Why do we play in settings others have created? What are your favorite? Why is it that we are continually drawn to them? Are they a crutch? Do you modify your established setting to match your game?
I’ve played in other people’s sandboxes for a variety of reasons, but the most common one is because it helps to create the shared experience for everyone at the table.
When I first started playing D&D, my games were set in Thunder Rift, as much as they were “set” anywhere in particular. It was mostly just a name. When I moved to 2e in high school I also moved to the Forgotten Realms, and while I tried to initially use as much of the stuff that had been written for it, I quickly adjusted my thinking, especially once I realized that my players knew the Realms better than I did! Suddenly it went from being “The Forgotten Realms” to being “My Forgotten Realms” and a whole host of baggage was tossed overboard. With the release of 3rd edition I glanced briefly at Grayhawk, but returned almost immediately to “My Forgotten Realms.”
Why the Forgotten Realms? Mostly because it was what my players knew, and so it became the lingua franca of our table. Red Wizards, Harpers, Undermountain, and yes, even Elminster all showed up.
Not Drizzt though. He doesn’t exist in “My Forgotten Realms” nor do his clones!
Having a common understanding of where the players fit into the world provided a structure right from the start. I didn’t have to take time to either explain it, or to show it through roleplaying. Everyone already knew. When it was different from what they thought they knew, I’d remind them that this was “My Forgotten Realms” and that crap you read in the newest book? Doesn’t count.
Is the Realms my favorite published setting? No. Yet at the same time it has everything - all of the D&D tropes, and then some.
My favorite published setting is Birthright, even though it doesn’t really support the standard fantasy rpg experience.
Ravenloft also makes a great setting, though better in theory than the actual implementation.
Now I find myself much more interested in running my own setting, rather than someone else's. Yet I'm sure I'll still steal my favorite bits and pieces from them.