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.

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.

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.

 

The Age of Anarchy

My latest Kickstarter just went live!

Those of you who follow me on social media know that I’ve been working with Paul Mitchener to create the Perpetual Motion Engine gaming system. And The Age of Anarchy is the setting we’ve chosen to release the game.

What is The Perpetual Motion Engine?

PME is a labor of love that has been underway for several years now. If you’ve read my blog for awhile, you know I love to tinker with gaming systems. That’s because what I want to play (what I really want to play) isn’t out there.

I didn’t make a game that was like the games I enjoy playing. I created the game I want to play because it doesn’t exist yet.

Here are the high points:

  • Consequence-based: Winning or losing ignites the story by forcing a relevant consequence (win and get what you want, lose and something bad happens).
  • GM Rolling is Optional: You can play it like Numenera or Apocalypse World, or you can have the GM roll. The rules for each are baked right into the system.
  • Rolling is Simple: 2d6 or 1d6 + your modifier. That’s it. That’s all you need.
  • Damage is Numerical: Consequences are not aspects, as they are in Fate Core. They are story occurrences, which could mean a dishing out of numerical damage.
  • The PCs are Heroes, but Not The Heroes: This one is big, so I’ll delve into it a bit further in the next section.

Patron-Based Roleplaying

If the PCs are not the heroes, then who is? The Patron, that’s who.

In PME, a Patron can be a cause, a person, an organization…pretty much anything a group of player characters can devote themselves to. And that’s the goal: to see your Patron’s goal realized. So the PCs are the heroes, the Patron’s heroes.

A business can’t build itself. A city can’t save itself from supervillains. A cause needs activists to spread the word. And an impoverished noble can’t rise to greater power without loyal followers.

The Patron-based part of PME is truly my favorite. It opens up so many options for gameplay.

  • GM’s don’t have to convince players to get involved in an adventure; the Patron has a need, and the PCs were created to help.
  • When a player character “dies,” the GM can decide that the Patron takes a hit to their status instead (or the player can choose to martyr their character for the Patron’s good).

And, best of all, the entire table creates the Patron and decides their Issues. And when it’s time to take on a new mission for the Patron, the players decide which Issue they want to solve for their Patron (usually, it’s the one that’s about to become a consequence for the Patron, but it doesn’t have to be).

PME is truly a shared storytelling experience, but with rules (though not a lot of them).

Enter the Age of Anarchy

So why Norman England? Because when I brought the idea of a Patron mechanic to Paul Mitchener, he said that historical RPGs are not as prevalent as they should be and that The Anarchy is uniquely set for us to explore building a noble lord or lady with the Patron mechanic.

If you want to know more about The Age of Anarchy game specifically, check out our Kickstarter. Supporting that will allow me to create a wider variety of games with PME (I can’t wait to bring it to a superhero setting).

Have you already read the draft of Age of Anarchy? What did you think?

How I Fell Into Game Design

Believe it or not, and probably unlike others in this industry, game design wasn’t my first choice for creative outlets; I sort of fell into it. In fact, it wasn’t even on the radar until a few months before I launched the Jadepunk Kickstarter. And after that Kickstarter happened, I fell into the gaming industry…hard.

I’ve always been a game hacker, whether it was Mutants and MastermindsGURPS, or Fate Core; whatever I’m playing tends to get a warped around my preferences. The reason is simple: no one was making the games I wanted to play.

What I Actually Wanted to Do

This can be found on the Fate website somewhere, but I only looked into game design to find someone to make a game based on my fiction. I didn’t think I was capable of making a game because the task seemed so…professional (I had no idea that indie games even existed back in 2012).

What I’ve always wanted to do, since I was 10, was be the next Marvel Studios. My first love is comic book writing. But when Marvel and DC closed their open submissions back in ’09, I felt like I needed a different route to break into comics. Maybe if I published a novel, which must be easier than breaking into the Big 2 (yeah, right!), then I could have my agent pitch me to Marvel. But then I got hold of self-publishing, moved down that route, and overplanned the release of a book that didn’t even exist yet (remember those posts about letting perfect be the enemy of great?).

I still had the plan on using books to break into comics even after the Fate Core Kickstarter, but then I impressed so many people with my Fate articles and Fate Core Star Wars implementation, that it just seemed like launching a Kickstarter for one of my fictional settings was the thing to do.

But then Jadepunk was so well received, and I was just slammed by thinking that this is what I do now. I’m a game designer. And really, that felt odd. I’m a helluva game hacker, but gaming theory…I took a game design 101 during my time at the Art Institute. But I’m a systems guy. All my life, I’ve taken martial arts systems apart, figured out how they worked in relation to their why, then put them back together, often with some pretty great results. For me, game design is another exercise in this process.

But, with all the self-reflection I’ve been doing in my most recent posts, I believe I have begun to pick myself up from my hard fall into this industry.

Gaming is a Part of What I Do

I’m not about to leave the industry behind. I have come to enjoy playing with systems and, the best part, interacting with other gamers that I would never have met were it not for my launching Jadepunk. But I think I know where gaming belongs in my life.

That post I made on settings vs. systems last week hinted at it, but I was exploring the concept for myself (you all just got to read along with my internal monolog). Releasing a systemless setting gives me the starting point for all kinds of things: system conversion documents, supplements to explore the fictional worlds, and (the best part for me) an ability to easily bridge out into all kinds of fiction (prose, scripts, even poems, if the muse descends). Sure, I could do that with a game/system combination, but then I would feel beholden to the fanbase of the system, kind of like how I’ve been with Jadepunk and the Fate community. But while Fate is bigger than Jadepunk, Jadepunk is also bigger than Fate. I’ve got more stories to tell with that setting and several others.

So I’m going to continue making games (especially those I’ve promised to continue producing for, like Jadepunk), but I’m going to be shifting a large part of my activities toward my true passion: fiction.

Have you ever “fallen” into something that you really enjoyed, but knew that it really should have been your side gig?

Q1 Goals in 2017

In 2017, as part of my commitment to adding value to my community, I’m going to start posting my quarter goals throughout the year. (Maybe y’all can hold me accountable.)

Personal
My personal goals are pretty simple:

  1. Attend at least 24 martial arts classes (2+ classes/wk).
  2. Go on 12 dates with my wife (1 date/wk).
  3. Play 24 hours of video games, no more, no less (2 hrs/wk).

Business
These are the goals you’ve (probably) been more interested in hearing about.

  1. Finish the Jadetech and Vigilance Committee product lines.
  2. Finish fulfilling the Shadowcraft Kickstarter.
  3. Launch (my final) Kickstarter: Age of Anarchy.
  4. Write and release Fist Full of Jade, a Jadepunk Tale (fiction).

The difficult part of this would he the first two. All of the drafts are complete, but Jesse Ferguson will have a tough time getting all of those books through layout.

That’s it for Q1. Enter your email at the bottom of this page to get all those lovely blog posts straight to your inbox everyday.

Now, who’s going to be my accountability partner?

Discipline for 2017

New Years is upon us, and that means resolutions. Most years, I wait until after Christmas to review the previous year and consider the trajectory of the next, but last night I found a six-year-old notebook. What was in it? Goals. But, more than that, goals that I have not yet achieved, still pursue, and shouldn’t take more than a season to reach. Talk about a lack of discipline.

And can you believe that the first line of the notebook said this:

Seriously!

Now, what was written after that was actually pretty correct: …you just have to do it. Discipline is built through action. The more you do something, the more disciplined you’ll become in keeping with the habit. The only secret to success in the pursuit of discipline is progressive overload (that’s a weightlifting term for starting small and slowly increasing the load until you are achieving epic lifts).

I could lie and say I didn’t know that six years ago, but starting small isn’t sexy enough; screw Steve Rogers or Bucky Barnes, I want to be Captain America today! So, naturally, this goal was something that didn’t get achieved…

I mean, it’s an ambitious (and ambiguous) goal, but it’s not like I didn’t spend most of my life in just that condition. I knew how to get back to it. Patience and discipline, neither of which I had.

One goal I did pursue, in fits and starts, is…

But the sustained effort required to make a living with my writing was not there. And in the last two years, especially, it’s been all over the place.

So what am I going to do about it in 2017?

I’m going to be patient; I’m going to be disciplined. I’m going to start small (yes, those are 5 lb. weights on the literary bar), and I’m going to be patient and keep thinking about the long game.

My goals for 2017 are to: get my business back on track (getting Jadepunk, Shadowcraft, and PME getting regular launch dates and my marketing infrastructure established), publish an Intrepid Story every quarterhit my fitness and martial arts goals (which I won’t post here, because boring to read about if you’re not into that), and document my progress (if I’m successful, then a record of how I did it could be beneficial to others in the future).

Some of those goals require funding that I don’t currently have (but that I do have lined up in January), others require help that I need to procure, but most of them require that I get off my ass and start, but start small.

What are you hoping to accomplish in 2017?