6 thoughts on “CREATING A SENSE OF WONDER. Discuss!”

  1. I like things that are generating bizarre evidence, finds that suddenly throw a lot of what they’ve already experienced into a new light. I like it because it rewards speculation – there is a pattern, and players can potentially figure out what it is, but even if takes until the end, the sense of ‘oh man, that’s what that was all about’ is such a thrill. Litany in Scratches is probably where I managed to do this best, with the tree’s scratching and also the barricade of wood.

  2. Michael Prescott I ran two players through half of Litany on community radio last Friday and the scratching of the trees immediately put the new player on edge.

    “Magic missile at the trunk!”

  3. For me it’s variable focus. Large sweeping vistas to tiny bronze insects attracted by musky dwarf sweat.

    Picking out details of the focus and extrapolating e.g. “The sky is a dull ruddy pink. It’s quiet but for the wind in the rushes. Actually you do hear something clatter clatter to the east you see large black birds circling. Have you ever seen them before? Is it an omen in your culture?”. That’s not a strictly GM led thing either.

    I think Jason sums it up in Perilous as extrapolating on the current wonder in nature and giving it a fantasy twist.

  4. Warning: wall of text!

    Michael Prescott and Max Perman give some great examples, and those are things I too try to do in my own games. Especially the variable focus and engaging of different senses whenever possible. 

    To Max’s point, I think a lot about the natural world — our real world — and how it operates, so when I describe things about our shared fantasy world I always look for threads that tie things together and make them seem part of a living ecosystem. Lack of extant megafauna and wizardry aside, the real world is often weirder and more amazing than we imagine, an endless source of cool inspiration. I subscribe to this blog by a naturalist who lives in my area:


    and often through her posts find ideas for making our game world more coherent.

    A mystery unfolding from weird environmental clues like Michael describes is a great path toward wonder- (or terror-) ful revelation. Just yesterday my kids and I were looking at goldenrod galls outside — these little 1″ diameter knobs that form on goldenrod plants in winter. They form because a parasitic fly lays eggs in the stems in late spring, and the gall forms as the plant grows around the larvae. The mature flies emerge the following spring, but in the meantime, there’s a kind of wasp that can pierce the galls to lay its own eggs — the larvae of which then hatch and eat the fly larvae — and some species of birds peck into the galls to eat the fly larvae. We didn’t know any of this until I looked it up later; what we found were hundreds of galls, each with a single hole pecked into it. Enlarge each gall up to 4′ diameter and drop that into your wilderness adventure. Here’s some cool stuff about those things:


    The most recent delve my players undertook was into the ruined temple to a sea goddess. It felt pretty wonder-filled. Let’s see if I can break down why:

    Striking locale: the temple was dug into a “sea stack” or spire of rock just off the coast, accessible at low tide, about 100′ feet tall.

    Inexplicable origin: the external architecture — a narrow arched bridge leading to the spire, a spiral stair leading up, and a series of concentric arches at the very top — were comprised of once-living coral.

    A single dramatic feature: The interior of the spire was an intertwining series of passages, halls, and shrines, but running through the center of the spire from the second level to below sea level was a (dry) well of quartzite bricks, about 4′ in diameter. So they would get to lower levels and find this same well-column running through rooms from ceiling to floor.

    Inexplicable effects: the wellhead room was covered in luminescent fungi that glowed in proportion to the phase of the moon, while the lowermost well-shaft room was painted with some magical black substance that extinguished all open flame brought into the room. This is old-school random-dungeon stuff, and often figuring out with the players why/how this stuff works creates a sense of wonder.

    Unexpected juxtaposition: the main danger in this ruin was a pack of giant salt weasels which had turned the lower reaches into their den. So the PCs are exploring this ancient, once-holy place with strange architecture, but the inhabitants are vicious, fast, stealthy predators that can slip in and out of holes and crevices with ease. The players thought they were in for Raiders of the Lost Ark, and they got Aliens.

    Mysterious clues: there was weasel scat here and there, and that old chestnut of the long-dead previous adventuring party, but the oddest detail was a recurring series of waist-level niches cut into the walls, sometimes empty, sometimes containing strange whitish shapeless lumps. The PCs puzzled over these but never figured out that they had been statues of saints, made of salt, which had been mostly consumed by the weasels.  

    It strikes me, thinking about their exploits in this ruined temple, that terror is the flipside of wonder.

    Also, they encountered a lot of things that they couldn’t quite figure out, but clearly had some reason for being or connection to some larger thing. That feeling of encountering some small piece of a bigger picture, and the mystery of what that bigger picture might be, is a great source of wonder. Establishing (Spouting Lore) only got them so far, and I always avoid offering hints.

Comments are closed.