Drawing fantasy inspiration from real sites

One way dungeon master (DMs) can make their game worlds unique is through placement of fantastic features. Unfortunately, doing so creates two challenges: first, to complete the creative gymnasitcs necessary for conceiving such locations in the first place, and second, to describe these other-worldly locations in such terms that the players won’t have to complete a major feat of imagination to picture those places, let alone navigate characters through them. Fortunately, there are real sites that press upon the boundaries of fantasy which can inspire DMs, some of which will be briefly described in this post.

The Crystal Cave of the Giants

fantloccrystalcaveThe Crystal Cave of the Giants in Southern Mexico is one such site. Essentially a giant geode discovered adjacent to a mine harvesting silver, zinc and lead ore and located about 1,000 feet (300 m) below the surface, this cave system has an average temperature of 150 degrees Fahrenheit (66 degrees Celsius) with humidity of 100 percent – it is literally filled with water vapor, condensing upon the giant crystals.  Humans can retain the ability to function for six to 10 minutes in this environment.

Bannerman’s Castle

fantlocbannermanscastleAn interesting structure located on an island in the Hudson River in New York State, U.S.A, is Bannerman’s Castle. It was constructed as an arsenal by Francis Bannerman VI, a businessman who dealt in military surplus from the Spanish-American War, but has since been abandoned. The castle has fallen into such a state of disrepair that it is almost possible to imagine adventurers exploring some areas, just from viewing the photos. 

The Barringer Crater

fantlocberringercraterAnother real-world site that can serve as inspiration for a fantasy setting is the Barringer Meteor Crater, the largest impact crater on Earth. Located in Arizona, U.S.A., it is at least 50,000 years old and, while the impact apparently destroyed the meteorite itself – scattering enromous fragments of meteoric iron as far as five miles (10.1 km) in all directions – the size of the crater [4,145 feet (1.3 km) across and 570 feet (175 m) deep] and the fact that the impact crater overturned no fewer than four layers of native rock testify to the size of the meteorite. Craters such as this could provide an interesting location for fantasy cities.

Centralia, Pennsylvania

fantloccentraliapaLastly, man-made disasters can provide inspiration for unique adventure settings. Consider the fate of  Centralia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A., a coal-mining town rendered almost uninhabitable since an underground coal vein caught fire in 1962. When coal deposits beneath the town began to burn, smoke, toxic gases and in some cases fire began belching up through the earth. The ground beneath some buildings couldn’t support the weight of the structures, and many collapsed. Most of the residents were relocated by the Federal Government, although a few still live in the town. Centralia inspired the Silent Hill video game, and may inspire settings in your D&D game, as well.

Do you know of any other real sites that may provide inspiration for a fantasy setting? If so, please consider describing them in a comment to this post, so that other readers may benefit from your knowledge.

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9 comments on “Drawing fantasy inspiration from real sites

  1. Michelle says:

    I’d like to nominate City of Rocks State Park in New Mexico.

    http://www.newmexico.org/explore/state_parks/city_rocks.php

    To get to this park, you drive along a small road where everything is flat and there is just brush as far as the eye can see. What you don’t realize is that there is a slight rise, and as you turn a corner, you see what looks like a ruined city in the distance. The boulders are huge, and I think would make a great map for exploration.

  2. Ameron says:

    Great idea. This works especially well if you have (or can get) photos of these places. PCs love visual aides. I’ve used real life castles and cathedrals before, but I never considered naturally oddities like the ones you’ve described. Excellent take on this idea.

  3. Max.Elliott says:

    Some of my favorite sites, off the top of my head, with the help of wikipedia;

    Chocolate Hills –

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chocolate_Hills

    Cliff Cities –

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mesa_Verde_National_Park

    Blue Holes –

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_Hole

    St. Augustine –

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Augustine,_Florida

    Polish Salt Mines –

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poland_Salt_Mine

    Coral Castle –

    http://www.crystalinks.com/coralcastle.html

    Aztec Temples –

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Templo_Mayor

    Tunguska event –

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tunguska_event

    Karnak –

    http://dlib.etc.ucla.edu/projects/Karnak

    Some of these sites are more interesting for the stories behind them, the rumors and speculation they produced. The Coral Castle, for example, would be unimpressive if it weren’t for the rumors that the builder had mastered levitation. Greek, Asian, and just about any older temple makes good map fodder.

  4. Toe-Knee says:

    Manicouagan Reservoir in Quebec,Canada is a good place for a Stronghold (or prison). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manicouagan_Reservoir
    The Tunguska event in Russia can give you an idea of what a natural thermonuclear explosion would look like. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tunguska_event

    Love the idea of Centralia, PA. Thanks again for a great post!

  5. Rusty Bender says:

    I’ve always thought that the Maunsell sea forts were spooky.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maunsell_Sea_Forts#Maunsell_Sea_Forts

    I happened on to your link because I have a Google alert set up for Bannerman’s Castle not because I play D&D. It’s been many many years since I’ve played D&D but I think I’d be a little sad if people weren’t still exploring the possibilities.

  6. Nermal2097 says:

    This was a site I stumbled a little while and filed for future use as inspiration in much the way you have suggested in your as always great article.

    http://weburbanist.com/2007/10/15/7-more-underground-wonders-of-the-world-lost-caverns-and-cities/

    Cappadocia is probably the easiest to use in a fantasy setting, but Edinburgh’s undergound could be used in any Urban game in whatever genre.

  7. Alric says:

    Thanks for all the great input, folks. I was hoping that we’d see a great cross-section of stuff. If we get much more, they may even find their way into a separate download…

  8. [...] the months that passed since writing this first post on the topic – a post describing the Crystal Cave of the Giants, Bannerman’s Castle, The Barringer Crater [...]

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