When the Olom created the halflings to tend the gardens of the nascent world, they created a determined and conscientious lot dedicated to providing as bountiful a harvest as efficiently as possible. To this end, a group of unusually reckless halflings decided to see what would happen if they infused their crops with energy they’d harvested, in turn, from The Garden.
The raw inclusion of this mighty energy had the intended effect — increasing crop yield and variety — as well as some remarkable unintended ones. The plants subjected to this infusion grew healthier and stronger, and even seemed to respond to the (often unvoiced) desires of their gardeners; if the tender of a berry crop wished the berries were a bit more tart, they’d discover the flavor had changed by the next morning. Some plants would disappear during the night, only to turn up rooted in places their gardeners hadn’t put them, and often grouped together as if they’d relocated and sorted themselves. While this phenomenon was initially written off as a series of harmless pranks, it soon became apparent that contact with the Garden had granted these plants some form of sentience.
Ever-conscientious, the halflings set about attempting to communicate with the sentient plants, causing many members of the other races to question their sanity. Eventually, the gardeners hit upon the idea of grafting these sentient plants onto trees. The sentience leapt to the trees with enthusiasm, and these sentient trees grew rapidly in ways never before seen, developing limbs, mouths… and faces. These new creatures — called dryads — shared the kindly nature of the small folk who created them, and took up their creators’ task of nurturing the growing things of the world. In time, they would take their talents beyond the halfling gardens and strike out on their own, becoming stewards and wardens of the wilderness.
Dryads have an innate talent for empathically communicating with nature. Upon arriving in a new natural habitat, they can literally root themselves in the soil and learn all they need to about the location: its flora and fauna, overall health, mood, and threats to it, simply by tapping into the verdance, flowing from the Garden, that connects all living things.
Dryads, grown from a magical mingling of blossoming plants and trees, come in a rainbow of colors. Instead of hair, dryads grow flowers, grass, pine needles, leaves, or vines. Their skin is the color and texture of a tree, and runs the gamut from ashen to deep brown, to pale white shot through with dark lines. While dryads themselves don’t have gender, the halflings gardeners shaped their original bodies in images similar to the elves; as such, some dryads have vestigial masculine or feminine physical characteristics. Most appear asexual.
Dryads have the ability to root themselves in place by sending wooden roots from their feet into the ground. In this state, they are incredibly difficult to dislodge. Furthermore, a rooted dryad can be almost indistinguishable from an actual tree; while rooted, a dryad’s legs grow together, leaves (or whatever growth the dryad has for hair) sprouts from outstretched arms, and the features soften and vanish beneath a mask of bark. In this state, the dryad is tapped into the network of fauna in the region, and can learn valuable information about the area.
Dryads continue growing throughout their very long lives. They begin life as small creatures and, over the course of many centuries, can reach the height of the tallest trees in their woods. It is rumored that colossal dryads dwell in the worlds primordial, unsettled reaches. It is not known exactly how long dryads live, or even whether they die of old age, or just keep growing. It’s not something dryads discuss.
Dryads live in small clusters called copses in the wilder places of the world. The youngest, known as saplings, are small sized creatures raised under the canopies of the permanently rooted elders. Dryads communicate with one another silently, through an empathic link they share as a species. Through this link, it is impossible to lie or hide intent. Affairs are governed and decisions made by the great elders towering above.
A dryad may take up adventuring life for a number of reasons. Primarily it’s youthful rebelliousness, and the desire to be separated from the link long enough to develop on their own personalities and views of the world. Indeed, young dryads are encouraged to go on at least one walkabout, as their experiences will enrich the copse upon their return. Dryads sized small or medium (or even large, though that’s rarer) can be bitten by this wanderlust and leave the copse for the civilized humanoid lands. But the pull of the copse is strong, and by the time a dryad has reached size large, the allure of the open world holds less interest. By size huge, they only want to return to the copse and raise saplings under the shade of their branches.
Dryads are laconic with non-dryads and prefer to speak through actions rather than words. The reason? They find speech maddening. A chain of words — each representing a boxed image or limited concept — is to them an extremely inefficient form of communication when you can just tap into one another’s minds directly and experience their views, history, and thoughts in one empathic rush. And given that deception is impossible via the link, dryads don’t pick up on subtext or sarcasm; they tend to take statements at face value. That’s not to say they’re stupid — they’ll figure out if you’ve lied to them, and will respond accordingly.
Dryads have the best relationships with halflings, often living in harmony with the short folk, either within or just beyond the bounds of their village. They are also quite friendly with gnomes and elves, both of whom can appreciate the fact that dryads share an even deeper connection with the natural world than they do. Elves in particular find dryads to be pleasant company, as there are few other races as long lived as they, and forming a lasting bond with someone of different heritage is a rare and special thing. Dryads are indifferent to dwarves unless and until a dwarven mining operation threatens the wilderness a dryad calls home. At this point, they will approach the dwarves with their polite concerns, and when the dwarves inevitably turn a deaf ear to the ramblings of a “nutty leafbeard”, the dryad will slink away before a lit dwarven torch.
Orcs are often problematic, but less so than dwarvenkind. If handled diplomatically enough, a dryad may even find work as a guard on an orcish settlement — perhaps even watching over them during their deep sleep, if they prove their loyalty over the course of many years (or decades). Ogres are, as always, no use to anyone, and dryads avoid them with all prudence.
Alignment and Religion
Dryads worship The Garden, holding special reverence for the source of their transformation from simple plants into a race all their own. However, they do not share the Garden’s indifference towards matters of right and wrong, instead largely taking after the halflings who cultivated them in the first place in their attitudes toward others. Dryads are most often Neutral Good.