It is important to remember that World building is not the same as session prep. You aren't doing as much as you might think to prep the next adventure by constructing elaborately detailed worlds.
But more importantly, the more detail you throw into a world, the more your players are going to try and conform to it. And that is a missed opportunity.
If you focus on giving players a clear idea of the vibe you are looking for in the style of play you intend to create, they will take it and run with it in amazing and unexpected directions.
When I started my second Xen campaign, I was surprised at what my players came up with based on what I had told them.
One player showed up with Finch, a Gaysian pirate who has fled to land to avoid being murdered by his crew. He carries a mix of swords and flintlock firearms. And he lives by a code that protects the innocence and prevents pirates from betraying their own crew or their own fleet. He refused to break the code even when his crew was otherwise unanimous. That makes his continued life a danger to the reputation of the crew.
Another player brought in Zee, a monk who was abducted as a young girl and made into a gladiator in a quasi legal Bloodsport circuit. At least, until she murdered a handler and ran away, leaving behind a promising career in arena combat.
The third is Reine, a Kooet (aquatic humanoid) thief who was drawn away from her home on the northern shores on business for a crime syndicate, and is only now free to return home.
This blew my mind, because suddenly, I learned a lot about Xen:
- Pirates from Gayse have a gentleman's code, and breaking it can hurt a crew in the underworld.
- Gaysians often have names based on stones, birds, and the natural environment
- Slavery is not 100% illegal, but while it exists, it doesn't have strong support across provincial borders, and runaways can earn their freedom by staying away from home long enough.
- Bare-knuckles and nonlethal bloodsport has a following in the underbelly of Gayse.
- There are massive crime syndicated that span the Empire of Xen. Drug and poison makers from Terra might find work across the Empire in places like Cath.
- Worship of the ice-goddess Irielle has spread farther South than the authorities realize.
- The syndicates honor their bargains, but those who break their end rarely live to tell the tale.
- There is a and for exotic drugs and poisons in Cath.
None of this is stuff I imagined: my players took what was in my Xen Campaign Guide and let it fire their imagination. And in return they gave me some awesome material to work with.
In some D&D circles we call this "front-loading." And I love players who do this (within the constraints of a single page of backstory.)
My world is richer because I left blank spaces for my players to fill in. And I now have a world with huge, deeply entrenched, and complex criminal factions that I can explore.
Letting the players do their part to build the world means I get to discover it, too. And that is exciting to me.
The PCs' names helped me develop naming conventions for my campaign as well.
All of which is reflected in the latest version of the Campaign Guide.