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
The 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.
An 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
Another 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.
Lastly, 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.