I continue my voyage across the OSRchipelago (geddit?) with The Gardens of Ynn, by Emmy Allen. It cost me US$5 in PDF, and has 79 pages.
- The mood. There is, to my eye, a slightly (but only slightly) bleak and melancholic twinge to the Gardens of Ynn, but is very much in sweet spot for me, to the right of 'whimsical' but to the left of 'high fantasy'. It reads like it may have been written by, say, John Bellairs, Arthur Machen, Robert Holdstock or even Miyazaki Hayao; I want to say that it actually reminds me most of Little, Big, but I should more accurately put it that it reminds me of what I thought Little, Big would be like before I had the misfortune of reading it.
- The setting is briefly but beautifully described in three paragraphs, and then without further ado, we begin. From that point on, it's usefulness all the way down. This brevity is surely to be encouraged. What we have in our hands is, in fact, that rarest of treasures - a largely implied setting.
- And here there is much to admire, and imitate. Glass butlers and golem gardeners and walking topiaries and sidhe. Flocks of peahawks and candle-golems and bonsai turtles and unicorns. Hothouses, shooting ranges, ice rinks and mushroom beds. Wineries, fire pits, steam-pipes and towers. Kennels and hedge mazes and gazebos and mask galleries. These are a few of my favourite things.... Just list the words: I'm sold.
- It may be the only genuinely workable example of procedural adventure creation in the OSR canon? More importantly, it is a procedural adventure creation system that could undoubtedly be used generically - by simply swapping out the entries in the various tables for others - to create, for example, Mythago Woods, Viriconiums, Angband-style dungeons, dream worlds, Yellow City Old Towns, or any other environment which is subject to continual change and where fixed mapping is not desired. It is no small feat to think up such a system, especially one that is so easy and intuitive to use.
- The random tables of search results, treasures, sidhe alterations and the like are a delight - just about eccentric enough to, again, hit my sweet spot on the nose.
- The art is perfectly judged in tone, and perfectly deployed.
- Diagrams are not always necessary, but I think they would have been useful in elucidating the procedural generation process, which I found initially to be slightly opaque and awkwardly worded. Similarly, a imaginary, played-out 'example session' would have been helpful in - I am compelled to use the word - 'grokking' how the system of procedural generation works.
- A smallish quibble, but the one table which I think falls flat is the one of 'Rumours in Ynn', which often yields results I would imagine most sensible PCs ignoring. 'Rose-Maidens have been using blood to fertilize their plants. They're getting more vicious in their quest for more donors.' OK, I suppose we'll avoid Rose-Maidens, then. I want more 'hooky' rumours than this.
- A small thing (no pun intended), but the typeface used throughout is rather tiny and scrunched, and makes things hard to read in places - particularly for an old fart like me who likes to print out the physical book and read it properly.