5 Rules of World Wonders

From Johnn Four

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0564

5 Rules of World Wonders

Make Ones Far Away

A wonder should be legendary, which means word will spread about it through time and space. Go ahead and create wonders the PCs will never see. That’s part of the point: your world has amazing things in it and amazing depth.

Besides, if all your world wonders are in one region the PCs can reach, then you’ve got a problem. Either you break sense of disbelief from having all your wondrous things in one place, or your wonders are not wondrous enough.

The two-headed pig of farmer Brown is interesting, but too local to be a world wonder. Not having far away wonders is a clue you need to think bigger.

The Gossamer Empire lies months beyond the Ruby Sea. Its strange peoples have unusual customs, and few understand its politics. Yet this rich and exotic land draw explorers and travellers like moths to a hydra’s breath.

And those who manage to return tell tales of a massive keep in the empire’s heart so large it could house ten of our cities. Its walls are taller than a dozen stone giants standing on each others’ shoulders. The noise from its teeming streets would drive normal men mad within a day. And the smells….

Make Natural Wonders

Let nature do some work for you. Create wonders formed by your world’s physics and evolution.

Give each natural wonder an edge. By that, I mean some kind of outlier aspect. Something that makes it stand out as the biggest, best, worst, tallest, most dangerous, most beneficial. Pick some attribute of your wonder that’s the most extreme example of that attribute in your world. Instant wonder.

Scar Lake is named because of its shape and depth. It runs like a jagged wound through the Bleak Foothills, and it’s so deep no one has ever seen its bottom. Its depths have even defied magical divination through the ages.

Make Constructed Wonders

Be sure to add artificial wonders to nature’s collection. Cultures build massive projects to show off. Rare is a constructed wonder of pure utilitarian purpose.

First, decide who built the wonder:

  • Nation or city
  • Religion
  • Arcane order
  • Race
  • Villain or hero

Next, pick its purpose. Give it some utility, as most builders would want the double win – form and function.

  • Attract wealth: we’re the best, smartest or wealthiest
  • Defense: if we can do this, you don’t want to mess with us
  • Appease the gods: see what we did for you?
  • Legacy and ego: this will put my name in the history books
  • Function: choose a spell effect, make it a great observation place, give it a specific task

Finally, give it an aesthetic theme based on the builders’ beliefs, values, customs or preferences.

If gnomes are mechanical in your world, make their wonder clockwork. If the villain hated humans, give his construct the form of a tortured human king. If the nation was notable as seafaring, give their wonder features related to boats or the sea.

The Sails Of Krator can be seen by anyone sailing within 250 miles of them on a clear day. Carved from tall cliffs just a mile from Candleport, each of the five sails is painted a different colour and bears different runes on it.

One sail warns of the city’s mighty naval fleet. Another welcomes traders. The third praises the sea god. The fourth curses all pirates who look upon it. The runes on the fifth have been lost to time, though some speculate it offered a map of the coastline with trouble spots highlighted.

Give It Famous Events

Wonders should not be famous just for their intrinsic greatness. Give them at least one place in history.

World wonders will draw communities, conflicts, celebrations, fearful tributes and pilgrimages.

Create an event that took place near the wonder. Create another that took place because of the wonder. This will help integrate the wonder into the fabric of your world.

Historians debate whether the Battle Of Grey Chargers is famous because Gilroy’s victory was the tipping point for turning him from king into emperor, or because the bloody conflict was waged at the iron feet of the Grim Colossus. Regardless, no general now goes into an important battle without first kissing the mega statue’s toes.

Hook It Into Your Rules

Let’s take a step back for a minute and say that all good design is about creative restrictions.

Gameplay must have parameters, else it would be boring. PCs can’t start out at maximum power or level, with all the best treasure, able to defeat any foe. The game would be a yawn fest.

All good stories revolve around character growth. Ergo, characters at the start don’t have everything they want. Alternatively, something happens to happy characters that upset the status quo, and by story end the characters realize something was missing from life and they just did not realize it.

It’s what we can’t do, or what a design chooses as its constraints, that makes for great design and fun gameplay.

I encourage you to consider making some character options restricted and unlockable only through gameplay. Make a list of a few cool feats, spells, equipment, classes, abilities and other options players can’t give their PCs during character creation or during character advancement. Instead, these things must be earned during the game.

And guess how your world wonders can fit into this scheme? That’s right. Give some of your world wonders the power to unlock these character options.

This makes your wonders valuable to the players, which is a whole new level of interest than mere wonderment, detail and immersion.

The Godstone rests in a dark cavern deep beneath Razor Peak. Only the foolhardy and desperate ever seek it out, and maybe one soul in a hundred years finds it and returns alive. But when they do return, they are changed. These individuals through the ages have often gone on to become kings, generals, mighty heroes and history’s worst villains. Seek not the Godstone and stay home where it’s safe.

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World Wonders: The Synopsis

From Jeremy Brown

  1. Describe the wonder. Be sure to use literature, art, games and real world places as inspiration.
  2. What makes it wonderful?
  3. Who built it? How did it form?
  4. Why was it built or formed?
  5. What significance does it have in the present game world?
  6. Why should PCs care?
  7. Does more in-depth knowledge of the wonder give more power, information or coolness to the players?

I’ll demonstrate using something from my own campaign world.

The Tower of the Demons

Describe the wonder

The Tower of the Demons is a platform of rock, triangular in shape, 150 feet on a side, that stands some 200 feet above a mountain plateau.

The entire structure is built of three granite pillars surmounted by the granite platform itself. It commands an enormous prospect, and from it you can easily see people moving in or through the Pass of the Demons that connects Kinan with Saram.

What makes it wonderful?

There is no granite in the immediate area, and all approaches to the area preclude the transportation of such huge pillars.

There is no logical way (from current campaign standards) for the structure to exist where it does.

Several theories exist:

a. The structure is actually composed of smaller pieces that were somehow probably magically fused together.

b. The structure was brought whole from another quarry or plane by immense flying creatures such as dragons.

c. Earth elemental magic was used, or possibly, transmutation magic, to create the structure.

Who built it? How did it form?

The “demons” of Kinan are actually the elves who were driven out over 4000 years ago.

In the present campaign world, the nearest elven kingdom lies hundreds of leagues from the Tower, but it was built by elves to aid elves escaping the War of Exile that drove them from their original homeland.

Why was it built or formed?

The elves built the tower as an observation post to guard the pass and allow more of their people to escape once the Great Migration had begun.

What significance does it have in the present game world?

To the Kinani, the tower is a symbol of their triumph, and in a way, their continuing feeling of social inferiority.

The Kinani, a human people, were harbored by the elves when they were in extremis. The Kinani repaid them by driving them from their land.

The Tower was the last place from which the elves were dislodged, and therefore is the symbol of that triumph. But it also carries a feeling of shame, and the tower is considered unlucky, ill-omened or haunted.

Why should PCs care?

In the current campaign, the PCs shouldn’t care except to marvel at how it was done and why it is there.

There is no longer a purpose or use for the structure, at least on the surface.

However, the tower is a powerful magical artifact that greatly magnifies the user’s vision and gives him other powers of perception related to the surrounding area.

Does more in-depth knowledge of the wonder give more power, information or coolness to the players?

Yes. For players who have played in other portions of the campaign world and know the story of the Great Elven Migration, the tower is a tangible symbol of that part of the world’s history.

Further, as mentioned above, in-depth knowledge of the tower’s powers might give a PC an advantage in guarding the pass from invaders or other threats.

The Bay of Belcharath

Here’s another example, for a natural wonder well “unnatural?” wonder:

Describe the wonder.

The Bay of Belcharath, sometimes called the Bay of the Lost Land, is an enormous gulf in the northern coasts of Tyrdha.

It covers an immense area, and rumors say the land of Vanduria once lay where the bay now lies.

What makes it wonderful?

Nothing especially other than its immensity. It is one of the largest bays or gulfs on this continent. Only one, the Gulf of Sardon, surpasses it.

Who built it? How did it form?

The Bay of Belcharath was caused by the Black Mage, an elven patriot, joining the symbols of the Elder Gods together in an attempt to split the continent so elves would have a homeland safe from humankind.

The cataclysm caused the northernmost peak of the Eastern Mountains to split open, and it has since been called Clovenpeak.

The greater portion of the land of Vanduria sank to below sea level, allowing a huge tidal surge to engulf the land. Lava burst from the ground, the people of the kingdom were scattered and her far-flung colonies were cut off.

If the artifacts had not refused to work at the end, it is possible that world-wide disaster would have ensued.

Why was it built or formed?

This was touched on earlier but needs to be amplified. The Black Mage is the oldest living elf and her memory stretches back over 7000 years. She was one of the fierce fighters that helped fight the War of Exile that drove the elves from Kinan.

She helped raise the Tower of the Demons, and she has been a major actor in elven history from time to time. Her name was struck from records and she is only referred to as the Black Mage for her endeavors to turn the remnants of the ancient elven empire of Syridel into a magocracy with herself as its empress.

She is the most powerful two-legged wizard in the world. And this act, though unspeakably evil, was made to try and “save” elves.

She fiercely feels humans continually encroach upon, outbreed and supplant elves at every turn, and only separate continents can save the older race.

What significance does it have in the present game world?

The bay is a huge body of water. As such, it warms a vast area of upper northern temperate zone. Without it, winters in this area would be much tougher.

However, besides this, it has significance to worshipers of the Elder Gods, as it is a sign, if they are aware of it, of exactly what the symbols of the gods united can accomplish.

Such power in the right hands could accomplish similar wonders. For those of good intent who also know the truth of how the Bay of the Lost Land formed, this threat has led to the secreting of the symbols in widely dispersed places, and steps have been taken to safeguard them.

I ran an entire campaign based on the PCs’ race to acquire the artifacts before an evil organization could do so.

Why should PCs care?

The idea that any group or person could have enough power to crack the world and destroy a section of continent should concern denizens of a magical culture in much the same way that nuclear disarmament concerns us.

Does more in depth knowledge of the wonder give more power, information or coolness to the players?

I believe so. My PCs had been chasing the symbols for close to eight months when they finally discovered that the artifacts, when joined, could destroy whole sections of the world.

It brought a new urgency and a new sense that these were not just super powerful magic items that were dangerous but cool. It brought home that these were powers not meant to be tampered with.

Beyond that, in another campaign, I used an expedition into the sunken half of the capital of Vanduria as a stepping stone to a greater end. The experience of finding the partial ruins on the shore, then descending to find whole buildings still intact (more or less) beneath the surface was exciting and awe-inspiring.

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Use these tips to build your own awesome locations, artifacts and adventure hooks.

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