My copy of issue 3 of Fight On! arrived the other day. Since I was too much of a slacker to submit anything to it (though I remain hopeful I can finish up something for issue 4 and my level of "The Darkness Beneath" collaborative megadungeon is shaping up nicely -- surprise, surprise, it borrows elements from my own Dwimmermount megadungeon), I had the rare pleasure of being able to read its contents with virgin eyes. Dedicated to the memory of Bob Bledsaw, it's another tour de force of old school gaming goodness and my favorite issue so far, providing just the right mix of contents. It's really an amazing thing watching this magazine blossom before my eyes; it's like giving me the chance to see The Dragon come into being a second time, which is great, since, old though I may be, I'm not quite old enough to have seen it the first time.
One of the articles that really grabbed me in issue 3 was Melan's "Fomalhaut," which gives a brief overview of his campaign setting of the same name. Reading it I was reminded of M.A.R. Barker's Tékumel, not so much for the specific details, which are quite different, but for the general idea of it: a fantasy world set far in the future after the collapse of high-tech interstellar civilization. It's an idea that lurks beneath the surface of OD&D and you can certainly see it in Gygax's selections for Appendix N. The RPG Jorune has a similar premise and, by all accounts, began as a wacky Metamorphosis Alpha campaign, which is pretty old school. For that matter, the introduction to the first edition of Gamma World offered the possibility of mixing magic and mutants, a possibility that the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide even provided rules for.
It's an idea I keep toying with. For whatever reason, I'm generally reluctant simply to import sci-fi stuff into my fantasy campaigns without some underlying rationale for it. On the other hand, I find it much easier to accept a science fiction setting where technology is so advanced as to appear like -- and thus effectively to be -- magic. That certainly explains why I spend so much time working out the hows and whys of magic and how it relates to the underlying metaphysics of the setting. I keep trying to hit on a rationale that would allow me to create a really fun science fantasy setting for use with OD&D, because I'm convinced that it's a neglected part of the game's heritage. The closest TSR ever came to paying homage to it (besides Empire of the Petal Throne, of course) was 2e's Dark Sun, which I actually liked in spite of its many flaws, but I think we can do better than that.
A few years ago, I had this idea of a campaign set on Earth in the very far future, after the collapse of technological civilization due to some catastrophe or other. Science had advanced to the point where genetic engineering was routine and where nanotechnology was similarly commonplace. Magic-users would be individuals who'd been taught how to use "free" nanites to create various effects. Clerics would be similar, except that they tapped into the power of various "oracles," which were artificial intelligences worshipped as -- and in some cases believed themselves to be -- gods and who likewise had the ability to manipulate nanites. From the perspective of the characters, this setting would be just a typical fantasy world with all the requisite tropes. Over time, though, they'd encounter stuff that "wouldn't fit" into the world they thought they inhabited but that made perfect sense within the context I'd established behind the scenes. Plus, how hard is it to recast most of D&D into something pseudo-scientific? A few moments thought and it's pretty easy to imagine wands as high-tech tools/weapons, golems as robots, and orcs as uplifted animals used as soldiers.
I didn't go this route with my Dwimmermount campaign, preferring instead to adopt a more "expansive" notion of fantasy, with other planets being little different than other dimensions/planes, for example. But I'm still very interested in a truly science fantasy campaign. It's something that has powerful literary antecedents and it's something we've never seen much of in canonical D&D, particularly after the early-to-middle Golden Age. And that's a shame.