Life is stranger than fiction. Pretty much anything you can think of, someone out there has tried to do. Scary thought, isn’t it? That very fear makes life excellent RPG session fodder!
Even as I type this I’m watching Ancient Aliens. I know what you’re thinking. Ancient Aliens isn’t exactly chock full of gritty realism – but it is an attempt to explain some pretty strange real world stuff. Could the Carnac Stones have been arranged by space travelers visiting our planet in a long forgotten past? Maybe. Or maybe it was actually Ancient Mages. Maybe Carnac holds some clues to the location of Atlantis, and the nature of the Fall! Atlantis itself gets screen time on the series also, as well it should!
And if you’re looking to build an ancient civilization (Awakened or otherwise), you owe it to yourself to watch Engineering an Empire. Then let your players try to tell you what features should or shouldn’t be in your city! (Bonus: the more you know about the architecture, the easier it is to lay sneaky traps!)
Programs like History’s Mysteries provide wonderful background for modern day stories. My own campaign’s story involves the truth behind the secretive project MK-Ultra, and what hopes (and fears) LSD brought to Awakened societies.
Of course your game world is your own creation, and as GM it’s up to you to decide how to adapt reality to your setting. Remember, any shows you’ve seen or books you’ve read, your players can find them too. If you take things too precisely from the research you may find that your players can guess where the game is headed a little too easily. The research is a starting place, and the truth for your game world need not exactly mirror the real world. You don’t have to stick strictly to reality, but taking a real world situation and tweaking it just a bit can bring a very real sense of dangerous urgency to your campaign.