Attack of the Kind of Friendly Spider-People!

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Aranea: Book of the Spider is now available on the DM’s Guild. I’ve been wanting to write this for quite a while, ever since I was working on my 5e conversion and expansion for the classic Castle Amber adventure. The Aranea appeared in one of the earliest encounters of Castle Amber (they’d previously appeared in The Isle of Dread), with a few of them simply visiting their friends in the Amber family. The weirdest part of this, of course, is the idea that anyone in the Amber family has friends.

Aranea: Book of the Spider cover image

I’ve always had a fondness for encounters in RPGs that aren’t quite what they seem, and the aranea are made for those sorts of encounters. Perhaps I should pause for a moment and explain what the aranea actually are:

The aranea are a race of intelligent, shapeshifting giant spiders. Each of them has a unique humanoid identity that it can shapeshift into. This identity is developed shortly after birth, but it can be from almost any race. They can also shapeshift into a humanoid-spider hybrid form, which is usually just as horrifying as it sounds (and varies wildly in appearance by individual). So, like, werespiders… but not actually lycanthropes (or cursed). Aranea are natural spellcasters with a penchant for enchantment and illusion spells. They have their own isolated communities, but many of them secretly live among other humanoids. They tend towards neutral alignments.

The possibilities here for interesting encounters are awesome. Want to give depth to an NPC? Have it (or a member of its family) secretly be an aranea in disguise. It isn’t a threat—it just happens to be a giant spider. Want to challenge your characters’ preconceptions? Have them stumble upon a giant spider who happens to be friendly and talkative.

While I don’t know for sure, my assumption is that the aranea, with their focus on deception-related magic, were at least partially based on Anansi and spiders as folkloric trickster-figures. As such, I’ve tended to cast them in that light, giving them a strong storytelling tradition, a tendency toward chicanery, and a connection to the fey.

So what’s in this book? The first section includes write-ups and statblocks for a number of creatures: aranea who fill various roles, undead aranea, and a powerful fey creature who was once an aranean mage and is now an agent of fate. Following that are three fully-detailed sample aranea NPCs: a grifter who poses as a traveling half-elven bookseller and plans heists with her weasel familiar, a hermit who fell in love with a dryad and settled down with her, and a necromancer who was raised as a hobgoblin mercenary and seeks to redeem himself for having failed his adopted family.

The second section is filled with player options. It begins with a full race write-up for half-aranean characters along with two racial feats. Then there are three subclasses:

  • The Way of the Webslinger: a monk tradition based upon the martial arts of the aranea guardians. This tradition lets you manifest web-strands with your ki and use them as weapons, restraints, and swing-lines. An excellent choice for Marvel fans.
  • The Spiderborn: a sorcerous origin for those who have aranea blood in their ancestry. Among other things, the spiderborn can create psychic webs with which to trap their foes and use sorcery points to transform into a spiderlike form.
  • The Arasheem Worldspinner: a new warlock patron based around a manipulative, lich-like undead aranea. Excellent horror potential, especially if you want to climb around on a web of shadows.

The player option chapter closes out with a few spells that are useful for both the subclasses and aranea NPCs.

If you’re interested, go ahead and check out the book on the DM’s Guild. There’s a free preview that displays the entire book, so you can see if its for you.

Note: Aranea: Book of the Spider is currently available for a special introductory price of $4.97—I expect to raise the price sometime in mid-March.

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