This article is part of a series! Click here to see the other entries.
Dryads originated in Greek mythology, where they were a type of nymph. Mythological nymphs were basically female spirits associated with specific natural elements, and dryads were specifically the spirits of trees. They’ve been a part of the D&D bestiary for quite a while, with most editions picturing them as beautiful women with lots of charm-based powers.
Fourth Edition decided to something a little different, either to avoid leaning too hard on the fanservice or to add a bit more variety. “Beautiful woman with lots of charm-based powers” could describe any of a dozen other entries, after all.
Dryads are present in both the Monster Manual and the Vault.
D&D 4th Edition Dryads are a type of humanoid, treelike fey. They live in the depths of secluded forests and generally just want to be left alone. While far from evil, they have very little reason to believe humanoids who intrude upon their homes are anything but trouble, and will react accordingly.
The Monster Vault goes on to say that dryads are both shy and impulsive, so those who want to parley with them must be very careful to make their peaceful intentions known at all times. It also sorta tries to bring the “beautiful woman with charm powers” schtick back, going on about how they represent both the beauty and danger of nature. I like that part somewhat less than the rest of their description.
We have a whole bunch of dryad varieties if add up both books. All are Medium Fey Humanoids with the Plant keyword, and have a few signature traits. First, dryads have trained Perception and are fast, moving at Speed 8 with Forest Walk.
Second, they have the Treestride power, an at-will move action that allows them to teleport 8 squares as long as they can begin and end the teleport adjacent to a tree, treant, or any other Large or larger plant. Basically, they use plants as portals.
And finally, there’s Deceptive Veil, an illusion that allows them to disguise themselves as any Medium humanoid. Beautiful humans or eladrin are typical, but there’s no reason for you to stick to the cliche. The MM says piercing the disguise is an opposed check of a PC’s Insight against the Dryad’s Bluff, while the MV gives explicit DCs in the power descriptions. None of them are smaller than 27, so low level parties will have very little chance of piercing the disguise.
A significant difference between the two books is that Deceptive Veil tends to be the only “manipulative” power the MM dryads have, while the MV tends to give them some charm powers as well.
We’ll look at them by level order, from lowest to highest.
This MV entry is a Level 5 Lurker with 50 HP and all common dryad traits. In a fight it relies on its wooden claws and on the Sylvan Charm at-will power, a Ranged 5 attack that targets Will. On a hit, it pulls the target 5 squares to a position adjacent to the dryad, and charms it until it’s no longer adjacent or until the dryad uses the power again.
Charmed victims can’t attack the dryad and are considered immobilized. The victim will redirect half the damage of any melee or ranged attack that hits the dryad to itself, and if the attacker was adjacent to the victim, they will make a melee basic attack against the attacker as a free action. If the dryad teleports using Treestride, it can take a charmed victim along.
This is actually a bit more dangerous than the Succubus’ charm power, in that it has less loopholes for PCs to exploit. Sure, the PC will take less damage from friendly fire, but they can’t move away, can be attacked by the dryad, and have well-defined situations where they must attack their allies. Also note that there’s no save against any of these effects - once the PC is hit by the Sylvan Charm, they remain charmed until the dryad moves (or is pushed) away, or until it decides to charm someone else.
It’s perfectly possible for a dryad recluse to attack from ambush, charm someone, and treestride away with the victim in tow, never to be seen again. At the very least, that’s going to lead to an interesting chase scene.
This MV entry is a Level 7 Skirmisher with 92 HP and all common dryad traits.
The dryad hunter’s claws do extra damage if the target has no allies adjacent to it. It can also employ a Luring Feint that allows it to make a claw attack and shift 4 squares on a hit, pulling the target along. If the attack misses, the dryad instead shifts its full speed (8!). This isn’t a charm power, which means it comes purely from this dryad’s skill as a canny fighter that’s absurdly hard to pin down.
Dryad hunters should ideally focus on one of the party’s squishies, isolating them from their friends with Luring Feint and taking advantage from the increased claw damage against isolated victims. I wouldn’t allow a dryad hunter to miss on purpose in order to get full-speed shifts, but missed attacks should still be seen as opportunities to put some distance between the hunter and the party’s defenders.
This MV entry is a Level 8 Controller with 84 HP and all the usual dryad traits. Its basic attack is a Thorny Vine that also slides the target 1 square on a hit, and it can call upon two different charm powers.
Beguiling Verdure is an at-will Ranged 5 attack that targets the Will of a dazed creature. On a hit it allows the dryad to slide the target up to the target’s own speed, and forces the target to make a melee basic attack against a creature of the dryad’s choice at the end of the movement. This combos with Soporific Fragrance, a Close Blast 3 that targets Will and dazes on a hit and recharges on 3-6.
The classic model, present in the MM. It’s a Level 9 Skirmisher that ends up being a much simpler version of the Dryad Hunter. Its claws still do additional damage to isolated targets, but it doesn’t have any forced movement or large shift abilities.
This version does have some additional skill training in Bluff, Insight and Stealth. I would still advise you to simply use an up-leveled Dryad Hunter in its place, adding the skills if those prove necessary.
Dryad Briar Witch
This MM entry is a Level 13 Elite Controller with 262 HP. Unlike the “normal” Witch from the MV, this one is all about the thorns.
The Briar Witch has two auras: Curse of Thorns has radius 3 and deals 2 damage to enemies without Forest Walk every time they move into a square in the aura, whether voluntarily or due to forced movement. Thorn Boon has radius 6 and gives a +5 damage bonus to the melee attacks of all allied plant creatures within.
Its basic claw attack is pretty standard and generally not worth using without a damage fix. Its main at-will ranged attack is a Briar Cage, which has range 5 and targets Reflex. On a hit it deals both immediate and ongoing damage, and also restrains the target (save ends both). This is an actual, physical briar cage, so it gives cover to the victim and can be destroyed with physical attacks (it has 25 HP and Resist All 10).
The Briar Witch’s thorny body causes 5 damage at the start of its turn to any creature that grabs it. It also has the common dryad powers.
This dryad could definitely benefit from the damage fix for both its melee and ranged attack. And while I like the detail of Briar Cage creating an actual cage that can be destroyed, it does feel a bit redundant with the (save ends both) clause. I’d probably either remove the destruction mechanic and up the ongoing damage, or remove the save and make the power recharge 4-6. Other than that the briar witch is a major threat even when just standing there, due to her auras.
We’re back to the MV for this one, a Level 15 Minion Skirmisher. It doesn’t have Treestride or Deceptive Veil, but it’s still pretty fast. Its claw attack does a smidge more damage against isolated targets, and when it drops to 0 HP it grants 5 temporary HP to an ally within 5 squares. I want to say this stacks, which would make the PCs very hesitant to fireball a group of bough dryads accompanied by a couple of massive monsters.
The sample encounter in the MM is level 9, a dryad and four eladrin (1 twilight enchanter, 4 fey knights). Indeed, dryads could be found hanging out with any other fey or natural creatures that love the forest as much as they do.
I like these tough dryads. My impression of the ones from previous editions is that they usually didn’t have much they could do against PCs they failed to charm. Not only can these do that, some of them don’t even rely on charm powers in the first place!
The MM Dryad can easily be replaced by a slightly up-leveled Dryad Hunter from the MV, but the Briar Witch is still quite usable after you fix its damage and maybe change Briar Cage a bit.