The Magic Tree


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The term “forest” covers a lot of ground, literally and figuratively. In the typical campaign world, unspoiled by industrial revolutions and large-scale lumbering operations, expanses of densely packed trees can be found in any climate except the polar regions, where the eternal cold makes it impossible for trees and other large plants to survive.

Forests in different climatic areas contain different kinds of trees: evergreens, or conifers, in the subarctic; deciduous, or leaf-bearing, in temperate regions; and “evergreens” of an entirely different sort in subtropical and tropical areas. Characters may discover a large stand of tall cactus in the middle of a desert, but this feature does not qualify as a forest in game terms; the area is still considered as desert for purposes of weather determination, availability of food and water, and so forth.

Taiga (a Russian word) is the name often used to refer to the band of forest that exists on Earth, forming a rough circle just south of the Arctic Circle. The northern edge of the taiga is the “tree line,” north of which the climate will not support large plant life. The conifers get their name from their distinctive shape - a tall, thin cone that enables them to shed snow easily. Their branches are tightly packed with twigs, and the twigs are covered with needles - leaves that are very narrow and have a very small surface area, so that the tree loses very little water through evaporation. (Conifers don’t need as much water as other trees, but they have to be careful to conserve what they do receive.) Conifer branches are a good source of material for an impromptu shelter because their ”leaves” are so densely packed. Where water is relatively more abundant (near rivers and lakes, and on the southern edge of the taiga), some broadleaf trees may be located. They blossom only briefly during the short subarctic summer, but are able to prosper year after year because of the availability of water.

Temperate forests contain a wide variety of trees, all of which have one important common feature: They are very adaptable, able to withstand the scorching heat of a temperate summer as well as the vicious deep-freeze of a temperate winter. Most temperate forests are composed primarily of deciduous trees - the kind that shed their leaves when cold weather approaches, stand with branches bared to the winter wind, and then grow new leaves when the cold season is over. A temperate forest is a lush breeding ground for many types of smaller plants because the “crop” of fallen leaves each autumn keeps the soil rich in nutrients. However, there are fewer ground plants and less underbrush in a temperate forest than in a rainforest, for the reasons explained in the following paragraph. The largest trees in a temperate forest (usually oak, maple, and ash) can be as much as 160 feet tall with a “leafspan” nearly as great as that.

Rainforest is the name usually given to forests in subtropical and tropical climates. The distinctive feature of a rainforest is its ‘‘layered’’ composition; trees of several different heights coexist with low-lying shrubs and ferns. Most of the trees in a rainforest have thin, straight trunks that stretch toward the sky and are topped (in the fashion of an ice-cream cone or a mushroom) by a roughly egg-shaped clump of vegetation. The trees do not spread out close to the ground the way that trees in a temperate forest do, which makes it possible for a rainforest to support a thick layer of low-lying vegetation at ground level. On a sunny day, a lot of light reaches the floor of a rainforest; on the same kind of day in a temperate forest, many areas beneath wide, tall trees remain shaded from dawn to dusk. As one might expect from its name, a rainforest is also covered with vegetation because of the large amount of precipitation the area receives. Trees in a rainforest are green all year round; before old leaves grow large and drop off, new ones have already appeared to take their places.

Forest areas are replete with natural shelter. An especially dense patch of trees or large plants can give characters some protection from wind and precipitation simply by its presence. However, pack animals may not be willing or able to enter an area of closely packed vegetation unless there is a path into it or through it that they can negotiate. In a forest of normal or even light density, boughs or branches can be cut from trees and laid across a grid of poles to give characters a roof over their heads and (if it is properly positioned) protection from the full force of wind and precipitation. It takes 3-8 turns (ld6+2) for a single character to obtain the materials for a simple shelter of this type, minus 2 turns (to a minimum of 3) for each additional character assisting in the work. It takes another 6 turns for a character to lash together the poles and bind the “shingles” to the grid, minus 1 turn for each additional character assisting (to a maximum of two helpers). This construction time is halved if a character with proficiency in rope use is among those doing the work.

Call Woodland Beings: The presence of a character with proficiency in animal lore will not enhance the chances of this spell succeeding, as with animal summoning (see above), since this proficiency does not impart any special knowledge about the sorts of fantastic creatures that can be called by this spell.

Commune With Nature: The spell lasts until the caster has requested and found out one fact for each level of experience. The caster need not maintain total concentration on the spell for it to remain in effect; he can move normally, eat, converse with companions, and so forth. But the spell will expire prematurely if the caster performs any strenuous physical or mental activity, if he is struck by a physical or magical attack, or if he loses consciousness.

May the forest be with you.
You’ve already established lots of places (high mountains, deserts, arctic regions) where forests can’t grow; now is the time to decide where they do appear. Mark off the forest areas on your world, remembering that they are more likely to be located along or near large bodies of water. Don’t go above the tree line (where arctic climate begins) and don’t put a forest right next to a desert, unless you have a specific reason for creating a region of “unearthly” terrain in that area.


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