Terraforming – Black Hole Prison

Featured Image by ArtistMEF

Randal here, welcoming you back to Terraforming!

I try to look for my gaming inspiration from all the different genres I enjoy. Sometimes that means using a sci-fi trope in Pathfinder or borrowing some sword and sorcery bit for Starfinder (arguably much easier than the former), but often it just means taking what you see and like and rotating it until it fits, like a Tetris piece. Oh, and mixing and matching is the best way to make something new appear. Let’s look at the two ideas I am currently stuck on.

  1. I remember reading a Star Wars novel (years ago, the old canon) in which a fighter pilot engaged in a dog fight he knew he would lose with the sole purpose of drawing the larger enemy craft close enough to a black hole that they couldn’t escape, at which point he crammed himself into a torpedo tube and shot himself back out of the black hole’s gravity well … as the torpedo was small enough, with low enough mass, that it could still escape.
  2. While not a space-based movie, Jet Li’s The One is most certainly sci-fi, and it has an interesting element that I think we can readily adapt to Starfinder. Super short and spoiler free info dump: The movie includes multiple dimensions (maybe they call them universes) and a governmental agency that presides over dimensional travelers using wormholes. They send their worst criminals to a facility they call the Stygian Penal Colony in the Hades dimension, a dimension that you can wormhole into, but not out of.

Now that we have our basic premise, let’s see how we can adapt it to Starfinder.

After a number of escapes (and even more attempts) from their highest security prison, Asmodeus Penal Industries (API) decided that they needed to rethink their current solution. The combination of advanced technology, magic, and bizarre species that inhabit the Pact Worlds makes it an ever increasing challenge to keep the worst of the worst criminal element incarcerated. They are either master minds that can outthink the AIP staff, or they are very well connected (or fanatically followed) and thus pose a constant threat from the outside. It was during this brainstorming session that the idea was put forth to place their prison colony within the gravity well of a black hole; close enough that escape was impossible, but far enough (and in stable enough orbit) that the prisoners would be able to live out their life sentences.

Once the concept was finalized, it needed a name. They aren’t exactly clever marketers, not that they have to be, so they chose Black Hole Prison (or BHP). Once it was named, they needed to figure out supplies. Well, flying ships right to the edge of the gravity and ejecting cargo containers will get the job done without needlessly wasting ships (the containers are ultimately dropped into the black hole). With supplies resolved, they needed staffing that wouldn’t have a problem going to work and never coming home. Well, it turns out that being a company bankrolled by the official Church of Asmodeus has some perks, one of which is the ability to make deals in the boneyard for souls. Therefore, API has managed to create a work program for the morally bankrupt looking to right their wrongs before they find themselves before Pharasma. They sign over their soul and are reincarnated inside BHP, where they then work off their “service” before dying again and presumably moving on to their final resting place.

The Facility. The facility itself is based off the schematics for Absalom Station. While it is scaled down, there is still a lot of unused space to allow for future growth. It is often called a colony because the prisoners there are pretty much free to live their lives so long as they don’t disrupt the status quo. Everybody needs to do their part to ensure that there are crops and other food sources to feed everybody. Nobody can leave, so there is a lot less incentive to keep them all under constant lock and key, but they do keep their worst isolated to ensure they are not problematic. The “occupants”, as the prisoners like to call themselves, have taken to calling it New New Absalom.

The Occupants. The prisoners of New New Abalsom are the worst of the worst, unredeemable, and sometimes unkillable. Some new prisoners rebel, and are often worn down over time until they finally just accept their lot in life. Others continue to fight back until they are put down, or put themselves down in defiance. A rare few run off on their own to try and make their own way in the unused parts of the city while biding their time to escape. The staff are usually people that did bad things in life that are going to keep them from their desired rewards in the afterlife, while some were just caught in a bad situation and signed on with API.

Communications. Communications are one way using technology, but some magic can sometimes send messages out. API has half a dozen sets of stones (hybrid items) capable of transferring the consciousness of one person with that of another. These stones are the primary form of communication between the facility staff and the API home office. Yes, I borrowed this from Stargate!

Travel. Ships can travel to the facility, but they cannot leave. Therefore most supplies are simply jettisoned with a trajectory that will cause them to impact the station. New prisoners are sent in pods that can are considered expendable. Due to proximity of the black hole sub-light engines cannot leave and drift travel isn’t functional.

Lich, Cleric of Asmodeus

Plot Ideas.

  • Simple delivery let’s the PCs interact with the API folks outside the facility and see how cool this location is.
  • Simple delivery gone wrong, the PCs must avoid certain doom or worse!
  • PCs need to question somebody in the colony and so get to use the cool communication stones.
  • PCs need to question somebody in the colony that has gone missing so they must adventure on the colony in somebody else’s  body!
  • PCs are sentenced and have to escape the unescapable!
  • PCs discover that API is using other parts of the facility for nefarious purposes and must stop them!
  • A multidimensional creature is able to bypass the gravity well that causes all other technology and magic to cease to work!

Let me know what sorts of plots you would use with a location like this in your games! Please join us at our Discord server https://discord.gg/Rt79BAj.

Randal Meyer

As a lover of crunch (rules and numbers), Randal is always tinkering with rules options. His love of magic users has led him to always fuss with the mechanics of magic and magic items. Years of GMing on the fly have given him endless ideas and content from which to draw on for adventures (ideas, plots, NPCs). When not working, gaming, or playing with his kids, Randal is likely working on improving Sage (his Discord bot for immersive play-by-post gaming that you can see in action on Know Direction's Discord in the Know Direction Societous PFS channels) over at https://www.patreon.com/rpgsage!