DM tips for fantasy plants are few and far between. Which is sad, because plants, arguably even more than monsters, are an incredible way to create amazing DnD adventures and RPG campaigns. They’re an AMAZING way to challenge and surprise your players! But how do you use them? Well, here are 5 GM tips on just that! By the way, make sure you stick around for the worldbuilding challenge at the end, which will help you use what you’ve learned at your own gaming table!
Rather watch a video than read a blog? Check out our video on the topic here, then read on to get the detailed tips!
DM Tip 1 for Fantasy Plants
DM tip for fantasy plants number 1? Is make them into creatures! Yes, I know we normally consider creatures to be – well, animals. But what about Treebeard? Groot? Swamp-thing?!
Sapient plants make a great change up from the status quo, and they’re a wonderful way to leverage and reinforce the environment around your players. If your PCs are in a desert, why not create an angry cactus dude? If the party’s in a forest, how about something like these awesome Vine Golems the Tome of Beasts 2 by Kobold Press? You can re-skin a creature that already exists and give them some plant-like properties, or homebrew something from scratch using the rules of your system. If you’re playing DnD5e, the Game Masters’ Guide has a great section on home brewing your own (plant)monsters! And if you want more tips for worldbuilding your own monsters, check out our handy dandy blog guide – 5 tips for creating monsters!
And remember that plant creatures don’t always have to be aggressive. They can be cute, like myconids, aliumnites or other adorable species. In fact, that’s often a good way to spin them, considering players often assume them to be aggressive at first glance. After all, what’s more effective than getting your players to fall in love with adorable little mushroom dude…. AND THEN SETTING THEIR HOME ON FIRE! MWAHAHAHAHAH! Well, you get the picture…. 😉
Magical plant traps! DM tip 2
How to use magical plants number 2… is as traps! Traps are a GREAT use for magical plants in any campaign. Traps can often be problematic from a worldbuilding perspective, especially if you want your dungeons and other areas to make sense. After all, however fun mechanical traps are, they make little sense unless they’re in places that someone actively wanted to protect. Roll on, plant traps!
Plants as DnD traps are wonderfully flexible because plants grow in pretty much every conceivable biome on earth. And a lot of the ways they behave in the wild are very like traps! Tangling vines, sticky slime molds, plants which shoot spines, give poison effects, etc. can all be used as traps. But my favourite way to do this is with sneaky plants. Take the Swamp lily from the Tome of Beasts 2, for example. This beautiful flower lures adventurers in with the illusion of a great feast. But what they’re actually eating is the toxic roots of the plant. Once they’ve keeled over, the plant can devour them at their leisure!
An even more pernicious example is the Ophio, which I’ve mentioned before in this post detailing 5 tips for worldbuilding fictional plants. The spores brainwash the victim into either carrying them to different planes, helping the fungus spread, or luring more people into the cavern where it’s growing – creepy! I’m guessing the inspiration for this was the cordyceps fungus in our world – which is horrific, and well worth researching, by the way.
The species template on World Anvil will really help you create trap-style plants which make sense! It’s tailormade with worldbuilding prompts to help you flesh out your magical plants in more detail! You can easily link in WHERE the plant is found using the quick mentions system, and even add a map to show your players where they might find it! Or keep it private, for your own notes.
DM Tips for fantasy plants #3? Magic and mundane Items
The 3rd of my DM Tips for fantasy plants is items – both magic, and mundane! Plants can be used for a HUGE variety of items. Plants which glow or bioluminesce like the Strobing Fungus are very useful to have around! They make great light sources in dark caves or underwater! Special kinds of wood can have unique properties which make them ideal for building or furniture. If you’re looking for more uses for plants in your world, by the way, check out this blogpost which goes through a tonne of uses for real and fictional plants, as well as magical plants and herbs!
But magical plants – from Discworld’s sapient pearwood to the Arcane trees of the elder planes, are especially useful for creating magical items! Consider shields which hurl insults, or chess pieces which argue about strategy! Magical plants make fantastic (and usually rare) magical items for DnD and other RPG games. Whether you’re looking for a McGuffin or a useful reward for players, this is a great one to consider that’s a little bit off the beaten track! For another example, check out the Frungilator from Empire of the Ghouls. It’s one of my favourite unusual magical items. It resembles a melted wand and has components from arcane trees, and it creates chaotic magical effects – kind of like the Wabbajock in Skyrim but three times more fun!
GM Tip 4 for magical plants, is drugs, poisons, potions and medicines!
Sure, regular plants qualify for this too – everything from foxgloves to belladonna – but aren’t fantasy plants just more fun?! And, usually, harder to get at, too! That’s important if you want to make these substances very powerful. At least if they’re rare, there’s a clear reason why they haven’t destabilised the status quo in your campaign setting.
Your magical drugs and poisons might grow only in remote locations – like deep in the forest, or only where a phoenix has done its business. In that case, sending your party on a quest for them is a great adventure hook! On the other hand, these plants might be illegal, or restricted substances, like opium poppies or marajuana in our world. In that case, your party might have to bribe guards, or steal the supply from the thieves’ guild. Once they have their hands on them, distilling them might require the expertise of a hard-to-find NPC. Or that NPC might exact a high price for distilling this life-giving medicine. These are all great ways to introduce complexities into a campaign.
And if you’re introducing poisonous plants, remember that some PCs will want to use them tactically, so make sure you come up with rules on those – things like saving throw DCs, the damage the poison does, and how long it lasts! World Anvil stat blocks are a great way to always have them on hand, right there in your article! And once you’ve created your species, you’ll be able to search it in seconds in the Digital DM’s screen, as well as see your PCs, NPCs, play music, and run every facet of your game, from planning to note keeping, to session reports!
Spells, Feats and Magical Powers:
DM tip 5 for fantasy plants – is using them to inspire your spells, feats and other magical powers! So, we’ve already discussed plants as potion ingredients. All that stuff pretty much goes for spell components too. But if you’ve got a druid or another nature-themed PC in the party, regardless of class or RPG system, then homebrewing spells which include plants, or the powers of plants, is a really great way to underline their theme. And if you’re homebrewing monsters – even plant monsters! – then giving them plant-like powers is a really great to theme them even further! If you’re looking for inspiration on this, remember that plants can be:
- Carnivorous and parasitic
- communicative, at least with one another
- camouflage themselves
- Have immune systems and interesting defenses, like poison, thorns and even spikes they can fire!
- oozing sticky goop, release spores and a whole bunch of other gross stuff!
Digging into some of their more extraordinary properties can help you create really unique and exciting spells, traits and feats for your nature-aligned characters and monsters!
Iiiiiiit’s challenge time! Your challenge, should you choose to except it, is:
Create a plant species that can be a trap, a component of a magical item, or even an attacking creature in your world!
You can submit your answer to the prompt here, and check out other people’s entries, if they’ve chosen to make them public. There’s always osmeone doing something awesome on World Anvil. And once you’ve written it, why not come back and paste your URL into the comments here, so more people can find and admire your work!
What’s your favourite use for fantasy plants in RPG games? Share your tips below! 🙂