Jack Shear’s blog, Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque, is always a great read (it’s been one of my RPG blog staples for years), but World-Building: When is Enough Too Much? is an especially good post.
It made me think of a scene in Game of the Year (paid link), where the GM uses the game session as an excuse to inflict his “exquisite storytelling” on the group while riding roughshod over what they actually want to do: play. It was painful to watch, not the least because I’ve been there (I’d bet many — most? — gamers have), and I’ve been that guy.
My setting bible has its own lectern
Here’s Jack’s thesis:
I think I understand why people aren’t interested in page after page of fictional history and paragraph after paragraph of world-building: it’s the DM version of “let me tell you about my character” magnified without a sense or proportion or boundaries.
And, a bit further on, the stinger:
Dear DM: if you would roll your eyes at a five-page character back story that a player wants you to read, you should roll your eyes at your own expectation that the players will read five pages about the history of the Cult of Paradoxis and their war with the fire giants too.
That analogy is perfect. Once in a blue moon, I enjoy hearing at length about someone’s character, but blue moons are vanishingly fucking rare. And these days, reams of setting information turn me off at least as much as great walloping rulebooks thick enough to serve as body armor.
Some types of setting, or kinds of book, or mixes of the two, will require more words than others. But even a beefy, lengthy chapter on the world can be long without being long-winded.
But for fuck’s sake, if Time Corps — one of the settings in the superb GURPS Time Travel (paid link) — can frame an entire, enormously compelling time-travel campaign in just 13 pages, how many pages does the average campaign setting write-up really need?
Concision is king. I wish more gaming books used the absolute minimum number of words necessary to convey setting information.
 Not the movie — I enjoyed it. But oh man, that scene.