“Olmec spoke further, of dark and mysterious matters, of black magic and wizardry conjured out of the black night of the catacombs, of weird creatures invoked out of darkness for horrible allies.” —Robert E. Howard, “Red Nails”
Well met—and welcome back to the dark corners of the Crossroads! Over the past several months I’ve been exploring the influences of classic pulp literature on gaming. More specifically, I’ve unearthed a few of my own favorite weird tales for a fresh perspective while holding a “Hyborian lens” of sorts to the modern day tabletop. In my last article, Lost Cities: Ideas for Ancient Ruins in Pulp Adventures, I examined two of my favorite locales from literary thrill-seeker Robert E. Howard’s legendary tales of derring-do: mysterious Old Eridu and Xuchotl, the dead city. This time, I thought I’d take it one step further by detailing some possible inhabitants of those foul, forgotten places. After all, what use are shadow-haunted catacombs if they’re not full of fanged monstrosities fumbling hideously in the dark?
The Crawler comes straight from the pages of “Red Nails” and is one of the most notorious, yet ambiguous, monsters in the Conan mythology. Should you choose to run an adventure or mini-campaign in lost Xuchotl, this serpentine horror may serve you well. For something completely different, I looked to Howard’s Cthulhu mythos tales to inspire the Dark Emissary: a daemonic servitor adapted from the Conrad/Kirowan yarn “Dig Me No Grave.” The following Pathfinder RPG stats for these creatures can be seen as “sketches”—not only could they use a little playtesting and a tweak or two, but also one of the most beautiful things about the Conan and Cthulhu mythoi is that wonderful sense of intangible weirdness. (That’s a flavorful way of saying you and I reserve the right to modify these beasts to suit our fancy). But for now, let’s gaze into the abyss and see what gazes back…
The Crawler CR 7
An ophidian shape writhes slowly and painfully into view—a terrible fanged serpent with hideous eyes atop its monstrous reptilian head, broad as the head of a crocodile. The reek and chill of the deep black earth are about it, and its color is an indeterminable hue that changes from each new angle. It slithers and rustles forward upon two beastly limbs armed with claws as cold as ice to the touch.
NE Large aberration (cold)
Init +3; Senses darkvision 60 ft., low-light vision, scent; Perception +10
Aura unnatural aura (30 ft.)
AC 16, touch 9, flat-footed 16 (–1 Dex, +8 natural, –1 size)
hp 75 (10d8+30)
Fort +8, Ref +2, Will +1
Weaknesses light blindness, vulnerable to fire
Speed 30 ft., climb 30 ft., swim 30 ft.
Melee 2 claws +11 (1d8+2 plus grab), bite +10 (1d8+2 plus poison)
Space 10 ft.; Reach 10 ft.
Special Attacks rake (2 claws +11, 1d8+2)
Spell-Like Abilities (CL 6th)
At will—chill touch (DC 21); DC is Constitution-based.
Str 14, Dex 9, Con 20, Int 1, Wis 13, Cha 2
Base Atk +8; CMB +11; CMD 20 (can’t be tripped)
Feats Improved Initiative, Improved Natural Armor, Weapon Focus (claw)
Skills Acrobatics +8, Climb +4, Perception +10, Stealth +4, Survival +4, Swim +4; Racial Modifiers +4 Perception, +4 Stealth, +8 Acrobatics; modifies Climb and Swim with Dexterity
Environment any underground
Organization solitary (unique)
Cold (Ex) The Crawler’s body generates intense cold, dealing 1d6 cold damage with its touch. Creatures attacking the Crawler with unarmed strikes or natural weapons take this same cold damage each time one of their attacks hits.
Grab (Ex) +4 bonus on combat maneuver checks made to start and maintain a grapple.
Poison (Ex) Bite—injury; save Fort DC 21; frequency 1/round for 6 rounds; effect 1d2 Con; cure 1 save.
The Crawler is a unique creature that prowls the lightless, subterranean catacombs of the lost city Xuchotl. Though rarely seen by human eyes, it has the appearance of a giant serpent with two grotesque limbs protruding from several feet below its tapered head. These clawed arms drag the hideous beast relentlessly along as it searches for prey at the whim of its Xotalancan masters, who brought the eldritch horror up from the black tunnels below. When someone is unfortunate enough to get a good look at the Crawler, its nacreous scales shimmer with a dull, nebulous hue. A supernatural cold hangs to its unearthly presence—a grim reminder of the dark magics used to awaken the Crawler from its primeval Stygian lacuna.
“Then with a swirl and a great rush of wind something swept the room, flinging the hangings aloft and dashing chairs and tables crashing to the floor. For an instant an intolerable odor burned our nostrils, a low hideous tittering mocked us in the blackness; then silence fell like a shroud.” —Professor John Kirowan, “Dig Me No Grave”
Dark Emissary CR 6
Above the moon hovers a gigantic black shadow like a monstrous bat, and from its dark clutch dangles a small pale thing, like the body of a man, dangling limply. Then, even as you cry out in horror, it is gone…
NE Huge outsider (daemon)
Init +5; Senses blindsense 40 ft., darkvision 60 ft.; Perception +12
Aura fear aura (30 ft., DC 17), unnatural aura (30 ft.)
AC 15, touch 9, flat-footed 14 (+1 Dex, +6 natural, –2 size)
hp 59 (7d10+21)
Fort +7, Ref +5, Will +3
DR 5/cold iron or good; Immune acid, death effects, disease, poison; Resist cold 10, electricity 10, fire 10
Speed 30 ft., fly 60 ft. (good)
Melee 2 talons +12 (1d8+5 plus grab), bite +12 (2d6+5)
Space 15 ft.; Reach 5 ft.
Special Attacks snatch
Spell-Like Abilities (CL 7th); DCs are Wisdom-based
1/day—fire storm (DC 19), summon (level 7, 1 dark emissary at 50%)
5/day—shadow walk (special, see below)
Str 21, Dex 13, Con 17, Int 6, Wis 14, Cha 6
Base Atk +7; CMB +14; CMD 22
Feats Alertness, Flyby Attack, Improved Initiative, Snatch, Stealthy
Skills Fly +6, Knowledge (planes) +4, Perception +10, Stealth +9; Racial Modifiers +4 Perception when using blindsense
Launguages Abyssal, Draconic, Infernal
Organization solitary, pair, or colony (3–8)
Fear Aura (Su) The use of this ability is a free action. The aura can freeze an opponent (all creatures within a 30-ft. radius that see a dark emissary must make a DC 17 Will save or be paralyzed by fear for 1d4 rounds) or function like the fear spell. Whether or not the save is successful, that creature cannot be affected again by the same dark emissary’s fear aura for 24 hours. This is a paralysis and a mind-affecting fear affect. The save DC is Wisdom-based. Any subject who fails the initial Will save must make an additional DC 17 Will save or is also considered willing for the purposes of a dark emissary’s shadow walk.
Shadow Walker (Su) A dark emissary can navigate freely between the planes that border on the Plane of Shadow—as a result, a dark emissary and any accompanying creatures are not shunted when the shadow walk spell effect ends.
This unholy monstrosity is a servitor of the Black Master, who goes by many names. Dark emissaries are native to the dead cyclopean city of Koth—a distant realm of the Void (distinct from, but strangely related to, the thus-named kingdom of the Hyborian Age).
A dark emissary resembles a hideous, shadowy amalgam of coal-black wolf and bat, with a fanged lupine head and black leathery wings that open wider than four men with arms outstretched. It is heralded by the rustling of these gigantic wings, an intolerable alien odor, and the glow of hideous red eyes from the shadows. Two wicked talons, large as scythes, replace the chiropteran hind limbs. But—although they’re formidable combatants—dark emissaries are mere messengers of the Great Old Ones and exist to dutifully convey the damned to Koth (and realms beyond) once their doomed eldritch dealings have expired.
Chris Lockey is a professional warrior poet and amateur cryptozoologist who hails from the black woods of the North Carolina badlands. He currently lives in Los Angeles in lasting servitude to the Old Ones. For ongoing updates from the asylum, follow him on Twitter @ChrisLockey.