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.

Thoughts On Night's Black Agents Solo-Ops

I’ve played countless tabletop roleplaying games over the years, but only a few experiences come close to what Night’s Black Agents Solo-Ops by Pelgrane Press offers. What sets NBA Solo-Ops apart is, that it’s not your regular multiplayer roleplaying game, but it’s meant to be played by one GM and a single player. As I’ve already pointed out in my article about Cthulhu Confidential, another game powered by Gumshoe One-2-One, this is a very intense experience. Please note that this article contains spoilers.

In Night’s Black Agents Solo-Ops you – as a player – take on the role of Leyla Khan, a former MI6 agent who recently managed to escape from the influence of a Romanian vampire – at least if you are playing the official adventures included in the core rulebook. Players and GMs are of course free to create their own characters and come up with their stories.

Last year my friend Ralf ran the first adventure called “Never Say Dead” for me, which started with Leyla waking up in hospital bed with no memory of where or even who she was. During the course of the adventure I traveled to Budapest, uncovered some information about my character’s past, and avoided forces sent both by the vampire who once “owned” her and one of his rivals.

We completed the adventure in a single session and I not only managed to kill my former master, but I also escaped Budapest with a special artifact which supposedly helps against vampiric influence. Yay! Usually I am no huge fan of pregenerated characters but in this case it wasn’t so bad. Aside from some background Leyla is pretty much a blank slate (amnesia helps) and you can mold her into the character you want to play.

During the first adventure I was pretty much on the run all the time. Paranoia was high and most of the time I felt quite helpless, although Leyla is quite a skilled agent. Especially when dealing with mortal foes and regular opposition you feel quite competent, but – oh boy – things change as soon as you have to deal with the supernatural.

The second adventure, which we started playing last Saturday, is called “No Grave For Traitors”. This time Leyla is in Spain following a lead which may eventually lead to uncovering more about the vampire conspiracy. I don’t want to spoil too much, but this time I attended a drug boss’ party, fought members of a Moroccan drug cartel while wearing high heels and a little black dress, continued my research in London where I eventually tried to track down a former Hungarian scholar who was obviously under the influence of another Vampire.

As last time I had a lot of fun. If I hadn’t had a train to catch, I would have loved to continue playing. Playing Leyla Khan slowly becomes second nature and I am curious to see where my investigation leads me. I am a sucker for a good mystery, and the one spun by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan is definitely an intriguing one. The game also makes you feel like a competent spy. You can truly be badass in this game, even though obstacles and opponents still feel like a threat. Having such a balanced experience is rare and I applaud the people at Pelgrane Press for pulling this off.

I also love the Gumshoe One-2-One mechanics, which I described in some detail in my Cthulhu Confidential post. The push mechanic is definitely more interesting than the spending mechanic from regular Gumshoe. I am glad Pelgrane Press decided to introduce it into their newer multiplayer games as well. Overall I am extremely happy with my Gumshoe One-2-One experiences. Cthulhu Confidential was great, but IMHO NBA Solo Ops is even better. One reason is that I get slightly tired of the Cthulhu Mythos, but I also just love the technothriller-meets-Vampires setting of Night’s Black Agents. My recommendation: if you have the chance to play Night’s Black Agents Solo Ops, don’t hesitate, but grasp the opportunity. It’s well worth it!

Happy New Year

The new year is now about a week old and I’m enjoying the last days of my winter vacation. I used the last weeks to relax and recuperate. Basically at the last minute my wife and I decided to stay at home over New Year’s Eve since fighting against depression has really drained our batteries lately. Overall things have been much, much better than in the years before, but at the end of the year I felt like “butter scraped over too much bread”. So I played a lot of video games, watched several movies, had great food, and spent a lot of time on my couch.

I hope you don’t mind me writing a bit about non-RPG stuff today. There are a couple of things I really want to share and this blog is the best way to do so. I want to begin with my thoughts on a movie I watched recently on Netflix: Ready Player One. When I first heard about the book, I was pretty excited, so I eventually picked up the audio book. But – oh boy – I couldn’t even listen to the first thirty minutes of it. The book was read by one of my favorite narrators, so it was probably Ernest Cline’s writing. Regardless of what was the cause, I really wasn’t interested in watching the movie after that. When it was recently released on Netflix I thought: “What the heck, why not give it a try?”. I have to admit I was very positively surprised since I enjoyed the movie very much. It was a fun, nostalgic romp littered with pop-culture references. I had a great time watching it and immediately afterwards I ordered the Bluray disc to add it to my collection.

Ready Player One also got me interested in VR again. I’ve tried VR several times, and most of the time I was suffering from severe motion sickness. I don’t know what changed, but this time I basically had no motion sickness at all. Since I don’t own a “real” VR headset I used a Google Cardboard headset, my Samsung Galaxy S9+ smartphone and a software called VRidge/Riftcat which basically streams the VR images from a PC to a mobile device. To my surprise this worked better than expected. Sure, you don’t get full six degrees of freedom like with more expensive solutions, but it worked fine for me. As soon as I get a more comfortable replacement for the Cardboard headset, I’ll definitely play some more Elite: Dangerous and Star Trek Bridge Crew among other things.

I’ve already done some research into what VR headset to get. Both the HTC Vive and Valve Index are too expensive for my tastes, so the three candidates on my short list were the Playstation 4 VR, the Oculus Rift S, and last but not least the Oculus Quest. Since I don’t own a PS4 the PS4 VR turned out to be the most expensive solution. To my surprise the Oculus Quest came up on top. It is wireless and standalone, so you can play VR games even without a PC. There are already countless impressive games available for the Quest and more are on the way. In addition to that Oculus Link allows it to stream games from the PC to the Quest. Sure, it’s not the same thing as using a dedicated PC VR headset, but from what I’ve read the experience is very, very close. I also like that the Quest doesn’t need external sensors. Recently they also made hand tracking available for it by a firmware update, which could be extremely cool. Overall the Oculus Quest looks like it could be the perfect VR solution for me.

When it comes to tabletop roleplaying things have been pretty quiet lately. I think I already mentioned that I distanced myself from a few people. Since I did a lot of gaming with those people, I haven’t really played that much in the last few months. I also developed anxiety related to GMing. Sometimes even the thought of running a game can cause acute symptoms. This sucks! Luckily playing is fine and I joined a new gaming group recently. But I really hope I’ll able to get into GMing again in 2020. But I don’t think I’ll try to rush things. We’ll see how it goes.

Last but not least I want to give a recommendation to people looking for a really good computer roleplaying game. Over the holidays I picked up a copy of Disco Elysium and it’s as good as everyone says. It’s pretty quirky and surreal at times, but it’s so much fun to play. I’m far from having finished it, but so far I enjoyed every minute of it.

So, what have you been up to lately? Feel free to share your thoughts below. And if you have any questions regarding the things I was writing about today, feel free to ask away.

Genesys and the End of the Year

Although I have been reading various roleplaying games during the last months, I irregularly direct my attention towards Genesys, FFG’s generic roleplaying game based on the mechanics popularized by their Star Wars RPGs. I’ve played in a very successful and fun Edge of the Empire campaign and over the many, many sessions I learned to love the system. Usually I am no fan of fancy dice, but the Narrative Dice system just works great!

This time my excitement for Genesys was rekindled by the release of the Expanded Player’s Guide, which not only contains new gear, new spells, new vehicles for the players, but also a lot of GM material, including new example settings. Genesys is simple enough that I easily could see myself running a game with just minor prep, but it also has enough depth to keep players excited for quite some time.

Many GMs have that one, go-to game, which they use both for one-shots and lengthy campaigns, a game they can run at a moment’s notice. I never had such a game. I’ve run many games in the past, but I was never that comfortable with a system. It’s probably part of my “GM’s attention deficit disorder”. Nevertheless, I think Genesys could become such a system.

Traditionally I have run a one-shot game (usually something from the horror genre) for my friends on New Year’s Eve and this time I’m tempted to use Genesys for that. That means I have about two weeks to read the rules again, come up with a viable idea and prepare an adventure. We’ll see how this turns out considering I’ll be in food coma all over the holidays…