One of the things about the OSR right now is that it's changing rapidly. I have this sense that there is a momentum building, and to use a tired old saying, it's like a snowball rolling down hill. Except unlike a snowball, I'm not sure if we can predict with certainty what it's going to look like after it's achieved a peak.
I've talked about how I view the history of the OSR before. What's interesting to me is how much things have changed in the last year. Since I was away and too busy to look in on things extensively for about the last year, I'm startled at what I'm finding now that I do have time to read up on the current state of things. I'm startled not just because things do seem to be achieving something resembling what many of us had hoped, and quickly, but I'm also concerned at some of the other trends that are emerging.
It's undeniable that the Sleeping Beast that is Old-School is waking up. People who are further and further from the grognard circle (which I count myself in, even if I'm a bit younger than many) are mentioning retro-clones in their blogs, people are trying them out, and in general we are seeing a shifting attitude about games and gaming. I think one of the major bugbears we are starting to defeat is the idea that out of print games are obsolete. I don't think many people realize how important this hurdle is. Companies spend a lot of money and time conditioning customers to believe that games are subject to evolution, and that you must buy the current edition or you'll be left behind. That conditioning it not easy to break down, but I think it is happening now.
Another positive thing that's happening is that more and more people are writing, creating art, and sharing it with people. We're seeing a major growth spurt in the number of people interested in old-school. We were all were very afraid about a year and two years ago that there just wasn't going to be much interest or a market...and part of that was because the people who we thought would be a receptive market were not. Many of the people who played AD&D or other OOP versions of D&D simply were not interested in any new fangled material. But now what's happening is that new people are becoming interested, and people who had left previous editions behind years ago are coming back to them now. In short, we're all finally starting to see that a new market is emerging. Granted, it isn't that big yet, but it is a hell of a lot bigger than it was at the start. Again, that snowball is rolling down hill.
However, there are some disturbing trends too. I just can't get over how, despite how optimistic things look for the OSR, we're seeing a change in tone. I don't know if it is just due to general depression because of the economy, but we've got a really snarky tone out there. There is definitely a pessimistic, aggressive component to discourse.
I have to admit that it's starting to look like I was wrong about something. It happens once or twice from time to time. There were naysayers early on who said that the various retro-clones cropping up would splinter the community. I thought that was nonsense, that everyone would stick together, and that system didn't matter. I thought that people might pick a favored system, but that there would be no competitiveness about it.
Well, from what's emerging, I think I was off a bit here. I think we're seeing the early stages of splintering. I think we're going to see more of it, and I think it's going to get ugly over the next year. I predict if things keep on the current course, the climate of the OSR will have broken down into mini-wars not unlike what emerged between OSRIC vs. Castles & Crusades proponents.
I've always felt that the most honest approach to all of this is to stay humble. After all, the foundation of what many of us are building on are restatements, mechanical emulators, of other peoples' hard work. We're like tribute bands. The moment any one of us decides our "brand" should be "the one" is the moment we've strayed. When it becomes more important to have our egos stroked and cultivate microcelebrity status, we've strayed. Most people will have a kneejerk reaction to this statement, maybe thinking this isn't a danger or "it couldn't happen to me," but yes, it could. Do I think we are there yet? Not quite yet, but like I said, give things a year at their current course, and the emerging world that is the OSR will have a very different climate. I'm not just talking about people who promote or produce retro-clone systems, I'm talking about anyone who has a blog, produces material, etc.
What can we do about it? I think that if we want to organize the community, and it's possible we either can't or maybe many people are not interested, we have to do it in an inclusive way. We can't do it under one "brand" name, or it loses its inclusiveness. The Old-School Renaissance group store at Lulu was named just that, not "The Labyrinth Lord Collective," or anything like that. Besides, the OSR isn't just about retro-clones. It's about a way of gaming, and a way of producing RPG material. It doesn't matter if you write a module that doesn't align itself with a particular clone game, its the content and feel that matter. It's not just about fantasy games, either. Old-school gaming includes all genres.
Even if you don't agree with what I'm saying in terms of where things might be headed, I at least appeal to people to consider it. Stop, take a look around, evaluate it. Maybe this thing we're all into is taking on a life of its own, and we can't direct it somewhere else. We'll see.