Lest it be forgotten that this is a gaming blog, I wanted to talk a bit about one of my gaming regrets.
Back in the late 80s, as 1st edition AD&D wore me down with its relentless series of ill-conceived hardcover expansions, I was about ready to call it quits. The advent of 2nd edition briefly renewed my interest in Dungeons & Dragons, but it didn't take long before 2e recapitulated the history of late 1e and the same feelings of dissatisfaction I had a few years earlier resurfaced only much more definitively. I continued to play AD&D but much more sporadically and without the same level of devotion I'd had earlier. Over the last few years, I've come to realize that the late 80s and even early 90s weren't quite as bad a time for D&D as I felt at the time. Sure, those years aren't undiluted gold but neither were they utterly devoid of interest.
A good case in point was the Dungeons & Dragons Gazetteer line, each of which described a region/nation/culture of the Known World (I refuse to use the name "Mystara," which always struck me as silly). I was always fond of the Known World setting, going back to the Summer of 1981 when I seemed to be running The Isle of Dread non-stop. The Known World is a very "broad" setting after the fashion of Howard's Hyborian Age, borrowing real world cultures and societies with glorious abandon and then making enough changes to fit them into a fantasy setting. It's frankly a solid method of world building, even if some turn their noses up at it.
But I never bought any of the volumes of the Gazetteer until quite late in their run and then only a handful of them. To me, they were too strongly associated with "kiddie D&D" and so I avoided them. As it turns out, I missed out on a lot of well-done products during this time. As AD&D continued to spiral downward into incoherence, the D&D line seemed to be experiencing a renaissance of sorts, expanding in a lot of neat directions while still retaining the simple, straightforward rules that nowadays I consider so appealing.
More than once in recent years, I've heard several old schoolers speak fondly of the late 80s and early 90s D&D line, which I am given to understand was considered such a "minor" line by TSR that its designers had pretty much a free hand to do with as they wished without much interference from the higher ups in the company. Re-reading them now, I can fully understand why such fondness exists. Despite their length, the Gazetteers are surprisingly full of good ideas -- "stuff," as I call it -- and don't (generally) engage in the kind of voluminous fantasy ethnography that turns me off setting books these days. In short, these products are usable and I'm sorry I missed out on a lot of them.
I've slowly been acquiring many of the Gazetteers but it's a difficult endeavor. For various reasons, they command high prices in second hand markets, especially if you want copies that include all the maps, counters, and other goodies that made them so special in the first place. I'm in no hurry to get them all, since I've already got my own setting, but they make nice research materials nonetheless. Plus, they're a reminder that there's no expiry date on creativity, especially when it comes to roleplaying games.