This adventure is “A Matter of Love” from Beasts of the Dominions, published in 2012. The party consisted of Ash, Kyrosian rogue; Dorjee Pema, alchemist of Gis; Max, savage northlander brute; the Monk, wandering Lhobanese martial artist; U’wahz, Syranthian sage; and Zosimus, cairnlander gladiator.
The party is contacted by Temar Nhir, an aide to the Kyrosian ambassador to Syranthia, who has just been given new orders: He is to take over the governorship of Vadokara, about which the Kyrosian Autarch has heard disturbing rumours – a “darkness hanging over the city” or some such rot. The city is a crumbling mass of ruins with a desperate population, and the previous two governors, sent to rebuild it, have disappeared without trace; the Autarch needs someone trustworthy to resolve those problems, if not the darkness thing. The Great Library has suggested the party would be a valuable addition to his entourage, and Nhir likes the idea of having someone not appointed by the Autarch’s court – openly, he merely says different viewpoints can be valuable, but it’s clear he has considered the possibility that he is being quietly disposed of. Much as the Great Library is quietly disposing of the party, in fact.
Vadokara is some way off, and the party has several weeks in the company of Nhir, his daughter Melandra, and the dozen or so soldiers making up his official guard as they make their way eastwards. The last week or so is through thick jungle, and troubled by rain, snakes and fever. Taking advantage of their travels to suss out their companions, the party determines that:
- Temar Nhir is a competent bureaucrat, and while he knows nothing about the military, he does know enough to listen to people who do, and thus has an equally competent group of guards.
- Vadokara is a bit of a dump, and the guards are of the opinion that Nhir is being sent there as a punishment and they were unlucky enough to be picked to accompany him.
- Vadokara is also a hundred leagues from any enemies of Kyros, so while boredom is a threat, being perforated by spears probably isn’t. The guards think that a fair trade.
- Nhir’s daughter Melandra is young and naive, so Ash’s player decides that she reminds him of his younger sister and has triggered protective rather than lustful emotions in the rogue.
Arriving at the city, the group observes a couple of ragged-looking sentinels on derelict battlements, who disappear inside as soon as they notice the new governor approaching. The city gates are open, and the one on the left has a broken top hinge. Ash decides the governor should ride with some pomp into the city, rather than weaving around broken gates, and beckons Max and Zosimus to help push them open; the rest of the group enters with as much dignity as it can manage.
In the main square, the new arrivals are met by a shabby, smelly person in a stained red tunic, who names himself Shendul, says the city belongs to him and Etu is a false goddess, and what do they think they can do about it? Any better than the last lot? The inhabitants of the city watch expressionlessly. U’wahz notices a large gold ring on Shendul’s hand, the sigil the Autarch presents to city governors, and Ash (a native of Kyros) explains that the stained red tunic is the mark of wandering priests of Etu, although normally they are cleaner than that. Shendul is arrested, but seems unconcerned as he is led away. Ash has already decided offending Shendul would be a bad idea and goes to some lengths not to insult him or knock him around.
The palace has no servants, and clearly has not been used in months. The governor sets the troops to clearing the place up and making it habitable, but the PCs have enough sense to make themselves scarce; U’wahz and Zosimus return to the dungeon to interrogate Shendul, while Ash goes out to the nearest tavern intending to hire a cook and possibly some other servants. The Monk, who has now discarded even his loincloth in his flight from material possessions, sits outside the palace begging. Every so often someone gives him a loincloth, then he goes to find a beggar even worse off and gives it to them. He learns that the unusually strong doors and window shutters in town date from the arrival of Shendul the priest a couple of years ago, since when no new governor has lasted more than a few days, their entourages disappearing in ones and twos overnight.
In the dungeon, U’wahz is struck by the fact that all the spiders have formed a circle around Shendul and are watching him expectantly. Under questioning, Shendul reveals that he lost his faith after he met… someone… in the jungle, after which he came here and took over the town. He continues to be completely unconcerned about being chained to the wall in the dungeon, and the party deduce that he doesn’t expect to be there long, and that the total absence of skeletons or other evidence of the previous governor bodes ill; clearly, they feel, Shendul controls something awful which will emerge that night and kill them all. Not liking this idea, they decide to thwart this plan by killing Shendul before he can execute it.
As a contingency, U’wahz prepares a large stack of things for the new governor to sign, and slips a death warrant into it, far enough down that the governor will be signing things on autopilot by the time he reaches it. Meanwhile, Max and Zosimus descend once more, and commence strangling Shendul with his own chains, planning to claim later that he got tangled up in them while drunk and accidentally killed himself. The spiders don’t like this, and as waves of steadily larger and more brightly-coloured spiders invade the cell, they decide on a change of plan; Zosimus holds the spiders off while Max shanks the priest repeatedly with his dagger. At this point the spiders go berserk, and the two barbarians flee the palace, eventually winding up in the river, watching a crowd of agitated spiders on the bank, some of them as large as wolves.
Inside the palace, U’wahz, Dorjee, and company notice a sudden increase in the number and ferocity of the spider population and are soon forced to make a run for it, heading towards the temple where they decide to take refuge in the inner sanctum, a bunker-like building inside the main temple which has the advantage of thick walls, heavy doors, and no windows. Eight of the twelve soldiers are brought down by spiders and consumed, and the remainder hold the doors closed by main strength while the heroes prepare a trap – they use the offerings of grain and oil to improvise a flame fougasse, which Dorjee triggers with a flaming barrier potion as the soldiers fall back and the spiders charge in. The first wave of spiders is easily incinerated or speared while shaken from the flames.
Meanwhile, outside, Ash has heard the commotion, left the tavern, and (being a second-story man by trade) climbs to the roof of a tenement near the temple, rightly deducing that something nasty is about to happen, and determined to rescue the young girl. He observes the others chased into the temple by the spiders, and camouflages himself in rags taken from nearby washing lines as he notices something unpleasant approaching from the direction of the city’s main water cistern: A horse-sized half-woman half-spider covered in smaller spiders.
This abomination pauses outside the temple building and calls: “I need a mate. Send out the cutest one. As for the rest of you, well, my children must feed.”
The Monk asks what duties being the spider queen’s mate entails, and learns that in addition to the normal reproductive matters, he will also be expected to provide their children with fresh human meat and plenty of it. The Monk emerges with the intention of buying the rest of the party some time; his previous incarnations have experienced much, leaving him with an interest in those few and rare genuinely new sensations, and carnal knowledge of a spider-centaur certainly qualifies.
“Aha! I see you are already naked!” roars the spider queen, not realising that the Monk is trying to purge himself of any attachment to material possessions, including loincloths. “Excellent, let’s get on with it then!”
“Not in the street,” the Monk says. “Surely we need some privacy?” He is beginning to suspect the reason for the recently-deceased priest’s alcoholism.
“Well, I suppose, if you insist,” demurs the spider queen. “Now, tell me I’m pretty.” The pair stroll off, arm in arm, towards the main water cistern where the queen has taken up residence, with the Monk paying her compliments and engaging her in small talk to distract her, such as seeking an explanation of how two lovers of such different size and shape can consummate their relationship (which the queen is happy to provide). The rest of the spiders surge forward towards the temple, and the heroes work with the soldiers to hold the inner sanctum’s doors closed while Ash rigs a zipline from the tenement to the temple roof, where he makes his way inside, discovering a trapdoor in the inner sanctum’s ceiling. He attracts the party’s attention and they find a ladder, which the priests use for accessing the roof to conduct repairs, and keep it inside so that it doesn’t get stolen. Led by the governor’s daughter, those inside begin preparing to evacuate, looking around the while for something to block the door with so the soldiers can also escape. Their eyes light on the 12 foot tall statue of Etu, holding a baby crocodile in one hand and caressing its head with the other. Is that an expression of suspicion on its face? Is the Great Mother not angry, but terribly, terribly hurt? Obviously, it falls to Ash to swarm up the wall and kick the (hollow) statue over, then the rest drag it forward to block the doors and make good their escape through the temple roof, before making for the city wall at a dead run.
The spiders at the riverbank have decided to join in the feast at the temple and scuttle back to town, cautiously followed by Max and Zosimus. The spiders see Ash, Dorjee, and U’wahz leading the governor, his daughter and the soldiers to safety and turn to pursue them. Max and Zosimus see the spider queen leading the Monk off to who knows what fate, and decide to sneak up behind the couple and hack the spider queen to death, which they promptly do. While they are doing this, the Monk turns on his new girlfriend and with a stunning return to form inflicts a phenomenal amount of damage to the spider queen’s most delicate areas. She drops as if poleaxed, making a very peculiar noise – the Monk explains that he wished to pleasure the spider queen while killing her.
The rest of the spiders have nearly caught up with the other part of the group, and Ash heroically distracts them by bounding up external stairs of one building and throwing rocks at the biggest and stripiest spider, which is clearly the leader. It is stunned by the rock, and at that precise moment the spider queen dies and so loses mental control of the others. Bereft of orders, the pursuing spiders split up, some pursuing in a desultory manner and the rest taking refuge in nearby shadows. Ash claims to have scared them off.
Back at the spider queen’s corpse, Max briefly considers replacing the bull’s head he is currently wearing as a hat with the head of the spider queen, but is persuaded that wearing what will look like the decapitated head of a dead woman will not be popular. Instead they cut it off for addition to Zosimus’ collection of shrunken heads.
By now, it’s all over bar the shouting. The governor moves back into the palace and declares undying friendship to our heroes, who spend the next few days hunting down and disposing of the remaining Spiders Of Unusual Size, before moving on to their next adventure.