Monday, March 14, 2016

A Sense of Wonder

I was catching up on Star Wars Rebels recently. In particular, I was watching the episode "The Call" (I think it's called that) where the characters (we'll call them the PCs) come face to face with a cluster of collapsed stars and need to find their way through while the Empire is super close behind. The crux of the episode isn't important. What is important is it reminded me of something my own Star Wars game - and other games - frequently lack: a sense of wonder. Today, I want to talk about that.

A World Where Anything Can Happen
TV Shows play with the idea from time to time, but how often does it occur to you that your game is a place where literally anything can happen? I mean, aside from the expectations of your players, you have no real restrictions on what you can do. You want it to be fun, but there's no special effects budget or other people saying "Hey, that can't happen here." Anything you want to happen can, and that opens you up to introducing elements that are just...bigger...than the kind of things your PCs normally run into.

A Touch of Fantasy
The higher fantasy your game world is the stronger the touch of fantasy in the normal day to day of the game will be, but also the more freedom you have to get other things in. Even in non-fantasy games - even as super gritty as cyberpunk tends to get - you can introduce elements of fantasy, albeit more sparingly, into your game.

How? Well...magic.

For more fantastical settings there can be divine guidance, paths that only open to the truly faithful, enemies that can only be bested with specific weapons, and elements of things that are beyond the ken of the mortals.

For less fantastical game you have the same things, but they tend to be more "woah, that was lucky" type situations. Consider the cop who has a gang member pull a revolver on him and misfire three times during a bust, only for the gun to test fine later on. The soldier who hears a voice, a song, telling him of a hidden place to bring his wounded buddy for shelter.

Faith Is Often The Key
The type of plot elements I'm talking about often have a question of faith in them. This doesn't mean the character (or characters) that experiences them has to be faithful, but faith still plays in somehow. Now how you involve faith will determine the kind of story the arc is telling.

Is this about a character reconnecting with their heritage and legacy? Perhaps a re-affirmation of the faith of a character? Testing how deep the faith runs of a priest, holyman, or other spiritual character? Introducing the concept of faith to a non-believer?

Whatever it is, the interaction should be ambiguous at worse, and edging towards - or fully into - positive. If you make it a negative interaction you're not going to get a sense of wonder, you're going to get a sense of dread.

A Light Touch
There's an episode of Futurama where Bender meets God. God tells him "when you do your job right, no one will think you've done anything at all" or something like that. This is kind of the idea you want for these stories. The player should be the focus of what is going on. From the outside it should appear like the character having the experience did everything. That character may remember the spiritual encounter and all that happened, but outside? It was all them.

Have you seen the Princess Bride? Where Inigo finds where Wesley is being held, almost dead? He asks his father for guidance. Now, for Inigo, his father guides him to the right spot. From the outside? He basically just blindly stumbles around and gets super lucky. From the outside, no one can know. On the inside? Good luck convincing Inigo his father didn't help him.

Flavor To Taste
Bringing in Wonderous things is weird. Not every group will like it. Not every group will want it. It's ok to introduce it even with resistance, but keep it super light. If the group doesn't like it, pull back. If the group engages, feel free to proceed. Just make sure you flavor the encounter to the game and your group. The idea is to have a light touch of something greater than the PCs getting involved, not to dash the sense of realism you've built up against the rocks.

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