I’ve already said that I want the world of Exploration Age to be accessible and interconnected enough that a party could experience all or most of Canus in a level 1 – 20 campaign. I also mentioned I wanted countries to be rich enough that a party could never leave one of their borders and complete a level 1 – 20 campaign. To do that means providing some adventure sites which are flexible. Meaning PCs could spend part of a single level interacting with a few of the NPCs and monsters in a given area or they could spend many levels in or returning to that same given area.
It’s confession time. I watched the Fox series Prison Break. Not only that, I watched the direct-to-DVD epilogue they made for it as well. Now, I know it’s not a great show by any stretch, but it is appealing to me in that I love prison break stories. I love documentaries about them, I love movies about them, and I love TV shows about them. Recently my girlfriend went to San Francisco for work and brought me back this comic book…
So I have a weakness for prison break stories (and any entertainment involving a shark, but that’s another story….). I bring this up, because I’m going to talk about stealing another idea.
Prison Break Spoiler Alert!!!!
This isn’t so much a steal as it is an inspiration. The oft panned Prison Break‘s even more oft panned third season, centers around some of the main characters being thrown into and escaping a Panamanian prison after a few months after escaping an American prison. (I know… I know.) There’s a big difference between the Panamanian prison, Penitenciaría Federal de Sona, and their first penitentiary, Fox River State. In Panama the guards have lost control of the inside of the prison after a violent riot. Now the guards man the walls and merely keep the prisoners contained, and anyone on the inside must fight for survival in a lawless world of criminals. Those in the prison have a life sentence, no matter the crime, thanks to the conditions.
So What Am I Stealing Exactly?
Essentially, I am taking the concept of Penitenciaría Federal de Sona, a prison with walls run by the guards, but with an inside that is a semi-anarchist city of criminals, and bringing it into Parian. I’ve been further fleshing out the nation and I was trying to think of some landmarks that would be interesting adventure sites beyond the normal ancient ruins and monster lairs. This seemed like a great idea. The adventure possibilities are numerous and unique. I’m taking the concept from Prison Break, but the rest of the story will be all mine! Mine!
Welcome to Ragorn Zhul
Ragorn Zhul is a Parian prison in a deep desert wasteland. It sits atop an enormous 3000 foot tall mesa that has sheer cliff sides. The journey out into the desert is usually made by airship. One of the first things a traveler might notice about the adamantine lined walls of Ragorn Zhul are the huge, mounted arrow turrets, made to fire rapidly without having to reload. The second thing one might note are the enormous braziers along the walls and on top of each guard tower, which light up the perimeter like the sun during the harsh desert night.
The guards that walk the perimeter of the walls are armed with heavy crossbows or longbows that shoot poisoned ammunition. Each guard is also outfitted with a special explosive lightning projectile to use in case the prisoners try to rise up together (lightning would hurt the inmates, without compromising the integrity of the prison’s structures). Trained giant scorpions carry the guards to the top of the wall and up the side of the mesa each day from the small village that serves as their home.
Inside the walls of the prison, chaos reigns supreme. Various gangs protect, punish, and provide for their own, each with their own unique structure. Loners don’t last long, unless they have unique skill or service they can provide while remaining neutral. Even so, the gangs will try to absorb those with any special or magical skill to work exclusively for them.
The gangs war for territory and supplies, form alliances, backstab one another, and engage in debauchery. The prison is unisex, so men and women can be found in the walls.
Surprisingly, Parian still throws criminals in the prison, particularly, those who need to disappear forever. The empire even takes prisoners from other nations and throws them beyond the gates of Ragorn Zhul – for the right price.
How Do It Come to This?
Ragorn Zhul wasn’t always this way. It was once the most secure prison in all of Canus. Some of the world’s most dangerous criminals ended up within its walls as well as political dissenters or suspected rebels.
In Parian, the Emperor rules and is worshipped as the God of his people. His rule is total and absolute. However, Emperor Quan is, in actuality, just a human.
Quan’s brother, Jiang, was appointed Governor of Security. During an inspection of Ragorn Zhul, a plan hatched by some inmates allied with guards led to the capture of Jiang. This plot was masterminded by an ancient elf wizard who was caught planning to assassinate Quan. Mistress Xalian Feyora hates the rule of Quan and would do anything to stop him.
Feyora demanded the guards leave and the prison and after freeing the inmates, she and the Emperor are at a standstill. Quan will not give into many of the demands Feyora has, but he also will not storm the prison for fear of his brother being killed. Feyora will not kill Jiang, since the Emperor’s brother is the only bargaining chip she has, and keeps her hostage hidden away, sending proof of life to Quan once a month in exchange for food and supplies delivered to Ragorn Zhul. Feyora wants her freedom and, ultimately, for Quan to step down, but will not kill Jiang to make a point, lest she lose her clout with the Emperor. Quan wants his brother free, but isn’t sure how to accomplish that without risking Jiang’s life.
Feyora’s clout makes her an unofficial leader of Ragorn Zhul, but she despises tyrants and thus she lets the gangs run wild. They do respect her however, and they know she keeps the supplies coming into Ragorn Zhul. The gangs are all in agreement – Feyora is to be left alone and given whatever she needs when it is requested.
The Worst are Still Locked Up
While the gangs run around Ragorn Zhul, and Feyora tries to negotiate with Quan, there are others in Ragorn Zhul who are still under lock and key. Beneath the mesa is a network of tunnels where the worst of the worst and most powerful prisoners are kept.
Kept alive by ioun stones that remove their need for food and water, in magically silenced cells that prevent the casting of spells, these prisoners are kept below ground behind many trapped, secret doors. They’re meant to be forgotten. For one reason or another, these men and women were not killed, but needed to be shut away forever. But should they ever be discovered and released… things could become disastrous.
Prison Quest Ideas
So if I’ve done this correctly, this should be a place where I can have quests large and small play out. Here’s just a few ideas…
- Agents of Parian’s government ask the adventurers to do some recon and find the location of Jiang, so that a rescue plan can be hatched.
- The PCs are part of the above rescue plan.
- The PCs need information from one of Ragorn Zhul’s inmates – they must get inside and find the individual, earn his or her trust, and get out.
- The PCs must free someone from Ragorn Zhul. Perhaps one who was falsely placed there?
- An ancient lich held below in the secret tunnels of Ragorn Zhul has finally had her phylactery uncovered. It seemingly cannot be destroyed. The PCs must enter the prison, find her, find out how to destroy the phylactery, and the end the lich’s life.
- The PCs get thrown in the prison and must survive.
So there you have it. A nice place to visit, an even nicer place to stay. If I can have a few interesting locations like this spread throughout the world, it should make Exploration Age a world where folks will want to keep bringing their characters so they can uncover something new each campaign.
Now onto my idea about a school of sentient warlock sharks…