“If you go into the woods tomorrow,
You’re in for a HUGE surprise…”
In early April 2002 there was a very good discussion of alien, generally hostile plants on GZG-L. I thought the results were too good to just languish in the archives, so I’ve collected and HTMLed the emails. Original credit goes to the authors of the emails; all I’ve done is collect them here and do some very minor editing – spellchecking & HTML formating only.
These ideas range from fully-fledged ready to roll house rules to suggestions that suitably nasty minded GMs could incorporate into their own ideas! Have fun with them; I know I’ve been given several good – sorry, very nasty – ideas. But my local SG2 players read this site too, so no more from me…
Brian Bell started with:
I have been thinking of how to make the plant life more alien in a SG2 game. One option is Beth’s Triffids (http://www.cygnusx1.info/xeno/triffids.asp) But I was looking to add flavor to an otherwise normal game of Stargrunt (rather than make the flora the major opponent). Some ideas that I have been toying with are:
The Tar-Baby Plant exudes a sticky sap that serves two purposes. First it
sticks to large animals which subsequently pollinate other Tar-Baby Plants.
Second, it traps insects, avians, and other small animals which it digests
to supplement the nutrients from the soil. Game Effect: Soldiers moving into contact with Tar-Baby Plant is given a suppression marker.
The Scare-Me-Not trees are very delicate. They extend long wispy strands into the atmosphere to harvest the multitude of gnats and bacteria prevalent in the planet’s atmosphere. However, these strands are a favorite of the local fauna. To protect themselves, the Scare-Me-Not trees pull in these strands whenever it senses movement. Game Effect: When a soldier moves within 2″ of a Scare-Me-Not tree replace the tree with a few small sticks (as it pulls in its foliage). The sticks provide no cover. This also gives away the position of the soldier.
The Herd Bushes move around an area searching for nutrients and insect
nests. They tend to break up the ground which provides areas for other
plants to exploit. This effect is very slow, but noticeable over a period of
days. Game Effect: The Herd Bushes do not move fast enough to be modeled in a game. However, they do move enough that paths are almost impossible to keep clear, so satellite photos of an area are often incorrect (the photo shows a clearing, but it is choked with bushes.) Often runways and other “improved areas” fall to the Herd Bushes.
This bush has two defenses. First, it is full of sharp nettles. Animals
often look for easier food. Second, emits a pheromone that causes uneasyness in most warmblooded creatures (including humans). Game Effect: A unit with a soldier within 2″ of a Nervous Nettle plant, will panic if it fails any morale or confidence test. The unit may test again on subsequent activations (out of the effect of the NN plant) at TL:0, and if it passes regains the confidence level it had before testing under the influence of the NN.
This plant has the strange behavior of changing its color when touched. It
is thought that this is a byproduct of a chemical change the plant produces to make it taste bad to animals. Game Effect: When a soldier comes into contact with a Chromoplant, replace it with a plant of another color. Opponents observing should notice the change in color. This is bad for snipers trying to use hidden movement.
Karl Heinz added:
Kindling Grass:This grass grows, and produces a seed pod. It then dries itself out (dieing in the process), but leaving a very flammable chemical on the surface of the plant. The grass catches fire easily (heat from the sun, lightning, etc.). The heat of the fire ignites chemicals in the seed pod shooting the seeds high into the air to be deposited by winds upto miles away. Game Effect: Almost any fire action (shooting, artillery, etc.) will set the grass alight. Soldiers, vehicles with Chemical Fueled Engines (CFEs), ammo caches, etc. may be effected by the fires (use rules on p. 57 of Stargrunt).
The wood of these trees does not splinter when hit, rather the section
hit disintegrates into fine dust. If the plants are shot at with
explosives, the effect is similar to smoke grenades.
As a defence against being eaten, the plants have incorporated a fine
network of metallic fiber into their bark. Main efffect in game terms
is that it conducts electricity, enhancing ECM levels around the
Tanglefoot Wood:When the plant’s wood is damaged, the damaged part falls apart into long tangly fibers. Explosives produce an area that is difficult to move across.
The tree’s wood is quite transparent, so it’s possible to discern
shapes behind the trunk (think of a thick glass or water column). Poor
visual cover, but as solid as any normal wood.
Vegetation that floats on ponds and looks like solid ground. Unable to
carry men (or just vehicles over a given weight ?) Effect depends on
the depth of the ponds.
As a veteran of both the book and movie version of The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham and The Monster From Earth’s End by Murray Leinster, I have used mobile plants in my sci-fi games for many years. (also some less well known UK and American 1950s sci-fi epics involving
mobile plant horrors or alien /human mutations) since there were no Triffid or TMFEE models available , and my modeling
skills (then ) were not up to making my own, I bought and used el cheapo
plastic cacti from bakery supply stores (both the short flat leafed
version and the tall finger shaped versions-cannot remember the proper
names). Generally, Triffids/TMFEE were mobile carnivourous plants, caused
terror, moved slowly (in the case of TMFEE only during hours of
darkness) could sense their prey within a fixed range (6″), were very
tough and hard to kill (multiple hits, high armor value), were
vulnerable to fire, and very hard to “see” with the MARK I EYEBALL and
non-specific sensor scans, and reproduced rapidly where there was a good food supply.
The Triffid had a ranged attack and a close combat attack. both poisonous.
TMFEE had a close combat attack only, and this too was poisonous.
solitary hunter or packs of carnivores on the prowl. TMFEE will eat each
each other if NO OTHER FOOD SUPPLY IS AVAILABLE!
Other favorite boogery plants featured in my games were immobile
carnivores similar to the Venus flytraps or Audrey II (from The Little Shop of Horrors-both versions). This is one of my favorite really
stupid movies-especially V2 in which Audrey II became a rock star! I even bought 4 or 5 lead models (now OOP) of Audrey II made by Lance and Laser Miniatures, and have placed them on nicely terrained bases, among my other sci-fi terrain , for years. LOL, in just about every game appearance, Audrey II manages to eat one or two incautious soldiers! Solitary (usually) but can grow in clusters (colonies).
Here are some of my other plant boogers:
The Bag-Beast: (from book by John Brunner). This carnivore is immobile
and always lives near a body of water. It is very hard to detect with
the MARK I EYEBALL or sensors. The beast uses water pumped from the
nearby source to work with its own secretions to disolve a victim
within minutes of the unfortunate falling into the beast’s camouflaged
but open gut! Solitary.
Archer Bush: (from Men, Martians and Machines by Eric Frank Russel).
Immobile; fires flights of “clothyard arrows” at any warm blooded
critter or moving critter that gets too close to it! Poisoned and
barbed “arrows”, range 12 “. Solitary. I just had minor braindeath and cannot remember the details of the
very obnoxious tree from the same book.
Black Water: this horror appears as a pool of black water in jungle
areas. it is always surrounded by thick vegetation and trees., but is a
large immobile carnivourous plant that has several inches or a foot of
water floating on top of a fast acting digestive juices! penetrate the
water layer to get a drink, and meet the fast acting and poisonous
digestive acids! From Redliners by David Drake.
Sticky Trees & Logs: Another immobile horror that can be a standing
tree or as a tree or a rotting log. Anything that comes in contact with
it is IMMEDIATELY stuck to same, and is unable to break free. The
tree/logs then secrets digestive acids that disolve the unfortunate!
from Redliners by David Drake.
Spike Grass: From a story by CC Macapp in Worlds Of IF magazine way
back in the early 60s. Apears as “normal” grass up to 12″ tall until it
is trod upon by the unwary. WHEN TROD UPON, the grass reacts as if it
were punji-stakes, able to penetrate most foot wear and unprotected legs
or other parts of the anatomy that comes into contact with it. Once the
victim is impaled, barbs engage the flesh making removal almost
impossible (as well as escape!), and poisons enter the victim’s
bloodstream. Solitary patches, any size up to 12″x 12″
Flying Carpet: I do not know who to credit for this mobile monstrosity, but it
was in either Worlds of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Amazing,
Astounding or Analog way back in the late 50s or early 60s. This is a
flying, mossy looking plant carnivore that either lies on the ground
or hangs from tree limbs waiting for its dinner. The mossy surface is
chameleon like, and the carpet is A LOT TOUGHER than it looks. Fire is
the most effective weapon to use against them. The carpet envelopes
its prey, sting ing he/she/it with thousands of paralyzing and
poisonous barbs. The carpet then eats the prey by disolving he/she/it
with digestive acids. Solitary hunter, but, with ample food supply
can be found in large packs. Fly up to 12″. Close combat attack only.
Sunflowers: Plants that can use sunlight to create heat rays. This
nasty is from the Ringworld by Larry Niven, but I am not able to
remember the details about it right now. It was immobile and grew in
small , large, or huge patches, able to project those heat rays in 360
horizontal or 180s vertical fields of fire.
There are others but this ought to be enough to provide some ideas
for the GM to use on those who venture in the alien wilderness today!
John Crimmins added:
LISA: Would a rose by any other name not smell as sweet?
BART: Not if you called it a stench blossom.
Stenchblossoms are lovely plants, truly: renowned throughout the galaxy for their
and delicate structures…as well as for their nearly lethal funk. It’s an incredible
combining the worst qualities of rotting meat, spoiled cheese, and burning plastic,
and it is
fully capable of knocking a buzzard off a dung heap at a distance of 200 yards. Game effect: Any squad within 3″ of a stenchblossom grove gains a Supression
marker at the beginning of their activation. This will happen every turn that the
squad is subjected to the awful smell. Troops wearing sealed gear may be
immune to the effects of the stenchblossom: GM’s call.
The Land Anemone has a thick trunk surrounded by long, trailing fronds. These
fronds, which appear slightly furry when examined closely, are actually coated
with thousands of tiny needles…needles which will easily break off and imbed
themselves in anything that touches the fronds. The resulting wounds are too
tiny to be noticed, but the poison that they contain is *highly* irritating,
causing the victim to feel as though his skin is actually burning. Land anemone
wounds are rarely fatal; a cheap and effective antitoxin is readily available.
They remain, however, highly annoying. Game effect: whenever a figure comes into contact with a land anemone grove,
he suffers an automatic attack with d8 firepower and d4 impact. If a hit is scored,
treat the victim as Wounded until he can receive medical attention.
As a side note, let me recommend Wayne Barlowe’s Expedition: Being an
Account in Words and Artwork of the 2358 A.D. Voyage to Darwin IV. It’s an
incredibly detailed look at a very alien ecology, and includes a lot of things that
could be adapted for gaming purposes. And man, the art is fantastic. And of course, there’s always the Shrieker fungus, straight out of D&D: an
oversized mushroom that produces a high pitched screech when approached too closely. Make a nice low-tech security fence, wouldn’t it?
Flak Magnet added:
During a briefing before going to Haiti (or was it Panama?), we were
informed that there were trees with seed-pods that would “explode” if
disturbed… After the seed-pods were “ripe” they dry out and internal fibers would
shorten, compressing the pulp at the center. while anaerobic
decomposition would release gases from the pulp which were trapped by
the fibers (and a membrane, I guess) so that eventually, either some
disturbance would cause them to burst or they’d just pop on their own. The force of the scattered seeds was enough to embed them into bare skin
if you happened to be within 10 feet of an exploding pod.
To xeno-ficate that type of tree: Make the released gases pyrotechnic-ally reactive with oxygen (something
that wasn’t an issue until we terra-formed the planet, meddling
eartlings) or maybe even nasty enough to qualify as a chemical agent. Make the seed-pods “launch” themselves by some kind of tensioned fibers
that are arranged in the stalk when the tree is disturbed/damaged. Symbiotic relationship with beetles that eat the decaying pulp and wind
up with seeds stuck to their bodies, the beetles survive the bursting
(sans fire) and burrow into the victim.
Another concept applying the stored-energy or tensioned fibers is
Twitch Trees. Plants with a relatively supple trunk that has fibers
running up and down it’s lenght as well as in bundles crossing it in
diagonals. When “attacked” the tree uses the energy stored in the
fibers to whip it’s trunk down and smack the offending critter that’s
gnawing on it’s bark. This could be made nasty if it had thorns/sticky sap and a carnivorous
nature. Though only harmful to infantry. If a heavy bulbous top was
added, (for storing water/etc) it could also prove disruptive to light
gev’s or over vehicles.
“B Lin” added:
…Perhaps a nasty type of Carnivorous Bamboo that is insidious. If a unit stays more than two turns inside a CB grove, it sends out tiny hair-like shoots covered in neuro-toxin. If they contact exposed flesh, the victim is paralyzed. The bamboo then grows a “feeder shoot” that is hollow which it injects into the victim then releases enzymes to turn the victim into fertilizer goo which then soaks into the ground and into the roots.
Any comments, additions, new ideas or similar, drop them on the GZG-L mailing list!