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?

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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?

“Good Enough”

I began reading Star Wars: Ahsoka last night. I’m 70 or so pages in and it’s great so far. And by “great” I mean that, if it keeps the quality up through the rest of the book, it will earn a place on my shelf next to my all-time favorite series: The Ranger’s Apprentice (John Flanagan). What struck me about Ahsoka wasn’t all of the Jedi awesomeness (there’s plenty of that, too), but the authenticity, especially in regards to how Ahsoka interprets the world around her.

One statement, in particular, stuck with me. While she was thinking about becoming a droid mechanic on this new planet, her thoughts were of how she wasn’t as good a mechanic as Anakin. No, she was “good enough” but not “prodigious.” And just being good enough, she found, was what most beings in the galaxy (outside of the Jedi) were at their professions. It took her some getting used to in every aspect of her life outside of The Jedi Order.

This concept, “good enough,” meshes quite well with my personal mandate to not let perfect become the enemy of great. She wasn’t doing that. In fact, she was open with her first customer about not knowing how to fix it, but trying to do her best. What a great lesson in humility. And even better, on the part of the customer, what a great lesson in not expecting other people to be perfect (I’m looking at you, person who yells at your barista to “get it right!”).

Every now and then, you read something in a book that speaks to your soul, that tells you it’s okay to not be okay. “Just do you and everything will work out,” this text seems to say to me. I dig that!

There are so many quality thoughts in this book. I’ve never read any of the author’s other works, but I’m keen to if this quality keeps up.

Again, major disclaimer, I have not finished the book (I haven’t even gotten to the inciting incident yet), but I’m (greatly) enjoying what I’ve read so far.

Want to read it with me?

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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?

Second Letter From Kausao City

For those of you who aren’t caught up, I recently received a letter from Kausao City’s governor’s office describing how the Kausao City Post Office is being used to contact rebel sympathizers outside of the hegemony. After more than a week of searching for information regarding the seized letters mentioned in that correspondence, I received another letter.

Here it is:

 


Jianghu Sympathizer,

I’ll refrain from using names for mutual protection. In fact, it may be too dangerous to contact you at all. I hope our desperation has not compromised you.

Jonica…A contact in the Four Winds Trading Company has alerted us to a plot to kill the Kaiyumi crown princess during her first visit to Kausao City, and frame a prominent Jianghu society in the process. We already have a tough time convincing recruits that we’re a legitimate rebellion – we’re losing the propaganda war. If the princess, a known critic of the Council of Nine, were to fall, seemingly by our hand, the Jianghu may be too discredited to carry on.

One of our number – again, no names – has informed us that you have contacts within the Empire. It is our hope that you can impress upon them how dangerous it is to allow the FWTC to remain sovereign outside of the Empire. The treaty that created the Kausao City hegemony dictates the corporation can only be regulated by the Aerish government.

We have already sent word to the princess, and are praying to Ehal that it arrives before her retinue departs. If you can lean on your government and keep the FWTC too busy to become embroiled in such distant plots, you could save a lot of lives.

With gratitude,

The Swift Songbird Society


 

I’m not sure who they think I know, or how one voice could make a difference, but I’ll do my best. Though picket signs outside the Capitol might be too much.

Then again, I do know someone who applied for a government job last year, an assistant to some middle manager somewhere. I wonder if he got the job. I’ll check.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to post here and keep a record of my findings. And, again, here’s the original letter – for your files.

The Jianghu rebellion is the centerpiece of the Jadepunk roleplaying game.