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perennial D&D puzzler

What is the smartest tree?

I ask because my seafaring 6th Level Cleric relies very heavily on the speak with __________ line of spells in his search for his particular White Whale.  Previous attempts to speak with kelp elicited the valuable information that “sunlight is delicious” and “seawater is salty,” but shockingly little actionable intelligence about gold.

So naturally the most sensible course of action is to cruise around the local region, planting trees on a bunch of islands, so that when I speak with plants I’ll have a spy network . . . of trees.

But I don’t want to deal with moron trees who don’t understand the value of money, or uppity treants who will lose their shit when they see me sailing on a boat made out of their friends.  I guess talking to Dryads would be cool, but I think they would get mad really easily too.  Among trees that are not also monsters, my guess is Christmas trees, because they spend time around humans long enough to become knowledgable about our culture, and also, they probably think all those presents are tribute to them, which then gets stolen by vile human implings, so they’re always looking out for more loot.  But I’m, um, going out on a limb on that one.  (Sorry.) 

Perhaps our braintrust (the two people who read this blog) can solve this riddle?  At first glance it sounds preposterous, but I bet this happens in every D&D game where somebody can cast this spell.


18 Responses to “perennial D&D puzzler”


  1. December 30, 2011 at 11:36 pm

    Well, you might want to think outside the box a little. Any russet mold to be had in the vicinity? You could plant tribes of vegepygmies around; as long as they knew you were the source of the mold in the first place, they might be well-disposed towards you.

    Also, the quickwood tree is tailor-made for your purpose, if you can figure out the formula needed to create them in the first place. Might give your DM an excuse to put a quest together, to discover it.

    Many of the magical tree-creatures have actual intelligences, so you might do well with them. A hangman tree, for instance.

    Of course, those are 1E creatures, and I’m not 100% sure if they’re going to be a valid option. But surely someone, somewhere, has seen an intelligent tree other than a treant.

  2. 2 Akiyama
    December 30, 2011 at 11:38 pm

    Well, according to this video, acacias are quite smart . . . for a tree.

    http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xahrzn_world-s-most-intelligent-plants_animals

  3. December 31, 2011 at 12:24 am

    A lot depends on how your DM runs it… Personally, I run spells like Speak With Plants as if it temporarily grants the target human intelligence. My limit on the spell is that plants, animals, or stones know only about what they themselves have done, what is done to them, and what is done around them. So, the kelp in your example wouldn’t know what treasure or gold (the substance) is, but it should know what gold (the color) is, and whether anything hard and golden has fallen through it, or when the last ship has passed through (and which direction.)

    So I’m not exactly sure how your spy network of trees would work. Any tree, the way I run the spell, would know if something was buried near its roots. It would know what the object was made of; it would not know what was inside a container, unless its roots have breached a buried chest, for example. It would not know whether a lump of gold is a nugget or a minted coin, or if a golden statue was The Lost Icon of Mr. Good Deity or The Cursed Idol of Mr. Demon-Who-Appears-When-You-Look-At-His-Image.

    But on the other hand, it sounds like your DM doesn’t want you using the spell that way, but instead interprets th spell as granting the equivalent of human speech, but no real intelligence, making the spell useless unless the target was intelligent to begin with. It’s sort of like the apocryphal story of the player who took “Wall” as a language, thinking he could ask what was inside a room, but the DM would always respond “Beats me, I’m plastered!”

  4. 4 John
    December 31, 2011 at 1:00 am

    It sounds like a great idea. Just do it and see what your DM does. You could try planting trees that are otherwise useful, like trees that could be used for wood to repair ships or fruit trees that can be used for food. It will be even nicer to have a legacy in the campaign world, so even after this character is gone others can go to those islands and see those trees not native to it and wonder how they got there.

  5. 5 Zak S
    December 31, 2011 at 1:21 am

    Stick with flowers (perennials)–particularly weird hybrids that wouldn’t exist without people.

    They get the best deal from people: humans feed them, transport them, cultivate them and never genocide them for food. They must love people.

  6. December 31, 2011 at 3:38 am

    Elm-entary, Dear Watson.

  7. December 31, 2011 at 3:47 am

    Actually, really missed an opportunity there. Obviously the elder has the most experience … no matter what the bristlecone says.

  8. December 31, 2011 at 3:48 am

    As the DM has interpreted it so far, the plants are reasonably helpful, they just have a plant’s perspective on things. So, the question becomes, if I had to role-play my Dungeon Master role-playing a plant, which plant would end up being the most informative?

    It sounds crazy to me, but only because I’m still new to playing mid-level Clerics.

    I like all these answers, by the way; thanks. Did you know that a Choke Creeper in 2e has fuckin’ 25 hit dice, and gets 4 attacks per round against each target, each with a 10% chance of strangulation (die next round unless you make your bend-bars roll)?? It is worth 18,000 XP, equal to a venerable Red Dragon. If you speak with a Choke Creeper, you call it “sir.”

  9. 9 biopunk
    December 31, 2011 at 5:01 am

    I’d say Aspen. Widely distributed, clonal colony from a single seedling, long lived above ground, even longer below… You’d have a long-lived, wide-spread, fire resistant, networked system. The sound of the trembling leaves might be worked in as an audible warning when there is no wind. Also supposed to be good against vampires and werewolves, too… Or, maybe liverworts?

  10. December 31, 2011 at 7:48 am

    I wish I could remember where to find a beautiful essay on the characters and politics of various tree species. It introduced me to the gregarious Hornbeam, which is why I’d recommend them here.

    On networks, single bracken plants can cover whole hillsides and make great sentinels. Rhizomes in general are almost indestructible, but their memories are segmented, so they’re unreliable autobiographers. Kudzu is both cunning and wary, perhaps the opposite of what you need. Oak and pine will take offence at your ship, of course, except for the aloof Pin Oak, which may however just not deign to talk to you, and is known for its ingratitude. Rowan are supposed to pick up whispers on the wind, but if you’re island-hopping then your best friend is the coconut palm; it’ll send its children far and wide to scout ahead of you if the waters are warm enough, and it’s actively sought out by other travelers.

  11. 11 Spawn of Endra
    December 31, 2011 at 8:23 am

    I say planting trees to find a specific whale is all bollocks. Speak with the seaweed of the species that grow on the whale. I don’t know, Google them, but there are seaweeds and algae that grow on them, and also live near shore in the intertidal zone. The ones in the near shore should hear something about what their whale-born brethren are doing. Roleplay that angle for info. Trees are bunk in this case, to my mind.

  12. December 31, 2011 at 9:21 am

    I hadn’t thought of taking the whale literally. There’s the problem of identifying the specific species that grow on your particular whale, of course.

    Now I’m thinking about the dependencies involved in using any particular spell. Say you find a scroll of Speak With Giant Tube Worms. To use it you have to be able also to breathe water and withstand enormous pressure and temperature variations. Probably by polymorphing yourself into a squid.

  13. 13 Scott LeMien
    January 1, 2012 at 2:27 pm

    Albert Pine-stein?

  14. January 1, 2012 at 3:10 pm

    @Scott
    That’s terrible. Oooooof. I gotta walk that one off.

  15. January 1, 2012 at 3:58 pm

    Truly, the answer was within yew all along.

    But seriously, folks…

    If forced to answer this question in a campaign, I’d have a hard time not giving the prize to redwoods, for sheer age. I might make apple trees specialists in health and medicine (what with the old adage), and similar “joke” derivations based on folk wisdom, or possibly a particular language of flowers.

  16. January 1, 2012 at 10:10 pm

    Redwood might be nice, because it is tall and can see really far, and you can find really old ones. A tree that the local town uses for hanging or the one next to a local tavern might be a realy good choice. Churchyards and graveyards might have pretty old yew trees.

    Also think about colony-plants that might cover a huge area and still count as a single “plant” like types of mushroom or something.

  17. January 2, 2012 at 6:21 pm

    You can get your Johnny Appleseed vibe on here.

    My recommendation is “the mighty Scotch Pine!”

  18. 18 richard
    January 3, 2012 at 11:39 am

    I’ve found the article – Sierra Dawn Stoneberg Holt, “The Omniscient Eye: Do Good-Looking Trees Have Great Personalities?” in Sjgames’ Pyramid magazine, July 14, 2006. It’s pretty good reading. I understand there’s even a bunch of torrent links that offer it without subscription fees, although I offer no advice about whether or not one should use them.

    Abstract: In some RPG systems, trees can be rendered sentient. It would be fun to go beyond the GM roleplaying them all as exact clones of Treebeard, and one aid toward that goal would be some guidelines for what kinds of personalities various species of tree have been portrayed as having in old myths. E.g. what is an oak like? Are date palms cheerful or morose? Do birches tend toward extroversion or introversion? And so forth… –Peter Knutsen

    Let’s approach this question from a botanist’s perspective instead. Trees compete for space (sunlight), nutrients, and water. Most trees prefer sunny sites with non-acidic soil that is neither dry nor waterlogged… The personalities of tree species will be impacted by their natural ability to compete, the types of sites they prefer and occupy, and their experiences with other trees and humans now and in the past.


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