Gardens of Ynn

By Emmy Allen
Dying Stylishly Games
Level 3-5

The Gardens of Ynn is a point-crawl adventure set in an ever-shifting extradimensional garden. Each expedition generates its route as it explores, resulting in new vistas being unlocked with every visit.

This 79 page product is a method for generating freaky garden locations/pointcrawls in a an alternate “garden dimension.” Evocative writing helps lend a hand to the sunny just-a-little-bit-off character that lends an almost dreamy air to the locations. The gothic horror of a brightly lit victorian garden is fully on display. It also could do with some bolding, tighter writing for the DM mechanics, some cross-referencing, and, ultimately, is not an adventure but rather a location generator.

I’m having a hard time describing the environments this creates. I keep falling back to the “brightly lit gothic horror of VIctorian gardens” that I used in my summary. This thing does a great job of communicating that vibe. Not the full on gonzo of the more recent Alice movies, but rather the cartoon and/or the original Alice stories. Just a little off. And just a little creepy because of that. It’s a nice vibe, different, and certainly one of the most well-done in this genre.

This is a combination of the encounters and the writing. The locations are random, a combination of a location and a detail about it. The Wood – of Dead Birds. The glass-roofed cemetery. A smouldering hothouse. The combinations that are generated seem to work well together and being to spark your thinking when you roll them. Each has a small evocative description. “Fruit trees spaced out every few yards, coppiced so their branches start five feet above the ground. Trunks now gnarled and grizzled with age, branches extending into a tangled canopy that ends fifty feet up.” or “Steel frameworks hold up a tangle of overgrown vines, producing dappled shade beneath them.” or “The ground is littered with dead birds, as if they dropped out of the sky suddenly. Brightly coloured, their feather’ all broken and bedraggled.” To this might be added an event, or creature, or treasure, again, almost all of them with a terse and evocative description. From there is up’s to the DM to figure out why the formal orchard, littered with dead birds, has a treasure of gold coins in a wooden box, with the praying mantis creature wandering about. It all kind of works, for the almost dream-like, or slightly fever-induced, environment.

In all, about fifteen pages are devoted to each section; bestiary, locations, details, rando tables to spice things up, etc. One nice feature is that the main tables needed to generate a location are all grouped next to each other on adjacent pages. They could have used a cross-reference to the specific page number the text description appears on, in order to make the DM’s life a little easier.

There’s DM text for each entry also, and this is where things start to break down. It can get long, especially as the rooms get freakier the deeper you go in to the endless garden. Bolding, better use of whitespace, a tighter edit, would have all made a difference here.

The issue is, of course, running it at the table. You have a roll on the location table, and the details table. And maybe an event or creature. And then maybe looking up each of those entries (remember, no cross-references to page numbers on the tables), and then grokking the descriptions of each. And then tearing through the DM text, which can be a full page long for the more complex locations. It produces interesting results, but I have my doubts about running it at the table without longish pauses. I’d be interested in knowing about that aspect if anyone runs this.

It does so much right to creature the atmosphere. From the entryway being a chalk drawn door on a garden wall to various rumor-hooks about old books, half-remembered tales and the like. Higher numbers on the tables allow for d12 dice rolls when things are calm and d20’s when things get freaky, and so on, which is a nice duel-use feature.

But, it also is JUST a collection of tables. There’s nothing to put things together for a narrative. Something feels off about it. I was thinking about that, comparing it to my favorite adventure, from Fight On, the Upper Caves. That adventure is just some simple rooms. It has a couple of tough monsters, but no ‘Boss of the Level” or other overarching goal. It’s just an explore/loot adventure. That should be what this one is also, but they feel different from each other. Maybe it is the theming of certain sections in the Upper Caves that makes it feel different? I don’t know. The random treasure seems light for a gold-xp game, so maybe not “loot it.” At best, it seems like you could use this by placing another location or person/knowledge somewhere deep in it and make it a stepping stone for the party to get at their prize.

This is $3 on DriveThru. The preview shows you some of the intro text about the gardens and then the core tables for generating locations.

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5 Responses to Gardens of Ynn

  1. Author here.
    Interesting review. I’m mostly flattered that the bits you liked got the positive reaction they did.
    I think part of the problem is that Ynn is perhaps more of a setting book than an adventure; as you say, there’s no overall goal or overarching plot. It’s a place to have adventures, not an adventure of its own. So there’s some work for the GM there to find a motivation for PCs to explore the place; in my playtesting, the PCs were agents of the church sent to rescue nuns who’d found their way in and not out again: finding the various lost nuns gives them a reason to want to explore. Without a hook like that, it’s just sort of /there/ and I can see that falling flat at the table.
    Incidentally, I’ve found that while it normally takes few moments to roll up a location and work out how it fits together, it doesn’t slow the flow down all that much in practice. Certainly less than combat does in my experience. Then again, I might just be more familiar with it, because I wrote it.

    • DMM says:

      I’ve ran this twice, once face to face and once play by post. The former did have some of the problems mentioned in the review, but it was one of the best play by post modules we’ve had in our campaign.

      • Jason Yates says:

        First time played it with nephews and it was a total hoot. They never played D&D before. I had them draw out the areas on a big piece of butcher paper each time we moved down a level. That gave me time to do some rolls. And tbh I stopped rolling the detail piece and just picked one.

  2. Handy Haversack says:

    We played five sessions in the Gardens over the course of the summer. My players ran there to escape the town that had been their on-again, off-again base of operations right up until they tried to assassinate the Kybernetes while haggling over bail.

    I didn’t find rolling on the main tables too interruptive of play, especially once my players got into that rhythm. Though when extra tables were involved, the ground could get a little down-boggier. Though I also think we ended up encountering an anomalously high number of Towers!

    Our playing in the Gardens was a little complicated by the fact that they could not go out the way they came in; they had to find another way. I would have liked some notes in the product on how Emmy Allen envisioned handling specific quests: a little bit both on what information might be available from the denizens and on a procedure for homing in on the object of a search. I threw something together at the table, as one does, but I remember thinking that a little more insight would have raised my confidence level.

    On that note, I think that if you delve into the monster descriptions a little, there are some factions in the garden–it’s just a matter of teasing that out given the randomness of the matrix of encounters + setting. For example, in the course of play, we established that the Rose Maidens had managed to establish a permanent area more or less fixed in position and nature *someplace* ; it never came up again, though after a pretty tense animal-vegetable-mineral standoff, the characters actually got a gene-spliced safe-conduct pheromone from the RMs. And they eventually found a Door Out after finally making some Empty Robed Ones pay attention enough to communicate with them. The EROs teleported them to a location with a gate, which an insane Sidhe (the dice said) was using as an energy siphon. I figured the EROs — given their role as gatekeepers and guardians — would view this as solving at least one if not two problems in one teleport.

    So there are connections to be drawn in the stochasm, but they are not brought out super clearly by the presentation. I think just a small section, even relating some gameplay stories as examples, might have gone a long way.

    That said, my players, hard-bitten murderhobos all, had a great time here. I have picked up Dying Stylishly’s newest, procedurally similar product in case my players once again try to assassinate one of their only allies. What’re the odds?

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