The horses had grown more nervous as the afternoon slipped away from us. This should have warned us, but we were arrogant.
The sky had been like ragged, woolen felt all day, and as it unraveled into scarlet threads in the East the path we followed wound off into steep-sloped ravine. In the gloaming, the shadows were even darker in the ravine, and the horses grew ever more skittish. The walls were of packed sand and razor-edged flint. The path was the putrid remains of a dead brook – clay caked the horses to their hocks and spattered their flanks.
As it grew darker, we searched in vain for a place to halt, to make camp for the night. Our weariness grew, and even the most surefooted of the horses began to stumble. Soon, we were pushing on under a moonless sky with little prospect of any rest unless we accepted the inevitable and made camp in the muck.
Just as we thought it might come to that, the heavy silence was broken by the call of a horn so like a ragged howl that it sent shivers down our spines and made the horses roll their eyes. After a frozen moment, the howl was answered by a dozen others from various directions: the voices of men.
They had found us.
Fear lent us a reserve of strength we didn’t know we had. But despite our efforts they were on us before we could travel another mile.
As we turned a sharp dog-leg in the ravine, a figure rose and stood silhouetted against the sooty sky:
At first it was hard to make him out, so smudged was his outline by the ragged furs that clad his body – but then he threw back his bearskin cloak and glared down at us with that dark hunger in his eyes.
His limbs were wrought of twisted sinew, ropy and taut. His arms and legs were smudged with mud and darker things, his nails long and yellowed like claws. His face was a matted shag of beard broken by a slash of teeth. As bestial as he seemed, he held a black iron blade in one hand, long and wicked, something between a dagger and a sword. And above the coal-glow of his eyes, in the center of his brow, was the scarlet brand of the Dark One.
As we stood frozen at his appearance, his fellows had crept close upon the edges of the ravine around us. There were thirteen: a full band. My belly filled with ice as I saw them grinning down at us from the heights. I gave a shout when I saw them, and we tried desperately to form a circle, the better to defend ourselves, but it was too late.
The bear-clad chieftan raised his ornately carved horn to his lips and gave a great peal, his band answered with the howls and yelps of beast.
And then they fell on us like rabid wolves.
1. Alexander, Lloyd (1965) The Black Cauldron. New York: Henry Colt.
(statistics for B/X D&D)
HD: 2+2** (see below)
Move: 120’ (40’)
Attacks: 1 weapon
Damage: By weapon
No. Appearing: 2-13
Save As: Fighter: 2 (see below)
Treasure Type: P
Alignment: Chaotic (evil)
XP Value: 45 (+15/ additional HD)
Originally ordinary humans, Dark Huntsmen are cruel warriors and murderers who have taken an oath to a god of Chaos in order to receive certain powers. They initially take their oaths as a Pack of 13, and the powers of Chaos clerics and their dark gods binds the Pack into a powerful unit. As individuals, they are reduced almost to the ferocious savagery of rabid beasts, and they roam the land near the temple they serve hunting and killing anything they can find, preferring human or humanoid prey but also favouring beasts such as wolves, bears and big cats that they see as symbols of their ferocity. They wear no armor beyond the ragged furs and skins, and will typically be armed only with a heavy dirk like a short sword (damage 1d6) or spear. Sometimes Dark Huntsmen will use short bows, but they much prefer killing with their own hands.
In return for binding themselves to the gods of Chaos, and the resulting madness, Dark Huntsmen receive two powers:
Fight as One: A Pack of Dark Huntsmen has been forged into a single unit. While they cannot read one another’s minds, they can communicate quickly with a glance and a gesture, and their habit of fighting in a coordinated fashion despite exchanging no more than grunts and snarls can be unnerving. Even in complete darkness or under the effect of a silence spell, they will continue to fight as a coordinated team. More importantly, however, members of a Pack are bound by their blood oaths, and as a result the death of one will make the remaining members more powerful as his life force flows into them: When a Dark Hunter is slain, each of his surviving companions gains 1 HD for purposes of attack and saves, and an additional 8hp.
Berserk: A Dark Huntsman may enter a blind berserk rage while in battle. This berserk rage will last as many rounds as the Huntsman has HD, and he will gain +2 to Hit Rolls and damage while in this state.
A Pack of Dark Huntsmen may be dispatched by the high priest of the temple they serve to capture or kill specific individuals or to retrieve objects such as relics or treasures. They will track their prey unerringly, unceasingly and to any distance.