- Spider hunt! we'll start with a simple type of encounter- with the Aranea as a monster, pure and simple- a wild aranea. lets say the aranea seeks to kill some hapless adventurers, how does it differ from the Aranea as we know it so far? well, there are a few ways. first of all, think like a spider- you're observent, and patient, and you plan... the aranea will first observe the party, and then will make some opportunity to get the characters get it's weave magic anchoring items.
lets say, the party hears some fightings some distance off and they come to the allready decided battle, with the bodies of 1-3 humanoids on the ground (past victims), and some other humanoid just about to loot them. but it turn tails and run (invisibility or expeditious retreat will do nicely, as well as other spells, before turning to a spider and hiding). upon searching the bodies the party find some nice items. why shouldn't they keep them?
next on the party starts to suffer small mishaps and ocnditions, or are just being spied by the aranea who learns their tactics, when they sleep and so on. the time is then ripe for the attack.
aranea attacks with it's allies, spells, host abilities and poisons. not to mention making simple traps in the party's route. ambush, ambush, ambush.
as to allies, ettercap and great spider work fine, but what about Ankhegs? (to grab a character and take it out of the fight). Kobolds? (also master ambushers and trap makers.) kreshnars? (to drive the party members into traps in fear, also divide and conquer)
the aranea spell selection is as covered- mostly escape spells, illusion and enchantment. araneas don't rely on their spells however, they use them as amplifiers to an allready good plan.
the host abilites can really make a difference in terms of options for the aranea, and in fact this is many times the very reason for the hunt- gaining a new, more powerfull host body. do remember that the gained abilites are limited by the Aranea's HD, but in most other ways it's like running a gestalt character. an aranea can gain divine spells, sneak attacks, a wizard's spell book, warlcok invocations and so on... this should come to bear in the combat, and confuse the players quite a bit!
poisons: this in fact is the sore point of wild araneas, as they usually are able to produce only weak posions of what they find in the wild, but that may not be the case for some. huge- giant araneas may keep pet wyverns and extract the posion from them.
the main thing here is to think like a hunting spider- build a "web" to draw your victims in, paralize/ divide them, and then strike! done correctly this can get the players to realise they are not dealing with a mere humanoid, but a strange mind indeed.
once tracked to it's lair, the aranea becomes far less tactic and far more desperate. it escapes if it can, though it will try to either protect or destroy it's webbed weave magic room, so others can't capture it (it's to do wit hthe creature psyche, see explenation before)
- "the friend" an aranea can serve as the villain's best spy- it takes hold of the body of a friend to the party, and keeps begin friends with them. thios could also be staged- the party "saves" someone from the BBEG's, who then swears loyalty to the party, only to in fact be a spy that spies on them all the time.
this could go on for several adventures and should explain various issues such as the foes escaping before the PCs get there, or an enemey hunting party especially prepared for the group's tactics and so on. the traitor should not be that obvious idealy. some things that can help it be more "usefull": it can build things for the party, it can be a usefull cohort, it can supply information, and more. if it doesn't accompany the party, make sure they get some "tokens of gratitude" given to them.
when found, the party can face the aranea, and maybe it's motives- was it coerced into service, or was it voluntery? the aranea can escape if it has enough time, leaving behind a stranger, who has no memory of it's enslavement. can this new guy prove to be trustworthy?
the escaping aranea can return later, in a new body. will the PCs recognize it? it can be a versatyle, memorable minor (i'd say even major, but the mentality doesn't suit it) villain.
again, a main key to make it unique is to play on the "awekwardness" factor in the aranea's character/s.
- "traitor in our midst": speaking on minor villains, the shapeshifting traitor is a staple of many fantasy works. but why not choose a changling/ doppleganger/ lycanthrope? well, it is because tha aranea offers some specail and unqiue features to explore.
first of all is it's alien mind. it doesn't fully act as expected, and can be found to respond or prepare in the most bizzare ways. this is a spider- it builds a webs of information, alarms, and contingencies.
secondly it is not the normal shapeshifter. though it can mimic but one form at a time, it can fairly easely change forms. also, unlike a changling, it gains all the memories (and abilities!) of it's victims, and thus can act much better, and have access to information and places a normal shapeshifter can't get to. if it weren't for it's odd behaviour at times it owuld make a perfect spy.
thirdly is the use of weave magic, that enables it to act from afar, manipulate and influence distant targets.
the idea behind this encounter is that of the elusive traitor/ spy, that keeps running away, leaving an bizzare trail. at first the PCs should suspect the host, but then they might find the host vacated, without memory. would they believe it? would they start suspecting other shapeshifters? what happens when they find another traitor, a bit similar in behaviour, and some abilites are the same, but the rest is different? the transfer of bodies is a powerfull tool, and it make take the party time to realise they are dealing with the same creature (or two? or three?), rather then an entire cult or organization.
- "hostage situation": this scenerio is especially appropriate for low HP hosts, that may be violently killed if the aranea is forcebly removed from them. if an aranea's presence is ascertained, it may start to bargain, offering the host's life in exchange. this could be an interesting bargaining, similar to bargaining with a barghest in some respects. (see previous posts). the aranea may offer them a quest, perhaps even joining on it as a cohort. this may get the party to know araneas and their peculiar way of thought in a "friendly way".
- "power trip" dealing with an aranea can lead to a voluntery immersion, for a specific time, usually for a specific goal. this is especially true for spider worshipers like the Children of Winter from Eberron. they join forces with the aranea for a limited time, giving it control and empowering it by their abilities. the aranea then uses the merge to achieve the host goals, as well as it's own. most aranea usually honr their bargains, leaving the host when the deal is over. (they are orderly like that) this could explain a strange power boos (especially in sorcerous power) of a previously encountered foe.
- "spiders are our friends!" as Araneas can make deals with foes, so can they make a deal with the PCs. there is the problem of the aranea taking over all the faculties of the player, but some player like the different roleplay challenge, as well as the power boost. if your players might like it, this may be an exciting and disturbing way to play something they have never played before!
- "Spiders, spiders everywhere!" and of course there is the obligatory spider themed campaign. scaling up from monsterous spiders, to ettercaps, to araneas, to driders, to the Beblith fiends that control them... araneas can be the intermediates through all of this, plus, it's one of the only times when araneas are expected to work together. how about a party of aranea adventurers? note that in such a campaign the party is likely to ally with drow against their foes...
- incubator: araneas lay their eggs in living victims. the party could hear of a missing local or could be captured themselves and used as incubators. this might add to the creepyness of the campaign as many players will find it horrific.
- ancient secrets: what are the goals of the Araneas? what long lost secrets have they lost? in more high levels campaign (though it could be done in low levels as well), an aranea, or a group of aranea may seek to uncover more of their spidery magic, maybe to return to their elder glory? but what will be the consequences to the races that inhabit the world today?
-Stirges: nos special relations. aranea tend to dispise these critters like most other humanoids, finding no real use for them. wild araneas sometime prepare special traps against deadly foes that basically drops a creature into a stirges abode.
- stone giants: stone giants, like most giants hate Araneas and fear them. it is their existence that led the giants to destroy every monsterous spider they can find. however, araneas that grow that big are uncommon, aso they are mostly a subject of myth to the giants. an elder stone giant is taught how to notice the tell tale signs of arane possesion.
stone giants usually mercifully kill a formerly possesed giant, believing it to be ever tainted, and they mourn it's loss. these are never turned into Watchers.
-In Thunder's Step groups: these giants, who come into contact with humanoid settlements more often are more aware of araneas then their kin, but it's still considered mostly a myth to them. the giants watch closely in every giant settlement they pass for possesion, as this has led to a war in the past when a powerfull aranea took control of a cloud giant, gathered forces and went on conquest.
-Yeth Hounds: (i'm taking a bit of creative liberty Prometheus): these two species actually work very well together! the Yeth hound benefits from the added protection and Weave Magic uses, while the Aranea have another guardian, and one that can effectively turn enemies into traps.
strangely enough, their different minds only add to their curiousity of each other. Wild araneas are fairly often paired with these flying horrors.
- Barghest: Bargehsts are immune to the aranea's immersion, and thus find it easy enough to trust. the aranea however is affected by the barghest feeding abilities, and so it fears it. both species are drived by alien needs, and both are outcasts and misunderstood. this does not confer trust between the two. it does confer tense possibilites of cooperation. bargehst often work with wild araneas, but they can work with city araneas in rural enough locations. the pair's different powers can fit well together, but it's usually the aranea who is the spy and look out, and the barghest who is the hunter.
the interactions between the two species vary immensly depending on the personalities of the two (or more) individuals involved. one special case though is the "power trip" an aranea may offer. the barghest can broker this deal to another humanoid, using it's debt stones to guarantee the deal. this is a rare case though.
- Gargoyles: Araneas are often attracted to gargoyles, though no one knows why. perhaps they seek the Gargoyle script, perhaps their odd mind, who knows? many araneas, wild and city, often seek locations of gargoyles for protection, and maybe in some odd way- companionship?
araneas are very carefull usually not to oppose the gargoyle's guardianships, though they may create traps of alarm in that place. araneas often seek host bodies that know many languages for the gargoyle script, and so may seek to immerse in scholars who worship a temple where gargoyles are found.
- Wights: (taking creative liberty batsofchaos) most Araneas hate the undead like most living creatures. an aranea that immerses in an evil clerci may use it's powers to control the wights. if a combined creature is killed by a wight, it transforms to the hybrid form, which serves it as a wight.
- Serpent lords: the masters of venom sometime use araneas in their schemes, and even equip them with their poisons. dark and bone nagas especially appreicate the versatiliy of these creatures. most Araneas are to weak to oppose these serpentine masters, but some more powerfull ones try to hunt them for their poisons, especially the Neutral large ones.
Serpent lords are very curious about the Weave Magic, but have done no credible effort to investigae it, generally more than satisfied to let their minions use it. this may all change though...
- Troglodytes: troglodytes have been "occupied" by araneas before, though rarely. araneas seem to find very little reason to do so, troglodytes however seem to have a rich lore about araneas! they feature greatly in their stories and legends of old. this people may have clues to the araneas long lost past...
- Hydras: as with stirges, no special relationship. araneas mostly fear the powerfull beasts.