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I have a player who joined an ongoing campaign; after a session which involved a fight against giant spiders and an anxiety attack, I was asked by said player's partner to remove the spiders from the rest of the campaign.

If I want to keep the immobility of the spider's web ability, and the venom/poison bite what would be a viable option? I kinda need these for future battles.

It's 5th edition, but the version is less significant. It doesn't need to be a canonical monster, it just needs to be a replacement strategy that would fit a D&D-like game.

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    \$\begingroup\$ For what reason do you need the web and venom abilities? \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Jul 6 '16 at 17:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ Do not answer in comments. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Jul 6 '16 at 21:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ You might want to talk one-on-one with the said player. RPGs, if properly handled, are a good way to limit, if not completely cure, a phobia. But the basic question is if the player want to try to do that. I would propose to him/her and then act accordingly. \$\endgroup\$ – Maciej Jan 31 '18 at 9:59

10 Answers 10

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As with other aspects of the game, as the GM you have a lot of leeway here. Just because the Adventure Path/Campaign/Monster Manual says that these creatures are spiders doesn't mean that they have to be. After all, all a monster is is "A block of stats with fluff" (Thanks @Grey Sage, I particularly liked that quote) You can easily reskin spiders with creepy, net-wielding goblins (or gremlins, or kobolds, or lizardfolk, or whatever other race you feel fits best in your campaign)!

If you want them to maintain their low intelligence, they could be a tribe that's been so secluded from the rest of the world that they've mentally devolved. Their poison is now filth coating their weapons, and the web attacks are nets that they throw around PCs, or foul the ground with.

You can keep all of the stats of the spiders, and just re-skin them so you never have to say the word "spider". Instead of spitting webs they throw nets, instead of biting they swipe with their filthy weapons, and instead of climbing with 8 legs, they use nimble fingers to scale walls.

If your player really only has issues with spiders, and not other insects, you could also pick any other Giant insect you like to represent the spiders. Giant Beetles could shoot out a sticky liquid that traps your players while still having natural venom, and you could say the same for any number of large creepy-crawlies.

An exceptionally good alternative might be to make use of the sticky-footed lizards that are most often seen ridden by Drow. Smaller/younger versions (since the Drow mounts are Large) might be able to spit sticky saliva, or throw accumulated sticky from their feet, and lizard mouths are notoriously cess-pits of bacteria. The most important part to this process is just picking something that still fits in the campaign setting. Justifying your choice isn't all that hard, and the players are often lacking the background information necessary to really call out any 'mistakes' you might make.

As mentioned in several comments, you may want to consider re-creating the statblocks completely, so you don't accidentally read "spider" instead of "goblin" or "web" instead of "net" etc... The last thing you want is to reveal the charade, because at that point the whole gig is up and you'll have to do another, potentially more comprehensive, set of changes.

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One thing to keep in mind before you just port spider-like abilities over to something that isn't quite a spider is that real arachnophobia isn't just a matter of being "creeped out" by them. I have a good friend who suffers from it and it's a real condition that is completely outside of his control. Halloween is a terrible time for him, because fluffy toy spiders hung in shop windows send him into a cold sweat. Taking his daughter to the library for story time is off-limits in October because one children's story with a spider ruins his afternoon. And it's made even worse because he knows it doesn't make any sense.

Personally, after seeing what it's like for him, if I were running a game and accommodating a player with this issue I would put spiders completely out of my mind. Use a different creature that doesn't have spider-like attributes anywhere to be seen. Especially after you've probably already created the association from the first session.

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You should probably just have this discussion with the player, rather than trying to plan something out without their input.

Phobias are very personal things, and no matter your best intentions, creating a creature that acts almost exactly, or even partially like a spider, could still trigger that phobia.

Ask them what it is about spiders that worries them, and make absolutely sure that whatever creature you use does not have those attributes - even if you have to modify your campaign to do it.

As @SevenSidedDie pointed out, you could also approach their partner, but the general idea is the same - keep an open dialogue, don't just make this decision on your own.

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    \$\begingroup\$ If you're replacing the spiders with something that may be similar, I'd say approaching the partner first would be a better idea. If you ask the player "what if I just replace spiders with these lizards/goblins/whatever" they'll likely immediately think of spiders any time those enemies come up \$\endgroup\$ – SnoringFrog Jul 11 '16 at 18:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SnoringFrog They might still do - it's not clear if the DM could easily mask the sudden change to the most frequently-occurring monster in the game. Again, that's something that should be brought up in open discussion. \$\endgroup\$ – Zibbobz Jul 12 '16 at 12:59
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While I agree with the selected answer, I feel like I would be remiss if I do not suggest some kind of slime creature as a substitute, since it has worked for us. I don't have resources handy at the moment, but slimes and other similar creatures can easily tick these boxes while avoiding general insect imagery.

Need them to risk getting stuck in one place? Slime habitat is riddled with sticky puddles and stains on the wall.

Need them to risk being poison? The sludge can be as toxic as you need to be, from on-contact to prolonged inhalation.

Again, I do not have these resources handy, (and will edit later to back this up) but I am certain there are a number of examples in the Monster Manual that wouldn't be too difficult to homebrew and/or scale for level.

We treated the slime almost like a symbiote-like infection in our 4E campaign and that worked out stellar, as it did not compromise any part of the dungeon's theme.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for this. Can't believe after liking a sticky goo option, that slime didn't come to mind. In addition, I could just combine an immobile, poisonous slime monster with any other low CR creature to create the effects needed. \$\endgroup\$ – Dedwards Jul 7 '16 at 15:31
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If you're wary of your reskinning being too apparent, an option that has at least some amount of preexisting relevance is a Dilophosaurus, the dinosaur that killed Dennis Nedry in Jurassic Park: https://youtu.be/MNoWveBtrZc?t=164

It spits sticky goo, you could easily say its bite is venomous, and if you describe it as it appears in that scene, it isn't too obviously a spider with the serial number filed off.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This a great idea, but I wonder if spitting the poison would make the CR too high. (Ie Poison at range versus at melele), but I like the idea of a sticky poisonous goo. \$\endgroup\$ – Dedwards Jul 7 '16 at 14:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ According to the DMG guidelines it shouldn't matter, but I see your point. You could still go with a poisonous bite and the spit is just sticky stuff, though. \$\endgroup\$ – Polisurgist Jul 7 '16 at 18:05
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My wife is highly arachnophobic, so my group has had to handle this in the past.

Our system is pretty simple. Rather than replacing the creatures, we use a set of code words: spiders are now sheep. Everyone, including my wife, knows what the words really mean. But because we keep them consistent among themselves, it offers each player a choice: mentally edit the spiders into place, or accept that despite appearances, these are not ordinary "sheep". The death-sheep from Hell are dangerous beings to run away from really fast, and so while my wife's experience may be slightly sillier to visualize, the difference is only slight.

  • spider → sheep
  • web → wool (you can even speak of spinning both of these)
  • entangling in a web → knitting a sweater

The "sheep" have a nasty, venomous bite, and unlike ordinary sheep they could lay eggs from which lambs hatch. We keep these details, because, yet again, these are not ordinary sheep (and even in the real world sheep bites can be pretty nasty, even though there is no venom).

In practice, this seems to work well. The fact that the words are slightly ridiculous if taken at face-value makes it easier for the players to mentally edit the spiders they really are back into place, should they choose. But the fact that the words are somewhat consistent with one another makes it easier for players to leave the death-sheep in place, if they want: there is still some sense of verisimilitude.

On the other hand, it may not work well for everybody. I can't speak for all arachnophobes. Some may not be willing or able to accept the sheep at face value when they know what the words mean. Still, I suggest giving it a try: since it doesn't involve changing any mechanics, it's probably the simplest thing you could do, if it works for your players. If it doesn't work, there are plenty of other answers here to try, but this one probably involves the least amount of work if it actually works.

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Have you considered splitting the powers up between multiple opponents?

For example, instead of giant spiders, you have a sect of net wielding goblin rangers with a viper animal companions. The goblin uses the net to trap opponents so its comparatively weak snake can bite them more easily. And the sect has a preferred tactic of launching a surprise attack from above, but cannot actually cling to walls like a spider can.

You can take the original monster, and divide its HP and abilities between the two new enemies (and probably lower the AC or tweak it otherwise to balance out the additional actions the bad guys get).

By splitting the abilities you need across multiple opponents, you can still get the set of powers you want, while further lessening the connection to the single, taboo creature type.

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Jeff L makes a really good point about why this might not be the best idea. However, if you really want a spider replacement, the Ettercap is just about ideal. It has these things going for it:

  • Poisonous bite
  • Web ability
  • Web walking ability
  • Humanoid, so doesn't look much like a spider
  • The picture in the Monster Manual is pretty much the opposite of scary, it's rather comical

So if you don't want to rebuild your encounters, I'd suggest using Ettercaps. Just make sure you explain what they look like and show your players the picture, because if they just see its combat abilities, they may assume it's a giant spider anyway.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Ettercaps are spider-monsters, so I suspect it they might not be a great substitution if the goal is to avoid triggering arachnophobia. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Jul 7 '16 at 0:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GMJoe They are, but they look like purple bulbous humanoids, not much like spiders at all. \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Jul 7 '16 at 0:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Miniman I don't think that a giant purple humanoid-spider hybrid is really going to be any improvement, even if it does have only 4 legs. Just saying :) \$\endgroup\$ – Corey Jul 7 '16 at 9:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ This would work perfectly fine right up until the time the player reads the monster manual or googles "ettercap". \$\endgroup\$ – Dedwards Jul 7 '16 at 18:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ Let's set the D&D definition aside for a moment. The 1st time I encountered the word "ettercap" was in "The Hobbit" when Bilbo was fighting, you guessed it, SPIDERS. Also the word is originally a Scottish word for SPIDER, though it can also refer to a spiteful person. Be careful with this solution. The arachnophobe might not be ignorant. \$\endgroup\$ – tjd Jul 7 '16 at 20:18
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If the encounter should have immobilization of the characters you could use giant insects in place of spiders. This will keep the theme of real life animals made into giant monsters.

Example: Giant moths that spin cocoons out of silk to trap PCs and have a poisonous dust that emits from them.

OR: Giant ants that craft devious traps out of leaves. PCs could get immobilized in these traps they stumble in with a different look to webs . If needed for the story the giant ant colony could have moved in and wiped out the giant spiders...

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  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for giant moths. Unfortunately, my wife has a similarly anxiety-producing fear of ants, so in my case at least that's out. :P \$\endgroup\$ – Dedwards Jul 7 '16 at 14:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, I think if you're going to reshape your world around a phobic player, you might want to start by mapping out their phobias. \$\endgroup\$ – Dronz Jul 7 '16 at 16:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's two different players in this case, but giants ants are much easier to replace than spiders which have more specific characteristics. "Oh did I say giant ants? I meant giant rats, or giant termites, or giant beetles, or rabbits of Caerbannog..." \$\endgroup\$ – Dedwards Jul 7 '16 at 18:14
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Response out of personal experience and irrational fears in RPGs. Not necessarily a direct response to "what to use in place of spiders" but more "how to handle out of game phobias in game".

I have a fear of zombies and they scare the hell out of me (I can usually handle skeletons). Unfortunately, undead are a pretty regular theme in most RPGs. I've played with 3 or 4 different groups, and made all of them aware of this, and there's been a lot of different approaches that have all worked.

If at all possible, don't use the mini associated with the fear. If you use minis, find a substitute. In one game the DM replaced the zombie minis with small d6 dice. This was a bit of a surprise for him and he hadn't been planning on a replacement creature, so this was his quick off the top of his head solution.

Let the group support the player and create a substitute together. I'm fairly vocal about my fear so I felt comfortable with this, your player may not be. As a group we came up with an alternative. The minis we were using were somewhat low quality and it was easy to repurpose them as "mutant frog people". For the entire campaign, the entire group called them mutant frog people. It ended up being kind of an inside joke amongst the PCs and it was fun to play that. I never felt isolated for my fear, but understood and supported.

Be less descriptive. I know for DM's one of the funnest parts of running a game is helping players 'see' the story. But when it comes to the object of fear, it's important to reign descriptions back to the minimum information needed to address the situation.

Ask the player what they are comfortable with and honour it. I was playing a Paladin and my DM was concerned that a lot of my abilities would never really come into play if he removed undead from the game (which was his initial plan). I gave him permission to add undead, with the addendum, "...provided they're not creepy." Because he knew me pretty well by that point and what scared me the most about zombies, he made up his own version that had similar abilities but looked very different and even added an element to the game that caused the entire group to get more resourceful (he made them invisible save for 2 glowing orbs for eyes). He also made sure never to refer to them as zombies. By far, this was my favourite approach - the rest of the group had been playing without undead for a long time because of me, and when zombies showed up in the campaign (the DM and I didn't tell anyone it was going to happen), their faces lit up.

Note: I now DM in addition to being a player. I haven't removed zombies or undead from the games I run, I just don't describe them for my players, and I use d6s to mark them instead of minis. Also, since I'm usually okay with skeletons, any descriptions I give tend to lean in that direction. I also keep my monster stat blocks separate from any zombie depictions because shudder.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This works well for general fears, but for intense phobias, the idea of facing it may be too much, as least in the case here. The player can't handle fake cartoon spiders even when they're protagonists. For this player, the phobia creates intense anxiety (tears, breathing problems, muscle spasms). I think in most cases even saying the word "spider" is enough to cause discomfort. I'm sure this isn't that rare with true phobias. \$\endgroup\$ – Dedwards Jul 8 '16 at 20:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ I understand that. My personal phobia tends to play out in my sleep - ie. if I see a zombie, even for a brief flash on a movie trailer, I will be having terrifying nightmares for weeks. I find that these methods have mitigated that. Not everything works for everyone of course, this was just something I found helpful that might help someone else, if not the specific player mentioned here. \$\endgroup\$ – Faye Jul 8 '16 at 20:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ In case there are doubts that I have a true phobia, I had zombie nightmares last night after writing this! \$\endgroup\$ – Faye Jul 10 '16 at 3:41

protected by SevenSidedDie Jul 7 '16 at 14:14

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