Posted by : David Guyll September 05, 2013

Dungeons & Dragons arbitrarily draws bits and pieces from various mythologies, especially when it comes to monsters: sometimes monsters with set populations can be found in abundance, have different origin stories (if they even had one at all), are named after another monster, come in numerous variations, and/or possess very different strengths and vulnerabilities.

I am used to the game taking liberties with its monsters, and really take no issue with it as long as the final result is something that I would want to use at the table. Even if this means that I end up changing the flavor and/or mechanics, I am good if something about it manages to inspire me.

For these two examples, the mechanics had better be pulling double duty.


Dryads
The dryad is a specific kind of nymph tied to oak trees. Others included meliai (ash trees), epimeliad (apple trees), and caryatid (walnut trees). As far as I can tell besides being immortal they have no real special powers, and only some hamadryads (a specific kind of dryad) die if the tree they are associated with is destroyed.

Dungeons & Dragons changed this up by separating the nymph and dryad into their own monster entries, with dryads having a proclivity for plants along with some charm effects. In 3rd Edition they were dependent on their tree, and would die if they were moved too far from it (and presumably if it was destroyed). 4th Edition toned down some of the more overt magical capabilities (no entangling roots or controlling trees), and did not by default bind them to a tree.

While I do not get why they had to make the nymph its own thing (or why they still do), this treatment is fine: it fits the concept of the dryad as a nature spirit, and the added magical powers better evoke this concept and make it more interesting to use.

What does neither of these things is the story of a nymph who falls in love with a mortal, gets ignored for decades, put to sleep when she tries to return home, and finally bound to a tree when the faerie queen decides to be "nice" to her. Why anyone would think that making an iconic nature spirit the result of a curse is beyond me. I am not saying that you cannot bind anyone to a tree, but there should be some kind of reason for it (especially an ironic one when you are talking about fey).

Like a greedy mortal who despoils the forest. Stick that guy in a tree. Maybe even someone who makes a bargain for a long life if you want to go with a monkey's paw kind of irony. What does not make sense is a nymph that wants to go back to the mortal realm. Also, the very specific distance and tree-powers; what is it with curses-with-benefits, anyway?

Redcap
As baffling as the dryad's story is, the redcap is even more confusing: a sailor begs the gods to return a dead loved one to life, and when a hag shows up instead he just decides to roll with it. She says that she will do it in exchange for a favor, because that has never worked out, and surprise, surprise, she brings her back as a zombie because of course she does.

The was a Stephen King fan.
Obviously the sailor refuses to honor his part of the bargain, because of course he does, and in retribution she transforms him into a redcap because of course she...wait, what?

As with the dryad, I am not seeing any underlying theme, here. This guy is a sailor. Would it not make more sense in some capacity to curse someone predisposed to violence? Like a hunter that slaughtered animals for sport, or someone that wanted revenge against a tribe of orcs and asked for strength. It is not an interesting or rich story. It just seems...random. Like you could substitute any other fey and it would make just as little sense.

I am not saying that everything needs to be explained, but what explanation you do provide should be engaging and inspiring. When the explanation could just as easily be a clan of especially murderous dwarves, goblins, and/or elves I do not see why you would go with something as tame as a cursed sailor. When I think of a cursed sailor, I think wereshark, lacedon, or ghost pirate.

And in the case of the third Pirate's of the Caribbean movie, a horrible curse.

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