So the latest issue of Fight On! is out -- probably the best one to date -- and all everyone's talking about is a four-page editorial cum advertisement by Ron Edwards, intellectual godfather of The Forge (and, I am reliably told by telepaths on the Internet, my secret ally in plotting the destruction of old school gaming).
On one level, the reaction to Edwards's article is unsurprising. He's generally been no ally of those of us who prefer older games and older styles of play. Nor does he, by his own admission, have much experience playing D&D, which is (at present anyway) the cornerstone of most discussions of old school gaming. The actual contents of his piece range from the interesting (his reminiscences of the gaming scene in 1970s California) to the laughable (his unsubstantiated assertion that either Geoffrey McKinney or Jim Raggi -- or indeed anyone in the old school renaissance -- bowed to "Victorian societal values" in their offerings).
Once you get beyond that -- and I admit that my first reaction was incredulity too -- what's the big deal? Fight On! is the flagship publication of the old school movement and, as such, has always been a very "big tent." It's included articles by all sorts of people, many of whom disagree with one another quite vehemently. I'll readily admit that I've not cared for many of its submissions. Heck, I'll go farther and state that I'm not actually a fan of big tent philosophies in the first place, but, again, so what? There are still 120 other pages in issue 6, particularly the two awesome dungeon levels by David "Sham" Bowman and Tony "Wheggi" Rosten. In what way did Edwards's article, foolishly provocative and blatantly self-promoting though it was, take away from the rest of the issue's amazing contents?
The real "crime" here is that Edwards's editorial was a missed opportunity. Despite all the hue and cry, there are a lot of similarities between the indie RPG movement and the old school renaissance, starting with the wholesale rejection of the corporate model of RPG design and the embrace of new methods of distribution. There's a lot we could learn from each other. Moreover, I consider Ron Edwards's Sorcerer & Sword to be a fascinating examination of the swords-and-sorcery genre. My many quibbles with that book aside, Edwards is clearly a thoughtful writer and a fan of many of the same literary sources the old school loves so dearly.
His Fight On! piece could have been so much better than it was. He could have drawn on his early gaming memories, his love of S&S stories, and his wealth of experience in shepherding the indie RPG movement to offer some useful insights to us in the old school revival. What we got instead was a bit of agitprop riddled with factual errors and used to promote his new game. It's all so disappointingly pedestrian. Edwards's piece isn't a bad piece because it was written by Ron Edwards; it's a bad piece because it's so poorly written and nakedly self-serving.
What a shame.