Welcome Back to the Labyrinth

"We have been away far too long, my friends," Ashoka declared, his face lit by the eldritch green glow of his staff. "But we have finally returned to the labyrinth whence our adventures first began."

"Just imagine the treasures that lie within," said Yun Tai, flexing his mighty muscles. "Wealth enough to live in luxury the rest of our days."

"And arcane artifacts of great power," added Ashoka his words dripping with avarice. "All ours for the taking!"

"Umm...guys?" Nysa interrupted. "Do you hear something dripping?"

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Is the OSR Running Out of Steam?

If you are a regular OSR blog-follower, you've probably noticed a marked decline in posting frequency throughout the community.  During my first year or so of blogging I had so much to say it was hard to find time to write it all, and I and my peak I was posting a lengthy essay about every two days.  Now that I'm into year three, however, I'm finding it a struggle to make one post per week and only about half of those have any substantial content.  The others are lazy fluff pieces (e.g. my last two posts).

It's easy to make excuses: I'm busy, it's summer time and July's extreme heat sapped my will to live, and so on, but the real reason is that I'm finding it harder and harder to come up with anything interesting to say.  The curious thing is that it isn't just me burning out, this trend is pretty much pandemic across the OSR blogging community.  Once, not so long ago, I had to strictly limit the blogs that I followed and even then, such was the furious pace of posting, I had a hard time keeping up with them and if I didn't check my blog roll at least a couple of times a day, I missed posts.  Now I can skip a couple of days and find only a few new posts.

Even James Maliszewski, the Energizer Bunny of OSR blogging, is slowing down.  Of course, this is a relative observation; he's now 'only' posting at a frequency that equals or exceeds what I achieved at my peak instead of the unbelievably prolific two to three essay-length posts per day that we used to see on Grognardia.  James is also writing about gaming less these days and is more focused on reviews, and discussions of pulp fiction, suggesting that he, too, is running out of steam.  This is hardly surprising, and by no means a criticism.  I am amazed that he was able to sustain his posting rate for as long as he did.

Nonetheless, this community-wide slow-down is an interesting phenomenon.  Have we run out of things to say?  Is our great Renaissance losing momentum?  Or are we merely shifting our creative output to other fora?

My suspicion is that we are shifting our focus away from blogs and onto other media.  First message boards and then blogs were the principle venues of communication in the early years of the OSR, during the 'getting to know you' phase of the relationship, when we were passionately discussing old school gaming, sharing house-rules and posting myriad random tables.  But now we seem to have moved on to more sophisticated projects and blogs really aren't the best format for sharing them.  The honey-moon is over and it's time for this relationship to grow and mature.

There has been a lot of great material posted on people's blogs over the years, but it was read only by people who were following that blog at the time a particular article was posted.  Blogs are great for the immediate dissemination of information, but not for preserving and making material available over the long term.

So, I think - I hope - that much of the energy that the community used to put into blogging is now being directed at bigger projects that are being published as PDF or print products that won't languish in the obscurity of a blog archive.  New 'zines are springing up left and right, such as Tim Short's recent start-up, The Manor, and they contain much of what used to be posted on people's blogs.  This is probably a good thing, because back-issues will be available for a good long time, ensuring that past issues are readily available.  While I certainly miss the exciting hey-day of old school blogging, there is no way that level of output and energy could be sustained indefinitely.

So where does that leave blogs?  In my case it means doing what I originally intended when I first started this blog: posting session reports to create an ongoing history of my campaigns for player reference, posting house rules and, of course, letting off steam with occasional rants and musings, like this one.

I may be wrong, but I think that what we are seeing is not so much a decline or slow-down in the OSR, but rather a shift in how we do things as we mature and grow as a community.


Black Vulmea said...

I think some portion of OSR activity moved to G+.

HAA said...

I don't think the OSR is done, but it may be in a phase of maintaining itself. That original burst of energy that came from all the great "clones" being released has gone by the wayside, but I guarantee, just as with D20, that the effort now lies in "what can we do differently?" I, for one, see no reason to box the rules and put them out again and again and again now that we have probably 12-15 viable sources for them now that are in print and current, and seeing some attention to varying degrees. I might see the value in a universal "house rules"/Unearthed Arcana type supplement tied to S&W or OSRIC or Dark Dungeons, or settings with specific rules. It's begun in earnest with SWN, DCC and ACKS, to my eyes. I think we have a ton more interesting things to see.

Porky said...

I'd noticed it for sure and I think you're right in the general reason. Black Vulmea too. It's a natural development.

It may even be a conscious response to the transience of the material in blogging. The work posted is all still there, but barely seen, and the creator may feel it needs to be placed in a more permanent form, or the larger pattern in the material taken to a logical conclusion. I'm not convinced by that, but I can understand it.

I think there are various other factors too, more or less important.

Most obviously maybe, there's only so much people might need on a given subject, and in some areas we've seen a lot. Most if not all of the main aspects have been dealt with at least superficially. A lot of output retreads the same ground in slightly varied form, and it's reasonable to think this is getting increasingly stale over time.

More generally, a lot of the activity of the OSR could well be about us getting specific things out of our system, understanding what made us, which is presumably linked with the stage of life we've reached overall. If so, once we've done that and learnt what we can, maybe we just move on, and this could be part of what we're seeing.

Linked with that, I feel there's a lot of reticence and even reaction in the community on the whole, a holding on to the work of the past for what it is rather than what it does, on the product rather than the process and on the things made by others back then rather than those that could be made by us now in the same spirit. If this is the case, it may be that the OSR in its essence lacks the tools to move forward.

I also get the impression that quite a few bloggers are, or were, between jobs, and I'd imagine there's a link between the emergence of the OSR and the big economic balls-up of the past few years, which, if true, would suggest that as - or if - things improve, people will need to drop out of the community, and may well want to drop out to move on.

Most obviously maybe, D&D is still a central focus of the OSR and WotC have arguably had a big impact by announcing fifth. I think this prospect of what could be coming began to separate the more dedicated and participating from the more casual and observing, and those seeing the brand as home from those seeing the philosophy as home. This seems to have taken some of the audience and/or commitment, and with it the wind from the sails.

The need to belong to a big thing is powerful, and the stamp of the official is always a temptation. I've seen similar in the same way sixth edition 40K seems to have interested people who otherwise gave the impression of being over it.

All that said, the change highlights the positive. The OSR emerged, coalesced, recognised itself, grew fast and produced concrete things. It still is, and may be growing in ways we can't see or measure. I think it's influenced many lives and given back of sense of self-determination, developed imagination and a range of skills and offered people a space to create and have fun. Like Fumblefail, I'd bet there's much more to come. And think about all the silent onlookers and what they take away too.

Telecanter said...

I think there's a natural arc to these personal game blogs-- people seem to get excited, blog about various questions and curiosities- then quiet down once they've got their own game figured.

But I'm with Black Vulmea, a ton of juice was sucked out by G+. I've seen people post things there that might have been a whole blog post before.

Other people cross post blog articles to G+, so you're missing half the comments, half the life of the discussion, if you don't check it out on G+ as well as on their website.

Oh well, I guess things change. I try to keep an eye on G+, but I think any content there is even more ephemeral than a blog and I was never very interested in posting myself because Google wouldn't allow me to call myself Telecanter.

Andrew said...

Some of the most prolific bloggers are currently neck-deep in making good on Kickstarter promises. That's got to make a difference.

As for blogs only offering content temporarily, I really didn't want that to happen when I started blogging. I use the tabs/pages feature to group .pdfs and links to posts, so I can still offer a condensed sample of topical good stuff to visitors. So some of it is organization, not tools themselves.

I do miss some of the regulars.

Gothridge Manor said...

Yeah, G+ has filtered some of that energy away from the blogging, but I think a lot more are playing because of it instead of pontificating about gaming. I know my blogging has slowed in the past months. That has to do more with me working more, assisting others with their projects and trying to put out some of my own material.

Currently I am editing two pieces for people, being a sounding board for another person, working on the 3rd Manor, trying to complete Starter Adventures and gaming twice a week. If I do much more gaming stuff Ivy is going to start punching me in my sleep!

Great post Sean.

James Maliszewski said...

It's true: I am slowing down, partly because it's Summer, partly because I'm busy turning Dwimmermount into a published product, and partly because, after 4+ years of posting, there's a lot less to say than there was at the dawn of this online old school explosion. Google+ has also taken its toll; it's a very useful new medium and I've been having a blast playing and running games via its Hangout utility.

I have little doubt things will pick up (for me anyway) once the Fall rolls around and the kids are back in school and I'm (hopefully) done my current projects. But the great thing about the old school community is that, while blogs and forums may be ephemeral, the people behind them seem to be here for the long haul, so they'll all be waiting to pick up where we left off before the downturn.

Sean Robson said...

I'd like to thank everyone who has replied for their insightful comments. I'm sure there are several reasons for the down-turn, but I suspect that a combination of subject fatigue and a shift to large-scale publishing projects are the main culprits.

G+ bamboozles me, but I'm also a technophobe who's never even used a cell-phone, so I'm not especially receptive to new technologies or hip to their use.

Kiltedyaksman said...

No things aren't slowing down. It's August and there's always a big decline in blog posts this time of year as people get their last holiday in before September.

Also, like James, I am pounding Barrowmaze II hard right now and thus have limited posting opportunities.

I don't see anything unusual right now, and would suggest its a reflection of time-of-year and the cusp of new games about to emerge.

Higgipedia said...

I think a lot of the "kicking the peanut around" blog posts have been replaced with Google+.

I also know more people are PLAYING over G+ instead of writing about what they'd do if they played.

Trey said...

I too would blame G+ a bit as an important factor (if certainly not the only factor). I'm sort of ambivalent about this, myself. I enjoy the discussion and the gaming that goes on G+.

However, I started a blog as a creative outlet for content of sort that would inform play but is not the same as play. After getting use to having an audience, playing to a more empty theater isn't as enjoyable. Plus, sending so much time on G+, I miss really great content put out by others.

Sean Robson said...

@Kiltedyaksman: No, there is definitely more going on here than just normal summer-time slow down. I started to notice the decline in posting over six months ago, and many blogs have been going silent, entirely, over the past year.

If you haven't noticed it yourself, perhaps it's because you've been putting so much time into BM II that you haven't noticed community-wide patterns?

Sean Robson said...

@Dennis & Trey: I must admit that G+ was completely off my radar; it isn't something that I use at all, so it never occurred to me that it might be drawing bloggers.

Joethelawyer said...

It seems we are all too busy playing games on G+, rather than talking game theory because we couldn't get a face to face group together. :)

Dan said...

I agree Sean and have defintely noticed the slowdown you refer to. Half the blogs on my list of regulars have essentially ceased being updated and most of the rest have slowed down considerably.

Many of the "big" bloggers do seem to have alot on the go in terms of actual publishing projects so that certainly explains some of it, but I do think theres a bit of contraction going on too in the OSR as a whole. Some folks seem to have moved on to other things, and there doesn't seem to be anyone coming along anymore to take their place. I suspect the OSR "movement" such as it is has sort of peaked and may be settling down to a more reasonable level of activity...

Sean Robson said...

This is likely so, Dan. It's only natural to settle into a state of equilibrium. Contrary to what most economists and politicians believe, there are limits to growth.

richard said...

I know that after 3 years I no longer need to read posts about AC or alignment - that could be part of it too: maybe there's some filtering going on in topics/what's interesting that didn't happen when new people were discovering this OSR thing every day.

One thing about G+ is it's become the primary forum where topics ricochet around from author to author - if anything G+ is more meme prone than the blogroll.

Porky said...

There is and has been gaming beyond G+, and the gamers who play this way are clearly a subset of the OSR as a whole. There are still those who play in the same room as their gaming group or groups, and have played this way while blogging and talking game theory, probably part of the reason for the talk. There are even games played by blog.

G+ sounds like a great idea, and expanding into is natural. That said, it's useful to remember the medium can also be the message. Putting too many eggs in any one basket isn't necessarily a good idea. Keeping blog activity high is another solid way to keep things growing, a key means of bringing in new blood, first as part of the audience and then as new participants.

To give an example, my blog gets plenty of traffic from the supposed wargaming communities, especially GW gamers or ex-GW gamers, but I don't actually spend much time on GW. Based on what I post, many of these seem to be readers with an interest in gaming generally, or who could have, and even a specific focus on the OSR doesn't seem to be a turn-off. They're presumably clicking through deeper, into other more focused OSR blogs, and at the very least seeing what's going on. I'm sure this is the case at other blogs, with other communities in other areas. If any one of us lets a blog fade or disappear, that's potentially one less new route in.

This might go back to the earlier points about reticence, recapturing and belonging - it could be that many of us now have what we want, even where we didn't know we needed it, and have moved in the balance of our activities away from a general giving - playing a broader role in keeping the OSR growing and developing - towards a general taking - enjoying the fruits of the work done, and in an ever narrower group.

If so, it raises a an obvious question. If we've made the connections we want, and we neglect the possibility of future connections, will attrition eventually separate us again, or mean the particular interests we have now fade in our affections? Following on from that, are we still making more and better connections, and is the level of ferment high enough to satisfy our needs over the longer term?

Digital Orc said...

Ditto Google +

Sean Robson said...

@Richard: Quite right. I certainly don't need any more random tables, either.

@Porky: Once again, thanks for your insightful comments. I agree that blogs are a useful portal for new players. When I was first getting back into old school gaming I had no idea that an old school blogging community even existed. I stumbled on one by accident and that led to my discovery of all the others, which provided me with a great deal of inspiration. I don't think that we'll see many newcomers stumbling into G+ circles or getting the same level of value from them.

It would be useful, I think, to organize our blogs so that new visitors can find older content relevant to their current situation without having to hunt through several years worth of posts. I know that some people already do this, but maybe we all ought to give some thought to it?

Anthony Simeone said...

Golden Rule of Life: there's never just one thing responsible for human behavior. There are usually at least a handful of reasons things change. Figuring out what those reasons/factors might be? Well, that's the hard part.

Anonymous said...

I haven't noticed any slowdown on the OSR blogs I enjoy. There are a lot of product releases. People are playing a lot of old school games. It seems stronger than ever to me.

Ryan J. Thompson said...

Fumblefail, funny you should mention a universal "house rules/Unearthed Arcana" as that is just what I'm working on at the moment. One of two projects anyhow. The way that I intend to release it, however, is not as one book, but four (possibly five.) They will be house rules and variants supporting the four archetypal classes (and their variations) therefore making it four books. Yes I could compile them, but at the moment I am still thinking on keeping them separate. Make note that I am not far into the project at all. Some of the questioning that I have been posting over on my Gamers & Grognards blog is related to the first of these "Eldritch Arcana" (all four will likely have "Arcana" somewhere in the title as an homage to "Unearthed Arcana." This first focuses on magic users, variant systems, variant casters, new/house ruled spells etc.

Necropraxis said...

What you describe is more a personal arc, not a community arc. I think it's natural for an individual to slow down after a while, especially if they have some life changes happen.

I don't think this is true of the community as a whole though. Have you added any new blogs to your reader recently? There are lots of good ones popping up all the time.

Some activity has moved over to G+, but most of the prolific G+ people also have blogs that they still use for slightly more thought out content. The barrier to comments is lower on G+ though, so there are more comments there.

I often discuss ideas on G+ first (sort of like a literature review) to make sure that I'm not totally reinventing the wheel or missing something obvious regarding whatever the topic at hand is.

Kiltedyaksman said...

No, I've noticed a slowdown but still think it's more timing than anything else.

Blogs come and go all the time, I've noticed.

The Jovial Priest said...

The transient nature of blogs was why some of us created the Links to Wisdom House Rule wiki.


Over 500 links. As long as people don't close their blog down, it remains a source of links to fabulous posts.

I find the more I play the more I want to blog. So for me the OSR is just a return to the game I love, in the format I still know from memory.