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?

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.

The Strength of the Comic Mini-Series

With the dozens upon dozens of ongoing monthly comic book titles that have been canceled in recent years, it’s a wonder why the Big 2 still pursue that as a business model for new titles (old titles have the staying power of time behind them, so they’re exempt from this rant).

Here’s my trouble with releasing an ongoing series before the market has been primed: it’s hype. Period. They want to hype something that’s going to “last forever, so get on it in issue #1.” It’s BS.

I get wanting to release a new title to expand your listing on Comixology (or bookstore shelves…if those still exist by the time you read this). But this practice demonstrates short-term thinking on the part of the executives and creative directors. “Get the numbers up this quarter, we’ll worry about next year when it comes around. Besides, we’ve got 14 big crossover events ready to launch between now and then, anyway. Ka-ching!

N0w, you know me. I don’t like to complain about a problem unless I can provide a solution. Fortunately, I come from an era (the 90’s) that saw a fairly stable Big 2, while many other companies struggled to maintain ongoing titles beyond their flagships (like the Big 2 right now).

Embrace the Mini-Series

Remember those 3-9 issue story arcs that used to be used to test the viability of a new line? They’re still around, but the lines they produce don’t seem to have any staying power.

Here are a few titles that did it right.

The merc before he got the mouth. #1 of 4.
The ragin’ cajun. #1 of 4.
Fathom: Dawn of War. #1 of 4.

That last one is of special note. Anyone remember Fathom when it first released?

Fathom. #1 of 9.

At the time, it felt like Fathom broke the mold. A new series, from the late and great Michael Turner, that was never meant to be an ongoing series.

In fact, all of these were marketed as a limited series. You know what they all share? Damn compelling stories! Did they sell super well? I honestly have no idea. But that’s shallow thinking. Here’s why.

They Created Loyalty

There’s a saying in marketing that it’s better to go deep (long-term thinking) than wide (short-term thinking). The difference is in how you treat your customer. Deep thinking engages with them one-on-one (or as close to it as possible), recognizing that they (not your Wizard Mag. or Facebook CPM ads) are the ones who will grow your brand by talking about it. Wide thinking is the “get a billion people to see your Twitter post” marketing scams. Without the deep connection, the people looking are not going to convert long-term, they just want to see the immediate spectacle – and have been given no personal reason to stick around.

Here’s what those mini-series did:

Gambit

When Marvel saw that Gambit was a hit with fans, this solidified their loyalty within the X-verse. People (like me) tuned into X-comics that heavily featured Gambit. But, he wasn’t as big a hit as Wolverine, and thus didn’t deserve an ongoing title. But his mini-series scratched an itch with fans (brand loyalty) and helped enrich and already slammin’ ongoing title (X-Men, Vol. 2).

Some people today fail to see Gambits appeal. But, let’s be honest, most of his more recent mini-series are pretty terrible in comparison to him taking on the Assassin’s Guild in New Orleans. (Maybe some of the new generation should look a little further back on Comixology to learn why Gambit is so beloved by so many. YMMV, though, as all of this is subjective.)

Deadpool

Personally, I credit Deadpool’s current popularity all the way back to this title. Before this title, he was a token ninja with a healing factor. He also wasn’t anywhere near as insane as he’s portrayed now. He was someone who couldn’t die, and so looked at life as something to laugh at. (I like both versions, really, but it’s important to note where he came from.)

After this mini-series, we started seeing more and more Deadpool in our comics, but it was still some time before he got his own ongoing title. But in that decade or so between, Marvel was building incredible brand loyalty for the character, starting with this mini-series.

The Fathom Lines

The first Fathom series (1-9) established a comic line, with multiple spin-offs, that is still going strong to this day (often in mini-series format). Hell, this one is potentially the best of the bunch because it launched an entire comics imprint (Aspen Comics), named for the main character of the Fathom comic.

And that brand allowed a truly incredible 4-part mini-series, Fathom: Dawn of War, to become a deserved hit. It’s my belief that Dawn of War wouldn’t have achieved the reception that it did if it wasn’t for Fathom‘s success. And Kiara, the star of Dawn of War, has gone on to lead multiple titles of her own since that time.

What Do You Think?

Should comics, and comic franchises in general (movies, TV, etc.), start being more responsible with how they market their comics? Should we see an “ongoing” series restart from the same title so many times (how many #1’s has Marvel put out this year)?

In fact, should the TV properties do the same? Agents of SHIELDThe FlashArrow, and Supergirl are all going pretty strong (deserved of the “ongoing” title). But while Daredevil was groundbreaking, the second season was less so – it felt to me like two mini-series (Punisher’s origin and Elektra’s origin; awesome as they were) smashed together. I would have preferred to have them as their own standalone mini-series shows (with Daredevil co-starring). This one is less cut and dry, however, as a movie could be seen as a “mini-series” of a kind, and Netflix is a more complicated animal than comics and appointment TV.

Anyway, I’ve beat this horse enough. What are your thoughts on the matter?

A Smarter Way to Publish RPG Settings

Most of the game design articles this week have centered around making games more accessible for new audiences. In this article, I’d like to touch on a method for 3rd party publishers to attract some of the extant RPG audience that’s out there.

Go All-In with Setting

Let’s face it; most 3rd party published supplements are new settings to be played with a particular system. This was the way I went with Jadepunk: Tales From Kausao City and Shadowcraft: The Glamour War. And I’m here to tell you, I wish I hadn’t. It’s not that designing for Fate Core wasn’t incredible fun, nor lucrative (the Fate audience is great to its creators, in my experience). The problem lies in narrow distribution.

Just like how no one outside of the Mutants and Masterminds community is going to know what Emerald City is, and most people who don’t play Savage Worlds will have anything but a passing awareness of Deadlands, few people outside of the Fate community know what Jadepunk is. And that’s sad because Jadepunk is awesome (seriously, everybody says so).

“What?! Jadepunk is AWESOME!”

So unless you have the clout, and extreme patience, to build a single system from the ground up, I suggest you…

Distribute Widely

There are more systems than players in today’s market, and most players already have their favorite 2-3 systems that see 99% of the play at their tables. That’s a huge barrier to entry right there.

So what’s a fledgling game designer who wants to sell their shiny new game to do?

I suggest you write up your core setting document, sans system and put that out as a sort of “RPG travelogue.” Most RPG players are pretty smart, able to figure out how to make their favorite system play for film or comic book franchises that are out there, so there’s no reason they couldn’t do the same for your setting.

See where I’m going here?

The unique thing that you have to offer in this instance is your setting, so this approach makes sense. By only releasing the setting (at first, see the next section), you are giving your setting mass market access – anyone can try it out, without having to learn new mechanics. (And what if someone’s table loves your setting, but hates the mechanics you attached it to; they won’t give it the time of day.)

Once your setting is released…

Add SOME Systems

“But I want to play with mechanics,” I hear you saying. Well, this is where you get your chance. Once you release your setting, you can poll your buyers (or Kickstarter backers) and ask what systems they like. Then you can get to work on conversion documents targeted at your audience like a smart missile zeroing in on exactly who is most likely to buy it.

Personally, I wouldn’t make these conversion documents very long; 10-40 pages are probably enough for most systems, but it’s really up to you at this point. And the most beautiful part: by making conversion documents for your setting, you’ve opened the door for others to make them for their tables, increasing the value of your setting to the wider market.

After a few years of applying this method, you would hit the most popular systems out there, and your setting (if it’s good) and it’s conversion documents will sell better than if it were attached to a single system.

What Do You Think?

Does this sound like it would work? I’ll tell you, Jadepunk has been out since 2014, and I know many people who would love to give it a try, because of the setting, but who have a distaste for Fate rules. (Even some of the people who have worked on Jadepunk have said they want to convert it to their preferred systems).

To me, if setting is your thing, this is a no-brainer.

Intrepid Stories: Too Close to the Sun

Intrepid City 0:2 TOO CLOSE TO THE SUN By Ryan M. Danks The XS–9 rocketed out of Earth’s atmosphere. Propelled by prototype plasma engines, the experimental air/space hybrid plane was the pride of Valiant Industries’ R&D department, which they claim is light years ahead of their competitors. Colonel Cole Stewart leaned into the cockpit and watched… Continue reading Intrepid Stories: Too Close to the Sun

Intrepid Stories: Justice

Intrepid City 0:1 JUSTICE By Ryan M. Danks Aaron Adams sprinted down the alley, police sirens at his back. He shifted the semi-automatic pistol into his left hand and pulled the door to the chop shop open. “C’mon,” Aaron called behind him. Mal’s breath came hard as he ran through the door. Inside the garage, he… Continue reading Intrepid Stories: Justice

Why Reactive Superhero Stories Make Good Movies

Why is it that many superhero movies and comics that focus on the awesome character fail to make it past issue 9 (or a very ill-made, and ill-funded, sequel)? The reason is because superheroes are reactive characters. They aren’t meant to be the action takers.

Since their first appearance in the dark ages of the early 1900’s, superhero stories have followed a formula: a threat puts people in danger, the hero learns about the threat and then shows up and neutralizes it. The hero didn’t take any story action other than deciding to go help.

The superhero genre, at its core, is full of plot-driven stories. And that’s a good thing.

I feel there needs to be an exception stated at this point: origin stories. Origins usually have a reactive element in the same way that every other story has, but they’re also full of character driven action as the hero makes decisions to act in ways that ordinary people wouldn’t – this is the moment we get to see them become heroes.

Why are origin stories different?

Think about the differences in the Batman and Iron Man movie franchises.

art0131

So many people love Batman Begins and Iron Man 1. Their favorite heroes are on screen in amazing ways. “There has never been a superhero movie (better/more accurate) than this,” fans say. But what changed with the second and third movies? Many comic book fans say they didn’t like Iron Man 2 or 3 (I loved them, for the record), but those same fans say that The Dark Knight is possibly the best superhero movie of all time.

Why did Batman work with the fans while Iron Man had mixed reviews with diehard fans? Because we already knew Batman’s story. It was told in the first movie. In fact, it was the only Batman movie that was about Batman. In the second movie we get to see a story about Batman’s villains. This may also be the reason that Batman’s villains are often given such high regard – they have whole movies made about them.

Iron Man was rightfully about Iron Man. We needed to learn his story, who he is, why he does what he does. But we knew all that going into the second movie. What’s different in the second and third movies? The new tech and the new threat. Let’s see that! Instead we get to see more into the head of Tony Stark (which is awesome, but then Iron Man movies are a different type of movie than Batman, they’re more about Tony’s arc of character growth, which the Batman movies tried to include but everyone was more interested in the villains).

Unless the subsequent movies are solely about the character’s growth, like Iron Man 3, a hero almost always needs to be reactive to make future stories compelling.

So, after the first story arc of a comic book/movie, do we need to see a reactive character forever?

No. While it is a successful formula that has carried franchises such as Batman and Spider-man on for decades, it isn’t necessary, provided there are other elements at play.

What are the exceptions?

  • Origin stories (as already pointed out, this is when we learn why the hero is a hero. I has to be about them).
  • Stories about how difficult it is, or what it means, to be a hero (this is the premise of Arrow, the TV show about Green Arrow that is fantastic for many, many reasons).
  • Investigative stories (many Batman comics use this method to keep the focus on Batman and not on the villains).
  • Value testing (when the hero’s values are to be tested, and that is the climax of the story, the villain can remain a side-element).
  • Team-ups (the focus is on the interaction between the heroes. Villains become the glue that sticks them together).

There may be others, but the crux of it is this: if it’s about the hero, it better show something new (BIG and new). If it’s just about the hero with a new love interest/complication and maybe getting some new technology, those are called sub-plots. Shift the focus on what is complicating that love interest (or threatening the new one) and what the hero will need that new technology for. This is why The Dark Knight and Spider-Man 2 worked so well. Now that we know about the hero, tell us a story about a villain who would test their resolve. Who would put them through hell and show us their absolute limits. Show us what it takes, and means, to be a hero.

In the end, the subject of a superhero story is not the hero, nor the villain. It’s the human condition. It’s about the choices we make and why we make them. It’s about us.