—Robert E. Howard, “The Black Stone”
Well met, and welcome to my own curious little corner of the Crossroads. Here you’ll find harrowing tales of high adventure and histories of unspeakable eldritch horrors.
I’ve always been excited by strange fiction, and throughout my days as a gamemaster, I’ve found the majority of the fuel for my creative fires within the dog-eared folios of classic pulp magazines and their collected editions. An early love of Conan and Cthulhu led me to seek out other lurid yarns that sprang from the yellowed pages of such publications as Adventure, Amazing Stories, and Black Mask—but, most importantly, the inimitable Weird Tales.
Here is an octad of intriguing tales as old as time. And these plot hooks are rather meaty. With the proper bit of preparation, you’ll find a few of these tales will keep your players readily occupied for an evening, while others could very well inform the better part of a campaign.
- A party member is the inheritor of a ruined ancestral estate. After unearthing details of the holding’s sordid past and driving back a festering plague of rats, further investigation reveals a hidden passage that leads to a hideous cannibal necropolis far below the crumbling edifice. (“The Rats In The Walls” by H.P. Lovecraft).
- A deep, musical “voice” calls out to travelers of the Southern continent’s inner jungles. The incessant throb of this haunting whisper can be traced to a hidden valley, where a forgotten people worshiping a forgotten god dwell in their forgotten city. Here, from the precipice of a domed temple tower, the high priest rings a mystical gong—the symbol of their dark god—to lure interlopers to a fate worse than death. (“The Voice of El-Lil” by Robert E. Howard).
- A low, brightly lit doorway appears in the Plaza of Dark Delights—where soft whispers and a pleasant dimness are normally the rule. An unlikely alliance of arch-wizards hires the party to take on the alien merchants who dwell within, known as the Devourers—extra-dimensional peddlers so accomplished that they sell only trash magically disguised as eerie and unearthly objects. But heroes who enter this ‘Bazaar of the Bizarre’ rarely return… (“Bazaar of the Bizarre” by Fritz Leiber).
- There are two roads to Torkertown—the shorter and more direct route leads across a barren upland moor, while the other, longer route winds its torturous way through the swamps. Villagers from the previous town claim that some foul horror haunts the moors and urge travelers to take the long way through the quagmire by light of day, where old Ezra lives in solitude. But heroes are often foolhardy, and it seems the old miser knows more of the revenant than he reveals… (“Skulls in the Stars” by Robert E. Howard).
- Coastal fishermen whisper tales of a pale and frigid light that shines from the north, and it heralds the colossal iceberg citadel, the ice-mountain Yikilth. Within the deathly and terrible glittering fortress, Rlim Shaikorth—the White Worm—roams the seas wielding a rare element colder than the moon’s ether, and spares only those sorcerers he deems worthy of his subjugation. (“The Coming of the White Worm” by Clark Ashton Smith).
- One of the party’s allies or associates—an alchemist and aspiring physician—claims he can resurrect a dead man without divine intervention. But his foolhardy experiments with foul reagents and odd solutions result in strange necromancies—and undead townspeople roam the streets as long as his madcap tests continue… (“Herbert West—Reanimator” by H.P. Lovecraft).
- A mysterious Stranger visits the party at midnight and produces a curious object of dull black metal—the seal of Nephren-Ka, the Black Pharaoh. It is said that Nephren-Ka received the gift of divination from his elder god in a grand sacrifice and inscribed the secrets of the future on the twisted walls of his tomb. The Stranger volunteers to lead the heroes to secret vaults below the city where Nephren-Ka—and the rich treasure of his reign—lay guarded by powerful enchantments and the priestly cult that survived. (“Fane of the Black Pharaoh” by Robert Bloch).
- An ancient, evil tome known as Nameless Cults contains (among its many blasphemies) a reference to “the Black Stone,” which it describes as one of “the keys.” Superstition surrounds this sinister monolith—octagonal in shape, some sixteen feet in height and about a foot and a half thick—which stands at the outskirts of a drowsy little village with a bloody past. Legends say that any who lay hammer or maul to the Stone will die evilly. And the mountains hide a hideous truth—that the Black Stone itself is merely the spire atop a massive fortress of forgotten horror dedicated to evil elder gods. (“The Black Stone” by Robert E. Howard).