The Tower of the Elephant

Most fans of the Conan stories count The Tower of the Elephant among the best, and I can’t disagree.  More important though is the obvious influence this story must have had on D&D.  The premise of the adventure is classic D&D stuff: Conan hears a rumor in a bar, forms a party, and braves a monster and trap infested location for treasures which don’t turn out as he expected.  And since this story predates the game by a few decades, I guess it would be more correct to say that D&D is classic Conan.
Spoiler Alert!  All of these Hyborian age posts are going to be filled with spoilers.  From the summary, to the monster stats they are going to ruin any surprises as to what the monster is, when they pop up in the story and how and why they are killed.  You’ve been warned.


From the end of Conan’s career in The Scarlet Citadel, Howard takes us to the beginning, and a much younger and inexperienced Conan.  The scene opens on the Maul, a dangerous maze-like section of an unnamed Zamorian city where city guards fear to tread and thieves rule the night.  In a dimly lit drinking den Conan hears a Kothian kidnapper gossip of Yara the priest, who dwells in the elephant tower with a great magic gem known as the heart of the elephant.  Conan doesn’t understand why a thief with any courage hasn’t simply taken such a treasure yet and the Kothian mocks his naiveté.  Conan (even rawer than we’re used to seeing) takes offence and cuts the cur down where he stands.  In the chaos following the fight, Conan strides out into the night, the target of his adventure clear.
In the gardens surrounding the tower Conan finds he is not alone in his endeavor.  There is another trespasser in the garden by the name of Taurus, the self proclaimed ‘prince of thieves’.  The two come to an agreement and proceed together – just in time to dispatch a group of ravenous lions that had been placed in the gardens as savage guards.  Conan and Taurus scale the perilous tower and enter, but the lions are not Yara’s only defense.  A monstrous spider hiding in the upper chamber poisons Taurus and almost slays the Cimmerian as well.  Only Conan’s barbarian instincts see him through the fight alive.
Alone, he continues his quest for the jewel.  In one of the tower’s rooms he finds a strange and monstrous creature with emerald skin and the head of an elephant.  But instead of a climactic battle with this demon we are given something else.  The creature is Yag-kosha, blinded and broken on the rack – a thing to be pitied.  Yag-kosha has been Yara’s prisoner for centuries, working his magic for the priest against his will, unable to escape even by taking his own life.
The elephantine beast came from green Yag, across the cosmos, while Conan’s people were still primitive ape-men (the same Yag the seeds of Yogtha the Devil Flower were scattered from).  Slowly, over vast spans of time his people died out until only Yag-kosha was left, now a shadow of his former self, indentured to the cruel tyrant Yara.
Yag-kosha sees in Conan a means for both liberation from his torture and revenge on the man who inflicted it.  He instructs the barbarian to put him out of his misery by cutting out his heart and pouring the blood on the magical jewel he is linked to (the treasure Conan has risked so much to claim).  The bloody task complete, Conan is to find Yara and present him with Yag-kosha’s final ‘gift’.
Not one to be squeamish about such tasks Conan obliges Yag-kosha and does as he was instructed.  Taking the gem, Conan finds Yara in the haze of the yellow lotus.  The dark priest is hostile and outraged at having his meditations disturbed, but goes silent when Conan delivers the heart of the elephant.  The strange jewel enspells Yara, shrinking him to diminutive size before absorbing him.  Inside the glass walls of the fantastic jewel Conan watches Yara trembling before a fully restored Yag-kosha.
Not sure if what he had experienced was real or not Conan steals away from the tower empty handed as the imposing tower shatters with the first rays of the sun.

Yag Starcaster

“Conan stared aghast; the image had the body of a man, naked, and green in color; but the head was one of nightmare and madness.  Too large for the human body, it had no attributes of humanity.  Conan stared at the wide flaring ears, the curling proboscis, one either side of which stood white tusks tipped with round golden balls.” – Robert E. Howard, the Tower of the Elephant


Dungeoneering DC 15: The Yag are a race of elephant headed, alien beings from the green star of the same name.  Each Yag is bonded to a crystal, through which it works powerful magic.  The Yag are extremely long lived, so much so that many consider them immortal and worship them as gods.
Dungeoneering DC 20:  A Yag can die, but destroying its mortal shell merely frees the creature’s powerful, winged spirit.  It is not known what caused the Yag to flee their home, but it must have been an awesome threat both physically and spiritually to send these beings across the void between the worlds.

Yag Starcaster in Combat

Yag are emotionless and methodical in combat.  These creatures know that their physical forms are nothing but imperfect reflections of the spirit.  For this reason a Yag does not fear death, and in many cases may even welcome it, if it furthers the creature’s goals.


Yag are often the leaders of strange star-worshipping cults, perfecting their ancient magic and teaching it to their followers.  They care little for the politics of the ‘lesser races’, but the pursuit of their alien goals often brings them and their followers into conflict with outsiders.
It is rumored that powerful star pact Warlocks can ritually bind a Yag into servitude.  Such tales usually end with the Yag wreaking bloody vengeance on the Warlock who bound it.


I really liked the idea of the Yag shrinking PCs down and trapping them in its gem (what we used to call ‘minimus containment’, back in the day), so I cribbed parts of the devourer’s trap spirit ability to make it work.  Since the creature is supposed to get more powerful when it dies I thought about making its freedom power work when it got to 0 hit points and adding a healing ability to it, but elite creatures have enough hit points already (especially since it gains insubstantial, it had the potential to make the combat too long).  I figured making it ‘die’ when it got bloodied was probably a better call (and makes the creature die and be reborn at a better point in the combat).
I used dungeoneering for the lore check simply because that’s the 4e convention for creatures of the aberrant origin.  If you’re not married to that convention then I would recommend using arcana instead, it just seems more appropriate for the astrological/alien bent of this creature than dungeoneering does.

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