Jeff Rients sums up the sentiment exceptionally well thusly:
. . . I split hairs on the difference between a published campaign setting and a living campaign in actual play. I've used some of the ideas in From the Ashes in my own Greyhawk games, but I abhor the idea that publishers should advance time lines with new canonical material.
The PCs should be the William the Conquerors of their world, or the dudes responsible for Geoff going to jotunheim in a hand basket. I much prefer the Wilderlands approach, where you get a snapshot of the world circa now and future products flesh that out more rather than push a publishing agenda by creating an unnecessary core timeline.
I have to say, I agree for the most part. After all, it is the advancement of the timeline that killed the Forgotten Realms setting. A constant flood of new official source books, each pushing forward the meta-plot in weird and obnoxious ways so that one must have purchased a dozen or more minor products just to understand what's going on in the single module you were interested in in the first place. The Dragonlance campaign setting seems to be built upon this concept, growing out of the original modules as it did.
Probably the worst offender of the lot was not Forgotten Realms (which I will regularly poke fun of here) and its 5 versions of the main campaign setting, but the various White Wolf product lines: towards the end, in order to understand what was happening in Vampire the Masquerade, it was necessary to be equally versed in the Werewolf, Mage, and Wraith product lines. Tabletop gaming should not be reduced to a "gotta catch-em-all" prospect.
Publishers of campaign settings should not be in the business of plotting out stories via game supplements. It's a foolish practice that reeks of a staff full of failed novelists. At the very least, it puts the players into the position of witnesses rather than active parts of the game. When player action and metaplot start trampling over each other, player action wins.
While one of the key elements that make for the greatness of shared worlds is that the starting point is the same for each group, at the same time, no campaign setting (published or home brew) should be permitted to lay fallow and stagnant because of the choice not to make changes to the base world. Refusing to make changes to the world leads directly to one things: a dead setting. Careful, considered changes now and then can breath new life into a setting, and that's what I think the From the Ashes box did for Greyhawk. It provided a new common starting point for groups who had either never played with the original World of Greyhawk box set or the folio edition, or who had played it out.
Personally, I find the possibilities endless. Particularly, a campaign that starts here:
and ends here:
To be fascinating.
A published, "official" change isn't someting to neccessarily fear, as long as it's reasonable, responsible, and easily excisable if one does not care for it.
Next time, I want to look briefly at possible major campaign events, world changers.