The menace of a darkened wood has figured for generations in stories told to children or around the camp fire. No doubt these takes intend to set boundaries and instil a sense of caution about the power and uncertainty of nature, to highlight the terrible fates that might befall those who venture too far into the gloomy twilight of the unknown.
Before the menace of angry Ents in Middle-Earth, you had girls and boys following trails through the woods, falling foul of wolves and cannibalistic witches. The forest features in tales as something primal and foreboding, a dark and powerful places that at once holds threat and possible sanctuary. That sense of contrast, between menace and solace, has reinforced the glamour and fascination of forests in stories to this day.
Anyway… enough of the scene-setting. What about the danger? How can you instil menace in your game when your players have heard it all before? Werewolves with a red cloak fixation or bungalow-dwelling hags hungry for long piglet? Nah, we’ve seen them all before…
So, how about napalm-oozing tree-men?
Exotic Encounters: Treants is a 9-page PDF in a line of supplements from Necromancers of the Northwest. The PDF includes a front and back cover, a content/credits page, two pages of OGL Open Game License text, and an introduction to the purpose of the Exotic Encounters line.
The supplement uses a faux parchment background and a two-column layout, which should disrupt neither printing nor reading.
The supplement kicks off with a few words on the sheer quantity of monsters available for Pathfinder – the system this supplement supports – and the fact that despite the numbers it can be a tough call for a Gamemaster to surprise well-informed players. On top of that, as characters grow in power, those Pathfinder bestiary entries of monsters with fixed challenge levels can mean old favourites no longer provide enough danger or excitement. Exotic Encounters looks to obviate that issue with a range of variants that not only shake up the stat blocks, but also layer on new abilities, origins and flavour.
Exotic Encounters: Treants deals with one of those creatures of the forest I mentioned in the introduction, providing three variations on the iconic tree-man.
At the lower end of the challenge level (CR 10), we have the Jungle Treant, resplendent with a dangling mess of vines and creepers that make a fight triply complex. At the upper end of the challenge spectrum (CR 16), the Old Growth Treant has a touch of the Ent about it – an ancient, thick-barked herder of trees, able to coax life out of the sleepiest topiary to call in the cavalry.
My personal favourite, the CR 14 Bonfire Treant, brings a touch of the dark and dangerous to the otherwise ‘softwood’ image of tree-men. An inimicable amalgam of wood and flame, the Bonfire Treant rains charred and horrific vengeance to those who venture, by accident or purpose, into it’s domain. I can envisage a use for this one not only in a fantasy Pathfinder adventure but also a modern game with room for environmental horror, with the Treant an embodiment of Nature’s wrath upon the iniquity of humankind.
I would gladly have read a lot more detail in the Ecology sections associated with each of these three Treant variations, and a deeper and more committed basis for their existence. While I found myself immediately interested, perhaps even excited, about the prospect of including a Bonfire Treant in a future adventure – I found myself disappointed in the Ecology and the explanation for their creation. In an attempt to remain generic and absolutely background agnostic, I found these write-ups too shallow and, as a result, drawn paper thin in an attempt to say something without really saying anything.
I also admit to a desperate desire for some small illustration of the appearance of these fearsome tree-creatures. I realise the complexities and additional costs in acquiring art, but one picture – especially of the Bonfire Treant – would have raised the bar for this otherwise interesting trio of monster variants.
Exotic Encounters: Treants “does what it says on the tin” in providing variants on the standard tree-man, and offers more than just a tweak in statistics. The three alternatives serve up differing challenge in theme, environment, and resolution that mean an axe and a Molotov Cocktail simply won’t be enough to guarantee a win next time around…
What do you think? Share your thoughts below in the comment section below.
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