I like this word.  Its Greek root gives it some ancient weight, yet the strangeness of it also sounds very sci-fi to me.

The term “panopticon” comes from the British philosopher Jeremy Bentham (the same guy who had his body partly mummified so he could continue to sit in on meetings  at University College, London).  The basic idea was to design a building which would allow observation all the occupants, without their knowing if they were actually being watched at the moment but always under the threat of observation.  Bentham primarily saw this as a useful design for a prison, but also saw its possibilities for schools, asylums, hospitals, and so on. Foucault would famously adopt this metaphor for society’s other hierarchical structures and control mechanisms (physical and cultural, so one might understand even religious concepts  — “God sees all” — as ways of applying panoptic pressure).

The concept of a panopticon dungeon sounds like something I’d like to spring on players too.  My initial concept was of an ancient, high-tech prison, no longer functioning as designed but with intact defenses and surveillance equipment.  I imagine a party dealing with electric eyes, security cameras, and so on.  Perhaps an intercom would announce when the thief disappeared into the shadows or the magic user began reading his spell book, and call for monsters to interfere with any rest or respite the party tries to get.  A high priority would be disabling the cameras, and eventually destroying (or commandeering!) the control room.  Throw in multiple competing adventuring parties, who are occasionally glimpsed via closed circuit TVs or mentioned in intercom broadcasts, and you could have a hellishly paranoid game.  I’m not sure I could pull that off as DM.

But looking into pantopticons, it turns out several real prisons were built with this idea in mind.

The Presidio modelo, a Cuban prison, was built according to panopticon principles.  It closed as a prison in 1967, but the building is pretty evocative (this is inside one of the prison buildings):


Imagine winged beasties (winged eyeballs, of course) roosting in the cells, the courtyard filled with cyclopes and cyclopskin, and a beholder atop the tower (probably confined to the top of the tower, which it can gaze out of, but not leave).  Mission: topple the tower!  I smell an OPD.

Published in: on December 18, 2011 at 6:00 am  Comments (2)  
Tags: , ,

The URI to TrackBack this entry is:

RSS feed for comments on this post.

2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I once had a dungeon that a wealthy and sadistic noble had build as entertainment. He imported all kinds of nasty creatures and also introduced into it criminals, slaves, and gladiators to challenge anyone else he managed to capture. All of the ceilings of the dungeon were grates or heavy enchanted glass so that his cocktail parties could watch the people try to escape. It has sort of a panopticon vibe.

  2. That’s an evil DM idea no matter what edition you’re running! I applaud you sir!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Wayne's Books

Game Gallery ~ Photo Blog

Ann's Immaterium

Writing, gaming, miniature painting, physical culture, and other dark procrastinations.


Collecting, modelling, painting and wargaming in 28mm

Dragons Never Forget

What were we talking about again?

This Stuff is REALLY Cool

Young scholars enthusiastic to tell you about COOL RESEARCH STUFF

Fail Squad Games

Tabletop games and adventures

Chuck Wendig: Terribleminds

Hey Did You Know I Write Books

Save Vs. Dragon

"We are here on Earth to fart around. Don't let anybody tell you any different."--Kurt Vonnegut


Old School Roleplaying and related musings

Hobgoblin Orange

My return to the world of miniature figure painting and RPGs

The Book Reviews You Can Trust!

Dawn of the Lead

Miniature wargaming and the occasional zombie

The Blog

The latest news on and the WordPress community.


Miniature Motivation

Take On Rules

Jeremy Friesen - a poor soul consumed by gaming.

Age of Dusk

Roleplaying, reviews and associated paraphernalia.

Roll to Disbelieve

"We are here on Earth to fart around. Don't let anybody tell you any different."--Kurt Vonnegut

A Book of Creatures

A Complete Guide to Entities of Myth, Legend, and Folklore

Making the Past

Diary of an apprentice swordsmith

Ancient & Medieval Wargaming

Using De Bellis Antiquitatis, with the odd diversion...

Riffing Religion

Prophets should be mocked. I'm doing my part.


Magazine of Thrilling Adventure and Daring Suspense

2 Warps to Neptune

Surveying the Gen X landscape and the origins of geek

Dagger and Brush

Miniature painting, wargaming terrain tutorials, reviews, interviews and painting guides


A lair for gaming, sci-fi, comics, and other geekish pursuits.

I bought these adventure and review them so you don't have to.

9th Key Press

Maps, supplements, and inspiration for roleplaying games.

The Rambling Roleplayer Archives

This site is no longer being updated. Check out the new site at

The History Blog

History fetish? What history fetish?

Sheppard's Crook

The occasional blog of a closet would -be wargamer and modeller

10 Bad Habits

Probably not the Justin Howe you were looking for

The Weekly Sift

making sense of the news one week at a time


Just another site

%d bloggers like this: