Having already committed to making a one page dungeon in the month of April as my first solid contribution to the world TTRPGs, I thought I was set. Of course, right around the same time, I saw Nate Treme kicked off a pamphlet jam on itch.io. The pamphlet format is pretty intriguing, as it provides a bit more structure, as well as more space to really dive into an area, while still being very constrained. Thanks Nate. You can find the project page on itch.io.
Even before I ran across the pamphlet dungeon jam, the subject of a debtor’s prison popped into my head, and I ran with it. I blame some of this on my recent adoption of Notion as an organizational tool. It makes it very easy to whip up little databases, compile resources (I learned a lot about 19th century debtor’s prisons), and jot down little asides and notes as they pop up.
As the idea grew and I did more research, the scope began to creep. I developed custom time threat rules, schedules for the prison, and all sorts of complex interactions that would happen inside the prison. All of that is too much to fit on a couple of pages, as I soon found out when I began to lay out the info, and reducing, then reducing again the font size. A lot ended up on the cutting room floor, but it should make a reappearance again at some point down the road.
19th century debtor’s prisons were terrible places, but very contradictory to modern sensibilities. Often, “prisoners” were allowed to leave the prison and pursue work, and even rent apartments outside the prison. At the same time, they were places of horrid inhumanity, where normal people who hadn’t paid their baker’s bill were subjected to the most atrocious conditions and died every day in squalid cells.
The committee was shocked by the prisoners’ living conditions. In the Fleet they found Sir William Rich, a baronet, in irons. Unable to pay the prison fee, he had been burned with a red-hot poker, hit with a stick and kept in a dungeon for ten days for having wounded the warden with a shoemaker’s knife. In the Marshalsea they found that prisoners on the common side were being routinely starved to death:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marshalsea
I used much of this research, scattered about as names and situations, in the pamphlet dungeon itself, although it’s difficult to convey the extent of the horror people endured in a couple of pages. Once again I found myself treading on the real-life misfortune of people, albeit long dead, in the search for something to engage and entertain…definitely need to reserve a post going forward to explore this more.
Check it out and let me know what you think. I’ll probably post a follow up with an extended version that has more details and mechanics built in, and I’d love feedback.