Sunday, May 23, 2010

Twelve Secular Gulag-Asylums of Devukarsha

"An avidity to punish is always dangerous to liberty.  It leads men to stretch, to misinterpret, and to misapply even the best of laws.  He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates his duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself."
Thomas Paine

"Let every man think what he wants and say what he thinks."

Like the infamous Chateau D'If featured in A. Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo, or the notorious film noir prisons of Sing-Sing or Alcatraz, or the dreaded slave-pits of many a bad 80's Sword and Sorcery novel, places of incarceration are notorious and necessary institutions in any society that reserves the right to wall-off those it deems too dangerous, too violent, or too crazy from the rest of the citizenry. 

Edmond Dantes would never have become the avenging Count of Monte Cristo if he hadn't been betrayed and tossed into Chateau D'If by his supposed friends.  No Chateau D'If, no cold and ruthless Count hellbent on revenge and things get flabby and boring instead of exciting and fun.  Likewise with Errol Flynn in the Sea Hawk where he gets chained into a Spanish galley for his crimes against the Empire.  Without the slave galley there wouldn't be a daring escape against great odds.  Similarly in many Westerns, the local bandits and outlaws are always trying to bust one of their gang out of jail.  Even Odysseus had to escape from Calypso's isle, Circe's isle, and...hey--what kind of a schmuck would cut-out on either of those goddesses/nymphs/sorceresses?  Anyhow, forgoing a discussion on the unbelievable stupidity of Ulysses, rewards without risks just make for a boring story or game.  Getting sentenced to one or another of the secular gulag-asylums of Devukarsha is a very serious risk and sometimes it can serve as a very suitable challenge for a character or characters to break out, or to make their escape from such a place.  It's one of those in-game consequences that can make things interesting.

Player characters are bound to do somethng that stirs up a lot of angst, animosity or enmity amongst various and sundry occupants of any setting.  It is part of the player character code to make enemies amongst the NPCs.  Some of those enemies are bound to have friends in high places or influence that they can bring to bear at inopportune moments.  Far from rail-roading anyone anywhere, getting tossed into the clink needs to be a natural consequence of player choices and actions, a repercussion of their actions.  Handled that way, it serves as an interesting opportunity.  Consider John Ostander's excellent storyline where his hero Grimjack does some Hard Time.   Sending deserving player characters into notorious and dangerous prisons is not only an adventure in and of itself, it can lead into all sorts of other fun stuff as well.  Criminal underworlds, connections, contacts, rumors, the proverbial room-mate who talks in their sleep about incredible treasures, etc., etc.  And of course, they can also serve to scare some misbehaving adventurers enough that they start looking for alternatives to wanton killing and excessively stupid and pointless assaults on the general populace.  If you've been a DM/GM for longer than fifteen minutes, you've run into the type.

Obviously, not everyone deserves to go to the guillotine, nor do the Courts sentence miscreants to the Spheres unless they've used-up every other option.  Penal-Colonies and prisons are wasteful, obsolete and mostly illegal, but there are a few that have been grandfathered-in after the fact and still operate discretely.  They serve a need.  A need that most of Polite Society would just as soon never talk about or hear about.  There are also various 'non-prisons' of a more private character, institutions that hide behind euphemisms and platitudes while they lock away troublesome siblings, errant children, or recalcitrant spouses, even the occasional enemy or rival, for a price.  Always for a price.

Since the days of the Old Regime there have been any number of private prisons, contractable donjons, and discrete asylums scattered across the lower tiers of the city.  There are rumors, persistent as they are unfounded and so far unproven, that there are prisons beneath certain of the House Citadels or hidden amidst the various villas, chateaus and manors of the upper tiers.  These places, both those known to the public and those so far only suspected, are grim reminders of the draconian measures taken by the established powers during the civil unrest preceding the revolution and the overthrow of the communards.  And there are those deprecated, dilapidated and defunct old prisons that pre-date the failed communes and councils of the middle revolution.  Some of the deepest pits of despair and imprisonment still active and awaiting prisoners within Devukarsha are far, far older than most would find even close to comfortable to contemplate, with no fewer than three reputed to pre-date the founding of the city itself.  But those are flea market rumors and the chatter of illiterate data-peasants.  No one takes such ridiculous claims and outlandish tall tales seriously.

The Magistrates of the Courts like to point out that most of the old secular gulag-asylums have been closed, shut-down and in some cases demolished.  Most, but not all.  Not by a long shot.  Some of these establishments have been in business for a long, long time and they have served a select clientele all too well to be discarded out of hand.  Revolutions come and go, regimes rise and fall, times change, but the penal-chateaus, isocells and gulag-asylums endure, always there in the darker recesses, back behind forgotten corners, walled-off and veiled with bitter roses or obscured beneath mounds of paperwork and red-tape.  They still exist, they continue to operate, and their inmates are in most cases truly lost, forgotten or damned indeed.

(13) of Twelve Secular Gulag-Asylums of Devukarsha

Dome du Karmes
Located 1,200 miles West of Devukarsha via a subterranean channel connected to the backside of the Induphrates River-Gate's Harbor-Basin, The Dome du Karmes is situated deep within a jagged and rough crevasse in the midst of a barren and bleak expanse of rough rock and lingering radiation from an old battlefield dating back to the Second Revolution.  Prisoners attempting to escape by any avenue except the heavily guarded and patrolled channel tunnel usually die horribly within a few minutes upon leaving the relative safety of the Dome.  The Warden of the Dome du Karmes likes to inject each of his inmates with freeform nanogelatin that he can control at will within line of sight, causing it to form elegant sculptures that erupt from deep within uncooperative or disrespectful inmate's bodies in a bloody awful mess of artistic expression.  The collection of sculptures wrought from within former inmates lines the various hallways, corridors and of course the cafeteria.

Everything beyond the black-draped gate to Ulzem is heavily encrypted, biometrically keyed and all prisoners records are expunged beyond what is allowed to persist within the Ulzem systems.  Prisoners are treated with memetic scramblers that make it impossible for them to meaningfully communicate with anyone save their overseers advocates who are in charge of their rehabilitation efforts.  The Ulzem Colonies are scattered across an entire solar system, mostly burrowed deep into the cores of numerous large asteroids and a variety of spherized habitats developed as human-hybridized fungal ecologies.  The longer one remains within the Ulzem colonies the less likely it is that they will survive the transition back to life on the outside, if they should ever satisfactorily achieve all of the ever changing conditions of the advocates, which is unlikely at best.  No one has ever escaped from Ulzem in over a thousand years of operation.  Good luck.

Deep beneath the surface of a world reputed to be awash in seas of molten metal and magmic slag, the subterranean grotto-gulags of Vindiso are dimly lit, stifling hot, stagnant places filled with hardened criminals whose only hope of relief comes from the coordinated gladiatorial combats that the authorities have made available outsystem through various corrupt back-door channels of blind distribution.  People pay good money to watch these fights, and even more to bet on them.  It's a very lucrative monopoly that competes unfairly with the legitimate Casinos whose bosses would love nothing more than to shut these games down once and for all, unless they got the chance to buy-in or take them over.

The non-descript manor that serves as the primary connection-point for the Tartarudiso Penal-Colony could be anywhere within the city of Devukarsha.  No one who has been remanded back to Polite Society from this place can ever find the gate again due to some sort of deep-level modifications made to their nervous systems before attaining release.  Beyond the primary gate is a chamber of Eight subsidiary gates leading to a collection of progressively worse jungle hellworlds, each one a sweltering nightmare of unrelenting heat, humidity, mold, vermin and harsh labor.  As a gulag, each of these colonies has a quota of prisoners who are expected to perish from the demands of the overseers; to be sentenced to Tartarudiso is to be executed by hard labor under horrific conditions.

Asylum-Chateau Diodati
Once a richly decorated and well-maintained estate of the Comte Diodati, an eccentric archaic who founded the Chateau Asylum as part of his efforts towards the rehabilitation of particular kinds and sorts of psychopaths, the Chateau-Asylum was 'liberated' during the First Revolution by a group of radicals who forced the unfortunate Comte Diodati into some sort of criogenic suspended animation mechanism and then turned the trusteeship of the place over to one Baron Thecis Rathven, a highborn inmate of the establishment who has since kept things quiet.  Perhaps too quiet.

Rik'Sulax Penal Fleet of Gallery-Galleys
A tall and trim royal blue galley heavily encrusted with gold and rare jewels, with giant pearls carved into delicate lamps and rich carpets strewn across the upper decks where art treasures from hundreds of societies and city-states are arranged by the curators to best effect.  Each ship of the penal fleet is a one-of-a-kind museum/gallery filled with priceless heirlooms and irreplaceable works of art. 

Jolille Facility
Every aspect of an inmate's life is completely and fully monitored for every second that they are in the custody of the Jolille Facility including their very thoughts.  Everything is recorded, documented, examined and interpreted by the Facility's resident expert systems who miss nothing, see everything and are everywhere.  Even inmates who have died continue on with their sentences, so immersed in the Facility's monitoring systems that even death offers no release from this sterile, brightly lit clinic of a prison.  There is no parole, no pardons and no escaping, not even into one's own dreams or fantasies.  They are watching.  Always vigilant.  They know what you are thinking before you know it yourself.  There is no way out of Jolille Facility.

The Black Bastion
A notorious prison-asylum converted over from an ancient fortress and the site of both heavy fighting between radical factions during all three revolutions as well as the place where several riots have taken place that have played significant roles in the history of Devukarsha.  Only the aristocracy and Nobles get sent here, as only they can afford to cover the costs associated with their incarceration in such a prestigious and historical locale.

A cold, harsh angular-walled citadel perched atop a massive barren bluff of raw stone in the middle of some tempestuous sea filled with ice floes the way a shark's mouth is filled with teeth.  Dantesino is a dismal, heartless place of despair where the prisoners are left to their own devices within crude, unlit and chilly cells hacked out of the cold, gray rock beneath the citadel, often by the previous inmate.  The citadel is so heavily warded that telepathy is stifled, empathy is turned back upon the sensitives who try to employ it, and most forms of psychism are interfered with so as to be both unpleasant and ineffective for anyone foolish enough to attempt their use within these walls.  Spells refuse to enter these precincts or respond entirely inappropriately, often seriously damaging those who try to use them in this place.  Isolation and boredom are the order of the day, and the bone-chilling cold.  Many prisoners begin to look forward to the surprise inspections, regular beatings or even the Director's monthly holographic sermons on morality which were initiated over seven hundred years ago as part of an obscure political sect that had gained some credibility during the Third Revolution before being wiped out by internecine feuding amongst themselves.  Several left-over bioweapons still crawl about the less used regions of the citadel looking for stray Atoners and otherwise ignoring all others as they smell wrong.

A series of rocky islands scattered across at least six different worlds sealed-off from all other gate networks and maintained as subsistence-level penal colonies patrolled by sentient sharktopi who are allowed to eat anyone of the inmates who try to swim away from their registered island without permission.  Sometimes the guards revoke an inmate's permission half-way to another island just to see if the inmate can make it to either one before getting torn to bits.  Other inmates bet on the outcome.  Some have taken to pushing their luck and deliberately try to get the guards to pull their trick just to test themselves against the vicious sharktopi.  A few, scarred and half-crazed individuals have gotten very adept at this game.  Most just feed the patrolling creatures.

The entrance to Bagnesante is an old hunting lodge with a single gate in the basement that leads to a world whose central landmass, a cliff-shored island covered by dark woods filthy with luminous, poisonous toadstools and rife with treacherous sinkholes serves as a freeform prison without walls.  Prisoners are dropped through the gate with a few small items and forgotten.  They are expected to fend for themselves and build a new society based upon the heretical doctrines and subversive philosophies that the caretaker assumes got them sentenced to Bagnesante in the first place.

A damaged and incomplete Niven Ring crawling with multitudes of feral bactophorms and assorted hybridized vermin, all with a distinct taste for human flesh.  The main gate is located at the base of a fortress arcology that oversees the day-to-day operations of the Base Camp where each newcomer gets outfitted with medieval-level weaponry and sent off into the devastated wilderness to collect bounties on the various parasitical and other vermin that have infested the Ring's ecologies beyond any real hope of ever driving them off.  It's supposed to be a doomed enterprise, a death sentence for the irredeemably hyper-violent to go bash away at inhuman creatures who are, if anything, even more violent than they are.

Graziannore and Balvaux
Rarely spoken about, and officially denied to exist, these covert criogulags sequester the bodies of their respective inmates within a massively parallel criogenic stasis cyst after infecting them with penal wetware and then plugging them into sealed virtual reality systems that respond and adapt to their inherent sociopathy, aggression and other criminalizing psychoses and flaws.  The systems then pit the various inmates against damaged AI salvaged from the ruins of Evedarus, Briskail, and other failed colonies or infamous battlefields. Sometimes special arrangements are made and the inmates are pitted against AI systems developed by students at some of the War Colleges.  Those who do exceptionally well in these simulations can sometimes draw the attention of one of the Warlords who might consider offering them a conditional pardon, allowing the inmate to serve in the Warlord's retinue as a cyberfighter or holiconic avatar.  No one's body has ever been removed from the Criocysts as it would degrade the overall memory and performance of the networked brains tied directly into the sub-systems, though in some cases clones have been attempted with very mixed results.  Something in the penal wetware tends to mess with the cloning process, often killing the would-be body before it can even receive the downloaded consciousness of the parolee.

Topilz Bonegrave
The earliest sections of Topilz were dug out from an old salt mine on Rudorra using conscript labor from amongst the expendable convict population.  They dug out the newer sections with their bare hands and whatever make-shift tools they could rig together, often relying upon the bones of their fallen comrades after the flesh had been stripped from them for sustenance.  Over the years the diggers have taken to embedding the skulls and bones of their fallen fellows into the beautifully carved walls, niches, columns and arches of this grim, dark and horrible place.  The prison is divided into sections, each of which is harshly segregated from one another by monolecular mesh fences, shockscreens, and galvanicasters which have been known to vaporize convicts even suspected of anything vaguely resembling disorderly behavior.  The lowest of the low are the diggers, those relegated to the dark and raw sections that they expand through crude physical labor.  Many of them have become infected with various forms of undeath, possibly as part of some deal that the warden has struck with a cadre of Necrosophics who now operate a charity-mission which provides the only medical attention available within the lowzone where the diggers are.  The convicts of the softer sectors are growing increasingly agitated and nervous as mysterious disappearances have been taking place and infractions that once would have resulted in a loss of cafeteria privileges for a few days now gets you booted to the lowzone instead.  There is talk of rioting, but so long as the guards possess the high-ground, the weapons and the means to flood the convict's chambers, it is just talk.  For now.


  1. whoa! A Grimjack reference. Excellent post, by the way. :)

  2. Thank you. It's always nice to find out that someone is actually reading this stuff.

    I'm still holding out hope for a Grimjack movie...but it'll probably never get off the ground.

  3. A varied and as always interesting group of prisons. To your overview of literary prisons, I'd add the prison you don't know is a prison (like the Matrix), or puzzle prison (like Cube).

  4. Hi Trey: Thanks. You raise a couple of very good points. The puzzle-prison tends to pop up with some of the less reputable synthecosms like Pel Nog. Puzzle-prisons are sort of like obstacle courses in a way, so I've been thinking of them more in terms of athletic fields, places used for competitions amongst professional and amateur escape artists, code/safe-crackers, and assorted other rogue-types.

    The Matrix, or something diabolically similar is out there in Riskail, though the machines aren't really using people for batteries on an energetic basis as much as they use them for establishing a dreamscape...the custodians not ahving the capability themselves...then there are the mememazes and the en-crypts of the Gnostechs...

    Hmmmm...better get that next post written...

  5. @Craig: Thank you--we're at work on expanding out some of these as potential adventures, one to break into, the rest to just survive...and doubly thinks for reminding us that we owe Trey a post on the En-crypts of the Gnostechs. It's hard to keep up with it all sometimes...

  6. Glad to be of service. It is beginning to be a thing with me, here on the internet.


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