Embittered Willow

(Tom Clare

The benighted traveller, hurrying along the darkened lonely roads in anticipation of a bright hearth and a warm meal, is sometimes startled by the sound of enormous soft footfalls following close behind him. Stopping to look over his shoulder he may be able to just make out the immense shapeless form shambling after him, and hear the low, hate-filled muttering. If he is wise he will now take to his heels, for the night-walking tree is a terrible and disturbing thing to encounter.

Embittered willows, or sallow-trees, are malevolent trees that periodically uproot themselves and walk the land by night pursuing late walking mortals. Coppiced willows, especially, are said to bitterly resent being cut and become hateful and vindictive. The peasantry avoid copses of willows after dark.

Sallow-trees are slow-moving and ungainly things, easily outrun. But with their immense strength and size they can be lethal if they manage to box a party in. They are best retreated from; adventurers will find that there is little glory in engaging such a creature anyway (“ah, the brave Sir Cauldic, worthy opponent of foliage everywhere!”). Willows that begin to make a nuisance of themselves too close to settled areas are usually dealt with during the daylight hours by grim peasants armed with axes and torches.

Average Statistics

ATTACK 20 Boughs (d8+2, 7)
DEFENCE 12 Armour Factor: 7 versus blades, 4 versus axes, blunt weapons.
MAGICAL DEFENCE 6 Movement: 8m
Health Points: 6d6+30 Rank Equivalent: 7th

STEALTH 10 Vision: none, but treat as pantoptical

Treasure: roll 1d10 – 1 – 7= none; 8= moderate; 9=average; 10= good.
No tree has any need for gold or silver, but some stories tell of treasure, long buried among the roots of a willow, being uncovered when the thing goes wandering. This might lead to the unusual situation of a party might coming across the hoard before it encounters the monster…

But what about the Okemen? What indeed… I have never used okemen in a game – they’re a bit to Tolkeinesque for me – but I envisage the okemen as very powerful woodland spirits, far too formidable for all but the most heroic of characters. Outside high-level epic games I can only see them as a deus ex machina.

Sallow-trees, on the other hand are just ordinary willows gone bad (and as such are a spooky little part of British folklore – and Tolkein). They fit the low-level, eerie games I enjoy. They are strong, and certainly not to be underestimated, but are slow and fairly easy to avoid; they are best used either as a creepy encounter (in the darkness the party will not immediately know what is after them other than that it is
big), or as gatekeepers, blocking the characters’ way. One thing to emphasise in any such encounter is the unsettling sight of a tree – usually so sedentary – ‘coming to life’.

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