Finding a Big Bad: Plants!
Get out your trowels and gardening gloves, today we’re going to dive into the jungles of the Plant monster type. Plants have a handful of monsters that appear in the Monster Manual and the highest CR threat of any plant monster is CR 9 (that I could find). However, this doesn’t mean that you couldn’t run an exciting campaign filled with twiggy baddies ready to make the party mulch.
Plants as Monsters of the Week
Twig, Needle, & Vine Blights (CR ⅛ – ½)
Blights are a family of awakened plants that seek out and destroy intruders in their woods. The Twig and Vine Blights are able to hide in the woods, being indistinguishable from a shrub or a tangle of vines while motionless. The Needle Blight resembles a humanoid. Together they can be a potent challenge for a low level party, having to deal with ambush attacks and entrapment of their victims in the forest.
The Monster Manual lays out that they’re the result of an evil vampire doing evil stuff, but you can really have them come about because of any malicious magic. Or they could be awakened plants that are fed up with humanoids attacking their forest.
Gas Spore (CR ½)
If you always wished you could have a plant-flavored beholder (vegan beholder?) then look no farther than the Gas Spore. This little planty foe is full of exploding death gas intent on spreading its spores far and wide. They even have a feature where they look like a beholder unless a successful Intelligence (Nature) check is passed.
Assassin Vine (CR 3)
A classic predatory plant, the Assassin Vine sneaks along a forest floor, searching for prey to fertilize its roots. They have a powerful construct attack (complete with extra poison damage) and can cause the ground to become difficult terrain.
While common to forests, a rogue assassin vine cutting given to a noble (or player) could make a great assassination attempt. These could also be placed in wait for any who would sneak into a druid’s grove.
The mushroom men of the Underdark, Myconids possess an alien intelligence and spores that can cause create zombies, stun, or even cause them to hallucinate. These intelligent mushrooms can be allies or enemies to your party, perhaps emerging from a cave to attack miners who have edged into their territory or serving as guides through the Underdark.
Kelpie (CR 4)
A seaweed monster that can change its appearance to resemble a humanoid or beast, Kelpies can be fun enemies to throw into a nautical campaign or even a session where the party takes a long rest near a lake. They can employ a powerful hypnosis that charms the creature in an attempt to drown them. It can even speak Common, potentially luring altruistic adventurers looking to save a drawing child to their doom.
Wood Woad (CR 5)
Woah! A wood woad is magically created in a dark ritual that sacrifices a victim to imbue a tree with an undying sense of purpose. They protect magical sites and are immortal, potentially making them into sources of ancient lore for the party. They are also driven by a need to have a purpose to fulfill, from protecting a sacred grove, to following their creator’s wishes. This monster is also highly adoptable as a campaign mascot.
Treant (CR 9)
Treants are awakened trees that guard forests and protect them from humanoids and other threats. Tied to a grove of trees and capable of communicating with the plants and animals that inhabit the woodlands, Treants are great monsters to use as a way to indicate a larger evil is afoot. A treant voluntarily leaving its grove is unheard of, so when it happens, there must be some evil pushing them out.
Plants as a Big Bad
Because of a lack of high level CR plant monsters, you might think that a plant can’t make a good Big Bad. But really, a good Big Bad is a combination of:
- Connection to the Party
A plant creature can easily fit all of those, especially the intelligent or awakened ones. Whether the motivation is revenge on the party for desecrating a grove, or perhaps reforesting the world and uprooting humanoid civilization, choose a motivation that is grounded in your setting and compelling enough that the players feel like they must stop it.
Give the plant monster minions and allies to help its plan along, whether that’s a powerful fey lord or mind-controlled humanoids. This allows you to increase the threat of the plant from just an awakened shrub to an awakened shrub with a fantastical army.
Finally, connect the Big Bad Plant to your party somehow. How are their stories interlinked beyond just “We’re adventurers and the plant is the bad guy”. Maybe the plant took one of their loved ones and turned them into a minion. Maybe the party druid feels conflicted over going to war with nature. Whatever it is, talk it over with your players to see how their feeling about the connection.
Next time we will slide into how to make an Ooze a compelling big bad.
Image from Little Shop of Horrors