Vastlands ep.15 – The Gallery of Masks

I had thought that this would be the players last session in the Gardens, but the repercussions of their interaction with the shadow theater came home in a big way. Fun, tense session.

sorry, couldn’t find who did this…..

In Game

PCs present: Alette (Hunter 3), Estmund (Dolmenwood Knight 3), Prudence (Sorcerer 3), Solvang (Magic-User 3).
NPCs: , Fluff-Tail (Grimalkin 1), John Clay (Gunslinger 1), Mr Lank (Thief 1), +12 students, +3 teachers, + Prof. Edwynne

Their sleep was broken by watery screams.
People woke up and looked around in confusion. The fire was almost guttering, casting long shadows on the walls of the “temple”. After some confusion Solvang spotted a bloody pile of flesh and cloth lying next to the fire. One of the students had been on watch. Another student, Illabelle, approached and prodded the remains. “What did this? No one around was hurt!” Estmund grabbed his sword and came to stand by. He heard Illabelle start screaming and watched in horror as her face and body was carved up by invisible knives. Numerous people screamed as the girl fell apart.
Prue had been paying attention. She had see a cat-like shadow on the wall behind Illabelle. But Fluff-tail was on the opposite side of the fire. She shouted out a warning and ran to the Professor. “The Shadows! Is it the curse from the Shadow-Theater?”

The Professor tried to rub the sleep out of his face and shouted for the student to get near the fire. Alette and Estmund grabbed the wood that the students had gathered earlier and piled it onto the small fire. The flickering light grew brighter and made their shadows grow clearer. “There!” Solvang and Prue watched a number of moving shadows crowd around the shadow of a teacher on the wall. Suddenly the teacher (Mr Dolmen) screamed as cuts opened up across his face and arms. There was nothing near the teacher while the party helplessly watched him get sliced apart. When another of the students screamed and was sliced apart Alette grabbed some partially lit branches from the fire and started to hand them out.

Solvang frowned at their shadows on the wall, and turned to look at the fire behind him. He realised that their own shadows were the source of the injuries. He raised his arms and called forth his power – making the roof burst into light. All their shadows shrunk and pooled around their feet. Five larger shadows, unattached to anyone, fled the light and hid along the distant walls.

Estmund and the Professor ran towards the north of the Gallery, cornering one shadow Estmund drove the his sword into the wall, pinning the shadow there as it was burnt by the light of the Professor’s torch. Mr Lank and a student tried the same tactic, but as Lank swung his torch back for a strike, the Shadow reached up and tore into Lank’s Shadow. He dropped to the floor covered in claw marks. Alette tried lighting her arrows and firing at the shadows on the wall, but found it hard to hit them in the confusion of torchlight. Clay charged and threw a torch into one corner – getting mauled for his efforts. But he dropped to the floor and hid his own shadow from attack. Prue ran for the door, thinking of trying to “un-curse” the Shadow-Theater. But one of the Shadows had been lying in wait and towards her. She felt something grabbing at her leg, and ignited her light-crystal. She saw the Shadow-thing slide away from her, it’s edges burning away in the light. But it fled to the sanctuary of the outside gardens, hiding among the shadows of trees and hedges.

Alette grabbed the fairy-wine from her bag and ran to Mr Lank. He was still coughing up blood and moving feebly. She uncorked the bottle and frantically poured into Lank’s mouth. Much of the wine flowed across his chest and onto the floor, but still Alette watched in awe as the wounds closed up. Estmund and the Professor came charging past as they repeated their tactic, pinning the shadow to the wall and burning it to tatters. Solvang and the students stayed directly underneath the magical light – ensuring there was nothing for the Shadows to attack.

After some moments of quiet, Estmund and Solvang came to give sympathies to Professor Edwynne, but he was feeling pragmatic “I think we all are better facing shadows in freedom, than fire in captivity. I dont think any of us felt this escape through the Fairy-Lands would be painless. But we will give what memorial we can to these four colleges.”

Alette, Esmund, Solvang, and Mr Lank gathered some remaining burning branches and headed to the southern corner where the last two Shadows had fled. The found a staircase. They warily descended and found what looked to be an underground dock with a number of tied up gondolas. All four of them carefully held torches above their heads, keeping their own shadows beneath their feet. Spotting the Shadow-creatures hiding behind some columns, they carefully blocked any escape before attacking. Even with their caution, Mr Lank again fell beneath the shadowy claws. Solvang had the magical crystal-berries in his pocket, and managed to force some into Mr Lank’s mouth before he passed out. He coughed and moaned in pain, but staggered to his feet and followed the other back upstairs, leaving the tattered Shadows to dissolve behind them.

The group started packing their belongings, Solvang and Alette suggesting they take the underground river-road to move faster. While they were discussing this with the others, Prue spent time investigating the magical masks. Soon Professor Edwynne and Solvang joined in the examination. The consensus was that these masks would fetch a high price wherever they ended up, so Alette tore up her bedroll to make soft wrappings for the ten masks to ensure they travelled safely. Prue held one particularly beautiful mask while the others packed. Curious, she put it on. A feeling of warmth and energy filled her. She marveled at how the camp fire seemed to dance with her – reaching out and caressing her hands. Solvang grabbed Prue in alarm. She had been standing in the fire! But she was unburnt. While wearing the mask the fire loved her, and it would do her no harm.

Then she tried to take it off. Even with help from Solvang, Prue was forced to stop as the skin around her jawline tore and bled over her fingers. Both of them expressed their terror, but Prue still remembered the exhilaration of dancing with the fire. Alette wondered about the other masks. The most expensive looking mask was a porcelain lady’s face. After quickly glancing around she tried it on. Immediately she knew that the building was in “Younger Ur-Classic” style, and that the statue was of the great playwrite Gleaning-of-Lost-Days. Impressed despite herself, Alette tried to remove the mask for discrete packing, and also found it tearing at her skin without coming off.

After chastising Alette, the group descended to the docks and loaded the gondola’s. Alette and Estmund pursuaded the equines to remain calm as the gondola’s sped along the underground canal. After a relaxing ride they arrived at another dock, but this time they heard the sound of a waterfall nearby. They climbed a short staircase to come out on a strangely distorted garden. The entire garden looked normal, but down was the distant horizon. Birds flew sideways and the river fell in an eternal waterfall. The party considered turning around until Prue caught a glimpse of sunlight – a sliver of golden sunlight coming through a doorway in the midnight garden.

A way out.

At the Table

This was a strangely satisfying session. We had everyone present, and it started with the “cursed” making a save vs magic to see if their shadows came free… they all did! I loved the description by Emmy Allen about how the Free-shadows attack the character’s shadows to do damage – Which made the placement of light and walls very important. The first few rounds were terrifying for the players – I rolled a random dX to see who was attacked. It took a while (and 3 deaths) and some pointed questions until the players figured out that their point of vulnerability was their own shadows. Then with a well placed light spell, the players suddenly were able to take the offensive and get into melee with their attackers.

The whole encounter felt like a giant (possibly fatal) puzzle – which are some of my favorite scenarios. There was no way to “brute force” their way through the encounter, and when they “solved” the puzzle it had a huge effect on the outcome – and they knew that the solution was their own, and had nothing to do with anything on their character sheets. From their voices the players sounded very excited at turning the tables on the Shadows!

Once again, the players used their “fortune” re-rolls. (the last two). I think I’ve figured out why “re rolls” are more interesting that advantage/disadvantage. They players already know what the worst is (in one case the death of Mr Lank). Any improvement feels like a huge win. With advantage/disadvantage you only get the “one event” – you don’t really get time to feel what the worse opportunity was like. With the re-roll the player gets the chance to think “can I live with this result, or should I spend my limited resource”, and then gambles on getting a better result.
I think I want to find new ways of letting the players invest in more “re-roll” opportunities. I am loving this mechanic and the effect on the players.

I think this is a strong point of “The Gardens of Ynn”. So much of the generated content results in strange puzzles for the players to work out. Lots of oddities to interact with and cause trouble. I will enjoy letting the players re-enter the Gardens for future short cuts – and looting 🙂

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