You can’t have a fantasy world without some ruins, but there’s always the question of how to create them. Okay, so many authors might come off as simply cobbling together a bunch of broken buildings and wastelands. Yet, there’s much more technique and substance to these areas. They aren’t solely for adventurers to wander around, get into fights, and discover treasure. So, what are some tips to consider?
- Don’t forget to have your adventurers wander around these cobbled together broken buildings that are probably in the middle of a wasteland. They will probably get into fights and find some treasure that’s been lost to the ages. What? Oh, I guess this does contradict everything I said before. Well . . . moving on!
- Ruins should show their age since they are typically not maintained. There are those that the locals preserve and continue to use for either tourism or traditional rites. Even so, the passage of time should always be considered. It’s hard to believe that you’re standing in ruins if the building are perfectly intact, the roads are clear, and the fountains still work. I mean, these are possible if there’s a spell involved, but you have to make that clear. Otherwise, people will wonder if these are real ruins or fakes designed to bring adventurers to the local shops.
- Mechanical and magical traps are important, but not always necessary. If the ruins were designed to store treasure then having these things makes sense. The long dead citizens wanted to keep people out. Yet, you have to consider if these things are able to reset themselves too. If you have 20 traps that can only work once then adventurer #21 is going to reach the end without a problem. Also, if the ruins are an abandoned town then there might not be any traps. People lived and worked there, so the chances of them having explosive ruins on the door to the local tavern isn’t very high. Then again, they could have been wiped out by a war against prohibition.
- If your ruins are supposed to be from a long lost civilization that nobody knows about then you should put them out of the way. Having the ancient ruins next to Max’s House of Cigars and Smoked Vegetarian Veal can reduce some of the mystery. Especially if Max keeps having customers because that means plenty of people have had the opportunity to explore. Once the characters can find a source to reveal the history of the ruins to even a slight extent, the readers will be prepared for certain situations. People driven out by a mysterious force? Probably a monster or curse waiting there. A war over an ancient item wiped out the populace? Guess what’s probably sitting inside. Now, you can always do this to help build the world history up, but understand that the trade off is creating some pre-existing expectations.
- Ruins should be designed to fit their surroundings or have clear signs that they existed before the landscape changed. A castle covered in jungle vines, but surrounded by desert doesn’t make much sense. You would have to reveal that there was a jungle, but an event happened to turn it into a desert. Same thing goes with having ice in the middle of a hot region, sand where there’s no sand around, and animals that shouldn’t exist in the environment. The explanation of ‘a fantasy world is strange’ can only work for so long.
- Try to name your ruins. If you keep calling every site ‘The Ruins’ then travelers will keep getting lost. Imagine being told to go to ‘The Street’ to meet your friends. You might know where they are due to a history, but it doesn’t work if everything is called ‘The Street’.
- Try to have fun with the whole thing since ruins have been a part of fantasy writing since the beginning. Many people see the concept as an unnecessary trope in general, so go with your instincts. It doesn’t hurt to use what’s been done as a foundation and give tweaks to make it work for your world. For example, passing through the ruins could take a week even though the adventurers only think a day has gone by. Maybe there’s a guardian that doesn’t like it’s job and phones it in. The mighty treasure might be one gold coin, which isn’t much these days due to inflation. Let your imagination run wild.