Several copies of a scrawled note have recently been circulating among Acryn’s adventurers:
| LORD COSMO DÉCOR seeks the AID and HELP of individuals of RESPONSIBLE DISPOSITION to settle a RATHER UNFORTUNATE MATTER.
Recruits will LOOK INTO the ENTIRELY UNSURPRISING and PREDICTABLE ABSCONSION of LADY MARANDA DÉCOR – and, if the DAMN FOOL GIRL has been as reckless as to EFFECT AN ELOPEMENT – they are to DEAL WITH the SCOUNDREL responsible and ensure that a SATISFACTORY SOLUTION is REACHED.
Word is that the old man may be prepared to offer as much as 40R to each adventurer successful in helping to return his granddaughter to him.
This is a low-mid level adventure. As a sequel to The Way Through The Woods, it will certainly include fairy tales.
The party meet with Lord Cosmo Décor, who wants them to recover his granddaughter, Maranda, who has recently run off without warning. Cosmo has found a copy of Tales of the Wyldewode in her study with The Tale of the Monster Prince bookmarked. The story describes a prince hiding away in a castle in the Wyldewode, waiting for his one true love to lift the enchantment that has made him a monster. Maranda, Cosmo explains, is a hopeless romantic who needs to be brought home, either before she gets herself hitched or before her dratted mother finds out about this. After a certain amount of haggling, Cosmo offers to pay 35R as a basic rate, with an extra 15R if Maranda is recovered successfully. All right, plus reasonable expenses, ugh, you people are cleaning me out, y’know….
Travelling to the town of Wildeaves on the edge of the Wildewode, the party encounters an enraged mob, which is chanting: “Roast the butcher! Toast the baker! Set alight the candlestick-maker!” It turns out that a few romantically-minded people have been going missing lately, and the suspected culprits are Hilde Quell, Tod Bobbin, and Kit Spindle. Spindle, the candlestick-maker, is believed to have lured their victims out into the woods using flickering lights; there, Bobbin, the baker, has left drugged cake to put them to sleep; Quell, the butcher, has then cut up the bodies for meat.
Of course, this is absolute nonsense, but the mob is utterly unwilling to listen, and accuses the party of being in league with the murderers. As a scuffle breaks out, Walker makes for the candlestick-maker’s house, where he finds a child barricaded in a back room on her parents’ instructions. She explains that Maranda stayed with the family for a day or so before setting out into the Wyldewode with a local wayfinder, Odd Gerald. Walker returns to the party and manages to calm the mob, assuring them that he and his friends will be setting out into the Wyldewode forthwith – if they’re not back within a few days, the burnings can take place as planned. As the party heads out, an old crone approaches Simon. “If you’re going into the woods, beware the goblins! Don’t eat their food unless you want to sleep for a hundred years!”
Predictably, the party has not travelled far into the forest before they are ambushed by a group of flux goblins, which offer them food. Only Peter accepts their hospitality, and instantly begins to feel drowsy. When a fight breaks out, Verro is poisoned and feels a similar effect. Through the use of stimulants, Verro and Peter manage to avoid falling immediately asleep, but their eyes grow heavier the further they travel into the woods.
At last, they arrive at a shining castle. The place seems to be overgrown with thorns, and they find flux people strewn around the Great Hall in a deep sleep. These servants are talking in their sleep, apparently having a shared nightmare in which a village is being destroyed by an evil army. The way to the throne room is blocked by a tangle of thorns; when Walker tries to break through, the thorns animate and force the party out of the castle. Theo has picked up a few beans that had been laid out in a trail by one of the windows; as they recover their strength, Walker consults Tales of the Wyldewode, finding a reference to a character called Jack, who uses magic beans to defeat monsters.
Now that the thorns seem to have calmed down, the party returns to the castle and follows the trail of beans out of the window and through the forest to a rather odd house with a walkway leading up to the door. The walkway is supported by rustic statues of cats, dogs and cows that make… appropriate noises. The door is locked, but by pulling a lever, the adventurers manage to summon a clockwork mouse, which they guide along the walkway by manipulating the statues. Completing the puzzle, they hear the door open.
The interior of the house is every bit as strange as its exterior. Gargoyles line the rafters, each with a spout pointing towards the centre of the room. Jack is at home, and is pleased that such enterprising souls have followed his trail of beans. He explains that there are two castles in the Wyldewode – one owned by the Monster Prince, the other by a terrible Beast – but the occupants of both are asleep. Jack has his own suspicions about what caused this, and about its link to certain worrying changes in the Wyldewode as a whole – the party might have heard enough about sleeping draughts to have come to their own conclusions, but the thorns belong to a type of rose well-known to, well, goblins.
Oh, not the flux goblins the players have encountered already – true goblins are humans, humans who used to be well-known in these woods, once upon a time. They kept themselves to themselves, worshipping their own gods and travelling around within the forest, only visiting villages to barter for their wares – bowls, pots, goblets – that’s where they got their name from. Not long prior to the Upheaval, they gained a reputation as thieves and undesirables, which explains their twisted flux counterparts – but true goblins are really not so bad.
Jack explains that he knows where to find the true goblins, but that the adventurers must prove themselves worthy. They must make their way through three trials – the first, the trial of cleverness, they have already passed by opening the door to Jack’s house. The second is a trial of strength – and mentioning this, Jack summons a series of monsters to fight the players: first leaf sprites, then fire-birds and ice-birds, then a nest of snakes entwined around a monstrous toad.
Once they have completed the second trial, Jack helps to relieve Verro and Peter of their drowsiness by giving them some of his special liquor, which he keeps in the rafters and dispenses via indoor gargoyles for reasons known only to him. He explains that the third trial is a trial of finding-the-bloody-place, which means following ghost-lights across a marsh. He leads the party there and then, explaining that his work here is done, disappears in a flurry of dust motes. After Theo successfully follows the lights across the marsh, Peter creates a bridge to allow the others across.
They find themselves in a particularly ancient part of the forest, where the air is sweet and heavy. The dappled light dances between the trees, and the very leaves seem to whisper to the party. Before they know what is happening, they are surrounded by quaintly-dressed people asking them how they found their way here. They have come to the last sanctuary of the True Goblins.
They are brought to the Aureole, a sacred place where the way through to the Realm of Stories may be opened. The Aureole is a clearing – the wreath of trees surrounds a circle of stones that encloses a fairy ring of mushrooms. There, many Goblins are enjoying a feast – the party is encouraged to join them. They are introduced to Elswyth, one of the two spiritual leaders of the Goblins. Elswyth asks them whether they are here to heal the forest of the affliction written on the leaves. She explains that the change to the forest is linked to a change in the Yarn, the Realm of Stories in Goblin mythology.
To goblins, there are many spheres of existence. While occupying the known universe, all people are tied to the Yarn through stories. Favoured individuals go to the Yarn after death (when they enter legend); it is also possible to traverse the Yarn in sleep, or through imbibing certain substances. No goblin has entered the Yarn recently, not since Ardith (Elswyth’s partner and the other spiritual leader of the group) tried traversing it a week ago. She hasn’t woken up since.
Elswyth tells the party that, if they are serious about putting things right in the Wyldewode, they are probably going to need to enter the Yarn. Walker asks what the goblins will give them in return. Elswyth replies that they have little to offer but their finely crafted clay goblets – oh, or the rubbish gold goblets they only made to get rid of all that stupid metal that once lined the riverbed, covering up all the useful clay. The party nobly offers to take the useless gold goblets off their hands; Theo prefers to accept a Nix bowl the goblins have made (the Nix, our heroes are told, is a lucky spirit that won’t do you any harm and will help around the house if you give it milk to drink). Meanwhile, Simon wins a poetry contest with some verse about his experience of becoming undead.
Elswyth gives them food embalmed in rose petals to put them to sleep while she prays to the God-Mother, the head of the goblin pantheon, for their safe passage within the Great Ball of Yarn. To prevent their skeletons leaving their bodies and attacking people, Peter and Simon are buried in holes for the duration of their time in the Yarn; Silvio asks for his specially made armour to be tightened to ensure that he cannot move. The adventurers fall asleep and enter the Realm of Stories….
The party finds itself in… oh, another clearing in a forest. It might be the Wyldewode, although it looks… wrong, somehow, almost like a stage set, or a child’s drawing. Each of them is suffering a certain amount of memory loss – some of their long-term memories are there, but they don’t quite fall into place. They remember each other, though… they’re part of a group, right? Yes, that’s right – they’re servants of the Beast who is soon to gain total dominion over these lands. Conveniently, the Beast is there fighting alongside them, as delightfully monstrous as ever.
But who are these upstarts facing them across the clearing? Pests, trying to prevent their glorious master from effecting his great plans. They must be crushed at all costs. There’s some kind of noble Hero, with his Trickster Sidekick, his Devoted Follower with magical powers, and his Wise Mentor. The Beast challenges the Hero: “Why do you defy my might? Do you not realise that your cause is hopeless? Do you not understand? You and I are the same. Join with me, Hero.”
Sadly, the Hero isn't interested in being corrupted. The battle is joined, but the Beast’s forces are too powerful – significantly, Silvio is suffering the effects of being undead and craving other people’s pain - and the Devoted Follower (who was certainly using scribing magic, Theo observes) is killed. The scene suddenly dissolves and the party have a sense that something is deeply displeased.
The adventurers manage to subdue Silvio just before a new scene forms. They are gradually regaining their memories, but now their bodies seem to be rooted to the spot, able only to move the blades they carry. They’re in some kind of… passage. A little way down the path, the Wise Mentor (who is very quaintly dressed, now they come to think about it) is explaining to the Hero, Sidekick, and Devoted Follower that, before they can expect to face the Beast and his armies, they must undergo a series of trials – it’s the best way for them to train up, and besides, it’s traditional. This trial, the Mentor explains, will test their faith in their friends. They must traverse the deadly Corridor of Traps one by one, and escape its horrors. The party are surprised to see the Devoted Follower alive once more, but even more surprised to realise that they recognise her from somewhere….
As each member of the Hero’s team enters the trap corridor, it becomes apparent that they can’t see a thing. The Devoted Follower seems distracted, and the four fail to work as a team. The players (in their role as traps) bring them down easily. Once more, the scene dissolves, with the same sense of displeasure, and as the party’s memories return some more, a new scene forms.
A peaceful village in the middle of the woods. People are happily going about their day-to-day lives – the Hero is walking with his Love Interest, observed from a distance by the Devoted Follower – who the party now recognise as Maranda. The Trickster Sidekick is also present, watching proceedings. When the players approach, there is sudden panic: “It’s the Beast’s armies, come to kill us all!” Unwilling to kill innocent villagers, Verro, Theo, and Walker try talking to Maranda (who seems to be gradually regaining her memories) while Simon and Peter suddenly feel the effects of being undead and start attacking Silvio and each other.
Observing the scene in disarray, the Trickster Sidekick becomes upset, telling them that they’re doing the story wrong – that’s not how evil henches are supposed to behave… but… wait. Maybe these so-called servants of the Beast are actually baddies who have turned good – that makes for a good story too! Still, if nobody’s going to kidnap the Love Interest, this scene will need a new Villain. Cackling, the Trickster Sidekick seizes the Love Interest and the two of them disappear in a puff of green smoke as the scene ends.
The party finds themselves back at the Corridor of Traps, but now as part of the Hero’s party. As before, the Wise Mentor is speaking on the importance of passing a series of trials; Maranda (the Devoted Follower) and the Nix (previously the Trickster Companion) are not present. The party spends some time talking to the Wise Mentor and the Hero to help restore their memories – it turns out that the Wise mentor is Ardith and the Hero is the Monster Prince. The Monster Prince is able to give them some information on what has happened here – it seems that the Nix has taken over the Yarn to create what it calls the Monomyth, the perfect story. The Monster Prince remembers being approached by the Nix, back at his castle, when he had been feeling like more of a monster than ever. The Nix made him an irresistible offer: the chance to be the Hero of his own story.
While the Monster Prince agonises over whether or not he wants to end the Monomyth (it seems that he’d only be going back to the same bad situation as before), the party eventually decides that the only way to free themselves is to face the Nix, who is now the villain of the story. They’ll need to progress through the story to the Villain’s castle… which means doing what the Nix wants, for now….
Stepping into the Corridor of Traps, each party member experiences a constant blind effect – but, as those at either end of the corridor can see clearly along it, and as Ardith mentioned the importance of trusting their friends, they realise that they need to direct each other through it. Doing so, they have a sense that something is pleased with them, and the scene ends.
The story continues moving forwards – they are now back in the familiar clearing, facing the Beast and his henches as he tries to corrupt the Hero – although the Beast has now been downgraded from the big bad to the captain of the Nix’s armies. As the battle rages, the Wise Mentor dies – although there’s a feeling that the Nix approves of this, and really apporves of the Hero’s somewhat melodramatic reaction. Hoping that Ardith is still alive outside of the Yarn, the party defeats the Beast and his armies… and the scene ends with another general sense of approval.
They progress through a flickering, changeable landscape: now in a marsh, fighting toads; now on a mountain, fighting wolves; now in a wasteland, fighting ravens. At last, they find themselves at the Nix’s castle, which is particularly reminiscent of a child’s drawing, impossible but somehow given substance here. Inside a cage suspended from the ceiling, they see the Love Interest (evidently the Monster Prince’s husband), as well as Ardith and Maranda.
The Nix greets the party, congratulating them for getting this far, and clearly revelling in its role as villain. When they try to ask it to end the Monomyth, it petulantly tells them they’re doing it wrong again – their line is “You’ll never get away with this!” As they continue to break the fourth wall, the Nix becomes enraged and summons waves of unlikely servants to attack them: witches, pirates, ogres, and winged monkeys.
After a protracted battle, the Nix is cornered by some of the party. It tries to have a dramatic death scene so that it can reset the Monomyth, but when the party refuses to kill it, it takes matters into its own hands, theatrically stabbing itself. Continuing to defy the Nix, they repeatedly heal it, even going so far as to offer it hugs. Walker accuses it of becoming a villain, not just in the story, but in real life. But.. it’s just make-believe, the Nix protests - it thought it was making something good. There are so few people in the Wyldewode these days, so few stories. But some time ago, it met some adventurers who gave it the idea of making a new story of its own… so that’s what it’s doing – for itself, and for the Monster Prince. The adventurers point out that it is trapping people here, as well as corrupting the Yarn. The Monster Prince makes what is clearly a difficult decision, asking the Nix to end the Monomyth; meanwhile, the party tells it that it doesn’t have to be a villain. With a far-away look in its eyes, as though remembering a story it once knew, the Nix gives one last swish of its cape, and then the scene fades….
Verro and Walker are the first to awaken, surrounded by inquisitive goblin children. Elswyth appears and tearfully thanks them for restoring the Yarn and bringing Ardith back to her. Hearing shouting from one of the holes, they advise the goblins to leave Peter and Simon buried for their own good, and to keep Silvio imprisoned in his armour – they suggest that it might be best if the two of them take most of the golden goblets and fetch some Tender priests to help their companions. Grabbing eleven of the fifteen goblets, they set out, back through the Wyldewode.
Theo awakens shortly afterwards, followed by Silvio, who convinces him to loosen his armour so that he can move again; together, the pair of them free Peter and Simon from their holes. Elswyth is preparing to take a trip into the Yarn to check that everything is well there; Theo and Silvio decide to accompany her. This time, the Yarn responds more to their will – the stories shape themselves more fluidly around them, and with Elswyth’s skill at traversing the Yarn, they find their way to a cottage on an idyllic hillside. Inside, they meet the God-Mother, a genial elderly woman who offers them tea. She reads what is written on the tea-leaves to predict their future – or, rather, to suggest how she thinks their stories ought to be resolved. Each of them gains her divine favour for their part in restoring the Yarn.
Meanwhile, Verro and Walker make their way back to the Monster Prince’s castle, which now has withered thorns hanging out of its windows. The Monster Prince and his servants are awake once more, although it emerges that Maranda has left already, following an argument with the Monster Prince, who made it clear that he was already married and not interested in her. The Monster Prince leads them to a secret room where a rosebush is growing; this seems to have been the origin of the excess vegetation, although it has now stopped growing excessively.
The Monster Prince explains that, the last time adventurers appeared at his castle, he was returned to human form and married his Groom, but one of the adventurers did something to the single withered rose he kept hidden here, causing it to bloom into a healthy bush. Since that time, he has been aware of his status as flux, but does not ‘reset’ when consensus entities leave. However, while he retains a consistent memory, his servants are constantly amazed by his transformation whenever they see him, and his husband keeps forgetting that they are married. He can’t deal with this – being a conventional monster was less upsetting than the freakishness he’s acquired.
Verro brews a Veil Potion and adds a rose petal to it in the hope of understanding a little more of what happened to the Monster Prince. He doesn’t immediately gain any effect from it, but reasons that he will gain some knowledge later. Walker suggests to the Monster Prince that, if he is unhappy with his current predicament, he should journey back through the flux with them to seek help from the Wayfinders’ Guild, who should be able to fix him. They set out together towards Wyldeaves, hoping to locate Maranda on the way. Arriving at Wyldeaves, they soon find out that Maranda hasn’t reappeared, and begin searching the nearby woods for her.
Silvio, Peter, Simon and Theo arrive at the castle shortly after their erstwhile companions, having received a golden goblet apiece from the goblins. They find the place in disarray – as far as the flux servants are concerned, the still-monstrous Monster Prince disappeared the moment those four arrived, and all this withered vegetation simultaneously turned up throughout the castle. They certainly haven’t ever seen Maranda, and seem very suspicious of the adventurers. A little confused but recognising the limitations of conversing with regular flux entities, the four head for the House That Jack Built, hoping that the eccentric wayfinder might have some answers.
At the house, they find Jack talking excitedly with an elderly man who identifies himself as Odd Gerald – they seem to be getting along famously. Maranda is dozing against a large potted bean plant - following her recent ordeal, she has imbibed a large volume of Jack’s special liquors, and is extremely drunk. Learning that Theo is a Cargan, she starts flirting with him; Theo, however, is more interested in talking to Jack, in the hope of gaining knowledge from him. Jack tells him to come by some other time. The four adventurers set out with Maranda, heading through Wyldeaves and back to Acryn. They spend a little while trying to sober Maranda up and make her presentable before bringing her to her grandfather.
Verro and Walker, who are still searching the woods near Wyldeaves, soon hear news that Maranda has been found. They too return to Acryn, contacting the Wayfinders’ Guild to tell them about the existence of the Monster Prince, who is waiting in the flux just outside the city. The Guild is very interested to hear about the existence of a flux entity who does not reset as normal, and thank Walker for his work, providing him with a finder’s fee and assuring Verro that the Monster Prince will be well taken care of.
Verro and Walker next head to the Tender Church to send some priests back into the Wyldewode to cure their companions as best they can. While judging this a difficult job, the Tender priests accept three golden goblets in down-payment. The priests behave a little oddly towards Verro, but not for the reasons he expects – at first, he is mistaken for a Tender priest, and people keep asking if he has some connection to the Tender….
Luckily, the Tender priests meet the others en route to Cosmo Décor’s mansion, and having first taken another golden goblet off their hands for their trouble (plus an extra one donated by Peter), perform a miracle to cleanse Simon, Peter and Silvio. They are unable to cure any of them of being undead, and the trio’s skeletons still belong to the Ivory Prince, but our heroes are at least now able to resist the urge to feed or hurt the living… mostly.
At last, it’s time for everyone to head back to Cosmo Décor to collect payment. Each adventurer receives 50R as agreed, but Cosmo sends Maranda back to her room upon seeing her flirting with Theo. Walker and Verro willingly redistribute their excess goblets fairly among the party, with the exception of Theo – Walker dislikes Theo, and is not prepared to let him have any gold.
Theo reports back to Viciona Cargan, who seems uninterested in the goings-on in the Wyldewode, but potentially amenable to the possibility of a match with the Décor family. Of course, the Décors are rather minor nobles… but Viciona would hardly be willing to risk Theo on an important family. She tells him to keep her informed.
Theo next travels back to the Wyldewode and, meeting Odd Gerald at Wyldeaves, sets out for Jack’s house with him. He spends some time trying to learn from Jack, who mostly has him cleaning the house, brewing liquors, and fighting monsters for Jack’s amusement – it doesn’t look like Theo is going to learn anything of value from Jack. They’re sitting outside the house one evening, drinking liquor and listening to the cries of Jack’s animal statues in the twilight, when Theo brings out his Nix bowl and… well, they both have the same idea. Shortly afterwards, a (rather tipsy) Nix is cleaning the house while Jack tries his hand at flux-shaping Nix bowls. Relieved of cleaning duties, Theo drunkenly throws out a suggestion – what if he were to try fracturing himself while in the Yarn? Jack thinks this is a great idea.
Theo returns to the Aureole, enters the Yarn, and re-treads his own story. A nobody from Thys, embarking on an act of deception to enter the nobility; his subsequent misadventures; the bargains he’s struck to allow him to continue getting away with this. The tone of the story keeps changing – now Theo finds himself cast as villain, now as dupe – at last, when he senses a resonance he likes, he carries out his fracturing ritual on himself and the story flows into him, filling the fissures….
Peter, meanwhile, is having misgivings about his membership of the Wayfinders’ Guild. He visits the guild offices and speaks with an official who seems relatively unthreatening. He mentions he was told that the only way to leave the Guild was to die, and, well, he did that… so can he leave, please? The official asks him why he would ever want to leave the Guild, and highlights the, ah, opportunities available to him if he stays. Before he knows it, he has been enrolled as an investigator in an exciting new project the Guild is undertaking.
As per his instructions, Peter makes his way to a secret facility in the flux outside Acryn, where experimentation is being carried out on an interesting new specimen. Imprisoned and bound, the Monster Prince is unable to cry out as Peter approaches, but there is terror and accusation in his eyes when he recognises Peter. Peter reluctantly participates in a few experiments on the Monster Prince, but is soon unable to bring himself to persist with this torture. Having been paid for his work, he leaves the facility.
The experiments continue.