Everyday as I venture to work in downtown Toronto I make use of the PATH. The PATH is Toronto’s underground labyrinth of shops and corridors connecting office buildings, shopping centers and public transit together. In the summer it provides escape from the sunny surface streets and in the winter it is a much warmer alternative than walking through snow. Wandering the PATH is the closest I’ll ever come to exploring a real dungeon and it’s a great example of a fantastic location that can inspire any DM.
This month Keith Davies – In My Campaign hosts the RPG Blog Carnival. January’s topic is Fantastic Locations. In the Dungeons Master contribution to the blog carnival we’ll begin by taking you through the PATH before emerging to street level and exploring how to transform a regular location into something fantastic for your next campaign.
The PATH connects where people live with where people work. It also provides underground access to amenities like grocery stores, medical offices, university and colleges, fitness clubs, and even city hall. There are numerous pubs, restaurants and fast food establishments beneath the bustling streets of Toronto’s downtown core. Movie theaters, performance centers, and professional sports arenas are also connected to the PATH. It has everything you need and it’s all connected underground. Many people go for days or longer without going outside. The PATH makes it possible to live a subterranean lifestyle.
I find that wandering the PATH is an inexhaustible source of inspiration for my next D&D campaign. There are so many interconnected passages that lead to so many different areas of downtown Toronto that each journey is different. There always seems to be new shops springing up so even a familiar route is often transformed.
Wandering the PATH can be daunting and overwhelming at first. Numerous maps are posted periodically and direction markers indicate where you’re heading as you go from one building to the next. The area beneath each office building strives to create its own identity to better establish itself among the hundreds of shops and eateries. For example, the floors, walls and ceilings in one of the bank building are all a rust-red colour giving it a unique an unmistakable look.
The PATH as a whole can give DMs plenty of inspiration for subterranean campaigns, but focusing on any one building can be just as rewarding. For example, my office is one of four buildings that surround an enclosed concrete courtyard. Although the courtyard is not part of the PATH system because it’s above ground, I’ve often imagined how it can become a fantastic location for a large-scale combat after the party finally emerges from the underground PATH itself.
Below are numerous photos of the courtyard. I look out my office window and stare down on this scene every day. As I’ve stared out at this location day after day I’ve often imagined how it could become the perfect location for my next D&D camping.
One thing that makes converting this real life location into something more suitable for D&D is that the ground is already divided into 5ft x 5ft squares. In your campaign you can have the large fountain in the middle of the courtyard be a calm pool or the home to a raging water elemental. Maybe you’d prefer that it be full of bubbling lava? The benches and flowerbeds are easily converted to difficult or blocking terrain. Is the restaurant a pub that welcomes all thirsty travelers or is it abandoned and haunted? How would you use the elephant statue? Is it just a statue or does it animate? Maybe it’s a golem waiting to attack unsuspecting PCs? Instead of an elephant perhaps it’s a small dragon? Use the courtyard as one massive area or just use bits and pieces as necessary for your adventure.
If you keep your eyes open and take in your surroundings you can find plenty of inspiration for the terrain of your next encounter. Look past the familiar or the obvious and put on your gamers goggles. See even the most familiar places as more than they are in real life and transform them into the next fantastic location that you send the PCs in your campaign.
How often have you used familiar, real life location as the basis for battle maps in your campaign? Did the players catch on or did you disguise it well enough to keep them guessing?
Check out the PATH: