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Many campaigns tend to have similar locations and encounter settings, which can make them a little bland to the long time players. They can be spiced up in all sorts of ways, of course, which I covered in some of my guides like the combat encounter guide. But a more unique location can be a great way to spice things up too, and some locations offer their own types of challenges, possible combat enouncters, as well as a wide range of flavor elements too. In this article, perhaps the first of many, I offer you 40 different location ideas ranging from a simple, but strange library to entire city ideas, and a whole range in between.
Some of the ideas in this article are based on locations that exist in real life. Our world has so much to offer in terms of inspiration that I feel it'd be wasted not to use it. The fact they exist in our world means there's often a lot of photos to take inspiration from as well, and it helps with grounding them in the reality of our fictional worlds. The real world inspirations will usually be mentioned in brackets at the end of the idea description below. So, without further ado, here is the list.
A now twice abandoned town was once home to a peaceful and thriving community until a disaster struck. Many died and others abandoned the town, leaving it to be reclaimed by nature. The ghosts of the dead remained here for decades, but for some reason have now abandoned this place too. What could be chasing ghosts away?
A canyon is easily crossed if you're the right species and size, but spiderfolk aren't commonly found trying to cross this bridge of webs. Other folk are, or try at least, as the risk of crossing this is worth it. Unfortunately many don't make it, the spiderfolk rarely cross the bridge, because they stick around instead.
Once a castle connected by a massive land bridge above the ocean, this castle is now all alone on a massive spire of stone. The ocean claimed the bridge decades ago, but the stubborn king removed to relocate.
Built upon giant gears is a large industrial city changing forever as the gears and cogs shift and turn. It's easy to get lost when you're unfamiliar with the rhythms, but a few tinkerers have crafted intricate wrist pieces with which you can easily tell the rotations of the city, assuming you have the coin to pay for one of course.
Once a major trading hub in the coldest regions of the world, now an even bigger trading hub, but floating across the world. The ice this city is built upon cracked many decades ago and new technology had to be developed to prevent the ice from melting completely when drifting to warmer regions of the world, but the exotic nature of this floating city has attracted all sorts of people.
In a remote corner of the world exists a city who is struck by lightning an average of once every 15 seconds. While this may seem dangerous to many, some entrepid souls found ways to harvest the power of this lightning and build a city with seemingly unlimited power. (Based on Catatumbo Lightning.)
A seemingly normal looking city built upon a dormant volcano is home to a peaceful people. Every once in a while, this town turns into a scene of a horror movie. Every citizen will suddenly wear a gas mask and urge you to do the same, for your own safety, as dangerous gasses from the volcano below fill the entire town. (Based on Miyake Island.)
A guild of merchants has carved their market place into the top part of a grand spire of coarse stone. Getting there requires a ride on a storm crow, which is easier said than done.
Prison with portals to buildings in different realms. The more severe the punishment, the harsher the realm.
An incredibly long waterfall spanning great distances and heights, which offers opportunities for all sorts of caves, height challenges, weather challenges, and a whole lot more.
A tall bluff is home to a grand community sought by many. Access requires the use of an elevator in the form of a flower species. It grows tall and quickly, but only when the sun is out. Timing is required to catch a ride, and precautions may be needed to fight of insects attracted by the flowers.
A secluded island somewhere in the vast oceans is home to species seemingly stuck in time. Primitive humans, long thought extinct animals, and who knows what else. People are willing to pay to know, but the inhabitants aren't too keen on visitors. Set foot on the island, and you may become history too. (Loosely based on North Sentinel Island.)
A huge secluded island in the middle of the ocean is home to countless creatures unseen in other parts of the world. Each creature has adapted to life on this island, which means deadlier toxins and greater degrees of venom resistance to cope with it, which causes this eternal battle to spiral to ridiculous extremes.
A small isthmus separates two bodies of water. One's a vibrant green, the other a dark red. Many claim the waters have magical properties, and combining the two can create powerful potions when mixed with the right ingredients. The true nature of this phenomena lies within the micro-organisms and mineral contents of the two waters, but that doesn't mean the stories of magical properties are entirely false.
A grand, lush forest is home to a wide variety of flora and fauna. Upon closer inspection you may spot a universe of insects as well, but what's that there? An ant with a fungus growing out of it's body? Oh, that must be the cordyceps parasite. Nature's scary like that. Wait a second, there's more of them, and bigger ones too. A squirrel here, a fox there, and a human there! Uh oh! (Based on the real cordyceps parasite.)
Library filled with dead people who can pass on knowledge when using speak to dead.
Gigantic lily-pads form the foundations of a wide variety of homes, buildings and other constructions. They offer a prime location to take advantage of the lake itself, which does more than grow giant lily-pads, but when a lily-pad dies or becomes untangled, disaster may strike a few buildings.
An ordinary looking mountain has some strange inner workings. It's highly magnetic, which can disrupt electronics, make weapons difficult to handle, and make things awkward when belt buckles are pulled down.
All those who dare step into this lake will turn into statues immediately. Whether through magic or natural phenomena, many different beings have already fallen at the hands of this death trap. Both the brave and the stupid have dared to take water from this lake, which has brought death and petrification to well beyond the lake's borders. (Based on Lake Natron.)
An incredibly tall mountain pierces through the clouds and is hidden by them on most days. On some days, however, when the weather is clear, the top can be seen. It seems completely flat, and locals swear they've seen figures living there, who surely must be the gods, or are they? (Based on Mount Olympus, Table Mountain, and ancient mythologies.)
A huge cliff-side with an overhanging top rises high above the clouds. Those punished to death are hanged from this overhang, their bodies never removed. What secrets may they spill? What value could they offer to those favoring the necromantic arts?
Freezing temperatures, sparse pine trees and boreal plants, as well as the odd animal here and there can all be found in the middle of the jungle thanks to a huge biodome built by somebody who may have had one too many encounters with the various venomous creatures of the jungle. It's definitely a popular place among travelers and locals alike though.
While this is not really an actual location in and of itself as a galaxy could be anything you wish it to be, I find this fascinating and worth mentioning anyway. There exists a theory that every black hole could contain a smaller universe within it. Whether this turns out to be true or not, it offers a great opportunity to explore black holes in an RPG beyond just a worm hole to a different point in the universe. If you're interested in the physics behind this, a simple Google search for "universe inside a worm hole" will reveal plenty to play around with.
A gigantic building carved into the densest stone of a mountain forms the home of a massive bank. Gold, documents and other goods are easily stored here, but for those seeking to store more organic goods, this bank offers a wide variety of services too. Blood, organs, and all sorts of other bodily goods are easily stored and even sold here.
A nearby cave is known for its magnificent spectacle of lights. Glow worms across the ceilings light the paths into the labyrinth of caves, more so in the actual path to the center. The glow worms themselves are used in herbalism by the locals, but also act as a lure for the main attraction deep within the caves. Like the anglerfish, this cave monster uses bio-luminescence to lure prey into a dark chasm of teeth. (Loosely based on the Waitomo Glowworn caves.)
Entire towns of aquatic beings have been built inside huge, floating water drops. Entering is permitted, as is exiting, but piercing the water the wrong way can have dire consequences.
Four lakes in four colors are said to have elemental powers. Each lake was formed after a volcano became dormant and the different properties caused different lakes to form, which in turn caused different localized flora and fauna, as well as the attraction of elemental beings. (Loosely based on Mount Kelimutu.)
Every winter massive snow storms cover this small village in a huge blanket of snow, so much so that it becomes completely invisible above the snowy surface. Life doesn't end though, the inhabitants simply dig tunnels in the snow to continue life as if nothing changed. The snow even provides great insulation, so the temperatures are quite pleasant down below.
A crater in the ground seems completely empty, yet vessels float and move like boats would. Stepping into the lake doesn't seem to wet your clothes or affect you all that much. Walk further though, and breathing may suddenly become quite difficult as the dense gases fill your lungs.
Note that depending on your universe (and players) you may have to keep in mind the physics and chemistry of your universe for realism.
From the outside this place may seem like a typical deserted dungeon with the potential for monster battles, incredible loot, and the risk of death. This place, however, is actually built this way on purpose by an eccentric ruler and his perhaps more eccentric followers. They won't bite though, most of them anyway.
A tall mountain with steep cliffs serves as the canvas of giant geoglyphs. Their true meaning remains unknown, but plenty of people, sects, and religions have their opinions. As a result, many communities have popped up around the bases of the cliffs. (Based on the Nazca Lines.)
Gorgeous emerald waters tumble from great heights and offer the landscape around it plenty of water to thrive and flourish. Amidst the falling waters, though, is a flame said to burn forever. Local worshippers prevent access to the flame, so nobody knows the true secrets it may hold. (Based on Eternal Flame Falls.)
Every full moon the local beaches turn a fluorescent red. Surely the source of wicked magics or terrible oceanic bloodsheds according to the locals, but in actuality just bio-luminescent plankton (dinoflagellates for those who wish to Google this real phenomena, albeit in blue in our world).
Large fields of tall, hollow grasses are the source of ear-piercing screams. Whenever small cuts are made by animals, people, or other elements, the grasses turn into flute-like instruments in the wind. However, this also offers a perfect cover for murders and other heinous crimes said to be performed in these fields.
A long stretch of land surrounded by a vast lake is home to an incredibly long town. The lake is full of fish, and it makes the lands very fertile, but the stretch of land isn't exactly the most ideal shape. Nevertheless, houses and farms alike have been built all along this serpent-like stretch of land. Having to go the opposite side of town can be quite infuriating however.
A grand building stands at the center of a gorgeous nature reserve, and is surrounded by a well kept fence. This is the university of life where knowledge is gained through life, the taking of life that is. Classrooms of students take part in absorbing the life force and knowledge of all sorts of creatures to learn biology, languages, and whatever else those creatures may know.
Hidden inside a dense forest is an entrance to a cave with its own ecosystem, climate, and diversity not found in neither the forest it's part of nor the world itself. Gigantic cave rooms are filled with giant crystals reflecting light further into the caves, and various hot springs and rivers provide life all around, including life you may not wish to encounter.
At the edge of a tall cliff at the edge of an ocean time acts a little weird. As the tide goes up, times goes forward, and as the tide goes down, time reverses.
The classic giant turtle with a small word on its back (or any other animal), but leaving the turtle is not permitted by the turtle.
The turtle could even be an illusion casted to make prisoners of any kind more docile and seem to be living simple, but peaceful lives.
A huge waterfall seems like an unlikely place for a village to be constructed, but some disagreed. Hanging eerily over the edge of the waterfall is a large fishing and trading town. However, because the waterfall is incredibly loud, all communications are done non-verbally.