The Pool of the Black One – Part One

The Pool of the Black One is Howard’s first pirate themed Conan yarn (although Conan’s past as a pirate was hinted at in The Scarlet Citadel) and establishes the rivalry between the Zingaran freebooters and the Barachan pirates.  It’s also a fun blending of weird fantasy and grimy, pirate adventure – an indispensable read for anyone who’s a fan of Green Ronin’s Freeport series of adventures.
Once again though, the female character is problematic and I think I’ve finally put my finger on what bothers me about Sancha (and Natala for that matter).  It’s not the ownership of women (Howard uses slavery as one of his criticisms of ‘civilization’), or that every women jumps into Conan’s bed by the end (which intimates that the only currency women have is their bodies – but this is a well established pulp adventure trope that’s continued into the action movies of today so I can hardly single Howard out for that).  What bothers me is when Howard’s female characters lack any agency, any way of impacting events in the world for themselves without attaching themselves to another character.  Not all his female protagonists are like that, I guess with the last two stories in a row it was just getting to me a little.
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.


The story begins with Conan fleeing the Barachan Isles on a leaking rowboat, and then making a swim for the first ship he sees – the Wastrel, captained by the freebooter Zaporavo.  There is a tense moment between the men while the captain decides what to do with the Cimmerian.  Ultimately, he chooses to let Conan join the crew instead of ordering his men to cut him down.  This sets into motion a series of events that will see Zaporavo lose “his ship, his command, his girl, and his life.”
After a failed hazing from the rest of the crew that leaves the offender with a snapped neck, Conan soon earns their respect with his skill as a sailor and his prodigious strength. He also attracts the eye of Zaporavo’s concubine, Sancha.
Following clues left in the legendary scrolls of Skelos, Zaporavo heads into the uncharted west, in search of a forgotten civilization and its ancient treasures.  Eventually the Wastrel reaches the forgotten island and Zaporavo orders his crew to stay near the shore and gather supplies while he searches the interior alone.  Conan slips into the trees after the captain, bloody business on his mind, while the rest of the crew gorges on strange, golden fruit.
Conan soon reaches his quarry, and away from the prying eyes of the crew, duels Zaporavo for the Wastrel.  After slaying the Zingaran, Conan continues inland, his curiosity piqued at his former captain’s quest for treasure.  There he finds a strange city peopled by tall, mute, dark skinned creatures with diabolical features.  From his hiding place he sees the creatures torture the Wastrel’s cabin boy and use a magical green pool to transmute him into a tiny, petrified statue.
While Conan weighs his options, he sees that the creatures have captured Sancha, as well as the rest of the crew, who are in a drugged stupor from eating the island’s fruit.   The Cimmerian draws his blade and dives into combat, buying the rest of the freebooters enough time to get to their feet and for Sancha to get them their weapons (I guess she isn’t completely helpless).  A viscous melee follows, with losses on both sides, but the invaders have the advantage of numbers, and the dark skinned giants rout.
Cornered in front of the pool, the leader of the creatures breaks his silence in a howl of pure hatred and sacrifices himself into the mystic green waters.  The pool erupts in a volcanic geyser, unleashing a sentient wave of death in the freebooters’ direction.  Grabbing Sancha, Conan and the rest of the crew make a run for the shore, barely escaping the eerie green river chasing them.
Though ragged and bereft of any bounty, Conan has won the affections of Sancha, the Wastrel and a crew eager for the plunder of more populated waters.

Black Ones

“These creatures were black and naked, made like men, but the least of them, standing upright, would have towered head and shoulders above the tall pirate.  They were rangy rather than massive, but were finely formed, with no suggestion of deformity or abnormality, save as their great height was abnormal.  But even at that distance Conan sensed the basic diabolism of their features.” – Robert E. Howard, The Pool of the Black One.


Nature DC 15: The creatures known as the black ones are the result of a divergent offshoot of evolution, one that branched from humanity in the dim days of prehistory.  There is a marked diabolical influence in their features, and it may be that the black ones are the result of infernal tampering, many ages before the creation of the Tiefling bloodline.
The black ones live in open air cities with glass-like walls, where they enact foul rituals and pursue strange pleasures in the name of their perverse religion.  It is said these cities hold ancient knowledge and treasure for those brave enough to risk the black ones’ wrath.
Nature DC 20: The black ones have no spoken language and communicate with one another telepathically.  Although it is possible for them to speak with other creatures in this manner, their disdain for all other intelligent life makes the idea repulsive to them.  Legend holds that the leaders of the black ones are capable of vocalizing their hatred in an obscene howl that can blast their enemies.


It is extremely rare to find the black ones cooperating with other intelligent races.  They are xenophobic, whose only contact with other humanoids is to capture victims to sacrifice in infernal rituals.  However, these rituals often bind assassin imps, spined devils, and pain devils into service.  Though the concept of a pet is alien to them, the black ones have been known to use behemoths as living weapons when the need arises.
Black ones guard their cities with magical traps and hazards, which often feature prominently in their religious practices and blasphemous entertainment.

Black One Thug

Conan knew that if he fell foul of that mass of taloned muscle and bone, there could be but one culmination.  Once let them drag him down among them where they could reach him with their talons and use their greater body-weight to advantage, even his primitive ferocity would not prevail.” – Robert E. Howard, The Pool of the Black One.

Black One Thugs in Combat

Though they may appear as naked savages to the civilized eye, black one thugs are calm and collected in combat.  They have no need for armor or weapons, their own bodies being sufficient to deal with the threats of their environment.  When attacking, thugs select the most dangerous adversary in a group, surround, drag them to the ground, and mercilessly stomp the life out of them.  Weaker foes are left alive to be captured for sacrifice and loathsome amusements.

Voice of Silence

“One, squatting on his haunches before the cringing boy, held a pipe-like thing in his hand.  This he set to his lips, and apparently blew, though Conan heard no sound.  But the Zingaran youth heard or felt, and cringed.  He quivered and writhed in agony; a regularity became evident in the twitching of his limbs, which quickly became rhythmic.” – Robert E. Howard, The Pool of the Black One.

Voice of Silence in Combat

The voice of silence is the spiritual leader of a community of black ones, presiding over the diabolic rituals around which their strange cities are organized.  They focus their mental powers through their pipes, which transmit thought waves instead of sound, and can force the weak willed to dance and jig like a puppet on a string.  The voice of silence uses this power in combat to force foes into dangerous hazards and isolate powerful individuals for gangs of black one thugs to overpower.


Combined with a hazard or trap (coming soon in part 2) I think that the voice of silence and a group of black one thugs would make a good encounter.  Theoretically all sorts of black ones could be created for an extended adventure into one of their cities – a fast skirmisher that can drag off captives (as happened to Sancha), or even an artillery that hurls chunks of broken glass that shatter on impact (that’s not in the story, but I think it fits and it sounds cool).
When I started this project I had intended to use the chronology of the stories as a guide to assigning levels to these creatures (and I’ll still keep that in mind), but that doesn’t always translate well into the game.  Most accounts put The Pool of the Black One fairly late in Conan’s career, but the piratical adventure just didn’t seem like paragon tier material to me, so I kept it to the high heroic level.  For a paragon version of these creatures I would probably (in addition to upping the damage and attack bonus) add slow (save ends) to the silent piping, daze (for 1 round) to the throw, and a bonus to damage for the thugs if more than two of them are adjacent to a character (like gnolls).

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4 Responses to The Pool of the Black One – Part One

  1. Pingback: The Pool of the Black One – Part Two « Ménage à Monster

  2. That is a super-peachy-keen post. Thanks for really blathering on like that! Seriously, I don’t think I could have spent more effort wishing for something heavy to fall on me to erase that nonsense from my mind!

  3. Pingback: Shadows in the Moonlight- Part One « Ménage à Monster

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