Back in the 90s, after I'd decided I simply couldn't take AD&D 2e anymore (which probably deserves a post in its own right), I first found myself sucked into the vortex that is Tékumel fandom. Now, as I've probably mentioned, I never saw, let alone played, Empire of the Petal Throne when I first entered the hobby. I'd heard of the game through the hushed reverence in which it was held by older players, who talked about how "complex" and "detailed" its setting was and how expensive and hard to find the game was. Sometime in the late 80s, I'd read Man of Gold, the first Tékumel novel written by Professor Barker and found the experience simultaneously bewildering and intriguing -- but not enough to investigate the game or its setting. That had to wait several more years.
When I did get around to looking into Tékumel, it was undergoing a renaissance of sorts, thanks to the growing use of the Internet, which enabled the once-disconnected fans of the setting to communicate with one another and, more importantly, to interact with Professor Barker himself. So, I joined a Tékumel mailing list and participated in the discussions there, immersing myself in the world. I also set up a webpage where I posted lots of Tékumel-related gaming materials, like adventures, NPCs, new monsters, and the like. My feeling then (as now, for what it's worth) was that the measure of any game setting is how much it's enjoyed through play and that too much of Tékumel fandom was interested in setting details as ends in themselves without much concern for actually, you know, using those details to foster fun adventures and campaigns.
Anyway, I eventually started a Tékumel campaign (using, at least in part, the Gardásiyal rules -- yes, I didn't know any better) and began to correspond with Professor Barker, asking him questions of relevance to my campaign. This was a great thrill for me; it was like running a game set in Middle-earth and being able to ask Tolkien for details I could use in it. So, at one point, I was recounting to Professor Barker bits of a recent adventure I'd run when I mentioned a particular NPC and his behavior. His reply to me took me aback, as it was something like, "Oh, yes, I know the fellow and he often does X, Y, and Z." He then provided me with other details about this NPC's personality, life, and relations with others in the city where the campaign was set.
As I said, I was taken aback. This NPC was entirely my own creation. He wasn't based on anyone I'd read about in any of the Tékumel materials. Indeed, he was a pretty generic wannabe merchant prince type character, a scheming middle-aged clanmaster with dreams of "the big score." And yet Professor Barker claimed to "know the fellow" and then proceeded to give me some really terrific details that not only fit with what I'd created but also gave me hooks on which I could hang subsequent adventures.
I found this experience so odd that I related it to someone who knew Professor Barker in real life and he explained that it wasn't odd at all. He said that, when you game with Barker, if you asked him a question about something that hasn't been clearly established beforehand, he often will close his eyes for a moment, thinking, and then he'll get back to you with not just the information you requested but also a whole lot more. Professor Barker seems to know Tékumel so well -- no surprise, given that he's been imagining it, to one degree or another, since the 1940s -- that he can just "transport" himself there and "look around" for the answers to questions he hadn't considered before. Perhaps, I was told, he'd done the same thing with the NPC I'd created.
At the time, I thought this whole business was crazy. I simply could not imagine "transporting" myself to a fantasy world of my creation and then extracting details from what I "saw." World building, I thought then, was a matter of deliberate forethought and planning; you can't just intuit the details. Nowadays, I'm not so sure. A good portion of the details I've come up with about the Dwimmermount campaign are ones I've created on the fly in response to some question or other at the game table. And when I say "created," it's not as if I gave them careful thought. Instead, I just went with the answer that seemed "right" at the time, oftentimes not even realizing why it was so. It's only later, if at all, that I came to understand the logic -- if you can call it that -- behind it. In many cases, that logic still eludes me. There are many aspects of the campaign setting that remain mysterious, even to me. It'll be some time, if ever, before I know why they are as they are.
And I'm OK with that. I understand well the drive to create a fully-realized world where everything makes sense according to a well-considered master plan. I spent much of my teen and young adult life creating many such worlds. What's interesting, though, is that, while my earlier endeavors were impressive, both in terms of their scope and depth, most of them saw very little gaming. They were thought experiments -- good ones even -- but they weren't places I ever felt compelled to use at the gaming table, perhaps because they were too well imagined. I already knew so much about them and the fun of gaming, for me anyway, lies in being able to be surprised, even by one's own creations -- or perhaps especially by one's own creations.
All of this is is a long-winded way of saying that the elven oddities I discussed yesterday do have reasons behind them; I just don't know what they are yet. I may eventually uncover those reasons, but, when I do so, it'll be through play, much in the same way that the oddities themselves were first uncovered through play. Temperamentally and philosophically, I'm just not very interested in writing reams of details about a setting beforehand. I'd much rather wait and see what details emerge from my mind while playing. That's why I'm still involved in this hobby after three decades: gaming lets me surprise even myself and that's a true pleasure.