Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Surfeit of Spiders

Maybe it's the unseasonably cold and wet spring and summer we've been having this year, but, whatever it is, there have been a lot of spider about my house and I hate spiders. More precisely, I am terrified of spiders. There are lots of creepy crawlies I don't much care for and that I'd rather not have wandering around my home, but spiders are the only ones that induce fear in me. It's silly, of course, because most -- most -- of the spiders I've been finding in and around my house this year are quite small and harmless. Despite that, the very sight of them sends a shiver down my spine.

It's completely irrational, I know, but there it is. Perhaps that's why I've regularly used spiders as baddies in my games. Dwimmermount, for example, is infested with giant poisonous spiders and I've been contemplating the creation of a new, spidery race to serve as antagonists later in the campaign. My fear of spiders certainly explains why, unlike so many other gamers, I've never found the drow or Lolth to be the least bit appealing. Beings who live with and emulate the habits of spiders are nothing to admire in my book.

They say that the best way to scare other people is to be able to scare yourself. There's definitely some truth to this, which is why arachnids hold a strange fascination for me, despite my fear of them. I regularly find myself reading about these nasty things and their habits, cringing all the way, but still never stopping. Heck, I'm cringing now as I write this, merely thinking about spiders. That's just how much I hate the beasts. It's not for nothing I heartily approved of Gygax's having made giant spiders Chaotic Evil in the Monster Manual, something subsequent iterations of D&D did not continue, treating them as mere animals without the malevolence I know they possess.



  1. I loves the spiders, but it's roaches that get my goat.

    There has been no rain in LA so far this summer, but when it does rain during a time of hot weather, you can count on the backyard being a jungle of them the next evening.

    I'm putting a spider level in my dungeon for when the players get there. I think for humanoids tending them, or even worshipping at a spider temple, Ettercaps fit the bill.

  2. Ever since I saw one of these in the basement growing up, they've stolen the title for nastiest vermin (IMHO). They have the benefit of being disgusting and fast.

    So, seen any totally repulsive insects-devouring-side-characters-in-King-Kong scenes lately?

  3. Jay,

    I also use lots of giant centipedes in my dungeons too, so I'm right there with you.

  4. I console myself with the thought that they have very poor eyesight, which is one reason they need webs so much.
    The approach to Shelob's lair was, I thought, well done in Jackson's LoTR: you start with some wisps of web, a vague sense of foreboding, but you have to get right in there to find your way blocked, by which time it's a bit late.

  5. For all my many criticisms of Jackson's films, I agree, Shelob's Lair was quite well done and appropriately terrifying. I'm biased, admittedly, but it just felt very right to me.

  6. Ha, I was mowing the back yard last evening and walked through a massive spider web. The not so little bugger who made it ended up crawling on my face.

    I accidentally ran over the power cord as a result. I'm lucky I didn't fry myself.

    Those little buggers are evil.

  7. @Jay: Thanks for the nightmare fuel mate. You know centipedes only grow that many legs so they can clamber over your sleeping face more easily, right? Creepy things. *shudder*

    Is that true about CE spiders in the MM? I now picture them going "Mwah-hah-hah" as they rub their palps together.

  8. Chris,

    Yes, giant spiders -- and only giant spiders -- are listed as CE in the MM. All other spider types are Neutral in alignment.

  9. You know, this is gonna give me nightmares.

    Best "trap" I ever saw was a long tunnel carved out long ago by kobolds just big enough for a human to get down and belly crawl through. Whole thing is lousy with spider webs, but right in the middle of it is a very shiny, very large, very valuable looking gem, just begging to be grabbed at. What could go wrong? It's only 20 feet in. Surely you can make that . . .

  10. If you go back aeons past. To when the planet had just congealed and the sun was new; in the oceans before any creature walked the land, invertebrates hunted and devoured vertebrates.

    The Age of Invertebrates--subdivided into the Upper and Lower Silurian Eras--when numberless Sponges, Corals, Starfishes, Molluska and other strange animal types dominated the ocean depths

    they preyed on our ancestors--the fish.

  11. Dear James,

    Yes, when they pulled the other explicit references to The Hobbit, they kept this one. We all know why Gygax made them evil.

    I like spiders rather a lot. Washington state has the highest density per square inch of spiders in the U.S., almost all of them harmless, and thank God we do - because they take out the fleas, ticks, mosquitoes, and other truly nasty inhabitants. I never kill them when I find them in the house; I just escort them outside to keep down the biting insect population.

    That said, there is something wonderfully OTHER about them, a kind of Lovecraftian alienness that can play even more terrifyingly than simple evil. I love the idea that they bear us no malice at all, that consumption of our party-members involves no more malice than you feel toward a glass of water, that our identity as sentients or persons is simply invisible to them.

    Yours truly,

  12. Somewhere in the lizard portion of your brain it remembers what anthropods were like when they were larger than us...

  13. James,
    --Would it be fair to say that, by extension, you fear the Drow?

  14. Shelob's Lair was quite well done and <

    I grew up on The Tolk, and I have accepted the movies as the best adaptation you were ever going to get. They managed to take me to Middle Earth, and that is what counts (tell me you weren't going to cry with joy at things like the lighting of the signal torches).

    My biggest gripe about Shelob is they didn't have her talk. That could have been hella creepy.

  15. I virtually never use giant bugs in my adventures - they just don't really engage me as either a player or a DM (perhaps it's the fact that I'm a pest control technician, but there's no mystique there for me). The one is exception is, of course, the giant spider, in all its various forms. There's just something very primal and menacing about them. I'd use them in every adventure if I thought I could get away with it.

  16. Hey James,

    Why use a new race when a classic D&D race will do. Try the Chagmat, an evil race of spider-folk. defined in Dragon #63. There is also an adventure with them in the issue called, appropriately, Chagmat.

  17. Giant bugs, giant animals, and huge vermin are awesome. As a kid, I used to think they were the most boring monsters in the book and skim right by them, up until I did some poking around and learned that a lot of them (in the AD&D 1e Monster Manual, anyway) are based on *real animals*.

    That last one is my favorite. They're over a foot long, known to hang from cave ceilings, grab bats *out of mid-flight*, poison them to death and devour them on the spot. You need thick gloves to handle them because apparently just *touching* their venom gives you a horrible rash. Oh, and there are apparently people who like to keep them as pets.

    Spiders are a perennial favorite, too, for the sheer number of people they viscerally horrify. The last time I used them, it got me in trouble with my girlfriend. I introduced her first character ever by having the party find her stuck in a giant spider's web. How was I supposed to know she was an arachnophobe? Heh.

    There's weirder things to be scared of, I guess. Personally, I can deal with spiders and wasps and scorpions and roaches, but what really squicks me out are crickets - just about the least deadly insects on the planet. Go figure.

  18. I HATE flies. Literally. Disgusting. But I find spiders interesting.

  19. Ants and other hive-forming insects are what really bother me. Something about being essentially mindless.

    Anyway, James, I advise this as an opportunity for therapy. Make your spiderfolk neutrals, even potential allies for the party.

  20. Would it be fair to say that, by extension, you fear the Drow?

    If drow were real, I'd definitely fear them. Since they're not -- unlike spiders -- I no more fear them than orcs.

  21. Try the Chagmat, an evil race of spider-folk. defined in Dragon #63. There is also an adventure with them in the issue called, appropriately, Chagmat.

    Thanks for the reminder! I'd forgotten all about them.