Art School Story:
Student: (pointing to a bunch of little drawings she did, napkin-sized, with colored pencil and ink) "I just wanted to do these, y'know, try some things--they were fun."
Blustery Teaching Assistant: (winding up) "Ok, y'know when you go to the candy store and there's candy? Like Snickers?"
BTA: "Well if you've seen the fun size it's this big." (tiny fingerspace) "But if you go and look over at the King Size it's this big." (big giant handspace) "So you say these are fun? Don't have fun! Be a king!"
This points to one way professional creative types use the word "fun".
Like: a serious mainstream novelist writes a paperback detective novel. His friends go "Oh, that'll be fun!"
A sculptor makes a soapbox derby car: "Oh, y'know, it's just fun!"
Anthony Hopkins plays the villain in an SFXtravaganza "Well it was a lot of fun."
In this context, fun means, roughly:
An endeavor where you get to use your creativity, but one that is circumscribed and pre-formatted enough that it's obviously not that creatively ambitious and so you don't have to stake your creative reputation on whether it is groundbreaking or not.
Creative, but low stress. Like drawing a face on your hand and making it talk to a baby that isn't yours and that you don't really have to keep entertained for very long.
(Since this is being posted on the internet, and therefore has to be idiot-proofed just in case, let me here point out that, yeah, obviously, sometimes these "fun" projects end up better and in all ways more fruitful than the "king" ones. I'm sure Jane Fonda thought "Barbarella" was fun size, but it's one of the best movies of all time. Better than 'Klute' anyway...)
Now, for me--a person professionally employed as a painter--Vornheim and its environs and all my other RPG stuff is fun. They are not my primary creative outlet. I don't feel the need to be terribly ambitious about it, it just has to work. Like my oven and my lamp.
If I wanted to create a world that was meant to be appreciated for its own sake, it would probably not have horses and dwarves and torches and wheelbarrows and other medieval europe stuff and it would be completely bugfuck insane and probably not really playable (or playable-friendly anyway) in the RPG sense and look a lot more like Naked Lunch or Twin Peaks than Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser but really not so much like those things either. I would try not to use any tropes of any kind of genre anyone else invented unless I was trying to blow the doors off it. That's my job. As an artist you don't try anything unless you are trying something to do something totally fucked with it. You may not succeed, but that's what your job is. You get paid to try shit that's so out there that it might not work.
When I'm GMing, though, I am trying to make a world that is good at letting people in--that my players can grasp quickly and easily. And my players are often not only new to D&D but to RPGs entirely. "Seen Labyrinth? Good--that's a goblin, alright" I don't want to explain the baseline assumptions of the world, I want to play. The fun is what people do together, not what I tell people, so the more they can wrap their head around it ("KK, a barbarian is like Conan, you know Conan, right? Sure, I wanna be that") the faster we get into the thing that the game is actually about--not the world, but what PCs do to it. I like to try to have creative stuff (example) in my gameworld, but I'm happy to let the overall gameworld basically be an example of its genre. It has Elves stolen from the Vikings and monsters stolen from the Greeks and tons of building blocks stolen from Mr E Gary Gygax. This game's a party--if the beer's your favorite microbrew and the music is all from Relapse Records and Southern Lord that's great but if the best thing anyone says about your party is the beer was good and the music was too, your party has failed utterly and totally. The game, for me, is about the emergent events, not the raw material.
Even if I had more free time, I would still do it this way. Cliches help the game become a game faster (especially with new players).
So putting together D&D stuff is a challenge not primarily to the creative part of my brain but to the problem-solving part. I need a world where KK can be Conan and Mandy can be a creepy pseudoCatholic antinun, and Frankie can be a sneaky blue elf and Satine can be a steampunk musketeer and Connie can be totally irresponsible and it all hangs together and is hard enough to create necessities which mother inventions and I need it all to be rules-lite enough to run smoothly and to have replaceable parts and to never get repetitive. I can use the same part of my brain that does my day job for that, but I also have to think like an engineer.
So for all the talk in reviews about how Weird With A Capital W Vornheim: The Complete City Kit is, to me, Vornheim has always been just "make a place that works better than what I could buy, and do it with a little style and taste". Vornheim is really just meant to be a city where D&D-type-stuff can happen.
Or, to put it another way: my campaign is not me being King. But I do care about how it works, long term, so it's not just Fun Size--it's not just about me toying with ideas.
Neither King Size nor Fun Size, it's this other size that I noticed when I was trying to think up reasons Connie should give me some of her M&Ms: it's Tear-and-Share-Size. As in "Look, Connie, it says right on the package, it's Tear and Share Size, you have to share your M&Ms". So that is the campaign--it's designed specifically to be used with other people, and a lot of the creative effort has gone toward making it fit that particular niche.
ALL THAT HAVING BEEN SAID...
A lot of y'all are not professional artists and the gameworlds you make are your primary creative outlet. Which I tend to forget a lot. Like Gary Gygax was an insurance adjuster, right?
It makes people see things differently--like, here's a thing: ixitxachitl.
Is an evil psionic manta ray priest a good idea? Yes it is. I would draw an evil psionic manta ray priest. I would draw it in a picture and sell it. I would write a novel from the evil ray's point of view with all his evil ray thoughts in it and send it to my publisher and be like "that was weeeeeeird and cool". Whoever thought up an evil psionic manta ray priest has just thought up a good thing.
Is it a good D&D idea? Hell no, says me. I am tryna do a D&D game an evil psionic manta ray priest just makes no sense at all. What a mood-killer. Why is there an evil psionic manta ray priest in your D&D adventure you just wrote, DIY D&D guy? Don't you know I've got a whole Warhammer/Lieber/Vance thing I'm trying to do here? That just looks silly, a knight under water with a sword trying to hit a manta ray with an axe. I got enough silly going on, thanks very much.
Oh yeah, there's evil psionic manta ray priest in your D&D adventure because when you're done writing a D&D adventure you aren't going to go and sit down for 14 hours and draw pictures of whatever fucked up thing you want and sell them to rich people. You have nowhere else to put an evil psionic manta ray priest. Right. Sorry. Forgot.
What's my point? I don't know exactly. I guess I am just interested in how for a lot of people D&D stuff is the most creative thing you get to do all day. This is probably why some people make campaigns waaaaaaaaaaay more detailed than anything I would ever bother to put together, and other people put together campaigns waaaaaaaaaay more gonzo than anything I would ever put together. And some people do that. D&D is where they get to do their thing. And I guess I kinda would like to hear what y'all have to say about that, because what I really know about it is fuck-all...
So my campaign world is definitely tear-and-share. It's a party I throw for a specific group of people and it needs to rock them, and that's that. My interest depends on theirs.
Some people are big big advocates of the King campaign: Your World Is You, love your world, whether or not anyone else does. Which I guess makes sense if the you, in another life, would've written sword-and-sorcery novels. Not so much if you're not that kinda person.
And some people go for the Fun one--tr this, try that, it's all good. Oh I had 90 campaign ideas today and I will try 7 of them... This seems like a decent approach if you have a lot of experienced and dedicated players who don't need too much fuel to get a fire going. I feel like a lot of the games I end up in as a player are Fun Size. If I ever do the thing I keep thinking I might do where I just roll a totally random dungeon and run people through it on G+, that'd be a pretty Fun Size approach. I'm not sure I'd want the nightmare of trying to fit it into my campaign world, but it could be a pip...