Thursday, February 13, 2014

Sandbox Wonders 6

Continuing to try and come up with places a player could encounter in an rpg sandbox that might evoke a sense of wonder.  But first a couple of ideas:

Scale Again
I started this series of posts thinking scale doesn't work for evoking wonder and used the Grand Canyon as an example of something that wouldn't seem very wondrous explained verbally. But the more of these I do the more I realize that I had it wrong-- scale is an important part of pulling wonder off, it was the visual sense that wasn't translating verbally.  And, in fact, all the senses- strange sounds, overwhelming smells - are hard to pull off just through description.

I was talking with a co-worker and she told me that wonder for her, would always be tied to some variation of something she had encountered before, otherwise her reaction would instead be shock.  Her example was if she saw a unicorn she'd be more "WTF!?" than full of wonder.  And I think that's right.  And I think I've been unconsciously aiming for that all along, the whole conceptual wonder I mentioned posts ago is about taking something you are already familiar with, like a waterfall, and then doing something unexpected with it, like making it fall up.

Related to this idea of familiarity is that I realize now I've been trying to keep things from being too weird.  And I think what was going on in the back of my head was if I stick to fundamental, elemental things like earth and water, these results would be more likely to fit in your campaign without messing with your tone, or level of magic too much.  Even a low magic campaign might have room for one shy forest.

In other words, not only would "rubbery pods the size of a house that float in a certain direction based on your emotion" be more likely to trigger your "WTF!?" reaction than wonder, it also presumes a lot more about your campaign world, how weird it is, and how players might travel around in it.  So if some of these entries seem a little mundane, that's one reason.

53. Where the Light Falls - Imagine a shaft of sunlight breaking through the clouds on a cloudy day.  In this place there are many of these sunny rays of light, of various sizes and falling at various angles, even when there are no clouds.  If a living thing walks through the one of these, the light will fallow them until they leave the region.  Follow them even at night.
54. Twilight Vale - This secluded valley is always in the gloaming.  It is a peaceful dusk, with crickets and fireflies.  But the sun never shines here.
55. Root Forest - This grove of trees grows upside down.  Nothing is seen but roots.  Digging in the earth around the trunks reveals leaves and mango-like fruit.  Eating one of these fruit will give you all the benefits of a good nights sleep without having to sleep.
56. Fertile Earth - This patch of land is so fertile that anything planted in the ground here will grow into a tree.  These trees look just like oaks, and are just as slow to grow, but bear fruit that is the young of the planted "seed."  Bury a bird and the tree bears eggs.  Bury a fruit and the tree bear seeds.  Bury the dead and . . .
57. Impenetrable Forest - After walking for half an hour into this stand of trees you will find yourself walking back out.  Always.
58. Down Showers - In this area, in the winter, small downy feathers fall instead of snow.  These blacken and decay eventually.  Gathered fresh into sacks, the down can be used for bedding and clothing that provides excellent warmth while virtually weightless.
59. Salt Forest - Seen from a distance it looks like a snow-covered forest.  Closer inspection reveals trees, shrubs, stumps, everything made entirely from salt.  Rain causes the whole to melt away.  Later, the salt then pushes up from the ground to slowly reform the forest.  This salt is said to be useful for leaving trails in labyrinths that remain undisturbed.
60. Cold Springs - A series of ponds and geysers in a rocky badland that have, not hot, but freezing cold waters.  This water is said to keep it's cold far longer than normal when transported elsewhere.
61. The Great Shells - This forgotten bay holds oysters the size of ox carts.  Pried open, candlesticks, crowns, and other objects can be placed inside to be covered by mother-of-pearl.
62. The Horned Rocks - A rocky mountainside out of which grows sets of horns.  There are various spirals, curvatures, and length.  If a horn is cut, another will begin slowly growing from the same spot.  These horns, when carved properly, can be heard farther than should be possible when sounded.


  1. I'm much enjoying all of these. I agree with your observation about the difference between "Wonder" and "WTF", but beyond just starting from a point of familiarity, I think the best Wonders have a sense of "fairy tale logic" about them, and most of yours seem to embody that.

    1. This, very much this.

      While reading OSR blogs can be fun in its own right, at the end of the day I'm looking for usable stuff for my own games, and as I only have a certain amount of time to read and search, blogs that don't have useful content get culled from my reading list. I keep coming back here though, because the content you produce is wonderfully usable. As many posts about sandbox wonders as you'd like to make, I'm up for reading.

  2. Thanks to both of you. I know I probably self-analyze a bit much for some people's taste, but that's how I am able to make the things that I do :)

    Now I'm wondering about what "fairy tale logic" means. Because I agree with you, umbrielx, that it applies here and I've heard the term used before, but I never examined the phrase before. I wonder if it just means there is a surprising but consistent logic to something. So the opposite might be a swords and sorcery type altar that does completely random stuff to you.

    1. I wouldn't identify the "completely random stuff" altar with the swords & sorcery genre broadly, but more with a particular flavor of Old School D&D or T&T from the late '70s -- the real heyday of random tables and head-trippy Heavy Metal magazine-inspired WTF-ness.

      I think you're on the right track with fairy tale logic possessing a certain consistency -- Basic principles from hermetic and folk traditions like "As Above, So Below" and "Like Begets Like". It also encompasses simple, perhaps childlike, inversions of the familiar, like your Root Forest -- Things that arise readily from idle wonder, and thus have a touch of familiarity seasoning their wondrousness.