Planar Mysteries

Reasons A Site Might Be Abandoned P4

(Author’s note: I’m picking up where I left off numerically)

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:

Also see Part 1, and Part 2, and Part 3

26 Racial inequality

This idea takes a cue from the headlines of today. One fantasy race (elves, orcs, dwarves, gnomes, etc.) is being mistreated by humans. They get tired of being “given the shaft,” and so rise up in riotous protests thus chasing out their oppressors. The protestors might topple monuments, loot stores, and take over governmental facilities. Instead of facing those they mistreated or attempting reparations, the humans fled. This trope works well with a variety of races.

27 Enclosed System

In the real world there is an abandoned research facility called “Biosphere 2.” According to Wikipedia, it is a scientific research facility. Its mission is to serve as a center for outreach, teaching, and lifelong learning about Earth, its living systems, and its place in the universe. It is a 3.14-acre structure originally built to be an artificial, materially closed ecological system, or vivarium. It remains the largest closed system ever created. The research facility contained a many of the earth’s biomes.

D8 types of environments an enclosed biome facility might be studying

  1. Rainforest
  2. Deciduous forests
  3. Artic environments
  4. Ocean
    1. Coastlines, complete with coral reefs
    2. Deep Ocean
  5. Mangrove wetlands
  6. Grasslands
    1. Midwest USA grasslands
    2. Savannah grassland
  7. Deserts
    1. Coastal Desert
    2. Rain Shadow
    3. Fog deserts
  8. Genetically modified plants and animals

D8 Problems enclosed biomes might run across

  1. food shortages/ strict dietary guidelines
  2. suffocation or oxygen depletion
  3. Species die-offs
  4. Loss of power
  5. Pollution
  6. Political problems from external sources
  7. Interpersonal problems among those inside due to a lack of privacy
  8. Roll twice and combine

How the characters arrive in the biome or why they can’t escape might be the reason for the adventure.

28 Loss of followers/ abandoned religion(s)

Deities may decree that priests abandon their temples if they lose enough worshipers. Conversely, if a site becomes less popular, temple leadership may decide to abandon one in favor of another. Then there’s the point of habitability. In real life, there are churches that have been decommissioned due to the area no longer being safe. Finally, there’s the point of accessibility. A holy place built into a cliffside when there was a nearby community may eventually decide to move it because the location may no longer be readily accessible to the populace it once served. Conversely, it may not be abandoned per se, but only the truly devout still worship there.

12 unexpected places you might find temple

  1. Sewer. Even if there are not hidden wererats nests trying to take over the city, sewers commonly hold hidden temples.
  2. Cliffside. Sometimes monks or secretive sects might make their temples in areas that are both generally inaccessible and dangerous to access.
  3. Forest/ Jungle. Maybe there was a civilization that had been there before and because they moved, the temple become overgrown. Characters might find such locations by literally tripping over an entrance or falling into them because their roof collapsed.
  4. Volcano. In addition to the dangers of ash and lava, active volcanoes are notoriously hot, geologically unstable, and filled with deadly gasses. Even the area around the volcano might not be all that safe. Acid rain and fog are known hazards. That’s not even counting the increasing likelihood of lightning strikes. Maybe one of the lava tubes collapsed, rendering the temple inaccessible.
  5. Deserts are perfect locations to find a temple due to their arid nature and omnipresent sand. All it would take is for abandoned temple to be hidden is a few years, as the desert sands would soon bury it. Because they’re so dry, anything there would be perfectly preserved
  6. Caves are another unusual location to find a temple. These types of a location are perfect because they’re naturally climate controlled. On the other hand, they are susceptible to cave-ins, which are geologic formation collapse. Limestone geologic formations, lava tubes, and other substrate rock formations are prone to spontaneous cave-ins.
  7. Glaciers are another out-of-the-way place you might find a temple. The temple could have been carved out of the ice itself, or slowly, over years, buried the location. Such places are quite prone to collapse from exposure to warm temperatures or running water.
  8. In a pocket dimension. These areas might not be accessible from anywhere other than a single opening.
  9. Inside a hidden chamber/ passage in another temple
  10. In a home where said religion was outlawed
  11. Underwater temples might be caused by a location flooding, but they also might be built by tritons or merfolk. Whichever the case, DMs need to ask themselves why remnants of the temple never surfaced before now.
  12. Beaches might be the most unusual places to build a temple, as it would soon leave nothing standing, as the tide comes in day in and day out, though there might be some remnants remaining.

29 End of an Age/ beginning of a new age

Maybe the reason the site is abandoned is because some major event happened.

14 Reasons an age might end or a new one begins.

  1. Mass Extinctions (think Dinosaur to Mammalian age)
  2. Change in societal structure
  3. Sickness/ Disease causing mass deaths (or not)
  4. War
    1. Defeat
    2. Conquest
    3. Pyrrhic victory
  5. Unusual weather patterns (1d4)
    1. Flooding due to excess rain
    2. Drought
    3. Extended growth season
    4. Extensive winter
  6. Technology
    1. Technological increase
    2. Sudden failure
  7. Religion
    1. Increase or change in religious activities
    2. Decline or abandonment by the gods
    3. Decline of or revitalization in faith
    4. Increase of “signs and wonders”
  8. Magic
    1. Decline of a magical species
    2. Discovery of a magic/ magical races
  9. Political
    1. Death or decline of a leader
    2. Rise of a charismatic leader
  10. Aliens or monsters
    1. Conquest by an alien force
    2. Gifts by an alien race
    3. Sudden appearance of monsters. Maybe even everyday people taking on monstrous appearances.
  11. Increase in crime/ decrease in safety
  12. After a purification of a people or place.
  13. Change in high society
    1. Rich lose their wealth
    2. Newly rich join the scene
    3. Someone who once was poor inherits wealth beyond their wildest imaginations
  14. Superpowers
    1. Sudden appearance of superpowers
    2. Disappearance or decline of superpowers
    3. Exposure of a superhero’s identity
    4. Death of a powerful superhero

30 It wasn’t abandoned; it was simply hidden.

The site wasn’t abandoned in the traditional sense of the word. If no one is looking for it, it may have been vacant the entire time. Conversely, if a location is obscured for long enough, people may have forgotten it was there.


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 5 of this series soon.