Winter’s Breakout Isekai Anime Is a Masterclass in Running Smarter D&D Monsters

WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Season 1 of So I'm a Spider, So What?, now streaming on Crunchyroll.

So I'm a Spider, So What? was last winter's sleeper anime hit. At first, many brushed it off as yet another fantasy isekai series. However, it quickly revealed itself to be an extremely clever take on the genre that was anything but standard, featuring several unique twists on both the isekai genre and fantasy tropes in general. In fact, the series handles monsters in a fascinatingly complex way that sets it apart from other similar series. Because of this, it is the perfect show for Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Masters looking to upgrade their monster encounters.

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Many D&D DMs struggle to make their combat encounters engaging. Many monsters don't feel alive and instead act like beast-shaped targets that only exist for the players to smack the XP out of. A great way to make combat more interesting is to make the monsters feel intelligent and competent by employing strategies and tactics that fit the monsters' bodies and abilities.

Much like in the real world, an experienced warrior wouldn't run directly at the enemy and hope to survive. They would try to engineer a situation where their abilities give them an advantage. Keith Ammon's book The Monsters Know What They're Doing is often recommended to DMs as a guide to making their monsters feel more alive, and So I'm a Spider, So What? is the perfect companion to it.

So I'm A Spider, So What?

So I'm a Spider, So What? follows a group of high schoolers who are reincarnated into a fantasy world. However, while many people become adventurers, lords or nobles. One girl named Wakaba becomes a nameless Taratect -- a tiny spider monster that, in any other scenario, would be fodder for low-level adventuring parties. However, throughout the story, we see Wakaba fight her way through the dungeon, overcoming foes and slowly leveling up. She ends up earning fancy new magical powers for her arsenal thanks to the series' clever level and power-up system, which suggests that other monsters also gain new skills as they fight.

One of the best examples of this system comes in Episode 8, where Wakaba finds an ingenious way to deal with the heat of a firey area. Using her Weak Poison Synthesis ability, Wakaba douses flames around and on her. Of course, she is covering herself in poison, but her resistance to this type of damage, mixed with how weak the poison is, means that the stuff is basically harmless to her, giving her a massive supply of helpful liquids. This is the perfect example of how a creature that spends months and months using and exploring its powers will learn how to master them and find non-standard uses for them, something that is perfect for D&D. Because, if a monster knows magic, it will likely find ways to use them to improve its quality of life in other areas.

So I'm a Spider

This comes to a head in Episode 10, where the perspective shifts to a human adventuring party, who encounter a very familiar Taratect. The heroes move in and prepare to slay it, only to be shocked when the monster appraises them, something they didn't realize monsters could do. What follows is a horrific battle where Wakaba destroys most of the humans via a combination of fast reflexes and dark magic -- something that the heroes didn't see coming or have an effective counter to. Of course, to Wakaba, this is just another battle, one informed by many hours fighting much bigger creatures in the dungeon, many of which were much better fighters than the adventuring party.

In the cruel, brutal world of a fantasy dungeon, every monster is a threat because every creature has had to fight to survive up to the encounter point. During this process, the monster will have honed its skills and learned how to use its powers in different, useful ways and fight in ways that give them the advantage. If a hero isn't prepared for this, they'll quickly find themselves slain. Even the best weapon in the world is useless if you don't know how to use it, and So I'm a Spider, So What? shows that if a monster can learn, it can also learn how to use both great and mediocre weapons to slay foes that, on paper, are massively stronger than it.

So I'm a Spider, So What? presents a unique look at how monsters can be actual characters rather than generic targets that simply swing at anything that comes within ten feet of them. Like The Monsters Know What They're DoingSo I'm a Spider, So What? is something that every D&D DM should watch and learn from.

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