Prison Map

The Great Prison Escape

This is a Dungeons and Dragons/Roleplaying Game post.

I loved the show Prison Break, and knowing that it’s going to be coming back to TV soon, it got me thinking about various different types of prison campaign scenarios. So I thought I would share them with the world, and let you figure out how to implement them into your campaign. These can be one-off situations, or you could build an entire campaign around a prison – that’s up to you.

But the first thing you need to do is figure out where your prison is, and what it’s purpose is. In fantasy, it’s not common for prisons to just hold people. They’re expensive, they aren’t usually near large towns, (for good reason) and they usually focus on separating the really bad guys, (rapists, murderers, thieves) away from the rest of society. In Game of Thrones, for example, the only real “Prison” is The Wall. Punishment for crimes is otherwise immediate and handed out swiftly. So you need to put some thought into your prison. Below are a few ideas:

  • Societal Debt
    • Each person in the prison owes a debt to a Lawful Good society. They work off their debt over a series of years by doing some kind of service for the kingdom. That could be working in mines, farming, busting up stones, working in forges, or anything else.
  • Crimes against the Kingdom
    • Could be espionage, enemy combatants, treason, or something else detrimental to the crown/kingdom/government. Basically anyone that might eventually be turned to the government’s advantage
  • Dangerous
    • Maybe your prisoners are too dangerous to allow in normal society. With the ability to regrow limbs and heal injuries, allowing a prisoner of high-power to wander freely is too dangerous. Maybe the prison is a holding cell until such a time as execution can be arranged, or perhaps the kingdom is afraid to execute, lest the person be resurrected somehow. (Could be good for high-level campaigns.)

Whatever the reason for the prison’s existence, you also need to figure out why your players are in there. Most players tend toward the good/neutral spectrum, so landing in prison seems unlikely. Below are a few ideas that might help you bring your players into the prison.

  • Good deed gone bad
    • The players were focused on saving a town from a goblin attack, but by deterring the goblins, they caused a dam to be destroyed, washing out an entire year’s worth of crops. The citizens are outraged, and demand “justice” from the characters. Bowing to the political pressure, they are sentenced to prison.
    • The players uncover a “plot” to sell something valuable from the King’s own private collection. They alert the king, who informs them to stay out of it, and pretends as though they were clearly mistaken. They foil it, only to realize that the person responsible was acting on the King’s orders. The King sentences them to a year in Prison due to their interference and ignoring a lawful command from the King.
  • All part of the Job
    • The PC’s are hired by the kingdom to “steal” a priceless artifact… from the King. They are caught, and sentenced to a prison sentence. Their goal is to flush out a smuggling ring.
    • PC’s are hired by the Warden to flush out an escape plan.
    • PC’s are hired to work in the prison. During a riot, they are knocked unconscious. When they wake up, they are dressed as prisoners.
  • Mystery
  • The PC’s all wake up with no memory of why they’re in the prison.
  • PC’s awake in the prison with no memory of their lives, and their bodies covered in tattoos.

Once you’ve got the PC’s in the prison, you need to figure out what you’re going to do with them. PC’s will have their own thoughts on what to do, and you should take your lead from them. The idea is to leave a lot of breadcrumbs for them to find their own path with. A couple of good hooks are listed below for you to use with your players.

  • A player finds a note written in blood on a piece of parchment with a date and time on it – It’s the next night at Midnight.
  • Players are approached by multiple “gangs” within the prison; it’s recruitment time.
  • A player is asked to hold some form of contraband for another inmate.
  • Players witness a guard beating another inmate for no reason.
  • Players are accosted by guards for no reason.
  • Warden request players spy on other inmates for him.
  • Players discover a plot to start a riot.
  • A riot breaks out.
  • Prisoners vanish randomly
  • Prisoners return from “tests” with strange mutations

There are a lot of reasons for stories in prisons; you can build on several of these to make the “escape” an entire campaign. High-XP, low Magic, low-items, so players have to focus more on their wits and plan more. You can work wizards and other spell casters in as well by focusing on ways to smuggle in magic spells, or having your wizard try to recreate spells from memory, (writing in the mud, carving it into the wall of his cell, etc.) or smuggling in a spell book. External contacts can be a big story motivator – and you can even split the party between internal/external sessions if you’re interested in that.

The last thing you need to think about is where your prison exists. This will vary a bit depending on why your prison exists, but a few that fit the fantasy theme, (and provide interesting options for players) are listed below.

  • Deep in a salt/gold/ore mine
  • Inside a flying whale
  • Deep inside a volcano
  • In the heart of an acidic swamp
  • Pocket dimension
  • An Ice Wall spanning the distance between two mountains
  • Underground Pit
  • Wizard Fortress
  • Lich Palace

I hope this helps you with your campaign; it’s one that I personally would enjoy running. You can work it into an existing campaign too, but it’s probably easier as a stand-alone campaign.

Remember: Have fun!


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