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Marcus Impudite

Prison Planet Concept...

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The general idea is this: A planet in a remote star system to which a galaxy-spanning empire exiles criminals who they want to be rid of for good but for various reasons could not just be outright executed. After transmitting a security code, the transport enters the planet's atmosphere just long enough to shove prisoners out a back hatch with parachutes. New arrivals who survive the skydive from the upper atmosphere can expect to spend the rest of their lives here--how long that is my vary. It's not unheard of for chutes to fail and the unlucky to go spat when they hit the ground, "the first cut" as some call it. It's effectively a prison with out guards or a warden, the empire doesn't care what individuals exiled to this planet do as long as they never leave. Escape is but a pipe dream; even if someone manages to cobble together a craft that's even remotely space-worthy, one of the many Damocles-Class laser cannons that orbit the planet will shoot it out of the sky long before it achieves escape velocity.

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Not a new idea, but for that reason something of a sci-fi classic. I guess the key point would be what type of society you picture evolving among the prisoners. Is it an extension of the gangs in real Terrestrial prisons, with rival groups forming along lines of race or creed for mutual protection? Maybe something like the movie Escape from New York, where one dictator arises to take control of the whole planet? Or do the prisoners actually form a "brotherhood of exiles" and work together to make a new home and second chance for themselves?

 

I always liked the take on prison-planet used by Frank Herbert in his classic novel Dune. That Empire's prison world, Salusa Secundus, was

secretly also the breeding/training ground for the Emperor's elite guard, the Sardaukar. The violent criminals sent to that world already tended to be tougher than the average person, and the harsh environment and "society" of Salusa Secundus weeded out all but the strongest and most ruthless. Like crossing Darwinian eugenics with Spartan warrior culture.

 

I also think of Ted White's novel, The Escape Orbit, set during an interstellar war between Humans and an alien species. The aliens dumped captured human military on a relatively pleasant planet with only basic technology, and an armed orbiting ship watching for any sign of trouble. With practically no hope of escape or rescue, and far from the reality and pressures of the war, the majority of the former troops turned '"civilian," forming permanent settlements and building new lives for themselves.

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Also check out the movie No Escape 

Surprisingly good.  near future Sci-fi where especially violent or problematic prisoners are sent to a remote island where they are dumped off and left to fend for themselves. Two rival societies have evolved and are at war with each other. Military prisoner Ray Liotta is dropped off and becomes a wild card between both warring factions, but his only goal is to find away to escape.

 

Now as to your write-up, how were you planning to use it in your campaign? Are the players sent there and have to escape? Are they hired to rescue someone from there? Does their ship accidently crash on the planet and they have to survive until the government sends a ship to rescue them?

 

If you are looking to make it a bit more "logical" as to why there would be a prison where they dump criminals to live and die there and never leave, rather then just killing them and saving the time/money, No Escape also has something you can borrow from it for that end. Make the setting have no death penalty and that the Prison system in your setting is run by private corporations (like is already happening in the USA). The government pays the corporations to guard and look after the prisoners and put them to work. 

 

On the corporations side of things, if the prisoner works and isn't causing trouble they stay in normal prisons, but if they are too much of a problem and causing issues, then they get the "job" of colonizing a new planet. So on paper it looks like the corporation is doing everything by the book if the government ever checks, but in reality they are just dumping off the prisoners on this prison world to get rid of them. The only thing is is that they can never let anyone escape, because if someone did and reported what the corporation is doing to the government then the corporation would be in big trouble. 

 

Now if this is a major part/setting of your campaign, then maybe the corporation could have a secondary motive, like maybe there is something hidden on that planet (ancient alien artifact/secret/etc...) or a vicious native lifeform that they want the prisoners to eventually find/kill off, etc... so sometime in the future they can colonize the planet easier and better (and start using a different planet for dumping the criminals on). Basically the prisoners are the first colonists on the planet, like how the worst prisoners were used/shipped to Australia back in the day, so anything they do to survive and make it even a bit better (clear cutting forests, building towns/huts, discovering the best living places, etc...) all is free labor for the corporation's future use of the planet. 

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Well, unless there is some compelling reason to stay in a particular spot -- the prisoners are on an island, or they're dumped at a rare water-hole on a desert planet, any gang-leader dictatorship will be very local and won't be able to keep people in line if they don't want to be kept. People who don't like the dictator can just walk away.

 

IIRC Christopher Stasheff had a prison planet in one of his books (I forget which one), and it was a fairly nice place. No walls, because the interstellar government didn't care where you went on the planet as long as you didn't leave. The warden considered himself more a social scientist and educator, which was perhaps not a smart choice of the interstellar government since the planet received a lot of political prisoners. As I recall, the protagonist was surprised to find he'd been sentenced to, effectively, a highly progressive college campus and political think-tank.

 

For a very different sort of prison planet: Dagoola IV from "Borders of Infinity," by Lois McMaster Bujold. The keepers of this prison see sadism as art.

 

Or Shayol, from Cordwainer Smith's "A Planet Called Shayol," for horror. Body horror.

 

Dean Shomshak

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Well, unless there is some compelling reason to stay in a particular spot -- the prisoners are on an island, or they're dumped at a rare water-hole on a desert planet, any gang-leader dictatorship will be very local and won't be able to keep people in line if they don't want to be kept. People who don't like the dictator can just walk away.

 

IIRC Christopher Stasheff had a prison planet in one of his books (I forget which one), and it was a fairly nice place. No walls, because the interstellar government didn't care where you went on the planet as long as you didn't leave. The warden considered himself more a social scientist and educator, which was perhaps not a smart choice of the interstellar government since the planet received a lot of political prisoners. As I recall, the protagonist was surprised to find he'd been sentenced to, effectively, a highly progressive college campus and political think-tank.

 

For a very different sort of prison planet: Dagoola IV from "Borders of Infinity," by Lois McMaster Bujold. The keepers of this prison see sadism as art.

 

Or Shayol, from Cordwainer Smith's "A Planet Called Shayol," for horror. Body horror.

 

Dean Shomshak

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Long term effects are also something to consider. In The City Who Fought (not one of McCaffrey's best novels, but one with some interesting ideas) the antagonists are a group descended from a prison planet where earth sent loads of criminals and political dissidents, which has now become a major pain in the side of the interstellar government, since they basically reject everything the "civilized" planets consider the basis of civilized society, and honestly believe (based on how they and their ancestors were treated) that all of it is just a lie designed to keep people docile and weak. Imagine if the Australian colonies had been solely made up of convicts with no free settlers to leaven them out and that the children of the convicts had still been confined to the prison colonies with no hope of reprieve. Sooner or later, there will be too many "prisoners" to control...

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I could see forcible colonization being a reason. But hard large projects need teams. They may execute incorrigables ( those who want to see civilization burn), but most crimes are just based on low impulse control, and selfish desires, or competing  with government legal monopolies. I don’t see a lot of productive work coming from such a fractious lot, unless whole families are sent to give the prisoners some incentive to sort their living situation out. This is sounding more like something , an unnamed country in Asia would conceptually do. 

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The Prison Planet in City Who Fought wasn't just criminals, they had a lot of politicals there too (they specifically call out the Shining Path). They would give the colony the drive to build up.

 

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Mimas served that purpose in my campaign. Russia sent their worst offenders and political prisoners there. Even the prison guards were known for their brutality.

 

Why Mimas? The purpose of that penal colony was to build a large railgun in Herschel crater. The railgun could be aimed at other colonies around Saturn, notably Titan, which had an American colony. This is basically a nod to Star Wars. 

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Is there usable food and water freely available on the planet? If not, people might be forced to stay near whatever food and water machines which have been made available. Riverworld did something like that with each person having a food bucket with which they could get a daily ration. At the least, you could work off of that concept to force prisoners to stay in some local area rather than disperse to the point where there wouldn't logically be any kind of community (such as being around other people is a death sentence because they're all uncontrolled violent criminals who don't produce any useful goods or services).

 

As for the laser cannons being enough to keep people in, if the planet's location is known, prisoners will get out. If nothing else, people who have starships will toss enough meteors and asteroids through the cannon's orbits to kill enough of them in order to make a landing. From there, they'll open up a business to rescue the condemned criminals for a fee or ransom the prisoners back to the government.

 

Now you could actively have warships in orbit, planetary shields, or a technology-dampening field on the planet and have a chance of keeping people from escaping. But automated lasers are going to get blocked, hacked, or destroyed as fast as new ones are put into place if the public at large has any idea at all where the planet is. Both criminal organizations and the friends of influential political prisoners are going to have access to information and ships that can move mass.

 

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