Communing With Trees? YES!

I have played almost all classes, except for one. The Druid has always just been too confined for any group that I’ve ever played under, else the party needed something besides another cleric that don’t go into cities. True Neutral is also a really tough alignment to play, but I think that the real reason why most folks never play them is because DM’s have it in their heads that they can’t DM specialty settings. Of all specialty settings, be it underwater or in the air, the easiest to work would be a massive forest adventure which deals completely in rural environments and primordial forests or other outdoor settings, far far away from any civilized city or town.

Rangers and Druids are difficult characters to play, because they are so rural, and I would like to add a spell for your consideration which might aid you in designing a completely woodland adventure. Of course the biggest problem is lack of contact or information. In the city, you are surrounded with NPC’s who can slip or sell little tidbits to the party, but in a rural setting, one has to prove oneself to all of the inhabitants. Wood elves are not known to be very forgiving when their territory is breached, and it will take some time before they allow you to be there . . . though if you get to close to their villages, they are highly likely to kill you if you don’t take the hint to change course.

Other forest creatures are probably no help, however if you add the proper spell to a cleric or ranger, you can have tons of opportunities to allow the party to learn a bit of gossip from a source that maybe you haven’t thought about before, THE TREES!

The Complete Ranger’s Handbook contains a spell called Chatterbark, which is a 3rd level cleric spells aligned with the sphere of Plants. It says that the spell animates the tree so that it is allowed to talk, this allows the caster to ask the tree a simple question of it, and it will give a simple answer and revert back to normal.

For some, this spell might work, however I want a first level spell, and something less flashy. A spell that is fast to use, and more of a divination spell then a plant spell.

Commune With Trees
SPHERE: Plants, divination
RANGE: Touch
DURATION: 1 round/level
CASTING TIME: 2 rounds

A variation of the 4th-level priest spell, speak with plants, this spell allows the caster to form a temporary psychic bond with the tree. The caster must touch the tree with his bare hand, and meditate upon the tree for at least 2 rounds before mental contact is made. Once contact is made, the caster must stay focused on the tree, and nothing else. If contact is broken suddenly, then contact is lost. This spell allows the caster to have a mental conversation with the tree for as long as he can maintain his focus, or 1 round/minute per caster level. The tree is a complex thinker, and may show the caster images which will require an INT check, or a WIS check depending on the information requested of the tree. Only the caster can see this information, or hear the trees thoughts in his head. The caster must ask questions mentally, each question requiring a wisdom check, to insure that he has the proper wording to convey his wishes.

Now this is all good and dandy, and nothing to fancy. It will probably require more player-testing on your part, as this is just a sketch really. What I really wanted to submit to you is a handy little chart which I got out of a book written by Donglas Monroe titled, “The 21 Lessons of Merlyn: A Study in Druid Magic & Lore”.

In this book, it contains a tree personality chart, which I will share, in part, with you. If you wish to learn more about Druid Magic as it was practiced by the Welsh, Donglas’s book is definitely a must read!


Oak – Chieftain – FATHERLY / dominating
Alder – Chieftain – AMBITIOUS / impulsive
Hawthorn – Peasant – PASSIONATE / ruthless
Holly – Shrub – DETERMINED / insensitive
Furze – Bramble – PROSPEROUS / vane
Birch – Chieftain – HAPPY / immature
Ash – Peasant – CHARMING / egocentric
Rowes – Shrub – SPIRITUAL / fanatical
Reed – Bramble – ADAPTABLE /indecisive
Heather – Bramble – CAREFREE / superficial
Apple – Chieftain – MOTHERLY / weak-willed
Willow – Chieftain – WISE / bitter
Aspen – Peasant – CAREING / insecure
Hazel – Shrub – GENEROUS / deceptive
Vine – Bramble – SYMPATHETIC / dependant
Pine – Peasant – OUTGOING / introverted
Yew – Peasant – ENDURING / sanguine
Blackthorn – Shrub – HONEST / deceptive
Elder – Shrub – INTELLIGENT / unfortunate
Ivy – Bramble – AMBITIOUS / lazy

You can use this list to quickly put a personality to the plants which you animate, even if you don’t use the spell. The uppercase words are the dominate trait, while the lowercased ones are what lies just underneath the surface. All trees should have the same personalities, they aren’t humans or people, they are creatures who sit and watch. They fight with one another in ways that we cannot perceive, and in many ways, they are beings all to themselves.

Chieftains are royalty, Peasants serve the royal trees, and shrubs and bramble are the common type, with shrubs being a higher class then the bramble. They see all men as children, and less intelligent then themselves. They will cut deals, they will say stuff just to get rid of us, or take pleasure in sending men on wild goose chases for the fun of it, but they won’t purposely try to hurt us. Life to them is more valuable then we will ever know. We are a short lived race who they just don’t understand.

How you chose to fit fantasy plants into this list is up to you. How do they feel towards Trents? They can be just as violent and as hurtful as man! What kind of personalities do the fantasy trees of Greyhawk possess? This is far from complete, but it can add some color into an area which before didn’t have any, so I hope that you can take out of it what you will.


barrataria said...

Nice post... there was an excellent dragon article in an entire issue about druids, around issue 119 or so. It made all kinds of excellent arguments and suggestions for "dungeon play" involving druids. Most of the "old" modules didn't consider the effects of having druids adventure through them... I ran roughshod over several encounters in Tomb of the Lizard King with a druid character, pets, etc.

It can be hard to integrate a druid into an urban campaign, but even that can be done.

Brooser Bear said...


Love your idea about the social ranking of trees!

I never had problems with Druids and Rangers, then again, I am an outdoors enthusiast and one of my very first mods to AD&D rules was to "Bend" the encounter tables to make wilderness adventrue safe and possible for 1st level characters. I invented Wilderness Level just as there is a Dungeon Level, to that end.

I played a Druid for about a year until the end of the game this August. The DM was not much of an outdoorsman, and so he GAVE me a spell I can cast at will to turn a tree into a magical bridge across the stream or a chasm that I can cast at will so that I can go and see my teacher of the Old Religion. You can imagine the USES I got out of that! My favorite spell was talk to animals. I had a scarggly dog named Skin and Bones, and he was my scout! I made use of Herbalism from the Complete Book of Druids. I raised money, when necessary, by selling in town medicinal herbs and brews that can be made out of them! It was kick ass character who had strategic impact in the wilderness (player knowledge played a role as well). With a scimitar and a sling, Druid was no slouch in the Dungeon either.

As a DM I provided opportunities for both, Druids and Rangers, but had no nature children and my outdoorsmen opted for fighters with wildrrness NWPs.

One thing I like specifically about later edition D&D rules, is the emrgency spellcasting rule. In other words, cleric or a druid might pry for any spell, but in an emergency situation the cleric can cast a Cure (whatever) Wiund spell instead and a Druid can Summon Nature's Ally. This encourages players to experiment with the diffrent spells on the list as opposed to " I am going to use my 18 WIS bonus to pray for Cure Light Wounds x 3".

Anonymous said...

This is wonderful and I love it.

BTW if yo unever played a 1E Druid you're missing out. At levels 2-8 they're just an absolute joy in terms of game mechanics - plenty of spells per day, they get new spell levels very early, polymorph at 7th, all those delicious languages, a nice bunch of cool spells that nobody else gets, and a very fast XP chart. And the Unearthed Arcana heirophant stuff is pretty sweet if you live past name level.

In exchange, you don't get to wear very heavy armor (until you kill yourself an Ankheg) and you can't heal much.

The 3E Druid is also something special, but you kind of have to munchkin it to make it shine.

2E Druids kind of get shafted especially if the DM lets Clerics use any spell spheres.

In terms of roleplaying, I never really had a problem with True Neutral. A low level Druid is really a small part of the cosmic balance after all. Note too that Druids care about crops and domesticated animals - they don't want to fight against civilization, they just don't want civilization to destroy the wilderness. Nor would they want the wilderness to destroy civilization!

I could see a Druid and a Ranger being indispensable in a hex crawl like West Marches or Wilderlands.

Timeshadows said...

Very nice, R-X. :)

Tkhamon said...

I love this concept. Keeping things simple, I believe, makes a game run more smoothly and what a simple way to drive plot! I also believe that this concept could be extended to any climate not just the temperate ones where a lot of trees grow. It would be fun developing personalities for algae or cacti.

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