I’ve recently decided to immerse myself in nonsense fantasy. The magical portal worlds of Every Heart a Doorway are populating my Audible. The metaphorical morass of a Changeling campaign is cresting my RPG horizon. And just this evening, my illustrator and I enjoyed a merry un-Valentine’s date in Wonderland. It may be the tea and gin swamping my system at the moment of this writing, but I feel confident in saying that there’s value in uninhibited imagination.

So often as fantasists, we are told to explain ourselves. Where are the toilets in this dungeon? How does the dragon stay aloft with all that weight? What horticultural secrets does the underground dwarf kingdom employ to feed itself sans sunlight? 

No doubt  you are mentally drafting your reply to this comic: If you can create a flying tower you can cast create food and waterThey take on hardtack and jerky and barrels of drinking water when they land. Here, let me link you to the Tippyverse. This is obviously a post-scarcity flying tower! 

You can get a lot of mileage from that style of fantasy. Coming up with practical, rational explanations is part of the worldbuilding craft: a skill that comes hand in hand with the drive to verisimilitude. But do you know what my favorite flying tower is? It’s the bizarre chicken-footed deus ex machina from Mirrormask. If you’ve never seen it, the film is a Wonderland par excellence. The plot is a journey through a literal dreamscape, and the story neither asks nor expects you to justify its CGI shenanigans. When that tower comes down, questioning its provenance is beside the point. The moment is magic, and the “marvel” is more important than the “architecture.”

My point here is this. When it comes to TRPG worldbuilding, you’re allowed to let go of the rational. Present your players with the flying tower. Show them the ancient engine. Let them catch of glimpse of the interplanar behemoth swimming beneath the oceans of your world. If there is an explanation, it will fire within the imaginations of your players. Stirring that sense of wonder is the point, and showing them the blueprints is tantamount to explaining your magic trick.

Question of the day then! When have your presented a mysterious wonder to your players, and left them to come up with an explanation? Is there a brooding mystery that underlies your setting? A mythical beast that probably doesn’t exist? Or does it make you uncomfortable when a Nat 20 lore check fails to produce a detailed block of bestiary text? Sound off with all your least-logical wonders and most explanation-defying enigmas down in the comments!


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