Monday, December 14, 2020


Thanks, Tramp …

The Monster Manual was the first hardcover Advanced Dungeons & Dragons book I ever owned. I bought with money I'd received as a Christmas gift from my grandmother and ordered it through the Sears catalog – talk about a different world! I spent untold hours staring at the artwork of that fabled tome (and, no, not just this one), which is why, to this day, certain illustrations are seared in my memory. Among them is the full-page piece above, depicting what I always took to be a giant (as opposed to a huge or merely large) spider, as it prepares to leap upon a collection of largely unsuspecting adventurers – though the pointing finger at the far right suggests at least one of their number is paying attention to his surroundings.

I wish I could say precisely why, but I've always had a fear and loathing of spiders. Over the years, I've attempted to explain it, even justify it, but to little avail. I suppose it's possible that I watched something involving spiders as a young child that traumatized me. I know the scene toward the end of the 1958 movie, The Fly, where a human-headed fly is menaced by a spider – and cries out, in a squeaky voice, "Help me!" – did a number on me as a kid. I also know that the spiders in the 1977 animated version of The Hobbit creeped me out too, not least because they'd cocooned the hapless dwarves and would have eaten them if not for the intervention of Bilbo.
Whatever the reason, I don't like spiders and took some pleasure in the fact that Gary Gygax deemed the giant variety Chaotic Evil (perhaps a nod, in spite of himself, to Tolkien?). In similar fashion, spiders and spider-like creatures appear frequently in my games as antagonists, such as the demon lord Bael who played a role in my Dwimmermount campaign of old and the sinister Weavers of the Gaps, a race of demonic arachnids that appeared recently in my House of Worms Empire of the Petal Throne campaign. Much as I dislike them, spiders make terrific enemies, which is no doubt why Gygax established a connection between them and the drow, for example. 

I think the key to any effective monster is that it's something you simultaneously fear, hate, and yet are weirdly fascinated by. Spiders are indeed fascinating and, even as I feel my skin crawling just thinking about them, there's no denying what remarkable animals spiders are. Their webs can be works of great complexity, even beauty in the right context, such as when covered with dew after a rainfall, but they're also snares for unwary insects and serve to remind us that spiders are predators of a very effective sort. Contemplating this brings to mind that scene from The Fly again and it still makes me uncomfortable. I know that many people admire spiders and that, in some cultures, they're considered wise and clever rather than frightening, but that's not me. They'll always be monsters in my book.


  1. Though I have a slight fear of spiders, I also love and respect them. They are beautiful and horrible.

    I read there have been a bunch of new spiders discovered in Australia, most very scary.

    As a real life gaming aside, a few months ago when running a game in Roll20, I was DMing a giant spider attack in a halfling estate. Ton of spiders, even swarms of regular size ones (and Ettercap was behind it). When the game was over and the players had logged out, I saw something moving on the encounter map. It was a spider moving around. I don't like to kill them if I can help it, so I tried to catch in a cup but I could not touch it. Being new to Roll20 I thought maybe the program could prank you; somehow knowing I was doing spider stuff. I was a bit freaked. But a few seconds later I realized the small spidey was actually on the other side of the 50 inch Flatscreen I was plugged into for the game. But damn, it looked like an animated spider running across my battle map. I never would have thought that could even happen.

    Being a bit superstitious, it was hard not to attribute it to some kind of supernatural thing for a split second. But of course it was just a super-coincidence. Spiders in the game, spider in the TV.

    I actually took phone video footage of it, so I may just have to post about it on my blog now that you've inspired me with spider talk.

  2. I won't link to a photo or anything, but in Australia we have so many different species that we differentiate between the friends and enemies. The huntsman spider is common, and they're great for taking care of insects for you. In another context they might even be cute. Still... doesn't mean it's easy to fall asleep with one cheersing high up on your bedroom wall.

    1. Australia would be a nightmare for me. I had a friend who lived there and used to talk about funnel web spiders all the time. Yikes!

  3. If it wasn't for spiders, insects would overrun the world. As creepy as spiders are, they (overall) are on the side of the good guys.

  4. Lol. I came here to comment on some spiders' virtues for controlling the insects and find some of my countrymen got here first. For all our appreciation, there are indeed some which are just bad bad guys. These are best avoided...

  5. I too first owned a monster manual, though mine was the 2e Monstrous Manual, being somewhat younger.

    But as to spiders, I'm always happy to see them lurking in the corners of my house, catching worse pests, and I'm loathe to kill them--it's bad luck, after all! They're the spirits of the dead. (but fortunately I live where they're not generally dangerous)

  6. The image you displayed to launch this item is one of the 10-20 pictures I reference internally to answer the question: What IS Dungeons & Dragons?

    I do not fear spiders in any way. But spider webs are horrifically unnerving. They are strong, pliable, strategically placed to trap and kill things, and they have a completely alien "feel" to the hand or face. It gets even creepier when one realizes that the spider and web in tandem can warehouse food (soft, tender elves) such that a spider can kill and kill and kill, and eventually consume everything. Great. A huge spider with his own refrigerator.