Bearfoot Marauders

Do Not Mess With Owlbears

On Thursday nights I host a Basic Fantasy RPG group that’s been been running for a little under two years. Here’s the current party:

  • Gibeon Starfall–A dwarf cleric who worships an ancient and forgotten goddess. Also has terrible charisma.
  • Nitro–An elf fighter/magic user with bad social skills.
  • Nikare–A dwarf fighter, and Gibeon’s cousin. Tends to get injured a lot.
  • Jeffery the Great–An elf fighter who has a high opinion of himself.
  • Thundarr–A dwarf thief with tendency to get into bad predicaments.

This past Thursday the party spent the session lost in a rather unsual forest, which was a lot of fun to run. Since we’re playing online it was easy for me to boot the party to another map as I reset the fog of war and moved the party token to a random hex before bringing them back in.

They failed so many exploration rolls last session the party can’t even make a guess about where they are on the map. And the most humorous part of their repeated failure is, I was giving the elves a significant bonus for their rolls without telling them. Halfway through the session I was also granting them a second bonus because they came up with a way to use a rope to try and stay on course–they still got lost! The group were really good sports, and were laughing at their failures the entire night. Getting lost was also a fun way to build up the in game feel of the forest, which locals say is “weird.”

My one bummer for the session was they’d been wandering for a few days and only had one encounter 1, a group of Bugbears they talked their way past. This wasn’t as difficult as you might think. In all the worlds I make there is always a Bugbear involved in the restaurant business for some reason, and the party had met this bugbear the capital of their home nation. Gibeon was pointing out that they knew a great bugbear cook as they approached the creatures, and I had the player roll a reaction check with his charisma modifier. Even with a -1 modifier he still got a favorable reaction. So instead of attacking the party, one of the bugbears said, “Wait, you know old Zekie? That’s my uncle!” I was kinda bummed, because Thundarr was set up for an epic backstab, but it was not to be.

Things got more interesting few nights later. While Thundarr and Jeffery were keeping watch, a random encounter got triggered. I have a number of non-combat encounters in my random tables, but in this instance I rolled up owlbears–large magical bear-like creatures with owl heads 2. Three showed up, one of which was much smaller than the others 3. The largest managed achieved surprise, giving it a free round of combat. I flipped a coin and Thundarr was identified as the target. In game the thief was just sitting there minding his own business when a giant murder beast 4 came rushing out of the treeline and unleashed its barrage of attacks.

And missed every time.

Thundarr screamed, rousing the party, and we rolled for initiative. Now, back when we were just starting our campaign I ran a test combat encounter with the original members. During this combat Gibeon suffered a one hit kill inflicted by an owlbear 5. In game we said that combat session was a dream, and Gibeon has had recurring nightmares about owlbears ever since. So when he saw the creature he grabbed a brand from the fire and attacked, trying to set it ablaze. He hit and the creature was, indeed, set on fire.

Then things got interesting.

The other two owl bears showed up, and were back to back in initiative order. The larger of the two attacked Gibeon and missed every attack, people were breathing sighs of relief. But then the smaller of the two rushed out and also attacked the cleric. It landed both claws, and the party winced. But, because both claws hit, it also unleashed a “hug” attack on the dwarf–an automatic 2d8 of damage. The party freaked out as I described the creature squeezing Gibeon to the point where ribs were cracking 6. After the hug, the owlbear landed its bite, doing another 1d8 of damage. The cleric was rather messed up and the party was sweating. The players were also sweating.

One of the trends that’s been happening for the last several months is Nitro keeps trying to use a first level spell to put creatures to sleep. It’s a great spell on weaker creatures, but against the tougher ones it doesn’t actually work. He relearned this lesson Wednesday night when he wasted a turn trying to put the owlbears to sleep, and failed. Thankfully Nikare saw his cousin getting mauled and attacked the smaller owl bear, downing it. This may have saved the party, but it also sent the largest owlbear into a rage.

Thundarr’s initiative came up after Nikare’s lucky strike. I was expecting him to run away and let the heavy folks handle things. Instead, he decided to attack the giant murder beast with his short sword. He missed, which brought up the owl bear’s turn, it didn’t go well for the thief. The creature landed both claws, which triggered its “hug.” These attacks inflicted a huge amount damage, and then its beak ripped into the unwise adventurer. In one combat round the thief went from full hit points to -4 7, he was in the process of dying. Had I rolled higher for damage, he would have been killed outright.

At this point the party began to make better decisions. During the first round of combat Jeffery had attacked one of the owlbears with his bow, but when he saw Thundarr go down he dropped his bow and rushed forward to engage the largest owlbear with his sword. This put him in danger, but it was a wise move because the owlbear was about to drag Thundarr off into the woods. Nitro took out his rod of magic missiles and began to unleash it 8. Nikare pressed his attack, keeping one of the owlbears occupied. And Gibeon cast cure light wounds on the downed thief so he wouldn’t bleed out 9.

After a couple more rounds of combat the party was able to take down the creatures. But not before Jeffery was dropped to -1 hit points defending his friend and the rod’s charges were spent. It was a hard encounter. The cool thing is, the players had a BLAST having their backs up against a wall like that. It was so much fun.

And now they’re lost in the woods, with two members at 0 hit points, and they’ve all only got two days of food. Things are getting real.

  1. The next time I make a hex crawl I’ll add more numbered encounters. This one was a bit sparse.

  2. A good description for them is, “large murder beasts.”

  3. Only 10hp.

  4. I told you!

  5. This was intentional. I was teaching both mechanics and impressing upon them that they shouldn’t just march up to things and start hacking. Those players learned the lesson well.

  6. I did reduce the hug damage a bit because it was smaller. In game I was saying the group was a mated pair with their offspring.

  7. We play with a -10 hp rule, people are bleeding out below zero and can’t just be auto-healed and pop back up.

  8. This casts 2 missiles for 2d6+2 total damage.

  9. But he remained unconscious.

2 responses to “Do Not Mess With Owlbears”

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