Libris Monstrum #26: Plants
Hey everyone! Tonight is a very special Libris Monstrum for a couple reasons. First off, we are half way over the hump of our second series! Second this topic is the first one that is more of a category than any other before. Even rats doesn’t compare! I thought plants would be a great choice and a pretty simple one to do. Then I began to realize that this one could easily become 3 entries instead of the usual two. Frankly, I am pretty sure the re-visit will have two parts. Tonight though, I want to go over some classic D&D plant monsters and we’ll expand from there in the future!
What Makes A Monster?
The first thing that we really need to talk about is what makes a plant a monster. Where is the line drawn between normal plant and monstrous creature? For D&D it is a pretty simple thing. While certain plants might just be hindrances or terrain, there are those that pose a much more significant threat. Sometimes this might be as little as a carnivorous plant, though it is likely such a thing is huge compared to normal ones. More often, though there is something else that makes the plant dangerous. In all likelihood the plant can probably move to some degree. This might mean the plant is, quite literally, ambulatory or it might just mean the plant can attack using something like vines or roots. Additionally, these plants could be intelligent and capable of not just planning, but adapting to what it witnesses or holding a grudge. Finally, the common thing among all plant creatures is their ability to be aggressive and quick in some way. Now they might be stuck in one spot, but that won’t stop some rapid action of attack. Or they might be able to pull you in, electrocute you, shoot spines, or some other devious attack. When it comes down to it, you are prey for the plant or, in the case of intelligent creatures, a potential enemy.
Okay, let’s start with some of the less complex monsters. These are my favorite because of their simplicity. DMs can use these in so many ways, but no matter how you use them there will always be that moment where the players discover the truth. From ordinary foliage to sinister monster, the reveal is a classic twist that raises paranoia like noone’s business. If you can’t even trust the plants what can you trust? This is especially true in places where the players won’t expect it. Crazy jungles like Chult won’t surprise them much and even the deserts of Athas aren’t shocking. Ordinary cacti are dangerous enough as is. The true danger lies in the simple mixed forests of your classic fantasy world. The same forests where you are likely to find goblins and elves.
The first among these classics is the assassin vine. This plant is, by far, the least complex. It is a vine that tries to kill you. Simple as that. These grow just as normal viney plants do, but instead of stealing nutrients from decaying soil matter or the tree that they are growing on, the assassin vine makes its own meals. Wondering animals, or adventurers, can easily fall prey to a vine as it drops from a tree and proceeds to choke the life from you. The corpses of the victims then make for perfect plant fertilizer. An easy way to use the vine is to include corpses that pique the party’s curiosity, whether that is a dead animal or a dead adventurer. When they investigate…BOOM…sneak attack from the evil plants. If there are a lot of them or they are higher level, pepper some more corpses around and have the whole group attacked by a network of vines all at once!
The next two monster are tree-like beings that are quite murderous and very dangerous. The first is the aptly named hangman tree. This tree looks like a dying oak, or other tree that has lost a lot of its foliage. What remains is overburdened by a network of vines that snake throughout the canopy. What adventurers fail to realize is that this is not just an out of place tree, overgrown with vines, but a single intelligent creature. The hangman tree is able to plan around its prey and create an ambush. If needed it can even emit a hallucinogen to trick enemies, making them think the tree is ordinary so that they might leave it alone or stumble close to it unawares. Victims will find themselves being choked and pulled from the ground, where they will hang till death and become food for the tree. The other monster is no less cruel, but every bit as frightening. The dark tree looks like a dark cypress like all those around it except for the fiendish face that seems to be formed in the bark. In addition to this face, which is real, the dark tree has two branches that don’t just resemble long spindly arms, but are. The creature waits in warm wetlands, waiting for passers by. It then attack without mercy and then drinks their blood when defeated. Nowhere and nothing is safe when it comes to fantasy RPGs.
Plant monsters don’t just hide in plain sight. Some of them go a step further and are capable of not just travel, but complex offensive and defensive action. Throughout the history of D&D there have been many plant-beings, but we’re going to look at some of the basic standbys. First is another of my favorite monsters: the shambling mound. This is a massive mound of rotting vegetation that looks almost like a piece of swamp come to life. In some cases, it even looks vaguely humanoid. The shambling mound is smart and carnivorous (a bit of a pattern eh?), but it is also special. You see the shambling mound has an affinity for lightning. This means they can be found wandering through thunderstorms. It also means that they are capable of delivering a rough lightning attack to adventurers. Even worse, if the adventurers find them in a storm or try to use lightning spells, the shambling mound can readily be healed by this type of damage. It will also shock they players to find out that the wet mound of plant matter is more resistant to fire than not. Of course, this is often true and new adventurers learn this lesson quick after encountering plant beasts.
Another terriffic monster that you can use, especially early on, is the vegepygmy. For me, these are wonderful alternative to goblins and, perhaps, could easily be reskinned into plant-goblins. These tribal fellows are small and dangerous. The are numerous, wield weapons, and aren’t as stupid as you might think. There is so much use for these little guys and they are easily underrated. Beyond that they represent a more significant threat than goblins just in their existence. These creatures are created from russet mold which can be dangerous in an of itself. If the mold becomes out of control, not only will people die, but more vegpygmies will be born. Imagine a town that was overrun with these guys and infected with russet mold. Then the town, still recovering, finds people dying to the spores and the dead growing new monstrous little humanoids. It would be a wild ride for newbies.
Not Quite Plants
So I couldn’t get through this article without including a couple more creatures that, while often classified as such for RPGs, aren’t technically plants. These are the fungal monsters and they are regularly found as the plant equivalents for underground and dungeon adventures. First we need to talk about a symbiotic pair that will drive players wild: the shrieker and the violet fungus. The violet fungus is a carnivorous mushroom that has these long, dangerous tentacles. It does not, however, stalk and ambush prey. Instead it often grows around the shriekers using them to draw in and distract prey while attacking. The shriekers are just what they sound like. These mostly, harmless mushrooms emit a high pitched shriek. Depending on what type / edition this is generally when disturbed and might have some added effects. Either way they spell trouble, especially because of that noise. You might survive the violet fungus, but will you survive the people or monsters that lair nearby?? Finally we have the phantom fungus. These are like large, terrifying, fungal buffalo. That eat you. Standing on four large stalks and having a mawed “head” area, these terrors blend in perfectly with their natural habitat. More than that they are ambulatory and sport tentacle with which to grab and pull in prey. For all intent and purpose, this monster is invisible and that is only made more horrific when the players discover the mushroom monster it is!
There are still tons of plants to cover: treants, myconids, strange cacti from Athas, razorvines. And that doesn’t even get us started on real world plant monsters. The re-visit for our plants will be a two parter, but while we wait for that, why don’t you tell us some of your plant-related horror stories. What are your favorite plant adversaries? Let us know in the comments below!!