Howardizing a Module

I am starting to convert old D&D modules to run for my Conan group, and of course this takes considerable rewrites to give the adventure that Hyborean flavor. Most of the details are easy enough; for instance any mention of “Orcs” is replaced with “Picts,” and for the most part it works with little effort. However, I have encountered one major plot point in one of my modules that has left me unsure how to proceed.

The module centers around an evil magic item that has instantly transformed half the pirates in their hideout into demonic horrors, turning them against their former comrades in a terrible bloodbath. The Player Characters arrive at the hideout moments later, expecting to deal with pirates, and end up fighting for their lives against inhuman monsters shaped like men through gore-slicked sea caves and blood-red coves. I have a few ideas for making this plot point more Howardian than presented in the source material, but I’m not really sure how I would present any of them, or even which is best.


  1. Simply reskin the magic item, to include references to Hyborean cosmology. “Abyss” becomes “Outer Dark,” “Demon” becomes “Horror,” etc.
  2. Downplay the supernatural aspect of the scenario, perhaps by means of some alchemical substance that could effect such a transformation en masse. Does any such concoction exist anywhere in the rules? Could it be disease, or some other pseudo-scientific cause?
  3. Eliminate the supernatural aspect altogether. Savage enemies (probably Picts) were smuggled into the hideout and ambushed the pirates by leaping out of crates or something. They could have had help from a sorcerer, if that is convenient for the story.

With all of these, I have only vague notions of how it would be presented. So I’d like to know from the GMs out there, how would you craft this scenario? Thanks!

I was doing the same brain exercise before, and I found that the endeavor requires too much effort. Most D&D modules are high-fantasy and/or high-magic full of races/concepts and items that are non-existed in the Howard’s setting or will not make sense for the purists.

What I found working though is to take inspiration from the D&D plots and the Savage Worlds Beasts & Barbarians adventures. The setting is the Conan-alternative or the low-magic setting if you wish.

Yeah, an awful lot of them are just too cartoony to ever fit into Hyborea, but there are some that don’t take much adjustment at all. Goofy furry races can just as easily be replaced with normal people without effecting most plots, while wizard academies, friendly tree people, and airship pirates obviously have nothing to do with this setting.
But this adventure I’m working on has everything that makes a Conan adventure: pirates, mass-murder, mysterious caves, horror elements, and also unscrupulous nobles and a secret organization of thieves. If I can just solve this one riddle, it will make a memorable Conan exploit.

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I would look to replace the magical artifact aspects with a cult leader. The original pirates having been sacrificed to the gods to bring forth the horrors, etc…

Dealing with evil cults and necromancers is a Conan staple so it may be a bit of simple reskinning but it sits well within the setting thematics.
You also don’t need to worry too much about the how of them replacing the pirates, that can be handwaved a bit as it isn’t really relevant to the part the players are involved in.


Thank you. That’s a very cool suggestion. The only reason the how of the pirates being replaced might be important, is that it needs to be an overwhelming blitz attack for maximum carnage. The pirates must be overwhelmed in an instant, which is why I think the original writer utilized such a high-magic approach.

Maybe this cult leader infiltrated the pirates, converting half the gang into sleepers, until the signal was given, or the magic dog-whistle blown or whatever, that turned them into fratricidal lunatics?

Yeah, if you think it is important then having the pirates be betrayed from within make sense.
It can always be demonstrated by the players finding some of the pirates with stab wounds in their backs or killed in their sleep.

I’m not aware of the original module but how is it supposed to be resolved?
The addition of the cult will obviously force some changes to the resolution.

It sounds like you two have it worked out to your satisfaction, but I thought, from the module description, that it basically could work fine.

I’d just, as you suggested,

  1. Replace the artifact with some of fetish of the Lovecraftian Outer Dark. Tentacled sea things work well, I think.

  2. Have its influence turn the pirates into monstrous Cultists. Like you, I’d resist going so far as to transform them, but I would suggest telling signs of changes. They’re berserking and feral. Their eyes are limned in filmy membranes, like sea oil or muck. Their flesh is cold and clammy and slightly puffy. They stink of the briny deeps. That sort of thing.


In the original module, the pirates have added a young nobleman to their crew. The PCs have most likely been hired by the young noble’s family to persuade him to leave a life of crime and come home (either as the Prodigal Son, or to stand trial for his crimes). When they arrive at the hideout to an unexpected scene of chaos and slaughter, they (hopefully) make the choice to brave the melee and see if their target is still alive to be rescued. Against the odds, he has managed to survive just long enough for the PCs to locate and extract him.

Later on, there is a scene where they get ambushed by assassins in the city street during a festival, but I was going to cut this as it seems anticlimactic and ties in to events from previous modules.

You can probably see why the elements of this story appealed to me as a Howardian adventure. The pirates being suddenly overwhelmed from within lends an atmosphere of pandemonium and panic as the PCs rush in without any idea what they will find, encountering enemies at every step; although as I read my own synopsis above, I admit it starts to feel like I could possibly achieve this sense with an attack from outside. I’m thinking Picts, aided by sorcery? Maybe working with a villain the PCs have encountered before?

CORRECTION: I misremembered some details. The young nobleman has not joined with the pirate crew, he came to them under pretense of buying illicit wares from them, but attempted to steal the evil artifact, inadvertently unleashing its magic in the process. AND said noble is actually not in the pirate hideout at all, he actually escaped the carnage and fled home. Which is just a little anticlimactic, so I’ll be redoing the ending.

I really like this angle, and a Lovecraftian artifact could be a lot of fun. It might also be a hook for future adventures! Maybe the PCs realize that one or more of them has been marked with the same curse that transformed the pirates, and now they have a ticking clock to try and break the spell before they are turned into the same savage horrors.

Given the description you supplied at the start, I don’t see too many issues with adapting that to REH appropriate material. I would avoid the “swapping” element too much. Picts are not the same as orcs. Players know them to be human, albeit savage, and expect them to behave as such. If they were hiding in the crates players would ask questions like “how did they breathe?”

There is no need to tone down the supernatural elements of the scenario. REH wasn’t afraid to use them. It’s simply treated as a dark, unknowable force. You don’t need to explain it to the players, so long as they understand enough.

Case in point. The pirates may have stolen the sarcophagus of a mummy or a child of Set who cursed them, twisting them into ■■■■■■■ horrors. Various ape men, degenerate and deep one stats work fine for that. Or maybe a “sleeping” black one mistaken for a statue. Of course using an intelligent opponent means they should have motivations and an agenda.

Conversely, the pirates may have stolen an artifact and unleashed it’s powers accidentally. This is a good option if you don’t want an intelligent villain to account for.

Thank you. You may have supplied the missing piece I needed. A sleeping Child of Set or a Lovecraftian relic with a curse would supply all the story elements I need: sudden betrayal, body horror, and a potential hook for future exploits with a curse that must be broken.

I’m going to take a moment to defend the Orc/Pict swap. Obviously, there needs to be more rewritten than simply the mention of the name. My point is that in most campaigns the two exist to fulfill the same role of terrifying and formidable savage antagonists. If I had to adapt a Forgotten Realms or Greyhawk story into Hyborea, I would never replace Orcs with degenerates or ghouls, nor with any human race playable by the players. In most cases, Picts would be most appropriate, and I’m standing by that. I’m not taking that route with this module, since I think I have a much better one, but I would in the future.

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There are several stories in which Conan encounters something, and he has no idea how it came to be there, but he doesn’t have time to worry about it…



Can you provide the modules title, please?


The module is called The Bullywug Gambit, available in Dungeon Magazine #140

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