Trophy: Barsul Prison

CONTENT WARNING: This thread will likely have some disturbing imagery.

There are few places in the world so terrible as Barsul Prison. Prince and pauper alike have been condemned to its cold, hard cells over the centuries. Those who have survived their sentences tell tales of strange, inhuman gaolers; bizarre, even baroque, methods of torture; and little-traversed passageways that lead to naught but madness and death. And yet… for the right price, you can buy anyone’s freedom from Dread Barsul. Many treasure-hunters over the years have taken up the incursion for that very purpose.

@jesseross and I are putting together a standalone book for the Trophy RPG (the game and its many expansions are currently featured in each new issue of Codex). One of the things we’re going to do with this book is include numerous tables that help flesh out the world Trophy takes place in. Keeping with the spirit of Trophy as a community project, we’re going to be crowdsourcing many of the elements that go into these tables. We already have two crowdsourcing threads underway, which you are still free to sumbit to: Fort Duhrin and The Rose District of Ambaret.

For this installment, we’re exploring Barsul Prison, which is featured in one of the core game’s Drives. We’re looking for 1 type of contribution here:

The horrors of Barsul Prison

NOTE: Please avoid anything that feels like sexual predation or that is misogynistic in nature. We won’t print such things.

You can submit as many entries as you wish. By submitting here, you agree to let us use your contribution in the Trophy standalone book and PDF (you will be credited as a contributor). Submissions should be fairly brief (no more than a sentence or two). Here are some examples:

“The gaolers of Barsul Prison never speak. They simply shuffle along in the darkness, their faces occluded by rust-red cowls, signaling to each other with the little bells they keep in their pockets.”

“The wardens have devised many elaborate methods of torture, such as ‘tooth serum,’ which, when consumed, causes one to regularly sprout new teeth which painfully uproot the old ones, and sometimes even force their way into places on the body teeth should not be.”

“A likely-apocryphal story claims a prisoner once found a golden maggot in his bread, and that when he presented it to the gaolers, they set him free. It is now a tradition amongst the prisoners in Barsul to pick through the maggots in their food, in search of a golden one, in the hopes they might find one and buy their freedom with it. The gaolers encourage this story by occasionally slipping a golden maggot into a prisoner’s meal. When the prisoner presents it to the gaolers, he or she is taken to a darkened room and devoured on the spot.”

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The Pit was dug deep to accommodate an influx of petty criminals, a gaping hole in the earth filled with tier upon tier of iron cages. The warders of the Pit make a lucrative trade in elevating sufficiently wealthy prisoners to the higher levels, that they may escape the detritus from the cages above and have access to food and water at its “freshest”. The floor of the pit is a soft clay, and apparently dozens of feet higher than when the pit was first dug.

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Those sentenced to death at Barsul Prison are always taken to the northern gravelands in pairs. Each digs the grave that will entomb the other. The accepted wisdom is that the graves are more lovingly dug that way, meaning fewer visitations from uncomfortable spirits.

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Occasionally teeth, bits of fingernails, and tattooed skin, can be found in the daily gruel. Additionally, Barsul Prison has never been affected by periods of drought and famine.

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The current warden of Barsul Prison is fond of “shortening”. This is the practice of strapping prisoners into a large steam-driven apparatus resembling a chair, or a table as is needed sometimes. The prisoners limbs are immobilized using thick metal straps and bolts. Slowly, and with one limb at a time, the prisoner’s forearm/crus is bent to an angle perpendicular to their natural position, resulting in breakages of bones, muscle, and tissue. After this procedure the prison’s Chief Medical Officer carefully positions the broken bones such that they overlap, thus causing a shortening of the prisoner’s arms/legs.

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Among inmates of Barsul Prison a peculiar type of folk art has emerged. As a means of communication or merely in an attempt at maintaining ones sanity, many of the rot beetles that infest the dank depths are found with their thick chitinous shells etched with everything from simple messages to intricate byzantine engravings. Jokes, news, pleas, poems, prose, confessions, caricatures, graffiti, even fine art is carved into the carapace before being set loose in a desperate, vain, act of hope to once again be seen.

Next spring at the opening of the social season, The Archduchess of Ambaret is presenting an exhibit of these Bottle Bugs as they’re flippantly referred to by the privileged and prosperous.

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Prisoners who are stubbornly hopeful and think to annoy the wardens by bravely singing ditties and mocking songs at them sometimes will be taken to Fair Nancy’s cell. There, they will hear Nancy’s love song, a simple melody so catching, so infectious that it will never leave them.
“Far away, in the Forest so deep; I will give you five rings for to keep; far away, in the Forest’s deep lair; you will be my trophy so fair…”
Forever, they will hear it running around in their mind - whenever there is a bit of quiet, whenever they try to rest, there it is again: “Far away in the Forest so deep …”

Barsul’s Prison is not just a prison for the living, but also a prison for the dead. No spirit may leave here unless by divine intercession - the trick for the prisoners who really want to escape is just to stay alive long enough to jump from the walls.

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Several cells have vines of jasmine growing through a crack in the south eastern roof corner. On days on the calendar of prime numbers the vines will be fragrant, and that evening many bees will crawl down the vines. Any touching of the vines or the bees will result in bees swarming the area. If a prisoner in these cells has open wounds, the bees will come on any evening.

In shared cells, any blood or damaged limbs will smell (and taste) like honey. The most delicious honey the taster has ever experienced. Should these things be tasted, the taster will hear faint buzzing at the edge of their hearing every six minutes.

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Many years ago, the world’s most famous escape artist, “The Great Effugium Praevado”, declared that it would be an easy task for him to escape the prison, and he made a bet with the prison governor. He vanished from his prison cell just minutes after he had been put there. Oddly, he never returned to claim his prize and no one has seen him ever since. Some say, he lost his ways in the labyrinthine corridors of the prison and went mad. Every year, on the night of his escape, prisoners whisper his name, hoping that he will appear and open the doors to their cells. But what if he is really insane? Will he make the prisoners disappear forever…?

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Did you know that all the ink in the Realm is made in Barsul Prison? I hear that the prisoners grind away all day at the ink stones, giving a little more of themselves. By the time they are released they don’t have any words left!

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The day I entered Barsul they gave me a seed. The Chief Arborist said `Son, if you want to leave this place, nurture this seed. Love it more than you Love. It will sprout and grow and one day you will leave.’ And I did. I loved the seed. Now that it’s a seedling, I’m taking him home. To the centre of the Forest where he will grow tall and proud.

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Barsul Prison is not a place. They draw the door on you and then you enter. And it’s all doors and which door is your door? And maybe eventually you find your door but you cant open it. Because it’s fucking drawn on you! And all you hear are the other’s begging for you to open their door. Barsul Prison is not a place.

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The Prison Library is attended by guards who are utterly illiterate, and deaf to boot, so as not to even accidentally read or hear any of the words contained in the Books and Tomes held prisoner there, all of them carried from the depths of the Forest. Only the most trusted of the Kings’ scholars (or who have payed an epically massive bribe to the Warden) are allowed visitation rights to the Captive Volumes.

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Billy Greenteeth is a feral goat recovered from the edge of the Forest, where it wandered and somehow managed to survive before being brought back to town by a gibbering ex-gladiator who died at the gates vomiting a shower of rotting tadpoles. It has become the Prison’s official mascot due to its uncanny ability to methodically chew down and digest any refuse, no matter how fowl, with a contended bleat. Its night-time habit of moaning in its sleep in the voices of those lost to the Forest amuses the guards as much as it unsettles the prisoners.

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Barsul trades in skeleton keys made from the carefully turned tibia of its inmates. So long as the giver of the bone does not die, any door locked by these keys cannot be undone by might or magic or mechanism.

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The final stage of the Barsual Prison intake process involves the forceful and painful insertion of a “watcher” larva into the prisoner’s ear canal. The prisoner looses the hearing in one ear after the “watcher” borrows through the ear drum and inner ear, to finally lodge itself near the brain stem, where it lies dormant until “signaled”.

On the full moon the Black Rose is struck three times. This large, cruelly black bell rings out a sonorous, melancholy tone the entire prison can hear and feel. On the third strike all inhabitants alike stop and turn towards the source of the tones. The rust-red cowled guards, in unison, ring their bells three times, in answer. The blood-curdling, inhuman screams fill the night air as the “watchers” are “signaled”. Prisoners openly weep and beg for their lives.

When the “watcher” awakes it sprouts thin silvery tendrils with which it pierces and invades the host’s brain. Few do not survive; the remaining survivors are watched for the “change”.

In a process that takes days, sometimes weeks, those the “watcher” is especially attuned to start to develop tell-tale signs: red, spidery veins appear on the base of the neck and extend across the shoulder blades; the whites of the eyes turn a bluish hue until finally becoming black; movement becomes stilted and erratic just before its subdued and shuffling; speech, first slurred and disjointed, eventually disappears; sensitivity to sounds, especially bells, becomes more pronounced. The final sign: in the presence of the rust-red cowled guards there is complete subservience.

On the day before the full moon, there is a secret ceremony held in the bowels of the prison. Prisoners fully attuned to the “watcher” are stripped and bathed, and presented to the warden to receive their rust-red cowl, uniform, and bell.

(sorry it’s a little long - it was just an idea i had bouncing around in my noodle and wanted to share)

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It is rumored that the lower levels of Barsul Prison have no doors at all. Prisoners are free to wander as they please. There are no gaolers either. Prisoners are left to fend for themselves, in roving gangs that quite literally tear each other apart over the occasional scraps of food thrown down from above. Those who have survived the longest wear the bones of those they have consumed.

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One of the many tortures the warden uses is the “whispering maggots”. This translucent worms ar no longer than a fingernail, and are introduced into the ear canal.
The sound they make while they crawl inside the prisoner’s head is like someone is whispering something unintelligible but almost familiar. It’s said to drive someone to madness in 3 days.

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Some crimes are said to unforgivable, yet the ingenuitive surgeon-priests of Barsul Prison always find a way. An object representing the crime is ritually implanted and fused with the body of the prisoner, in a manner most befitting the crime committed - every cut and stitch forming the litany of confession and forgiveness. Those who survive are set free to wander as Forgiven, wretched beggars that serve as a warning to would-be sinners.

The Wailing Towers of Barsul Prison are not named for their inhabitants, but rather for the continuous, dissonant melodies formed by the wind as it passes over an intricate network of tiny windows carved in the stone - these were made small, of course, to prevent prisoners from flinging themselves through, as most attempt to do after a few weeks of maddening wind-song.

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