Detail image from Garden of the Plantmaster © 1987 Robert J Kuntz

Book Retort: Garden of the Plantmaster

Guest Writer: John Wayne Enfield

Bill Taylor’s cover of this RPG setting book invites you into the garden, appealing to that morbid curiosity that so often tempts fantasy heroes – and the gamers who play them, to their fates.  The line between plants and animals seems to blur, making the branches of the trees reach out towards you like the gnarled claws of great beasts.  The more you look at the cover, the more strange creatures you notice lurking among the trees as well. The painting is quite effective in color, but less so in black and white where it is repeated inside the book. There, it looks a bit muddied and it’s harder to see the spooky details.  The other twelve illustrations he provides throughout the book, however, are pen and ink and while slightly crude by today’s standards, are very evocative, really helping to stir the imagination to create a magically mutated garden in the theater of the mind.

Cover of Garden of the Plantmaster  art by Bill Taylor © 1987 Robert J Kuntz

Cover of Garden of the Plantmaster art by Bill Taylor © 1987 Robert J Kuntz

Without the key, the included map is a confusing mess. If you study the key next to the map, you may begin to recognize the different textures used on this black and white map to denote different things. Once you do, you realize how detailed the map of the garden is. It’s all there, right down to different plant groups, benches, and even secret entrances. A map for the dungeon master to see and the players to map out for themselves.  It could be that coloring this map and enlarging it would make it easier to read.  Similarly, one needs to pay attention to the list of abbreviations to make sense of some of the text in the book as they are used heavily.

The 70 pages that follow are packed with detail as well, providing everything a DM might need to run an adventure apart from the basic rules for whatever game system one prefers to use with it.  Kuntz also suggests information from his publication ‘The Maze of Zayene’ to aid in adapting new or existing player characters to his Kalibruhn game setting.  Copies of the original game setting publication, as well as other works by Kuntz, are still available at tlbgames.com if one wishes to run this and other adventures just like he intended. With a little adapting, it may be possible to incorporate this garden into just about any RPG, however.

The RPG market is awash with published adventures set in volcanoes, castles, islands and the like, but very few are confined to one specific garden.  The limited setting (similar perhaps to being trapped in a cursed castle) provides for a level of detail often lacking in books describing whole realms and even continents.

For example, rather than simply saying that there are various herbs players may find useful for healing and spell components, there are appendices that describe enough unique ones to make even the most detail oriented DM happy.  A player wishing to role-play a druid or herbalist focused character will find Appendix D especially useful. One may even wish to borrow from it for many other game settings. There are 100 effects that different mutated plants may have on people who encounter them (some positive some not so much).

There are detailed lists of plants including 20 species of vines, 151 species of flowers (complete with what each symbolizes), 10 insect-eating (or even man-eating if mutated) plants, 40 species of shrubs, 20 species of fungi as well as terminology the DM can use to describe plants and animals to the players. The garden isn’t devoid of animal life either, with 20 species of insects described – even a list of what to call groups of different creatures such as a muster of peacock or a tidings of magpie.

What would a fantasy adventure be without monsters? In addition to all of the incredibly detailed flora and fauna for the garden, there are 23 statted out and detailed monsters specific to the setting.  A few, such as the Black Trumpet and Cinnabar Red Chanterelle Mushrooms, are relatively harmless, but most are quite dangerous.  Player favorites may include the Clapodee beetle for challenging combat and the Black Jelly Oyster mushroom-like creature for surprise attacks.

There is even a humanoid race called the Oowah. These mutated elves are rather primitive, using clubs, blowguns and such, living in treehouse dwelling tribes, each with its own unique shield design to help tell them apart.  They also have shamen, chieftains and elders.  The DM is free to make them as hostile or helpful as desired for their own story.

Detail of archaeopteryx illustration. Garden of the Plantmaster

Detail of archaeopteryx illustration. Garden of the Plantmaster © 1987 Robert J Kuntzplantmaster

Finally, the Tresper wood spirits can inhabit the non-mutated plants making them shake and even move about to fend off whatever might be trying to harm it.  A clever DM could have a lot of fun with such inhabited plants.

Rather than being a powerful wizard or huge dragon, the villain of the story is instead a wood demon named Lamash. By the illustration and description, it may remind one of the ents from J.R.R. Tolkien’s stories. However, this particular wood spirit is not as nice as Treebeard and is the one behind the mutation of the garden, even to the point of having roots throughout it that sense what happens to every plant. It is quite powerful with a lot of protection and magical abilities, but it is statted, so it can be killed if the players figure out how.  It’s main weakness being its need to keep the Plantmaster alive long enough to torture the magic words out of him so that Lamash can escape the dome and mutate the whole world.

Whether you as a DM trap your friends’ hapless adventurers in the Garden itself, likely for many, many game sessions to come, or dig through the information in the book for ideas for your own campaign setting, you’ll find ‘The Garden of the Plantmaster’ a book worth tracking down.

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