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The araneas (sometimes called "werespiders") were a magical race of sentient, shape-changing spider-like creatures inhabiting the Spider Swamp in Calimshan.
While they were not true lycanthropes, aranea could transform between the appearance of a humanoid and a giant monstrous spider. Their humanoid form was that of a Calishite human, a Calishite half-elf, or, in some rare cases, a drow. The form and gender they could take was fixed at birth.In their natural form, these creatures appeared to be giant humpbacked spiders with some subtle differences. In this form they also had a pair of short arms ending in many-jointed fingers and double-jointed thumbs, which extended from below their mandibles. Oddly, their brain was not located in their head segment but in a large hump on their back.
Aranea were inherently magical beings and could cast a certain number of spells much like a sorcerer or dragon could. They preferred illusion, enchantment, and charm spells and avoided ever casting fire spells.
In hybrid or natural forms, aranea had poisonous bites and could throw webs.
Despite their terrifying appearance, the aranea were a peaceful race of beings. They fed on animals and did not prey upon sapient creatures to live. These beings lived far from civilized society, as they are hunted by those who did not understand them.
Aranea society was matriarchal, usually ruled by the queen who gave birth to the community. They would occasionally go into other communities disguised as healers or barbarians to trade or—when the situation warranted doing so—take a new mate to prevent inbreeding.
The aranea, in the disguise of human forms, traded silk, herbs, and poisons with nearby settlements, such as Almraiven and Volothamp. In 1370 DR, a group of them worked secretly for the Silverstars Trading Coster of Saradush.
According to legend, the aranea were created by Calishite wizards during the Night Wars to infiltrate the ranks of the drow armies. When the wars ended, the "werespiders" were hunted down and killed or driven into the Spider Swamp. They became a neutral, pacifistic people. Originally, they were only able to change into drow, but after a while, some gained the ability to change into Calishite human or half-elf forms and returned to the human cities incognito as well as spreading out from Calimshan into the wider world. This allowed them to trade their silks, herbs, and poisons with the coastal city of Volothamp.
Over 800 years after their banishment, in 290 DR, Qysara Shoon V blamed them for a plague that was ravaging Almraiven. As a result, they were nearly wiped out by Volothamp's military. During this time, some adopted the worship of Zanassu, a demon lord of spiders, for protection and came to inhabit a city that was once called Ajhuutal somewhere in the swamp. The Qysara banished their god back to the Abyss two years later, which led to a gradual degradation of their society while the priests of Zanassu desperately awaited their god's return for the next 1000 years.
When Zanassu did return (or at least a powerful tanar'ri who claimed to be him, since Selvetarm had since defeated Zanassu and stolen his divine essence), his reign of tyranny lasted for 66 years, during which time his agents completely took over Volothamp's government and the aranea became its secret rulers. But when the Time of Troubles came, the demon disappeared without a trace somewhere in the Forest of Mir, combined with the advent of the Darkstalker Wars, this ended the aranea's reign as if it had never happened. His priests went back to desperately awaiting his return, still not knowing that they were actually worshiping Selvetarm while the rest of the aranea became relatively peaceful, though they have been violently expanding their territory into the southern reaches of the Forest of Mir.