Do a Google search on “abandoned places”, and you’ll get your fill of inspiration for fantastic locations for roleplaying games in any genre and any setting. You’ll see your share of empty malls, forgotten amusement parks, and lonely hospitals, but you’ll also find villages, towns and cities that people have left behind. Each of these places has a story. Each was abandoned for a reason. Each leave you not only with photographs for player handouts, even maps in some cases, but with story and plot that often seem to strange to be true.
If you’re running a fantasy game, you may be wondering how an abandoned modern town could serve as a model for your campaign. If you eliminate the tech, and replace it with magic and the supernatural, you’re most of the way there. Consider Chernobyl, empty since a radioactive accident but still filled with homes, businesses, and wildlife. It’s deadly to people, though; perhaps instead of radiation, there’s evil magic that causes harm and requires Constitution checks, and the site is now filled with evil creatures immune to the toxic effects?
Think of the ghost towns of the American West, once boom towns now tapped out an abandoned because the major source of commerce there dried up. The mines and out, or collapsed. The wild game left, and with it the hunters. New roads diverted settlers and traveling merchants elsewhere.
Think also of places left empty by war. The village of Oradour-sur-Glane in France still remains partially standing, although its residents were all executed by the Nazis in 1944. Such a place, in a fantasy game, much be filled with restless spirits, or serve as a site for unspeakable rituals.
Weather and natural disaster also leave many places undone. Consider if people had simply left New Orleans en masse after Katrina, or Joplin, Missouri after the tornado in May of 2011. There are still people living among the ruins caused by the earthquake that struck Haiti in January 2010, holding on in spite of deplorable conditions simply because leaving isn’t an option for them.
When you forge plotlines and stories for your locations, you’re not only setting up an adventure or two for your players. You’re actively engaged in worldbuilding. The events that made these places into what they are will have ripples throughout your world. There may be refugees, there may be economic impacts, there may be political ramifications. Sometimes these places are themselves the results of the ripple effect coming off of other events in other places. What makes a location truly fantastic is the potential impact it can make on your entire campaign.