of the group?

Michael:  In Germany people usually begin playing with DSA (aka The Dark Eye) which is actually not that great, at least in my opinion. My GM at the time was also into tabletop miniature gaming and through Warhammer Fantasy Battle he discovered WFRP. I think it was more of a coincidence. I doubt WFRP was that popular in Germany. With the same group I also played Call of Cthulhu, RIFTS, Chill, Star Wars, some AD&D 2nd Edition and a few other games I probably forgot.

Sunglar:  Nice credentials… Were you primarily a player or a game master? When did you first Game Master your own games?

Michael:  At the beginning I was first and foremost a player. My first attempt at GMing was a session of Traveller I ran. Later I switched to Shadowrun, which I ran for three or four different groups over the years.

Sunglar:  What were your favorite games to GM?

Michael:  That’s actually not that easy to answer. Over the years my preferences and my approach to GMing changed quite a lot. For a long time I was quite fond of Shadowrun and even D&D 3rd Edition, but in both systems I used a lot of hand waving, I think I never really learned the Matrix rules in Shadowrun.  Savage Worlds was a game I liked to run a lot and I had some good experiences with White Wolf’s games, especially Trinity. That reminds me that we even played Trinity in the hospital once. One of my players was in hospital at the time and she didn’t want to miss the game, so we met in her hospital room and played there.

Sunglar:  Hardcore! So would you say you are a rules-light kind of guy? Do you prefer storytelling over roll playing? Are the two mutually exclusive?

Michael:  Over the years I definitely evolved into a rules-light, story over rules kind of guy; I wouldn’t say it’s mutually exclusive though. Some of my best roleplaying experiences are from Rolemaster which is definitely not a rules-light system. But it depends a lot on the GM. In the Rolemaster game the GM was doing most of the work, we just needed to tell him what we wanted to do and roll the dice.

Sunglar:  That makes sense… So how did you go from RPG enthusiast to RPG blogger? 

Michael:  I think I had my first website in 1996, one year after I started going to college and by 1998 or so it had mutated into something people would now call a blog and some of my posts where about roleplaying games.

Sunglar:  So what else did you do on the web back then?

Michael:  A couple of years later I was a huge Troika Games fanboy. When they started working on the Temple of Elemental Evil computer game, I actually ran the world’s 1st fan site for the game. It was a fun time. I did some interviews with Tim Cain, Leonard Boyarsky and other members of the team, and reported about every news bit I could find. Alas working with computer game publishers became very frustrating after a while. In one case a PR guy stopped communication with me after he realized I was German and told me I should get in touch with the German branch of that company. They seemed not interested with dealing with fans at all. I also had a personal blog where wrote about funny stuff I found on the net, games, music, and politics, whatever I felt like. In 2008 I finally decided I wanted to put my vacant domain to good use and decided it could be fun to start writing about my roleplaying hobby.

Sunglar:  And the rest, as they say, is history… Why did you decide to blog in English instead of German?

Michael:  I had two reasons. The first reason was that most of the RPGs I was interested in were available in English only and they were not that well-known in Germany. The other reason was that I perceived the German RPG blog and forum scene as very unfriendly at the time. I wanted to have fun and write about what I love and not defend myself against trolls all the time. So I decided to start writing in English and eventually joined the RPG Bloggers Network.

Sunglar:  Good choice, I would not have discovered the blog otherwise! But let’s continue. How were those first few months? What was your experience with the blog at first?

Michael:  It was great basically from day one. Because of the RPG Bloggers Network and the support of veteran bloggers like Phil Menard and Berin Kinsman, I not only got more traffic I ever had on a blog before, but I also got a lot of helpful feedback and advice.

Sunglar:  When did you feel that the blog had a folowing? When did you stop feeling like this was you writing about games and a few people reading and you felt you had an audience?

Michael:  That actually happened after a few months after I started writing. I noticed that the amount of readers increased steadily and a lot of posts got quite a few comments over time. I really felt like I “made it”, when other blogs started linking to my articles or mentioned things I’ve written. That was the moment when I felt that I had what you called an audience.

Sunglar:  When did you realize you wanted to include other contributors in the blog? Was it hard to open up the space to other writers beyond the occasional guest post?

Michael:  At some point I noticed that I wasn’t able to keep up my posting schedule. Up to that point I posted basically every weekday, sometimes even several posts per day. But real life more often than not interfered with blogging. I also had the feeling that it would be cool if others contributed to the blog and introduced the readers (and me) to new aspects of gaming.

Sunglar:  Good choice if I do say so myself… (jejeje)

Michael:  I knew you would say that.

Sunglar: When did you make the jump from RPG blogger to game designer? Do you think the blog made this possible?

Michael: Yes, definitely. I had dabbled in game design before but in most cases my girlfriend was the only person I showed it too. In a way I was your regular socially awkward gamer that played in someone else’s basement for years. The blog helped me a lot to build up self-esteem, which then helped me to be more confident about my game designs. Before I had some success with the blog I definitely was a different person.

Sunglar:  So the blog has been good professionally and personally? What have been the most rewarding, and the most frustrating aspects of becoming a game designer?

Michael:  It can be terribly frustrating sometimes, because I often reach the point where I think everything I wrote is crap and it’s so bad I should start from scratch. Luckily in the case of Warrior, Rogue & Mage my friend Andrew Modro helped me through that phase. Thanks again, Andrew! I still have uncountable game design drafts on my hard drive and even a few almost finished ones. No fun. The most rewarding aspect is that people actually play my games. Every time I read a post on a blog, forum, etc. where someone mentions WR&M for example, I am overjoyed. It’s a great feeling when people enjoy your work and even tell others about it. That’s the biggest reward someone could get.

Sunglar:  Very nice…So what do you like about the blog right now what would you like to see change and where would you like to see Stargazer’s World in a year?

Michael:  I am actually quite happy with the blog right now and I am not having any big earthshattering plans for the future. Ok, it would be nice if my lazy co-authors would contribute some more often. (Wink, wink!)

Sunglar:  What? (Looks around…) Jejejejejeje, ok, that was subtle. What has been the most rewarding or exciting thing to come out of creating this blog?

Michael:  That’s easy. I made a lot of friends all over the world because of the blog. Aside from that I also learned more about the hobby that I ever dared to dream about. It has been and still is an exciting ride.

Sunglar:  Nice, any last parting thoughts before we wrap things up?

Michael:  Thanks for giving me this opportunity, Roberto. It might be a bit strange to be interviewed by one of my co-authors but it was a lot of fun! I also would like to thank you for being a good friend for all these years.

Sunglar:  The feeling is mutual, thanks for your friendship! Here is hoping for four years more!

Michael:  I also want to thank all the other people who have contributed to the blog in the last four years. You’re all awesome! Keep up the good work. Last but not least I want to thank all our readers. Without you guys, I wouldn’t be where I am now!