Posts Tagged ‘Conan’

The Scarlet Citadel – Part Two

January 2, 2011

This is the second creature from Robert E. Howard’s The Scarlet Citadel.  For the summary of the story as well as the creature from the pit, click here.
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.

Yothga the Devil Flower

In the cold, black depths of the cosmos hangs the star known to warlocks as Yag the accursed.  From here, yothga the devil flower spreads its seeds into the world to nourish itself on the thoughts and memories of intelligent creatures.  It is said the seeds will only germinate in the lowest, most vile reaches of the underworld, and that as the plant grows, horrible monsters take refuge in its roots.  The devil flower feeds by immobilizing its prey in its tendrils and showering them with potent sleeping spores.  Once asleep yothga uses its alien flowers to siphon a victim’s thoughts and memories until only an empty soulless shell remains – a slow and ghastly process that can take a decade or longer.
Only those powerful and mad enough to make a pact with the powers of the outer dark know the secrets of cultivating one of yothga’s stalks.  For these individuals the devil flower is a powerful tool of unending torture and imprisonment.


The devil flower is one of the creepier creatures of Tsotha-lanti’s dungeon and plays a much more pivotal role in the plot than the thing from the pit, so that alone demanded that I should create statistics for it.  But as a stationary plant that didn’t eat enemies so much as imprison them, it seemed much more like a hazard than a monster.  The monster summoning comes from Pelias’ comment that pulling the plant up by the roots is dangerous because Conan “…might have found things clinging to the roots against which not even your sword would prevail.”  I used the ghoul and wretch of Kyuss simply because they were minions of the right level (I also felt they fit the whole ‘roots in the underworld’ thing), but any level 13 minion would do (a minion balances out the XP of the devil flower being killed with a single action, I think a full fledged creature would be too powerful).  Even though the story has yothga putting people to sleep forever (until the plant is removed by an outside force), I thought that in the context of a D&D adventure it was just too deadly, so I added the option of using a healing surge to wake up.  If you were running a very gritty and deadly game you could remove that option to reflect the source material more faithfully.

The Scarlet Citadel – Part One

December 22, 2010

The Scarlet Citadel might not be the best Conan story ever written, but I think that page for page, it has more monsters than any other (and they’re some of the coolest as well).  That made it pretty hard to narrow it down to a single creature to showcase… so I chose two instead (it’s the holidays).  Like the title says, this is part one – I’ll post another fiend later in the week. 
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 second published Conan story takes place after the Phoenix on the Sword.  Now that Conan has dealt with his internal enemies, he must now face the external threats to his kingdom.  The tale begins with Conan on the field of battle, betrayed by Aquilonia’s neighbor, Ophir, to the King of Koth.  Outnumbered his knights are quickly cut down and Conan is captured by the power behind the throne of Koth, the dark wizard Tsotha-lanti.  The Kothians spirit Conan back to their capital and imprison him in the dungeons of Tsotha’s infamous scarlet citadel.  Here Conan is given an ultimatum: continue to rule Aquilonia as a satrap of Koth or face death at the hands of the horrors below Tsotha’s citadel.  As we knew he would, Conan rejects the offer (to put it mildly).
In the dungeons Conan encounters a huge albino serpent, a flopping tentacled thing whose sobs sound too human, an invisible floating creature (that mouths noiseless obscenities at him), and a vampiric plant that feeds on thoughts and memories.  From the clutches of the devil plant Conan frees another sorcerer, Pelias, Tsotha-lanti’s chief rival (who might be just as bad as Conan’s captor).
With Pelias’ aid Conan flies back to Aquilonia astride a great bat winged monstrosity just in time to retake his capital and rally the troops. At the head of his army Conan rides southward to meet the armies of Ophir and Koth head on.  In the ensuing slaughter the kings of both enemy nations are cut down and Pelias exacts grisly vengeance on Tsotha-lanti.

The Thing from the Pit

“Its unstable outlines somewhat suggested an octopus, but its malformed tentacles were too short for its size, and its substance was a quaking jelly-like stuff which made him physically sick to look at.  From among this loathsome gelid mass reared up a frog-like head, and he was frozen with  nauseated horror to realize that the sound of weeping was coming from those obscene blubbery lips. ” – Robert E. Howard, the Scarlet Citadel


Dungeoneering DC 20: The thing from the pit is the result of the wizard Tsotha-lanti’s twisted experiments with the Far Realm.  Its form is so loathsome that few can overcome their disgust long enough to get within striking distance, and its cackling laugh can unnerve even the most stalwart of warriors.

The Thing from the Pit in Combat

The thing from the pit revels in the fear and disgust it inspires; taking great delight in driving its enemies into deadly traps and other hazards.


There are few creatures that can stomach the company of the thing from the pit save mindless oozes and other, equally deformed, aberrations.  The latter find the thing from the pit’s ability to shepherd prey across the battlefield invaluable.


This creature doesn’t play that large a role in the story but it really grabbed my attention.  Its appearance was so bizarre it was hard to ignore, and more importantly, it freaked Conan out so much that he flees rather than try to fight it.  It made Conan run away.  This is the same guy who earlier in the story was able to hold perfectly still while a giant snake reared over him dripping acidic burning venom onto his legs.  I wanted the thing from the pit’s powers to reflect that.  The creature isn’t much of a threat on its own, but you combine it with other creatures, hazards and traps and I think it becomes quite deadly (in the story it almost gets Conan to fall down a well in his flight from it).
Even though this story takes place after the phoenix on the sword, I decided to make it a lower level than the slave of the ring – Tsotha-lanti’s creation just doesn’t end up hurting Conan like Thoth-Amon’s summoned demon did.
In terms of the picture I found it quite a challenge to draw, and going by Howard’s description it went through a few iterations.  In the end I opted for a less true octopoid body and instead drew inspiration from Jim Holloway’s illustration of the yochlol from the 1e Monster Manual II.

The Phoenix on the Sword

December 14, 2010

For Monsters of the Hyborian Age, I’m going to be covering the stories in the Complete Chronicles of Conan in publication order (coincidentally the order that they appear in the book) rather than the chronological order of Conan’s life.  There are a few reasons for this.  The first is that the chronological order is highly contested; with at least 3 different versions (I’m partial to Dale Ripkke’s).  The second reason is that publication order is probably the order that they were intended to be read (imagine watching all 6 Star Wars films in chronological order – all of the anticipation and mystery of the original trilogy would make no sense).  Finally, like the ‘Bond rule’ (the first actor you see playing Bond is the one whom you feel portrays him best), this is the order that I read them in so it subjectively just feels right to me.
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 first Conan story, oddly enough, begins with the barbarian towards the end of his career.  He is middle-aged and has become king by his own hand over the most powerful nation in the world, Aquilonia.  But it is not an easy rule.  A group of four influential conspirators works behind the scenes to end the new king’s rule and replace him with one of their own.  While Conan was first hailed as a savior for killing the tyrant Numenides, the public (encouraged by the ‘rebel four’) chafes at being ruled by a foreigner.  To this end the rebel four uses Ascalante, a deposed nobleman and his slave Thoth-Amon, once a powerful Stygian wizard, but bereft of magic since the loss of his powerful ring.
The rebel four plans on assassinating Conan with their own hands while he is defenseless.  As the tangled conspiracy unfolds we learn that Ascalante plots against the rebel four even while he helps them, hoping to betray them at the last moment.  Likewise his slave, Thoth-Amon plots against his master for the humiliation he has suffered at Ascalante’s hands.
While the rebel four and Ascalante put their plan into motion, fate deals two wild cards.  First Thoth-Amon finds his magic ring and uses it to summon a powerful demon to track down and destroy Ascalante.  Second, Conan is visited in a dream by the ghost of the sage Epemitreus who warns him of the impending assassination and imprints his sword with the mystical symbol of the phoenix.
All threads come together in the king’s bedchamber as Ascalante and the rebel four find Conan awake and ready for them.  Before battle can be joined Thoth-Amon’s demon enters the fray, destroying the would-be assassins and attacking Conan.  Using his now magical sword, the king is able to slay the unstoppable beast and send it back to the abyss.

The Slave of the Ring

“Its outline was not unlike that of a gigantic baboon, but no such baboon ever walked the earth, not even in Stygia…  The hideousness of its face transcended mere bestiality.  It might have been the face of an ancient, evil mummy, quickened with demoniac life.  In those abhorrent features the outlaw’s dilated eyes seemed to see, resemblance to the slave Thoth-Amon.  Then Ascalante’s cynical and all-sufficient philosophy deserted him, and with a ghastly cry he gave up the ghost before those slavering fangs touched him.”
-Robert E. Howard, the Phoenix on the Sword


Arcana DC 20: The slave of the ring is a shadowy demon bound to a mystical talisman dedicated to the Stygian god, Set.  Brought forth from the ring by means of a foul ritual, the demon serves its master as a peerless tracker and assassin.
Arcana DC 25: Woe to anyone who meets the slave of the ring’s terrible gaze, for its swirling yellow orbs have the power to shrivel a mortal’s soul in their baleful radiance.

The Slave of the Ring in Combat

Once the slave of the ring has its target’s psychic scent it is nearly impossible to evade.  The demon stalks its prey, waiting until its target is distracted (typically in combat) to strike.  It takes full advantage of its advanced mobility, skirting around defenses and rending softer opponents with their deadly talons.


The slave of the ring is conjured into the world at the behest of its master, usually a powerful Wizard, Warlock, or Cleric (Yaun-Ti spellcasters favor the summoning of the slave of the ring to dispatch political opponents).  Such a master might send other servants to accompany the demon (usually skirmishers or lurkers) or attend personally to ensure it fulfills its task.


When Conan fights the slave of the ring, he feels more like an upper Paragon tier character rather than an epic one (becoming king by your own hand feels more ‘paragon path’ than ‘epic destiny’), so I chose to make the creature a level 15 challenge. The demon’s limited invulnerability trait is meant to emulate its resistance to normal weapons and its vulnerability to Conan’s enchanted blade.  I wanted to play around with power sources, since I haven’t really seen anything that makes use of those keywords.  If there are a lot of PC’s in the party with these power sources you should probably increase the resistance to 15.  If there are few PC’s you might want to place a magic weapon in the adventure with a trait that makes all attacks with it have the arcane or divine keyword (inscribed with a phoenix of course).

Monsters of the Hyborian Age

December 12, 2010

The first ongoing project I want to work on is translating the monsters of the classic Conan stories to D&D 4th edition.  It may be well trod territory (in previous editions at least – look at Arny on that 1e module cover!), but beyond the cool subject matter, I’d like to see if I can push the 4e mechanics by using elements in new ways, not just re-skinning goblins and orcs (over ambitious I’m sure).
In the famous ‘appendix N’ of the 1st edition Dungeon Masters Guide, Gary Gygax cites a list of books for inspirational reading that were literary influences on the game.  Among these he lists Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories, and after the list reiterates that Howard (along with L Sprague de Camp, Fletcher Pratt, Fritz Leiber, Jack Vance, A.A. Merritt, and H.P. Lovecraft) had a particularly immediate influence on the game (Gygax also later claimed that Tolkien had little influence on the game, which is interesting but that’s a whole other can of worms).  Now I’d seen the Conan movie (and still love it despite all the haters), and I’ve got a fair collection of Marvel’s Conan comic books, but I’m ashamed to admit I’ve never read any of the original Conan books.  So in the spirit of getting in touch with my favorite hobby’s roots I picked up a copy of The Complete Chronicles of Conan, Centenary Edition and set about to educate myself.
First, the stories are great and the influence on D&D is clear on every page.  I was surprised by Howard’s female characters, who seem more nuanced and powerful than most adventure fiction (yeah they’re sex objects as well but I had a lot less cringes reading this than re-watching Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom – and this was written in the 30’s).  I was disappointed by Howard’s portrayals of race, which made me feel uncomfortable and complicit (in a way, since I was reading the words), and sometimes threatened to break my immersion into the story.  I don’t think this condemns the work outright any more than it would Huckleberry Finn or The Merchant of Venice, but it’s there.  At least there were times when you could see that Howard was struggling with his views, testing out the boundaries of his own beliefs, something I never got the impression of when reading H.P. Lovecraft.
The greatest part of the stories though, was the monsters!  Now when it comes to the subject of bringing Conan to D&D, the prevailing wisdom has been that the Hyborian age was monster light.  I have to say after reading the stories, if Conan’s exploits are any indication of the kinds of adventures that can be had, there was at least one (but usually more) monstrous opponent in each tale.  Sure there were very few monster races, most of the creatures were unique, but you couldn’t flip over a rock without uncovering some alien god or bloodsucking demon.  Besides, the idea is to create D&D monsters using the stories as source material, not create a Hyborian age 4e game.
I’m hoping to do a Hyborian monster every week or two, complete with illustration (because web content without a picture is one of my pet peeves).  I might be biting off more than I can chew, but that’s what being a steel thewed barbarian is all about (that and passing out into a giant bowl of oatmeal).