A couple of weeks ago, I posted a class description for the Fell Sylvanus inspired by Valent Games’s defunct Permafrost setting. When I was working on that class, I thought a lot about the dryads in D&D. For obvious reasons. They are always depicted as females in fantasy settings because they are based on the nymphs of Greek lore. In 5e they are described as spirits bound to trees, sometimes as a punishment. But back in 3.5e, they were just described as these mysterious beings resembling female elves who lived bound to the trees.
So, I had to wonder. If these dryads are all females, how did they reproduce? Looking back into my files from spring of ’08, I found some detailed notes on the question.
I toyed with the idea that males did exist but were differently aspected — like spirits of stone or something — and lived elsewhere. But the issue of the dryads being locked into a small area around their bound trees makes hooking up with these proposed males problematic. So, I abandoned that idea.
I wanted to be faithful to the source myths of the dryads being dangerously beautiful nymphs, daughters of one of the gods. Similarly, D&D’s fey dryads have been depicted as having deadly siren-like abilities in some games. They have even been described as preying on human and elven men. I finally settled on the following.
Ambulatory Plant Life
Dryads only appear female. They are actually hermaphrodites. Like their host oak trees, dryads are monoecious angiosperms. They produce a female “flower”, with a pistil ready to accept pollen, and male “flowers” that produce the pollen. I leave it as an exercise for the reader to play the anatomy matching game. Suffice to say, the dryads depend on male humanoids to be their pollinators.
In the spring months, individual dryads seduce male humanoids that wander by. Sometimes they resort to enchantment to get the job done. Reproductive pressure is no small thing. During intercourse, pollen is transferred to the pistil, and BOOM! Life finds a way!
Within a week the dryad’s belly splits open, disgorging a large fist-sized seed pod. The dryad plants the seed/womb near the foot of her own tree. She guards it through the summer months while it fuses with the roots of the mother tree. It draws sustenance from the roots and sends up frilly fern-like fronds for photosynthesis.
In the early autumn, the new dryad claws her way from the earth and is sent off by Mom to find her own tree to bind with. She must find her binding tree within 3 days and can range many miles away from her birth tree before locating the perfect specimen. Should she fail to fuse with an appropriate oak within 3 days, the new dryad will wither and die.
If you end up using this information, or a version of it, in your game, it should be fairly uncommon knowledge. I’d give it at least a DC20 on any Intelligence checks to know it, though druids of certain circles could certainly have Advantage on the check.