Monday, August 5, 2013

The Promethean Prison

What kind of prison would be built for a god?  How about a prison for an entire race of rebellious servitors?

I've had the Prometheus myth on the brain the past week.

There's poignancy around the myth of the titan that steals fire from the gods to bestow knowledge and wisdom on humanity.  Why is Prometheus punished, and why are the gods so jealous of the stolen gift granted to humanity in the story?  The modern mind rankles at the injustice.

In a fantasy game, couldn't the "heavenly fire" given to mankind be the knowledge of magic itself?  It's fascinating that there are so many similar stories in comparative mythology that involve stealing fire or knowledge for mankind.  (For reference, the ones I'm most familiar with are the Native American stories, the Greek myths, and the early Bible stories.  I'm sure there is more).

I started to come to the idea last week when I posted The Age of Monsters, a campaign idea that posited a war in heaven and imprisonment for the losers in a vast dungeon.  There are too many similarities between the Biblical war in heaven and Prometheus not to mix and match themes - forbidden knowledge, punishment and incarceration of the divine rebels, and wiping out the corrupt age through a disastrous flood.

The Promethean Prison is made of the kind of vast, cyclopean architecture hinted at in Lovecraft's writing, like the lost city of the Great Race in the Australian desert.  Because it was the gods themselves that built the prison, the architecture is on a massive, inhuman scale.  The place is inhabited by caretakers, automatons, and ageless horrors left behind to ensure the primordial prisoners never again feel the sun on their faces.  Artifacts and relics within those Stygian depths harken back to a time when the world was young and wizards were far more powerful than the base variety of the modern day.

There's a theme in "lost ruins desert movies" of ancient  knowledge passed through generations to a secret sect of guardians keeping the secrets hidden - you see that theme in The Mummy, or Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.  So we need some secret religious guardian sects.  Part of the cadre of caretakers is an underground race that abandoned the surface in the antediluvian past in order to maintain the dungeons - I'm picturing something like the Cynidiceans from The Lost City module, albeit without the mushroom trips.  Like a "cargo cult", they remember the forms but not the meaning behind the things they do.

I just saw the movie The Life of Pi this past weekend, and really loved it.  The ambiguity behind the versions of the story is remarkably deep and essentially an existential challenge to the viewer.  I bring it up because I vacillate between whether "the Ancients" imprisoned in the Promethean Prison are rebellious aliens punished by other members of their race, or supernatural messengers imprisoned by the loyal angels.  In one case, the prisoners could be something like Marvel's Dreaming Celestial, rogue agents of a cosmic force (the Celestials) now buried deep beneath the earth.  Perhaps they're aliens like Ridley Scott's "Engineers" from the Prometheus movie, advanced travelers that meddled with early Earth biology.  Or they could really be fallen angels, chained in darkness until Judgment Day.

As creator, I've decided I don’t really need to decide.  The inhabitants of the dungeon and the guardians that have lingered there have certainly drawn their own conclusions, and the only thing that matters to them is their personal truth.  The players will just have to make up their own minds.


  1. Life of Pi was indeed a good film.

    Here's another take on Prometheus: In The Chemical Muse the author suggests that the earliest versions of the myth don't specify what he stole, but after he's chained and his liver is being ripped out poppies grow from the where his blood falls. The implication he draws is that Prometheus brought relief relief from pain through opium--the secret of the gods--to man.

  2. Maybe make the "fallen gods" aliens in the Lovecraftian sense of the world rather than the more modern technological extraterrestrial civilization sense. Something along the lines of Cthulhu himself - imprisoned, dead but dreaming, and waiting for the Stars to be Right...

  3. Posts like this are why I still read blogs.

  4. How is it that every campaign setting you write about sounds like the best campaign I would have ever played in.

  5. "I vacillate between whether "the Ancients" imprisoned in the Promethean Prison are rebellious aliens punished by other members of their race, or supernatural messengers imprisoned by the loyal angels."

    The odd thing about the tale of Prometheus, is that you feel you should be rooting against the Gods. Which is why you can find alternate versions where Prometheus doesn't steal just fire, but "enlightenment," science and knowledge from the dogma and tradition of religion. The Illumination that gives name to the Illuminati. Just as some versions of the Eden story can make Man's banishment an allegory for adulthood or sentience itself. That moment where the aliens uplift man in 2001.

    So whether you decide on aliens or angels, I'd be tempted to pull a classic Illuminati reversal on the party half way through the adventure, maybe even a double reversal. A point where their assumptions about who is good and who is evil are reversed. Where all their previous work must suddenly be undone.