May has arrived, and since "April Showers bring May flowers" we're going to be celibrating Plant Month! All month long we'll be talking about plants, herbs, trees, fruits and veggies and of course plant monsters. So if you're vine with that then let's get right down to the root of it and talk about plants in the campaign setting, and in particular, how to make them important.
Do you know where to find Nirnroot? There's a good chance that you do. You might know it grows on the banks of rivers in Cyrodil and Skyrim. You may even know to listen for the gentle humming noise it makes. And you might beware that someone asking for it is probably up to no good since it's used in strong poisons and for invisibility. What can you tell me about Calatheas flowers? Exactly, you probably wouldn't recognized one if you saw it, and those are real! All it takes is a little bit of investment to turn something boring and mundane into something that adds depth and breadth to your entire world.
So how do we make plants interesting? No problem, there's three simple ways. First, as in the example above, is to make the plant tied to practical knowledge. If the players know that Liander berries made into a salve will heal 1 hp with a heal check, you can bet they'll remember that. Likewise when the players are toe to toe with a troll and they spot a bush of Firenettles, they'll have quite an easier time if they remember the burning venom those plants bristle with.
Second, you can create symbolic or historical significance. If the world was grown as the fruit of a great apple tree, then it's easy to understand a religion of growth and creation using apples as gifts to the poor. They would cut and peel the apples for the young and elderly and recite the story of the creation of the world as they did so. Then sometimes when they return they'd have the children tell the story while they peel. And then upon a the third visit they let the child carefully peel the fruit, with guidance, when they talk. And finally the priests need only hand an apple to a youngdisciple and let them spread the word as they share their fruit. And when the players travel to the next city over and see the royal army chopping wood, there will be something eerie, something surreal, about watching a soldier cut down an apple tree to burn for a night's warmth.
Third, you can create personal investment. The above example is good, but if the player was once a street urchin being fed apple slices, it's even better. A sailor marooned on an island with only thistles and prickly pears to consume may find themselves quite shaken when a creature of living thorns attacks. Or they may hunt down their old crew and slay them before stuffing their mouths with briars as their calling card. When you make something personal, you make it memorable, you give its importance to the player and allow them to grow it.
The best thing is that these benefits are not only cumulative, but they are exponentially stronger when stacked. Take an assassin, who grew up as an urchin living off of the apples of the priests. When they find out that the ruler is in the service of a wicked flame god, who would use the world as kindling, the path is clear. They take the seeds of a thousand apples and brew a single dose of Cyanide meant for the king's lips. The perfect blaend of practicality, worldbuilding, and personal tale.
Of course, this is just the seed of an idea. Keep an eye out for future articles which will help grow this concept and provide a bounty of fruitful plant based opportunities.