I have been thinking a lot about world-building as I work on this Wizards project. World-building is one of those excrescences of gaming that the OSR has ruthlessly attacked. It was a necessary thing. There was a time when you couldn't have "proper" setting without a third-rate rip-off of Tolkien cosmology and a stupid, made-up calendar that was basically the modern calendar with silly names on all the months (I'm so looking at the Mystaran Gazetteers here, as much as I like some of them). I, myself, was an awful perpetrator of this back in the later part of my first gaming cycle (mid-to-late 80's). How I slaved to create a living, alien world and how I grew frustrated when the players refused to appreciate the beauty of my work. They wouldn't even use the names of my stupid, made-up calendar! So, I get the attack on the world-building.
Yet, sometimes I feel it goes too far. A necessary corrective at one point, perhaps, but one that could be reined in a bit now. The dirty little not-so-secret about world-building is this: it's fun. And, as Dr. Seuss tells, us, fun is good; particularly when you are playing a game. The real problem with world-building is not the creative part, but rather knowing your audience. And I'll set this out in bold, by itself:
World-building is fun for you, the GM, and no one else.
World-building has an audience of exactly one and as long as you remember that, there's no problem. When I set up my Onderland Campaign, I was still a bit shy about world-building. But after a while, I realized that I was deliberately stopping myself from having fun, just because I thought I shouldn't do it. That's when the real magic of a wiki hit me: I could happily let loose my creative energies, as long as I made clear to the players that they are not expected to read any of it. Wait, let me set that one out too:
The Players are not expected to read any of my world-building stuff.
The setting had a simple pitch that I could explain in a few sentences and that should be sufficient to get the players going. That's not to say that they can't read the setting materials; I'm not advocating that. If the player like reading your Silmarilion-hack, they can go for it. But, in my experience, very few players really do. Thus, the wonder of a wiki, where you can make all that information available, without actually handing your players a big stack of paper and saying, "Please read Customs of the Aardvarkians by game time next Saturday so that you know what's going on."
Now, I think there are a lot of GM's out there who really don't need to do world-building. Particularly the gonzo-style settings where a new player asks to be a robot and sure, why not, let's have robots in this game. I can admire those settings and even enjoy playing in them, but I absolutely can not run that kind of setting. My brain is too classical and not baroque and I have to be able to tell myself why something is there in order to run it. It's why I can't do random dungeons with all those awesome geomorphs that guys like Dyson Logos have been coming up with. I admire the hell out of them, but I can't run a dungeon that is assembled like that and has goblins next to zombies next to dragons without knowing why those guys are there.
World-building, then, is both fun and necessary for me. So, expect to see some world-building as I try to make sense of the Enchanted Isles, but feel under no compulsion to read it. There will be no pop-quiz next Frizzles-day.