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Araneas' Mystaran ancestors

by Ripvanwormer

We know the araneas are descended from both exiled planar spiders and native Mystaran giant spiders. Does anyone have any opinions about the araneas' Mystaran ancestors?

Planar spiders, according to the Mystara Monstrous Compendium Appendix, have a diameter of five feet and an intelligence of 11-12. The Mystara MC notes that they're omnivorous, though I11 Needle notes their primary food source is giant insects (in particular, giant wasps, giant dragonflies, and giant mantises). The Chak in I11 are noted as large-sized, not medium as the planar spiders in the Mystara MC are. "Planets are ruled by local kings serving an emperor who rules from the race's home planet somewhere on the Prime Plane." I can't find any indication what color they are, but the phase spider that DiTerlizzi painted for the Monstrous Manual was yellowish-brown. Aketheti and her mother in M5 are night-black, but they might not be the norm.

Araneas "are as large as a small pony, and are greenish-brown in color." They have eight legs, plus front limbs with hand-like digits. Their intelligence is noted in the Creature Catalogue as 14. The Mystara Monstrous Compendium Appendix marks their diameter as seven feet. Like the other kinds of spiders, they're carnivores.

The giant crab spider (Basic Dungeon Master's Rulebook, 38) is five feet long, with the chameleon-like ability to blend into its surroundings. Like the rhagodessa, it can cling to ceilings. The giant black widow (same) is 6' long, black, with a red hourglass mark. Like araneas and planar spiders, it spins webs. The giant tarantella (same source), is seven-foot-long and looks like a tarantula, though it has a magical poison that causes a painful dance-like spasm in its victims. All of these creatures have an intelligence of 0, according to the Master DM's Book.

The rhagodessa (Expert Rulebook, page 55; also in the Mystara Monstrous Compendium Appendix) is "a giant spider-like carnivore, about the size of a small horse." They're seven feet long, according to the Mystara MC. They're colored yellow, with a dark brown thorax. They have eight legs, plus a front pair that ends in suckers "which helps the creature grasp its prey." Their intelligence is 0. Their favored terrain is "forests, mountains, and subterranean."

The giant sand spider (Creature Catalogue, 55) are "six feet long, and beige in colour with an orange and black blotch on their stomachs. They inhabit desert or barren regions. Sand spiders live in underground burrows... Pyramids, large statues, rocky roads, and paved roads offer the best sites." Their intelligence is noted as 0. Sand spiders might be common in Thothia, which is near the aranea homeland.

Shroud spiders "are 6 feet long and black all over, except for their eyes, which glow with a very faint blue light." They're poisonous, and spin webs. They have the highest intelligence of giant spiders, listed as 4.

Huge wood spiders are only 3 feet long, but they have an intelligence of 2 (equivalent to ordinary animals in the Master DM's Book) and coloration similar to araneas. The actual aranea homeland (the land adjoining the rivers that flow into Spider Canyon, which branches off the Valley of Kings) is forested, it should be noted, and araneas are mainly forest-dwellers.

From these choices, I think rhagodessas most closely resemble the araneas in size and anatomy, and their forest habitat means the planar spiders may have encountered them early on in their city of Aran. For all the named kinds of Mystaran giant spiders, intelligence is a problem. Why would planar spiders willingly mate with creatures who were no smarter than animals or mindless vermin? Why mate with native spiders at all? And why would their descendants end up smarter and more magically adept than either of their ancestors? Even the shroud spiders are terribly stupid by planar spider standards.

It's possible, of course, that the araneas' Mystaran ancestors were a presently unknown variety of giant spider, now extinct outside of the aranea bloodline, more magical and intelligent than other giant spiders known today. My theory, though, is in several parts:

1. Only female planar spiders were exiled with Arachne Prime. That would explain why they had no choice but to resort to bestial local spiders as mates. Assuming that Arachne Prime's clerics were exclusively female leans on the Lolth comparison, of course, but it seems a reasonable hypothesis. They may also have been exclusively male, in theory, but I think a Lolth-like matriarchy is more likely, in contrast to the generally patriarchal society of the Chak.

2. Breeding was very deliberate, and involved magic. The planar spiders may have picked a variety of native mates (including rhagodessas, shroud spiders, and wood spiders), using magic to ensure they were cross-fertile and that only desirable traits were inherited by their young. They might not of had to have physically mated with the bestial spiders, either; magic may have sufficed.

3. The blood of Arachne Prime may flow through the araneas' veins. The only known "daughter" of Arachne Prime is Aketheti, who M5 suggests may actually be a free-willed construct rather than her biological daughter. Even so, she is definitely fertile, and Aketheti may have mated with many male araneas over the generations, which might partially explain why araneas are smarter and more magical than their ancestors. It might also explain the shapeshifting powers (which Aketheti also has) displayed by the Herathian araneas of the Savage Coast. Aketheti's offspring are "shape-changing human/spider mystics" according to M5; it's possible that her offsping are the descendants of the human pharoahs of Thothia, but if that were true, one would think the male members of the royal line (the Ramenhoteps) would also be half-spider, and that doesn't seem to be the case. I think the Ramenhoteps must have children with human concubines, passing them off as Aketheti's children, while Aketheti herself only breeds in secret with her own spidery kind. M5 says that Aketheti's children gain their power to shapechange into human form "from their mother," not from their father, so there's no implication that they're partly human. It may be notable that Aketheti's children take the form of giant crab spiders instead of araneas; perhaps their fathers are all giant crab spiders, or perhaps this is just a choice on their part. In either case, I think hundreds of her offspring (or more) must have become rulers of the araneas over the centuries, mating with araneas and transferring their shapechanging powers to their descendants.