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Ruins for Ruins' Sake

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Beautiful. Ancient. Colossal. Inexplicable.

"Stay on this road here, past Dead Man's Curve, you'll come to an old fence, called The Devil's Fence. From there, go on foot till you come to a valley known as The Cathedral Of Lost Soap. Smack in the center is what they call Forgetful Milkman's Quadrangle. Stay right on The Path Of Staring Skulls and you come to a place called Death Clearing. Cabin's right there, can't miss it."

Every intrepid RPG player has done the Dungeon Crawl. Poking around ancient ruins looking for treasure or an important item while dodging the many monsters that make these places their home is the bread and butter of RPGs.

Close examination of those ruins, however, raises some interesting questions as to what these structures were originally built for. Ruins weren't always ruins, but many dungeons look like some contractor was tasked simply to build a vast labyrinth of dead-end corridors under a mountain and then cover the walls with creepy carvings. There is little to no evidence that people ever lived in these structures or used them for any practical purpose.

These enigmatic designs can be justified, especially if the ruins are only partially preserved, making their original purpose more difficult to ascertain. Often, however, the game designers are simply trying to create an interesting immersive environment for the player. It may be that little thought is given to the backstory of the structures you're looting. Practical concerns like living spaces, easy navigation, and easy access to the rest of the world are sacrificed for fifty-foot ceilings and walls that grimace and moan.

The explanation is thus Rule of Cool: the ruins are supposed to add to the atmosphere of the setting, either by being visually impressive or prodding the player into wondering about their purpose and creating the backstory themselves.

These areas also make great Scenery Porn and/or Scenery Gorn, depending on the state of such places.

They also have varying amounts of Malevolent Architecture and Benevolent Architecture.

Compare Landmark of Lore, Temple of Doom. Contrast Ghost City.


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    Comic Books 
  • Sonic the Hedgehog (IDW) has the Emeraldville Ruins, a town laid to waste during the war in Sonic Forces. This is where Blaze helps Silver make a garden in the 2019 Annual, and after the Metal Virus Saga, Restoration HQ is relocated under the ruins, with the tool shed in Silver's garden housing a secret elevator that acts as a backdoor entrance to the base.

    Fan Works 
  • The four run into several of these in The Keys Stand Alone: The Soft World. They're told that the gods reshaped C'hou to be more like the G'heddi'onian homeworld so the new civilians would be comfortable there. And they note the insanity of these places every single time.
    • Gothmarik Citadel is a ruin/dungeon reminiscent of those in The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall. Ringo, who mentally explores the place, notes that he'd never seen anything like it the first time they were on C'hou, and the others make various comments as to whether the designer was on acid.
    • The cliff dwelling where the white key is hidden. John notes that despite it being in mountains created only about five years ago, the dwelling is obviously hundreds of years old. Did the gods create it old?
    • The Boidan Mine, the map of which shows a weird tangle of passages. “Why would we want to go to a mine?” George sensibly asks.
      • Heck, the very first thing that happens to them after they decide to get off the mesa is that Paul crashes through the ground into an underground chamber with a poem carved into the wall. What's that chamber doing there? Who put the poem there? Is it even relevant to them?

    Film — Live-Action 
  • The climax of The Burning takes place amid the ruins of an old copper mine that has not previously been mentioned in the film.note 

  • The world of Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time novels is littered with ruined palaces, ruined monuments, ruined cities, and huge mysterious magical artifacts from bygone ages, and almost all of them exist solely so protagonists can see them while traveling from A to B and reflect philosophically about how much that once was is lost.
  • Keys to the Kingdom plays this trope very straight. It has ruins that were built as ruins for the purpose of training soldiers to fight in various terrains.
  • In the Doctor Who New Adventures novel Theatre of War, Bernice grows increasingly frustrated at a super-computer's inability to reconstruct what a ruined Roman-esque amphitheatre would have looked like before it fell into ruins. Turns out that there never was a real amphitheatre, it (and all the other glorious ruins on the planet) was built as a pile of ruins as part of a trap.

    Live Action TV 
  • An accidental example can be found in the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "The City on the Edge of Forever". The Guardian was supposed to be surrounded by "rune stones". However, the set designer didn't recognize the word "rune", and in the dictionary "ruin" precedes it. The Guardian set was therefore full of "ruined stones"—the broken columns we see. What purpose did they serve? Who knows?
  • Jimmy Carr mentions this in an episode of QI while discussing Greek architecture (immediately preceding the infamous "They say of the Acropolis..." moment), commenting on how, whenever a Hollywood production is set in ancient Rome or Greece the sets are essentially ruins.
    "'Yeah we're gonna build a film-set in ancient Rome, they all lived in ruins.' Well not at the time! It was years later when they were ruins! You bloody fool!"

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons may be the Trope Maker: while the earliest dungeons had the justification of being wizards' laboratories (and thus full of traps, guardians, and escaped monsters) later ones did not. There were some good exceptions, though.
    • The Tomb of Horrors is such a dungeon. It was designed specifically to be a gigantic deathtrap to protect the Demilich Acerack and keep unwanted looters out.
    • In almost every 'gamemaster's guide' there is a section advising the GM to build his own dungeons in a way that avoids this trope - establishing the complex as a mine, a tomb, an underground community, a storage vault, something - even if it's not being used that way anymore. But the game designers have not always followed their own advice when making pre-published adventures.
  • Averted in Earthdawn, where the civilized races spent a few centuries hiding in underground cities called "kaers" while Cthulhuoid monsters called Horrors ravaged the Earth. The PCs are from kaers that survived, and most of the dungeons they explore are kaers that didn't.

    Theme Parks 

    Video Games 
  • Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura: The majority of the ruins do make sense — most of the old castles, the Vendigroth ruins — but others are clearly examples of this trope. The Bow and Throwing master quest dungeons are probably the most obvious.
  • One of the first dungeons in Blue Dragon is a hospital ruin. Other ruins seem to exist only to provide an easy introduction to the no random encounters concept, and to house the hardest Bonus Boss in the game. Who the hell builds a device with the purpose of sawing a planet in two?
  • Clustertruck: The 6th world, "Ancient", has you go through antique ruins of totally unknown origin.
  • The Legend of Zelda is filled to the brim with dungeons and temples. In many cases, Link has to go plundering for "pendants" or "orbs" before he can even begin assembling the Triforce pieces, which are hidden in still more temples.
    There are aversions, though, where the dungeons seem to serve other purposes than being nonsensical ruins:
    • Seemingly averted with most of the dungeons in Ocarina of Time, as many of them seem to pull double duty, or did in the past:
      • The Forest Temple is an old mansion.
      • The Spirit Temple is a place of worship.
      • The Fire Temple is a jail.
      • The Water Temple is an Atlantis-like city.
      • The bottom of the well was holding an Eldritch Abomination before you break things and is where the Eye of Truth is stored. Besides that, the prison cells and crucifix directly above a hole seem to suggest it was a torture complex, jail, execution room or some combination thereof related to the Sheikah and their Shadow Temple. Considering the inscription in the Shadow Temple is "Here lies Hyrule's bloody history of greed and hatred"... Yeah, a real messed up place is probably the best description we can get without an M rating.
      • Dodongo's Cavern is a rock mine.
      • Played straight with the Deku Tree and Jabu-Jabu, however. Not only are they inherently nonsensical Womb Levels, but one cannot help but wonder who installed all the doors, switches, treasure chests and rooms inside them and why.
    • The Woodfall Temple in Majora's Mask was a place of worship, the Snowhead Temple appears to be an abandoned mine, the Great Bay Temple is a power plant, the Stone Tower Temple appears to have been a blasphemous monument designed to insult the Golden Goddesses and praise Majora, and Beneath the Well was a crypt.
    • In The Wind Waker there's a very good reason for all these ruins; of them, Dragon Roost Cavern was a mine, the Forbidden Woods are an abandoned city, the Tower of the Gods is explicitly a proving ground, the Earth Temple is a mausoleum, and the Wind Temple was most likely a power plant.
    • In Twilight Princess, the dungeons are prisons, mansions, and mines, all looking fairly realistic and practical, even if they were just as malevolent as the more traditional dungeons.
    • Breath of the Wild combines this trope with After the End, as Hyrule is scattered with ruins from different time periods: some, such as the Forgotten Temple, the Lomei Labyrinths, and the Zonai ruins in Farore, are from the distant past, and had been abandoned and fallen apart over time with not much explanation given as to their origins; others, such as the Great Plateau, Castle Town, and scattered town and outpost ruins, were explicitly destroyed much more recently, in the Great Calamity 100 years before the game. Tears of the Kingdom introduces more ruins, and provides explanations for ones from its predecessor:
      • The Farore Zonai ruins introduced in Breath of the Wild, as well as the new sky ruins, are the remnants of the ancient Zonai society.
      • The Lomei Labyrinths were created by the Zonai as tests for the Heroes of Hyrule.
      • The Forgotten Temple was utilized as a retreat and a stronghold by the Zonai.
      • The Wind Temple is the Stormwind Ark, an ancient flying stone longship from the Rito people's past.
      • The Fire Temple is Gorondia, the long-abandoned ancient subterranean home of the Gorons.
      • The Lightning Temple is an ancient Gerudo temple hidden beneath the sands since the first war with the Demon King.
      • The Water Temple is the Great Wellspring of Hyrule, an ancient set of Zora ruins producing magical clean water hidden in the skies.
      • The Spirit Temple is the Zonai's Construct Factory.
      • Underneath Hyrule Castle lie ancient passages constructed during the war with the Demon King which have become decrepit and infested with monsters.
  • Used in Eternal Darkness: The Forbidden City, Cambodian Temple, and Eng'ha are all clear examples of this. Amiens Cathedral and the Roivas Mansion are more sensible, however.
  • The Elder Scrolls series tends to avert this with justifiable ruins, with some exceptions:
    • Daggerfall has a lot of randomly generated dungeons to visit. You can go to the ruins of some farmstead, enter a cellar door, and find yourself in some absurdly extensive cavern/dungeon complex. In fact, most dungeons are more complex than the majority of regular buildings, and this is never justified in-game.
    • Morrowind averts this by as much as this trope can be averted. Vvardenfell has lots and lots of ruins, but they are all justified by the lore. The old Dunmer strongholds were actual outposts during the old wars with the Dwemer and Nords. The Dwemer ruins were formerly Dwemer cities before the Dwemer disappeared, and their propensity towards building things to last has kept them in relatively good shape in the ages since. The Daedric ruins were built by the ancient Daedra-worshiping Chimer before the Tribunal came into existence. Since Vvardenfell was a Tribunal Temple preserve, open only to Temple pilgrims, until about 20 years before the events of the game, most of these ruins have been left unspoiled.
    • Oblivion:
      • There are some geographically unlikely (and even impossible) sets of generic ruins dotted around beneath innocuous-looking caves and forts above. These typically lead to a final chamber where the hardest enemy and best loot can be found, but there's rarely an explanation of why any of the Goblins/Vampires/Whatever are even hanging around inside in the first place, or who would want to build such a place.
      • A large number of the ruins are old cities of the Ayleids, an extinct group of Mer (Elves) who once ruled Cyrodiil. This despite the "cities" being unnecessarily maze-like, full of traps, etc. No wonder the Mer were defeated...
      • Also, the Imperial Legion has seen fit to allow every fort in the province to fall into disrepair and serve as shelter for all manner of monsters and villains. Some of these forts are built dangerously close to major roads, including one built directly on top of the road now infested with goblins.
    • Skyrim has dungeons which occasionally fall into this, but the Nordic Ruins were deliberately full of traps to hide the treasure within. Most of said Nordic ruins are also in fact burial crypts; if you go into pretty much any random dungeon, there's a very high chance that there will be undead inside. Regarding forts, the situation is mixed; in the beginning, all forts are abandoned and occupied by various hostile fringe factions, but during the progress of the Civil War questline, some of them, one per hold, are reoccupied, cleaned and restored by Imperials and Stormcloaks to be used in the war, giving a boot to the previous occupants. If you don't want to wait for the government to clean everything up, you can open up a can of whoop-ass in these forts yourself; there's a small chance that soldiers will move in when you kill the bandit boss, master necromancer, or whoever owned the place. Friendly forts are good places to sleep, eat, use the smithy, or borrow a horse. Also, unlike in Oblivion, a majority of the mines are actually in use. It helps that the interiors of the Dungeons in the game mostly resemble what they're supposed to be (the interior of forts follow the geography of the building outside, caves have very natural interiors, etc.) and that there are often reasons to go into them (thanks to the Radiant AI system assigning quests to them) and enough items and literature lying around to reinforce the idea that these are real places.
  • In Angband, every level except for the town is a randomly generated maze of rooms and passageways, and there are no symmetric staircases. True of most Roguelikes, with winding passageways leading nowhere. If you want a real ruin on any given level, let loose a dwarf or two armed with pickaxes.
  • The origin, purpose, and use of the various and vast ruins in Shadow of the Colossus are good for hours of fun. Zoos? Cities? Prisons? Temples? Hiding places? Most ruins seem built by humans, but rarely cage in the colossi, nor are they designed expressly to help kill the creatures (despite being used that way by the player). In the end, it's a mystery.
  • The Last Guardian has much the same thing going on as Shadow of the Colossus. The Nest is either a Massive Ruin or a Ruined City, but regardless, it's perplexing just what purpose anything was supposed to serve or even how it was built.
  • Dragon Age: Origins:
    • The game features several ruins and dungeons which are ridiculously sprawling complexes of tunnels and interconnecting rooms (you often have to go through the rooms to get to other hallways, while the hallways lead to dead ends) that are usually much larger than the cities and towns they're located in.
    • Special mention must be made of a simple orphanage in the elven Alienage; it's nearly as big as the entire Alienage itself and, despite this not being made apparent on the map, seems to wrap around itself non-linearly.
    • One of Sten's random quips is wondering why none of the people inhabiting these complexes have done any work to restore them or make them more livable.
  • Zigzagged in the Dark Souls series. On the one hand, there is lore, even if it isn't immediately obvious, on who built the various ruins you crawl around inside, such as the Iron Keep and Lost Izalith. However, it never explains how the hell people were supposed to live in places like this even before the world went to hell. On the other hand, settings such as the Undead Burg and the palace of Anor Londo are fully furnished, and would have probably have fared very well had their inhabitants not gone batshit crazy.
  • Elden Ring has a lot of ruins lying around, most of them attributed to the Shattering, the massive civil war the setting went through before you arrived. The rest seem to have come from Crumbling Farum Azula, a ruined floating city that lies outside of time.
  • Dungeons in the Ultima games are for the most part accepted as part of the natural geography of Britannia — who built them, if anyone, and for what purpose, is a mystery to all. In the early games it was implied (though not actually possible in-game) that if you traveled deep enough into one you would end up in "the underworld", the opposite side of the flat earth. When the underworld was destroyed, this became impossible.
  • The first series of dungeons in Diablo are supposed to be located under a tiny village church, and are a randomly-generated maze of passageways, tombs, and other rooms that go on for several sub-levels with no overall plan. One wonders what madman designed their church's undercroft, or how the people ever held services there. This was Handwaved in the manual. The catacombs were built explicitly to be a maze that would safeguard the Sealed Evil in a Can... that has broken loose and made the deeper levels even more convoluted and filled the place with monsters and death traps.
  • XCOM Terror From The Deep had a lot of missions around underwater ruins: crashed passenger planes, tombs, ziggurats. This was particularly strange, as the missions took place wherever you shot down the alien craft, anywhere in the world's oceans.
  • Mostly averted in World of Warcraft, where the labyrinthian dungeons tend to be natural caves, while castles and temples have a fairly coherent plan.
    • Ancient mogu and Apexis ruins can come off as this, as they are just wall sections placed into jumbled patterns. Night elf ruins are similar, but they at least have individual buildings as set-pieces.
    • Lower Zul'Drak has been mostly reclaimed by nature due to being overrun by the Scourge, but the remaining road sections do not line up outside of the main one.
    • The Blackrock Depths are a bizarre blend of worked and rough stone leading off in all directions, full of dead ends. As it is partially a mine, this would be understandable if the areas of dead ends and the rough stone corresponded at all. Then again, the Blackrock Depths is one of the few "evil cities" that we invade as dungeons that actually has taverns, prisons, coliseums, forges and whatnot and looks vaguely usable as an underground city. Also, they aren't exactly ruins because the people who built them are still living there. Not that they will be for very long, given the PCs intentions in going there. It is more a case when an active city has a confusing layout. Blackrock Spire (inhabited, but bigger and in disrepair) has it worse. The mountain is entered from one of two fairly understandable (if massive) gates, which lead to a circular pathway. Rather than take a door (like the gates that lead to Blackrock Spire) into the city, one must walk along a chain, through a tomb suspended above a pit of lava, down another chain, then through a small hallway, a stone quarry, a masonry, and a prison (all rough stone, except for a few prison areas). To get to the worked stone section, one has to go through a twisted hallway, and enter through the arena. To be fair, there is a better-placed main gate that you can not use further in. The entire mountain used to be under their control. The more habitable upper reaches were stolen by the Black Dragonflight, forcing the Dark Iron to carve a new home in the Depths and spread out into the surrounding countryside.
  • Mostly averted in Uncharted: Drake's Fortune: the ruins at the beginning of the game don't make much sense (bottomless pit). Everything at the island averts this completely: ruined fortresses, customs houses, towns, monasteries, libraries and Nazi bases actually look like said things, only ruined.
  • Final Fantasy games tend to avert this. The dungeons are either natural landforms or structures that serve or once served a purpose. The caves, mines, castles, sewers, and factories are a lot bigger than they probably need to be, but whatever. There are still some, though.
    • Mostly averted in Final Fantasy XI in the Wings of the Goddess expansion, which takes place during the Crystal War that ended up making many of the ruins strewn about. The other ruins are all explained in the other expansions (and Windurst's mission line). However, the Temple of Uggalepih may be this. It's implied that it was created before the Kuluu turned into Tonberries, yet it is notably different from the ruins of Pso'Xja and Horutoto and does not seem to have a purpose except possibly as a hideout of sorts.
    • The Datalog entry for Taejin's Tower in Final Fantasy XIII outright says that nobody knows why it was built, why it's inhabited by living statues, or how it broke, though it speculates a Tower of Babel-like story.
    • This is invoked in Dissidia Final Fantasy: Opera Omnia with the world created from scratch by Materia and Spiritus. They used their various champions' home worlds as a template, so they plonked down a bunch of ruins here and there, alongside intact structures. This bothers Firion and Wakka, who saw numerous places in their homeworld go from populated towns to piles of rubble.
    • Final Fantasy XIVs Eorzea on the other hand is just lousy with ruins, most of whom aren't even connected to the main story(they're typically used as optional dungeon raids or part of subquests and Class storylines). Justified in that the realm's history is so full of rising and falling empires that they set their timeline by them.
  • Pokémon:
    • Since Pokémon Gold and Silver, the Pokémon games have included some ruins somewhere in the game world, complete with an Adventurer Archaeologist or two puzzling over them, ancient meaningless secrets for the player to unlock, and the Unown, twenty-eight variations of the same living Lampshade Hanging of a Pokemon.
    • Averted in Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald (along with the remakes), where all ruins have a purpose. Mt. Pyre is an ancient burial ground, the Sky Pillar is a tower meant to honor/summon Rayquaza (though this is more evident in the remakes), and the mysterious monoliths scattered throughout the region are explicitly said to be built to hold the Regis within. The latter does involve some ridiculously unintuitive and hard to crack puzzles, but they have a purpose nonetheless.
    • The Kalos Victory Road in X and Y plays this straight, however. In the sections outside the caves, the roads are chock full of ancient, run down castle walls, some of which block the way and must be navigated around. They do add a nice touch to the environment, but one can't help but wonder why would someone build something like that in a place as hazardous and out-of-the-way.
  • No More Heroes does this with a modern city. Speed City is the dust-choked ruins of a modern metropolis, with absolutely no explanation as to why it's in that state, given that the game takes place in a modern-day setting.
  • Prince of Persia (2008) is an interesting case: You can talk to Elika where she will explain, in detail, what every single area was supposed to be. However, there's very little actually linking these explanations to the portions of the ruins you actually have to traverse except in very specific circumstances. All the ruins were functional buildings, cities, and laboratories until mere minutes before the player traverses them. Each had been strategically demolished by the Big Bad in order to lose any possible usefulness, and to be as challenging and dangerous as possible for the heroes to travel through.
  • Largely averted in SaGa Frontier 2, where most of the locations are actual living spaces and the ruins of liveable places actually have functional-looking rooms of different sizes. And an awful lot of stairs.
  • In Skies of Arcadia, nearly all dungeons avert this, with most being either ancient civilizations that were abandoned after an apocalyptic meteor shower or structures built specifically to contain powerful weapons and protect them from would-be thieves. The only ones that play this trope straight are the Valuan Catacombs and Shrine Island, at least until Soltis rises and Shrine Island is revealed to have been a portion of it that for whatever reason didn't sink into Deep Sky with the rest of the continent.
  • Assassin's Creed:
    • Assassin's Creed has ruined structures in the bits of game you travel in between cities. Ostensibly the game takes place somewhere in the Israel-Syrian area in 1193, so most likely these are meant to be Greek/Roman ruins specifically, but their purpose, especially given the odd location for some (mostly serving as either travel impediments or useful cover for enemy archers) is rather puzzling.
    • Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag is an even bigger offender, with Mayan ruins virtually everywhere in the West Indies. Several of them are based on real ruins, such as the Assassins' base of operations at Tulum in the Yucatan, and most of the others are small enough for their non-existence in real-life to be excused by breaking down in the 300 years since the events of the game take place, but some are so large and significant a feature of their locations that they can only have been included for the sake of them, especially considering that the Maya didn't live and build outside of southern Mexico and northern Central America and most of these ruins are found on Caribbean islands.
    • Assassin's Creed: Odyssey is generally ok about this, with the ruins being either Mycenaean or Minion and fitting well into Greeces history. However, a number of ruins are located fairly deep underwater in the Aegean, which only makes sense if the land they were on sank/collapsed into the sea or if sea levels rose significantly since the buildings were constructed.
  • Lampshaded in Legend of Kay by one of the archaeologists you meet in the dungeon.
  • God of War:
    • In God of War, upon entering the Desert of Lost Souls and searching for the Sirens, sometimes you'll come across huge broken statues, and other things that suggest something might have been there, like a city. But you never get to find anything more about it once the third Siren is killed and you move on.
    • Much of God of War II takes place on the islands around the temple of the Sisters of Fate, which is covered in abandoned buildings, including one large valley with a bridge left in such disrepair it's impossible for most people to cross.
  • The Sonic series tends to have a lot of random ruins, given that the type of stage is one of the most prevalent in the series. Many of them seem to be ancient abandoned cities or temples, usually inspired by real life ruins, and sometimes they're even given their own lore, especially if they're tied to the game's story, making them aversions. Other examples, however, raise interesting questions. For instance, the series has had submerged labyrinthine ruins, and even ruins inside volcanoes.
  • Kirby 64's Rock Star planet. Also the final level was built by Starfish Aliens, so it does not have to make sense, but the other ruins count.
  • In Guild Wars there are ruins of very large structures and gigantic monuments on the Crystal Desert and the Desolation; the lore mentions that those ruins stand as crumbling celebrations of the short-lived triumph over that harsh environment. One wonders what was the reason someone would want to settle in an inhospitable desert and invest all the resources and labor into those constructions in the first place.
    • Most of the ruins were cities built by Turai Ossa and the Elonians who followed him to the Crystal Desert on the Great Pilgrimage in a failed search of "Ascension" (which the players achieve) about 200 years before the games take place.
  • Averted in Thief, where the many ruins and ruined locales visited by the protagonist actually look like places that were once inhabited and served clear purposes. It helps that you can find a lot of old parchments, texts, diaries and notes about various past events in virtually all of these places. On the other hand, the trope is played straight a teensy bit in one or two levels of the series, which have tombs that were built in a deliberately labyrintine and No OSHA Compliance fashion (so their ancient treasures would be well protected from theft).
  • Dwarf Fortress generally averts this, given that the player is usually the one who built the settlement whose ruins their adventurer is exploring in the first place. (Procedurally generating an Elaborate Underground Base that makes some sort of sense is very much a work-in-progress.) However, some of the more famous succession games leaves the ruins of a fortress that has been ruled by a series of despotic overlords who all have their own unique ideas of what constitutes sound urban planning, rarely care much about the safety and comfort of their subjects and are in many cases completely mad. Combine that with a workforce composed entirely of absent-minded bipolar alcoholics and the results make even less sense to the outside eye than most of the Rule of Cool-driven examples on this page.
    • In versions of Dwarf Fortress up through, the world generation process actually created a number of "undead ruin" sites filled with undead Humans and random treasures. The next version,, made world generation more detailed and resulted in said ruins being removed, and a later version made it possible for cities to be destroyed and turned into ruins.
  • City of Heroes mostly averts this, but there's are two examples which leap immediately to mind: the first is Manticore's house, the secret passage of which leads into a fairly tiny labyrinth. The second is the layer cake of caves, a final room containing six or seven floors of enemies, often separated only by the vertical. Why anyone would sit the center of their operations there is a question for the ages.
  • Exaggerated in Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge in the South America levels. Along with massive temples and structures surrounding the mountain with a gigantic face in it, you need to tow a sunstone the size of a small house with your zeppelin to help unlock a door (the mouth of said giant face) and traverse the ruins inside the mountains. Said ruins are large enough for at 10 to 15 minutes of straight flying, with enough room to fit an entire city AND the surrounding urban sprawl and humongous death traps that are sized for attacking either aircraft or Godzilla.
  • Justified more than usual in Secret of Evermore, where you're actually exploring a virtual reality, one formed from its users' ideal utopias; one of them is an archaeologist.
  • Since it's a Minimalist Puzzle Platformer, it seems to be played straight in Kairo.
  • Clive Barker's Undying: Oneiros features a lot of them. The backstory implies they belong to former cities inhabited by the creatures that you fight, but it's not explained to depth in the game.
  • The Mario Kart series has featured a couple of these as racetracks. Dry Dry Ruins from Wii is in the middle of the desert, while Thwomp Ruins from 8 also qualifies as a Temple of Doom.
  • Justified in The Talos Principle by virtue of the fact that you and the ruins you encounter are all in a giant computer simulation meant to create a proper, free willed artificial consciousness.
  • Played straight and averted by turns in Civilization V: Brave New World, which introduces archaeology and expeditions. In order to have archaeology, you obviously need ruins of ancient civilizations — which, in a game where you've led your chosen empire since roughly 4000 BC, is a bit tricky sometimes. The game does remember events from earlier in the game that might conceivably have left remains (barbarian camps destroyed, cities razed, etc.) and will populate them in dig sites when possible... but it's also not adverse to making ruins up out of whole cloth if need be. (It has a predetermined map of where the dig sites should go, so that there's enough of them and a fair distribution between civs.)
  • Undertale starts in the Ruins, which are inhabited only by Toriel and some fairly unintimidating monsters, and the exit is one-way. It's not for any special reason, though; they used to be fully inhabited but everyone just moved out to different areas of the Underground. Still, it shows no signs of former habitation, not even in the backgrounds.
  • Super Mario World: Piranha Island: Thorn Temple takes place in a temple already in shambles. Broken stone pillars and arches are strewn everywhere. Piranha Gabyoalls patrol the area, and when they spot Mario, they attempt to ram into Mario with all of their might.
  • The vast majority of the dungeons in Tales of Zestiria are ruins whose origin and purpose are a mystery. The main character Sorey is obsessed with investigating ancient ruins, but he never mentions what the ruins were before they were ruins.
  • The Witness: The desert at the northwest part of the island has lots of ruins whch don't seem to serve any apparent purpose.
  • Justified in Sunless Sea — the Pentecost Apes of the Empire of Hands want to imitate humans, but only have a partial understanding of humanity. Their first emperor is entombed in an "ancient ruin" that was built pre-ruined a few decades ago, simply because the Penties were under the impression that great rulers ought to be buried in ancient ruins.
  • Frequently played straight in older Tomb Raider games, but most especially the earliest games. The stand-out example would be St. Francis' Folly in the original Tomb Raider. Exterior shots show a rather benign-looking medieval monastery situated high atop a cliff, but when the level begins, the player is instantly brought into what appears to be a Grecco-Roman temple, with no visible living space for anyone, much less monks. As the player continues inside later on in the level and in subsequent levels taking place in the same location, it goes from merely odd to Bizarrchitecture, bordering on an Eldritch Location. The Egyptian levels in the same game seem to be explicitly designed as a massive death trap/Temple of Doom, designed around preventing access to the areas particular MacGuffin. Ironically, they aren't built as a tomb at all, for plot reasons.
  • Darkest Dungeon is laden with dungeons, each with its own explanation for the at-times weird outcomes of the procedural generation. The Warrens were ancient catacombs that the Ancestor broke into and used as a dumping ground for his failed summoning experiments, and have actual living space in them - you regularly encounter tables and food carts covered in human bodies (where they're getting all the bodies is the interesting question). The Ruins used to have a proper layout, but the awakening Eldritch Abomination twisted the structures into new patterns, which is why you can find alchemy tables, confession booths, and bookshelves scattered at random throughout the corridors. The Cove is the truest example, being covered in weird and eldritch stuff like occult bas-reliefs and sculptures of Cthulhu; there's no real information on whether it's human-designed or the work of the pelagics.
  • Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze's World 4 - Sea Breeze Cove has Underwater Ruins, statues, relics, and still-functioning mechanisms strewn all over the place, hinting at some sort of ancient Atlantean-based civilization that once thrived there. Of course, this being a simple Donkey Kong platformer where the story is only focused on the Kongs and their adversaries, no history of these ruins and how they came to be is told. They're just there for Scenery Porn.
  • The third and final level of Disney's Hide & Sneak is set in an ancient ruin which has a mysterious connection to Lulu's species. Other than aesthetic purposes, it is never explained why, other than the mushroom-shaped crystal Mickey/Minnie obtained earlier at the museum that activates the pillars which are used to summon a UFO that'll take Lulu back home.

    Web Comics 
  • Break opens to a fight inside an abandoned Romanesque Colosseum. One wonders, if they were going to keep using it for fights, why they let it fall into disrepair in the first place.
  • According to the notes accompanying the paper edition of Erfworld Book 1, "ruins" are a terrain type that occurs in the world's RPG Mechanics 'Verse. The presence of ruins does not imply the previous existence of an Erfworld city.
  • Subverted in Inverloch. The elven ruins around the da'kor's home city go unexplained for a long time, giving the impression that they're there for curious youths to explore and have plot-significant encounters. In the climax, Silvah explains that they're the legacy of a civil war among the elves—one that left many ruins and a dramatically decreased population that is only beginning to recover.

    Real Life 
  • Nazi architect Albert Speer developed the "Theory Of Ruin Value", which proposed that monumental architecture shouldn't just look good, it should leave a good-looking corpse. His view was the fact that structures like the Parthenon and Colosseum had survived into modern times, with essentially no maintenance, implied that monumental stone construction was inherently robust and long-lasting. He borrowed heavily from classical architecture and worked in stone rather than modern materials wherever possible, with an eye to ensuring that the Third Reich's great buildings would remain symbols of German culture for millennia after they'd been abandoned and fallen into ruin. Unfortunately for fans of Speer's work, it turns out that this only really applies to buildings that predate the gunpowder age; most surviving English castles were either abandoned before the Civil War or located away from the action, and the ones that were attacked didn't leave much in the way of ruins. The fact that large swathes of Germany were heavily carpet-bombed by Allied air forces didn't exactly help Speer's buildings leave much in the way of remains, either.
  • In the Romantic era, people took an interest in classical/medieval times and aesthetics, and also archeology. The philosophically inclined also liked to visit ruins of ancient constructions and ruminate about Days Gone By. In England, this led to an interesting development of the English park: many of the wealthier gentlemen built authentic-looking ruins in their gardens and estates, for no other reason than adding to the scenery.
  • In Ancient Rome it's been discovered that several buildings were intentionally left looking uncompleted and unpainted. Why? In Greece, where Rome obviously took a lot of inspiration, cities had begun to age and many structures were starting on their path to being ruins. Some Romans thought that looked cool and copied the look back in Rome. This went unnoticed by archeologist for so long because these buildings eventually became genuine ruins.
    • Rome also loved to import or otherwise copy the monuments of even more ancient civilizations. If it was ruined already, that made it cooler. The most famous example is the massive obelisk they imported that now resides in the Vatican, making this trope Older Than Feudalism.
  • The Palace of King Minos and other Cretan palace complexes, inspirations for the original Labyrinth of myth. While they did serve some practical functions, they do seem to be as deliberately sprawling and labyrinthine and generally RPG dungeonlike as possible.
  • During Romanticism (starting at roughly 1750), artificial ruins became quite popular in German gardens. They were built as ruins from the outset (often resembling the remains of Greek/Roman architecture) with no purpose other than looking spectacular. The other wiki has more (in German, but there are pretty pictures).
    • Hearst Castle in the United States achieves a similar effect but uses imported ruins. To be fair, it was made at a time when there was not a widespread appreciation for such things and Hearst bought them all from sites that were going to be demolished anyway.
    • Pretty much any ancient ruin, really, would qualify for this if you didn't have the eye of an architect or the training of an archaeologist. Most buildings don't have any of their original furnishings after they've been abandoned for thousands of years. With the exception of things which have really obvious purposes (like ancient stadiums and race tracks and sometimes bathing areas), most ruins don't give much of a clue as to what they were originally used for.
  • Possibly the ultimate Real Life example of ruins for ruins' sake: Part of the Désert de Retz includes a summer house in the form of the base of a broken column from an imaginary giant temple. As seen here. Which, amusingly, was neglected and fell into ruin for a while....


Video Example(s):


Road to Ruin

"Road to Ruin" is a ruins themed level in the game. It consists of old ruins with platforms that crumble, fire breathing tikis, and rotating pillars. Enemies include possums, lizards, and log throwing apes. (Gameplay done by LadyPhoenix Games) (

How well does it match the trope?

5 (2 votes)

Example of:

Main / RuinsForRuinsSake

Media sources: