I guess this is part three of a series of questions, with part I being on building tension, and part II being on building comedy.

Greg Stafford has talked of his primary motivation as a gamemaster being the evocation of wonder in players. His Glorantha setting has any number of wonder-inducing features. For instance, Skyfall Lake, where the timeless realm of the gods joins the time-bound realm of mortals, is a great gash in the sky where the blood of a dead god falls as water into a lake. The Cult of Nysalor is a metaphysical wonder, revolving around the sublime madness of an awakening that frees you from all moral and spiritual constraints and makes the choice between heroism and world-consuming evil a matter of one's attitude to one's own desires.

How can we get our players to be enraptured by our game's set pieces?


3 Answers 3


What is notable about Glorantha in terms of fictional worlds? Its coherence. It has a extensive and richly detailed mythology and history designed to be as "realistic" (the sense of verisimilitude, as we have to point out in any RPG discussion even though it is always blatantly obvious).

It's interesting, if you research the term "sense of wonder" it is primarily affiliated with science fiction. In fact, many articles on it say that wonder is more possible in science fiction than in fantasy.

And why is this? Because a fundamental grounding in reality is required for the cognition that makes a sense of wonder possible. Fantasy and magic, when used so that "we can just make up whatever crap we want," fail to accurately evoke a sense of wonder.

@LordVreeg is on the right track in terms of details and immersion, but the core value behind those is the fundamental sense that the setting is somewhere 'real,' which has its own consistency and rationality. Then, a specific element that is larger than life or incredible holds resonance for the reader. In "Rhetorics of Fantasy" the primary genres of fantasy that create a sense of wonder are described as portal and intrusion fantasy (which use our world as a backdrop for that contrast) and immersion fantasy (characterized by its rich, fully realized setting).

Therefore how you build a sense of wonder in your RPG is to have an internally consistent setting. Not one where things are a way because 'the game rules say so,' or 'I made up something wacky one day' - but something that seems like a real, living, breathing world, so that then the immanence of revelation can generate an emotional response in the game's participants.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Totally agree that you connected those dots. The cognition part is why detail matters. \$\endgroup\$
    – LordVreeg
    May 9, 2011 at 13:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, internal coherence is one of the most important things in every setting, be it an rpg, a book, a movie or whatever. \$\endgroup\$
    – o0'.
    May 15, 2011 at 16:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ Agreed. I think this is why the traditional intro to a fantasy RPG campaign, where the PCs all meet in a tavern, continues to be so attractive (well, aside from being evocative of Tolkien and the Prancing Pony Inn). The PCs begin the adventure immersed in a familiar, comfortable location that is real to them. It's a portal to the unknown. Wonderous monsters and magic, all that is weird and unnatural are distant rumors. The PCs sitting around a table in a bustling tavern, next to a roaring fire & perhaps musicians, reminds the players of sitting around a campfire listening to stories. \$\endgroup\$
    – RobertF
    Mar 25, 2014 at 19:12

Creating a sense of Wonder can be done in a few different ways, but there are a few ingredients that help to stop a player dead in their tracks.

  • Details-Great ideas and powerful prose can be destroyed by fuzziness of the background. I know it is boring, but the background and detail of the setting provide the underpinnings and buttressing for the epic set piece. For example, Tolkien Multiplied the impression the Mines of Moria makes when he forshadowed them with the information about Balin, mithril, thror, etc. They are a deeper and more enduring 'Set Piece' because of how they fit into the details of the setting, as opposed to standing alone.

  • Setting Expectations-Something is perceived as marvelous or unusual in the way it stands out from the rest of the world. When I took classes in fiction writing back in the dark ages, they cautioned against everything being the biggest, strongest, coolest...in Setting design, the strongest sense of wonder is created by creating a realistic, baseline expectation of normalcy.
    If you numb them with superlative experiences, the set piece won't have the same effect.

  • Immersion- The GM's best friend, and tied to the detail part, is that wonder is created more powerfully when the player can see through the eyes of the character to some degree. The player sees Skyfall lake as a well-written set piece; but the more the player can see through the eyes of the character that is breathing in the air of that place and seeing the sun's light glint off it; the more amazing the impression will be.
  • Delivery- It may sound ridiculous, but practice and rehearse the delivery of the initial view/discovery of said set pieces. You get one chance to make this first impression, and if you are on your game and delivery smoothly and impressively, it is a far different effect from a dead tired monotone.
  • \$\begingroup\$ I hesitate about Details, the first point: this is fixing a style of gamemastering I try to be loose about, but I see the connection to Immersion. The other three I think are excellent points. \$\endgroup\$ May 8, 2011 at 19:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ It has been the sticking point in many game design and setting design conversations. I don't want to say it (or any of them) cannot be worked past by being brilliant in other areas...But I stand by my assertation that in every case, if all other things are equal, we'd see that the level of detail aids in creating the sense of wonder. \$\endgroup\$
    – LordVreeg
    May 8, 2011 at 20:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ I totally agree - detail light is a "valid style of GMing" but it's not conducive to a sense of wonder. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    May 9, 2011 at 1:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for making all good points. About the detail... I think it would be more accurate to say that if the setting -lacks- sufficient detail, a sense of wonder is difficult to achieve. No matter how wonderous a setting is, if it only exists in the imagination of the DM, the players won't be impressed. I like the concept of foreshadowing by telling a story about a setting, as Tolkien did. \$\endgroup\$
    – RMorrisey
    May 9, 2011 at 2:55

The current Legends and Lore post by Monte Cook deals with the mystery of magic items, and how it's diluted by their commonness. He suggests that when "[...] treasure ends up being a part of the characters' advancement track, not a reward", you lose the wonder of having magic items. It's just expected to have magical gear, and everyone has it, so it's no different from nobody having any, and it's not notable. Having a vorpal sword is not that big a deal if everyone else is up to their eyeballs in other magical loot.

Though this is D&D 4E centric, the general point stands, I think. Make your rewards not common, and they will keep on being wondrous.


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