Hellgate prison is special. It has no official design, no walls or gates. No guards or warden to watch over the criminals who have been sent to spend the rest of their lives in this desolate place. It was a natural event that turned a nightmare of an entire population into the nightmare of the guilty. To the unfortunate who have the pleasure of visiting it is a nightmare of a city crumpled in various forms of decay, destruction, or maddening impossible forms of construction. With some areas were buildings are hanging upside down from the ceiling, or touching others on the ground like made made stalactites, it can be dizzying it the mind tries to fathom it.
In the year before the Nightfire, the city of Crystalspire was a prospering city of both culture and art. More a metropolis than a city, it was huge beyond measure. The districts alone were alike to cities within cities. Rumor was you could walk from one end of the city and before you got to the other end the sun would rise and set more than once. The population had many intellects and scholars of many types, viewing everyday as a prize to be learned from and lived to the fullest.
One discovery they uncovered would be their undoing. In their study of artifacts from an underground temple they learned of the dark side of the gods. The uncovered a Demon Gate located in the bowels of the caverns below their fair city. They attempted to study and open the gate, not knowing its full danger until it was too late. Luckily for the world they failed in unlocking the secret of the gate. However, unlucky for them, the gods took notice of their actions and took vengeance out on them to show the rest of the mortals to not intervene in the affairs of the gods.
The day of the nightfire rained down on the innocent and unsuspecting citizens of Crystalspire, crumbling their dreams and their culture down into the depths of the darkness that housed the Demon Gate. Try as the gods did, they could not rain enough destruction down to destroy the gate below. They did however cause enough damage to collapse the city beneath the surface and into the caverns below. The city turned upside down and fell to the dark below.
Nearly four decades later, when the story was no longer fresh in the minds of men a survivor was found wandering the desolate countryside rambling about the darkness. He was found walking a trader route, wasted to nearly nothing from lack of food, heavy with scars, and missing three fingers. He told tales that seemed of stories. Men turned into pack-like animals from their isolation having to relearn to live on their own with no outside help. Scavenging what they could from the rubble and what little grew in the damp darkness. But the wonders he spoke of, detailing countless treasures no one had seen in a lifetime.
Tales of these treasures reached back to the Duke who greedily wanted these treasures for himself. He sent a company of men down into the depths, only to have one again to return near death speaking tales of nightmares at the hands of men that were not men. They were organized into tribal packs, the strong taking what the wanted leaving the weak to die or to fed the others. They told of the vastness of the city below, crumpled and turned upside down. The treasure was not there that they were told, nothing but death.
The survivors told tales of a gate that led to another place, a place where nightmares were real; a place of demons. From the description of what they saw, a demon gate lies within the toppled ruins.
Before finding a way out of the underground hell, they were able to find a relatively hidden area where they set up a magic beacon. This beacon was to be placed to ease the transfer of all the treasure and goods they were hoping to find. This beacon still works today, centuries later. When hearing of the near impossibility of ever getting anything of value out of the ruins the Duke spoke with his advisors and agreed on at least using it to his advantage.
They soon decreed that should anyone break the law by more than a minor offense, they would be sent to the ruins for their punishment with only one stipulation. If they were able to find their way out of the underground prison, then they would be set free and have their name cleared of all crimes in their name, as well as all debts to be cleared. After a few years of hundreds being sent to the underground ruins via the same beacon the Duke had intended to transport the fabled treasure and no one had returned talk began to spread through the streets. Crime nearly stopped over night.
One man has survived the horrors of the ruins and gave it a name, Hellgate Prison. He spoke of tribes of cannibals that prey on those coming from the beacon. He spoke of an occasional demon traveling the underground preying on everything, leaving nothing in their wake. He was given his freedom as was promised but he was forever changed. He locked himself in a cellar and died of starvation, not trusting anyone he saw or spoke with, and never trusting the food and drink that was brought to him by family and friends.
Hellgate Prison, while being the underground ruins of the ancient city of Crystalspire, no one goes there of their own volition. No guards travel to the depths to check on the condemned. It is completely cut off from the outside world, the inhabitants below caring little for the outside world now, most having forgot that tales of its existence. The occasional newcomer, those condemned to the underground prison, is seen as fresh meat. Both in food and resources.
They are taken and used as labor and entertainment and when they use is no longer viable they are given over to the tribes for food. There is little natural light in the catacombs of the ruined city; however there are magical lighted devices that still function. These are coveted and horded by the powerful and strong.
Food is only a minor problem in that heat vents from deep underground seep warm and rich air into the old gardens of the crumbled city growing new and odd plants that require little to no light that are oddly nutritious and edible. Meat comes in the form of the few underground animals that can be found, mainly the ravaged dog that has evolved in the darkness to protect itself with limited vision. They also hunt in packs other tribes that they use their catches for work and then later food.
It is a nightmare existence that few have ever escaped. The nearly insane tribes of man, if they can be called men, know nothing of a way to the surface and will balk at the suggestion of a above ground. Their lore states that the gods were ashamed of what they made, so they dropped the stars on the world and covered it forever in earth unleashing their tormentors ever few decades. (Demons)
The prison is no more an actual prison than an island is a prison. There are no wall barring their escape and there are no guards or wardens to stop them from running. It is a prison in the sense that, few ever escape period. Having to adapt to a life of near darkness after a life on the surface is usually enough to break someone mentally. With the added grief of the roaming tribes of the natives wanting to use the 'Newlanders' for entertainment, labor, and eventually as a source for food, this banishment is enough to send the most stable of men into a realm of insanity.
The crumbled city hanging at every angle from the cavern roofs to the wet limestone floors is a testament to any visitor that they are in a foreign place. Buildings still intact hang solidly from the ceiling, where some of the tribes have chosen to call their bastion of solitude. Others are completely under water in deep death chilled pools of mineral rich water. Keeping any treasure of possible value hidden from prying eyes and coveted hands.
The populace knows little of the history of the original city, with the exception of the Stone Tribe. They tend to know more of the history pertaining to Hellgate than any other, but trying to get them to tell it without killing you is a task that few can manage. What is believed, even among some of the Stone Tribe, is that the original city of Hellgate was the place of gods and heaven. Fabulous above the birth of everything. They walked hand in hand with their gods on paved streets of sun gold and took food with them on every occasion. It is claimed that when one of the gods coveted the daughter of the mortal king, the gods were angered and thrust the sky down on them in fire and stone.
The anger of the gods covered the sky and the world above them and encased them in stone never to see the sun gold paved streets of heaven again. The mortals were thrust out of this life of utopia and covered with their sin of covetous nature. So this is why they are here in Hellgate being tormented by the children of the gods, the demons, sent here to remind them of their insolence and their greedy natures. They accept this and worship this in the hopes that they will prove their worth again and have the stone of their sins removed so they can walk again hand in hand with their gods in heaven.
There are several different tribes within the belly of Hellgate Prison, most of which are small groups of families that have packed together in a single unit for better protection. Due to the fighting of tribes this has kept the breeding down, along with lack of an abundance of food. A new faction of newcomers has taken up residence in an old watchtower gathering all they can for protection. Where once was a vast nothingness of dead and destruction, the crumbling ruin of Hellgate now plays host to the thirteen factions that strive to survive the darkened horror of their continued waking nightmare.
Probably the more intelligent of the groups that have survived in the darkness. They have taken shelter in the large libraries that were turned over when the city collapsed into the earth. Some can actually read, but they do not believe some of the history books to be real, only tales to be told for entertainment. They are the more trusting of the groups, yet will still pounce on an outsider if the need arises.
The most feral of the tribes, they are far from the most crazed. They are not a single family, but more of a cast off of the others that loose their minds. They stay toward the narrows as it is called. A series of tight fitting rocks and rubble that allows few to enter without knowledge of traversing the outcroppings of stone and crevasses. Most of them lack the mental ability to evolve should they escape. They are bipedal animals that know survival and basic farming nothing more. They lack the sophistication to mount a viable raid should their numbers allow it which makes them unimportant to the other tribes unless a need for food or slave labor is scarce.
They are the worst of the many tribes. They stay closest to the gate and worship the beings that come out of them. They sacrifice their enemies to the gate in the hopes that by doing so will please their god figures and release them from the ill fated hell they are in. They don't believe of the outside world, instead they think the Demon Gate is the way out and in order to leave this hell they must ascend into another.
They are the smallest group among the tribes. Their ranks are filled with only those who have been sent here from the surface. They are heavy handed with those who would get them killed, but open their doors to anyone, like them, that was sent here as punishment. There are a few who were sent here unjustly and they speak the loudest in the group to try and return to the surface but they are usually quieted by the leaders who have been stuck in this living hell for years.
They do not work well with the other tribes, often finding ways to pit the others against each other to bring unwanted attention off themselves. They are away from family and friends in a hostile world that would rather choose to put them on a spit as to greet them with open arms. They keep the others like them comfortable and give them a feeling of home, recounting tales of adventure and foods that are missed. The leaders of the lurkers want to return home but know that if they left most would die and they do not want to leave any of the weak behind to die at the hands of the insane population.
They are not part of the gods plan. The gate was placed under the city of Crystalspire decades before the city was destroyed. Locked away in a forgotten temple it was found and opened again by the survivors of the fateful date of the nightfire. The few times a demon can escape and get through the gate they torment the survivors some to gain their strength, but are soon off on their own errant task to try and find the keys to unlock the gates permanently and unleash the rest of their kind on the world.
- The PC's are charged for a crime they did not commit, or did they? None-the-less, per the law they are given a choice, the headsman or Hellgate Prison. If they are not from the area, and have never heard of the prison before, they may choose it thinking to escape not realizing their peril.
- The PC's are hired to travel to Hellgate Prison to return a man, or woman, who was falsely imprisoned. Perhaps the victim is even nobility hence the need to travel there quickly and rescue them.
- A spell gone awry sends the PC's and possibly a villain they are confronting at the time to Hellgate Prison. They must then join forces with their nemesis to escape the confines of the darkness alive.
- (Add into a current game/campaign.) A Villain the adventurers are tracking/ following has gone to Hellgate in search of, enter villainous idea here... possibly to use one of the Demon Gates or to track down information in the buried libraries. In order to follow him the players must find out about Hellgate and willing commit a crime and be sent there after him. Once there, have the troupe come into contact with more than one tribe in each area (zone) and befriend one at the cost of angering another. This may further their goal into finding said Villian or derail it and slow it down.
They are a tight wolf pack tribe that relys on the close proximity of their brethren to survive, always hunting in packs of five or more. They get their name from the many body piercings they have, the first of which is always their tongue. They pierce their bodies with iron of all sorts of metal objects from small blades to nails and hooks leaving no body part unmarred. They do this as a sign of strength and prowess as the item is always a trophy from a fallen enemy. The strongest ruling their packs with so much metal they clink and jingle when they move as if to alert their foe of their impending death.
A rather crazy group, the bleeders are looked at as being dangerous from even the strongest tribes. Mainly due to the fact they are so unpredictable. Covered in scars from ritual cutting, they view the giving of blood as the only way of purifying themselves for the coming end of days which they call the "Coming of the Light." Their particular apocalypse is that the roofs of their caverns will collapse, bringing a time of burning light that will kill all the impure.
A particular nasty indulgance when dealing with enemies is not outright killing them, but bleeding them out by piercing their body repeatedly but stalling the final killing blow till the last possible moment. They do this out of reverence and claim it is a high honor to be released in such a way from their fleshy prison.
The descendants of the mages that lived at the tops of their tall spires, this tribe is composed of magic users who view all others as only worthy of being slaves. Frailer than the other tribes of Hellgate due to their life time spent being carried around by their slaves, they are feared none the less due to their ability to dominate the minds of others, turning them into mindless slaves that care only for their masters. A mysterious entity known only as Z'temorum leads them in their unknown quest as they travel through the darkened rubble of Hellgate.
Their main protection and power base comes not from their knowledge of the ancient magics, but of a demon that was captured by a troupe of mages studying the Demon Gate. Called the Krakken, it came through the gate bufuddled and was unable to defend itself against the mental assault of the Pariahs. They tortured it and tormented it until they mentally broke its resolve. It is now nothing more than a chained dog, but powerful beyond reason.
They spend so much time in the underground pools that their skin is coated in a mineral sheen. This coating encases their skin like a silvered crust that glints off what little light can be found. These pools are tainted by the magics that used to be cast in the region and has given the reavers random physical deformities that are beneficial to their underground prison. Gills, webbed hands and feet, the loss of vision but granted echolocation. These mutations of the body are only a few and highly prized among the new born and any child not born with any visible gifts are cast out in the murk to feed the waters so the living can continue on.
Seldom outsiders are welcome into the reaver tribes but it has been known to happen. When this is done they are taken to their most holy of waters and submerged completely. This is called The Delving, and if they survive the torturous event they breech the surface bearing a mark of the reavers, a deformity of sorts. This is not a complete deformity and seldom functions to it's utmost potential but they are granted acceptance into the tribe.
They are the cast offs of all the other tribes. The fallen into disgrace, those that escaped the reign of a heavy handed leader who would not follow the path of those they felt were unworthy. They are a rag tag group of misfits who seldom agree on anything except to disagree. They have taken up shelter along a busy ally that is a main thoroughfare for other tribes traveling to and from sources of food and water. This makes it easier to gather supplies as most are lazy and lack the motivation to survive. Their ranks are filled with members from every tribe which makes it the most uneasy of the groups, they could raid another tribe only to have their members fall on them for injuring someone they knew.
Their ancestors were the librarians and scholors of the great city before its fall. Trapped inside the walls of the remnants of the great library, they could do little but read and learn. They filled their fragile minds with so much information they could do little else than survive and learn. Mad as hatters, they roam the great library and the streets and walls beyond reciting random snipits of pages they have read, ad nauseaum. While this is not disturbing and more so just plain annoying, it is dangerous when one stumbles across the pages of a tome of magic and begins reciting the pages. The magic burned into their minds is relased to dire effects and they can not stop it.
They are in great fear of the Philomaths who they feel are hunting them down to steal all their knowledge and keep it for themselves. The few times in their lives when some form of sanity crosses their eyes is when thinking of killing their foe. Nothing is more worrisome than seeing a rag tag group of babblers running down the darkness chanting random pages from crumbled tomes while searching for a Philomath to kill.
Followers of the only known survivor of the fallen city they have trancended their normal mortal flesh to one of death and corruption. Z'har-I'Rouem-Grypant was a follower of dark magics before the time when the Gods sundered the city. When the city was cast upside down into the caverns below he turned to these magics to stav off death and gathered weak willed apprentices to him that survived. These first followers he turned and in their state of undeath they gathered survivors thinking them Gods come to their new world.
Over the centuries and due to the inbreeding with their ghoulish leaders, these human followers can live to be well over a century or more years old. Assuming they don't die by being sacrificed for the good of the food chain. Unfortunately because of this, their dealings with the other tribes, or humanity in general, they have an unquenchable desire for the taste of decaying flesh.
This tribe is unique in that is consists almost entirely of Upworlders who willingly commited a crime to be sent to Hellgate. These cultists know about the Demon Gate and have willingly given their immortal soul to the dark Gods of the Demon Gate below. Once down in the depths of the darkened and crumbling world beneath the world, they prostrate themselves before their Dark Idol, the Demon Gate.
A few are granted powers from this demonic union and can be distinguished by their glowing eyes. Those few are seen as prophets to their own tribe as well as the Gate Watchers who view them as living entities of their Gods. Even though the Soul Sworn ignore them, except to use one as a sacrifice.
Not actually a faction but an entity. An anomaly of the release of the magics from when the city was destroyed, was the creation of the Dark Swarm. This is seen as a large mass of a cloud that drifts by on a pattern of its own. Few of the tribes care to know what it really is or where it came from but the Pariah's have come to their own educated conclusion. Coming to this conclusion on failed attempt after failed attempt at trying to contain it.
This peculiar weather pattern of sorts is home only to the bowels of Hellgate and is actually the gathering of the demented and hapless souls that were lost during the razing of the city. These raging souls have been bound together into a large roiling mass that floats aimlessly by and assault the minds of random tribe members. Those caught in the mist of the Dark Swarm are confused by the hundreds of souls crying out in anger and pain for the living to taunt them so. Those that survive quickly go insane.
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? Responses (28)
One of those 'I wish it really existed in the UK' things. 5/5
Made it a scroll per request to add in more tribes.
Its rather interesting. Some original ideas in here! I particularly liked the factions. Brief but descriptive. Its slightly choppy, but i cant put my finger on why or how...I do like the concept for its morbidity!
This is great stuff. A dark alternate world where man is a savage animal that worships the demons haunting his world. I give this 5/5.
Desperate, forboding, and quiet. This is a place that was slain long ago by the hands of the gods that has lingered for years, refusing to die completely. A great setting that can be the logical backdrop for either an imp slaughter hack and slash fest ala an upside down Doom game, or a crawling expose into the psyche of hubris and things that were not meant to be known and madness with the rumor of demon not far from the lips.
Well done indeed. Indeed. Whilst there are some minor changes I would make to the treatment of the new prisoners, and a few more things that could be done to highlight the horror, it's soundly thought and inspirational.
Wow dark fantasy at its best great stuff 5/5 + today's Hall of Honour nomination
More a setting than a dungeon really. What can I say? It is a dark and wonderful story, but I feel that it lacks... something. Perhaps it is the hack and slash-ishness of the prison? While good it is more the bare bones of what could be one exciting adventure.
Side note: I got a post-apoc setting in which the players play Yemen Arabs after 'the Great War' (tm). The bombed cities of that setting is nearly identical to this: Tribe ruled hellish places in which oil barrels and old car wrecks burn and the tribes eat each other... Did I mention that my players give those cities a wide berth? ;)
Ah but Crawlers of the Dark seems more like a plot than a dungeon. Not all dungeons have to be an underground tomb.
With enough work it is very possible it could turn into a setting for an adventure and I am working on something to follow along these lines. but the core of it is based off of the ruined underground city that has turned upside down into a maze of horror and death. But that is my explanation of it and I respect your opinion AG, don;t think I am angry with your comments, justt rying to clear it up and explain it better perhaps.
Any ideas on helping it would be helpful ser as I respect your opinion.
Haha, you gotta be kidding. It is a building with room descriptions and a history. I felt like I was suffocating when I wrote it because I kept to the dungeon format ;) Hooks to start a plot inside it is an added bonus, not the main feature.
And yes, I do think I angered you here, but I can assure you it was not my intention. As a reviewer I try to express my honest opinion though I am quite aware it is not always the smartest thing to do. So I have this inner debate; should I remain honest and receive the continued antagony of those I review, or should I smooth over my reviews and stay on friendly terms with everyone here. I choose the first and thus I must accept outbursts like this.
So be it. It might not be the smartest thing to do, but it is my way.
On the other hand I want to quote manfred: 'Some of the submissions I like the best are indeed those that does not fit exactly within the dungeon format'... So there ;)
Your post is wonderful Mourngrymn and had you written more on it I would no doubt have given you a Hall of Honour. I did not deduct anything from the slightly outside dungeon formattedness, so no worries :)
Well then, I may have to add some more tid bits to please his Critiqueness. (Is that a word?) And no you didn't anger me... Contrary to popular belief this is my happy face.
Added a section on Hellgate and a new faction.
That was AWESOME, I exceptionally enjoyed the demons. If you fill it out and add history on the factions you could make it into a complete setting.
Yet another of those great subs that I remember reading but SOMEHOW failed to comment upon. That error is now corrected. Top notch stuff.
One of those I wish I could revisit and rework into a complete setting/ campaign and tool around in the darkness. But alas I never was one to run horror and this was a virgin step into that territory that failed in its inception. I always enjoyed it for what it was though.
OK this is a nice and happy locale. Neighbors are friendly, beautiful vistas, just makes me think of lollipops and puppy dogs...
Not sure if there could be a darker description of a location. Excellent setting and plot. Wonderful in a dank and dreary fashion.
But every so often someone escapes... How does this happen? Likely would be the center of the action/plot if someone were sentenced here.
Bring the family, its a wonderful vacation spot.
Never really got to that part. I had just assumed that the rubble among the ruined city must has some way out. Possibly guarded by one of the factions, or a faction not listed, or even a faction that the Duke has found a way to contact and somehow pay to keep the exit closed off to escapees. Never thought about it really. I may throw an idea in there about it this weekend.
Thanks for the read, OD!
An excellent and exhaustive underground area to replace the generic "dungeon" so many kingdoms have are of little interest to the residents, and characters simply scoff at being thrown into.
I like the plot hooks at the end the second one in particular. Similar to "Escape from New York" except with a lot more excitement and a lot less familiar territory.
Added more factions with the help of Pariah, Muro, and the highly elusive and yet unknown Z'temorum.
Nicely done. Makes me want to make my players criminals to see how they cope.
Why criminals... make them innocent makes the trip that much more memorable. Then when, or if they make it out alive, they have a grudge to repay.
Update: Updated Plot Hooks.
This is a neat place - it feels like somewhere Conan might be dropped into, to the surprise of those thinking him easy fresh meat.
Lots of ideas here.
Thanks Val, I love it when people find this piece, its one of my favorites.