Ruins are structures or vehicles from a prior time or ancient civilization that have fallen into disrepair and been abandoned. Ruins may be ancient temples, old mines, abandoned space stations, derelict factories, or giant statues now crumbling. Often these sites have been overtaken with rust, moss, and vine. Ruins may contain flooded chambers, collapsing floors, and beasts that have now made them their home. Game dungeons are often ruins and these locations may contain traps and ancient automated systems set long ago. Ruins are home to explorers, fortune hunters, and those that seek to protect the treasures within.
Designing Fictional Ruins
Structure and Layout
When designing ruins and abandoned buildings for your world, the first question to answer is what type of structure or place it once was. While some world types will lend themselves to certain buildings, the most memorable ruins are often ones that were unanticipated or are in some way novel. Other elements, such as large vehicles can also serve as ruins, for example a downed aircraft in the middle of a jungle, or a massive spaceship in a planet-sized junkyard.
Certain types of ruins are common to certain types of genres or worlds. Fantasy worlds may feature the ruins of watchtowers, castles, temples, and giant statues. Science fiction worlds may feature alien ruins. Post-apocalyptic worlds may be riddled with shopping malls, gas stations, and gun stores.
Familiar landmarks – the Statue of Liberty, the Whitehouse, the Las Vegas strip, etc. are often found as ruins in post-apocalyptic worlds. If your world spans many eras, a popular structure in one age may be a ruin in the next.
The next question to answer is what caused the structure to become abandoned initially. This will have repercussions on the state of the structure. For instance, if the location was abandoned and is now in ruins because of a battle that took place, there may be barricades still in place, bodies laying around, scorch marks from fires, or other signs of struggle. If the structure was abandoned gradually, other signs will be present. This, of course, depends on how much time has passed between being abandoned and the ruins’ discovery. Consider the following:
- In what state was the structure left?
- Was the place abandoned abruptly or over time?
- If there are doors, are they open or closed? Locked or unlocked?
- If there are beds are they made or unmade?
- Corpses? Where are they? The position of remains tells a story.
- What ‘clues’ point to how or why the structure was abandoned?
- If an entity or beast caused the structure to become deserted, is that being still present?
It may be helpful to imagine the event that caused the abandonment and walk through it step by step. This may help you envision how the structure may have been left.
- Exodus of Inhabitants
- General Decay
Ruins provide an easy opportunity to age your world.
Passage of Time
You will also need to consider the passage of time. How much time has transpired will determine the state of the ruin or abandoned location. From the rotting of food to the crumbling of stone, the passage of time will have impacted nearly every element you choose to include in a ruin. Keep this in mind when designing.
- How much time has passed?
- How has the structure been impacted?
- Is the primary purpose of the building still functional?
- For instance, if it is a power plant, is it still operational?
- Are there automated subsystems and are they still operational? For instance: traps, power systems, transportation systems, AI, etc
- How has the surrounding terrain been impacted over time? Consider shifting sands, mudslides, snow, floods, asteroid strikes, forest growth, etc
- Has dust settled or some other marker of time manifested itself? And has it been disturbed by something?
- If it has copper has it oxidized to become green?
- If it has metal has it rusted?
- If it has stone has moss grown?
- Has anyone been here since? Why or why not?
If enough time has passed, consider if anyone else has been able to repurpose the structure. If the structure can be entered and is accessible (or partially accessible) consider if animals or others have moved in seeking either shelter or something else. Ruins that have been turned into homes are a common element in many worlds types.