Andreas over at The Omnipotent Eye wrote last week:
Good writing for a setting means sowing the seeds of change while describing how everything fits together, feels real and there being an imagine of normality.
He's talking about Kingdoms of Kalamar setting, which I've only glanced at, but his quick post about the descriptions found therein intrigue me - I'm going to read through it today, if all goes well.
Anyway, I cut my setting teeth on Greyhawk, like so many other people, and the Forgotten Realms, and Dragonlance, and then MERP. So what I experienced was a progression of the depth of detail that is possible in setting description - Greyhawk was just so much framework - just enough detail to start, but not so much that I'd never remember it all. The Forgotten Realms (the Grey Box - First Ed, of course) wasn't much more detailed (okay, there was a bit more in some areas - by the way, Jeff Grubb has a great remembrance of putting that together here) but then the sourcebooks started coming out - Moonsheas, Waterdeep (and the North - um, what north?), etc, etc. And I scooped them up - for a while, and then I just couldn't take it any more - how could I keep up? And then MERP - well, I really only bought the stuff that I was most interested in...at first...Mordor, Moria, The Witchking supplement - and some of the smaller areas - Shelob's Lair, Goblin Gate - and then I've added a bunch more...but, again, at some point it becomes over burdensome - how much detail is too much?
When official Greyhawk adventures were published, I snapped them up (and learned quickly that anything with the byline Gygax was going to have at least some Greyhawk connection) - even into Second Ed (not Third, I dropped out of RPGs when 3e came out so I have very little idea of what was published for Greyhawk since somewhere around Greyhawk Ruins/City/Falcon/Puppeteer/From the Ashes stuff came out). I thought at the time (and still do, I'm nothing if not consistent - or stubborn...heh) that Gygax did it right - give us the framework for the world, the general state and politics, and then lots of hints and bits of info in the adventures to see where HE went with the stuff, but not so much that it couldn't be tweaked just a bit to fit into my own campaign set in Greyhawk. I'm even okay with giving more details on certain areas (City of Greyhawk, Vale of the Mage - neither does it all that WELL, but I'm okay with trying...)
Once the Forgotten Realms became this huge encyclopedia of information, I jumped ship. I just couldn't keep up - and it started to feel like there were going to be no areas left for DMs to detail on their own. Looking back now, I appreciate the effort to build a highly detailed world - and I use some of that stuff as inspiration - but I can't imagine trying to play in the Realms.
Or Middle Earth. Or Ansalon. Or, actually, Greyhawk these days... Not because of whatever has become of Greyhawk, but because, ultimately, it's not mine. And I guess, for me, that's where it's coming to.
I appreciate the settings - but as soon as you say Greyhawk or Realms or whatever, you've limited what you can do somehow (even in your own mind). So, I'll continue to putter away on the World of Daen Ral and detail what I care about and leave blank what I don't care about - and fill the sandboxes with lots of toys... And when I'm done, if nobody cares but me, well, that's okay.
So, after all that, I'm going to read Kingdoms of Kalamar and maybe steal an idea or two - but I'd never consider running a campaign there...