In yon days of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, TSR published every adventure “module” (as we called them then) with an alphanumeric code, and if you speak the code “S3” to a role-playing gamer of my generation, it’ll be met with a big grin and the reaction, “The one with the spaceship!” Yep, that’s Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, a D&D/science fiction crossover, in which the player characters explore the wreckage of a futuristic craft and stock up on assorted high-tech weaponry and loot.
One of the more memorable monsters from this module is the wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing, a carnivorous, tentacled stump with a wiggly appendage at the top that resembles an adorable furry creature. Another—equally memorable but less fondly remembered—is the vegepygmy. Among my D&D friends, I think vegepygmies must have come in for more derision than any other D&D monster except the flumph and the flail snail, although thinking about it now, I couldn’t tell you exactly why we thought vegepygmies were so ridiculous. Maybe it was just the name. Anyway, the last paragraph of the vegepygmy entry in Volo’s Guide to Monsters contains a cheeky shout-out to their origin.
Vegepygmies, essentially, are fungus in a humanoid form, though they differ from myconids in . . . ways. For one thing, they do possess the power of speech, sort of. They’re not telepathic. They’re a little more peoply-looking. They propagate by infecting other creatures with russet mold spores, rather than independently. But ultimately, they’re still just another form of animate fungus. And like myconids, they’re categorized in Volo’s as plants, even though fungi, it turns out, are closer to animals than to plants in the taxonomic tree. As I suggested with myconids, you may choose to categorize them as humanoids or even aberrations instead, then let your players try to solve the riddle of their plant-related spells’ not working on beings that sure do look like plants.
Your basic vegepygmy, with low Strength and high Dexterity and Constitution, is a skirmisher that attacks only when it has a large numerical advantage. It’s not bright, behaving entirely according to instinct, nor is it sophisticated in its target selection, though it does know when to flee a losing battle. With darkvision, Plant Camouflage and proficiency in Stealth, it’s an ambush attacker, capable of attacking aboveground at night or in mist or fog, though it’s just as likely to stick to the Underdark.
Since vegepygmies depend on their Dexterity for both their melee attacks and their ranged attacks, they can fight just as well either way, and a large group of vegepygmies will probably divide the labor, with, say, one ranged fighter for every three melee fighters. Close in, they slash with their claws; at a distance, they hurl sling stones. The melee attack does a hair more damage (1 point, on average), but attacking from a distance is safer.
They have the Constitution to endure a longer battle, plus Regeneration to keep them in the fight, but they’re hampered as skirmishers by their merely average speed and their lack of any mobility feature that would allow them to easily disengage and relocate. If they attack in large enough numbers, though, they don’t need a feature like that: they’ll attack with a 3 to 1 advantage, say, and if one takes damage, it can Disengage (action) and retreat a ways while its companions continue to claw at their target; when its hit points regenerate, it can then return to the fight. A vegepygmy melee fighter can even switch to ranged attacks while it heals up.
Vegepygmies aren’t quite bright enough to actively flank a single target, but they will instinctively try to surround a group. Here we should note that vegepygmies are neutral, not evil. This means they’re indifferent to other creatures by default, not hostile. They may or may not be territorial, and so other beings may or may not trigger their ire by crossing paths with them. Who knows? They don’t think the same way we do. But it’s entirely possible that vegepygmies might attack not to kill trespassers but simply to drive them off, or for that matter to take them prisoner—perhaps to expose them to russet mold and make more vegepygmies. As a dungeon master, you should decide in advance what criteria they’ll use to decide which of these goals to pursue.
Regardless, they’ll remain hidden until their foes pass close enough for them to launch an ambush, then all spring out at once. Being moderately wounded (reduced to 6 hp or fewer) is enough to make a vegepygmy Disengage and back off, and it will re-engage once it’s back to its full 9 hp. (This Disengage action reflects instinct, not discipline.) A seriously wounded (reduced to 3 hp or fewer) vegepygmy will make a weird whistling noise, but it won’t leave the battle entirely just yet. Once it’s Regenerated back above 3 hp, it stops making the noise. Only if half of all the vegepygmies in an attacking group are whistling will they all Disengage and retreat as a group, and if pursued, they’ll vanish into surrounding foliage as soon as their pursuers aren’t looking directly at them.
It all changes up, though, if they’re attacked with cold, fire or necrotic damage. A vegepygmy that takes any amount of damage of one of these three types shrieks. A shriek causes every other vegepygmy in the area to swarm against whoever dealt the damage. The swarm continues until this foe is dealt with, and then any remaining vegepygmies return to their original behavior of ganging up on whoever else is left. Vegepygmies who suffer cold, fire or necrotic damage don’t return to the fight, however. They Disengage, and then they skedaddle.
Vegepygmies that are “attacking” in order to repel trespassers or take prisoners don’t attack creatures that aren’t fighting back. They just stand menacingly around, gesturing and making fungusy noises, until their opponents figure out what they’re supposed to do.
A vegepygmy chief is stronger and has more hit points and a melee Multiattack, so it will always be part of the melee scuffle rather than attack from range. It carries a spear, and since it has no shield, it can wield the spear two-handed for some additional damage. It retreats when reduced to 23 hp or fewer and returns to the fight once it’s regenerated back up to 30 hp or more.
Once per day, it can release a puff of Spores, which fill a 15-foot-radius circular area. It will release its Spores as soon as there are three or more enemy creatures within this radius, but if it can position itself to affect more without putting itself at undue risk, it will try to affect as many as it can. Other vegepygmies will block for it so that it can get to where it wants to be in order to maximize the effect of its Spore output.
Thornies are vegepygmies grown from the bodies of four-legged creatures. They have less Intelligence than ordinary vegepygymies, and their ability scores conform to a brute profile, so they’ll always engage in melee. They don’t withdraw when they take damage unless all other vegepygmies are withdrawing too, or they take cold, fire or necrotic damage.