Communicating with Plants, Animals, Insects, Etc

We’ve all had it happen at some point. The spellcaster is investigating a scene and decides to dig into their bag of tricks. They cast “Speak with Plants/Animals/Insect/Weird Blob of Goo” and they start asking questions like they would with any other NPC.

How does a GM manage that communication? Animals might be the easiest but plant’s perceptions of their surroundings would be completely alien to us. Even stranger sources might relay even more alien experiences. The player has spent a resource, we don’t want them to feel cheated, but the source of info doesn’t just change into John Doe NPC.

Your thoughts?

1 Like

This is a GREAT topic. I’ve had characters play havoc with a scenario (in both good and bad ways) by talking to things like twig blights (Sunless Citadel). I am definitely of the mind to limit the information in a way that makes it vague or slow but also interesting. Kind of a mini, not-too-hard puzzle for players. For instance, twig blights in Sunless Citadel might call above ground “sun-place” and the below-ground citadel “no-sun-place.” Or they might just impart sensory impressions - visuals and visions.

1 Like

I have had some fantastic and very creepy sessions that have revolved around “Speak with Dead”.

1 Like

First, if the DM wants to hide information, it’s easy. Plants have no eyes and can’t see. They feel warmth/cold, dry/moist, windy/calm, and injury. Life is slow for them - so they might “speak” slowly. For example, when Keyleth speaks to Sun Tree:

“Suntree, A-Ok…”

Honestly, I’d love it if my players asked grass about things that have passed before.

Of course, there’s Dug from Up…

“Squirrel!”

2 Likes

I’d say just flavor it to what they’re talking to, but give them the necessary clues or information. Sure, plants are a very alien creature, but if a caster has the spell ‘speak with plants’ then that spell lets them get useful information out of what they’re talking to.

Honestly, if it’s an investigation, I play by the Gum Shoe philosophy. The players get the clue, period. They just get it flavored by how they’re approaching the investigation and if there’s a roll involved and they do really well, they get more information.

Last year I was in a supers themed one shot where one of the players had a small ability to talk to plants. Part of the storyline took the PCs to a farm. When the player running the PC with that power asked the GM if she could talk to the plants, he realized that the author of the scenario (who designed the characters for the one shot) NEVER considered that the person who could talk to plants might want to talk to the plants on a farm they were expected to go to.

For D&D, you got a druid or a ranger, you better be considering what information that player might try and get from the flora and the fauna around them. :slight_smile:

1 Like

Love Ang’s take here – if this is an investigation game, Clue Found!

And I dig getting weird and kind of ‘loose’ with info from plants an inanimate objects… provide no shortage of it, but maybe make it a little bit of a challenge to suss out true meaning, like @rayotus suggests.

In a current Shadow of the Demon Lord game I’m running via PbP, one of the PCs, a hamadryad, is conversing with some trees about some Bad Things that happened in the area recently, and I’m using the opportunity to drop some hints about other things to come, bigger picture stuff that the players aren’t yet aware of. A little plant-powered foreshadowing…

1 Like

First off this is hard. Normally I dont care. I tend to be pretty free with information because I want the story to move on and we only have 2 hours to play once per week. ALL that being said I get why if your running a mystery game this could be a problem. I am running Humblewood so I am going with more of a Disney feel with the spell. The Hedgehog has this as a species ability and the last time they used it I had the bugs and worms basically play charades acting out their answer to what type of creature lives in the cave (a basilisk). Once again more of a Disney vibe.

I think the actual spell says the bugs / animals don’t actually speak but convey more so ideas. If your in a world where the animals are just basic animals maybe they give very vague / rough information. How does a hawk perceive a murder of two elves? How does a beetle perceive a back alley robbery?

2 Likes

How does a hawk perceive a murder of two elves?

From high up? And frickin’ gleefully if it’s a Harrigan Hawk.

How does a beetle perceive a back alley robbery?

Why it sees the future and is all “Oh now you’ve done it, you fool! You’ve gone and created the Batman!”

2 Likes

Is this related to a Hudson Hawk?

3 Likes

Only if it sings Swinging on a Star

2 Likes

I mostly give non-human critters a different perspective but limit it to 3 sentences or answers unless they offer something (no such thing as a free lunch, favors drive plots)

they either speak or use telepathy, i don’t worry about translating languages

things i’ve done in the past…

  • everything is either theirs or not-theirs and therefore of no interest
  • they see your spirit not your exterior
  • they knew you in a past life, but require you to start a task that you will finish in the next life
  • they care about your faction, alliance with genies/elementals/demons etc not your personal choices
  • won’t talk until you make payment (music, blood, magic, water)
2 Likes

Speaking to animals/dead people/plants is an opportunity to make characters feel special and high lighted, but many refs use it as an opportunity to mess with players. God, that’s irritating. This is one one of the brilliant things that PbtA games do really well by making the ref give honest answers. Generally, to a small list of questions, but players can trust the information they get.

Personally, I like to idea suppling more information to the players. Because, generally, what they do with the information is more interesting than the search for it. On top of that it has seems mean spirited to take a players power like Speak to the Dead and make answers so cryptic that it is useless. Why do that? I just don’t get it.

Messing with players is bad, no arguments there.

I agree. Having fun doesn’t mean messing with people. More folks should think like that.

Speaking with a critter may equal, “Sharp-hands monster in metal crushed tree man!” as the chipmunk’s answer to, “Did you see someone kill the Ent?”

Answering in intentionally useless or impossible to guess ways is rather annoying. Chipmunk can’t tell if it’s a paladin, evil warrior, or whatever cut down the Ent, but he sure as hell knows that a monster with weapon and armor did it. He’d just describe it differently.

2 Likes