The Matron’s Handmaidens

“Just because a garden spider sits around all day and waits for prey doesn’t mean you have to. Once you take over your Great Spider character, he can literally do anything you want him to: Learn new skills and earn new traits. Don’t limit yourself.”

– Monster Burner

Rob, Witt and I got together at Dexcon on Sunday morning and played Burning Wheel, did it again at Dreamation. Truth is, we don’t get to see each other all that often and rather than hope we have enjoyed taking the time to sit down and game. And now its a thing, a tradition. The game is about an invading empire of giant spiders out of the Monster Burner. There are different kinds of the beasts, wolf spiders, orb weavers, undernesters and sea lords.

I snagged the mythology suggested by the undernester’s traits and skills: their matron and her 8 handmaidens and put them at the head of a ravenous inter-planar empire, casting its web over worlds and devouring every bit of meat it finds. Tossing together the different types of spiders this empire has brutal shock troops. It has sailors, hunters, spellcasters. Shit, it even has paratroopers, sailing through the skies on silk web parachutes.

In the game, the Matron’s Empire has landed in Evermeet, taken it over and dubbed it Everweb. Evermeet was a fun choice and it made sense to me as it is isolated and well stocked with tasty meat. Also, wrapping the elven capital in webs and eating its elven children was a solid way to kick this setting in the teeth.

Through the course of play, Witt’s vicious wolf spider has been dubbed a Handmaiden, one of the Matron’s chosen few, a general in the empire. She will be formerly inducted by her sisters in the next game and now I’m daydreaming about arachnid politics and thinking about who the other Handmaidens are.

Handmaiden God-eater: Yes, she ate a god in a monotheistic world, among the first the Matron ever devoured. They say any survivors from that world still consider her the Bringer of the Apocalypse and a goddess in her own right. She finds this quaint and flattering.

Handmaiden Devil-binder: In a world with strong ties to the Hells, she bound its patron devil in mystical webs, allowing the Matron’s armies to devour the infernal beach-head. They say that some day the Matron will launch her assault on the Hells from that world’s barren carcass.

Is Handmaiden Devil-binder too dependent on her bound pet? Is he only a spy sent by the Devils as a gambit in a longer game? Her reputation depends on this not being so.

Handmaiden World-Breaker: When the Matron turned her eight eyes on the delightful jewel known as Athas, it was this handmaiden who was sent to weaken it and she went too far. The apocalypse she brought about through subtlety and cunning rendered the world useless and cut it off from all planar contact. She is still reeling from the loss and trying to regain her place.

Handmaiden Matron’s Weaver: She is the most aged of the Handmaidens and there are whispers that she will attempt to hand her position to one of her daughters and be devoured in the process some day soon. It is through her magicks that the Matron can cut off a world’s contacts with other planes of existence. She hopes to one day be able to weave webs that capture prayers and holy sendings, leaving a world with only the Matron for their worship.

Handmaiden Orc-Tamer: They say she is one of the Matron’s daughters by birth and that she was fostered to Grumsh’s court in some nether plane made of endless caves and broken skies. Orc, goblins and trolls are her servants and she is quite mad by arachnid standards. If she weren’t an undernester with such a pedigree some whisper she would have been deposed and devoured by now.

Handmaiden Chronicle Weaver: This handmaiden is a long limbed orb weaver. She collects the histories of the matron’s conquests and weaves them into webs that help her subjects remember. Chronicle weaver keeps track of logistics, with eyes forwards towards the next world, eyes back on the grounds they have just left and the food in between. She is often frustrated because she isn’t as close to the queen-mother as the undernesters claim to be and is often not informed of important holy messages.

And that is about it. There is going to be a clique of ancient handmaidens around god-eater and matron’s weaver, a hard knot of older undernesters who keep strictly to the Way of Eight’s orthodoxy. And I want a clique of younger undernesters, up and comers who are around World-breaker’s age. I want the political power of the undernesters to be clear, with a few wolf spiders they use as front line generals and the orb weaver but no Sea Lords in the upper echelons.

But for now, that is it.  I want to leave some room to breath because:

  1. I think I have already named some handmaidens and I want to check my notes and be sure.
  2. I want to leave room to design handmaidens to tweak the players’ beliefs.

Thoughts on the Matron’s Empire or thoughts on the crazy shit you are creating for your own gaming? Please post below.

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4 thoughts on “The Matron’s Handmaidens

  1. This game has been a real pleasure, really connecting me back to the things I love about gaming. I can’t wait to see my character’s increasing sapienity (as opposed to humanity) burst the dam of his training and self-blinding neuroses.

  2. Always good to see the weird Spider updates. I’m torn between God-Eater and World-Breaker for my favorite. I’ve probably pimped this before, but have you seen my Great Spider Civilization for How to Host a Dungeon?

    Crazy shit: My brother and I are fiddling with a campaign setting and fleshing it out through actual play. The premise is this: What if, during the War of the Ring, both sides fell and humanity was left to pick up the pieces.

    The focus of our setting is Skolos, a port town build on ancient elven & dwarven ruins. Ancient, undead lich elves have showed up and ousted the ruling nobles. It is an elven city after all. The big question: Who will you side with when the revolution comes? (And yes, there are more than two sides)

    It’s fun to create during play. We ran a one-shot BW session to better learn BW rules, and played out a vignette around the fall of the original elven city. In doing so, we “discovered” more about our setting. Our Tolkien-styled elves are borrowing more from Moorcock, for one. It’ll be neat to play in the “modern” setting using this one-shot, visiting ruins with first-hand knowledge of what they were once like.

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