Blog Update: Changing Things Up

When I began this blog, it was with the intention of sharing things I’m interested in –– much in the same way that most people use social media. Over time, however, I’ve vacillated between common concepts of how a blog should work. To be honest, my blog was more interesting before I started conforming to “branding methods” of blogging. So I’m going back to the way it used to be.

This blog is now going to be a “social media headquarters” of a sort. I’ll post things that are relevant to me and my interests, things I do that I feel may be of interest to others, and things I create. In short: this will be a place where I can share more personally than I would other places about my interests and goings-on. If you like me and the things I’m into, then I think you’ll like this place (and I recommend you subscribe to the blog in the footer below).

This will necessarily change some of the ways that I post. For instance, I’ll focus less on gaming in this space and there will be an uptick in other things I find fascinating or useful, like martial arts or life hacks. That isn’t to say I won’t talk about gaming –– it’s part of who I am –– but I’ll be including the rest of me from now on, too. (Politics are no longer a thing I clog my mind with, and my religion has changed somewhat and become more personal for me in recent years, so rest assured you won’t see anything of those sorts here.)

Before you click away, I’d like to thank you for following this blog all these years. If you’ve enjoyed it, and follow me on social media, then I think you’ll continue to like what you see here.

5 Spoiler Free Reasons You Should Go See Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 came out last week, and it was fantastic! I waited eight days to post this, hoping that most people who visit this blog would have already seen the movie by now. If you haven’t, don’t worry: there be no spoilers here!

If you’re one of those people who thought it didn’t live up to the hype, let me ask you: what could have? GotG v1 was so good, how could anything that follows it live up to the expectations that followed? But I argue that Vol. 2 did live up to the hype, and here are my 5 spoiler-free reasons why:

#5: Expanding the MCU

I won’t go into specifics, but the Guardians franchise are setting up the cosmic cast of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) quite well. There were a few after credits scenes that I’m looking forward to seeing fleshed out after Infinity War wraps up.

#4: The Jokes

If you thought GotG v1 was funny, you might die from laughing at v2 (or walk away with abs, for sure). The movie was wall-to-wall jokes, and none of them fell flat. James Gunn is proving himself a director who knows comedy.

#3: The Stakes

Last time, the Guardians protected a planet from a would-be destroyer, who also had his sights on the rest of the galaxy –– but anything beyond Nova wasn’t an imminent threat. In v2, the threat is most imminent and almost destroys the galaxy in one fell swoop. If the Guardians weren’t there, Earth, and the rest of the Milky Way, would have died out in 2014 (the year the movie takes place). The stakes are definitely high!

#2: The Drama

The “family” of Guardians carry on their misfit nature right from the beginning. They seem to be holding together by a thread, yet show the kind of compassion that only a true family shows. And there’s plenty of conflict among them. They haven’t changed the team dynamic from v1, which is probably the best move they could have made.

#1: Relatable Heroes

Before Guardians, I was getting bored with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Some of the characters in the greater MCU have become just a bit too dark for my tastes –– and, personally, I’m done with hero vs. hero scenes. Guardians not only knocks it out of the park with the morally questionable villains that feel like they’ve got real reasons for doing what they do, but the heroes…the heroes!

I’ve never seen such a collection of heroes that relate to the common person as well as the Guardians do. Star Lord is my spirit animal, growing up without a father and dreaming up the awesome men that father could be (I also relate to the superhuman charisma he’s got, but you knew that already). But beyond my personal experience, parental abuse, autism…this movie makes misfits like all of us Terrans feel like we could be Guardians of the freaking galaxy!

So, when are you going to see it?

Artistic Freedom: A Manifesto

It has long been the goal of the artist, regardless of the chosen form, to make a full-time living as an artist. Authors want to write; painters want to paint; musicians want to sing…and none of them want to do anything else.

When they begin, artists have a love of their art that rivals the deepest of romances, but as they confront the realities of selling their work –– of needing to impress an audience –– they begin to sacrifice their true artistic sensibilities in favor of what consumers will purchase. This is as terrible for the artist as it is for their art.

While there is something to be said for maintaining ownership of a creation, in case anyone else wants to use it for their work and thus compensate the original creator for their contribution, the original artist should not be concerned with selling that original work to the marketplace –– not if they want to express their true self in the process. It is my belief that self-expression takes a back seat to consumer interest when the goal is remuneration.

So what is an aspiring artist to do?

In older times, an artist would gain the interest of a wealthy patron to fund their work in exchange for the artist doing something of benefit for the patron –– build a cathedral, paint a mural, name a newly discovered moon after the patron’s children, etc. While lucrative for many artists, such relationships were also toxic, as the patron could make demands on the artist and their work.

That said, I still believe that the patron method is the strongest way for an artist to make a living while practicing their art. There is a compromise made between the desires of the artist and their patron, but with the right patron the artist has the freedom to express themselves fully –– some patrons just want to be “patrons of the arts” –– and modern technology provides a vehicle that can find numerous such patrons.

Crowdfunding business models allow for consumers of art and story to fund the projects they believe in and become patrons of artists and storytellers they admire en masse. On the surface, this looks like it establishes another patron-artist relationship, but I maintain that it doesn’t.

In ancient times, if an artist or their work offended their patron enough to sever the relationship, the artist was left without funding. Crowdfunding, however, creates an environment that favors the artist: they have multiple patrons, sometimes numbering in the thousands. If a work or an artist offends a patron, there are others to shore up the loss. Even if a large number of patrons leave, there are always going to be those who still admire the artist, if for no other reason than their courage to truthfully express themselves.

Previously, even if the masses enjoyed the work of an artist, without a rich patron the artist could not produce their works any longer. But with the low cost of becoming a patron of modern artists (sometimes as low as a dollar), the masses can easily support an artist they admire.

I so fervently believe in this concept that I will no longer charge for my creative works. I will open up a vehicle for those who are interested in my work to help me pay my bills so that I can have more time to create, but my work will no longer be for sale, which means it will no longer be controlled by what I perceive others may think –– I’m often wrong about that anyway.

My art is now for the masses to enjoy. I will trust in the ever-improving quality of my work to maintain a minimum number of patrons, or average amount per patron, to support me while I provide the world with the truest stories and shared storytelling experiences that I can.

Regarding my previous work: Because of pre-existing crowdfunding campaigns, and my agreements to backers and collaborators alike, JadepunkShadowcraft, and Age of Anarchy will remain for sale on DriveThruRPG.com.

How Fantasy Fails to Represent Magic

Magic is not meant to be realistic, it’s a force that is unquantifiable, unknowable, and above all: powerful and mysterious. But is it, really? Too often, magic is simply an excuse to apply modern science to a medieval setting, and often in such a way as to seem completely unreasonable.

In the last fifteen years, The Force has been shred apart by the same roleplaying games that made magic into an understandable science. It makes sense –– you have to understand a trait you’re putting on your character sheet. The problem is that, when coupled with the prequel movies and their exploration of what The Jedi Order is and was, The Force loses its appeal as a form of mysticism or magic and become something more akin to X-Men psionics. But none of that is why Star Wars did magic better than fantasy (to be sure, fantasy mages –– with their fireballs and Wish spells –– are more powerful than Jedi). Star Wars did it better because, within the setting, The Force means something.

In the Eberron setting for Dungeons and Dragons, magic is akin to science in that it is understood, quantifiable (to some degree), and everywhere. They have airships powered by trapped elementals, cities powered by magic…it’s little wonder why such a society hasn’t become modernized: they don’t need to!

But in a setting where any old Joe can learn magic, it loses its meaning as something mystical and on the edge of perception, unquantifiable and unknowable.

Now, Eberron, and settings like it, are incredible fun to roleplay in. Don’t get things mixed: I love fantasy roleplaying in most of its forms (and Eberron is definitely one of those that I’m fascinated by). But they miss the mark on magic for one important reason:

No One Cashes In!

When the internet hit, every Tom, Dick, and Harry threw themselves into the endeavor of figuring out how to make money with it. Storefronts that can blow away department stores went up, search engines were created to help consumers navigate to the most relevant storefronts, and companies like GoDaddy learned to capitalize on your very access to such commerce: by charging money for domain names and hosting.

A reality changing tool was created, and entrepreneurs found ways to make money off of, and limit access to, all of it.

Where are the fantasy entrepreneurs? Why isn’t someone buying up all of the material components of the most powerful spells and selling their wares or services to the highest bidder (especially compelling when the entrepreneur isn’t a magic-user)? This is more inexplicable when the setting has thousands of years of magic traditions –– someone would have capitalized on this by now. Someone would have limited access to it.

In recent years, D&D and others have tried to explain this away by suggesting that most people in the world know of magic but don’t touch it in any meaningful way. Then, in the very same section, they describe how adventurers use magic for everything! And this concept seems to completely ignore settings like Eberron, where streetlights are powered by magic.

How Star Wars Got it Right

While magic isn’t capitalized on in Star Wars (we don’t see any “Force Healer” shops set up to treat the super rich), the “magic” means something: you’re special. If you have access to The Force, then a group funded by the Galactic Republic will come and legally kidnap your children and force them into labor as keepers of the peace.

The Force (magic) is valuable, rare, and has consequences for the entire world: the galaxy-shattering Sith/Jedi wars that spring up every generation.

Not All Fantasy Got it Wrong

Dune has an economy built around a magical resource. Mistborn has guilds and an oppressive government that makes laws concerning the use of magic. My own Jadepunk limits magic by making the material components the most valuable commodities in the world.

Again, I’m not bashing on settings that have ubiquitous magic. Such settings are fun to play in. But there becomes a point where disbelief is no longer suspended because someone would have figured out a way to monetize nexus points and the ley lines that connect them (and why are cities so rarely built on such nexuses?).

Consider the economy and the reaction of enterprising entrepreneurs the next time you sit down to do some worldbuilding. Your readers and players will thank you for it.

The Best Jedi Master Ever?

Qui-Gon? What? He got pwned the first time he fought a Sith, which his apprentice famously cut in half. How could Qui-Gon be the best Jedi master ever? He was a terrible Jedi. I hear you, but here’s my reasoning, my explanation.

It’s quite simple really.

Qui-Gon is the only master who’s pupil didn’t turn out to be a huge failure.

Yoda’s apprentice, Count Dooku, turned to the dark side and lead the Separatists against the Republic. Although Yoda partially made up for this in training Luke Skywalker, but he didn’t do that alone; Obi-Wan started Luke down the path.

But Obi-Wan’s actual apprentice, Anakin Skywalker, destroyed the Jedi Order! So Obi-Wan isn’t in the running for best master, though he does get the mantle of best Jedi (though Luke may be changing that in the recent movies, but both of them beat Anakin’s black-clad buttocks, so no points for Luke beating Vader).

And Luke Skywalker’s apprentice, “Emo” Ren, preferred his grandfather’s methods and slaughtered Luke’s new Jedi Order.

Just going off the movies (which I loathe to do because the EU –– I’m coming around to the term “Legends” –– is my favorite part of Star Wars), the only successful Jedi master we see is Qui-Gon Jinn, whose apprentice, Obi-Wan Kenobi, didn’t fall to the dark side, didn’t slaughter younglings, and didn’t disobey the Jedi Code. He was a real Jedi’s Jedi.

But Obi-Wan is no perfect master, because of the aforementioned failure of his apprentice (but then…he never wanted to train Anakin, and only did so because it was Qui-Gon’s last wish, so maybe Obi-Wan could have been the best master and the best Jedi).

That’s why Qui-Gon Jinn, who’s a terrible Jedi, is actually a great master. I guess those who can’t do teach.

What are your thoughts on the matter?

Foundational Martial Arts and Fitness Training

This may be the most important blog post on the subject of martial arts and fitness that I ever write. When I was 22, I was in the best shape of my life, and I can point to the very reason why: I was building strength, endurance, flexibility, and martial arts skill atop a well-established foundation.

When I turned 30, I fell away from my training (I’m 34 as of the time of this writing). I’ve been trying to regain my previous levels of fitness and performance, but I’ve only just realized why it’s been so difficult: I forgot all about foundation.

Why Foundation is So Important

Ever hear the phrase “you can’t run before you can walk”? Now, those of you who have children may be thinking “but my baby ran first.” But having kids, I can attest to the fact that it never works out well for them when they don’t have the walking foundation down first. And you need the same foundation for your fitness and martial arts practice.

So what am I talking about here?

A basic foundation of strength, endurance, flexibility, and core martial skills.

I’m not talking about benching 100s of pounds, running miles, doing the splits, or being able to work the dummy like Donnie Yen. (That’s step 2.) What I mean is a basic foundation for these things.

Tangential Story

When I was 24, I attended a seminar with a Hapkido expert. It never occured to me before then that I was stronger than the average practitioner of traditional martial arts. But then one of this guy’s students was trying to perform a throw on me (and I was told to provide resistance), and he just didn’t have the power to do it –– and this wasn’t some out of shape paper tiger, this kid was around 19 and fit. But he said something I’ll never forget: “man, you’re really strong!”

Being the weakest person in my group of friends at the time, that came as a shock. I lifted weights and ran like crazy, but everyone around me did more of both. At the time, I didn’t think anything of it (how insightful were you at 24; don’t answer if you’re currently 24, give it another decade), but after a few years, it got me thinking about how important fitness is to training in the martial arts. And now that I’m out of shape, I can see just how important it really is.

Building a Foundation

In the story above, I make myself out to be Hercules. But I’ll tell you, I’m far from it, and have never been to that level of strength. But I had that basic fitness that allowed me to do just about anything, including resisting a fully-trained kid in his prime from taking me down (there was some skill involved in that, to be sure, but that’s not the point here).

So how did I build my foundation? Modern fitness experts refer to the method as “greasing the groove“, but my version added a bit of a spin on the typical method.

I had a simple circuit that I worked through 2-3x daily (usually just once, to be honest, but I was consistent to do it at least everyday). I did this even on days where I had martial arts training (most days back then), weights, or cardio. But if I didn’t do anything but this, then I tried to fit it in right when I woke up and right before bed.

The first few movements of my circuit were focused around cardio (jumping jacks, burpees…I’ll list my routine at the bottom of this post). And it was a “one and done” thing for me. I knocked out a single set of each move, then moved on with my day, barely breaking a sweat. But it gave me incredible gains.

My Groove

Before I post my full routine, I want to point out a few things. You’ll notice that there are martial arts movements…because I’m a martial artist; consider those to be optional for someone who isn’t. I also have some equipment ($10 exercise cables from Walmart; I used bicycle intertubes when I was in high school, but snapped them more often than not). The equipment is optional. You can do most or all of this with nothing but a floor and a door post.

Floor Equipment Level: 10,000

Where something says X-Y, that means start with the first number, but each time you work through the program try to push one of the exercises a bit, but only one, and not to failure (unless you’re failing at or before the first number, then go ahead and fail and build your strength).

  1. Jumping Jacks (25)
  2. Burpees (the 5-count variety; 5-10)
  3. Walking Lunges (20; 10 each side)
  4. Cable Rows (if you have cables/workout bands, wrap them around something and pull them with one or both hands to your waist or chest; 10-15)
  5. Cable Curls (either keep the cables where they are, lift your elbows and curl to your shoulders, or put the cables beneath your feet and curl; 10-15)
  6. Push-Ups (10-20)
  7. Knuckle Push-Ups (5-10)
  8. Finger Push-Ups (push-ups on the tips of all your fingers, try to remove fingers as your progress in the program; 5-10)
  9. Chest Isometrics (just push your hands together in front of you, as hard as you can, for 8-12s)
  10. Backfist Isometrics (bend your arm slightly and put the outside of your forearm against a door post, then press against the post as hard as you can for 8-12s)
  11. Planks (30s-1m)
  12. Crunches (20-50)
  13. Leg Lifts (only 12″ pulses, not all the way up; 20-50)
  14. Butterfly Kicks (like leg lifts, but kick your feet like you’re swimming; 20-50)
  15. Open and Close (feet 6″ of the ground, then open and close them; 20-50)
  16. Samson Stretch (lung position with one knee on the floor, then push your hips forward to stretch the hip flexors; 15-20s)
  17. Single Leg Stretch (either sitting on the floor, putting one leg on the top of a couch or bar, or both; 15-20s)
  18. Toe Touches (just bend over and touch your toes; 15-20s)
  19. Should Width Toe Touches (toe touches with you feet spread, alternate between going down to the floor, then to each leg; 15s each)
  20. Splits (go as far as you can for 10s, then move directly to “American splits” with one foot on the toe and one on the heel for 15s, then back to the center for 15s, then to the other side for 15s, then back to the center for 20s –– this is a great stretch!)
Sunglasses Optional

And that’s it! It might seem complicated because of my direction, but it’s a mere 20 moves, and most of them are lying on the floor or stretching. It shouldn’t take you more than 10 minutes after you’ve done it a few times. The best part is that you can take your time after the first portion. Blitz through the first 3 moves, then slow it down and just move at your own pace.

If you’re in a hurry, or just starting out and think that looks intimidating, start with this:

  1. Jumping Jacks (25)
  2. Burpees (5)
  3. Lunges (10 total)
  4. Push-Ups (10)
  5. Planks (30s)
  6. Crunches (25)
  7. Leg Lifts (25)
  8. Any stretches you feel you need (you should at least hit hamstrings, hip flexors, and groin)

I left out the cables from the above because I’m assuming that if you are just starting out, or don’t have a lot of time, then you don’t have that equipment (or time to set it up). If you do, add those in there.

What About the Martial Arts

I left it out because I don’t think most people who follow this blog actually practice martial arts, but just in case I’m wrong, here’s what I add just before my stretches.

When I practice martial arts, I choose a “lead” (which foot is forward in my stance) and switch it the next time I practice. So if I choose to put my left side forward in the morning, I might put might right side forward in the evening, or the next day (if I’m lazy and skipped the evening workout).

  1. Straight Lead Punch (most people call it a “jab”; 20)
  2. Straight Rear Punch (most people call it a “cross”; 20)
  3. Hooks (I just throw a left-right cadence; 40 total)
  4. Uppercut (same as hooks: a left-right cadence; 40 total)
  5. Lead Front Kick (any variation you know; 10-12)
  6. Rear Front Kick (10-12)
  7. Lead Round Kick (10-12)
  8. Rear Round Kick (either stepping it down into the alternate lead or spinning all the way through; 10-12)
  9. Lead Side Kick (10-12)
  10. Spinning Back Kick (10-12)

And if I’m feeling froggy, I might throw in some elbows or knees, but that’s honestly pretty rare. I do, however, perform 1-2 kata –– always an Ung Moon (JKD’s trapping form) and usually a Karate, Tai Chi, or Chi Kung form for good measure.

What This Did For Me

After training like this for several months, I not only had abs for days (seriously, I didn’t even need to flex to see them), but I had the core strength, endurance, and flexibility to lift weights, run, jump rope, or perform martial arts techniques for hours on end.

Remember, this is not the “be all, end all” of training (you won’t become Bruce Lee on this program). This is a foundational program that can get you started. But foundations are just that: something to build on.

I’m going to do this for the next three months, then move on to more intense routines.

Are you going to try it? Let me know what your results are if you do.

 

What is Your Jadepunk Tale?

I call a Jadepunk campaign a Jadepunk Tale. As anyone who roleplays can tell you, a campaign can be a single game session or a twenty-year adventure. Since Jadepunk has been out for awhile, I’d like to get a sense of how other people are playing the game.

What tales are you telling? Who are the archnemeses of your players? What’s your Jianghu society’s name?

Even if you aren’t running a game of Jadepunk currently, what would your Jadepunk game be about?

Leave your answer in the comments below (and link the community to any campaign materials you may have online). I’ll start with a description of my favorite Jadepunk Tale –– the one that I have yet to play but that started the idea of Jadepunk, and that I hope to write a novella about very soon.