There’s something… not quite right about that tree. Let’s camp somewhere else, somewhere nowhere near that… tree. You say it’s just a tree, but maybe it’s a—don’t laugh!—maybe it’s a treewalker. Of course they’re real, everybody knows treewalkers are real. And sure, they’re rare, but that doesn’t mean that… that tree… right there… won’t uproot itself in the middle of the night and smash our camp to bits.
There’s a nice spot down by the river, is all I’m saying. Closer to fresh water, yeah?
And far away from… strange trees.
These animate trees straddle the distinction between plant and animal and present a conundrum to any simplistic ordering of the natural world. In fact many cultures solve that conundrum by elevating treewalkers to supernatural status, enshrining them as spirits or claiming that they are a rare instance of a wizard’s experiment that bred true. Regardless of their origins, treewalkers can be found all across the continent, with the obvious exception of the Norsteppes, which has no trees.
As long as they aren’t moving, treewalkers appear to be just another tree. They spend a great deal of time in an unmoving, “dormant” state, usually standing among trees of the species that they most resemble. There are deciduous, evergreen, and coniferous varieties of treewalkers, and their mimicry can include coloration changes in autumn and shedding leaves in the winter. Those seasonal shifts can occur a few weeks before or after the local trees change, leading to any tree out of sync with its siblings being regarded with suspicion.
Treewalkers do not speak and have no apparent culture or civilization, and thus are not considered one of the Speaking Peoples. Treewalkers do not even appear to socialize, and seeing more than one treewalker at the same time is so rare as to be disbelieved. One presumes they mate… somehow.
Treewalkers are territorial, although they do not always consider people as threats. Those that live in or near elven groves are usually peaceable, and some speculate that groves originated as means to pacify treewalkers. Other treewalkers may attack invaders on sight. Treewalkers are notorious for destroying structures built of wood, although they are also known to undermine and erode stone construction and roads, as well. Treewalkers are suspected to have caused the collapse of the Gracia Span, earning the whole species the ire of many a dwarf.
The natural philosopher Endelbraid the Younger speculated that treewalkers serve as shepherds for forests, and their destruction of permanent structures performs the function of maintaining the aeration the soil. Endelbraid supported this theory by citing that forest areas with active treewalkers possess few stony outcroppings, and suggested that the local treewalkers must have broken up and destroyed those rocks. The inability of determining which areas have and do not have treewalkers made verifying this theory difficult.
When felled and slaughtered, treewalker flesh is inedibly woody, too fleshy to build with, and too wet to burn easily. Their flowers or cones can be processed to make the hallucinogenic sedative verdigris. Since harvesting for verdigris requires treewalkers to be correctly identified and it is counterproductive to kill them to verify their nature, any product claiming to be verdigris might in fact be ground-up flowers of some perfectly mundane tree.
Woodland communities that live in close proximity to treewalkers often mark the treewalkers for safety and ease of harvest. This may be a splash of paint in a sloppy symbol or a rope tied around its trunk, often in a bold and eye-catching color. Of course the paint inevitably weathers and, while the treewalkers can’t remove these “necklaces,” their bark will, over time, engulf them. Maintaining the local treewalker markers thus becomes a community task that nobody wants to do. Local pranksters may also “decorate” perfectly mundane trees near crossroads to hoodwink travellers.
I love little bits of setting that keep players on their toes, and I’m hoping that treewalkers fit the bill. May your players never take any tree for granted ever again.
Looking forward, to which entry shall we turn the digital pages of the Gazeteer to next week? We’ve got a place, a sociological concept, a mysterious and smashed ancient construction project, and a natural philosopher. We’re spoiling for choices!
And as always, thank you so much for your support and engagement. It really means the world to me.