Vastlands ep.16 – The Gardener of Vines

So, the party finally made it out of the Gardens – but we’re not sure how unscathed they were. An encounter with a bat-shit Sidhe and learning a few new tricks.

60623 by Jarek Kubicki

In Game

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

The party stared down the waterfall towards the stone cottage that sat along the cliff. The entire landscape was off – shrubs, trees, and grasses growing out of the cliff as if it were level ground, smoke gently rising from the chimney of the cottage. Everything looked picturesque except the waterfall running parallel to the “ground”. Solvang asked for some help and tried leaning over the edge. But staring down towards misty depths and feeling himself pulled towards an unknown fate, Solvang decided that falling down the cliff was not the best solution. The cottage didn’t seem far, so Prue volunteered to be tied and lowered.

The students were holding the rope as Prue stood on the cottage wall – windows beneath her feet. To one side was a stable, with the sunlight peeking through the door. But Prue was curious about the inhabitant. Inside was a quaint wood and stone, tidy and well cared for. She couldn’t see anyone, so walked to the front door and knocked. The woman who answered was standing on the “ground” and was breathtakingly beautiful. Her clothing looked like aged finery – silk and velvets with silver trim. But her porcelain skin and branch-like antlers drew Prue’s eyes. “We need some help, can you show us the way out?”

The Lady spoke a musical language. She reached out and pulled Prue to the ground. The others watched as Prue waved her arms trying to explain without sharing a common language. When Solvang called down the Lady frowned and grabbed Prue and walked up the cliff towards the others. When Solvang bowed and asked politely for help, the Lady released Prue and smiled. Prue immediately found herself hanging beside a cliff with her rope hanging below her in a loop – she managed to grab it before falling too far, and the students pulled her up.

Meanwhile Estmund tried to placate the stranger – while giving his best courtly manners a try the Lady reached forward and stroked his lips. He felt a cold spike through his temples and then understood (and spoke) the musical language. The lady was named “The Gardener of Vines” and was intrigued by visitors after so many many years. She smiled patiently while Estmund explained their situation and invited them to a late supper. When Estmund managed to shake off the enchantment and explain in Woldish to his companions, Solvang grew impatient and refused. The Gardener of Vines grew furious at the interruption – a shadow crossing her features – fangs, talons, and thorns erupting from her momentarily before calm and beauty returned. As the companions argued about what to do, The Gardener sighed, raised her arms and sent everyone to sleep.

The awoke inside the cottage – sitting around a table laden with fruit and drinks, served by giant ferret-butlers. The Gardener of Vines entered with a tray of pastries and asked everyone to enjoy. Solvang and Prof. Edwynne asked for some whiskey – the Lady poured from the glass of water – but the golden liquid appearing in their cups smelt of the highest quality whiskey! Prue pretended to drink and eat, but allowed nothing to pass her lips. Edwynne and many of the students were gorging themselves on the fine drink and food. Estmund tried the whiskey but found a strange muddy aftertaste – perhaps he was just unused to whiskey.

The party entertained the Gardener of vines with stories of their capture, escape, and travels. The Gardener was enthralled by their stories of daring deeds, but was confused by the reasoning. “Why didn’t you just slaughter the hunters?” When they tried to explain they didn’t have the numbers the Gardener asked why that mattered – and casually raised a hand and turned one of the ferret-butlers into a floating mush of bones, blood, and fabric. Everyone was silent before Solvang stuttered out “we dont have your power.” The Gardener seemed concerned and went to a bookcase and returned with a number of hand bound books as gifts to Solvang, Prue and Prof. Edwynne. “You just need to study a little.”

Prof. Edwynne tried to put down his cup to take the book, but his hands were shaking so much he dropped the cup. He started to apologise but his lips sealed themselves at a shushing gesture from the Gardener. Everyone saw her face begin to darken as she stared at the growing stain. Prue stepped in front of the Professor and knelt before the Gardener. She asked “would you be my patron?”. The Gardener beamed “You seem wise, but hide behind these masks” and casually removed the magical mask “you might learn much power from me, but are still too weak in that fragile form”. Prue felt like crying, but bravely asked more “can you make me more fitting for your power?”. The Gardener of Vines smiled and kissed Prue. The others looked on in awe and horror as Prue’s skin grew pale with a faint tracery of vines. “Return when you have grown some more little one.”

Estmund was growing suspicious. He had noticed that the room… shifted… as the Gardener of Vines interacted with people. While she looked away, the furniture seemed to grow water-damaged, and the food looked more green. He politely asked if they could be shown the way out. “Since you have been such wonderful guests, I should teach you.” She led the party outside to a wall. “Where are you going?” Prof. Edwynne quickly responded “The Library Eternal in the city of Yoon-Suin.” Everyone watched in shock as the Gardener drew a door on the side of the cottage and wrote the destination above it. The door became real and opened, letting in the morning sun, and the sounds and smells of a waking cosmopolitan city. She turned to the party and said “Whenever you wish to return, draw a door while in a garden, and I will be waiting.”

Estmund noted how hungrily the Gardener stared at the city beyond the door, but carefully avoided stepping in the light emerging from it. “Is there anything we can bring back for you?” “Oh, some new specimens would be wonderful, thank you.” Solvang looked at the herb gardens around the cottage “You want some new plant specimens?” The Gardener of Vines smiled “New plants will be nice as well.”

The party collected their horse and mule and stepped through the doorway into the humid city of Yoon-Suin. As the door closed behind them Solvang and Estmund caught a brief glimpse of the gardens – The cottage was an overgrown shell of a building surrounded by swampy thorns and hanging plants. The Gardener of Vines stared at them, covered in sopping rags, thorny vines erupting from her flesh, and a fanged mouth smiling hungrily at them.

In the city, Prof. Edwynne thanked the party and led them to the Library Eternal – the whole district was full of collections of books and exotic objects, and the sound of building and chatting merchants filled the air. The party was able to spend time selling off the various objects they had collected. Edwynne was able to organise some sparse accommodation (straw mattresses and porridge). The party were viewed as strange exotic foreigners, and their leftover weapons and armor were snapped up by enterprising merchants, but they themselves felt surrounded by strangeness – Slug-folk, Crab-folk, giant cockroaches cleaning the streets, dozens of unknown languages, and the chanting worshippers of a hundred different gods.

At the Table

Woah. That was a lot of fun.

The event rolled up from The Gardens of Ynn was just a “curious encounter”, but the encounter was a Sidhe! An insane fairy/vampire/godling thing… I played up the insanity by giving the players a new reaction roll every time they spoke to the Sidhe “The Gardener of Vines” – they never knew how it would react to their requests. or actions. It was also both fun and a challenge to portray a being that had a bunch of spells “at will”.

I was a tad surprised by Prue’s request to the Sidhe, but thankfully the author had already prepared some tables for just this type of occasion “Ynnian Alterations” which made a suitably random change. Of course all surviving Sidhe in the gardens are insane and driven by strange motivations – so it’s assistance might not be all the player’s expect – or rather have some suitably capricious costs šŸ™‚

Moving onto Yoon-Suin – I was happy to have some advanced time to prepare as the book is a wealth of random tables for preparations, but it very unsuitable for “at the table” random generation. Nevertheless, the players were overjoyed to arrive somewhere they could rest and get some downtime – selling off their stuff and preparing for further adventures!

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