Necromancy “uses the foul power of unlife,” to quote the Pathfinder Core Rulebook. Its province is negative energy and the undead. But there are living creatures that necromancers seem to have some power over. Similar to the way vampires share a sympathetic connection with other so-called creatures of the night (e.g. bats, wolves, and rats), necromancers’ power over death sometimes bleeds over into the world of the living, particularly among carrion animals or vermin. Maybe this is because of their natural dietary link with death, or because vermin’s negligible intellects can be easily supplanted with the same animating forces necromancers use on undead. Or it’s because vermin are found in numbers that lead to emergent intellects and hive minds that soak up dire energies as they cohere.
Whatever the reason, the end result is a creature like the deathweb—an undead arachnid exoskeleton driven by the paradoxically very alive mass of spiders inside it. Picture the aged Aragog from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince…only this time his children come boiling right out of his corpse to devour Harry and Ron.
Of course, it should be noted that you don’t need a necromancer to generate a deathweb. Pathfinder #4: Fortress of the Stone Giants indicates they rise spontaneously in areas crawling with insects or that have hosted spider cults. There’s something I like about extinct cults leaving a lasting mark on the land…and for that purpose, webs will certainly do.
Losing a mother is hard. When Old Maj died, her spinster daughter Wisp spent months mourning her, refusing to either bury her or consume her corpse in the traditional aranea manner. Succumbing to grief, she conducted an old and difficult rite to call her mother back from the dead. It worked—sort of. What remains of Old Maj now persists in unlife as a deathweb. The Large arachnid cannot speak but makes “her” basic needs known through crude gestures and pantomime. Unfortunately, what the undead appears to need is fresh kills, demanding larger and larger prey at more frequent intervals. Wisp is terrified, going to great lengths to satiate the deathweb’s demands so that the spider multitude never turns on her.
The Dwarf Door at Stoneguard famously never closed. The mechanism stalled with the doors a halfling’s width apart, dooming Stoneguard, ending the Walach royal line, and making dwarves a scapegoat, pariah race. Whatever reason adventurers choose to explore the Haven at the Foot of the Mountain—whether simply to plunder its treasures or to expose the true story of Stoneguard’s betrayal—the first step is through the infamous door. But in that crack dwells a deathweb…seemingly crushed between the granite slabs, but ready to spring out at a moments notice to devour the unwary.
The Spider Cult of Tanthelos was exterminated in Crown Year 548. Traces of its influence remain embedded in Tanthelos’s brickwork (the cult recruited heavily among the engineers’ and masons’ guilds), needlework…and sewer system. At least one death web is active at all times in the dank tunnels, along with several haunts that defy attempts to destroy them. Always a hotbed of intrigue, Tanthelos has a new cult, the Unblinking Eye, who covets those same sewers. The cult seeks adventurers to drive off the deathweb(s) for good…ideally without uncovering anything about the Eye or its serpentfolk masters in the process.
—Pathfinder #4 79 & Pathfinder Bestiary 3 65
Hee hee. “Spinster.”
I also like the name “deathweb.” A hair overdramatic, but it’s accurate, coherent, and immediately understandable—something I prize in monster names. (See my oft-linked-to…by me…because I’m lame…encomium for Scarred Lands’ Creature Collection.)
Man, I loved those early Pathfinder issues. (Not that I don’t love them now.) Pathfinder #4 also brought us our first look at Golarion’s dragons and stone giants, an early glimpse of Korvosa, and the redcap, hound of Tindalos, and the taiga giant. A great issue.