Monster Monday #26: Kodama
Updated: Mar 4
It is time for yet another Monster Monday post! This time I'm focusing on a mythical creature that is actually a particular favourite of mine - the Kodama! Found in Japanese folklore, these friendly spirits, or yōkai, are said to reside within trees! They are mostly attributed to mountain valleys, even being described as mountain for tree gods, and so they are deeply respected. Cutting down their tree will certainly bring about misfortune to whomever does so! People attempt to stop this happening by protecting ancient trees with shimenawa rope.
Many tales have them resembling actual trees, though they are also said to take on the form of beasts, mysterious lights, and even humanoids! The island of Okinawa also refers to them as Kiinushii or Kijimuna, and they are said to resemble small children with red hair in their specific folklore! They are said to be responsible for the sound of a fallen tree, with locals claiming to hear these sounds when no trees have fallen and attributing them to these spirits. The effect of delayed sounds or echoes found in the mountain valleys is mostly attributed to a spirit known as Yamabiko that resembles a small dog-monkey hybrid, but some stories say that this noise could be a Kodama.
Tree spirits are prevalent in many cultures, as discussed in my previous post on Sapient Trees. The closest to the Kodama comes in the form of the Anito in Filipino folklore, nature spirits that resemble tiny humanoids and are said to reside in trees. Some folklore around tree spirits highlights them as fruit or flower shaped, as is the case with the Japanese Jinmenju or the Nariphon from Buddhist mythology, or even edible in the case of the Chinese Penghou. Many cultures depict tree spirits as female figures however - the Greek Dryads and Meliae, the Latvian Lauma, Nang Tani in Thai folklore, and the Salabhanjika of Hindu mythology.
In modern media, tree spirits are pretty prevalent! The most popular depiction of a Kodama (and certainly my favourite) is found in Studio Ghibli's 'Princess Mononoke' in which they resemble ghost-like humanoid figures with a playful disposition. There is also an adorable Japanese animation called Kodama or Plantimon that features the two main characters helping these tree spirits. The video game Nioh also contains small green spirits that are called Kodamas, and the popular game Stardew Valley features spirits named Junimos that are clearly based on the Kodama mythology. As a TTRPG blogger, I would be remiss not to mention the board game Kodama: The Tree Spirits which has players take care of these tree spirits and cultivate a healthy forest!
So what stat blocks will I use to represent these creatures? Well it really depends what you're after from the creature itself. I love the cute, almost child-like depiction of the creatures that seems to have become popular!
Starting with Wizards Of The Coast I think I've probably fund the perfect stat block to represent these adorable creatures in a way that most would love to see them depicted - check out the Chwinga (Tomb Of Annihilation, page 216).
There is some clear inspiration drawn from the original Kodama of Japanese folklore in the design of this Tiny CR 0 Elemental creature. The incredibly low CR is not necessarily surprising as they are a 5HP peaceful creature that will do little harm beyond playing the odd trick here or there! They do have access to a few powerful spells that they can cast AT WILL - druidcraft, guidance, pass without trace, and resistance. They also have the ability to bestow a Magical Gift once per day, and these can actually be quite powerful supernatural charms to aid your players! Beyond that, their abilities are mostly about Evasion and hiding away in a Natural Shelter. I absolutely adore this stat block, and for me this represents what most people would want from a Kodama.
Many depictions see the Kodama resembling a tree in itself however, so my next Wizards Of The Coast choice reflects that - the Wood Woad (Monsters Of The Multiverse, page 266).
If you are after a tree spirit that is a little more protective of its tree home, this Medium CR 5 Plant may be your perfect stat block, as it is a lot better able to fight and defend itself! I personally would bring it down to a Small size category as I picture them better in my head that way, but beyond that the abilities and attacks work well! They have Tree Stride, which I honestly consider to be a Kodama staple, and Regeneration which is certainly useful! Their Multiattack means they can attack with their clubs twice which I love! In a forest setting, these creatures could pop out of a tree, hit you a couple of times, then teleport to another tree before you have a chance to react! A couple of other great Plant options along these lines too - the Small CR 0 Awakened Shrub (Basic Rules, page 117) and the Small CR 1/8 Twig Blight (Basic Rules, page 157). The Large CR 2 Treant Sapling (Wild Beyond The Witchlight, page 36) is also a great option with a peaceful nature, a little more attacking power, and the ability to Animate Trees!
My last suggestion has me turning to Kobold Press and doesn't look quite so tree-like, but has all the right stats! It's the Hallowed Reed (Creature Codex, page 305).
This Medium CR 1/2 Celestial first of all looks like it should be Tiny, and I really think that for a Kodama, Small is the highest size category you want to go! The lore around these talks about sprouting trees that they protect so it works very well as a protective nature spirit! As far as the stat block goes, I also really like the Like Calls To Like ability which allows them to sense of a creature is 'good-aligned', their limited Telepathy allows some communication through images and emotions, and their Rebirth gives them a form off immortality!
So now it is time for some plot hooks to get these adorable spirits in your game!
As the party wander through the forest, they get the distinct feeling that they are being watched. Strange, echoing noises reverb in the trees around them.
A village is celebrating a small festival, building small shrines to tree spirits that they say live in the nearby woods. They are deeply troubled by rumours of a group of people burning down or harming the trees and implore the party to help them protect the spirits.
A small group of Kodamas sits in a clearing that the party pass through, playing a game. If the party join in as they would like, they reward them with a small gift.
A man informs the party of an ancient tree nearby that is growing sick. He thinks the best option is to chop it down but claims that the tree is protected. Upon arrival, the spirits protecting it are hostile. It seems that whatever has sickened the tree is affecting them too.
A nature deity has taken a particular interest in a party member. They send some Kodamas in a vision to guide them through it.
And that wraps up another Monster Monday post! I have such a fondness for Kodamas, I hope you do after reading. Let me know!