Shadows in the Moonlight – Part Two

The Shadow in the Trees is the second creature from Robert E. Howard’s story, Shadows in the Moonlight.  For the summary of that tale, as well as the iron shadow monster theme, click here.
This is also the second of Howard’s man-eating grey apes that I’ve featured in this series.  The first, Thak, appeared in Rogues in the House (and before I’ve finished with Howard’s stories, there will be at least one more).
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 Shadow in the Trees

“In general outline it was not unlike a man.  But its face, limned in the bright moonlight, was bestial, with close set ears, flaring nostrils, and a great flabby-lipped mouth in which gleamed white tusk-like fangs.  It was covered in shaggy grayish hair, shot with silver which shone in the moonlight, and its great misshapen paws hung nearly to the earth.” – Robert E. Howard, Shadows in the Moonlight.


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: Some grey apes have honed the skill of rock throwing to such a degree that they can rebound a single stone between two targets.  These apes hide caches of projectiles throughout their hunting grounds, each carefully chosen for its weight and balance.  Against large groups of enemies, grey apes hurl massive chunks of brittle stone that explode in a shower of painful and debilitating shrapnel.

The Shadow in the Trees in combat

The Shadow in the Trees is a wary and cunning hunter.  From behind a barricade of natural cover, or difficult terrain, it surprises its prey with a veritable barrage of hurled missiles.  Only when its broken victims have stopped screaming, does the carnivorous ape move in to feed.
Like all grey apes, the Shadow in the Trees is prone to fits of bestial anger.  When wounded, the ape is possessed with a homicidal fury, dropping its weapons and abandoning caution to rip and tear the source of its pain to bloody shreds.


The shadow in the trees is drawn to ancient, vine choked jungle dungeons, where crumbling walls and loose flagstones provide the creature with ample ammunition.  These forays bring the ape into contact with a wide assortment of strange creatures.  In such an environment, the adaptable grey ape will utilize mindless denizens, like oozes and undead, as a natural bulwark against attackers.  In turn, more organized creatures, like bugbears and gnolls, are eager to press a creature like the Shadow in the Trees into service with steady bribes of raw meat.


My main goal with the Shadow in the Trees was to extrapolate on the mechanical design of Thak, the first grey ape, without making a carbon copy.  I like that Thak is essentially two creatures in one – a leader who relies on traps who transforms into a straight hand to hand brute when it becomes bloodied.  That way, halfway through the fight, the creature’s altered tactics keep the players on their toes.
I continued that theme when I made the Shadow in the Trees.  It’s an artillery creature that avoids melee characters, who transforms into a hand to hand brute that rushes into the thick of the fight (cribbing its bloodied attack from Thak which I thought provided a nice mechanical thread between the two monsters).  The coolest part is how well this approach reflects the events of the story (the beast spends most of the tale hurling rocks from the concealment of the forest, only to emerge and confront Conan directly when its volatile rage gets the better of it).
When I create the next grey ape (which is about 8 stories away – so not anytime soon), I’m definitely going to continue with this pattern.  One of the things I love about the 4e bloodied mechanic is that it lends itself so well to these Jekyll and Hyde type transformations (though I guess in the case of the grey apes it’s Hyde and Hyder).

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