One of the classic D&D tropes is a party entering a dungeon. Such places are either abandoned, in the middle of nowhere, or, sometimes, under a bustling city, but forgotten. Sometimes, these sites don’t need many repairs to make them usable. If this is is the case, often other things have taken up residence. But that begs the question, why were they abandoned in the first place? This article will answer that question. Read on:
1 It wasn’t “abandoned.” Everyone died off.
The town founders located the town “off the beaten path,” so that they couldn’t get help. It could be either that monsters attacked the town. Perhaps a plague swept through it. Or maybe everyone was old and died, and with no one to renew the population, the town died.
Aliens visited the site repeatedly, causing strange occurrences. Maybe radiation caused the crops to grow weirdly. The corn grew electric blue or the grapes a blood orange. Or the livestock to be born with two heads or five legs. For all the PCs know, the aliens could have abducted the townfolk to do experiments on them. Mindflayers took the entire town. Whatever the case, the town is empty.
3 Pirate treasure
Pirates are well-known for burying their treasure. The pirate trope is a map where “X marks the spot.” But many times, the pirates weren’t going to go through the trouble of making a map. Maybe they encoded the location somehow in a logbook.
For instance, an entry might read, “Travel up the winding river, beneath the bridge. Turn at the left fork that empties into the lake. Look for the tree, shaped like a “V.” You will find the treasure hidden beyond, under the vines. It’s up to the PCs to figure out where it is, and if the clues make any sense. It could just as easily be that the landscape has changed in the intervening years or there’s been developments that make the treasure impossible to find.
If you want more inspiration of such puzzles, look at the real life mystery of “The Secret: A Treasure Hunt.” Note: these puzzles are VERY difficult to decipher, and you might not want to make it THAT hard for your players to solve a mystery.
4 Unprofitable factory
If a factory is no longer profitable, one of three things happens. The first is that the company sees someone else wants it. Should this be the case, the company that owns the building sells the property for profit, if possible. Next, if no one wants it, they’ll see if they can retrofit it to another one of their production lines. If this is not possible, then they abandon it. Depending on whether or not the company was still profitable will determine what is left (if anything) of value.
What dangers lurk there?
5 Testing Facility
If a company or the military is experimenting in top-secret technology, they might invest in building a testing facility. Depending on the technological level, this might be a testing facility for magic potions, chemicals, explosives, aerodynamics, or nuclear energy. In such a facility, there might be strange hallways that dead end for no reason. Conversely, all the halls might converge. Another possibility is that the facility is a giant hangar, like ones where they build and store airplanes.
Because of their dangerous nature, it’s understandable they would often be built off the beaten path.
6 Mining operations
Gold, silver, gems, and other valuable materials dug from underground can “run dry.” And when a mine is no longer profitable, it’s abandoned. Or it could be that the unfortunate miner(s) ran afoul of a collapse, angry monsters, or a flood.
Mine collapses are problematic for several reasons. First, the people unlucky enough to be trapped will asphyxiate if not resued. Even if they are, survivors may not wish to go back to work. Then there’s the fact that the mine itself becomes too dangerous to reopen. Months (or even years) of work vanishes in an instant.
Monsters are another issue. Some commonly encountered in mining operations are:
- Goldgorgers, also called an Aurumvorax, is an eight-legged weasel-like creature whose diet is gold.
- Dwarves: While these stout folk usually don’t bother others, invading their territory will anger them.
- Gnomes: Also known for being underground, these crafty folk, known for illusions, will often keep badgers as pets.
- Earth Elementals. These creatures come from the plane of earth, are often summoned to help mine tunnels.
- Umber Hulk. These monsters discussed here could scare the miners away, making them reticent to return.
7 Unsafe water supply
If there’s no drinkable water, there wouldn’t be anyone in the town. Maybe the town’s water source was polluted. The townsfolk have been dumping garbage into a hole in the hamlet. Unfortunately for them, the opening leads to a cave complex that is the source of their drinking water.
Or the town’s water supply, once a freshwater spring, became contaminated with saltwater.
Conversely, deliberate poisoning could have been the cause of the problem.
What do the PCs do when they run across a place where not even the water is safe to drink?
8 Military base
During wartime, governments build military bases, and then subsequently abandoned them after the war is over. Maybe parts of the base withstood the test of time. Here’s a table of dilapidated places that you might run into while visiting the site:
Part of the Base
|Arsenal (weapons & armor)|
|Shooting range & hand-to-hand practice areas|
|Vehicles Storage (trucks, tankers, etc.)|
|Weaponized vehicle storage (think stuff like tanks, helicopters planes, & jets). This could also include things like golems, mobile suits (mechas), etc.|
|Fuel Depot (if more modern times)|
|Hospitals & medical facilities|
9 Industrial accident
There are a wide variety of famous industrial accidents that have happened in the real world. The accidents’ fallout often results in death, disability, and dangerous conditions for those who remain. Depending on the timeframe, the fallout could be literal, i.e., radiation, or figurative. The site could seem to open to hell itself. If the site is still dangerous, hinges on how long it’s been. Even if the air is safe to breathe and radiation is not a problem, it still might not be safe. The plants, soil, or water could be all affected by what happened.
In times of war, instead of being caught between two opposing forces, frequently, people will flee. Maybe the town itself was bombarded with opposing mages. Or in a slightly more modern setting, cannon fire. In both of these scenarios, the military doesn’t pay for property damage, frayed nerves, or loss of crops. Conversely, the military could have ordered the population to vacate so they would be safe.
Table 1-1 Site Conditions
Conditions of an Abandoned Site
|Dust and debris everywhere. It’s impossible to walk without hearing crunching underfoot. You can’t walk without leaving a trail. Invisibility grants no advantage, as those looking at the floor can see your footsteps.|
|Collapsed Tunnel or passageway; if you proceed, you risk the ceiling collapsing on anyone in it. Can the PCs find a way around?|
|Flooding. This flooding could be from a leak above or as the result of cave formation, which flooded.|
|Broken stairs, damaged furniture, and mold are everywhere. You feel it’s dangerous to be there. The very floor creaks dangerously beneath your feet, threatening to collapse under your weight. It’s difficult to breathe. Strenuous activity is at a disadvantage.|
|The place is overgrown with vines. Vermin are scurrying about the place. Huge, prehistoric-looking insects are buzzing around. Patches of the floor are slippery. Movement counts as difficult terrain. Additionally, those who fail a constitution DC 14 save sneeze repeatedly every 1d6 rounds, possibly attracting monsters.|
|Weird energy suffuses the area, causing light sources to flicker in the area. Those in the area have disadvantage on perception rolls. Though due to the inconsistencies of the light pattern, so does stealth. Those who fail an intelligence DC 16 are either Charmed or Confused (DM’s choice)|
|Dangerous substances or energies cause complications: Disturbing the site generates the following to results (1d6)|
1. An explosion occurs, throwing those unlucky enough to be in its blast 10 feet back and to suffer 2d6 fire damage. Furthermore, the character needs to make a DC 14 Con save or be deafened for 2d4 rounds.
2. Steam jets out from cracks in machinery. Those caught in its blast take 2d4 steam damage.
3. Nuclear energy fills a 15-foot cone, 30 feet long and those caught in it take 3d6 radiant energy
4. Glass Containers fall off a shelf and release a gas, poisoning anyone in its 20 ft radius. The damage is 1d4 for four rounds, with a constitution save DC 16 to end the damage.
5. The PC stumbles into a walk-in freezer, taking 2d4 cold damage each round they are in there.
6. An explosion occurs, sending shards of glass the PCs way. Everyone in front of the window must make an Acrobatics or Dexterity DC of 16 or take 4d6 slashing damage, half on a successful save.
There are a variety of reasons why a site might be abandoned. The list presented here was just a few.
When preparing an abandoned site, ask yourself the following questions:
- What was this site used for?
- Why was it abandoned? What is its story?
- Who was there before?
- Has something else moved in? If so, what?
- What did they leave behind?
By using abandoned sites as a springboard to drive the plot, you can make better use of your game’s locations. Look out for part 2 of this series soon.