Society is made up of individuals, banding together for a common purpose: protection, social interaction, or even just trade. Through our unity comes a powerful strength, but gather enough individuals together and eventually someone won't want to play ball.
Sometimes the disapproval of society is enough to bring such a person back into line; however, some will refuse to bow to the will of the society of which they're a part, and society is thus forced to separate them from the general populace. This forms the origin of the gaol.
To this end, the separation of criminal from society, the Shardis city prison is comprised of 6 'wings', each with it's own type of prisoner.
Not a wing itself, this is the only method of entry or egress for the entire complex. Consisting of 2 rooms, the first is extremely plain. The door leading to the outside is inscribed with runes, sigils, enchantments of all kinds, and half a dozen good old-fashioned dead bolts, each the size of a girder. These defenses exist on either side of the door, providing protection against both escape and forced entry.
A set of spiral stairs lead down to the main body of the gaol, protected by a padlocked metal gate. Not intended to be a permanent protection, it's entire purpose is to give the guards posted in this room time to lock down the complex from the outside.
The second room is the central hub of the complex, where the guards on duty are stationed. Like the hub of a wheel, each of the prisoner wings touches this room. Twenty guards are on duty within the complex, though only half of those can be found in this room at any one time. The rest are on patrol throughout the wings, checking on the prisoners and making sure everything is under control.
3 hallways lead into the wings from here, each with a spiralling stair of stone leading down to a lower wing:
- The west exit leads to the lifer wings
- The south exit leads to the temporaries on top and the mental ward on bottom
- The eastern and final exit leads to the condemned and solitary wings, on top and bottom respectively
Each of the wings also has a second stair in the back connecting the upper and lower portions of that section of the complex. Furthermore, the lower levels are also connected to each other by a pair of hallways. These alternate connections allow patrols to move quickly between wings, enabling the guards to provide support in a rapid fashion should trouble break out among the prisoners.
These are the fools who refuse to pay their taxes and otherwise bow to administrative red tape. They're free to go once they've agreed to bend knee to bureaucracy (whether it be paying their taxes or signing over the deed to their family home) and of course paid the appropriate fines for obstructing the progress of society and the government.
Two wings are devoted to containing those whose actions did not merit death, earning instead a fate worse than death: loss of freedom. Political dissidents, foreign spies, and even the occasional aristocrat who actually would be more useful as a cooling body on the floor, but is visible enough that doing so would cause outrage among the voting public (or at least the Houses running the bureaucracy behind the scenes).
Almost inevitably, these will be higher-class individuals than those in the other wings; the average individual on the street is unlikely to find themself here. Either they've committed a crime for which a suitable fine can be assessed, or they've done something which warrants the gallows. Those who reside in these wings are kept here because executing them isn't a politically feasible option. It's an interesting commentary on Shardis patronage that despite having the lowest percentage of the prisoner population and the smallest number of cells, these two wings occupy the a full third of the facility's space.
Those awaiting execution. Murderers, traitors, door-to-door salesmen, this is where they all live out their last weeks before sentence is carried out. Knowing their eventual fate, the prisoners here are always on the lookout for a chance to escape. In acknowledgement of this, the guards post double-patrols to this area, leaving the solitary wing below to get the occasional sweep from one of the two patrols assigned to this wing.
The crazies. Sometimes a family is unable or unwilling to control their mentally-unstable relatives. While Sister Agatha's Countryside Home for the Unstable offers a much better level of care for the disturbed, you pay for what you get. This is where the have-nots end up, locked in a cell to prevent them from hurting others and themselves.
Sometimes an individual is causing a ruckus among the other prisoners, or could let loose unsavory details about an aristocrat's daughter and her strange appetites. Those individuals that must be segregated are placed here, at the bottom of oubliettes located inside sealed rooms. The sensory deprivation often changes some of these prisoners into residents of the mental ward, which in some cases might just be the point.
Guard: Aldwin "Scarface"
Captain of the Gaolers. As merciless with the prisoners as he is with a blade, the Captain has seen the worst, most depraved aspects of humanity during his years patroling the streets. As a result, he has no sympathy for those given into his custody; this manifests as an uncaring attitude when prisoners try to wheedle some concession out of him.
The one exception to this is the mental ward; Aldwin does understand that the deranged inhabitants forced to be locked up here aren't completely in control of themselves, and so he tries to keep these societal outcasts as comfortable as possible while protecting his men.
He came by his nickname due to the sheer number of scars peppering his face, the result of years of back-alley fighting with thieves and murderers as a beat-cop. The prisoners replace "scar" with another s-word, but never when he's within earshot.
Prisoner: "Lucky" Larry Larceny
Not so much a thief as a fence, Larry is a lifer who was stupid enough to accept the stolen family broach of an aristocrat. He was caught trying to resell it to a guardsman, who happened to recognize it from privately-circulated description.
He still claims he found it on the ground while out on his daily walk, but that didn't hold water with the judge nor the aristocrat. While the normal penalty for theft is a triple-value fine, the aristocrat was particularly incensed and convinced the judge (with a sizable bribe) to impose a much harsher sentence on the luckless fence. Execution was out of the question, but life imprisonment was able to squeak by under the radar.
A serial murderer just recently caught and sentenced to death. Nobody knows his name; the guards don't have it on the paperwork, the city government doesn't have him on file anywhere, and the other prisoners are too damn scared to ask him. The moniker "Smiles" comes from the public rumors about the manner in which he murdered his victims, all young women: blood spraying everywhere, nasty knifework on their still-twitching bodies, with a cheshire grin plastered all over his face.
The guards, especially the Captain, will be more than happy to see him dead; to a man, they've all requested leave of duty on the day his execution is scheduled so that they can watch.
GM Note: These hooks are intended for use with the Quarantine of Light plot. They're written with this in mind, but should be able to be worked into another adventure with a minimum of difficulty.
The Midnight Child
The prison contains one Victor Husaf, a Children of Midnight cultist who made the classic mistake: he got noticed. Unable to resist gloating and spreading word of the glorious coming of everlasting darkness, he eventually caught the ear of the city guard, which brought him in under suspicion of plotting against the government (not entirely accurate, but true enough). Victor can be found in solitary confinement, intended to soften him up for continued interrogation after the initial sessions failed to produce any usable information.
Before the Eclipse: If the PCs somehow gain permission to speak with Victor, they'll get to enter the solitary confinement cell and talk to him through the grate set in the floor. Disturbingly, he'll be completely calm and collected, as if he were drawing strength from the darkness and solitude instead of being weakened by deprivation of the senses.
He'll be polite to the PCs and ask them how things are going throughout the city, but warn them that the last nightfall fast approaches, from which no sunrise shall emerge. The PCs will get nothing else relevant from him, being met only with redirected questions and eventually raw, unnerving silence.
After the Eclipse: The oubliette is empty, and Victor is nowhere to be found. The walls, however, are covered in disturbing glyphs and runes drawn in blood (Victor's own); once the Eclipse happened and the portal was opened, he used his own body and blood to fuel a summoning of horrid swarming creatures, which now infest the complex. Scattered throughout the wings, attacking the guards and prisoners alike, they're swiftly reproducing into a swarm which will terrorize the remains of the city above if not dealt with quickly.
No Man Left Behind
After the Eclipse: The PCs have been sent to rescue the husband of a small family who wish to flee the city, but can't bear to leave him to die in his cell. He was incarcerated for back-owed taxes, but is unable to afford the listed taxes and associated fines for non-payment.
In fact, his taxes were completely up-to-date, but someone with an old grudge in the records department decided to make his life hell. Now he's trapped in a prison complex infested with unholy terrors of the night.
Two Can Keep A Secret If The Third Is Dead
After the Eclipse: The Council needs to know if a certain prisoner is still incarcerated within the complex. They claim that he holds dangerous knowledge and needs to be permanently silenced for the good of the city. In truth, he's simply a serving boy who caught a council member generating steamy confessional material with the head priestess of an influential church. Her reputation (and that of the council member and his patrons) would be utterly demolished if the servant were to talk, so the Council wants him taken out.
He wasn't executed immediately because they aren't sure what exactly he saw; he was imprisoned close to two weeks before the Eclipse, and was close to admitting he saw the coupling in all it's blush-inducing splendor. If left to his fate, he's almost certain to die a horrible death at the hands of the scuttling creatures infesting the complex. Will the PCs help him, or execute him as requested?
Before the Eclipse: The condemned have been conspiring, watching and waiting for a chance to escape the bloody fate thrust upon them for their actions. Bars have been weakened with stomach bile, and in the dead of night a score and eight murderers break loose. The guards on patrol are ambushed, their gear taken and throats slit. One gets a cry out, however, and the echoing sound alerts the other guards on duty to a prison break. They immediately lock down the facility from outside, sending a trio of guardsmen to the City Hall directly above for reinforcements.
The PCs can either be condemned involved in the breakout, prisoners in one of the other wings who are now locked into the complex with 28 free-roaming violent criminals, or reinforcements summoned from above to put down the escape attempt.
After the Eclipse: The vicious horrors summoned up by the sacrifice of Victor Husaf have infested the complex. Starting with the black pits of the solitary confinement wing, they've begun killing prisoners and guards alike, the bodies turned into fodder for their bizarre reproductive cycle. A patrolling guard was killed right outside one of the prisoner's cells, his keyring sliding between the bars and into the convict's metaphorical lap. Now the prisoners are organizing themselves, both against the guards and the scuttling black insects that cling to the shadows, emerging only to shred a luckless victim.
The guards are on high alert after one of the patrols failed to return on time, but they haven't locked down the complex just yet, waiting instead on a second group to return with more information before they do so.
PCs can be either prisoners or guards, each dealing with the deadly infestation in the way they see fit.
Additional Ideas (8)
The Entrance (Topside)
Before the Eclipse: Bright light from torches illuminate the room. Four guards stand ready to defend the doorway against all comers, a pair inside and a pair outside, each with one man on either side of the door.
A metal gate of bars stands at the opposite end of the small room, the padlock protecting the interior sanctity of the prison almost comical in comparison to the military-grade defenses set upon the exterior door.
After the Eclipse: As the door slides open, the first thing you notice is that the room is almost pitch black. Torches should light the room, but they're all missing. Once the door closes, the only light in the room comes from the glowing protection runes on the door.
The gate to the interior of the complex stands unlocked and ajar, though unfortunately the curve of the spiral stairs prevents any possible light from the guard post below from reaching this room.
The Hub (Upper)
Before the Eclipse: The bottom of the stairs open up into a brightly lit room. A table sits in the corner to the east of the stairwell, where the Captain can be seen working on never-ending piles of paperwork.
In the middle of the room is a circular table, occupied by the guards not currently patrolling the wings. They're engaged in a heated card game, apparently to determine who's forced to buy drinks when they go off-duty.
After the Eclipse: A single torch burns by the south stairwell, the rest are missing from their sconces in the walls. The Captain's paperwork is scattered everywhere throughout the room, it's former resting place now overturned as a make-shift barricade against the east exit that leads into the solitary and condemned wings of the complex. The circle table makes a similar barrier against the west exit leading towards the lifer wings. All of the chairs from the table can be seen haphazardly blocking the southern hallway past the stairwell.
There are bloodstains on the floor, along with a few bloody trails where something bleeding was dragged across the floor and down the eastern stairwell into the solitary wing.
GM Note: The bloodstains are from the fighting retreat the guards performed as they escaped the complex. Two of the guards were killed however, their bodies dragged down into the depths of the gaol to be used as fodder for the nests.
The Lifers Wing (Upper)
Before the Eclipse: This wing is brightly lit, with torches along the wall every few feet, and lamps inside the occupied cells. Each cell has a decent-sized bunk, as well as a small desk and chair. Most of the desks have some form of writing materials; being locked away obviously doesn't prevent the aristocracy from scheming.
After the Eclipse: The torches are out, and most of the lamps are as well. A few of the cell doors are open, the rooms within trashed, but most remain closed. The majority of those still have their inhabitants, reduced to gibbering terror, huddled in the farthest corner from the door. A few, however, are empty; invariably these cells have signs of struggle and blood is everywhere.
If the prisoners notice that the PCs aren't guards, they're overwhelmingly likely to grab at them through the bars of their cells, begging to be released and taken to the surface. Various offers will be made, money, favor and pleasure chief among them.
The Lifers Wing (Lower)
Before the Eclipse: While functionally the same as the upper wing (large cells, beds, desks, etc.), the lower portion of the lifers section is both less populated and less "snooty". Even the aristocracy has it's outcasts, and these are them.
The ones above are the ones with friends in high places; these are the ones with friends in middle places, who're barely above the working-class. They are the black sheep of minor families who nevertheless cannot be simply cut free to pay for their excesses. And so they eventually find themselves here, most barely protected against the deadly penalties for their actions.
After the Eclipse: No light remains in this section, though a few lamps in various cells still have fuel. The cell doors are open, the key still held in a severed hand that can be found lying in the corner of the hallway immediately north of the backside stairwell connecting the upper and lower lifer wings. The rest of the body is nowhere to be found, though the bloody surfaces nearby tells a tale of ambush and massacre for those skilled enough to read it.
All of these cells are empty, most of their inhabitants dead and fodder for breeding cycles. A few escaped upstairs to the minor increase in safety offered by the lit locale, but one still hides down here in the darkness, scurrying from cell to cell, feeding on remnants of food left in prisoner's cells and in the storage locations on each floor.
How he remains alive against the constant threat of the invaders is anyone's guess. Some are just born lucky.
The Temporaries Wing (Upper)
Before the Eclipse: The cells here are half the size of those the lifers have, as is the rest of the complex. Further, these cells have no built-in bunk or bed of any kind, and there certainly isn't room to add a desk and chair to the mix. These cells are simple holding pens, keeping individuals behind bars while they either await judgement or bend knee and neck to their social superiors.
Some, those with more pride than sense, could rightly be considered lifers as well; they'll never acquiesce to being walked on, and thus will spend their days sitting in cells, doing nobody any good whatsoever.
After the Eclipse: The signs of struggle are heavier in this section (once light is brought into the complete darkness, of course), but much like the lower lifer wing, there are no inhabitants in these cells. It's a lonely, desolate place, but the torches along these walls are still mostly intact, meaning this area can be lit up fairly quickly and brightly if the PCs are inclined to do so.
The first light to reach the stairwell leading down to the Mental Ward below will reveal a skittering something that quickly retreats into the dark before the PCs can get a good look at it.
GM Note: The PCs can light up this area rather effectively, but doing so will attract even more of the infesting Black Beetles than are currently spreading through the complex. Likewise, the light which gives them information also makes them a direct target for the Beetles. The more light they spread, and the closer they get to the main nest in the solitary wing, the higher their chances of being ambushed.
The Mental Ward (Lower)
Before the Eclipse: Unlike all the other residents of this complex, this group bears no animosity from the Captain, who ensures they get everything they need to live, if not in comfort, then at least decently. This makes them unique among the prisoners; they all did something to end up here, but through no real fault of their own, and thus the normally hard-as-granite Captain does the best he can to improve their situation.
The crazies themselves are sometimes gentle as lambs, and othertimes so dangerous that even the cell guards just lock them in, calling for the on-duty mage to work a spell of pacifying sleep through the bars. Despite the danger and occasional injury the Captain's attitude has infected the rotating guard assignments, and they all try their hardest not to be angry with the poor fools who don't really have any control over themselves.
After the Eclipse: As with most of the complex, light is completely absent here. However, there are two things of note.
The first is that unlike every other wing they've been through, there are no torches in the wall sconces. The answer to this oddity comes in the form of the large pile of ash and burned wood in the hallway connecting this area to the solitary wing. Very obviously someone gathered together all of the torches from this wing and set them ablaze in a corridor-blocking bonfire.
The second is that, also unlike every other wing, there are no bloodstains or streaks along the ground where bodies have been dragged. As near as can be determined, no-one has died in this wing since the Eclipse.
GM Note: Once the cause of the missing patrol became known to the Captain and his men, a very quick set of decisions were made. Chief among them was to bug the frak out, and bring the crazies with them. The rest of the prisoners could rot, as far as the guards were concerned, but one in the Temporaries Wing was given a key to the other cells and told to do as he saw fit.
To stopgap the bugs for long enough to get all of the prisoners clear, all of the torches were gathered and lit in a bonfire that pushed back the invaders for a short while. Following this occurrence, the Beetles began intentionally destroying all of the torches they came across, to prevent an encore performance.
The Condemned Wing (Upper)
Before the Eclipse: Murderers, rapists, and other violent individuals of all kinds are gathered here. Few things actually warrant death in Shardis City, but those that do invariably are such that you can't ever be trusted again afterwards; the only solution is life-imprisonment or death.
Strangely, there has been an increase in brutally-violent crimes recently, and the courts have had an unsympathetic attitude as a result. Thus, this section has grown significantly, for once almost filled to capacity despite the constant outflow of residents to the gallows.
After the Eclipse: Pitch black, completely lifeless, utterly trashed. Bloody trails lead from almost every cell to the back stair leading down into the depths of solitary. The sconces on the walls are all empty, their usual torches broken and scattered on the floor all around this area. A faint rustling can be heard along the edges of the room, always avoiding the light. The longer the PCs spend here, the more skittering can be heard, until eventually the Beetles will attack, destroying the lights first and foremost.
The Solitary Wing (Lower)
Before the Eclipse: Compared to the constant sounds of life in all the other wings, the silence in this wing is unnerving. Unlike the other cells in the complex, these all have solid wood doors to keep their inhabitants from communicating with those outside.
Inside the cell is an empty room with a hole in the floor, an oubliette. The interior of the oubliette is empty. With the doors closed, the prisoners are stuck in pitch black, a sensory deprivation that turns most into residents of the Mental Ward.
Anyone here is either a serious troublemaker within the complex, or has secrets of some kind that the Powers That Be don't want spreading. Getting an actual audience with someone in solitary is nearly impossible.
After the Eclipse: The darkness filling the cells has grown to encase the entire wing, seeming almost alive and malicious. Torches are shattered to uselessness, and constant skittering can be heard all around. Anyone who comes here will quickly find themselves assaulted by dozens of the shadowborn insects. The presence of light will only further enflame the swarm, some sacrificing themselves to bodily snuff out torches and shatter lamps.
The central 4 solitary cells are the most interesting part of this wing, and the part that every beetle in the complex will defend to the death. Each of the cells is packed full (oubliette included) of the shredded remains of the bodies the beetles have been collecting. Buried within that shredded nesting material is the multitude of eggs from which voracious larvae will soon hatch and begin feeding on their gathered nesting material.
A few have already done so, and the quick larval stage means that within a week of unchecked activity, the beetles will swarm through the rest of the complex, annihilating everyone left before tearing apart the entrance door and emerging into the tunnels beneath Shardis.