Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Who will weep for lost Grognardia?

Okay, perhaps the title of this post strays into the territory of histrionics, but bear with me. It's been about eight months since James Maliszewski made his last post on his blog, Grognardia. And I'm feeling nostalgic for the days when James' posts were a regular part of my RPG blog-reading experience.

Perhaps the very damp summer we've experienced here on the East Coast of the US has me in more of a maudlin mood than usual. For whatever reason, I find myself once again missing the "old days" of Grognardia. By old days, I personally mean the two years between mid-2010 and mid-2012 (i.e. when I was reading it). As it was for many folks, Grognardia was one of the first OSR blogs that I came across, when I decided to search the web for the current state of roleplaying affairs in the world.

Look, I wouldn't describe myself as being someone who worshipped the man. It was more his content that kept me reading, rather than any deep interest in James as an "OSR superstar." I didn't return to the hobby in order to join a cult of personality. I was looking for kindred spirits. I was looking for those who, like me, were either coming back to gaming as adults, or those who had never left the hobby (the latter being sources of extreme inspiration for me, and perhaps some jealousy!).

Above all, I miss the enthusiasm and flow of interesting ideas that used to emanate from Grognardia. When James used to put out tidbits about his home campaign, before Dwimmermount became a commodity, I used to eat up the details eagerly. I really liked the creativity that James was showing, and it was an inspiration for me, as someone who was coming back to the hobby. There was a genuine feeling of dynamism to what James was doing back in the day.

But I think that some bloggers don't survive these attempts to become game designers/publishers. Some are cut out for it, some aren't. There's ample evidence of the "failing or failed amateur game designer," as outlined in regularly-scheduled detail at Tenkar's Tavern and other blogs. I blame those failures mostly on the dreaded stretch goals, but that's another blog post...

I'm thinking that James might have been able to handle the game designer burden, but it seems his life circumstances got in the way. Or perhaps, even if he didn't have issues with his father's health or whatever, he might not have been able to deliver on his projects. Who knows? I don't fault him for being emotional over his life issues, but in this digital age there are plenty of ways to reach out to the world at large, especially when it comes to business associates, even from the depths of grief. But, who am I to judge?

At any rate, I suppose my feelings are part of a normal "grieving" process, right? I mean, I don't claim to know the future, and it's very possible that James will return someday to the blog. However, that doesn't alleviate the memories of the Grognardia-that-was.

Anyone out there want to share their own memories of Grognardia? 


  1. My memories of Grognardia are decidedly mixed. James started his blog just a couple months before I started mine, and his was very much an example that I looked up to. The first couple years, I enjoyed his blog immensely. Every entry had something to recommend it, and he definitely led the charge in terms of encouraging people to (a) become more familiar with the history and evolution of D&D and the early RPG hobby, and (b) reassess long-held assumptions about the perceived value of old-school mechanics. He also was less afraid to express some level of humor and personality in his posts, and was much more engaged in the blogging community at the time, actually leaving comments on other peoples' blogs or participating in silly memes.

    In my opinion, the blog began to decline in quality circa 2010. That was when a lot of the first wave of OSR blogs (Sham's Grog & Blog, ChicagoWiz's Blog) began to winkle out and you began to see some really serious flame wars erupting ("I Hit It With My Axe" for example). Inevitably, there was less and less to write about old school gaming that hadn't already been covered--in many ways, James was a victim of his own profligate posting schedule. Also, he sort of withdrew into his own circle of uber-fans, both because that's what humans tend to do, and also due to the aforementioned flame wars. It's a natural reaction, sure, but it definitely affected the quality of the blog. I started reading his posts less and less; his "Retrospectives", in particular, always rankled me, because he never gave any real personal insight into the product he was supposedly looking back on. It was usually, "This is a thing that exists. I remember seeing it on the shelf at my local game store, but I never read it." They felt like excuses to keep his posting schedule going, but there was nothing really in between the filler, either. When he got into doing the issue-by-issue retrospective of Ares magazine, I was pretty much done. (Ironically, I was actually enjoying his series on Imagine magazine, and I'm sad that never got finished.)

    As you indicate, the Dwimmer-fiasco is a textbook case of someone trying to monetize their labor of love and crashing upon the rocks of reality. The situation was not handled well at all (deadlines were getting blown long before any of this stuff with his father emerged), and if Autarch hadn't been there it would have been even more of a disaster. A sad end.

    Ironically, James seems to have reenacted the very arc of gaming history he was most interested in exploring: he started out running and talking about "pure" OD&D, then gradually added supplements, then moved up to a more "modern" system (Labyrinth Lord rather than B/X), then added more options at his players' request (the AEC rather than AD&D), then, like Gygax, tried to publish his home megadungeon and found the project to simply be too overwhelming and ended up tapping out and signing over his creation to a third party. I have to wonder, if and when James returns to blogging, will he be running retroclones of Cyborg Commando and Mythus? ;)

  2. ...he definitely led the charge in terms of encouraging people to...become more familiar with the history and evolution of D&D and the early RPG hobby...

    That was absolutely the case for me. It was through Grognardia that I finally got my history of D&D straight.

    In my opinion, the blog began to decline in quality circa 2010.

    Yikes, that's when I started reading ;-)

    Inevitably, there was less and less to write about old school gaming that hadn't already been covered--in many ways, James was a victim of his own profligate posting schedule.

    I struggle with that OSR blogosphere version of "there's nothing new under the sun" all the time. I want to rage against that thought, and I sincerely believe that there's more to discuss now that "D&D History 101" has been well trod. But then again, I'm also a dreamer to a fault. ;-)

    Also, he sort of withdrew into his own circle of uber-fans...

    Yes, that's exactly what I meant when I talked about a "cult of personality." It did get a bit clique-y, eh?

    When he got into doing the issue-by-issue retrospective of Ares magazine, I was pretty much done.

    Agreed, it was a bit too much.

    As you indicate, the Dwimmer-fiasco is a textbook case of someone trying to monetize their labor of love and crashing upon the rocks of reality.

    I don’t fault the guy for trying to follow that dream, but yes, the handling of it was poor. I mean, it seemed like he had a lot of resources (via Autarch) to fall back on, it seemed. Why he didn’t use them for help more effectively, I don’t know.

  3. The more Grognardia ran , the less valuable his posts became. Early on it was an interesting sparking point to start your daily OSR reading, but evetuanlly it became rather insipid.

    James continually reviewed items that he had no experience with, and had not fully read yet alone played. The continual " I'm not a wargamer and never was" line, for example, got particularly old. Why are you reviewing or talking about a wargame that you know nothing about then?

    Or the "reviews" of Imagine or Ares magazine issues that ran down to little more than a review of the table of contents, especially since he had no experiece with any of the games discussed or featured.

    I came to realize early on, that he was posting to fill space and that his limited exposure to the gamut of games that are now considered old-school was a serious liability for the blog. Granted you cannot know all about every system, but other blogs do not bother to write or review an item if this is the case.

    I think the Dwinnermount mess and James' personal issues happened to coincide at a time when this blogs was dying on it's own.

    I also got the feeling that James latched onto the OSR as something he could make money on, once he lost interest in writing WotC or Pathfinder compatible material.

  4. Grognardia was a pretty big influence on me too, mainly because of the earlier posts as you mentioned delving into the history & assumptions. I really enjoyed reading about his process in developing the Dwimmermount campaign and started my own blog in 2009 partly due to admiring his. I agree 2010 was really the beginning of the decline ... probably about mid-2010. I also agree that the last year or so was a pale shaodw of the old Gragnardia so for that reason don't really mourn the fact that there are no more posts. I guess the daily posting schedule may be the ultimate cause. On my blog I barely post once a week any more and though traffic has declined it probably helps prevent burn out.

    The KS thing was terribly handled and while I don't think he set out to scam people he has probably ruined reputation permanently with it, which is really too bad. It does help reinforce my opinion that attempting to cash in on a hobby is almost always doomed to failure. Actually back when he first started talking about publishing his dungeon I urged him to just write about the process, perhaps editing together his old posts, rather than actually publishing maps and keys. That kind of a project would have never have gotten funded & lead to the fiery crash so too bad he did not heed my advice! :)

  5. For me, the best part of his blog was the comments, because it exposed me to others in the hobby who turn out amazing work. Grognardia was my diving board into the OSR depths, and it it rekindled excitement in games just collecting dust on my shelf.

    But I found his writing joyless, and his analysis shallow. And the constant grubbing for free materials--usually of the expensive variety--from his readers was just deplorable. He didn't even offer to swap or trade.

  6. Unreal. It would take me all afternoon to shoot down all the bullshit that has been written above so far, but it would be pointless.

    The full demonization of James is now complete. He never started Grognardia to lead or become an "OSR superstar". He wrote about what he wanted to write about, and oh-so-sorry that it happened to include a look at Ares magazine. Some of us really appreciated his look at lesser known aspects of the history of this hobby. And (as pointed out above), that blog was a dialogue, and just as many interesting things were written in the comments as in James' own entries.

    But as happens with many people who are held up by others to be celebrities, there will always be those who are more than anxious to tear them down. And there was a lot of that starting in 2011-2012, before Dwimmermount, before his family issues. And very few people came to his defense. The sense of schadenfreude that came to the surface when he hit hard times was palpable, and disgusting. Despite the issues, I have no doubt he would have been able to bounce back a lot faster had he felt that the so-called community had his back. A number of you here and elsewhere will obviously disagree, but I say, "Our loss."

    So you all can sit here and list crap like "posting to fill space," "Dwimmermount fiasco," "cult of personality," "latched onto the OSR" and "failed amateur game designer" (WTF??!!), but all you do is show that you don't know what you're talking about. You can try to blame the demise of Grognardia on "personal problems" and his supposed "game designer burden" alone. But if you're unwilling to look at what others said and did at the time and, really, at yourselves and the kind of ignorant comments some of you have posted above, then you'll likely never understand why James has taken a public break from Grognardia and the hobby.

    But, hey, keep kicking the man while he's down. That's great for the hobby, great for the so-called OSR.

    1. I hope you remember that my point was a positive remembrance of Grognardia's heyday" and any comments to the contrary are the opinion of others. And you took some of my words way out of context.I never claimed that James sought to create a cult of personality around himself. Others seemed to do that for him. I credit his blog for a lot of my return to gaming, learning more about the hobby than I ever knew, starting my own blog, and finding many other blogs. So no offense, but turn your ire elsewhere.

    2. I call BS on RSJ. In the interest of public knowledge, our friend RSJ worked for Jamal on the (rightly) forgotten 1000 Sun Space RPG.

      If you ask around, it's easy to find game designers and publishers who were burned and frustrated by the former Pope. What happened here was only the natural outcome, as is the hue and cry of those who want to defend their paycheck.

    3. That doesn't really matter though, man has a right to an opinion.

      I can see praise and criticism both for James. Grognardia was a popular blog. It's had its ups-and-downs. There were some people in the blogosphere who rather than just disliking him, took things too far. The regular Trolling from Your Dungeon Is Suck, other OSR fans being upset that he was getting more attention than people who were actually there in the beginning--at his worst he even had parody sites trying to take him down. And while the Kickstarter problem deserved criticism, he did not deserve the constant trolling of "I Run With Scissors", a person hiding behind internet anonimizers creating a Tumblr account dedicated not just to getting his money back, but to destroying his reputation. (As soon as the Kickstarter was resolved he disappeared). I saw people actively looking for blog entries he wrote 10 years ago to say "look what this fool wrote about X topic", making fun of his religion, etc. There was definitely a mean-spirited move against just a single guy with a blog, which has to in part be based on some jealousy of the attention he was getting.

      But James deserves some criticism. He wasn't really a historian but an opinion columnist, and people confused the two, so at times his writing really became subjective in nature, and he always seemed to have some opinions that were a bit cliched on the "starving artist vs. sellout" theme. I think he was already burning out on the writing front after a lot of blog posts.

      I think also he should have just ignored the critics--but he started taking things way too personally. He started removing links to blogs or sites he once had on his blogroll because they wrote something critical about him--and I'm not talking the active trolls but just somebody with an contrary and polite opinion. He also moved comments to the G+ walled garden towards the end. And his handling of the Kickstarter was something that turned into an uproar and should never have been allowed to get that far--even with the circumstances he was experiencing--because a lot of people paid for that product and expected something in return.

      But I'll miss the blog--it's too bad he never even posted a sign off message and left it where it was--there's probably a bunch of casual readers who don't follow all this Internet drama and wondered "where did he go".

  7. Grognardia is without question what brought me into the OSR (so-to-speak - I actually am playing Pathinfder and Savage Worlds at the moment)...) and also into blogging in general. If it hadn't been for Grognardia, I wouldn't have ever known that there was a community of bloggers out there talking about old-school RPGs. Prior to Grognardia, the only blog I read was my friend Wil's blog.

    I discovered Grognardia one day in probably 2010 while on the Pathfinder forums and somebody mentioned how there was an article somewhere about "Gygaxian Naturalism." I clicked through and ended up reading post after post until the wee hours of the morning, and after that night decided I might want to take a stab at blogging for myself some day.

    I really enjoyed James' look at old games that I hadn't thought about in years, especially the D&D and Gamma World stuff, but I even liked reading about games I'd never played before but always seen advertised in Dragon magazine. I also really enjoyed his Dwimmermount posts. I wasn't as into some of the other stuff, but that's to be expected from a site where the author posts multiple times per day. Some of it wasn't for me, and that's fine.

    Overall, I really miss the site and while I was disappointed at what happened with the Dwimmermount Kickstarter (I was a backer), I would still love it if James came back to blogging again.

  8. Never thought it was very interesting but I only saw it after he was just reviewing out of print magazines. Dwimmermount just seemed silly to me, but I was never into dungeons much.

  9. I'll just say that I came to Grognardia in the halcyon days of 2008, when the blogosphere was crackling with imagination and creativity. James's blog was a big part of that, and it was very inspirational to me as I started GMing my first old school fantasy campaign. Now I'm morbidly curious about this whole KS fiasco. I didn't buy in and had honestly stopped reading the blog by this point, but I'll always remember those first few offhanded mentions of Dwimmermount by James in his blog posts. So much potential. I do hope he's doing alright.

  10. It's so strange. I don't even know how I ended up on Grognardia, but I did just last week. And reading it inspired me to not only get working on my own blog, but to just embrace the version of D&D I liked the best, and run with it. I noticed, obviously, that there had not been an update in a loooong time, but I didn't know about this controversy at all.

    I enjoyed reading the blog, but I must have skipped 50% of the pointless review entries, and I found some of his views very "personal" to himself. But that's what I liked about it: this was his take on D&D, his views, his opinions. Very Grognard.

    Looking over at the Palladium site and the delays in Kickstarter projects there, I just feel this, and other examples out there, are perfect cautionary tales about the entire KS process in general. It's venture capitalism, and let the buyer beware.

  11. James appears to be blogging again on topics of interest to readers of Grognardia, at