Vicious Venues
The Old Oak Tree
By Skip and Penny Williams

The Old Oak Tree includes encounters of EL 4-13, and it is suitable for use with any D&D campaign.

The massive tree has a lofty crown higher than a temple spire and a spread of branches broad enough to shade a whole town square. The mossy trunk looks big enough to swallow a peasant's hut. Though its sheer size suggests great age, the tree seems exceptionally vigorous. It has very green leaves and no visible dead wood.

Ancient oaks aren't so rare, but this one is special. Belrioveial, a dryad, calls the tree home.

Background for the DM

Belrioveial's oak is sturdy and healthy, but it's hollow. Belrioveial has ample room inside to dwell in reasonable comfort, at least by human standards.

Belrioveial spends her time tending her tree, carefully pruning its leaves and branches to promote vigor and strength. She also keeps watch over the countryside around the tree, tending the plants if necessary and protecting them from damage or destruction.

About Belrioveial

Belrioveial has lived in her tree for much longer than she can remember, but it has been several centuries at least. Whatever happens to her, Belrioveial always tries to be as calm and strong as her tree. She doesn't get angry, but she doesn't back down either. She treats friendly visitors with soothing words and an abundance of charm.

Birdsong fills the air in the glade, and the scent of flowers wafts on the breeze. Soon the songs of the birds seem to take on words -- or perhaps the words are so perfectly attuned to the sounds of nature that they seem a part of it.

The mighty oak is strong and tall,
The birds take joy in flight,
The butterflies dance in the breeze,
Won't you stop and rest the night?

There is time tomorrow for battle,
And time beyond that for treasure,
But today is a gem beyond price,
And time with friends a gift beyond measure.

The singer is a lovely maid who sits in a lower bough of the ancient oak. Her hair is the vibrant green of summer leaves, and her eyes are as brown as the oak's bark. "I didn't mean to startle you," she says in her soft, musical voice. "But this lovely day would be even more pleasant with some company. Won't you rest a while and have some lavender tea with me?"

When Belrioveial feels threatened, she sets about defeating -- or utterly destroying -- her foes with the same serenity.

Statistics for Belrioveial at several different levels follow.

Belrioveial: Dryad; CR 4; Medium fey; HD 4d6+4; hp 18; Init +5; Spd 30 ft.; AC 19, touch 15, flat-footed 14; Base Atk +2; Grapple +2; Atk and Full Atk +3 melee (1d4/19-20, masterwork dagger) or +8 ranged (1d8+1/+1d6 electricity/x3, masterwork longbow with +1 shock arrow); SA spell-like abilities; SQ damage reduction 5/cold iron, low-light vision, tree dependent, wild empathy +14 (+10 magical beasts); AL CG; SV Fort +2, Ref +9, Will +5; Str 10, Dex 21, Con 13, Int 18, Wis 13, Cha 22.

Skillsand Feats: Diplomacy +8, Escape Artist +12, Handle Animal +13, Hide +12, Knowledge (nature) +13, Listen +10, Move Silently +12, Profession (herbalist) +4, Ride +13, Sense Motive +4, Spot +3, Survival +8, Use Rope +12, Alertness, Negotiator.

Spell-Like Abilities: At will -- entangle (DC 17), speak with plants, tree shape; 3/day -- charm person (DC 17), deep slumber (DC 19), tree stride; 1/day -- suggestion (DC 19). Caster level 6th.

Tree Dependent (Su): The dryad is mystically bound to a single, enormous oak tree and must never stray more than 300 yards from it. Any who do become ill and die within 4d6 hours. A dryad's oak does not radiate magic.

Possessions:Bracers of armor +1, masterwork dagger, masterwork longbow, 8 +1 shock arrows.

Belrioveial: Dryad bard 3; CR 6; Medium fey; HD 7d67; hp 31; Init +5; Spd 30 ft.; AC 20, touch 16, flat-footed 15; Base Atk +4; Grapple +4; Atk and Full Atk +5 melee (1d4/19-20, masterwork dagger) or +10 ranged (1d8+1/+1d6 electricity/x3, masterwork longbow); SA spell-like abilities; SQ bardic knowledge +7, bardic music 3/day (countersong, fascinate, inspire competence, inspire courage +1), damage reduction 5/cold iron, low-light vision, tree dependent, wild empathy +14 (+10 magical beasts); AL CG; SV Fort +3, Ref +12, Will +8; Str 10, Dex 21, Con 13, Int 18, Wis 13, Cha 22.

Skillsand Feats: Concentration +7, Diplomacy +10, Escape Artist +12, Handle Animal +13, Heal +3, Hide +12, Knowledge (nature) +13, Listen +10, Move Silently +12, Perform (sing) +12, Profession (herbalist) +10, Ride +13, Sense Motive +10, Spellcraft +10, Spot +3, Survival +8, Use Rope +12; Alertness, Negotiator, Spell Focus (enchantment).

Bardic Music: Belrioveial can use bardic music three times per day. See the bard class features on page 29 of the Player's Handbook.

Countersong (Su): Belrioveial can use music or poetics to counter magical effects that depend on sound.

Fascinate (Sp): Belrioveial can use music or poetics to cause one or more creatures to become fascinated with her.

Inspire Competence (Su): Belrioveial can use music or poetics to help an ally succeed at a task.

Inspire Courage (Su): Belrioveial can use music or poetics to bolster her allies against fear and improve their combat abilities.

Spell-Like Abilities: At will -- entangle (DC 17), speak with plants, tree shape; 3/day -- charm person (DC 17), deep slumber (DC 19), tree stride; 1/day -- suggestion (DC 19). Caster level 6th.

Tree Dependent (Su): The dryad is mystically bound to a single, enormous oak tree and must never stray more than 300 yards from it. Any who do become ill and die within 4d6 hours. A dryad's oak does not radiate magic.

Bard Spells Known (3/3 per day; caster level 3rd): 0 -- dancing lights, daze (DC 17), ghost sound (DC 16), mage hand, prestidigitation, resistance; 1st -- grease (DC 17), lesser confusion (DC 18), ventriloquism (DC 17).

Possessions:Bracers of armor +1, ring of protection +1, masterwork dagger, masterwork longbow, 10 +1 shock arrows, wand of daze monster (21 charges).

Belrioveial: Dryad bard 7; CR 10; Medium fey; HD 11d6+11; hp 49; Init +5; Spd 30 ft.; AC 22, touch 17, flat-footed 17; Base Atk +7; Grapple +7; Atk +8 melee (1d4/19-20, masterwork dagger) or +13 ranged (1d8+1/+1d6 electricity/x3, masterwork longbow with +1 shock arrow); Full Atk +8/+3 melee (1d4/19-20, masterwork dagger) or +13/+8 ranged 1d8+1/+1d6 electricity/x3, masterwork longbow with +1 shock arrow); SA spell-like abilities; SQ bardic knowledge +11, bardic music 7/day (countersong, fascinate, inspire competence, inspire courage +1, suggestion), damage reduction 5/cold iron, low-light vision, tree dependent, wild empathy +14 (+10 magical beasts); AL CG; SV Fort +6, Ref +14, Will +10; Str 10, Dex 21, Con 13, Int 18, Wis 13, Cha 23.

Skills and Feats: Concentration +8, Diplomacy +10, Escape Artist +18, Handle Animal +13, Heal +3, Hide +18, Knowledge (nature) +13, Listen +16, Move Silently +12, Perform (sing) +20, Profession (herbalist) +10, Ride +13, Sense Motive +16, Spellcraft +10, Spot +3, Survival +8, Use Rope +12; Alertness, Great Fortitude, Negotiator, Spell Focus (enchantment).

Bardic Music: Belrioveial can use bardic music three times per day. See the bard class features on page 29 of the Player's Handbook.

Countersong (Su): Belrioveial can use music or poetics to counter magical effects that depend on sound.

Fascinate (Sp): Belrioveial can use music or poetics to cause one or more creatures to become fascinated with her.

Inspire Competence (Su): Belrioveial can use music or poetics to help an ally succeed at a task.

Inspire Courage (Su): Belrioveial can use music or poetics to bolster her allies against fear and improve their combat abilities.

Suggestion (Sp): Belrioveial can use music or poetics to make a suggestion (as the spell) to a creature that she has already fascinated.

Spell-Like Abilities: At will -- entangle (DC 17), speak with plants, tree shape; 3/day -- charm person (DC 17), deep slumber (DC 19), tree stride; 1/day -- suggestion (DC 19). Caster level 6th.

Tree Dependent (Su): The dryad is mystically bound to a single, enormous oak tree and must never stray more than 300 yards from it. Any who do become ill and die within 4d6 hours. A dryad's oak does not radiate magic.

Bard Spells Known: (3/5/4/1 per day; caster level 7th): 0 -- dancing lights, daze (DC 17), ghost sound (DC 15), mage hand, prestidigitation, resistance; 1st -- cure light wounds, grease (DC 17), lesser confusion (DC 18), ventriloquism (DC 17); 2nd -- heroism, sound burst (DC 18), summon swarm, tongues; 3rd -- charm monster (DC 20), crushing despair (DC 20).

Possessions:Bracers of armor +2, ring of protection +2, masterwork dagger, masterwork longbow, 10 +1 shock arrows, wand of daze monster (12 charges), wand of lesser geas (24 charges).

Tactics: Belrioveial prefers negotiation to fighting, and she can prove an impressive negotiator. She's mainly concerned with the safety of her tree (and thus her own safety) and the health and beauty of the land around it. If she cannot persuade interlopers to treat the land with respect, she uses her magical abilities to lend a little weight to her persuasion. If an encounter comes down to a battle, Belrioveial tends to hide in the boughs of her tree and snipe with her bow. She concentrates her attacks on whoever seems the most belligerent. If Belrioveial can eliminate that character, she tries to open negotiations again. If a fight goes more than a few rounds, she uses her tree stride ability to move from tree to tree -- a tactic that tends to keep foes guessing about where Belrioveial actually is and also discourages them from attacking her tree.

The Setup

Dryads usually dwell deep in sylvan lands, where one finds nothing but trees and woodland creatures for miles and miles. Belrioveial is an unusual dryad, however, and her tree might be found anywhere. Perhaps she dwells in the last remaining stand of ancient forest in an area that has long been cleared for farmland. Her winning ways (and powers of enchantment) might have convinced settlers moving into the area to spare at least a few trees. Belrioveial might even be found dwelling in a city, where her tree and the surrounding woods form a park or an enclave where elves or gnomes dwell. In any case, one of following rumors or events might draw the PCs to Belrioveial's tree:

  • Belrioveial has grown lonely and taken a lover. Her companion might have entered the relationship willingly, or the dryad might have ensnared the character with her charm power (as legend says dryads are wont to do).

    The PCs might know the missing character or might be hired to locate and recover the character. Belrioveial is willing to release her companion, but only after a year and a day. The dryad might be convinced to surrender the companion earlier if the PCs do her some service, such as undertaking a task she cannot complete herself (she must remain near her tree), or perhaps finding her another companion.

  • Tales of a powerful enchantress who dwells in an invisible castle deep in the forest begin to circulate. The stories say the enchantress has unearthly beauty and impeccable manners, but that is merely a disguise; she really is a loathsome fiend that entraps mortals and feasts on their flesh and their souls.

    These tales might refer to a real demon or devil that has taken up residence near Belrioveial's tree. Or, the tales could be exaggerated stories based on Belrioveial herself. In this case, they might simply be wild rumors spun out of fear and ignorance, or perhaps a carefully planned deception aimed at removing Belrioveial from her forest. Greedy woodcutters or land speculators might lie behind the deception, or perhaps an evil forest creature, such as a green dragon, is behind it all. In any case, Belrioveial probably can set the story straight if the PCs give her a chance.

  • A group of forest denizens has put out a call for adventurers to help them with a problem. Perhaps they must deal with a monster they can't handle on their own. Perhaps they're involved in a dispute and require a disinterested third party to provide an escort or security for a diplomatic mission. Or perhaps a lost city has been rediscovered and the being dwelling near it merely wishes to have a say in who gets the privilege of exploring it.

    The forest residents have chosen Belrioveial to represent their interests and to handle all negations with strangers. If the PCs wish to take advantage of the opportunity the forest dwellers present, they must deal with Belrioveial, who can explain the terms and conditions of the deal and give them what information is available.

Visiting the Tree

Belrioveial's tree stands within a broad ring of younger oaks that have grown up from acorns the tree has dropped over the years.

The thick canopy of greenery overhead suddenly gives way to a loftier space, also roofed in living foliage. Here, a single tree rises above the surrounding forest. The effect resembles a dome rising above a wider hall; the gap between the tops of the lesser trees and the elder tree's branches creates a ring of fiery sunlight on the ground below, and beds of vibrant wildflowers thrive in the light. Elsewhere, a riot of ferns grows in the dim light.

The central tree has a bole as tall and wide as a castle tower and a spread of branches thick and wide enough to hold a small keep. The tree's thick bark, mossy trunk, and vast size would seem to suggest great age, though the whole tree seems as fresh and green as a sapling.

When her botanical chores don't demand Belrioveial's attention (see the About Belrioveial section), she usually relaxes in the tree's branches. She enters the tree's hollow trunk only to sleep or in inclement weather (though light rain or snow doesn't bother her much). An opening at the top of the trunk allows her access to the interior via a rope ladder. The opening isn't visible from the ground. Overhanging branches keep this entrance dry.

Inside the tree, Belrioveial has an upper chamber that serves her as a sitting room, kitchen, and pantry. Below that lies another floor with Belrioveial's bedchamber, and other rooms for storage and for guests. Belrioveial has a few pieces of furniture, which are made from green branches bent into shape and padded with moss and ferns where necessary.

Creatures (EL 4-13): In addition to Belrioveial, several of the dryad's neighbors often loiter near the tree. Some are neighbors dropping by to pass the time with the dryad, and others drop by to help keep her safe or to assist with her labors. Characters can meet Belrioveial alone or in the company with any of the following:

Satyrs (3-5): hp 22 each, see Monster Manual page 219. One of the satyrs has a set of pipes. These creatures come to flatter Belrioveial and flirt with her. She sometimes joins them in singing and dancing, but she usually keeps her distance.

Pixies (6-11): hp 3 each, see Monster Manual page 236. One of the pixies has the Otto'sirresistible dance ability. The pixies come to play harmless pranks on Belrioveial (and on any visiting satyrs). The pixies sometimes drive Belrioveial a little wild. Nevertheless, she is fond of the pixies and they absolutely adore her.

Dire Boars (1-2 or 5-8): hp 52 each, see Monster Manual page 63. These creatures come to gobble up the acorns that fall from Belrioveial's tree. Belrioveial has used her wild empathy ability to make them somewhat friendly and docile, at least toward her.

Tactics: While near Belrioveial's tree, none of these creatures will attack unless Belrioveial does or unless they perceive some threat to the dryad or her tree. In a fight, these creatures act according to their natures but also take their cues from Belrioveial. The satyrs or pixies don't use deadly force unless Belrioveial does. Once roused, however, they defend the dryad as though they were defending their own homes. The dire boars aren't so subtle. When they attack, they usually close with the closest enemy and fight until dead. Belrioveial adjusts her tactics to account for her allies. For example, when firing arrows she tries not to hit an ally, and she may use her enchantment abilities to break up attacks against them. If you're using a version of Belrioveial that includes bard levels, the dryad uses her bardic music and spells to benefit her allies.

About the Authors

Skip Williams keeps busy with freelance projects for several different game companies and was the Sage of Dragon Magazine for 18 years. Skip is a co-designer of the D&D 3rd Edition game and the chief architect of the Monster Manual. When not devising swift and cruel deaths for player characters, Skip putters in his kitchen or garden (rabbits and deer are not Skip's friends) or works on repairing and improving the century-old farmhouse that he shares with his wife, Penny, and a growing menagerie of pets.

Penny Williams joined the roleplaying game industry as Game Questions Expert for TSR, Inc. in the 1980s. Since then, she has served as RPGA Network Coordinator, PolyhedronNewszine editor, and Senior Editor and Coordinating Editor for the RPG R&D Department at Wizards of the Coast, Inc. Now a busy freelancer, Penny edits for several game companies and runs the online playtesting program for Wizards products. When not enhancing the cruelty of the deaths PCs will suffer at the hands of designers, Penny puts up jam, works jigsaw puzzles, and tutors students in math and science.


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