I thoroughly enjoy running D&D sessions as a gamemaster.
It's literally all fun and games, especially if someone loses an eye.
But I'm nothing without my players, because the shared hallucination that is D&D is only possible thanks to the interplay between them and myself. Without their ideas, responses, comments and reactions, being a gamemaster would be very boring indeed.
The nature of D&D, of the interplay between gamemaster and player, often makes for wonderful organic stories that play out completely differently to how I think they will.
Like the one that I'm about to tell in this blog post.
If you're planning on playing through the Dungeon of the Mad Mage and want to go in blind, this blog post spoils some stuff on the third level.
You have been warned.
Does Whatever A Spider Queen Does
He writhes under my tender ministrations, twisting alternatively away from and towards my delicate blade. Pleasure, pain, it's all the same to him now as I cut and slice and prepare him to receive the blessing of the dark mistress.
When I am done, the cavity beckons with possibility and I put down the knife and take the quivering egg sac and place it gently within.
As it sits there, pulsating, in the newly excavated womb that I have created for it, I wonder whether its new father will have the strength necessary to carry it to term.
The strength to make it something better.
It's hard to improve upon perfection.
But that's no reason not to try.
As I look down on the ruined mess that was Naldiirn and the soft, mewling spiderling tearing its way into the world, I am disappointed yet again.
Not with the spider of course, it did its best.
I am disappointed with its pitiful excuse for a father, proving once and for all the fundamental uselessness of his lesser sex.
The gore-spattered spider skitters unsteadily up my arm. I cradle it to my breast for a moment and then lead it over to the nearby webbing to be with the rest of the brood.
I need stronger hosts.
Ones who can withstand the blessing of the mistress for longer, to enable the spider within to grow to its full potential. To struggle against the cage of flesh that imprisons it and earn its place in the world.
I have heard of adventurers delving into these depths from the surface. Perhaps their kind will make for better parents.
And the testing of them, to ensure they are worthy will be a fun all of its own.
Iilnor is dead, having run afoul of a murderous party of interlopers. He was expendable, and his death at least proves that the surface dwellers are somewhat worthy of my attention.
They may be brutes, with barely a shred of intellect between them, but they do possess an animal cunning all the same.
Spider silk tripwires courtesy of the phase spiders should do the trick, lining the hallways approaching the temple and connecting directly to my altar.
No doubt these idiots will just blunder into them without a second thought, giving me all the advance notice that I need in order to set up a proper ambush.
Truly, it is an intricate web that I weave.
As I slice into the flesh of the hulking half-orc, having already finished with his friends, I realise that these constant incursions are testing my patience more than I want to admit.
First, they assault my temple and kill my guards, escaping before I can retaliate.
Then, an entirely different group of morons come back and somehow slip out of my grasp.
Finally, some unknown assailants attack the encampment, ignoring the temple entirely and murder my precious Wodagh. He was a sweet creature with a fondness for shiny metals and they killed him without a second thought.
The half-orc shudders and stirs as I cut deeper, so I gently stroke his face with my fingertips, then twist the knife vengefully and make space for the egg. His eyes flutter open and recognition dawns for a moment, but the webbing holds him tight and he quickly lapses back into unconsciousness.
The fun part of the work done, I place the egg reverently within the cavity and then call upon the goddess to close the gaping wound.
I look over at the three web covered bodies, wounds all healed, gifts in place and realize that three is not enough.
I'll need more.
So I resolve to let them go.
Let them return to the surface, with no idea what lurks inside.
Their fellows will watch them suffer and die messily and it will inspire them to come down here and confront me.
They will send their strongest and I will take them as my own.
That armoured bitch is stronger than I gave her credit for. I shouldn't have let her go back to the surface and rally her friends.
She should have been well and truly dead by now. A shattered husk, burst from the inside, soaking the floor of whatever flop house she squats in with her blood.
Instead, she avoided the tripwires and ambushed me. Me! Her and her grotesque party of disgusting misfits killed everyone. I had the dwarf, and the that ridiculous looking half-orc was next, but the devil-thing was too strong.
I barely fought them off.
I called to my goddess for help and she did not answer. the summoning circle stayed dormant, blood glistening wetly on the webbing.
Mog'tharod did not come.
I must know why.
No no no.
Haunting images flash through my memory. Glimpses of shattered dark-skinned faces, bodies torn apart, my new legs cutting, stabbing, ripping in an orgy of violent.
What have I become?
I was so sure that I knew what I had to do. Enter the portal, confront Lolth directly and show her my devotion. Make her understand that I did everything for her.
But she didn't care.
So I tried to make her see, first with my voice, then with everything I had.
I remember her face. Impassive. Cold. Malevolence glittering in her many eyes.
And then the pain began, and I felt my bones cracking and twisting, sinews ripping and reforming, skin flowing like water and then hardening into something else.
Where am I?
My spiders, yes. I remember now. I skitter to and fro, tending to their needs, weaving a great web to hold them safe.
Safe from anyone that would hurt them.
Then, a noise.
At the door.
I won't let them hurt my brood!
Not while I live!
It is dark here and the webs are infinite.
I skitter along them, feeling for vibrations but there is nothing. Nothing but the silken strings crisscrossing the eternal blackness.
I can sense her.
And I know that I am nothing to her and that she has forsaken me.
There Goes The Spider Queen
I like this story, though I'm sure it loses something in the telling.
It's a great example of the emergent storytelling that happens when playing D&D, because the drow priestess as described could just as easily have been a one-note encounter, though with a distinctly creepy tone to it.
Nobody wants to be implanted with spider eggs after all.
But the nature of the delves means that most encounters take a while to complete, with things happening over multiple days, so the priestess grew and grew, changing with each new encounter and mutating into something else entirely.
Literally in this case.
Interestingly enough, her eventual transformation into a drider was the end result of a bad dice roll when she attempted to summon help. These sorts of opportunities come along all the time, so it's important to keep an eye out for them in order to make the world feel more alive and responsive to the players actions.
And really, that's what it's all about.
Weaving a cool story together with the help of a bunch of amazing people.