THE HANGING TREE
A monster encounter for D&D 5th Edition
Intended for a Level 6-7 Adventuring Party
“Some trees you just don’t pick fruit from.” —Wester, the Gravedigger
Several townships execute their criminals by hanging. Civilized towns use a gallows, but if you live in the outskirts, a sturdy tree will do just fine. Even better, leaving the bodies of the hanged to dangle can serve as a warning to everyone else. At times, however, these trees can be infused with necromantic energy and become an evil force of death and carnage.
The hanging tree itself is void of any leaves or fruit—it is nothing more than a dried, dead trunk with branches webbing out from it. Most hanging trees, once cursed, develop faces in their bark that are frozen in horror. After a time, the tree gains sentience, uprooting itself and stomping across the fields towards the nearest cemetery, where it hunkers down and spreads its roots throughout the graves. With this method, the hanging tree is able to spread its undead curse through the cemetery, afflicted the corpses with unlife of their own. Even more peculiar, once the hanging tree’s curse has metastasized throughout, the necromantic energy spreads from its branches and into the corpses dangling from its branches, bringing them to life as well.
The shambling corpses that accompany the hanging tree will do everything in their power to defend it. Since the hanging tree funnels its evil energy to keep the undead “alive,” they see it as the most precious creation around them. Any adventurer approaching a hanging tree will have to deal with swarms of zombies, skeletons, and other minions. Even worse, the most powerful undead creatures guarding the tree are the dead criminals hanging from the branches. If still leashed to the branches, they will cut themselves free and attack their foes. As if the swarm of undead isn’t enough, the hanging tree itself can attack intruders with swipes of its powerful branches (sometimes even hurling the undead dangling from it!)
Incorporating The Hanging Tree into Your Game
Almost any little village will have a graveyard, which makes a prime location for a hanging tree. To add to the mystery, have a town that already keeps a giant tree for hanging in the center of its cemetery. In this manner, the town will be even more confused as to where the undead are coming from (as opposed to seeing a creepy-looking tree suddenly appear in the graveyard.) On a more urban scale, an animated hanging tree bursting through the city wall and causing a catacomb’s worth of dead to rise from the sewers will make a great fight in a cityscape.
The Technical Side
The dead that protect the hanging tree are various types of skeletons and zombies. No incorporeal undead exist around the hanging tree (such as ghosts) but you are free to incorporate them if you’d like. The criminal bodies hanging from its branches are ghouls. A typical swarm of undead accompanying a hanging tree consists of 8-12 skeletons, 6-10 zombies, and 4-6 ghouls. The hanging tree itself is a treant with the following modifications:
- The treant is undead in addition to its other types.
- Its alignment is chaotic evil.
- It loses its Animate Trees ability and gains the following: Animate Corpse. As a standard action, the hanging tree can choose up to three corpses of Medium or Small humanoids within range. Each corpse becomes a zombie under the hanging tree’s control. An animated zombie acts as an ally of the hanging tree. The zombie remains animate for 1 day or until it dies; until the hanging tree dies or is more than 120 feet from the zombie; or until the hanging tree takes a bonus action to turn it back into an inanimate corpse.
- Instead of throwing a “rock” using its rock attack, the hanging tree instead lobs a ghoul hanging from its branches. The ghoul takes no damage upon impact.
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