First off, I want to give a shout out to the folks at Ludus Ludorm. Graham has a great site and there’s quite a few poignant articles on world building, statistics and general gaming. I loved his post on pantheons, and will probably borrow some of what he’s set up for my own campaign.
There are relatively few ideas out there that are truly original, and even when I have come up with something that I thought was unique and exciting, I’ve found there are similar themes out there. One of the ones I was really excited about, was in the mid 90’s I came up with an idea about an advanced civilization of humans who had suffered a catastrophic defeat against a race of genocidal aliens, and to survive they retreated to a world and gave up much of their high-tech goodies in order to survive and not be detected. Wrote up a whole setting for it, complete with social castes, a religion, and rebels. And a plot to overthrow society to regain humanity’s heritage. Imagine my surprise when I read the Safehold series by David Weber a few years ago. But I digress.
So the challenge for myself is to create a setting that is powerful, memorable, and believable. Players need to be able to suspend their disbelief in order to really buy into the setting. They need something to care about, and there needs to be conflict in which they can choose to participate in. I’m also a huge fan of moral ambiguity. Things are rarely black and white and even when it appears to be that way you can see that the black and the white are both shades greyer than one would like. I’ve always felt that player’s need to be faced with hard moral choices.