This week’s encounter is Sylvan Genesis, a standalone one-shot that you can drop into any D&D campaign while the characters are exploring a forest. While traveling, the characters are attacked by forest spirits! Dryads may seem like peaceful fey spirits, but once provoked, their wrath is legendary. The dryads of this forest in particular have used lost sylvan magic to meld their spirits with the physical forms of treants to transform themselves into towering arboreal avengers.
Why This Encounter?
This encounter doesn’t come with a story attached, just the concept of dryads using animated trees or treants as gigantic, mecha-like suits of armor to attack the characters. Why are they attacking the characters? That’s up to you, based on what’s happened in your campaign so far.
One good reason for dryads to attack a group of well-armed traveling adventurers is out of self-defense and mistaken identity. Perhaps a group of loggers are clear-cutting the forest to fuel their forges, Isengard-style, and the dryads have been fighting back. When the characters enter the darkened forest with their metal weapons burning lanterns, the dryads mistakenly assume they are allies of the warmongers and attack.
Combat Encounter: Sylvan Genesis
This combat encounter is suitable for characters of 4th or 11th level. You can use the D&D Beyond Encounter Builder to adjust the difficulty of this encounter for parties that are weaker or stronger, or larger or smaller.
While the characters are traveling through the pitch-dark boughs of an ancient forest, they come across a clearing filled with stone pillars and an ancient statue of an archfey. The clearing is strewn with humanoid bones, and surrounded by huge trees with eerie faces in their knotted bark. If the characters investigate, searching for treasure, they are attacked by the dryad defenders of this forest. The sylvan spirits run to the eerie trees and meld into their bark, piloting the tree as if it were a massive suit of armor.
These dryads have used bloody rituals to unlock an ancient sylvan art known as tree melding. They have the following trait instead of the Tree Stride trait.
- Tree Meld. Once on her turn, the dryad can step magically into one tree or treant within her reach. The dryad has total cover while within the tree, and the tree follows her commands as if it were a mount. If this tree is nonmagical, it becomes an awakened tree.
These awakened trees or treants have the following additional traits while melded with a dryad:
- Tree Melded. The tree doesn’t have a place in initiative, as it moves and acts only as the dryad commands it, like a mount and rider. The dryad can use any of its actions, as well as any of the tree’s actions.
- Dual Consciousness (Treant Only). If the dryad melds with a treant, their minds work together, giving them enhanced perception and reactivity. The treant has advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks, Dexterity saving throws, and saving throws to avoid being stunned. Additionally, it can take two reactions on a turn instead of one.
- Unstable Magic. When the tree is reduced to 0 hit points, it explodes in an emerald burst of arcane flame. The tree is reduced to smoldering timbers and all creatures within 10 feet of the tree must make a DC 14 (awakened tree) or DC 16 (treant) Dexterity saving throw, taking 14 (4d6) fire damage on a failed save or half as much on a successful one. The dryad inside it automatically fails this save.
You can run this encounter with a grid map using the Blood Stone Clearing map from Tactical Maps Reincarnated. A low-res version of the map is provided here for reference, but you can buy the entire set of high-res digital maps for use in future encounters, or just buy the map for this encounter individually. These digital maps are great if your gaming group is social distancing and playing D&D over the internet.
As the characters are traveling through a dark and magical forest, read or paraphrase the following:
You walk through the forest, pushing gnarled branches out of your way and stepping over tangled undergrowth. You push through a veritable wall of branches and emerge in a clearing. It is lit by a dim, emerald light, as the sun filters through a thick, leafy canopy sixty feet above. Six immense trees border the clearing. The knots and gnarls in their bark give the distinct impression that the trees have twisted, snarling faces. A ring of stone pillars surrounds a wide, central pillar with an ancient statue standing atop it. A golden necklace sparkles around the statue’s neck.
If a character has a passive Wisdom (Perception) score of 15 or higher, or searches the clearing and makes a successful DC 15 Wisdom (Perception) check, read or paraphrase this additional portion:
Three humanoid figures peer down at you from atop the stone pillars. They have slender bodies and hard, angular features—and wear clothing made of hundreds of rustling leaves.
Battle in the Twisted Grove
Three dryads lurk in this clearing. They desire to kill the characters for intruding in their forest (see “Why This Encounter,” above). If the characters begin to explore the clearing and don’t notice them, the dryads attack with surprise. While the characters are surprised, the dryads cast entangle on as many of them as they can, and then run to eerie trees at the edge of the clearing—where they use their Tree Meld trait to enter them. The dryads cast first and ask questions later; if the characters want to parley, they must do so during combat.
The pillars in this clearing are 30 feet tall and are made of solid stone. They have AC 17 and 39 hit points, and are immune to psychic and poison damage. Creatures with the Siege Monster trait deal double damage to these pillars.
At Higher Levels: If the characters are at least 11th level, there are eight dryads atop the pillars, and at least one of the trees with eerie faces are is a slumbering treant. Six of the dryads attempt to meld with the trees, while the remaining two fight unprotected. You can adjust the difficulty of this encounter to fit your party’s level and size by changing how many of the trees are treants and how many will become awakened trees using the D&D Beyond Encounter Builder.
On their first turn in combat, the dryads flee towards the eerie trees at the edge of the clearing, and meld into the tree using their Tree Melding trait. Once they have melded, the dryads attack! They fight to the death, for protecting their forest is their purpose in life.
If the characters can convince the dryads that they mean no harm to the forest, they stop attacking. These dryads are enraged, and only consider the characters’ claims if they have evidence that they mean the forest no harm. If that evidence is presented, the characters can make a DC 15 Charisma (Deception or Persuasion) check. The check is made with disadvantage unless the characters’ evidence is particularly compelling. On a success, the dryads halt their attack and parley with the characters. On a failure, they continue their attack, swearing that all humanoids are a blight upon their forest and must be expunged.
The only treasure in this clearing is a bloodstained gold necklace that dangles around the neck of the ancient statue in the clearing’s center. This amulet is an amulet of health, and it was somehow involved in the bloody sacrifices made in this clearing.
If the characters parleyed with the dryads and agree to help them protect the forest, they offer the amulet as a reward. This quest could be stopping the loggers that are clear-cutting the forest, as mentioned in “Why This Encounter?” or it could be a quest of your own invention.
This encounter could end with the characters defeating and destroying the dryads, or with a more neutral result as the dryads tentatively let the characters pass through the forest, or with a more positive outcome if the characters convince the dryads to trust them. If the dryads come to trust the characters, they share the secrets of Tree Melding that they learned through their bloody rituals. As sylvan fey, dryads can use this magic with ease. Humanoids have a harder time with this magic, and only those with a particular attunement to nature can use it.
Clerics of the Nature domain, druids, paladins of the Oath of the Ancients, and rangers can learn this new homebrew spell: tree meld.
Did you like this encounter? Check out the encounters in the Encounter of the Week series. You can also pick up the adventures I've written on the DMs Guild, such as The Temple of Shattered Minds, a suspenseful eldritch mystery with a mind flayer villain. My most recent adventures are included in the Platinum Bestseller Encounters in Avernus, a collection of over 60 unique encounters created by the Guild Adepts, which can be used to enhance your campaign in Avernus or elsewhere in the Nine Hells. Also check out the Platinum Bestseller Tactical Maps: Adventure Atlas, a collection of 88 unique encounters created by the Guild Adepts, which can be paired with the beautiful poster battlemaps in Tactical Maps Reincarnated.
James Haeck is the lead writer for D&D Beyond, the co-author of Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, Baldur's Gate: Descent into Avernus, and the Critical Role Explorer's Guide to Wildemount, a member of the Guild Adepts, and a freelance writer for Wizards of the Coast, the D&D Adventurers League, and other RPG companies. He lives in Seattle, Washington with his fiancée Hannah and their animal companions Mei and Marzipan. You can find him wasting time on Twitter at @jamesjhaeck.