Vastlands ep.14 – Into the Gardens.

So, the party has expanded to a rag tag bunch of escapees numbering nearly 20! Th player of our brave Knight wasn’t able to make it, so the remaining three players tried to keep everyone alive while escaping from the Order of St Faxis. I was a little nervous at the beginning as I had two different adventures lined up, and had only had a chance to skim through them and wasn’t 100% prepared. But it went.. well?

Laputa’s Secret Corner by Chris Skinner

In Game

PCs present: Alette (Hunter 3), Solvang (Magic-User 3), Prudence (Sorcerer 3),
NPCs: Estmund (Dolmenwood Knight 3), Fluff-Tail (Grimalkin 1), John Clay (Gunslinger 1), Mr Lank (Thief 1)

The morning sun lit up a sad looking group. Twelve students, three teachers, and Professor Edwynne hadn’t slept and everyone in the group felt nervous. They had defied the Order of St Faxis, and the Royal Justice. They would be hunted the length and breadth of the Kingdom. The collection of magical scholars were not up to the life of outcasts, only a couple knew how to even cook. Their only hope lay in escaping through the Fairy Lands, and hoping to find a path that led outside the kingdom to a safe city free from the religion of the Green Lord. There was some discussion over where they should go. With only the vague stories of Fluff-Tail to guide them they felt uneasy about walking into the court of the Goblin King, and the other courts had even hazier directions. Prue remembered the gates they had passed, and the stories of the “Doors to Everywhere” that lay within the gardens. So they had some hope as they set off down the Fairy path of the Huntsman.

A few hours of walking along the path between the gloomy pines led them to another ornate iron gate in a small rough garden. A few thorny vines wound they way across the chains barring the path. Mr Lank pulled out his tool and set to work. The scholars were fascinated by the fairy-path, and kept exclaiming over the strange creatures and plants they could see. Everyone froze when they heard horses approaching, except Mr Lank who finally opened the lock. A small group of Fairy-Knights crested the hill and came straight to the group standing before the gate. After a short, polite conversation they were told that the Knights patrolled the paths to make sure nothing escaped from the Gardens. The lead Knight warned them of extreme danger in the Garden, but Solvang managed (through obscure linguistic argumentation) that the Knights were not authorised to stop people going into the gardens. The Knight agreed, but stated that he would lock the the gates behind them.

Fluff-tail was very nervous, but said he’d vowed to save Prue’s life, at least once, and so he was bound to follow. Clay very visibly took out and reloaded his pistol before going through the gates. The magical scholars moved as a single bunch, seeking solace with each other in these strange lands. The gates opened into a wild garden surrounding a fountain. Everyone was immediately drawn to the flowers – Prue was the first to notice that while they looked like “normal plants” – swaying in the breeze etc – they were actually made of metals! Silver, bronze, copper, tin. Prue gathered some of the students and set about collecting silver blossoms and packing them into the saddlebags.. Alette grew nervous at the fine metal dust being kicked up by their activities, and when she heard the buzzing and spotted the giant metallic bees heading towards them she called for everyone to move on. No one hesitated.

The gardens seemed to stretch forever. At one time they may have been elegant and tidy, but now flowers and vines sprawled across cracked paths. Yet there was still some semblance of order. Trimmed hedges, cleaned flagstones. Everyone moved cautiously expecting someone to come our from behind a hedge somewhere. They stopped in fear at the first sight of a person, but after a few moments they saw it was a statue – the first of a whole collection arrayed around a small hillock. It looked like some kind of memorial garden, with eerily lifelike statues mounted on pedestals. Alette was shocked at the sight of Sir Callus the collector, who had famously gone missing while hunting a forest drake. The hooting call of nearby birds stopped the history lesson, as the group found themselves being eyed by a handful of peacocks. As the birds moved closer their size became apparent – standing taller than any man. Solvang started moving back with the others while Alette tried to guess how much the brilliant metallic feathers might be worth. When the birds began spreading out in an obvious attempt to surround the travelers, Prue took out some of the neat they had bought in Brackenwald and threw it at the approaching birds. While the birds fought amongst themselves the party made their escape.

Their chosen path led to a maze – with silver flowers peeking out amidst the tall hedges. Prue grumbled about the “useless stragglers”, but Professor Edwynne took this as a challenge. In a practical demonstration of mathematics he led the party through the maze without a pause for consideration. He collected an ornate music box from a skeleton at the center of the maze and gave it to Prue as a demonstration of “the usefulness of scholarly learning”.

Some time later Alette noticed something even odder about their surroundings. She called for a stop and started paying very close attention. The flora was growing strangely. Then she noticed the birds hanging upside down on branches and flying upside down. Solvang collected some rocks and threw them. The near ones flew further than expected, and as he moved closer and experimented he found a spot where stones would “drop upwards”. Everyone decided that this was impossible to move through (especially for the horse and mule!), and turned back to the Hedge maze to find another way.

At first they had thought it an orchard covered in colourful nets. Hoping to collect some fruit they hurried closer. When they arrived they saw that the trees were actually strange frames made of metal, and the netting was actually webs of fine hanging silk! Prue wanted to collect some of the more colourful examples, but found her hand stuck fast to the silk! Everyone immediately grew nervous as Prue slowly removed the silken threads – which were very strong and sticky – leaving red welts across her hands. Everyone lined up and carefully threaded their way along the narrow path, Estmund and Alette guiding their two equine companions. Along the way they spotted a number of silk-covered skeletons underneath some of the “trees”. No one considered collecting any of the tools or bags left lying with them, especially considering how some of the denser silk areas seemed to writhe.

When they passed the silk-orchard, the party noticed the tress becoming thicker and more numerous. There was some discussion about trying to head back to the gardens, but no one wanted to go through the nerve-wracking silks again. They followed the path into the deeper forest. As it grew darker they noticed strange metal posts. On a closer investigation Clay grew excited “These were buildings! Its framework, see!” But further examination was cut short by sounds of something large crashing through the trees. Everyone decided it would be better to move on. After a short search for torches (which they had neglected to pack) everyone was very happy for Prue’s earing which provided at least some light to get them past the darkest heart of the woods.

Many shouted for joy when they left the woods after what felt like many hours. But the joy ebbed away when they saw the skeletons. The woods were cleared away to provide for a shooting range. Near the path were some small buildings with broken and rotted bows, but instead of the expected targets the group saw skeletons tied to stakes. Many had arrows still poking through, while others were just a collection of punctured and broken bones. No one wanted to investigate further.

The path wound further, but the air grew thicker. A few of the students thought it might be a fog, but Alette quickly corrected them “Smoke, Fire nearby.” Patches of grass and flower beds were burnt and blackened. Trees looked like skeletal arms poking out of ash. The island of greenery was surprising, and the collection of greenhouses even more so. As they approached a number of creatures came out to greet them. Humanoid, but looking for like a collection of thorny vines in human shape, with large rose-like flowers for a head. Both sides stood considering for a long time until Solvang stepped forward and politely introduced himself. The rose-people were somewhat angry as some other travelers had tried to burn their nurseries. Solvang caught the implied threat that the rose-people could still use more fertiliser. Nevertheless, he asked about the other travelers. It turned out they were also human, and had been asking questions about a sword and treasures. The rose-people had not had any answers and so the travelers had tried threatened burning. A number of the party quickly explained that they were just looking for a way out. The rose-people pointed out the direction the other travelers had come from. The party offered hasty thanks and went on their way, hoping to find the doorway the other travelers had come from.

They shortly came to a huge glass dome, with a shattered doorway. Alette spotted many footprints and signs of recent activity. The party went inside and explored. It turned out to be an amphitheater. They walked amidst the seats and down to the ransacked stage. A torn paper screen revealed many broken shadow-puppets strewn across the stage. Alette and Solvang were discussing possibilities when one of the students screamed. “It moved! The shadow moved!”. Everyone watched in growing horror as his shadow twitched and squirmed. Then other shadows began to move. Professor Edqwynne immediately ordered everyone to leave. Outside they breathes a sigh of relief to be away from any possible curse. But as they walked on Solvang noticed Prue’s shadow moving strangely. After a tense examination it was seen that some of their shadows still moved – Prue, Solvang, Estmund, Fluff-tail, and two of the students.

Time felt off. The sun was still high in the sky, yet everyone was feeling tired. They wanted to stop and eat, possibly rest. But Alette demanded some shelter before they stopped. Ahead they saw a roof poking above the hedges. It was a large marble building surrounded by columns, covered by ivy and other vines. Inside was clean and sheltered. Solvang and Prof Edwynne argued the merits of calling it a temple or a museum. Inside was a huge statue of an elegant robed figure reading a scroll, while along the walls were various strange masks. Prof. Edwynne grew more excited as hi examined the masks. He declared them to be the “Eternal archtypes” and nervously discussed with the other teachers about what should be done with these blatantly magical masks. Meanwhile the others carefully brought in the equines, collected some wood, and prepared their campsite. They lit a small fire at the base of the statue and cooked all the meat they had brought from Brakenwald – it proved to be too little, as the those getting their food last (a number of students, Fluff-tail, and Mr Lank) didn’t have enough and remained hungry as people drifted off to sleep.

At the Table

Our map of the gardens.

In case it wasn’t obvious, we’ve decided to take a stroll through the Gardens of Ynn by Emmy Allen (aka Cavegirl) I’ve had a previous group peek into the gardens before, but this is the first major expedition with a clear goal of going through the gardens to a different door out. Also this is a band of 21 people, a horse, and a mule!

I have to say that I still have the same annoyances about the format of “Gardens of Ynn”, and the same amazement at how interesting it is, at the same time. Thankfully I have a nice group of players who will give me a few minutes to read and gather my thoughts for every area they explore – the two d20 rolls for the location & details – as looking them up, combining them and mixing in with previous scenes takes a non-trivial amount of headspace. I am marginally annoyed that there is no neat summary of the procedure, a pseudo-code or bullet point summary would be great. I still am not sure when to roll for events – especially how to figure out if it is a d20 roll or a d12 roll. A number of times I actually forgot the event roll to be honest.

Its also a little hard to “pre-prepare” scenes, as the depth changes the roll – not only for the location and detail type, but also for the specifics of that location or treasure or encounter. A lot of my issues are easily fixed by using a generator – like the ever awesome Ynn Generator at Technical Grimoire. Removes the “lookup”

But despite those issues, I adore The Gardens Of Ynn. The tone of reminds me a lot of Alice in Wonderland or similar things. It is a “cosy apocalypse”. Something horrible happened, and a great many horrible things can happen to the characters, but the whole setting feels nice. Gentle even. Its a horror story told with pastels and paisley over afternoon tea. I felt that the session was rather rough from my end, but a couple of the players expressed how much fun the strangeness of the setting was, how they were constantly forced to think of new ways to interact with the environment (and there still hasn’t been any real violence!)

I am very excited to see what happens next – they are deeper than any other group and in dire straights: out of food, no known exit, and with dependents and horses that make running or difficult terrain/enemies a real problem.

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