Interview: Matt Cavanaugh of the Botanical Bestiary

Thank you for taking the time to talk with us about the Botanical Bestiary. We’re all very excited for it. Personally, I’m in love with your Onion knight, Ghost Pepper, and Dandelion. Could you start off by telling us a bit about yourself?

Well to start my name is Matt. In my freetime, or “day job,” I’m a neuroscientist studying stroke recovery. I’m relatively new to the TTRPG space—Pathfinder 2nd Edition was the first game I ever owned and only the second I ever played, though I’ve added a few since then. I don’t have many design credits to my name, but I’ve written for Wayfinder, and won Platinum, Silver, and Copper prizes over the past two RPG Superstar contests. I’m also the moderator for the Pathfinder2eCreations subreddit, where users can get feedback on their creations, interact with other designers, and generally share their creations with the world.

Tell us a bit about this Botanical Bestiary. What can we expect from it?

The Botanical Bestiary is a bestiary containing 66 creatures, all of them leshies. Despite all being variants of the same creature, it offers a wide selection of content for your games. The leshies range from Level -1 to Level 22, with numerous different battle styles, abilities, environments, and unique features to keep each encounter “fresh.” There are 50 base creatures, 10 more that were designed with the help of our Design Tier Backers, five “epic” level leshies unlocked as a Kickstarter stretch goal, and a bonus leshy that you can also get as a bookmark: The Three Leshy in a Trenchcoat Leshy.

In addition, our backers unlocked another stretch goal that added Linda Zayas-Palmer to the project to design and write ten leshy heritages so the players can have more character creation options! I’m really excited for these, and think people are going to love having more options to really lean into the weirdness and fun that is playing a leshy.

Why an entire book dedicated to leshies?

I ask myself this every day. Basically, when COVID-19 lockdowns started I was spending a lot of time at home and was trying to find a creative outlet. I had been running a couple of small Pathfinder 2nd Edition campaigns at the time, and decided to homebrew some creatures for fun. I got really into it, and started releasing them on Reddit in order to get feedback and also just to put them out into the world. For some reason, it just kept being leshies! I tried making other creatures, but the near endless options for leshy customization really drew me in, and I just kept making more and more. Each time I finished one my list of ideas grew by three. Eventually I made myself slow down to only release one a week, which went on for about a year, even after I was back in the lab full time. This became pretty popular on Reddit, and people were always asking if there was a way to easily find all the leshies or joking that I had enough content for a book. So I decided to just make one! I’m hoping to run some future projects that expand a bit beyond all-leshies, but definitely sticking with the plant theme for a long time.

I love that they’re all recognizable as leshy characters and how true each leshy is to their associated plant. Could you tell us about your creative process for these creatures?

Dandelion leshy

Each creature really starts with the plant. I love designing around natural ideas, even made up ones, and the plants serve as great inspiration. Early on in the process I generated a list of plants that I thought would be really cool to see as leshies, and just picked one each week to work on. I would do a bit of research on the plant, and try to pick out a few key elements to make it unique – is the plant used in any folklore or herbal medicines? Does it contain unique chemicals? Is its wood used in certain crafting projects? Things like that. Then I would try to find ways to fit that into an ability. Some are kinda obvious—roses smell nice, the coffee leshy is jittery—while others are a bit more obscure—for example, the Cacao Leshy carries a macuahuitl, as this was a common weapon of the Aztecs (and others), where cacao beans were used as a form of currency. This whole project really gave me an excuse to read more about plants that I’ve always liked and to learn about new ones, while finding creative ways to fit the details into a stat block. It has been a lot of fun.

The artwork in this book is so adorable. Can you tell me how Sita came on board for the project? 

Sita joining the project was a godsend, and really made the project what it is. Before I had even considered launching a Kickstarter, I stumbled across Sita’s art on the Pathfinder2e subreddit, where she happened to share an illustration of her home game character—a leshy! I loved it and kind of just made a note to check out her twitter and other art later. When I started to consider writing a book, Sita was the first and only artist I reached out to, and she agreed to be a part of the project! It has been absolutely great. Sita contributes amazing ideas and her art style matches so perfectly with the kind of energy I envision leshies having.

Avocado leshy

I’m curious which came first: your leshy ideas that inspired the art, or if the art inspired the leshies. I’m getting big Final Fantasy vibes from the Onion Leshy.

I hear that a lot about the Onion Leshy, but I never actually played Final Fantasy! Honestly, it is a bit of a mix, especially as the project has evolved from conception to an actual book. I’d say 90 percent of the stat blocks I had already written or planned out prior to even launching the Kickstarter. In my mind I always pictured them as mostly humanoid, like the Leaf Leshy or Sunflower Leshy in the Paizo bestiaries. For 60+ creatures that can be a little repetitive, and I really wanted to see what sort of things Sita could come up with, so I gave her as much free rein over the illustrations as possible. She started coming up with these wild designs that I absolutely loved, and whenever it called for it I adjusted the stat block to match. Sometimes it was minor—for example, the Driftwood Leshy originally had a shield, but Sita drew this awesome pirate/hook design and I ended up dropping the shield abilities (the “face” of the Driftwood is still shield shaped as a result). Other times I’ve done a more serious rework but usually the core idea stays the same.

Do you have any fun stories about the origin of one of these creatures? 

My favorite story is definitely the Ghost Pepper. When Sita was designing the Pepper Leshy I sent her a link to the Reddit post I had made with the stat block. It was one of the first posts I made, so the background of the image got all messed up. Basically if you tried to view it on mobile it was dark and barely legible. A random comment (shoutout u/Mordine) made a joke about it being a “Ghost pepper” because of the error, and Sita and I just ran with it. Decided to make a Ghost Pepper Leshy that rises from dead Pepper Leshies to seek revenge. It was really fun to design and made a great addition to the book, all from a year-old Reddit joke.

Is there an Eggplant Leshy? If you tell me eggplant is a stretch goal, I can’t promise I won’t giggle like a 12 year old. 

I don’t know what it says about me that this never crossed my mind! This will go down as my greatest missed opportunity. You may enjoy the details on the Cannabis Leshy though.

How did Linda Zayas-Palmer, who created the Leaf Leshy for Pathfinder 2nd Edition, get involved with the Botanical Bestiary?

Like Sita, Linda joining the project was mostly luck! Back when I was releasing my weekly leshies, I joined the ArcaneMark discord channel, which is run by Mark Seifter and Linda. During PaizoCon in 2021, the day I launched the Kickstarter, they hosted a voice chat in the discord that I joined in on. Mark recognized my username and started talking about the project and told me to follow up with Linda about writing for it. So the next day I sent her a message and she agreed! Really shows how great the Pathfinder 2nd Edition community is, and how being part of that space can give you a chance to contribute and have others contribute to you.

Who are your favorite plant-based characters? I’m a big fan of Toad from Mario Bros, and Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.

Seems like every game I play I end up as a plant character. Bulbasaur or other grass-types as starters in every Pokemon game, I even prefer forest decks in Magic. I have a long-running character in Guild Wars 2 that is a Sylvari as well (basically a plant-person). For characters that aren’t me, Poison Ivy or Swamp Thing are pretty great characters, and you can’t really talk about plant characters without talking about Treebeard, the OG plant character.

How can we follow you and your work?

You can find me on twitter @TTRPGHomebrew or on Reddit as u/Orfane.

Get a copy of The Botanical Bestiary on DriveThruRPG!

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