Since this tree is quite large, it would either grow by itself, say in a church yard or noble's field, or in a forest of yew trees. Any of these locations is suitable for this particular tree, though you might find the churchyard one to be less suitable than the others. It all depends on the location of your churchyard. The description assumes that the yew is in the midst of a forest, say the forest of Lethyr or Amtar, so make alterations as needed. This sidetrek is suitable for four 5th-level characters.
Of all species of trees that grow in Faerûn, the yew is one of the most regal and impressive. Like the oak, the yew lives for hundreds and even thousands of years, and it can grow to be 10 or more feet in diameter. The wood of a yew is strong and yet flexible, and many prize it for bowmaking. A yew's canopy can reach 50 feet or more and create a clearing underneath the tree. These clearings attract fey creatures, and many a gathering has taken place beneath the poisonous leaves of a yew tree.
Yew trees produce red berries, which are not poisonous, but all other parts of the tree are. Ingesting any of the tree (other than the berries) results in sickness and possibly death.
Taxine (yew tree poison): Ingested DC 13; initial damage 1d2 Con; secondary damage 2d6 Con; additive effects (taxine builds up in the system; each subsequent dose of taxine adds +2 to the Fort save DC to resist the poison's effect and adds +1d2 Con damage to the secondary damage); price 100 gp.
Walking along a particular path in a deep woods, one comes upon a clearing some 100 feet wide. A huge yew tree stands alone at the center of this clearing, its branches spanning more than 30 feet to either side of the massive trunk. The trunk is just over 10 feet in diameter, and roots break the surface to bring it nutrients as they reach across the clearing. The tree stands as a king over its neighbors, mocking their shorter lifespans with its huge girth. Nearby, a number of smaller yews, as well as other trees (including an oak tree), have grown at the edge of the clearing, giving space to the giant among them.
Folk in the nearby communities tell tales about this tree. Some say that it is the largest treant to ever live on Faerûn, and they report that it moves. The fact that some have seen it in different locations bolsters this belief. Some say that it serves as a holy place for Silvanus, or Mielikki, or even for the fey gods. A few trappers have reported seeing dancing figures under its branches at night, but they have never identified any of the figures except to say that they were beautiful beyond belief. The tree is famous in the area, and people make the journey just to see it, and to watch it at night to see if any of the stories are true. But no one who has tried to glimpse anything has ever succeeded; the only lucky ones have been those who visited the tree by accident.
What Once Was . . .
A great many people visit the site, both for religious and leisure reasons. One thing about the tree is not in dispute: a rather militant dryad makes it her home. She calls herself Camoleene, and she claims to have lived near the tree since it was only half as massive as it is now. She aggressively protects the tree and has exhibited some powers that convince people that she is a sorceress. However, if one shows no intent to harm any trees (especially hers and the yew) and if one greets her with the proper fey greeting upon arrival, she is more amenable to being approached. She teaches the greeting to anyone she befriends so that they can return to visit. Camoleene has a normally sunny disposition that turns suddenly stormy if a threat appears.
The truth behind this remarkable tree is even more remarkable than the tree itself. The tree has stood in this spot for more than 4,000 years. No one can guess how old it really is because it just stopped growing about 1,000 years ago. It doesn't even know how old it is anymore. Just after it stopped growing, a disease ravaged the heartwood, leaving the tree hollow but still very much alive. The tree hides a secret portal to a hidden place several fey call home, and the fey that use it guard it fiercely.
The hollow space within the tree is about 3-1/2 feet wide and 6 feet high (large enough for most Medium creatures to stand). The trunk has been split in a couple of places, and the split on the east side is about 1-1/2 feet wide -- large enough to allow Small humanoids and very thin Medium fey creatures to squeeze into the center space if they are not wearing any equipment. The fey sometimes hide a friend in this space, using illusions to cover the entrance crack.
The second, and narrower, split on the north side of the trunk is about a foot wide and can accommodate thin Small (and smaller) creatures and those who can change shape. The portal is bounded by the sides of the split here so that anyone squeezing through here who whispers "Nae saian luume" (translation from Sylvan: "It has been too long.") seems to pass into the center of a tree. Within the new clearing, which is the same size as the one the traveler just left, one sees the edge of the clearing and three passages of sorts that lead into other places that fey beings visit (or even live).The secret of the tree's defense used to be in the hands of its defender, a pixie sorcerer called Piemarchin. The dryad Camoleene is a creation of his illusion powers and his personality. Sometimes he used his polymorph spell to reinforce her "reality" to the senses of visitors who might be dangerous. Camoleene forestalled a great many threats. Against the more persistent attackers, she acted to stall and give the other defenders of the realm within the tree time to form a more militant defense. Piemarchin also used his powers to make the huge tree seem to move, as if it were a treant, and other fey have created illusions of the great tree while passing through other parts of the forest to further confuse nonfey of the true nature of the tree. To help bolster the dryad illusion, a permanent illusion of an oak tree is within sight of the yew.
. . . Is No Longer the Case
However, dark times have come to the yew tree. Piemarchin has been replaced by an evil pixie named Foxlin, who now impersonates the guardian. Having studied Piemarchin's methods extensively, Foxlin copies his dryad illusions to keep anyone from suspecting the truth, but Foxlin has some difficulty impersonating a good creature. Camoleene's personality has changed in subtle but noticeable ways. She has a vacant expression with very red, full lips. She tends to sneer and be sarcastic and intolerant. Anyone who is familiar with Piemarchin's version of Camoleene can attempt a DC 20 Spot check to note that Foxlin's version is a near twin, but not the original.
Foxlin knows of the fey portal, and he seeks to control who uses it by controlling the tree. By this plan, he hopes to open it to fey who have his same ambitions so that they can take control of the area beyond the portal. Those who used the portal when it was under Piemarchin's control have not yet discovered the problem, since Foxlin has been very careful. He hopes to bring in some stronger allies and overwhelm the good fey before they discover his ruse. (DMs are encouraged to create some specific goal that Foxlin wishes to achieve when he gains control of the area, such as power over an artifact that the good fey guard.)
Foxlin plays practical jokes on visitors as well, and sometimes he chooses to pull dangerous ones. He loves to laugh at another's expense. Sometimes, if he is feeling irritable, he simply attacks from within the tree, making his scorching rays look as if Camoleene is casting them; he can accomplish this by using his greater invisibility power and standing directly behind the illusory dryad when casting the spell. Finally, if it appears that his ruse is going to be discovered, he retreats to the forest and calls his friend, an evil treant that has moved into the grove next to the yew, for assistance against the pesky adventurers. If the PCs stay at the tree or visit frequently, they are sure to come afoul of Foxlin's sense of humor.
Treant: hp 66, see Monster Manual, page 244.
Piemarchin or Foxlin: Male pixie sorcerer 6; CR 10; Small fey; HD 6d4; hp 15; Init +5; Spd 20 ft., fly 60 ft. (good); AC 19, touch 16, flat-footed 14; Base Atk +3; Grp -1; Atk or Full Atk +5 melee (1d4/19-20, masterwork short sword) or +10 ranged (1d6/x3, masterwork longbow); SA special arrows, spell-like abilities; SQ damage reduction 10/cold iron, greater invisibility, low-light vision, spell resistance 15; AL NG; SV Fort +2, Ref +7, Will +8; Str 10, Dex 20, Con 10, Int 14, Wis 17, Cha 22. Height 2 ft. 3 in., weight 17 lbs.
Skills and Feats: Bluff +14, Concentration +8, Diplomacy +8, Hide +9, Intimidate +8, Knowledge (local) +3, Move Silently +8, Sense Motive +6, Spot +6; Dodge[B], Reach Spell, Silent Spell, Still Spell.
Special Arrows (Ex): Piemarchin and Foxlin employs arrows that deal no damage but have special effects.
Memory Loss: An opponent struck by this arrow must succeed on a DC 18 Will save or lose all memory. The save DC is Charisma-based and includes a +2 racial bonus. The subject retains skills, languages, and class abilities but forgets everything else until it receives a heal spell or memory restoration with limited wish, wish, or miracle.
Sleep: Any opponent struck by this arrow, regardless of Hit Dice, must succeed on a DC 18 Fortitude save or be affected as though by a sleep spell.
Spell-Like Abilities: 1/day -- dancing lights, detect chaos, detect evil, detect good, detect law, detect thoughts (DC 18), dispel magic, entangle (DC 17), lesser confusion (DC 17), permanent image (DC 22, visual and auditory elements only), polymorph (self only). Caster level 14th.
Greater Invisibility (Su): Piemarchin and Foxlin remain invisible even when they attack. This ability is constant, but they can suppress or resume it as a free action.
Sorcerer Spells Known (6/8/7/4 per day; caster level 6th): 0 -- daze (DC 16), detect magic, mage hand, message, prestidigitation, ray of frost (+9 ranged touch), touch of fatigue (+4 melee touch, DC 16); 1st -- charm person (DC 17), ray of enfeeblement (+9 ranged touch), shield, shocking grasp (+4 melee touch); 2nd -- scorching ray (+9 ranged touch), touch of idiocy (+4 ranged touch); 3rd -- major image (DC 19).
Possessions: Bracers of armor +2, masterwork small short sword, masterwork small longbow, 14 arrows in quiver, cloak of Charisma +2, spell components in pouch, breeches and boots.
Reach Spell (from Complete Divine): You may cast a spell that normally has a range of "touch" at any distance up to 30 feet. The spell effectively becomes a ray, so you must succeed at a ranged touch attack to bestow the spell upon the recipient. A reach spell uses up a spell slot two levels higher than the spell's actual level.
Game Resources: To use the material in this article to its fullest, check out the following resources: Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting, Player's Handbook, Monster Manual, Complete Divine, Dungeon Master's Guide.
About the Author
Robert Wiese is a veteran of the RPGA offices, where he worked for seven years and has been a member since early 1991. In that time he has written over 60 adventure scenarios for the club, a couple of articles for Polyhedron, and the Living Force Campaign Guide (the last one with Morrie Mullins). He also got the Living Greyhawk and Living Force campaigns off the ground and into the hands of wonderful members to develop. Now he works at the University of Nevada at Reno in the Biochemistry department, proving that you never can tell where you'll end up.