Over at Lord of the Green Dragons, Benoist writes What applies to Game Rules applies to Game Settings
In game design, I believe one should at all times remember that the game elements offered via products are just that: unfinished, unassembled pieces of a puzzle that will ultimately be pieced together by other people around a game table.
The same goes with game settings. Any world of fantasy presented via sourcebooks is composed of set pieces that aren’t worth anything in game terms until they are brought to life and pieced together at the game table.
The example Benoist uses is the World of Greyhawk, and this rings true with me because, as I mentioned earlier, I loved the setting but never did a whole lot with it. I think that part of my hang-up at the time was the fear that I was going to do something wrong.
For instance, one of the players in my group had been through the Giants modules back in the day. He told me all sorts of stuff about the region where those adventures took place. He told me all sorts of other stuff about the world that I had never heard of before. How, I wondered, was I supposed to run a campaign in a world that a part-time player knew more about than the DM did?
Benoist’s article is more about taking what the setting developer provided and using it as a springboard for your own creation, but I think it equally applies to other peoples’ interpretations of that setting. My player, the one who knew so much more about Greyhawk than I did, didn’t, in fact, know anything about my Greyhawk. And that right there is the key, though I didn’t recognize it at the time.
I thought Greyhawk was Gary Gygax’s world. Really, once I started running it, it was mine. If only I had realized that.