8 Wonder-Full Things To Consider

From Jack Butler

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0562

A Brief Word From Johnn

How to Create Your Own World Wonders

Boring doesn’t cut it in your games. Mundane don’t entertain. Only things that stand out will get – and keep – player attention. Plus, boring things are hard to craft stories around. You need special people, places and things as ingredients to craft superior adventures.

Enter Reader Tip Request from RPT#557 that asked, “How do you create wonders for your world?” What a great example of special content you can add to your setting to make it interesting and mysterious!

Even if the wonders of your world stay as background pieces, they will add depth, and by definition, wonder to your setting with just a little bit of design effort.

Several readers wrote in with great advice about how to create world wonders.

8 Wonder-Full Things To Consider

When creating really cool world wonders for your game setting, the operative phrase is “Go Big or Go Home.” And by big, size is not the only factor.

If you’re compiling a list of man-made (or dwarf-made, or what-have-you) wonders, then keep these ideas in mind:

Wonders Should Be Huge

The bigger the better. No one is going to “wonder” over a man-sized statue of a bearded guy holding a sword. Make this statue 300 feet tall and straddling a fairly large river, and they’ll wonder aplenty.

Wonders Should Be Impressive In Other Ways Than Size

These are things that, when viewed, should make the person seeing them go “Wow!” There is something to be said for grandeur and beauty in addition to mere size.

Wonders Should Be Ancient

The mystery of their creation is part of the allure. There should definitely be a sense of “how’d they do that?” in a world wonder.

They Should Be Somehow Impractical

You want this factor because your “wonders” should be things no modern society would want to put together. That way, the wonder is unique because no one’s going to build another one.

They Should Be Cool!

There should be something about them that makes them interesting.

Think about the Taj Mahal for a moment. When you boil it down to its base, all the Taj Mahal is, is a mausoleum. It’s a tomb. There’s a woman buried there. It’s her grave. But what makes the Taj Mahal a wonder is the story behind it.

The Taj Mahal was created by a king as the resting place for the woman he loved beyond all other things. Her death was a great spiritual blow to him, and he wanted her to rest forever in a place of beauty.

When he found there were no locations already existing that matched what he thought she deserved as a final resting place, he had one built. All that, and because he loved her so much, he created one of the most beautiful spots on the planet. Now that is cool!

They Should Be Unique

Consider two real world “World Wonders,” the Great Pyramid of Giza and the Empire State Building (the first a wonder of the ancient world, the second a wonder of the modern world).

There are a lot of pyramids and skyscrapers out there. What makes the Great Pyramid so special is it’s immenseness, and it’s made of blocks so large one has to wonder how exactly did a Bronze Age culture do it?

The Empire State Building, on the other hand, not only was the tallest building on the planet for nearly forty years, it was also the first building on Earth to pass 100 stories high. It doesn’t matter that other buildings have since surpassed the Empire State Building’s height. The fact it was the first building that tall gives it a cool-factor important when it comes to being a world wonder.

None Of Your Wonders Has To Fulfill All Of These Items

The Empire State Building is huge, grand, cool and unique in its own way, but it’s hardly ancient and isn’t all that practical. But it’s a world wonder nonetheless.

None Of Your Wonders Has To Fulfill Any Of These Items

Consider this: in November of 2006, USA Today and Good Morning America released a list of “The New Seven Wonders.” This list included the Great Migration of the Serengeti and Masai Mara.

In case you don’t recognize it, they’re talking about an annual mass migration of wildebeest in which millions these antelope mass together to move from one part of Africa to another to coincide with the seasons.

It’s an impressive sight, and several nature documentaries have recorded it. It’s also not what one might consider a world wonder. But think about it. It’s an awesome and unique event wondrous in its own right.

But it’s not a tangible thing in the sense of the other, usual items and locations people think of when they think world wonders.

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Ruins, Natural Features, Language And Culture

From Mark Moncrieff

How do you create world wonders? Here are four tips.


If a civilization has existed in the past and is built from stone, the ruins of that civilization will continue to exist. Create objects that seem out of place. For example:

  • A palace wall that still stands and is much taller than anything around it, the rest of the building gone.
  • A memorial to a long ago war, ruler or god. It could be an arch, spire, obelisk or stone circle. It could be with or without an inscription, which would be in an old or dead language.
  • Graveyards, or villages or cities of the dead would still exist, enough for the locals to know what it was.

Remember that while you will know what it had been, describe it to your players as they see it now, not as it once was.

Natural Features

Don’t forget the landscape. There is a reason towns keep being built in the same area.

Good water, fertile land, with mountains, hills, swamps, forests, desert or even farmland to surround the towns and give them character and a reason to exist where they do.

How People Talk And Think

If you want to give the impression of an old culture, have them talk in a slightly stilted or formal fashion.

For example, in the Anglo Saxon Chronicles when two armies fight they don’t fight on a battlefield. They fight “at the place of slaughter.” In my campaign people don’t die, “they go to the other life.” Someone who is dying would hear “the call of the other life.”

Keep it appropriate, though. A street urchin or a miner are unlikely to use terms like this. But when your players hear it said by a priest or an authority figure, including the GM, it carries a special weight.


Make human cultures different. For example, to many people in India cows are sacred. In the West we eat cows. To many African cultures, cows are symbols of wealth. Same animal, three very different ways of treating and thinking about them.

Use this principle for nearly any object or idea.

One final thought. As if you need an excuse to watch them, but the Lord of the Rings movies include many ruins, ruins which obviously don’t belong to the current cultures. Some great inspiration there.

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Video Games, Spells, Races And Earth

From Lee Barklam

I love world wonders and use them often in my games. They are constant reminders even powerful characters have a long way to go until they fully match the power, influence and ingenuity of heroes who have trodden the lands before them.

The easiest place to start is with an ancient civilisation that has disappeared, been destroyed or has otherwise deteriorated beyond recognition.

Mine Video Games

Consider the Elder Scrolls series of computer games. The dwarves were an advanced people that built complex steam-powered machines in giant underground cities near exposed pools of lava used to generate steam.

It’s a great concept in an advanced magical (but pretty low-tech) world, because no matter how advanced the characters become, and however much they learn about the dwarves, the PCs can never hope to divine the secrets of some of these great machines.

In my world, there is an ancient civilisation that worshipped the dragons (and, in my campaign, dragons can grant spells to their priests, just as the gods can). Due to an epic cataclysm, all settlements of significant size were dragged through rifts in the earth deep underground.

Whilst the majority of the people were killed, the nature of the curse preserved many of the buildings. And those people who did survive were transformed into a hideous hybrid of dragon and man (dracomen, for those familiar with the Dragon Warriors system) and in the ensuing generations, their civilisation deteriorated into brutish tribal barbarism.

Now consider the land left behind:

  • Giant rifts in the earth with entire towns sprawled out in its depths
  • Towns clinging to the sides of the chasm
  • Towns lining the chasm floor hundreds of feet below
  • Some settlements ruined and some in impeccable condition as if servants of the dragon lords still dwell deep within

The buildings left intact have strange and graceful architecture inspired by the colours and grace of dragons, mysterious survivors of a cataclysm that claimed almost every other stone structure in the kingdom.

Then consider what type of buildings you could create if you had dragon labourers at your disposal that could haul giant stones to the tops of even tall structures with ease.

And what if you could command mighty dragon magic? What artefacts could you create and what magical legacy would you leave behind?

Mine Your Spells

Ancient civilisations aside, you can draw inspiration from your own spellbooks. In the Dragon Warriors game, player character magickers can pretty much do everything they are going to do by 12th rank. What could a 20th rank magicker do with a 15th rank spell?

15th rank Earth Elementalists in my game can draw entire structures made from bedrock right out of the earth. This inspired one of my world wonders: a sealed tower constructed from a single piece of impregnable smoky crystal that juts high above the surface of a frozen lake. When the light is right, large shadows can be seen moving around inside, although details are impossible to make out through the crystal walls and there are no obvious entrances.

Mine Your Races

Races are great for developing unique structures. Consider a crashed alien spaceship in a culture that has no concept of spaceships or aliens. Maybe it is referred to as the metal palace, and the automated defences are just thought to be sophisticated traps that guard the areas of the palace no one dares explore.

Consider the skeletons or carapaces of enormous and perhaps extinct animals turned into unique structures of some sort.

Elves have their strange ways of building, too. Maybe one of their forests receded generations ago, but a tower woven from living vines that continues to protect the interior from looters and intruders has refused to die and now stands alone in a grassy wilderness.

Mine Our Wonders

Plagiarise the wonders of Earth. A lot of our wonders are inspired by religion or wealth and are displays of ostentation (either to the gods or to economic competitors).

Consider an ancient trading city whose glorious reputation as the trading heart of a massive economic empire is at risk. Now or at some point in history, such an economic centre would have been fabulously wealthy and might have invested that wealth in obscene structures in an ostentations display of vanity and economic superiority.

Cathedrals and tombs tend to attract the same kind of ostentation with the intention of inspiring awe amongst the flock of worshippers. St. Paul’s Cathedral is, in my opinion, unmatched in the UK, and you only have to look at some of the structures in Vatican City for more inspiration.

If tombs are more your thing, look at Egypt for examples of what religions (with their deep pockets and endless supply of devout, loyal and possibly enslaved workers) can accomplish.

If you’re looking for mysteries, just throw something akin to Stonehenge in your campaign world – a seemingly impossible feat of engineering for its time.

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I have even more world wonders tips for you coming up from additional reader contributions. Stay tuned.

And when you have five minutes this week, whip up a world wonder for your campaign. It’s fun and it’ll be a great source of future adventure hooks for you.