H'Trae is an interesting concept but, alas, one which has arisen before. Granted, unlike Galadra you are not attempting to design the rules too, but even so you will have the camel problem: a world designed by a committee will very often feel like a world designed by a committee. Compare just about any TSR setting with Tekumel, Glorantha or Jorune and you will see the problem.
Moreover, I can't help feeling that Matthew's description comes from the wrong direction. He starts with the geography. That's a rather trivial issue, isn't it? Surely the most important thing about any world is the idea: the spark that makes it imaginatively inspirational. I grant you, the idea of a 'reverse Earth' is interesting, but not in a way that sparks off role-playing. Unless you extend this a lot further than the geography, that is. For example, you could set up cultures in which women hold dominant societal roles and oppress men, that sort of thing. Do this, and we start to get a point to the game. As it is, however, if you simply have different people designing different sections, without any guiding ideas, you're just going to get a fantasy mishmash.
The idea of collaborative creation is a valuable one, and just because Galadra was crap I'm not about to rubbish any other attempt. I do think, however, that Matthew has to do a little more in considering the structure of how people will contribute towards its creation. I don't think people will be too resentful of any limitations he suggests; indeed, I think they will help people. So really he should consider a 'shape' for the world a little more before he lets others loose on designing it.
What you call PBM games I would call 'postal' games. But then, I'm British... Actually this was the subject of a running joke when I referred to 'PBM' games in a letter to Ian Marsh, and he thought it was my initials.
In theory I ought to enjoy postal games. Indeed, I very briefly ran one at the beginning of the 80s, and I've played in a couple (including highly structured ones like En Garde, and avant garde efforts like Hello There World, in which the referee changed each turn). As it is, I find I don't much care for the distancing, and the way the literary aspects assume primacy. Way back in the early issues of my zine, several correspondents argued that true role-playing was _only_ possible in postal gaming. I think the reason for this was related to the sorts of things Vaughan Allen (in Imazine 30) describes as our preoccupations in the old days: a very structuralist obsession with the 'realism' of the game, including that of the psychology of characters.
What I'm saying here is not a criticism of postal games, which I think can be tremendously rewarding. It's just that I need the spark of direct human contact. Your article made several points, though, which can equally apply to tabletalk games.
John Hawcock's article was good: a subject on which I wrote a lot myself in an older incarnation of imazine. He managed a good compromise between my method (fairly academic) and that of Richard Lee who, fancying himself a Talented Writer, did a long article concentrating on, yes, religion in Roman Britain. At the end of the article though, I have certain questions left unanswered: what function does religion play in the game? The only hint of this is the reference to RQ, which suggests that it is i) a source of magic, and ii) a source of social divisions, in pretty much that order. i think with religion it's important to be fairly clear about how you're going to handle it, and I must confess to distaste for the primacy given to religion as a source of personal power in most games. I don't think this represents religion very well. Leaving aside the scholarly debates about magic and religion, I believe a useful distinction between the two is that magic is about personal power, while religion is about group power. Ths seems to reflect the way in which religion operates as a force in the world. It also provides a useful dynamic in the game.
Your piece about the Dark Conspiracy game, and the Mortality piece which followed it, raised interesting points. Can players expect to be invulnerable? Most would say no, but in practice it's clear that that they actually do. Maybe it's worth discussing with players before a game (I don't mean a session: I mean the game/campaign). The players will inevitably be more prepared to say they'll accept character death than they really are; the point is that having agreed to it they will find it more difficult to resent.
I think it's also important to recognise that character death is an important element of the game. Many players still have zero-sum success/failure attitudes to gaming. Losing a character doesn't mean you, the player, have lost. Part of gaming is learning how to deal with such a situation. Character death (and failure at missions) can provide sessions with power, and make subsequent victories all the more exciting. Actually, some of my best sessions have involved failure or one kind or another, or character death. I can still remember one character's fatal plunge onto rocks from a balloon in Matt Williams melodramatic Rosekrieg. And in the same game, the moment where I confronted the villain and his cohorts, a flame lance in hand, and when they made a move, operated the lance. 'It starts to warm up' said the referee. Failure gives a frisson you just can't get from success.
I agree that there is an element of matching rules to expectations to be considered, but even so Sean's article didn't seem to me to consider the possibility that character death may be an important part of the game.
Your powergaming article identified reality clash between the rules and world as a source of powergaming, which I think is accurate. I've had serious cases of powergaming in the game I run here, but I feel strongly that it is something that should be resolved with the game. My own fix comes from a philosophy (appropriate to a Chinese game) that unbalanced lust for power attracts the attention of the spirits. In other words, the powergamer finds that they attract more danger than other characters. In our game, the powergamer ended up providing entertainment for the other players. This, I suppose, corresponds to your fudge option. I would comment, however, that the clash in this case came about because the player was a novice, and couldn't handle the idea of being limited by rules. In the end, he was dropped from the game because he was just too disruptive, but he did provide a fair amount of entertainment earlier on.
[Editor's note: Imazine can be found on the Panurge web site, either at the primary site in Japan or at the new mirror in the UK.]