"Girl," Ishcon interrupted, "do you know who rules this world?"
After a moment's hesitation, Tiana replied, "No one rules the world. A bunch of kings and such-like hollow-headed men pretend to."
At that moment, a dark shadow glided across the floor. Only a trick of the shifting light of these damned greasy torches, Tiana thought: yet Ishcon glanced about and she saw the desperate fury of a trapped animal flicker in his eyes.
"You do not understand and are wrong, he said in a sibiliant whisper. "You are better off not knowing: never mind. I dare not explain."
Such is the plot set-up for Web Of The Spider, the third and final book in the War Of The Wizards trilogy. Like the other books in the trilogy, Web Of The Spider is co-authored by Andrew Offutt, one of a select group of writers mentioned in Appendix N of the 1979 Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Masters Guide.
Web Of The Spider was published in 1981, several years after the DMG was released. Co-authored by Andrew Offutt and Richard Lyon, the story clocks in at a respectable 268 pages, 60-plus pages longer than either of the first two books in the trilogy. The cover, by Rowena, shows a costumed Tiana, battling a fire-demon as she embarks on her quest to acquire the Skull Of He Who Sleeps. This book again features Tiana Highrider, Pirate Queen; Pyre of Ice and Ekron, two opposing sorcerers; and adds a new character, the nameless Gray Knight, whose face, memories and identity have been wiped clean by Pyre.
The Gray Knight is sent forth as Pyre's surrogate, in an effort to divine and prevent the latest plot of Ekron, whose earlier attempt, in The Eyes Of Sarsis, to awaken the Serpent of the World, had been foiled by Tiana and Pyre. Along the way, Pyre appears to the Gray Knight in mirrors, pools and other reflective surfaces, egging the Gray Knight on but never fully revealing what it is that the Gray Knight is expected to do.
Tiana, meanwhile, is on her own quest to discover who rules the world. Her companion: a skull, its jaws wired shut with silver, within which resides an impossibly-large ruby, nearly the size of the skull itself. Each time she removes the skull from its protective case, dread peril overtakes and nearly defeats her and her entourage.
And while the two sorcerers scheme against and battle each other, the real danger, the demonic ruler of the world, plots his final, horrifying, life-snuffing victory.
Like the other two books in the War Of The Wizards trilogy, this book is an entertaining, if imperfectly or perhaps ironically-rendered homage to the swords and sorcery genre. As fodder for role-playing game elements, this book is a gold-mine. Take, for example, the skull which Tiana finds. A better template for an artifact you will be hard-pressed to find. The island of the ruler of the world is truly a hellish place, and would be great fun to recreate as an adventure site. Temples to the Toad-god. Spider familiars that spin invisible nooses to strangle its master's betrayers. A ship crewed by the undead, which is the only safe passage to reach the ruler of the world. Desperate sea-battles against a fire-breathing dragon.
And then there is the mystery of the Gray Knight. He appears in the earlier books: how soon will you deduce his true identity?
Web Of The Spider is a fun read. While it's not for this book that Offutt is referenced in Appendix N -- that honour is bestowed upon him for his capable editorship of a fiction anthology, Swords Against Darkness III, for which he does not contribute a single story -- Offutt has a good grasp of swords and sorcery tropes, which he ably employs in his War Of The Wizards trilogy.