Wednesday, September 7, 2016

F is for Flora

Plants hate Vargr (Dalgoda #2, December 1984)
Plant Encounters in Traveller

"Oh, what's happening? What is it? I can't run anymore. I'm so sleepy... I have to rest for just a minute."
     - Dorothy (in the poppy field), Wizard of Oz

Science fiction has a long, if sometimes bizarre, history of incorporating plants into storytelling. The 1950s brought us the ambulatory and murderous Triffids, and human replication in the form of giant seed pods in The Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Roger Corman introduced us to the cannibalistic Audrey II in The Little Shop of Horrors. Stephen King showed us what happens when space moss runs amok in Creepshow.

In my experience, Classic Traveller makes little use of plants as part of its storytelling. The only real resource I found was the occasional plant related event from Supplement 2 – Animal Encounters. These are mostly simple one or two sentence explanations of how the plant behaves during the event and are decent enough for what they are. Since they all require a roll of a 10 on a random table, I wonder how may Traveller players actually encountered any of them.

Plants don’t have to be included in every adventure. Use them to fit your story and players. A group of gun happy players acting as mercenaries may find plants less interesting than say, a crashed scout making his way across alien terrain. Rather than make plant encounters part of a random table, I would place a specialized plant encounter in the path of the PCs relative to the needs of the game. With that in mind here are some plants, some based on popular fiction, for your consideration:
Crying Mimic
This large, radial jungle plant can mimic the sound its preys young. When the adult comes to investigate, it traps its prey with its outstretched, ground-covering leaves, entangling the prey until dead. The leaves roll up around the plant body while the prey is digested. Usually not a threat to humans, as the plant is too small to snare one, but it will try anyway. The crying sounds it makes may be enough to distract them from the path they are on however.
Pearl Pod Plant (No Man’s Sky video game)
This plant is primarily a giant pod with a valuable “Albumen Pearl” inside. In the game, taking the pearl triggers an unexplained Grand Theft Auto-style wanted level, and you are pursued by trigger happy robotic sentinels. Ditch the sentinels and have some reason why the PCs shouldn’t want to keep the pearl. For extra fun, make this the last part of an Alien-like life cycle, where the pearl is the result of the prey devoured by the above mentioned Mimic.
Dr. Hineman’s Doll's Eye hybrid (Minority Report)
Animated vines are pretty much a sci-fi trope. Designed for home defense, this plant entangles as well as poisons. Any PC within range of the plant must roll DEX or less on 2d6 to avoid becoming entangled in the plant. Poison is automatic upon entanglement. Roll STR or less on 2d6 to escape the plant. The toxin takes effect after END/2 minutes, during which the victim will hallucinate blue shapes. If the specific poison antidote is not available, use of a general med kit and a successful MED roll is required to avoid unconsciousness.
River Krust (Dishonored video game)
According to the Dishonored Wiki these are actually a type of mollusk. For the sake of this article though, they're plants.
These are groups of large hard-shelled pods that inhabit river banks, swamps, and the undersides of piers and sewer areas. They are typically found in groups of 4 to 6. They are immobile, but can sense when humans and other animals nearby. They then open their pod to shoot an acidic liquid at their victim. The acid does 1d6+2 damage per hit and the krust can spit once per round. Killing a river krust can be achieved by inflicting 36 point of damage when closed, or 6 points of damage when open (during any round they can spit). On a roll of 8+, a deceased river krust will have a “river pearl” in it worth Cr100 each.
Tangle Kelp (Plants vs Zombies video game)
Yep, another animated vine. This seaweed will entangle any one swimmer who passes though it on a roll of 8+. Entangled characters must roll STR or less on 2d6 to break free. Untangled PCs can assist by rolling their STR or less on 2d6, but if successful, they will be entangled on a roll of 8+. Attacking the kelp with standard weapons does not really kill it, but inflicting 12 points of damage upon it will cause it to release its grip on the victim.
Healing Plant (generic)
This plant is known widely for it medicinal properties. Chewing a handful of this plants' leaves will decrease normal healing times by half.
Psionic Screamer
The berries of this plant are one of the primary ingredients in the making of psi-drug and are much sought after. The plant has psionic-like abilities and can project a telepathic warning or sense of fear to approaching humans and other animals. PCs unaware of the plant or more than 50’ away from it will get a generally sense of ill will and not go in the direction of the plant. The sense of danger or fear increases as a character gets closer to the plant. Unless psionically shielded, players must roll INT or less on 2d6 three times to continue toward the plant. DM+1 at 30’, DM+2 at 10’, and DM+3 at the plant to pick its berries. Failure to make a successful INT roll will cause the PC to run the opposite direction of the plant until out of range, usually about 50’
Golden Kidour Wildflowers
These wildflowers release pollen that causes a soporific effect. Each PC who comes in contact with a growth of these flowers must roll 9+ on 2d6. Players who fail their roll fall asleep the next round and stay asleep for 13-END hours unless revived. Players who stay awake have two rounds to take action before having to make the roll again. During that time they can put on appropriate breathing gear, try to leave the area, revive a sleeping PC, etc. Vargr characters can smell the pollen at a distance and sense that something is wrong. The pollen has no effect on Aslan characters. If care is taken, the flowers and pollen can be harvested to create a kind of crude “sleeping dust”, although it is much weaker in small quantities.
Ramaria garenium tikelum
This a genetically modified version of a common mushroom found Algine (Spinward Marches 2308). It was engineered by two entrepreneurial scientists on Regina with the specific goal of providing an inexpensive solution to the problems inherent with the air systems of the Type S scout/courier.

The modified mushrooms grow very well in the dark, require very little care, and do an excellent job of removing common odors from the air while providing a light, pleasant scent. The mushrooms are grown in shallow trays filled with a concentrated nutritive gel bath. The nutritive gel bath needs to be replenished every two months, but this is a simple and inexpensive process. A tray of mushrooms is typically placed in the ductwork, just inside a rooms supply air vent, and only three or four trays are needed to resolve the odor issue on a typical scout ship.

Beta testing scouts were ecstatic with the results. It wasn't long before they were illegally sharing the mushrooms with other scouts, much to the consternation of two scientists, who were hoping to make a killing on their new product.

Use of the mushrooms revealed a curious side effect, which was not revealed until after about six months of field use. Scouts were surprised to find the interior of their ships, especially the freshers and galleys, looking like scenes of mass murder. Walls, floors, and ceilings were found covered in blood.

It took only a short time for the scouts to determine that they were not actually seeing blood, but it took several weeks to determine the nature of the true problem. After about six months, the mushrooms release a very small, almost invisible, cloud of spores. The spores themselves are harmless, but when they come in contact with high humidity or moist areas they form a liquid that is almost exactly the same color and consistency of fresh human blood.

Efforts to re-engineer the mushrooms to eliminate the spore problem failed and the product was abandoned. Scouts who were involved with the mushrooms jokingly refer to the ordeal as “The Bloodbath Incident”.

The Vine that Ate Rhylanor
I was traveling through Tennessee several years ago and was completely captivated by the Kudzu vines I saw there. Being a north-westerner most of my life, I had not spent much time in the south, and was surprised that I hadn't even heard of this amazing plant. For those who don't know, Kudzu is a Japanese ornamental vine that was introduced to the United States in 1876. I won't give the entire history (you can check out the Wikipedia entry here). Suffice to say it is an invasive species of vine that if left unattended will grow over everything.

I couldn't help but think of  "The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill" from the  movie Creepshow. What an interesting Traveller scenario you might come up with if you took this concept and cranked it up to 11. Imagine an invasive plant species being taken away from its native environment and finding its perfect growing place. It gets past planetary quarantine and then spreads like wildfire, but aside from its growth, the plant is completely benign.

The government has limited resources and has to determine the most necessary places to fight the plant. The vine disrupts every level of society, choking roads, halting production. Vines grow thick over the starport buildings as maintenance crews torch landing pads to clear them temporarily for ships to land. The enemy isn't man or some alien species, it's nature.

"But make no mistake: the weeds will win: nature bats last." - Robert Pyle


  1. There are a couple of Traveller adventures that use flora as a component of the adventure. One is Tarsus, where the tanglewood tree and forest play a major role in one of the sub-adventures in the module. The other is the Marooned/Marooned Alone Double Adventure, where the interesting glueberry tree can be a factor in survival in more ways than one, depending on how creative the players can get.

    The Tanglewood tree is a sort of land-growing mangrove, spreading out using shoots from near-surface roots, and also having branches extend roots to the ground beneath them. This makes for quite a tangle, hence the name "Tangletree", and also a ready means of movement and concealment amoung the branches.

    The Glueberry tree of Pagliacci is a low-growing tree that produces edible seed pods that also have the chance of being very sticky, producing sticky tendrils by the hundreds that will stick to most things. Being both edible and sticky, this greatly enhances the spread of the tree throughout the steppe areas of the planet.

    1. I still have my copy of Tarsus. It was the second game I every GM'd. I don't remember the characters adventuring in the walds, but then again it was 30 years ago. Maybe it was the players wanting to take a different approach, my very green refereeing skills, or the fact the book says "Such walds are totally impassible to land vehicles, and require grav vehicles to pass over them". Maybe we took that too seriously and just never went in, but you are right. Tarsus does have quite a number of plant encounters. I've also got the LBB of the Marooned adventure, but have never played it. I'll have to take a look. Thanks!