There are many fates worse than death that you might suffer in the Underworld if you are incautious, but perhaps the very worst of them is to end up in a drow slave camp. Holoth’s camp is known and feared for hundreds of miles around the city, and with the dark elves now taking captives from the surface, rumors of the terrible existence one can expect if captured are spreading rapidly.
Almost all of what is known about these places is gleaned by visitors who have seen the camps themselves from a distance and a few slaves and prisoners from closer up. A little information comes from fiends summoned to serve some foul priestess or cruel wizard, a little more from mages who have observed a camp or two using extensive magic to hide and protect themselves, and the very smallest amount from former inmates who have somehow escaped the clutches of their captors. Whatever the source, none of what is known offers much hope of a future worth experiencing if you are ever caught. All I can say is, “Reader, beware!”
As with other “Acanthus’s Truths,” characters can gain some of these pieces of information by speaking with appropriate residents of other Underworld cities or intelligent creatures they meet on the way to Holoth itself. As GM, use them to add flavor to any encounters with around – but hopefully not IN – the slave camp.
1. Prepare to lose all sense of dignity, elegance and sophistication – of all gentility. You will become brutish all too quickly in order to survive.
2. Expect nothing but endless, mind-numbing heavy labor, with frequent but irregular beatings as encouragement.
3. When you become a slave, be ready to accept that everything about your existence will be a negative, designed to wear you away to nothing more than a shriveled shell, inside and out.
4. Do not try to find a pattern in anything the drow do, other than their efforts to drain you of your very being.
5. The camp will quickly teach you that nothing and no-one else in it should play a part in your life. You must be alone within the vast crowd of prisoners.
6. It will be far too cold in the slave huts and far too hot in the mushroom fields. You will long for discomfort and inconvenience rather than the pain and misery you feel constantly.
7. You will never not be hungry, especially if you do not learn to eat whatever comes to hand as quickly as possible. Others will not be as choosy.
8. Be prepared to bury and even forget your soul. The drow wish to strip it from you, so you must place it where it doesn’t concern you.
9. Don’t imagine you will ever make a friend, an ally, a companion from your fellow slaves. No-one, not even you yourself, should be trusted.
10. Your life will always be under threat: from the guards; from the clerics; from other prisoners; from the conditions. Nothing is designed with your safety in mind.
11. You are a resource, nothing more. Your expendability is a given and only you can determine your day-to-day existence.
12. You must be angry above all emotions. Other feelings have to fade away, or else despair wins through and you will be lost.
13. Until you are resigned to being nothing more than a body, use any and all emotions to get you through the days. Treat them as fuel for your internal fire, but as material that will burn away to ash and dust.
14. Unbridled chaos allows the drow their victory over all slaves. The dark elves fear anything organized and encourage infighting at all times.
15. On becoming a slave, look around you at who has survived. Become like them as quickly as possible, even if you abhor everything about them.
16. Appear fitter, stronger, and yet more compliant than those working either side of you. Work with those you hate the most, because their loss will affect you least.
17. Find something hidden within you to cling to, to be an ember of your former life, but make it insignificant to others so they cannot use it against you.
18. As each day passes, make every attempt to preserve what little is left of YOU.
19. Do not reveal who or what you believe in, even if it is the one thing that keeps you who you are. Be prepared to forsake it outwardly even as you inwardly consider it your very lifeblood.
20. Those who lived their previous lives in organized groups – armies, governments, guilds – often fall apart first as they can’t rely on their usual support structure. Stay away from them as they will want to drag you down with them.
21. The strident, the rebellious, the drum-thumpers are treated the most harshly, often kept alive solely for the purpose of having the greatest humiliations heaped upon them.
22. Your intelligence, your wisdom, your charisma will all crumble on receipt of an oft-repeated slap in the face from a threatened sadist.
23. Whoever strikes those around them with the least impunity must be considered the senior drow, no matter how they look or act otherwise.
24. Whoever hits slaves with an obvious look of pleasure is invariably receiving the favor of a more senior drow or has been marked for better things.
25. Whoever hits slaves with nothing but sneering contempt has invariably been rebuked or, worse, had an error they have made brought to the attention of some fell deity.
26. Your level of enthusiasm for whatever task you are given can be directly related inversely to the enthusiasm of whoever punished you should you fail to accomplish it.
27. Never ever argue back, or even look like you are going to argue. A drow will simply beat you there and then, or else another prisoner will take the chance to report you and you will be beaten later.
28. Never volunteer for anything. It will never be what you expect and other prisoners will hate you for it. Be forced to do anything you end up undertaking.
29. Do not be surprised if seemingly inconsequential prisoners are suddenly the focus of a show trial or vicious punishment. The drow find them the easiest to use to make their point.
30. At all costs avoid the responsibility of dealing with a prisoner returned to the camp after punishment. They have probably agreed to set you up in return for a lessening of the beating.
31. The newest group of prisoners will have the most reliable news. A new single prisoner may be unreliable for all manner of reasons, including being a spy.
32. No guard or low-level drow ever knows the truth of things. All that is good for the dark elves is exaggerated, while the bad is denied, suppressed or willfully manipulated.
33. There is no “prisoner grapevine” in drow slave camps. All information that appears on what others believe to be “the grapevine” is planted there for a reason by the dark elves.
34. Learn to appear indifferent to, yet wary of everything. Non-threatening inscrutability may yet save your life in any given situation.
35. Recognize that while there is little-to-no hope for you, you must not appear thoroughly hopeless, as it is a weakness that will make you a target.
36. Recognize that while you have no free will, you must not appear completely spineless, as this is a weakness that will make you a target.
37. Trust your instincts above all else. Base these on trusting no one around you.
38. Avoid leading a work team. You will be expected to do things you almost certainly don’t want to do, and then be despised by drow and prisoners alike for doing them.
39. Find a way to be prepared to accept that no matter how you try, your actions will lead to the death of another prisoner at some time. But be angry when it happens, at least internally.
40. Be prepared to accept that at virtually all times, no matter what you do or try to do, your actions will lead to the oppression of prisoners, usually including yourself, such is the cruelty of the drow.
41. Every day you succeed neither to send somebody to their death nor not increase their sentence and punishment should allow you a sliver of pride.
42. Every day you succeed neither to inadvertently denounce a fellow prisoner nor sell somebody out to the guards should allow you a moment of peace.
43. Do not: expect anything beneficial from the drow; ask for anything from the drow; accept anything from the drow. You will end up the worse for it. The same goes for other prisoners, it is sad to say.
44. Occasionally you may believe you have found some kind of mental, physical or spiritual strength, but it is almost certain that the drow have allowed you to feel this so they can drive you closer to utter dejection.
45. Twice I saw the guards let a score of prisoners just leave, as if they were free. Instead, they were hunted down by the city’s population as part of some grand callous game.
46. As you endure your time in the camp you will discover no one species, creed, sex, “persuasion” or partner is better or different to any other. The drow make everyone compete in a race to the depths.
47. The drow enjoy planting false rumors amongst the prisoners, usually offering some desperate shred of hope, in order to discover more plans from the newest arrivals.
48. Beware the slave who approaches you with a way to reduce your punishment or give you more food. They will owe something to another prisoner or perhaps a guard and hope to make you the payment that absolves them of their debt.
49. The camp will always have someone rise to its pinnacle using a mix of the very same tactics employed by the drow: fear, deprivation, torture and humiliation at the least. You have two choices: take yourself entirely from their sphere of influence, or take their life and hope the drow weren’t allowing them to rule the camp.
50. If you unexpectedly and desperately need something mundane, don’t be surprised if another prisoner has got it. The ingenuity of the camp’s inmates, at times, knows few boundaries even after the drow make it clear that the punishment for holding items is severe.
51. Don’t ever listen to another prisoner’s confession or revelation. It will surely get you into trouble at some later point in time.
52. Although we are slaves to the city, some inmates decide to become subjugated further to just one guard in the hope of some respite. But this is folly, because the guard, if suspected, will sell you to the clergy in an instant to save their own skin.
53. Some slaves place themselves into servitude to a stronger prisoner, hoping for protection. But this only allows the owner to have something to give away to save their own skin if the time comes; I never saw otherwise.
54. Be wary of appearing either stronger or weaker than you are, for guards are always looking for ways to raise their profile in the eyes of the ruling house and identifying a target for sacrifice is one clear way to so do.
55. Avoid solitary confinement at all costs. The cell will be something like a block of ice, or cloying darkness, or worst of all the stem of a giant mushroom that will feed off of you as you endure your punishment, changing you forever.
56. Be wary of overusing any tactic that reduces your workload. Eventually a guard or other prisoner will notice and you will risk taking extended beatings, solitary confinement, losing your life, or the infernal caresses of undeath.
57. Be wary of being moved to a new section, especially as a supposed reward, as it will be something other prisoners will hold against you from there on in.
58. Recognize that the drow crave power at all costs, and the death of an insignificant slave who insults the ruling house specifically or the city and drow in general, means nothing to the guards.
59. Always remember that members of the ruling house and other important city figures can do what they wish whenever they wish to. Even looking in their direction can lead to your death or worse.
60. Learn to kill at will, without compunction, because it is something all those around you will already have learned to do.
61. Don’t be party to denouncements, complaints or objections. The effects of the words of one malcontent will ripple across a whole work team or slave dwelling.
62. To retain any of your true spirit, learn to be brave. It is the cowards around you that are capable of the vilest actions, the most depraved behaviors and the foulest conduct given an opportunity.
63. Plan your life as if you will live to tomorrow, but expect your life to end today. It is impossible to look any further for either option.
64. There is nothing about a drow slave camp that isn’t depraved. You either swim with this or sink beneath the vile, warped waves of such an existence.
65. Beware the guard that has been demoted from elsewhere, for they will take their anger out on you at every opportunity.
66. Beware the guard that is newly promoted to leading a squad, for they will take every chance they can, at your expense, to show their superiors that the correct decision has been made.
67. Every city, every House, every matron mother and patron father, every ruling family member, every leader at the top of this pyramid has slaves. But the further up this hierarchy you sit as a slave, the harsher your punishment and great your fall should you lose your owner’s vicious and degenerate auspices.
68. Once imprisoned, never hope to be considered special or worth anything. The Underworld houses more slaves than can be imagined, and you are not even a tally mark in some long-forgotten record book.
69. If somehow you find a way to escape the clutches of a slave camp, take nothing with you from the experience. The drow give nothing positive to prisoners, instead looking to scar body, mind and soul at every turn.
70. If you are taken prisoner, do not be surprised to encounter other slaves who are friends of your friends or family. But even if you meet them, treat them no differently from any other person who crosses your path because in the end they will have no problem offering you up to save themselves.
71. The drow will oppress you cruelly at every turn. If you object in any way, they will repress you to a greater extent, undoubtedly with ten-fold savagery.
72. Those at the top look to subjugate and prey on every social stratum beneath them, and each tier beneath them does the same, until you and other slaves reap the reward of so many layers of frustration, fear and anger.
73. If you can find a way to do so without facing repercussions, always help those close to dying, as they may reward you with some scant personal belonging for one final moment of compassion.
74. Never consider any moment to be the best one of your time in the camp. That way leads to madness if it can never be repeated.
75. Turn your back on those who offer aid, unless what you will take from them is less than they have taken from you in the past. Much less!
76. Never show signs of preferring one team or job or hut or guard over another. The drow will look to ensure the direst of each of these will become your usual activity, gradually making every aspect of your life worse tomorrow than it is today.
77. Do nothing that encourages the guards to move you. Your destination will always be worse than your starting point, even if you think or know you’ve done nothing wrong.
78. The very worst of every traditional rivalry – elf against orc, dwarf against goblin, gnome against kobold, human against gnoll – will be nothing compared to that of you versus all the other slaves and against every one of the drow.
79. Those who were crooks, thugs and felons before becoming slaves will survive longer in a drow prison because they have already shed every layer of decency.
80. Few of those who enter the prison camp are criminals; very few aren’t by the time they leave it.
81. The fact whoever you are working with in the morning isn’t a criminal is no guarantee that you won’t be their victim by the evening.
82. No matter how carefully you try to tread within the boundaries set by the drow, one or other of them will claim you have crossed the line if they desire to punish you, and you may never know why or how you so did.
83. Those who exhibit self-esteem are soon crushed; those who are boastful more quickly. But those who are arrogant or pretentious are beaten to the bottom of the pile more rapidly than all others.
84. The young will face the greatest depravity, the oldest the most derision. All those in between are simply despised.
85. It is better to believe in nothing and no-one than suppose you will find hope from something or someone. The longer it takes for you to do this, the greater your final wretchedness will be.
86. From the outset, think the very worst of all those you encounter, for there is nothing worse than having to change a good opinion of someone to a bad one.
87. You quickly learn that everyone – other slaves and drow alike – hate the sick, the weak, the hungry, and those close to death more than they do anyone else, because those types may be the cause of your own demise if you do not disown them.
88. Never be last in any endeavor, for you will be the first to be left behind or taken away to placate some dark deity or feed a pitiless presence.
89. In this world, the drow with the weapon – physical, mental or spiritual – has the power, no matter what might be the case elsewhere. To believe differently is to consign yourself to the greatest maltreatment and defilement.
90. In the hands of a guard, everything is a weapon. They will take the tools you are working with, trying to do as you have been told, and use them to punish you.
91. It may be that just one of them guards one hundred of us, but every day it feels like one hundred of them control every aspect of your one life.
92. The very worst a drow camp does to you is make you forget both what freedom is and how to be free if the chance ever again occurs.
93. Do not ever begin to think or act like you are familiar with the camp, the guards, or the punishment. Treat each day as your first, or you will sink into unrelenting despondency that nothing ensures your survival.
94. Do not talk with anybody about being a slave. The naive optimism of newcomers is as much a burden as the dismal resignation of older hands. Neither will provide mental sustenance.
95. Learn as quickly as possible how to use any tool the drow give you in the exact manner they want you to use it, or it will be as a birch across your back.
96. Learn as quickly as possible how to use any tool the drow give you to defend yourself, otherwise others will take it from you and you will face further punishment from the drow.
97. Nothing about you is of any interest to the drow. The vast majority do not even care if you can work and will draw greater pleasure from maiming or killing you than being your guard.
98. When you are knocked down, always find a way to stand back up, even if it only in your mind or soul. Learn how to disassociate the physical from the mental or the spiritual. That way, you will hopefully have somewhere from which to draw strength.
99. Do not rely on your memories to see you through; at the first sign of any such relief your mind will be watched as closely as your body, and the torment delivered using your thoughts will be worse than the physical punishment.
100. It is to be expected that the very worst of another’s experiences could easily be the very best of yours. There is no limit to the capacity for indifferent cruelty within the drow.
d100 Truths from a Drow Slave Camp is just the latest in our long line of d100 random tables. Get in the comments and let us know if you use them!
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