Sunday, June 19, 2022

Ivory Tower University: A Soft Reboot?

Hey there, Burrowers.

If you've been following my blog since the beginning, well, I am kind of underserving of that crazy dedication. Thanks for that.

But more relevant to this topic, if you've been following me since the beginning, you know one of my earliest long-term projects was world-building through cheeky academic article snippets written in the Ivory Tower University setting (ITUniverse for short).

Typically I'd write from the perspective of Roberick Bertrum Litte, the reluctant bearer of the most snobbish name I ever conjured, as well as my paper-thin author avatar for when I want to mix academic cynicism with humanistic idealism. He'd write up a paper from his supplies office under the staircase, scribble in his own snarky footnotes, and then send it into circulation among a readership that even he wasn't convinced of the existence of. And for a while it was pretty good times- for me, at least.

Of course it's been years since I regularly made posts tied to the ITU, excluding occasional shout-outs in my belabored but ongoing Troika! character background series.

Some of you may have wondered "what gives?" I know I did. And I think I've finally figured out what, in fact, is giving.

I created the world that houses Deneroth and the ITU as a home for my own very, very, very modestly different take on orcs, goblins, and hobgoblins. That was the impetus for starting all of it. My first-ever post about the Fokari was meant to get the ball rolling on that. But of course you don't see any of that in the full scope of my ITU posts. Even the Fokari are just a blip on the radar compared to my lengthy and scattered writeups on life in the safely generic Ersuunian Basin (assuming Iron Age societies with 20th century social sciences still count as generic). Because every time I leaned toward writing about those cultures directly, I felt the need to justify their existence first, by creating the world around them, and then finally, hopefully placing them in the perfectly humanoid-shaped hole that would be leftover.

Basically, I fell into the trap of writing what I felt I needed to write in order to set things up, before I could get around to writing what I had wanted to. A slow accumulation of layers of stuff to get ready for the even slower peeling-back of those layers, so that I could ultimately reveal the thing I had in mind when I started my blog one summer during college.

That's a totally valid strategy for writing fiction and it can lead to a really good payoff, don't get me wrong. But I was just doing mundane, unclever worldbuilding in order to get around to the slightly less mundane and unclever worldbuilding, and at the pace I write stuff it was going nowhere fast.

It was very fatiguing, and it felt pointless sometimes, but the compulsion returned every time I returned to the ITU. Even after I took a long break to do cringy audio logs, or to write more TTRPG-related stuff and accidentally become a member of the artpunk OSR blogosphere.

A visual map of OSR blog links, traffic, and interconnections aggregated through Discord.
Somehow I wound up visible on it. I don't know who the original creator is.

Now that I've identified the issue, it's probably good to work on it. That's what my therapist usually said to do, anyway. And I think there's some old self-help saying about writing a thing down to make yourself more likely to do it?

I've decided to give ITU something in between a soft reboot and a time skip.

RBL will still be my vehicle for most of it, and pretty much everything he's touched on remains canon. But rather than writing about his subjects from a great distance of time or space like the armchair scholars he so despises, he'll be far more mobile, and focused on bringing other voices to the fore. He'll come out the gate doing what I was inching toward with my aborted Looking Southward and Backward travelogue all those years ago.

I don't want him to be like one of those YouTube personalities who give a shallow and sensationalized account of whatever "exotic" historical or geographic topic they're covering- we have enough of those in real life. Hopefully he never actually came across that way to any of you readers. But even if he didn't, this change will help me quell that minor, personal quibble about him that I've had since I started meditating on all this.

The biggest mechanical change will be that the average post reads less like a micro-article and more like an interview transcript. I wouldn't dream of getting rid of the margin notes and fictional citations, so those will reappear in some form too. The posts will also just be longer in general, both as a natural outgrowth of my increased comfort with rambling since the beginning of my blog, and as a way to cut down on the overlapping multipart numbered series that wore me down the first time around.

So, yeah. I hope to start work on ITU posts again soon, and have one out for you to read within the next few [units of time of your choosing]. I hope this little aside made sense, and I hope we both enjoy it again.


  1. Apologies for the belated comment, but I still would like to emphasize that I am very much looking forward this series.
    And as for frustration of having to write something that is _out to be_ there vs. things one wants to write about, I understand it very well. I have a series of posts for 'Shadow Jam' sort-of-setting and I am stuck for the most part of the last year on a city which is fine place, but also the most normal place to live of all of the places in that world, so it isn't something that interesting to write about, but it has to be written before all the rest to give them context.

    1. Hey, no worries Kyana. You know we do things at a glacial pace here in the Burrow.

      That's a rough spot to be in, isn't it? Have you tried dissecting the city with other people to search for any interesting angles the post could take, that might jump out at them but not you? Fresh sets of eyes, and all that. Maybe one that hasn't been used in your other stuff yet. Have you published the other material yet? The name intrigues me.