Rogues in the House

Beyond being a great crime/horror story, Rogues in the House is especially interesting to gamers as an example of the literary roots of D&D’s city adventures.  While the obvious choice for such inspiration is Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser’s adventures in Lankhmar, I think that Rogues in the House provides a darker and grittier counterpoint to Fritz Leiber’s more whimsical tales.  Thievery, corruption, political intrigue, backstabbing, and assassination – this story has more than enough fodder for any DM looking to mine ideas for urban adventures.
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 events of this tale take place not long after The Tower of the Elephant, featuring a somewhat wiser Conan, though no less wild and dangerous.
The story begins with the subtle and deadly political manoeuvrings of Murilo, a young and ambitious noble selling the secrets of his city to the enemy, and Nabonidus, a Red Priest who uses his religious position to control the city’s ruler for his own personal gain.  Nabonidus sends Murilo a message, a gilded box with the ear of one of the nobleman’s confederates.  Clearly, Murilo has been marked for death.  In need of a hired sword to assassinate the Red Priest before his enemy can strike, Murilo seeks out Conan, who has earned a dangerous reputation in the city’s slum.
Luckily for Murillo, Conan has been imprisoned for the murder of a different priest (who happens to be a double crossing fence), and is in need of a favour to avoid the headsman’s axe.  Conan agrees without hesitation to Murilo’s bargain – in exchange for his freedom he will kill Nabonidus before the sun rises.
Unfortunately for both men, the guard that Murilo had bribed to free the Cimmerian is arrested before completing his task.  Overcome with panic, Murilo grabs a sword and heads to the Red Priest’s estate to deal with Nabonidus personally.  Once there, he finds the guards have already been slain, yet not by human hands.  Eventually he finds Nabonidus slumped over a table, his features hidden by the enveloping folds of his signature red cloak.  Stealthily Murillo moves to strike, but the figure wheels around, revealing not the Red Priest but a hairy monster that quickly overpowers the noble and knocks him unconscious.
Meanwhile, Conan has escaped prison on his own, crushing his jailor’s skull with a joint of beef he had been eating (a classic move every warrior since has dreamed of repeating).  Although there is nothing holding him to his bargain, he keeps it anyway, sneaking into Nabonidus’ abode through the sewers.  There he encounters the first of the Red Priest’s traps – an iron portcullis that swings down, trapping the barbarian in the estate’s dungeons.  It is not long before he runs into the shaken Murilo, and with little other choice, the two press on to find and slay their captor.
Eventually they cross paths with none other than Nabonidus himself, recovering from a blow to the head and trapped within his own dungeon.  After some back and forth a truce is called (against Conan’s instincts to simply kill the Red Priest and be done with it).  Nabonidus and Murilo agree to forget their transgressions against one another and cooperate in order to escape.  It seems that the beast the young noble encountered wearing Nabonidus’ robe is Thak, the Red Priest’s pet grey ape.  Nabonidus raised the creature from a cub and trained it to be his bodyguard and servant, but it turned against him this night and slew the rest of his minions.
Nabonidus leads the pair to the only exit from their dank prison, a door that leads back up to the building above.  Before they leave, Nabonidus uses a series of periscopes he has hidden in the dungeon to spy on the chamber above, confirming his worst fears.  Thak is waiting patiently for them.  But what is worse than facing the creature’s brute strength is that he has mastered the household’s deadly traps.  The Red Priest assures Conan and Murilo that to open the door while the ape watches is certain death.
While the trio debates their next course of action, another faction enters the tale, inadvertently breaking the stalemate.  Through the periscope Nabonidus detects a group of nationalists stealing into the chamber, weapons drawn, the second party of the night with the Red Priest’s assassination on their minds.  Surprising them as it had Murilo earlier; Thak catches them off guard and activates one of Nabonidus’ pitiless traps.  Before they can react, the nationalists are levelled by grey lotus powder.
Just as his master had taught him, Thak drags away the bodies to conceal his crime.  Knowing they will have few opportunities, Conan, Nabonidus and Murilo sprint into the room before the ape returns.  The trio may have avoided the deadly trap, but escape from the killer ape is another matter entirely.  In order to finally vanquish their tormentor Murilo acts as a decoy while Conan waits in ambush.  Barbarian and beast meet in a contest of unbridled primal fury, with Thak ultimately succumbing to the repeated blows of Conan’s poniard.
However, there is one final play to be made.  Nabonidus seizes the opportunity to do away with his enemies by grabbing the pull cord for one of his unsprung traps.   Conan and Murilo completely in his power, the Red Priest gloats over his victims.  But his triumphal celebration is premature.  Moving like a panther, Conan grabs a nearby stool and hurls it at Nabonidus’ head with such force that it snaps the man’s neck.
The pair finally leaves the accursed house of the Red Priest – Murilo to his political ambition, and Conan to the unencumbered adventure of the highway.


“The body was thick, broad and stooped.  The unnaturally wide shoulders had burst the scarlet gown…  The face peering from the scarlet hood was utterly bestial, and yet Murilo realized that Nabonidus had spoken the truth when he said that Thak was not wholly a beast.” – Robert E. Howard, Rogues in the House.


Nature DC 15: Grey apes are a brutal and savage species of carnivorous primate that dwell in lonely mountains and hills.  Their minds are more developed than true apes, and they often employ crude tools and weapons, though they are no less capable of ripping an enemy apart with their bare hands.  It is prophesized that grey apes will one day evolve into a species that will challenge humanity for dominance.
Nature DC 20:   Unscrupulous criminals often take advantage of the grey ape’s near human intellect by training them as terrifying and savage guards.  Some specimens have even learned the art of trap-making.  Such creatures are dangerous to own, as they resent captivity and often use their skills against the masters who taught them.

Thak in Combat

Thak’s intelligence allows him to employ strategies in combat few would expect from a bestial ape.  Using techniques mimicked from his human master, Thak attacks from ambush, activating traps and hurling enemies into pitfalls and other hazards.  Once wounded though, Thak’s animalistic nature takes control, and the ape becomes consumed with a rage that only tearing into his enemies bare handed can sate.


Thak is equally at home in a pack of his brethren surrounded by crude jungle-forged snares as he is guarding a sophisticated thieves’ den with intricate magical and mechanical traps.


The first of many apes!  Seriously, Robert E. Howard really liked Conan to face off against primates, and the stories are filled with them.  So much so, that when I first told one of my friends about the Monsters of the Hyborian Age project he figured it would just be a compendium of apes.  I guess the whole ‘missing link’ thing fit well with weird fantasy and made them more frightening than regular humans or animals (in an uncanny valley way).
Mechanically, I figured that since traps in 4e work essentially like monsters, than the best bet would be to make Thak a Leader and have his ally enhancing abilities work for traps instead of creatures.  Since remotely activating a trap essentially gives him another attack, I made him an elite.
I will try my hardest to make the various simian creatures of Howard’s stories different enough to warrant a separate stat-block and prevent this series from turning into ‘candy apple island’.  Just a warning though – the next story also features one of the infamous grey apes, but it looks like Shadows in the Moonlight is going to generate a two-parter, so at least it won’t be all ape.

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2 Responses to Rogues in the House

  1. Updated Thak’s statblock based on some helpful suggestions from BlazeJ over at the Paizo message boards. I got rid of the static damage bonus when he’s bloodied (which is a little boring) and exchanged it for a double attack with a bit of a kicker if both hit the same target.

  2. Pingback: Random Encounters: Ilya Ivanov, real life Dr. Moreau « Ménage à Monster

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