This month’s RPG Blog Carnival is on fantastic locations. When I first saw the topic, before I read the post, I’d been kind of worried that it would be about the found only in fantasies sort of fantastic, rather than the awesome and memorable kind—and there are a lot fewer things that can be said about those. Fortunately, though, we’ve been given the latter.
So what does it take to make a location fantastic?
There has to be something—or at least some combination of existing factors—that sets it apart from other locations that might be like it. Usually, though not always, this is a visual element—the materials of which it’s built, the way the light reflects off of part of it, its relationship with the laws of physics, the trinkets and signs in the windows of a town, the residents. Sometimes it appeals to a different sense—scent, sound and temperature are most common, though if you’re good enough (or if you’re a writer and your viewpoint character has a tendency to run fingers over everything) you can sneak the textures in as well. Sometimes it’s even context; a maze of twisty passages is one thing, but that same maze of twisty passages, when they’re described as the lava tunnels under the crazy woman’s fortress and everyone’s being pursued down there by an enormous demon spider, is far more memorable.
It can’t be all vague; it’s no good if we can’t get a proper image of it. “A room” easily turns into that ten by ten room where the orc guards the bizarrely closed treasure chest with its life. At the very least, find the most important part and make sure you mention it; otherwise, how is anyone going to tell that this isn’t Magic Forest #37 or Maze of Twisty Passages All Alike #19?
While not everyone may agree, I find that one of the most important parts of a fantastic location is its internal logic—particularly if it’s the only-found-in-fantasy kind of fantastic. That doesn’t mean that you need to create places that make perfect sense to everyone, and explain them to people who don’t initially get it; explication destroys a certain amount of the wonder. What it does mean, though, is that you need to know what the logic is. That way, if someone asks, you’ll have an answer—and that even if the place looks patched-together, there’s some sort of method to the madness.
A fantastic location is one that will be remembered. Think about what will make yours memorable.