I have already written about Greyhawk, and concluded that it didn't do much for me. When I first heard of Kingdoms of Kalamar, it was a review on rpg.net. Interestingly enough that review felt it was a good effort, but that it was kind of bland. Sound familiar? I, on the other hand, thought it sounded like my kind of world.
What is Kingdoms of Kalamar (KoK) then? Well, it is a world which stand out as being intended to "make sense". The geography is thought out, with waterways and caravan routes by the big cities, water currents and trade routes and tectonics which looks real. It kind of reminds me of Harn. But, where Harn never worked for me, KoK did.
KoK feels a lot like a less higher powered world than, say, Forgotten Realms. There's NPCs that rule nations and city states, and there are guild masters and court magicians. But, it's not that common for them to be much higher than early "name level". I find that just to my taste. I also really like the political history, which will give you a lot of ideas for conflicts and drama. What made me a convert, though, was the idea of a big set of gods who are described in a general way and also described with different names for different cultures. No more "gods of the dwarves". I liked that. Also, they have no stats.
Now, it is kind of ironic that I feel Greyhawk is kind of bland, for KoK is actually very vanilla itself. It's plain solid medieval fantasy with all the trappings. The one "oddity" it has is that hobgoblins are civilized and have a sophisticated culture. Otherwise it strikes me as just what I think Greyhawk is. It's just a lot more real to me! I'm not a sucker for realism, but it feels more like a believable world than e.g. Greyhawk does. The strange thing is of course that it's not uncommon for people to encounter KoK and thing it looks to dull and non fantastic enough. I wonder what would have happened had KoK been the thing that defined D&D, and not Greyhawk? For those gamers who claims to like the Folio and the bare bones quality, maybe the Judge Guild Wilderlands is a better match, but for the vanilla fantasy mould I know no better than Kingdoms of Kalamar.