Thursday, March 15, 2018
While the Aranea isn't from the rulebooks' monster listings, it is in the classic module X1: Isle of Dread by Moldvay & Cook, so I feel it qualifies as a BX critter. It's probably not fair to say it's obscure, since so many people have played X1 over the years. The Aranea also was included in BECMI's Creature Catalog (AC9) and even later editions of the game, so it has some staying power.
What caught my eye about this monster wasn't its stats or its prowess in battle, but how the creature was fleshed out in quasi-gygaxian naturalism. Let us explore. First (as always) the stats:
Aranea (from X1)
Armor Class: 7
No. Appearing: 1-3 (1-6)
Hit Dice: 3**
-In web: 120' (40')
Damage: 1d6 + poison
Save As: MU3
Treasure Type: D
So this fella has lousy AC, so-so HD, and only one attack. Admittedly it can force a save or die, but still not a huge threat to an expert level party. No, what makes the Aranea so fun are the extra, not necessarily combat, tidbits.
1) They can cast spells. Each Aranea is basically a 3rd level MU. Think about that. Imagine a pony-sized spider casting Sleep on a party. Or having access to Invisibility? But let's not focus just on combat spells. What about ESP? Locate Object? Or even just plain old Read Magic? This ties into the next part of the critter I liked.
2) They're intelligent. The Aranea's spellcasting ability isn't some natural talent, like a Blink Dog's teleport. They are human-level smart (Creature Catalog says INT 14). It also says "...they spend much of their time in magic research." They also have almost human-like fingers on their forelimbs, which allow them to craft and write. Which means they're GIANT SPIDERS WITH SPELL BOOKS! How cool is that?! Further, their lousy morale indicates they aren't really that interested in fighting. Possibly setting a chance to parley or negotiate? (Break out the reaction table!)
3) Bugbear Buddies. This little throwaway line in X1 tickled me to no end. "They are friendly with bugbears and often hire them to guard the forest beneath their lairs." Perhaps that's intended to only be for the Araneas on the Isle, but there are bugbears all over, so why shouldn't such a relationship be possible in other regions? I expect the bugbears would be happy with a friendly wizard living above their home and the Aranea would have more time to spend on research if it knew the territory below its home was guarded.
I can imagine a fun low-level adventure where the party must enter the bugbears' domain in order to parley with an Aranea for some valuable piece of magical knowledge or intel. Perhaps the spider sends them to retrieve some substance or grimoire in exchange for what they want? The Aranea in question could even become a recurring NPC. Their alignment is Chaotic, though. So trusting it might be another matter.