Native to the Demonsteeth mountains, the Giant Riding Spiders are so called because these huge arachnids (the largest known species of Giant Spider) were bred and domesticated as mounts by the ancient beast riding Sakkala tribe over a period of several millennia. Over many generations, their shamans created this distinct species by cross breeding with rare and now extinct giant arachnids – and while they once roamed free over most of the temperate regions of the continent, the species – and the Sakkala tribe – have been in decline for centuries and are rarely encountered far from the last of the Sakkala ancestral homelands.
Extremely fast over short bursts (up to 60mph for up to 2 mins) and capable of climbing sheer surfaces, there are few places that the Giant Riding Spider cannot go and few prey that it cannot chase down. Additionally, its powerful legs allow it to leap in any direction up to 20′ straight up in the air and 50′ forward, backwards or sideways from a stationary position (tripled if it is moving at speed)..
With 8 faintly glowing eyes set all around its head, the Giant Riding Spider is almost impossible to surprise and has excellent night vision. Primarily a nocturnal hunter, it moves in silence when stalking its prey – and being able to move upside down as easily as it can across the ground (Sakkala saddles have strong gossamer straps to prevent the rider from being tipped out) – literally gets the drop on most opponents.
The Giant Riding spider displays considerable intelligence (more intelligent that the average warhorse), and through magic and sheer bravery, hatch-lings can be ‘tamed’ by special techniques known only to the Sakkala (adult spiders can never be domesticated, but will often live on the fringes of Sakkala sites and pose no danger to the tribesmen and women). Tamed Giant Riding Spiders are more than just a mount or a ‘pet’ – but are intimately bound to the Sakkala who rides it and both share a unique life long bond with limited close range telepathy to such an extend that if the spider or its rider is killed and the bond is broken, the other will become hopelessly depressed and frequently dies from self neglect.
In a wild state, the Spiders are solitary animals and typically hunt by burrowing into the ground near a well established game trail and attempt to eat anything that is smaller than them that gets too close, ignoring anything larger that may pass by. The only exceptions is if they are digesting a meal or encounter the Sakkala, who know how to both casually spot their hidden dens and who often feed the wild spiders leftover scraps (the wild spiders in this way acting as sentries).
The bite of the Giant Riding Spider is extremely toxic and anyone bitten by the spider that survives the piercing fangs will cause paralysis within 30 seconds and, if left untreated, death will follow within 1-6 hours.. They can also bite and choose not to inject venom, which they typically do on very small/easy prey or as a warning nip that they are getting irritated by something and the next bite will be envenomed..
Despite the fear they produce in most peoples (other than the Sakkala), in a wild state they are surprisingly docile and if a potential meal puts up too much of a struggle or injures the spider, they will quickly abandon the attack and typically jump and sprint away at high speed. This behavior ceases if a Giant Riding Spider is domesticated, and due to the unique bond between rider and mount, they will never harm their rider, nor allow harm to come to them and will fight fearlessly until death if need be. However, if the rider loses sight of his or her mount, it may display some independent and undesirable behavior, moving a short distance from an area it has been instructed to wait, eating any horses tied up near it if it is hungry, burrowing into the ground, etc.. Because of the telepathic link, the spider can sense its riders mood and will be neutral to people whom the rider considers allies yet bristle and prepare to attack anyone that he or she has less than pleasant feelings about (and is almost impossible to suppress, and as a result, riders have a reputation for being very forthright).
The lifespan of a Giant Riding Spider is approx 50-70 years, but despite giving birth to large quantities of spiderlings, shedding to increase size means that it typically takes 15 years before the spider reaches maturity – and for this reason a future spider rider and spiderling are paired at birth and raised together – which also explains why if one dies, the other also seems to lose the will to live, and it is not unusual if one half of the symbiotic partnership dies of old age, the other seems to age overnight and typically passes away within a few weeks of losing its lifelong companion..
All Giant Riding Spiders are female – the males are smaller and short lived, existing only fertilize the females before they die and are eaten by the female (or the Sakkala).
These have been briefly touched on above – they are slightly smaller than a domesticated riding spider, as a domesticated riding spider is influenced by the growth of its young human rider. They instinctively revert to burrowing behavior and make scrappy web that is only really of use to store its meal and to fix a trapdoor in place above its hollowed out lair.
VARIANT: Giant Web Spitting Spider
Web spitting and giant riding spiders are at a glance almost physically identical, however their behavior and attack patterns are radically different and a specialized mount variant. Ponderous and unable to rush around or accelerate like their cousins, they make up for this by producing copious amounts of sticky threads of gossamer that are stronger than steel and almost impossible to break.
The gossamer thread comes from two parts of their bodies, the spinneret at their rear – which is used for making webs (and making clothes by the Sakkala) but it is also connected to their venom glands, allowing them to spit out a weave of venomous, sticky thread that if it lands true, will instantly wrap up and mummify their opponent, paralyzing them in a few seconds and rendering them immobile for 1-12 hours (doubled if bitten directly).
Most Sakkala patrols or war parties historically had at least one Giant Web Spitting spider in their ranks that they would use to tactically support their faster mounts, or use the webs to entrap or ambush their enemies. A Giant Web Spitting spider can spit 3 times a day before it needs to eat and rest to replenish its forward facing attack.
Light Armor made using Giant Web Weaving Spider Gossamer is lightweight and incredibly resistant to cuts and piercing damage, though like the webs themselves, is quite flammable.
VARIANT: Giant Eating Spider
Another product of the Sakkala’s cross breeding, the Giant eating spider is a large and slow web producing spider that shuns light and is typically found within the walls and tunnels of the Sakkala’s underground domain. Feeding mostly on slugs, cave millipedes and baby giant centipedes, dropping down on their prey from above while trailing a fine silk thread, they are cultivated by the Sakkala as a food source and – being exceptionally docile, are a frequent plaything or casual pet of Sakkala children (serious bonding with them is not encouraged by the Sakkala culture – which reserves bonding for the Riding spiders only).