A Bad Place is one in which the Genius Loci is evil - or at least hostile - whether consciously or not.
Why the place is bad can vary - sometimes it is a planar canker, a spot where the walls between reality and … somewhere else … have worn thin, other times it has been corrupted by the spiritual residue of human evil and finally someone may have deliberately created the bad place for their own deviant reasons. Someone in this case usually being a powerful supernatural villain or evil magic worker. A curse levelled on the place is also a common cause, as, in some settings, may be alarming magical misfires.
Sometimes the bad place will have a central core - a source which can be destroyed, appeased or exorcised - but some are unkillable. Destroying the location may be help, or may just make things worse.
The level of activity in a bad place can vary - sometimes things just seem to go wrong somehow: things break, injuries heal slowly and become infected easily, phones and radios lose charge or signal - the place doesn't actively harm you, but it greatly hampers your ability to help yourself or resist other forms of harm. These sort of places often don't hamper people who are up to no good - such as the slasher who happens to be stalking you - but sometimes they too have to contend with its blanket jinx.
Another sort of bad place works by corrupting people who spend too long there - a prison, long the location of unspeakable atrocities, corrupts the guards and prisoners alike to cruelty; an isolated hotel drives guests and staff to murder… sooner or later, things start going wrong. This may stretch as far as posession by resident spirits or demons. A lesser form of this corruption may simply render the inhabitants more and more depressed until they die of despair - or play on some other negative emotion such as lust or greed. This type of bad place may or may not also enjoy helping out with a blanket jinx.
A third kind works mainly through the undead - the place is either haunted, or is one of those spots where people don't stay dead for long. Either is a nuisance.
The final main kind is actively malicious and has a tendency to animate things to harm its victims - they often have a personality as well.
The artificial 'bad place' crops up occasionally in fantasy, usually as a "place of power" created by the BBEG to boost his abilities or as a location sanctified to some unholy patron.
Some bad places can be easily escaped from, others are physically isolated and can be escaped with effort. The animating type will likely fight hard to hang onto their prey and the worst are able to fold time and space around them until they seem impossible to escape. Sometimes the only way out is to go further in and confront the source…
As you'd expect, using magic in a bad place is rarely a clever idea - some sorts may work a lot better, but unless the worker is directly aligned with the aims of the bad place (which is unlikely), this is unlikely to be a good thing for them.
In no particular order:
- R-Point (film)
- The Objective (film)
- The Shining (book or film)
- Pet Cematry (book)
- Abu Ghraib (real life)
- Room 1408 (book or film)
Game and Story Use
- The psychological manipulation these sort of places use can be hard to work effectively in an RPG: Players often get upset if their freedom of character control is restricted and the GM-as-unreliable-narrator can be a dangerous role to play.
- The 'everything hates you' type of place may be quite effective to gimp overpowered PCs - as long as it isn't overused or employed in a transparent way.
- The corrupting place may also work if the PCs come in to clear up the mess - finding things like journals in which the writer becomes increasingly paranoid or otherwise insane.
- Deeply isolated locations like spaceships, submarines or bunkers deep underground are good places to make bad - escaping could end up being as dangerous as staying.