Vegetable Abilities for Mutant Future

Derek Holland

This is a combination of a few blog posts on the Skirmisher site as well as some additional ideas.


Those paying attention to my most recent monster additions to the forum have no doubt noticed that the majority are plants. In part this is due to my reading of Weeds: In Defense of Nature's Most Unloved Plants (an excellent read on a serious subject) and in part due to my comments in an earlier entry in this blog (the fact that I have so few plant creatures compared with those of animal origin.

One of the wonderful things about Mutant Future is that it embraces plants fully. There are rules for plant player characters, plant mutations specifically for monsters and a nice selection of vegetable monstrosities in the bestiary. Over the years I have come up with a few new mutations (such as light to mass and cnidarian deformity) meant specifically for plants in the hopes that they not only are useful for designing new plant critters, but also to make plant PCs more interesting and thus more players willing to try them out as PCs.

Plants have a few advantages over animals. Some regenerate from root fragments, others are very difficult to kill because of their growth pattern (look at grass that suffers regular mowing) and they are found almost everywhere. With the right mutations, they can be found everywhere in MF. From space to the deserts of Antarctica, plants can dominate. But they have some disadvantages as well. Most are immobile and fairly easy to kill from a distance. They also rely on insects, other animals or non-living forces such as water or wind to reproduce. Plant compete more with each other than with animals as they are simply more plants to deal with. The majority lack senses such as sight and hearing, though most will react to touch or damage in some manner. And then there is the need for light. There are some species of animals that live their entire lives without light. There are a few plants, parasites such as dodder and indian pipe, that do not require light but still live above ground. A very few mutants can use other power sources such as radiation or sound (using the light to mass mutation), but they are highly restricted and may never replace those on the surface as sunlight is so abundant.


When reduced to zero hit points, plants are no longer creatures, but rather are objects (as per normal plants). To kill a plant, one needs to inflict -2X normal hp for most plants or -4X hp for plants with the regenerative capacity mutation. Energy and chemical attacks need only reduce the plant to zero hit points to make a kill. As an object, the plant can still grow and reproduce. It just can't move or use any offensive mutations. So if a plant has 35 hit points, killing it requires 70 points of damage or 140 if it had the regenerative capacity mutation.


After reading more botany books back then, I started to see how much of a short shift I had been giving plant mutants on even basic ideas like soil quality. Fortunately I already have the tools to make up for this- mutation modifiers. More specifically the environmental dependance and decidious modifiers. Here are some of the more common mutations (physical and plant) and how the modifiers might be applied:

Abnormal size. This mutation is effectively dwarfism and gigantism for plants and it should be applied to many more species than it is. Quality of soil and/or food, amount of sunlight, and even herbivory have major impacts on plant size. Though it affects more the size of shrubs and trees in the real world, in fantastic settings, including that of Mutant Future, abnormal size (ED) can result in grasses, weeds and moss that can be 1/10" to 50', all individuals of the same species. Decidous would mean a plant that changes sizes due to seasonal differences. Freaky but not impossible for fantasy.

Accumulated resistance. The plant can only start protecting itself after it is exposed to something, which may or may not be hazardous. Eh, the decidious version is a bit more useful as it means the plant changes to protect itself before the hazard arrives. Steam from a geyser a mile across that only comes in the spring and fall (a machine complex does this), the fiery winds that come out of the desert or radiation using swarms of insects are all possible.

Bud sport, animal limb or organ, flight and similar mutations and drawbacks. These mutations can be induced by changes in a plant's environment. If a field of crops is suddenly fertilized with manure from a new to the region species of livestock, the plants may take up different amounts of elements and compounds, causing them to warp and mutate. A farmer can never know what his crops are capable of because they will never be exposed to everything that might cause a change in form or behavior. This makes gathering much more popular... Decidious is actually easy to apply as it is based on trees- plants can drop and regrow bits of themselves while the seasons turn. It just gets weirder when the bits are fingers, wings, eyes or fur.

Chameleon metamorph. Ah, lycanthropy for plants. Instead of a full moon, a plant could change shape when the sun sets or it is exposed to too much salt in the soil (the change allows it to move elsewhere with better soil) or even when exposed to blood...

Echolocation. This is a weird one for plants as those that can't move have little need to detect objects near them. It can be used to affect characters with increased hearing, producing a sound only they can hear. For the decidious version, mutants with increased hearing could use these plants as guides, but only during certain times of the year.

Fragrance development. Plants making slaves when they are starving is pretty basic. A random trigger, using a chart like the one I posted for alter atomic composition a while ago in this blog, can make things much more interesting. Trees that suddenly draw slaves when exposed to cheese is weird- but isn't that a good thing? Decidious takes a lot of the suprise out of this but makes locations (more) deadly when the GM wants them to be.

Free movement and full senses. These two I treat as the sentience and sapience mutations (the difference is dependant on other mutations and GM fiat). If a farmer is about to harvest his fields and the crops suddenly beg for mercy, what does he, she or it do? Possibly starve or kill talking plants? For races, this means plants that effectively hibernate as objects rather than creatures.

Drawbacks with environmental dependance, decidious and damaging as well as mutations with crippled, damaging, disgusting and feralization are forms of maladaptation- plants that do poorly when exposed to the new environment. There aren't many physical drawbacks in Mutant Future that can be applied to plant creatures (that make sense)- albanism, epidermal susceptibility, frailty, poison susceptibility, prey scent and reduced immunity. All of them are very handy for designing plants that are maladapted to their location (like kelp in a desert), but their number is one reason that there is at least 25 drawbacks for plants in the upcoming mutation book.


PC plants and some other mutants have the Full Senses mutation. It would be easy to just use human standards for plants but why not base the mutation on the real senses of plants? The book What a Plant Knows has a terrible title but is allow about plant senses and how they relate (or not) to human senses. Here are some ideas from that book. I have taken some liberties to make them fit into Mutant Future, but all of them are grounded in real science.


The first chapter is on sight. Plants don't see images but they do have photoreceptors and can tell colors apart. Some plants react to different colors differently. As these visual cells are found on leaves and stalks, it should be very difficult to blind a plant completely. It also may have the Ultraviolet Vision and Thermal Vision mutations for free- plants can "see" more colors than we can.


Chapter two is on smelling/tasting as well as odors the plants produce themselves. The idea that real plants talk to each other via odors may be bunk. It is the plant communicating with itself (leaf to leaf) and the surrounding plants pick up on that communication. Still, this could be used to create vegetable languages that humans/animals either don't pick up on or can not understand.


Chapter three is on touch. Plants obviously react to physical contact (some more than others as you can kill some species just by touching them too often). This is one where human standards should apply. Plants do not feel pain though and that would be best represented by not allowing non-lethal damage to affect them.


Chapter four is on hearing. As far as research can tell, plants are stone deaf. Playing music does nothing to help or hinder germination and growth. Sadly the book that started the idea in the public conciousness was debunked soon after its release yet the public never picked up on that. The only way a mutant plant could hear is if it had the Aberrant Form (xenogenesis) or Animal Limb or Organ mutation. [Something amazing in this chapter is how plants use the same gene family that grows the hairs used to hear in humans to grow hair rootlets. Makes me wish someone would write a book on all the genes shared between plants and animals and how they are used for different tissues and organs.]


Chapter five in on how a plant tells up from down. This is also a good place to use human norms as plants are our equals in that regard.


Chapter six is on memory, both for the individual and multigenerational. The former is how plants can react to something in their past in a way that one could call memory. Considering how old some plants are (between 5000 and 18,000 years depending on how you want to define plant), some should remember times long before the cataclysm in Mutant Future. In fact the bombs may be just a fuzzy blip considering how fast the war happened compared with their total lifespan. Multigenerational memory is epigenetics and I covered that in my first post:


And then there is an epilogue on plant awareness- not that they are intelligent, but aware of their surroundings (which is obviously true if they can see, smell, touch and remember).


Even without giving plants visual mutations, making them deaf and giving them odor based languages, Mutant Lords may want to give them one slight advantage. When the party has to roll for something related to senses, give a mixed party as a whole a bonus as the different senses between plants and animals/humans should pick up on things that a party of one or the other wouldn't be able to.


When designing you own creatures, consider a mutant plant. A monster that can hide in plain sight (if it hides the bones of its previous prey) and can kill from a distance (using explosive fruit or heat rays) is a handy plant indeed.