The Slithering Shadow

The Slithering Shadow features many elements that became synonymous with weird fantasy and were later incorporated into D&D: radiant gems, cultures that are near extinct thanks to their own decadence (the yuan-ti, kopru and bullywugs come to mind), and horrible monsters worshipped as gods.  In fact, almost everything from the module B4 The Lost City is taken directly from this story (the desert, the adventure hook, the drug use and even the monster at the end).  For these reasons the story is worth reading (and is exceedingly readable), there was just one thing that irked me – Natala, the female protagonist.  Even more than the last story (where Yasmela is at least a capable ruler), Natala is a one dimensional damsel in distress.  I don’t think the character ruins the story, but it’s unfortunate, since I know Howard is a better writer than that.
One last thing, I’m not really sure what ‘cosmic lust’ is, but the line is used in this story and has forever been linked to The Slithering Shadow’s monster… and just might be the inspiration for countless Japanese hentai movies.
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.


This story takes place sometime in the middle of Conan’s career, during his tenure as a mercenary, probably after the events in Black Colossus.
Conan and Natala, a Brythunian Conan had rescued from a raided Shemitish slave market, find themselves without food and water, lost in the deserts east of Stygia.  The pair are all that remains of a failed invasion of Stygia by Almuric, a rebel prince of Koth.  With no hope of survival, Conan prepares to spare Natala an agonizing death by dehydration with a merciful sword stroke, but his hand is stayed by the image of a city in the distance.
The strange city is constructed from an eerie, green, glass-like material, and the main gates have been left unlocked.  Inside, Natala and Conan find a guard who appears to be dead, but rouses from his torpor and attacks.  Conan slays the madman, but the expected alarm isn’t raised, and no one else seems to be about on the city streets.
More exploration reveals other oddities, as well as the beautiful Stygian, Thalis.  The stranger takes a liking to Conan, and enlightens the refugees over a meal.  An outsider, Thalis came to the city of Xuthal as a child, and learned the city’s strange ways.  Xuthal was founded by people from the east, learned philosophers whose science is able to produce food without farms, and radium gems whose touch brings light to a room.  But generations of leisure have led the culture to stagnate in decadence.  The citizens spend most of their days and nights in a drug induced haze.  They worship a horrible monster, Thog, who lives in the catacombs beneath the city and rises to feed on its sleeping inhabitants.  That Xuthal’s people would accept death so fatalistically outrages Conan.
Thalis desires Conan to stay, for she sees in the barbarian both a lover and a powerful tool for Xuthal’s conquest.  Only the presence of Natala stands in the Stygian’s way, so Thalis kidnaps her and flees to the tunnels underneath the city via a secret passage.
Instead of leaving the bound Natala for Thog, Thalis decides to torture her captive as revenge for the wounds she suffered during the struggle.
Meanwhile, Conan works his way through the maze-like rooms and corridors of Xuthal, fighting with the roused inhabitants on the way.
By the time Conan reaches the catacombs, Thog has already devoured Thalis and is about to take his companion as well.  Fearlessly, the barbarian launches into the monster, driving it away from Natala.  The brutal battle sends a wounded Thog fleeing to the deepest reaches of the earth and leaves Conan beaten, torn and poisoned.
Together, Conan and Natala stumble their way into a quiet part of the city were the Brythunian is able to administer a stolen draught of golden elixir that purges the beast’s venom from Conan’s body.

Thog of Xuthal

“It towered above him like a clinging black cloud.  It seemed to flow about him in almost liquid waves, to envelop and engulf him…  The thing seemed to be biting, clawing crushing, and clubbing him all at the same time.  He felt fangs and talons rend his flesh; flabby cables that were yet hard as iron encircled his limbs and body, and worse than all, something like a whip of scorpions… tearing the skin and filling his veins with a poison that was like liquid fire.” – Robert E. Howard, The Slithering Shadow


Dungeoneering DC 20: In a sunken dome in the center of the legendary city of Xuthal, the monster known as Thog slumbers and is worshipped by the degenerate inhabitants as a god.  The creature is so old that none can remember if it was brought to Xuthal by the city’s founders, or whether they unearthed it during the city’s construction.
Thog wakes at irregular intervals and stalks the secret corridors and catacombs of Xuthal, feeding on the sleeping inhabitants, who are content to await their doom in lotus dreams.

Thog of Xuthal in Combat

Thog is primarily motivated by hunger, and its preference for feeding on intelligent humanoids seems to suggest the creature needs more than just material nourishment to sustain its alien life.  It attacks directly and fiercely, having lived so long it has forgotten the concept of death.  In the unlikely event that Thog is gravely injured, it will retreat to its lair, where it is said there lies a well so deep it pierces the heart of the underdark.


Thog spends much of its time in slumber, perhaps joining with its followers in one of the dream worlds the culture is so preoccupied with.  Despite the creature’s predation, and even though they fear their god to the point of madness, the warriors of Xuthal protect the dome where the creature lairs and react violently to any incursion into the city from outsiders.
When hungry, Thog hunts alone, though creatures it shares a kinship with, like oozes and carrion crawlers, sometimes bubble up from the well in its lair and follow in Thog’s wake.


My first solo monster!  Many of the monsters Conan fights are solitary, but for some reason it seamed particularly appropriate for Thog to be a solo, especially given Howard’s description of it as “an aggregation of lethal creatures” (which mechanically is exactly what a solo creature is).  I made it a level 10 challenge because I thought the monstrous god of a half-ruined city would be the perfect capstone to a series of heroic tier adventures.
I have to admit that creating a solo creature was difficult.  Since each solo represents the xp of 5 normal creatures, there’s a lot expected out of a solo monster.  I tried to follow Sly Flourish’s recommendations in ‘4 things every solo monster should have’, which I think is good advice, but may be a little heavy handed with the status effect protection.  It’s true that a single daze or stun has a much greater impact on a solo encounter then it would in any other encounter, and could make a challenging fight into an unmemorable cakewalk, but take away these effects too indiscriminately and players will feel ripped off.  What’s more, they’ll stop choosing those powers in favor of simple damage attacks, which also leads to boring combats (and nobody wants that).  That’s why I chose to use the mechanic that I did.  Challenge ruining effects can be ended, but at a cost (and only on the monster’s turn), and one I feel doesn’t leave the players feeling cheated.  For the record I also think that Sly Flourish’s example is a good one, it’s just hard to apply some of the things he used to my case since he was working with an epic level monstrosity while I was looking to create a heroic challenge.

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