Halls of the Minotaur – Session 1, Part 3

In which the first unfortunate meets his end.

The group of five led by Osric makes its way to the southeast, threading through the vine-thick trees until, just ahead, Osric spies a juncture where the track breaks again in two directions. Looming high above the treetops to the east is a great dark spire of stone, crowned some 60′ up its sheer face by what looks like a crumbling tower of some sort. The villagers have heard rumor of the ancient ruins at the heart of the Thornwood, and the sight reminds them of the whispered stories they’ve heard throughout their lives. After a moment of taking in this ominous sight, Osric presses on, bearing left through the small clearing.

Suddenly, a dark wheeling mass of birds rises from the surrounding trees, mometarily blocking out the sun in a storm of flapping wings and raucous calls. This great unkindess of ravens whirls overhead, stopping the PCs in their tracks, before its black-clad constituents flutter down to festoon the upper branches of the trees immediately surrounding the clearing.

One of the ravens swoops upon Osric, and in the moment before it attacks, he notices the white paste smeared on its wicked talons. He tries to defend himself, but a flurry of raking claws and beating wings about his head leaves him badly scratched up (-1 hp), and he fails the DC 10 Fortitude save needed to resist the poison on the talons. I like to draw out the effects of poison, so Osric does not yet feel its ill effects.

Another raven dive bombs Pierce and misses. There are supposed to be five ravens with poisoned talons here, but I decide that the remaining three remain aloft, looking for an opportunity to strike (and make a note that, given the paucity of missile weapons in a 0-level party, I should reduce the number of ravens to 2 or 3 in my conversion of this module to the DCC RPG).

Pierce gets the bright idea to start whirling his fishing net over his head in an effort to ward off the murderous birds, and Hunwald does his part by blowing his trumpet loudly. Esma, clutching one pig in each arm, huddles forward, trying to get under the net, while Gareth brings up the rear, axe in hand.

I rule that the net and trumpet are a pretty good raven dissuaders, and describe the birds becoming agitated and keeping their distance from Pierce and Hunwald. Esma is within the anti-raven zone, but Gareth is a little further back, so one of the birds swoops down and tries the scratch him. He manages to fend it off with his axe (raven misses its attack roll).

Osric hurries ahead in the direction he originally planned, trying to get away from the birds, but as he dashes out of the clearing he feels his energy ebb; I inform him that he loses 1 point of Stamina (effects of the poison), reducing his Stamina to 10. Since moving while whirling a net overhead in the midst of the trees seems a bit of a physical challenge, I ask Pierce to make a DC 10 Agility check using a d20 (clearly, using the net is an occupational skill for a fisherman). He fails the roll, so I tell him he can only move 15′ of his usual 30′. This bottlenecks everyone behind Pierce, and puts more distance between them and Osric. But Gareth manages take a swing at the raven that attacked him before it swoops skyward, and takes it out with a single decisive chop. The diminutive woodsman already has two kills under his belt!

Osric rounds a bend in the path and I describe the scene at the next juncture: a large humanoid creature resembling an ape is slumped in the grass, apparently dead. Covered in matted black hair, it lies on its side, with its back to the burglar. He can see that it has large, pointed ears.

Figuring that this creature is dead like the warhorse, and perhaps hoping that it has something useful (and/or valuable) on its body, Osric approaches. As soon as he gets within 5′, a hidden snare net snaps up out of the grass, hoisting the burglar and the black-haired creature into the air (Osric failed a DC 15 Reflex save to leap aside).

In the instant before he and the thing are thrown together, it turns toward him, yellow eyes flaring wide, fang-lined mouth gaping in a bestial grin. Osric loses on the initiative roll, and as their bodies are pressed together within the snare, he doesn’t even see the wicked dagger that the creature drives deep into his abdomen.

Pierce, Hunwald, Esma, and Gareth hear only a muffled scream from somewhere ahead in the forest. The first of the Heroes of Hovick has fallen.

May Arimar bless Osric the Burglar, a wanted man who would have been better off turning himself in to the authorities. Slain by a bugbear’s dagger in the heart of the Thornwood.

Bugbear illustration by Stefan Poag.