Category Archives: Ask The Stargazer

Generic RPGs: Do we really need those?

Yes, the caption is meant to be controversial. If it works for big media, why not for me? Smiley mit geöffnetem Mund But in all seriousness, what is the big deal with generic rules systems like GURPS, Fate, and others?

A friend of mine came up with the question earlier today. He’s no fan of generic system. He prefers the “one book – one system” model. If he wants to play Star Wars, he picks the Star Wars RPG from the shelf. If he wants fantasy, he picks up D&D. And if you think about it, this is something you don’t see that often in other types of games. There is no generic strategy boardgame ruleset which comes with various expansion for different settings or genres. You don’t see this with video games either.

If we look at the history of RPGs we notice that the first modern RPG, Dungeons & Dragons (1974), was basically generic. It was meant for fantasy, yes, but there was no setting. The game assumed that the GM came up with his own stuff. Nowadays D&D is more than just the rules. Settings like the Forgotten Realms or Greyhawk are part of what we call “D&D” today. But things have been vastly different a few decades ago.

While it didn’t take long for RPGs written with a setting in mind were released, but generic RPGs still were very popular. In my opinion the main reason is that GMs still love to create their own worlds. And this is much easier if the rule system you use doesn’t shoehorn you into a certain genre or setting. Continue reading Generic RPGs: Do we really need those?

Ask The Stargazer: What is the best Fantasy RPG?

Ask The Stargazer Some of you may remember the column “Ask The Stargazer” that I introduced back in 2011. I posted a couple of replies to your questions since then, but for various reasons the column has lost steam in 2012. But there are still a few unanswered emails in my inbox, so I decided to get “Ask The Stargazer” back into gear again!

Here’s the first question for 2013:

Dear Stargazer

I have one more question that I kindly would ask: What is the best fantasy rpg?

Could you please give short overview of the most popular fantasy rpgs with a summary of pros and cons? I have played d&d 3rd, ad&d 2nd, d&d 3.5 and now I’m playing Pathfinder. Although there is a lot of differences between these editions this mostly one game. My problem is that I find this game a bit heavy – having to much rules and the combat takes to much time. In addition I hate class levels, making it too difficult for the DM/GM to make an adventure. So the thing I actually what to find out is what other options do I have? I have played some general rpgs as well, but I didn’t find those very intriguing.



Deciding which fantasy RPG is best for you is actually not easily answered. There’s no such thing as the best RPG. Every game out there has its flaws and it’s entirely possible that the game I love is total rubbish to you. As the saying goes: One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. But before I get too philosophical, let’s have a look at a few popular games.

A note: I will give you my thoughts on each of the games but going into detail will definitely beyond the scope of a blog post, so if you’re interested to learn more about a particular game, check out the game’s official site or post your question in the comments below.

Ask The Stargazer: “Would you be willing to provide some insight into your thoughts on layout for free RPG PDFs?”

It's hard work! A couple of days ago Stargazer Games fan and fellow amateur game designer Michael M. contacted me via email and asked me to share a few tricks on doing the layout for free RPGs. Here’s what I came up with:

  1. Get a desktop publishing software
    When you try your hand at layout using word processors like MS Word or Open Office etc. don’t be surprised when it looks like crap. It’s extremely hard to create a good-looking layout with a software that’s not created for that purpose.
    I prefer Adobe InDesign but it’s an extremely expensive software. Microsoft’s Publisher is AFAIK still included in some versions of their Office suite and it’s pretty easy to use. If you prefer open source there’s Scribus.
    I haven’t had much luck using Scribus, but I know that some people have created pretty cool looking stuff with it. I am sure there are many more DTP solutions for various platforms.
  2. Look at what other people have done
    That’s what I did a lot. I looked at the layouts I’ve seen in books I like and tried my hand at imitating them. That’s actually easier said then done, especially when you use another software (with less features) and when you have no idea how certain things are done. I am still pretty much an amateur but people seem to like my stuff, but I still learn something new every day. That’s actually a good segue to my next tip.
  3. Practice, practice, practice
    The only way to get better at doing layout is by doing layout. Period. Ok, when you get someone else to show you some tricks, this may also help.
  4. Make use of textures and artwork
    Everything looks better with textures and  artwork. Luckily there’s are a lot of textures on the net that you can use royalty-free. Often textures are released in the public domain or are licensed under Creative Commons. When it comes to Fantasy/SF artwork you usually have to pay for that stuff. But there’s a lot of pretty inexpensive stock art at sites like RPGNow.
    Sometimes artists allow you to use their art for free as long as your project is non-commercial. If you find a nice piece of art at DeviantArt or somewhere else, do the right thing and ask the artist for permission if you want to use it. You might be surprised how many artists are actually willing to let you use it for free.
  5. Get feedback
    Ask people for feedback. Show them a few pages and ask them how they like the layout. I actually print the layout drafts on paper so that you can better judge how the final product is going to look like. Sometimes your layout looks great on the screen but doesn’t work that well on paper.
    It also helps to have a few friends who aren’t afraid to tell you the truth when your layout sucks. And it’s even better if they can point out what they don’t like and more importantly why they don’t like it.

Please don’t forget that I am an amateur myself, so take my advice with a grain of salt. If you have some layout experience of your own, feel free to post your thoughts below!