Game: The Complete Guide to Treants
Publisher: Goodman Games
Review Dated: 28th, March 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 8/10 [ Really good ]
Total Score: 8
Average Score: 8.00
As a rule, I try not to check out what other reviewers are saying about a product before I’ve made my own mind up. I think it’s best to approach the book as neutrally as possible.
This didn’t happen with The Complete Guide to Treants, people just kept on talking about it in the chatrooms or raving about it on forums. If I were to summarise the comments I’d picked up about the book before opening it myself then it would be as “Treants kick ass!”
They do, especially if you’ve been lighting fires in their forests.
It’s not the ass-kicking that puts this book a notch above most of the other slim guide supplements though; it’s the meat around the crunchy bits.
Quite a number of companies produce slim guidebooks for d20 monsters but only a few go for broke with 128-paged guides. The Complete Guide to Treants steals first base by slyly pushing past the 32-page mark and reaching a count of 48 for only US $13.00. That doesn’t save it from staples but it does give it a competitive edge. These extra dozen pages are used wisely and in some ways, it does seem to be the genuinely useful appendices that seal in the successes of the bulk of the book.
Don’t call them Ents. Treants were seen by many as the classic don’t sue us name dodge until Palladium’s Baal-Rog came along and people started getting antsy over the Tree + Giant = Treant equation.
Nevertheless, treants manage to ooze Tolkien flavour in a way Halflings never did. It’s impossible to read this Complete Guide without picking up vibes from the great work. Treants sometimes fall into Shadow. The forest under the aegis of a treant that’s fallen into shadow become dark and sinister places themselves. The woods get mirky. The fall into shadow usually begins as unwise or extreme measures taken to protect the forest, alliances with undead or the poisoning of manually dug wells.
Focusing on the “greater good” is always a risk but it’s something that all the treants do. Treants are concerned first and foremost with the forests, as plants themselves this isn’t all that surprising.
Treants see animals as part of the ecology process. Animals may spread pollen or trim back the growth of a too dominant plant species but to the treants, they’re still only supplemental. Treants harbour special concern for the tool-wielding races, the axe-wielding races, and in fact, this seems to have been embedded into the very core of treant culture.
The book makes much of the treants’ impressive five thousand year lifespan and how that can outlast entire civilisations but whether by accident or design it seems clear to me who’s legacy is the longest-lived.
Legacies. Relationships with other races. Other guidebooks sometimes try and get you interested in how races treat one another, or respond to threats or even how the race in question works through internal issues but these other guidebooks rarely succeed. This is especially true for those guides that have to work with less than a hundred pages. The Complete Guide to Treants is one of those rare successes; the flavour text engages you.
As far as I’m concerned it’s engaging flavour text that makes the crunchy bits interesting. There’s plenty of crunch to the treants. The introduction of treant character classes also introduces the tree giants as a possible player character race.
The monster manual‘s default treant enjoys a Challenge Rating of 8. The addition of classes on top of an EL 8 makes for a scary monster and, most likely, a game balance destroying PC. The solution to this beautiful and simple; the age of the treant makes a big difference.
The monster manual treant is your average, mature but not ancient treant. A better choice for a player character might be a young treant, a sapling. You’ll find an age progression table that takes treants from 1 hit dice up to 20. Special abilities and attribute boosts kick in on this table just in the same way as character class abilities do.
At Hit Dice 10, for example, the treant enjoys +4 Str and +4 Con. Progression up the Hit Dice Advancement table isn’t bought with XP but happens as the treants age.
Since there are winning and interesting culture text on how treants bring up their young and then the role of elders in society the information on how to age a treant is more than “just crunch”.
There’s another good example of the winning combination in the character classes. Three of the classes; Leafsingers, Treeherds and Woodwardens look awfully like Bards, Druids and Rangers.
A problem? It isn’t for me. Not only do these classes put the game mechanics together well there’s the suggestion that it was perhaps it was the treants who taught the elves these classes in the first place. It works. Rather than just crunchy-copycats, these three classes retain their value as key roles in treant society.
The Firesworn class, actually the first one the book introduces, is unlike anything else. Firesworn treants are those which have lost their forest homes and nearly been killed by fire.
These fanatical treants are more likely to burn the axe-wielding races than being burnt by them. It’s the combination of advancement by age and by class that is responsible for the cries of “Treants kick ass!” Imagine a 20HD level 10 Woodwarn Treant with Favoured Enemy, Sneak Attack +3d6, Woodland Stride and a speed of 60ft. Scary.
There are new feats (always new feats) and a new angle on magic in the Complete Guide. Magic Seeds are effectively scrolls and living magic items are specially bred magic animals. The book gives some examples of the latter; Irontusk is a boar living magic item that has tusks that crackle with electric energy. There are a couple new treant useful spells too.
As noted the extra pages in the book are used well but there’s always going to be a limit. I think the campaign chapter could have been bigger. It quickly looks as treants as NPCs and then as PCs before winding down with some adventure hooks.
The appendices kick-off where other Complete Guides would be drawing to a close. The first of the three sections introduce some excellent templates. The Blasted Treant were once slain by fire and now undead horrors. Templates are the way to go with additions like this because, thanks to this book, treants might be anything from a 1HD sapling to a 20HD ancient and may or may not have levels in a number of different classes.
The Deep Treants are those that have evolved underground, away from the sunlight and even from trees. They’ve become fungi based instead.
Forsaken Treants are those driven insane by the destruction of their forest whereas Hollow Treants are those that have succumb to the shadow and fallen into darkness.
Two non-treant templates are the Brambleshadow creatures and Withered creatures. Withered creatures aren’t creatures at all, not really, they’re undead plants. Brambleshdows are also plants but plants grown from corpses and capable of forming into an effigy of the body they grew from. Appendix 2 is given over to the Eater-of-Souls – a wandering tree that, oh you guessed it, eats souls.
The last few pages in the book are a collection of sample NPCs, their haunts and some plot hooks.
It’s rare that I’m so pleased with a slim guidebook but it’s also rare one is as successful as Goodman’s Complete Guide to Treants. Treants is good value for money, a good read and will provide both tempting ideas and useful game mechanics to your campaign.
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