This is a 'side' adventure with some hooks that touch into ongoing campaign hooks.
PrepI rolled a series of Locations, Details, Events and Encounters ahead of time and put them on sticky notes (which turned out to be very smart, though I didn't realize it at the time). The party druid is Wood Elf druid whose background was feral and she was raised by unicorns. She essentially serves nature and Monokyeros, the unicorn god. Long story short: portable hole, bag of holding, astral plane. Druid gets a dream vision from Monokyeros of a hobbled, weak, dying unicorn with a well-trimmed hedgewall and some urgency to rescue. Party finds fragments of a city floating in the astral void, investigate a garden bit.
I had made a list of rumors from The Gardens of Ynn and a dozen more, some lies, sayings, and the like, handed some to specific players. Occasional through the play they might earn another one (though they never knew if or when that might happen). I made some mistakes here - first, forgetting the entry method, which I should have given someone as a rumor; second, creating a palindrome carved into stone where someone had previously entered (nnynedragon nogardenynn).
Rumors, Stories, Sayings, Myths, and Lies.
Delivered or earned:
- All gardens are connected by secret paths and secret doors if you but have the keys. [Druid]
- The city of Brillanta* was home to a great garden, but it was locked away from most people.
- (* Giant imperial capital that was effectively 'nuked' 20 years ago.)
- The World of Ynn exists outside all worlds, along all worlds, through all worlds.[Elf Ranger]
- Woe to the ugly in the garden of beauty.[Elf warrior]
- One of the books you found in the Lost Mine mentions the Gardens of Ynn.[Noble]
- You half remember a child’s story about a young person who drew a door on a wall, opened it, and went inside to meet faeries.
- It was Black Aloysius, the thief lord of Kolo, who drew a door in chock on the walled garden of the Slumbering Markiza and escaped inside. The door faded away after a day, but guards still keep a wary eye on that spot. [Noble]
- Beware the Idea of Thorns that warps minds, or reality, or both. Let it find no fertile soil.
- As elves are to humans, the Sidhe (“Shee”) are to elves. Beautiful, graceful, immortal – or nearly so. They have been all places but are now found in none.
- In a shadow play, the audience can become the players.
- It was rumored that an ancient queen kept a unicorn in her garden menagerie. But the smart people know she was fooled by a charlatan and that’s why that part of the gardens were kept secret.
- An old gardener once told you a friend of his got lost in a garden and never came out.
- Any garden is a maze, and every maze a garden.
- Dragons are allergic to garden flowers (DM's personal favorite)
Prior to leaving the githyanki ship they now temporarily serve, I'd had the players audit their inventory to be sure they have what they say they have and not the rest - their plan was to briefly check on this garden fragment, not take everything they own with them. Somehow, the druid player is psychic and specific mentioned taking chalk. She had no way to know I had The Gardens of Ynn or was prepping it or anything of that nature. She's never played D&D with anyone else. So, that was fortuitous even though I'd have hand-waved it anyway.
Layer 1: Vine Trellis, Graffiti, Rust Bees.The bees went down pretty easily - I should have doubled the number. Nonetheless, they scarred the elf warrior's magic breastplate and her tower shield - and she is (real world) pissed! She's a bit paranoid about her armor class and does not want to be hit. The party harvested the antennae after testing them on the steel of the trellis to confirm they still corrode metal. I'm figure I'll let them continue with those and just have them lose their ability after X amount of uses or something. No interest in what I called "like Blue Plums"
Beware the vats! Correct order or you perish!
The Princess Died Here.
I'll admit to a hurried reading of the adventure so this may be incorrect but while I'd rolled an obvious path for Go Deeper decisions, I let the players explore around for alternatives. And there they found one. The linear choice would have been the Gazebo (which I had planned to make a giant mimic for reasons of D&D actual play lore) but instead ...
Layer 2: Ponds, Dead Explorers, Bonsai Turtle, (Hidden Treasure)Two ponds, a moving small tree in the distance is spotted. Noble fighter sprints towards, discovers it's the bonsai turtle (the turtle portion has been blocked from view) - if it had been hostile I'd have given it a free shot. "Bulbasaur!" says the teenager at the table. Druid talks to the turtle who doesn't really provide much useful information but would love some carrots or celery - tried a bit of their jerky rations but wasn't too impressed. I played the turtle as basically laconic and disinterested in anything but food though had some useful info. It moved on when the players ran out of interesting questions.
Druid changes into an otter and tries the ponds. One sweet, one salty with parasites. No one wants to try drinking!
As they start to leave to the next area (Rose Garden), they discover a small chest partly visible near the roots of a bit of hedgewall and part of a boot, as if a person had been buried very shallowly face down (the first of the dead explorers). "Trap!" they say. Attempts to smash the lock fail (no rogue along). Curious druid tried to melt the lock with produce flame, crit fail - the chest goes in flames fast an hot, melting the gold inside into a lumb - but the lock is only slightly burned. Druid chills the gold with a frost cantrip so the lump can be pocketed. Second encounter roll:
Noble warrior find the grate to the canals, rushes in headlong, slips on slick egdge and gets soaked. In the interest of time, I wanted to use the locations I'd already rolled so I decided to roll for which one they get out whenever they got to a canal landing and proceeded enough to see anything significant. (I'd also decided the canals had slight bends in them and were someone disorienting if you thought about it - they didn't. I wanted to maintain the idea in Ynn that things move around so trying to navigate it as a dungeon map wouldn't work.) First landing, they rolled the damn "main" encounter...
Layer 7: Hedge Maze, Animate Statue (Big Jolly Fat Man), Hidden Treasure (and then some)The hidden treasure here is the near-dead unicorn in the center, but I also used several from the treasure table at some dead ends in the maze. Two entrances, one unexamined (would have showed a statue pedestal with a statue clearly absent, the other a big jolly fat man. They assumed it would animate at some point, but I was fine with that - I expected it would still be tough, especially with the party having no arcane caster, no cleric, no rouge, only two magic weapons (longsword and mace).
I forgot the clean mechanic in the book and made up some crap of nodes and decision points (two or three way) and then a d6 where
- 1: Treasure on a pedestal,
- 2-4: Two-way intersection,
- 5: three-way intersection,
- 6: Dead end.
On third dead end, the statue activates and starts tracking, on 5 it would be two nodes away, at 8 it would be one node behind. Fifth treasure was the 0 HP Unicorn (not needing death saves)
(Note: I do not recommend this maze system, but having said that, I hadn't noticed for a long time but the engineer at the table was all over this and made a schematic that would have saved a lot of table time if the other players weren't firmly rooted in cardinal map orientations.)
The skipped a lot of great treasure assuming it was all trapped. I find their lack of greed disturbing. The found the unicorn. Interaction with it is pretty simple as the druid is fluent in unicorn (horse). They thought the unicorn would be able to teleport them all out as soon as they removed the chains - ahahahaha- No. After casting some healing, the unicorn can get to its feet, the light comes back into its eyes but it's powers are going to take more time.
Pass Without Trace + Nat 20 Stealth Check is a damn pain! Finally got a 19 for the statue's perception and it was able to corner them on their way out (by pushing through a hedgewall). It's on! Elf warrior closes to melee, ding! One itty bitty chip. Statue (who I told them to picture as Henry VIII but happier) slam attack fails. Druid casts Erupting Earth, which I am unfamiliar with. I decide it's fair that is in the stone-related spell exception, save made but a palpable hit. Ranger plinks a small nick and then starts considering other options. Noble warrior closes, attempting to flank, but the rough terrain from the spell prevents that. Magic longsword Talon nonetheless cuts a nice chunk of stone off. I'm starting to plan my move - they left a path for the statue to get through their line in the 10' wide maze 'hall' and get to the druid or the ranger! But no! Elf warrior rolls a critial hit with her longsword, and a critical hit with her shield bash. Double crit. I decided I just can't let the longsword damage be reduced to 1 after that. She rolls the damage and it's a total of 20 something, more than a dozen HP over what it had left.
"Your longsword cuts a deep gouge across it's next, and your shield bash knocks it's head clean off! The head lands with a thud, it's smiling face and wide open mouth looking up. Your treasured tower shield now has a very large, head-shaped dent in it."
And that's where we called it.