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Friday, June 27, 2014

The Coolest D&D Monster That Nobody Uses - The Spellweaver

Nobody has been able to touch this. Scroll down!
I am converting the Lamentations adventure "Doom Cave of the Crystal-Headed Children" for D&D Next to run this Sunday night. I'll keep this blog post free of dirty details, but basically in that adventure, a guy finds a massive crystal in a cave that gives him 22 centuries of knowledge (Earth pop culture...??). He, uhhh, "uses" it's entry port to make an army of crystal-headed children which he will force to take over the world or something.

I know this kind of thing is too wacky for some. My group gets a big kick out of it. Although in this instance, I want to remove the "earth pop culture" element. I need some other entity to be behind the crystals - so I chose one of my favorite monsters - Spellweavers!

As a fan of the art of Tony DiTerlizzi, I first noticed the spellweavers through his illustration of them in the AD&D Monstrous Compendium Annual Volume One. They just look awesome and weird.
Come on, now, people.
That said, I despise some of their depictions in 3rd edition, particularly the "black t-shirt bird face" version. Unacceptable!

- The thing that I like the most about them is how dangerous and weird they are. They have 6 arms, and can cast multiple spells per round! That's one arm for each spell level. So they could cast two level 3 spells at once (two lightning bolts?), or 6 level one spells (6 magic missiles!), etc.

- They are from some alternate prime material plane. They come to our realms to steal or study magic items and phenomena.

- They carry a chromatic disk in one hand. It gives them more spell points (normally the amount of spells they cast per day is tied to their hit points). If other races try to use a chromatic disk, it explodes in a 30 foot radius doing 10d4 (I hate rolling that many d4s) damage. It is said that they make these disks by drawing energy out of other magic items.

- They communicate telepathically. Attempts to contact them telepathically result in insanity for d6 days!

Better, but still not close to DiTerlizzi.
- Once per day it can create a 200 foot radius zone that blocks scrying and planar travel. It lasts for ten minutes.

- They reproduce through "magical fission". A spellweaver will split into two beings.

- Sometimes they lie dormant and invisible for months in a magic location. If you wake them up, they will probably kill you.

- The entry includes charts for determining which and how many spells they know.

When reading up on spellweavers, I discovered that they actually debuted in Dragon Magazine. The article is virtually identical to the entry in the appendix. It includes art by the author which definitely confirms that the DiTerlizzi depiction is more "correct" than the dude in the black t-shirt.

There is an "ecology" in one of the Paizo Dragon magazines. I am kind of pumped about it because Paizo comes up with some badass stuff. Let's see what we get:
Should not look like the alien from Signs!
- Spellweavers are the last descendants of a magically advanced empire that spanned worlds and planes.

- This empires had colonies, called nodes - big pyramids of stone and steel powered by magic furnaces. They were connected through a portal network.

- They enslaved primitive creatures, and would wipe out threatening cultures by giving them powerful magic items that would destroy them from within (maybe like a deck of many things? Or the classic douche move - the mislabeled potion of poison, heh heh).

- They are obsessed with different types of language and communication.

- They tried some experiment that would alter reality that caused a catastrophe. All of their furnaces exploded. There were relatively few survivors.

Spellweaver language info
- They can turn their necks completely around. Their blood is blue and like quicksilver. That's awesome.

- This article says chromatic disks can be made from a mediation process, where the spellweaver exudes blood and fluids to for a new one out of metallic resin.

- They live for 600 years. When it is time for them to die, they drain the magic from an epic pile of magic items and make a coffin. Then they lie in the coffin for at least a month, and then emerge renewed and with darker skin, ready to live for another 600 years. Pretty cool.

- Spellweavers can "regenerate" like that 6 times. Then they do this ritual with six disks where they decay and a newborn rises up with all of the memories and mental abilities of the 'parent'.

- They do not revere deities. They are looking for gems that contain pieces of the "Code of Reversion", which is a thing that can reverse time to before the catastrophe that destroyed their empire. They refer to the catastrophe as "The  Disjunction". There are two theories as to what the spellweavers were doing that caused the catastrophe:

1. Ascension: The spellweavers discovered the language that could alter reality. Gods have some knowledge of this language. The entire spellweaver race tried to learn this language to ascend to godhood en masse. The gods may have thwarted this, creating a magical backlash. That is epic.

2. Unification: The spellweavers thought that all planes and worlds sprung from one reality that were chopped up by deities. The spellweavers tried to merge them again.

Can't even....
There is a supplementary article with some more Spellweaver stuff. Unfortunately they kick it off with a picture of some birdface BS holding a frisbee.

- The Silver Hexameric Folio is 3 separate pentagonal books made of silver and covered in spellweaver hieroglyphics. A metallic cord connects them. There is art of this, because Paizo is awesome.

- It is sentient and will try to get your PC to rebuild the spellweaver empire.

- If you figure out the secret of the folio (re-arrange the pages) you can learn new spells created by the spellweavers:

Anamensis: You tap into the collective memory of the spellweavers and gain a bonus to knowledge checks. It lasts an hour per level, and during this time you hear hums and clicks, as if some weird thing was trying to contact you. Kind of cool. I'd change this from just a static bonus.

You can hold your dice in them.
Cynosure: This spell makes plane shift and teleport spells more accurate.

Modulate: You can use this spell on a wand to then infuse the wand with another spell, to cast instead. That's pretty crazy. This only lasts one minute per level, though.

Siphon: You can drain charges from a magic item to allow yourself to cast an expended spell.

Spell Star: You create a hovering star. You cast spells into it. If anyone casts those spells at you, the spell star automatically counters it! Nasty. Pretty creative!

Spellweavers were used in the Shackled City adventure path, in an adventure called The Demonskar Legacy. The spellweavers had built a thing called the Starry Mirror.

They used the Amaranth Elixir, a magic potion that made ogres stronger but more easily controlled.

The heroes fight their way through an ancient Spellweaver lair, now over-run with monsters. There's some hags that control spellweaver skeletons. The PCs have to jump through the Starry Mirror, which was basically a mirror portal network.

When I ran this back in around 2008, one PC bravely jumped in. Another, a selfish rogue, refused. The rogue was scolded by the paladin's trusty minion, a one hit point kobold, who tied a rope to his waist and jumped in after his liege.

Passage between mirrors was not direct. The heroes ended up in color-coded puzzle rooms that were very confusing. As I recall, my PCs couldn't figure it out. I am terrible at puzzles like this myself, so an NPC aided them. It was one of those puzzles linked to the color wheel aka ROY G BIV.

There is another Shackled City adventure that involves Spellweavers. It is called Secrets of the Soul Pillars. Underneath the city the heroes live in is another Spellweaver ruin called Karran-Kural which was a complex designed to research a combination of necromancy and cold magic.
Inside are glass tubes that hold motionless spellweavers in them. They are not alive or dead. If the PCs check them out, there's a cool little chart that you roll on to see what the spellweaver does. It's mostly a thing to freak out the PCs. If freed they dissipate into black smoke.

There are soul pillars - things made of necrotic grey flesh that contain spellweaver lore. PCs can ask the pillars questions of the spirits trapped within. They answer in "yes" or "no". This seems kind of... not very spellweaver-y.

The whole place is guarded by an undead dragon named Vitriss Bale. My party had a truly epic fight with him. The party rogue was riding the dragon, stabbing it, and puled off this maneuver where he got it to bite at him as he jumped off of it onto a ledge, triggering the paladin's mark, killing it.

In Dungeon 130, there's an Age of Worms adventure with.. a spellweaver lich! What a great idea. The text then goes on to say that not only is its' chromatic disk not used as a phylactery, it's not even used at all. Sheesh it seems like the disk is beyond perfect as a phylactery. Just make one and stash it somewhere.

6-armed alien is just like a normal lich. Got it!
Then the text goes on to tell us this guy is just like a normal lich. Well.. uh.. OK.

Seems like a waste!

The 4th edition version of these creatures is a misfire, in my opinion. They are reclassified as "weavers". There's battleweavers, thoughtweavers, etc. And they used the black t-shirt art again on the second page! Come on!
Not quite...

The lore claims that the weavers tried to fight "a terrible incursion from the Far Realm". Why do you have to fix what isn't broken? And really.. the Far Realm? I've just never found it very interesting. There's not too much you can do with the Far Realm. Madness! Tentacles! Got it. Although hey, maybe someone could cook up an entire Far Realm adventure path, what do I know. I do remember there being a very cool Far Realm encounter in Madness at Gardmore Abbey.

The book (Monster Manual 3, that is) goes on to say that the nodes and furnaces are active. The weavers are working toward The Disjunction in 4th edition. I love 4e, but this is not doing it for me.

They are extremely high-level. Level 28! Their stat blocks are very underwhelming. When dazed, they get a standard... and a minor action! Gasp. They're level 28, just say they can't be dazed due to their multi-tasking brains and be done with it.

I can stomach the other types of weavers. I guess it gives depth to their culture.

So there you go, a ridiculously thorough inspection of what I consider a very cool and under-utilized monster. I think you have to be careful not to portray them too much like aliens from Independence day or Close Encounters of the Third Kind. They feel like it'd be easy to make them too sci-fi for the liking of some.

But I think with care and the proper tone, these can be freaky and deadly creatures for mid to high level characters to come across. Please, just don't put them in a freaking t-shirt.


mao said...

Found bthis w/ google search, Loved Spellweavers and am using them (again) as the big baddy in my multi planer game. Thanx for the overview,very nice!!!!!!

Chup@Cabra said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chup@Cabra said...

Oops, sorry; I thought I could edit my first comment, instead I deleted it :-(

I don't know, I kind of like the 'new' version of their looks over the original.

I have personally been thinking about making the Tu’narath, the stronghold of the Githyanki in the Astral Sea, the actual body of the 'God' of the Spellweavers (got to admit, the appearance is similar).

Jason R said...

Thanks for the references-- I hadnt discovered some of them yet. My thoughts about using spellweavers has been as a mysterious and "alien" race who pre-dates everything known in the prime material plane. I like the lore about the planes being a single entity at one time and so on. I'm also using them as the "Juna" race that's mentioned in spelljammer lore, and will tie them to the Spelljammer itself. I don't like sci-if mixed with my fantasy, but they come close to that alien concept while still maintaining the fantasy genre. Thanks again for the write-up!

OhOne said...

Yet another wonderful compilation of sources on a great creature. I'm here long after you posted these, but I really appreciate you keeping them up for posterity.

I agree, Spellweavers are underused in the background, and I too have a place for them in mine like Jason R has above.

In my campaign, the Battle of the Fields of Pesh (ultimate battle of the War Against Chaos, Mishka the Wolf Spider and the Queen of Chaos vs. the Wind Dukes of Aaqa etc.) was fought on many planes and even timelines at once. The goal of the forces of chaos was to collapse the planar divisions, placing everything on top of everything else at once, resulting in a breakdown of all sense and logic in the multiverse. it would be a bit like what happens in the Cloverfield Effect, if you've seen that. Anyways, they didn't succeed but the conflict left a lot of healing/standing rents in between the planes.

The Spellweavers came along and capitalized on that, building their network of planar nodes and energetic engines through those rents/wormholes/whatever. Their goal was something like building a new structural lattice for the multiverse, that they could control to empower themselves. They messed it up, of course.

I'll be dropping that bit in as background fluff in some of the GH adventures I run, like the Seeds of Sehan arc (partially set in Exag, which I make into a Spellweaver engine ruin). And I may pull some of those Shackled City adventures with Spellweavers out, and use them as elements as I restructure the Scales of War for a 3.5 build with more roleplaying and a wee bit less crawling.

Anyways: your writeup helped me find more sources and see them from a slightly different perspective. Thanks!

mao said...

Forgot about this fantastic post, reread to my great joy, thanx for this

Edward said...

I created the spell weaver in the 70s, in highschool, and sold it to TSRs The Dragon Magazine in the 80s.

I drew the thing when I was 17... or 18 years old... TSR bought the drawing years later after I graduated from college and was trying ro figure out what I wanted to do with my life, with my fine art degree, but they needed the write up, and the back and forth on that took a few years. During which I learned the market value of creative work.


I made 120 dollars, and it was my first magazine sale, but they were interested in my other hundred monsters or so; they had a h ge backlog of bought stuff they said. Of course I'd sold all rights into perpetuity. Which was fine. I just wish I could have sold them more.

It is wonderful to think people, some people, got something out of it, even though, as the article says, 'nobody ever uses' the thing.

LagrangianDensity said...

Edward, I’d love to pick your brain on spellweavers and some of your other contributions sometime if you’re willing. I love learning about those seminal years of the game and it’s influences.

Peter K. said...

Tony's version is good, though honestly I am a bit more partial to Edward's original illustration from Dragon Magazine:

Peter K. said...

Sorry. Bad link. This is the picture:

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Unknown said...

@Peter K.

Thank you for sharing! The spellweaver has evolved far more than I ever realized.

Daki said...

There is a playable Spellweaver option for 5e in the Epic Legacy Campaign Codex by 2CGaming.