I was standing along side a beard groomer's cart at the eastern gate of the city shopping for a beard lizard. I had recently had a bad case of chin chiggers and in my zeal to be free of the pruritus I bought a score of beard spider eggs. I even had the eggs blessed by a priest. The chin chigger problem had been resolved though the beardspiders had gotten out of hand. I woke every morning covered in webs, every time I sneezed I ejected a couple of beardspider corpses encased in my mucus. They were no doubt starving the little fools, cause they were fleeing my beard like rust monsters from a played out mine. Every time my beard brushed a surface I deposited at least one beard spider and if there was a strong wind scores of beard spiders would glide from my beard on streamers of their own webs. The other constables mocked me and I been refused entrance to two taverns. I didn't want to get rid of the beard spider population all together, that is how the chin chiggers got out of hand, but I need to scale back the population. The introduction of a predatory beard lizard would strike a balance between the spiders and the parasites. I was trying to decide on the correct color of beard lizard for my auburn mane, when the merchant standing in front me immediately recoiled. My immediate assumption was that beard spiders were streaming from my beard again, and looked to my beard. The next thing I experienced was being roughly lifted off the ground and hurled into and through a stack of ceramic jars of beard spiders. I turned quickly to see Ustanely, the missing camel herder, wearing a bloody and tattered tunic with a quarter meter long obsidian shard sticking out of his neck. I was slower to respond than I would have liked, and zombie Ustanely had time to lift a coaloil lantern from the front the wagon and hurl it at me. I thought for a second that my lease was cancelled and I would go up in the flames: me and a thousand of beard spiders. The reservoir of the clay fired lantern shattered on my head and coaloil spilled into my eyes and nose. But blessed be me: the lantern was blown out by the force of throw. I looked up just in time to see two other constables tackle Ustanely and force him to the ground. With Ustanely shackled we led the hissing snapping undead beast into a holding cells in our central dungeon.-Excerpt "Beard of Darkness A Guild Wars Tale"
Behavior: The beard-spider is one of several domesticated arthropods maintained by advanced dwarven cultures. The beard-spiders are derived from the common cold forge spider endemic to most higher elevations. Close to a thousand years of selection and inbreeding has produced an extremely homogenous population of spiders with a limited behavior set and a very predictable life-cycle. A beard-spider's activity is regulated by stimuli and temperature. Typically in warm dark conditions the spider is more mobile and aggressive. Bright or cold conditions will normally force a beard spider to withdraw or stay immobile. However the popular beard-spider breeds also have specific behavior linked to food intake. While most species of spider behave either as wolf spiders or web spiders, the beard-spider can behave as either. During times of regular food intake the beardspider does not spin webs, and maintains the normal light averse and thermophilic behaviors. When food intake becomes irregular, the behavior of the domesticate beard-spiders changes to web spinning and migratory behaviors.
Diet: Beard-spiders prey on small insects and arthropods found in the beards of dwarves. The beard-spider hunts primarly by running down its prey; stalking its query by following vibrations along the beard hairs. When food is scarce the beard spider will spin a pocket web to catch insects that either try move through the beard or fly into the beard. Unlike their wild-type cousins beard-spiders will not eat other beard-spiders, this facilitates commercial colony breeding. Like all spiders the beard-spider employ a system of external digestion. The beard-spider will inject its prey with a potent neurotoxin, and then inject the stunned insect with a slurry of digestive proteins that dissolve and digest the internal structure of the prey. The spider then drinks this digested material.
Appearance: Beard-spiders ranch in size from 5 to 100 millimeters long. They are white and covered in short hairs and have two tight clusters of red eyes that appear as two red spots on the head to the naked eye. The beard spider mandibles are small as it was bred to look less menacing and beard friendly. Both male and female beard spider have rounded abdominal sections. The wild-type parent of the beard spider, the cold forge spider, looks much the same save three important details. The cold forge spider has considerable longer mandibles, the male cold forge spider has a diamond shaped abdomen as opposed to a round abdomen and the female spider has hammer shaped marking on the dorsal side of her abdomen.
Breeding: Domesticated beard-spiders breed all year round and can be bred in large colonies. The colonies are easy to maintain, a dark five liter ceramic jar filled with fruit flies is sufficent to breed as many a as five thousand beard spider. The beard-spiders are occasionally harvest from these jars, but more often the eggs are harvested and sold. The beard spider's eggs appear as a blue bubblely film that is sticky but relatively stable. One hundred micro-liters of beard-spider foam carries at least 50 beard spider eggs. Gestation at ambient temperatures is roughly 20 days, but by keeping the foam just above freezing the breeder can extend this gestation to us much 6-months with a loss of only 50-60% of the viable eggs.
Predators: The beard-spider's common predator is any member of the viviparous lizard family. The viviparous lizard family are domesticated lizards that range in size to five to ten centimeters in length.
Economic Value: Beard-spider egg sacks are a ubiquitous commodity. For a few coins the church will prepare blessed beard spiders to deal with undead vermin. A correctly size beard will require no less than forty beard-spiders. The neurotoxin produced by the beard spider will effect mammals and dwarves as well. There has never been a death related to a beard spider bite for two reasons. Beard spider bites are very rare and occur only when the flesh of a dwarf is some how forced into the mouth of spider. Or course with a thousand years of cohabitation, this has happened. The dose of neurotoxin is very small and the mandibles generally not capable of breaking the skin. The bit will be noticed 20-30 hours later when a small blister forms at the site, and though there is immediate numbness at the site. The toxin can be isolated form the spiders and doses of around one milligram per fifty-kilograms of body weight injected into the blood or muscle tissue will cause a permanent paralysis that often results in suffocation. Smaller doses can cause seizures, and partial paralysis. The action of toxin is almost immediate. The poison is very pH sensitive and oral administration is ineffectual. The isolation of the poison is difficult. The beard-spider almost completely voids its poison sack during a meal, thus the beard-spiders must be starved for at least 12 hours to allow for efficient poison isolation. The other problem is the digestive enzymes the spiders produce. When homogenizing the spiders corpse the two compounds will mix the and the digestive enzymes will degrade the poison. Thus isolations needs to be carried in pH buffer alcohol solutions that are kept below zero degrees. The low temperature slows the degradation of the poisons by the enzymes. The other option would be to dissect out the poison sacks from the spiders prior to isolation, but seriously trying to get 1mg of poison by dissecting out the poison sacks of 50mm spiders, you would have to a lot of time on your hands and very good eyes. Once the spiders are homogenized the poison, which is a a lipid, can be isolate by a gradient. The yield of poison by weight from beard-spider is 0.05% of the starting mass. This may seem low, but the spiders are bred in mass. Thus it would not be unexpected to find spider breeder looking for a different use of their unsold wares.
As the dwarven warlord and philopsher Thur Conan Dwoyle said "When ever you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains however imporpable could likely be explained by an elf." This seemed to apply directly to my current situation, though I am certain this was not what Dwoyle meant. I am also completely sure Dwoyle would not have approved of my alliance with this spritely mage Barb Ahra or his human companions, but more than half my city was aflame and most of my population was possessed by this zombie plague. According to Barb Ahra the Necromantic Lord Mourngrym had transferred his soul into a common flea to avoid destruction, and that somehow that flea had found its way to Brewkettle. The Mourngrym flea has since spawned a whole race of undead beard fleas. Worst of all the bite from these Mourngrym spawned fleas caused the victim to come under the control of a Necromantic curse, that perverted them into some sort of half dead zombie that was under Mourngrym's direct control. I had been immune to this affliction because I carried this abnormally large population of blessed beard spiders.
I am not sure if their plan was brilliant or foolishly desperate, but Ahra and Slipnot determined that the Ustanley zombie was Mourngrym's current base of operations. Any attack we made on him had to be made secretly, if he saw us coming he could abandon the zombie beard and a single flea would be too hard to track even with all this magic. Or worse, he could call down the whole horde of dwarven zombie upon us. Slipnot believed that once Mourngrym was defeated the curse would be lifted and that my brothers and sisters would return to normal. Thus, we did not want to move through the city in a fashion that might force a conflict.
Father Slipnot decided that our best chance would be have Ahra transmute us into Beardspiders. Ahra and Slipnot could still call upon their supernatural power, Ash could still use his runes, only I would be without any distinct advantage over a typical beard-spider because I lacked any mystical attributes. But they needed me to travel with them, I knew the city and I knew were Ustanely could be found. Thus I submitted myself to elven magic and allowed my noble dwarven form to perverted into that of a small spider. On the upside, following the transmutation, all the beardspiders would be gone from my beard. -Excerpt from "Beard of Darkness: A Guildwars Tale"
Additional Ideas (2)
Leave me alone on my web tangent. I was hoping they were going to be the spiders that braided the beard. There is so much opportunity there. Lots of dwarves braid their beard. Having these spiders make "webs" out of their beard could be such and awesome thing to use!
- Beard braid/web contests.
- Stature could be based on the intricacies of the beard.
- Certain patterns could even determine their rank, job or position in the church.
- Dwarves with the best patter could sell their Beard Spiders for a high premium. However, each one sold would change the overall braid/web.
- Malicious spiders (or a bad batch) could cause all kinds of mayhem. Tie knots, tie beard to bed posts at night. Grapple onto any grass or strings or anything that gets into the beard and just be a general pain in the ass.
- Spilled ale into the beard would intoxicate the spiders. Some would improve, some would cause mayhem. Either way, they would have issues with the ale somehow.
- Embarrassing is the dwarf who can't control his beard spiders and they go up into his hair.
- Even worse is when his Dwarven lover has the same braids in her beard
- Maybe that isn't bad, maybe that is a sign of relationship, the same web/braids
- Hey, that Elf has the same Braids as Dunder the ThunderHammer. What in Hurl's Hammer!?
- Hey, that sheep has the same...
- Ok, enough, getting weird.
Plot Hook: during a bawdy night at the local tavern (while off-duty), the local dwarven constable nods off briefly. He wakes to nothing amiss, other than a mild headache and a slight numb feeling on his chin, presumably from resting his head on the table for too long. He resumes duty, only to go into a coma a day later. The doctors who treated him think the coma was caused by bad alcohol and are ready to dismiss the case, but the constable's deputy is suspicious. In reality, someone took the constable's inebriation as an opportunity to plant a few cold forge spiders in his beard (which are decidedly more toxic). They look enough like beardspiders to the untrained eye, and have blended in with his colony. The constable will remain in a coma until the cold forge spiders are found and exterminated (the aggressive invaders bite him almost every day, keeping his system flooded with toxin).