Standing before the south Verdant Gate, one of four entrances to the fabled Garden of the Gods, your party stops for a moment to take in the sight. Just past the entrance, rays of light cut through the humid air, dispersing and refracting off the lush foliage, creating a myriad of rainbows like a weave of spiritual luminescence. Butterflies and birds flit to and fro, playfully chased by tiny sprites and faeries. Colors saturate the landscape. The empty space in between things even looks tangible. Substance seems to permeate everything.
“So it’s actually true,” the warlock says, transfixed by the colorful menagerie.
Your party’s journey began on another continent, at the behest of a powerful priestess, the secret guardian of a backwater village who, imbued with potent gifts from her god Vyl, had singlehandedly kept a raiding colony of orcs at bay for years. She recruited your party — “mighty adventurers, radiating potential,” she said — first, to eliminate the orc colony and retrieve one of the artifacts of the ancient Vyl cult from within the orc caves; and now to venture to the Garden of the Gods to find Vyl’s statue, long-covered in thicket and all but forgotten.
“Complete this quest,” she intoned, “and your potential becomes real.”
“How will we find Vyl’s statue?” you asked the priestess.
“The statue wants to be found,” she replied. “The garden is alive … and will reflect the energy you bring. That is why you retrieved the artifact. Take it to the Garden. The statue will find you.”
The journey took a couple of months, across mountain passes to the shoreline, where you chartered overseas passage to the remote island of Lopan — a prosperous, yet largely unexplored world all to its own. Rumor has it Lopan is neutral ground, a place reserved for the gods.
“I don’t trust her,” the thief later told you and your allies. But the favor awarded those who would restore an old god to glory was too much to resist. Great gifts, powerful gifts awaited just beyond the Verdant Gate.
Before crossing the threshold into the Garden, the barbarian, a behemoth of few words, speaks up. “Statue first. Then the Black Pit.”
Everyone else nods. They already know the plan. The priestess regaled your party with tales of great treasure within the Pit, awaiting a group brave enough to descend into the unknown. Even those in the party who value honor over wealth found the lure of long-forgotten plunder intoxicating. But the priestess informed only the barbarian of what really lies buried within the long dark of the Black Pit — the Fangs of the Old Ones, weapons of incredible power, weapons that would surely change the fate of any who might find and wield them. What she didn’t reveal however, was the curse imbued in each weapon — and their ability to channel the essence of dark, chaotic gods.
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Garden of the Gods is a densely packed 224 pages of sandbox information and tools about a mystical garden that lies in the heart of the island of Lopan and which serves as the metaphysical homeland of the entire universe of deities — deities of the Palladium Fantasy universe in particular, but a location which can easily be transposed into any fantasy setting or campaign in which a pantheon of gods plays a significant role.
While dungeon crawling for the sheer sake of riches is fun, questing to bring peace among kingdoms may be noble, and clearing the countryside of monsters to make safe the local villages is certainly honorable, doing such deeds within a campaign that serves the larger purpose of a deity is, at the very least, heroic — and depending on the roleplaying and storytelling skills of the game master, it can be downright epic. Humans tend to gravitate towards classic stories of the struggle between good and evil; and within the realms of fantasy, in particular, those stories are best told with an undercurrent of something much larger and consequential at work.
Garden of the Gods provides game masters with a large amount of material from which to inspire and create stories in which the gods themselves play an active role. Whether the gods be qualities of Universe or actual personalities with anthropomorphic shortcomings, Garden of the Gods serves as a springboard for epic narrative.
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The Garden is located in the midst of the island of Lopan and is only reachable by seafaring peoples — so the majority of monsters are absent from this campaign setting. Lopan is a different kind of place. It is remote, prosperous and relatively safe. Lopan’s longstanding peace has allowed for a small number of towns to flourish — the cosmopolitan Krigan Heights, the sleepy god-fearing town of Godsmire, the Elven community of Briargrove, and Northpoint, a gathering place of Giants, Trolls, Ogres, Orcs and Goblins, along with criminals and other villains.
The Garden itself is a mystical place where time and distance lose their familiar measurable regularity. The gods are not bound by such limitations, and neither is their home. “The boundary between the world of mortals and the world of the divine is thin here.” And it is often here, in the Garden, where the gods have the best chance of communicating directly with mortals.
Within the Garden, all gods are considered equal and each has its own statue representing him, her or it. A network of lawns, parks, paths and garden mazes connect the various deities and their pantheons. Those gods with the most followers — and thus with the strongest presence in the material plane — tend to have the most well-kept sanctuaries. Those gods which have been forgotten, however, disappear into the dense, nearly impenetrable thicket known as the Primeva.
The Primeva is the Untamed Garden of Forgotten Gods, and it is these forgotten deities who are most motivated to make some sort of contact with those in the mortal world — those who might be lured into excavating a long lost statue and inspired to proselytize on behalf of a forgotten one.
Garden also introduces a new title: Champion of the Gods. This path transforms an adventurer into a hero committed to the restoration of a forgotten deity. Once chosen by a deity, a PC may take on the title of Champion by pledging to that god, acting in its name (for either good or evil, depending on the deity) and in turn is rewarded handsomely with blessings and artifacts. Consider Miraculous Recovery, a once-daily blessing that allows a Champion to instantly and completely restore to full hit points — simply by willing it.
Garden of the Gods generously details the garden’s potentials, including:
- Ways in which the gods may make contact with potential followers — through dreams, waking visions, whispers and full blown divine visitations.
- Nearly 100 Quest Ideas: in categories including revenge, restoration of a church, and heroic quests for the greater good
- 75 Blessings & Miracles — to reward players with noteworthy abilities, both temporary and permanent
- 50+ Curses
- 85 pages of Lost Gods
The Garden also has its own brand of Knights Templar-like warrior scholars known as The Ancient Order of the Fossarians, or Knights-Fossar. These knights are independent of any church and have charged themselves with the duty of maintaining peace and order in the garden. The Knights were responsible for initially discovering the Garden centuries ago, and are currently the keepers of its mysteries and lore.
— — —
Just as the Garden radiates with light, it is equally balanced out with a darker, more chaotic side. Evil exists in the Garden: dark gods that exploit human weakness. While a Champion of the Gods may pledge to a god in the service of light, champions may also choose to serve the dark lords.
Long ago, some gods were deliberately wiped from the record halls and collective memories — the only way to truly eradicate their evil influence. Within the Garden however, their essence remains … dormant, waiting for those who can be persuaded, or tricked, into championing their cause.
And beyond the Garden looms the Black Pit.
The Black Pit is described as “the dark yin to the Garden’s yang”. It is a pit of nothingness that recedes into a blackness that seems to go off to infinity. Breathing is difficult within the pit, the tunnels are at times chokingly tight, and while there is some loot to be had from the corpses of other would-be adventurers who didn’t survive, the pièce de resistance within the Pit are the Fangs of the Old Ones: the Giant Slayer battle axe, the Rod of Shadows and Might staff, the Invincible Warbringer sword, the Serpent Lord staff and the Ghost Whip. Alluring yes, but so was Sauron’s One Ring.
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The book is copiously illustrated so that just about everything mentioned is graphically represented. And with so much information within 225 pages, the book is literally stuffed like Thanksgiving. Had the book been given the full graphic design treatment, it’s likely to have ended up around 500 pages. As it is, Garden is a cornucopia of information stuffed into a workable size — while still being packed with imagery. If you’re willing to forsake the bells and whistles for a trove of useful information, this dense thicket of GM tools is like the Primeva itself. It takes a bit of careful excavation — but the reward is epic.
Garden of the Gods looks to be the first volume of the Lopan setting, because an Island of Lopan sourcebook is on the horizon — with a “coming soon” placeholder page on the Palladium Books website promising to flesh out the island, its inhabitants and locations, as well as maps. As far as Garden goes, only one 1/8-page map of Lopan is provided (on page 207), which pinpoints the Garden and the Black Pit. A detailed map of the Garden would be most useful.
— — —
The Garden is not only a place of wonder and divine treasure, it is also a threat to any existing cults or religions whose authority might be undermined by a holy place that treats all deities as equals and which might help facilitate a direct relationship between people and their gods — without a temple-based intermediary. Established cults and religions will likely try to persuade adventurers from wasting their time searching out a hoax or fiction.
But the Garden of the Gods now exists — and is applicable to any fantasy setting, regardless of the system you use.
— Marc Star