Shadows in the Moonlight- Part One

There is a lot for DMs to learn in Shadows in the Moonlight.  In D&D terms, the island where the action of the story takes place is definitely a location based adventure, but it is also an amazing example of what game designers call a ‘living dungeon’ – one where the actions of the PCs influence the actions of the NPCs and both react to the island’s set encounters.
This story has the added bonus of a female character who subtly subverts the whole damsel in distress motif that was bothering me a few stories ago.  Yes, Olivia is a damsel in distress, but she’s also capable of driving the plot forward on her own, and is more than just a prize to be won by the Cimmerian at the end of the story.  In fact, although told in the third person, the story is obviously from Olivia’s point of view, making her the reader’s ‘eyes’.
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.


Howard’s tale begins with Olivia, daughter of the King of Ophir, sold into slavery because she would not marry a King of Koth, fleeing her former master, the Hyrkanian Shah Amurath.  On the swampy boundary of the Vilayet Sea, Shah Amurath reaches his quarry.  As fate would have it, the salt marsh is also the temporary refuge of Conan, himself fleeing from Shah Amurath’s troops who had recently slaughtered the Cimmerian’s rogue mercenary army, the Free Companions.  Mad with starvation and a burning desire for revenge, Conan throws himself at Amurath.  The Hyrkanian’s superior weapons and armour pale before the furious onslaught of the barbarian, and in a few bloody moments of mad butchery he is cut down.  His bloodlust sated, Conan returns to his senses and introduces himself to Olivia.  Soon after, the pair decides to escape in a stolen rowboat before they are caught red handed by the deceased Shah’s men.
After a day of hard rowing, Conan lands the craft on a small deserted island to rest and gather some food.  It isn’t long before they are ambushed by a huge hunk of hurled stone.  Conan investigates, and after a few moments draws his weapon, grabs his companion and slowly backs out of the trees.  Whatever it is that had unnerved the barbarian, Olivia cannot see it.
Moving through the island’s grassy hills, the two stumble upon the ruins of an ancient building.  Eager to get as far from the jungle as possible, Conan and Olivia enter.  Inside they find the hall of the long, low building is filled with incredibly lifelike iron statues of unsettling humanoids.  The sculptures are disturbing, but poking and prodding reveal them to be as solid as they appear.  Safe from their mysterious jungle stalker, Conan and Olivia drift off to sleep.
Instead of blissful rest, Olivia is plagued with an incredibly realistic nightmare.  She sees the building as it once was, filled with the humanoids depicted in the statues.  They torment a beautiful angelic figure chained to a pillar.  To no avail, the angel creature wails to the heavens.  A moment later, the dark humanoids open its throat in bloody sacrifice.  Suddenly, the skies open wide and a being that could only be described as an exquisite and terrible god steps down among the savages.  Cradling the body of its slain progeny, the god pronounces a powerful curse in its alien tongue.  The humanoids freeze, transfixed, their bodies metamorphosed into solid iron.  The deity then points to the moon, hanging in the night sky, and departs.
Olivia wakes screaming, and despite Conan’s protests that the statues are harmless, manages to convince the barbarian to leave at once.  As frightened as she is about the iron figures coming back to life, Conan is more concerned about whatever lurks in the concealing jungle, so the pair take refuge on the island’s rocky cliffs.
The next day, from their high vantage point, Conan spies a pirate ship pulling ashore, spilling its ragtag occupants in search of supplies.  The barbarian knows the ship is the best opportunity to safely leave the island and be rid of the Hyrkanians, so he hatches a scheme.  In case his plan doesn’t work, Olivia hides while Conan confronts the pirates of the red brotherhood.
Unfortunately, the leader of the pirates is already well acquainted with Conan, and has a score to settle.  Outnumbered, Conan goads the pirate captain into single combat, and handily slays him.  Before he can parlay the victory into something more, an overzealous pirate brains Conan with a sling stone.  Without the iron hand of a leader to guide them, the red brotherhood argues amongst themselves over the fate of the unconscious and bleeding Cimmerian.
Unaware of Olivia, the pirates bind Conan and drag him back to the ruins, where they set up camp for the night.  Fearing the coming evil of the moonrise, Olivia braves both the jagged cliff face and pursuit by the shadowy stalker that has hounded them since their arrival.  Inside the ruins, she creeps past the sleeping and drunken pirates to free Conan and escape.
They do not make it far when they finally meet Olivia’s pursuer face to face.  Their mysterious assailant emerges from the shadows; a bestial man-eating grey ape.  It was time for a reckoning in the only manner that Conan knew how.  Barbarian and beast clash, but with the advantage of steel, Conan leaves the ape a broken and dismembered corpse.
The jungle brute was dead, but the island had yet to play its final hand.  From the ruins came a series of bloodcurdling screams, the clash of steel, and the sound of unbridled butchery.  Olivia’s dream had come to pass – the moonlight had just reached the crumbling building.  Not eager to see the nightmare first hand, Olivia and Conan take flight to the pirate’s abandoned ship.
The morning light brings a small group of wounded and shaken pirates who managed to escape the massacre with their lives.  Conan allows them to board what was once their ship – provided they acknowledge him as their captain.  With a ship and a crew to replace the Free Companions, Conan was ready once again to plunder his way to vengeance across the inland sea.

Iron Shadow

“They were statues, apparently of iron, black and shining as if continually polished.  They were life-sized, depicting tall, lithely powerful men, with cruel hawk-like faces.  They were naked, and every swell, depression and contour of joint and sinew was represented with incredible realism.  But the most life-like feature was their proud, intolerant faces.” – Robert E. Howard, Shadows in the Moonlight.

When the gods are angered the world trembles.  When there is a blasphemy so obscene it demands justice, such as the ritual murder of a deity’s demigod offspring, the gods do not act through proxies, and iron shadows are left in their wake.
Iron shadows are the product of an ancient divine curse, transformed into metal statues to guard over the site of their cosmic crime until the end of time.   As such, they are usually found in the crumbling remains of prehistoric dungeons, the ruins of primordial temples, and on blasted mountain peaks shunned by all sentient races.  They are immobile, forced to watch without being able to act, until an environmental condition, laid out at the time of their cursing is satisfied.   Such a condition could be anything from the light of the moon to a breath of air in a subterranean chamber, but once it has been met, the iron shadows are temporarily transformed back into flesh and blood creatures; free to release centuries of bottled hatred on any unfortunate enough to cross their path.
Only the gods themselves know why they would allow the objects of their curse even the briefest freedom from punishment.  Perhaps the terror iron shadows invoke serves as a reminder to the world the consequences for the ultimate blasphemy.
Only the most depraved of the thinking races have incurred this divine curse, including black ones, derro, drow, gnolls, goblins, humans, kuo-toa, and troglodytes.  Some iron shadows are so old that they have outlived their decadent civilizations, and even the names of their species are lost to the sands of time.
The iron shadow theme adds an element of lurker to any monster, and works best on a group of creatures in a set-piece encounter that reinforces the blasphemous act that offended the divine.  Alternatively, iron shadow themed monsters work well in an area the characters must travel through frequently, and have been lulled into a false sense of security by the statues’ prior inactivity.
Skill Modifications: +2 bonus to Stealth, and a +2 bonus to one of the following knowledge skills – Arcana, Dungeoneering, History or Religion.


All iron shadows gain the following trait, which simulates their cursed state:

Attack Powers

The nature of their curse means that Iron Shadows most often attack from surprise, surrounding their foes and bringing down the weakest targets as quickly as possible.  Although the survivors of such an onslaught often flee, the divine magic of the iron shadows’ curse binds them to the area and prevents pursuit.

Fearsome Aspect

This power emphasises the sudden and frightening nature of an iron shadow attack.  It works best in an encounter area that directly blocks the characters’ objective, since all or some of the party may be forced to flee.

Overwhelming Surprise

This power makes the opening attack of a lurker even more devastating, or adds an element of lurker to any other monster role.

Relive the Nightmare

When added to a lurker (or other creature with bonuses against targets that grant combat advantage), this power helps to increase damage potential.  Relive the nightmare also gives the dungeon master the opportunity to describe the events surrounding the iron shadow’s curse, and inject pieces of narrative into the combat.

Utility Powers

Iron shadow utility powers focus on keeping lurkers and artillery alive long enough to cause the maximum amount of damage.

Centuries in Iron

Over time, some iron shadows have learned to harness the deific curse to their own advantage.  This protective power is especially useful for lurkers and artillery that are prone to succumbing to the effects of focused damage.

Palpable Hatred

This power helps to protect artillery from melee combatants, keep skirmishers mobile and prevent lurkers from being surrounded by foes.


Wow, I’ve never made a theme before and I have to admit it was a lot more work than I thought it would be (much more than creating a single monster, which in hindsight makes sense).  Of course, the fact that the battle with the monsters isn’t directly described in the story didn’t help either.  Still, I think making a theme to represent the isle of iron statues was definitely the right choice.  This way, almost any creature can be turned in to what amounts to an iron gargoyle – which I think has a lot more utility than a single similar monster.
I’m pretty sure that the statue creatures in the story are the black ones from the Pool of the Black One (their physical description is comparable as well as the strange green stone of their buildings).  I find the presence of these creatures in both stories very interesting for what it means about the setting of the Hyborian age.  In his essays, as well as the Conan and Kull stories, Howard writes at length about the ancient civilizations of the serpent people, Stygia and Acheron, but he makes no mention of the black ones.  Being present as far west as the Atlantic, and as far east as the Vilayet, suggests remnant pockets of what at one time must have been a much more widespread race (plus the green stone of the city of Xuthal in the south suggests that they may have been the original builders), probably incredibly old even in Kull’s time, before Atlantis sunk beneath the waves.  A quick internet search reveals I’m not the first person to question the relation between these stories, but it’s still an interesting point to ponder nonetheless.

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