Randomly clicking on other people's blogroll links led me to two interestingly orthogonal posts - Chris McDowall on a 'Universal Hex Profile' and Zedeck Siew on D&D and taxonomy. The former could almost be a (unintentional) critique of the latter. On the one hand, we have a neat proposal to classify hexes on a hex map by using a system of four-letter codes; on the other, we have a bundle of accusations levelled against the 'phallic desire' of nerds and their obsession with taxonomy, and against fantasy worldbuilding in general and its reification of 'colonial epistemology' (which I think just means having clear and accurate bird's eye view maps).
Of course (and, to be fair to Mr Siew, it's important to be clear that he's only reporting the views of others), the idea that the mere act of categorising and classifying things (or imposing 'concrete ontologies' on the world, if you prefer) represents 'phallic desire' or 'colonial epistemology' is complete bunkum: those activities are simply necessary elements of any project of organising pretty much anything, in whatever context. That colonial administrators found it necessary to categorise things and attempt to impose order in the territories they administered through clear maps is simply because they were human beings trying to get things done, regardless of what we might think of the motivations or consequences - and such exercises have of course been a feature of human political organisation since ancient Sumer or before (just as they are also a feature of plumbing, school teaching, medicine, football, staging plays, or any other activity of any complexity in which human beings might engage).
As Siew himself makes plain, it is necessary for D&D to have fixed categories and taxonomies because the alternative - 'you just gotta deal with things being a messy soup, people are not lines of code, you gotta pay attention to everything in its own context' - poses too many logistical problems for anybody attempting to actually run a game. A DM needs to be able to rely on the fact that there is such a category of monster as [goblin] and it has [x characteristics], that there are such hexes as [mountainous] and they have [y characteristics], and so on, because the alternative would require too much time and mental bandwidth. This isn't 'phallic desire'; it's an ineluctable feature of trying to run a campaign of a role playing game. Denying that really just smacks of dilettantism.
At the same time, it would be evident to anybody who had ever spent time with human beings that when they really enjoy a particular pastime and spend a lot of time thinking about it, they come to be able to identity wafer-thin distinctions within it through excessive familiarity. This is not a feature of nerds who like D&D; it's a feature of people who like things. Any hobby has this aspect; just listen to football fans discussing the difference between a 'false 9' and a 'trequartista' or jazz fans quibbling over the difference between hard-bop and post-bop. The idea that role playing games would or should be any different is plainly misguided.
But, of course, that is only half the story. Anyone would agree that there is something deeply banalifying about the nerdish tendencies to insist on conformity with specified characteristics and split hairs between taxons of every this, that and other thing. Having every goblin be just another goblin makes life easy, but is also deeply boring; reducing the dragon to a series of mere stats and numerical abilities is to deprive it of its mythic, symbolic power; having the thoul be the result of cross-breeding between monsters is way less interesting than attributing its existence to magic; and so on. A little bit of 'messiness' is necessary to prevent staleness and to imbue the game with something grander and more meaningful than an exercise in high fantasy pastiche.
I wrote a post on that subject almost 15 years ago, and have returned to it on numerous occasions (see for example here, here and here); I think ultimately I have reached the conclusion that there is a tension between the so-called 'phallic desire' of the nerd and the 'messy soup' of reality, but that it is, in the end, a productive one. The creative D&D DM needs the latter so as to keep things fresh, but also needs the former to keep him grounded and prevent his engagement in fruitless flights of fancy - he needs to be inventive, but never so inventive that he loses sight of the fact that D&D is a game and not novel-writing, speculative anthropology or historical research.
Indeed, I would go so far as to say that, rather than stultifying creativity, the imperatives of 'phallic desire' spur it on, because the need for things to be able to make sense at the table - to be, let's use that word, gameable - acts as a kind of crucible or sieve for all of our frivolous imaginative antics, sifting out the good ideas and forcing the abandonment of bad ones. This in turn creates an iterative, almost Darwinian feedback process whereby the ideas are refined and shaped through reflection and repetition. What we end up with is the best of both worlds - the right combination of what works logistically, leavened by fresh flavours.