The Cult of the Bull is a role-playing mini-adventure that can be played entirely with D&D Miniatures from the Harbinger set. It's intended for 4th or 5th-level PCs in an ongoing D&D campaign but it can also be played as a stand-alone battle with either the full D&D rules or the tabletop skirmish combat rules.
This encounter uses the following Harbinger miniatures and terrain tiles:
- Cleric of Order
- Human Executioner
- Human Thug x2
- Man-at-Arms x2
- Human Bandit x2
- Human Commoner x2
- Assembly Tile (with rubble)
- Rubble Room
- Statue Room
You can, of course, substitute miniatures you have for any you don't have. You can also change the cult to match whatever large miniature you want, if you have no minotaur. It could just as easily be the cult of beak and claw (Owl Bear), the tusk (Dire Boar), the green death (Shambling Mound), or the tentacle (Displacer Beast). Some of these monsters have higher challenge ratings than the minotaur; adjust the encounter level accordingly. The Umber Hulk and the Earth Elemental are not recommended because it's nearly impossible to imprison one of them underground.
All NPCs and monsters are exactly as noted on the "D&D Quick Reference" side of their stat cards (the side with the picture) with one exception -- the Minotaur has 10-foot reach, as noted in the Monster Manual.
The story is a familiar one in these troubled times. Faced with hunger, disease, and ill omens, the people turn to unfamiliar gods for salvation. In one hard-hit village, a former cleric of order abandoned his church and revived the ancient cult of the bull. Rather than revering the bull, however, he imprisoned a minotaur in a catacomb and elevated it to the status of a deity. At first, his followers waylaid travelers to feed the beast's ferocious appetite. The disappearances fueled a sinister reputation for the area, however, so that few travelers come this way. The bull worshippers now search the countryside, kidnapping victims for their ravenous beast-god.
PCs discover the entrance to the minotaur's subterranean lair. Once inside, they confront the wayward priest and his armed followers and stumble into the minotaur's prison. In order to leave, they must overcome the magical confinement that kept the bull/man securely in the tunnels.
Once you've read through this explanation of the encounter, you can download the one-page synopsis (86k ZIP/PDF) to take to your game.
The characters may be hired by a local leader to destroy the cult or they could be seeking to rescue a kidnapped friend. A magistrate, sheriff, or minor noble will want the cult destroyed without wiping out the village. In other words, he will want the beast slain but with the fewest possible villagers killed in the process.
This encounter begins when the PCs arrive at the village and search for the cult. The village itself is quite poor. About 12 families live here. Their huts and gardens are clustered together, surrounded by the blighted fields where they pasture their emaciated livestock and try to grow crops. Evidence of the cult isn't hard to find: cattle skulls are hung on walls or above doors and are placed on stakes around the village. Only the cows seem well fed, while the goats and chickens are as gaunt as the villagers. The villagers are reluctant to discuss their heretical religion but they direct the newcomers to the shrine of order at the edge of the village. The PCs are assured that the priest there will answer all their questions.
The villagers whom the PCs talk to at this point are old men, women of all ages, and children. All are human.
The villagers, of course, see the PCs as prime victims for their sacrifices. They believe that once the newcomers descend below the temple, the village men will quickly overcome them and add them to the stock of prisoners.
The Abandoned Shrine
Use the Assembly Tile (with rubble) to represent the village's shrine of order. PCs can enter through any of the light-shaded Exit squares.
The shrine is obviously abandoned. No religious icons or symbols of order remain. It is an empty, dusty room, with leaves blowing across the mud-tracked floor. The false wall at the back of the room was once a cornerpiece of the altar but the altar is gone and the vestments are stripped from the wall. A character who makes a Listen check in this room (DC 20) hears chanting coming from the far corner.
Behind the wall, the floor slopes sharply downward in a roughly cut ramp (difficult terrain). The ramp drops about 10 feet below the level of the shrine's floor. The longer ramp descends at about a 25 degree angle; the short side descends very steeply at a 45 degree angle. At its bottom is an opening that spills into a corner of the Rubble Room.
Someone may slip while descending the ramp and land in the Rubble Room with a clatter. Each PC descending the ramp should make a Reflex save (DC 6 on the long ramp, DC 10 on the short ramp). Failure means that the character lands in the Rubble Room loudly enough to attract attention from the cleric and his followers. A player who announces his character is trying to move silently can make a Move Silently skill check instead (same DCs).
Characters have no difficulty climbing back up the longer ramp. Climbing the short ramp requires a climb check (DC 10).
The Rubble Room
This room is empty except for rubble and a statue of a bull-headed man in the corner. From anywhere in the room, chanting can be heard coming through both doorways. The loud chanting is in an abominable tongue no one recognizes. The rubble across the opening leading to the Shrine tile forms a pile more than waist high. Scrambling across it requires a Reflex save or Move Silently skill check (both DC 6) to avoid making enough noise to attract attention.
Place the Corridor tile as soon as characters enter this room because they can see easily into that area. Don't place the Shrine tile or any of the cultists until someone enters the corridor or specifically looks across the rubble heap.
The heretical cleric stands in the square marked "C." Behind him, in the square marked "X," stands his bodyguard, the Human Executioner. If the intruders don't attack immediately, the cleric stalls for time. If they do, he and his bodyguard fight back. In either case, the villagers in the statue room rush out into the corridor the round after they hear the chanting stop.
The Statue Room
Eight men from the village are in this room, standing in the squares marked "V." These are two Human Thugs, two Men-at-Arms, two Human Bandits, and two Human Commoners. They are preparing one of the two prisoners ("P") for sacrifice to the minotaur. They rush into the corridor, ready to fight, when they hear the cleric's chanting stop (clearly something is wrong).
The prisoners are an itinerant tinker and his apprentice unless the PCs were sent here to rescue someone specific. In that case, the prisoners are an itinerant tinker and that missing person. They are chained and frightened but otherwise unhurt.
Both statues are of men with bulls' heads. One is crudely fashioned of terra cotta. The other is a well-carved statue of a muscular man with actual bull's horns cemented onto the head.
The Shrine of the Bull
This room is dimly lit by the burning candles set on the floor. The sacred circle functions normally (attack +2, magic damage). It also has one added feature -- once a character steps into it, he can't leave unless he is touching the statue in the corner of the shrine. As this statue is 10 feet outside the circle, this is impossible for average characters. The minotaur, however, with its greater size, can reach the statue with one hand if it stretches. This is how the minotaur is contained in the catacombs and how it is offered victims. A captive placed in the circle cannot escape until the minotaur comes for him and carries him out, usually to be devoured in the abattoir.
The minotaur is not entirely unhappy with this arrangement. It has little freedom but it is fed regularly and has few complaints.
The sacred circle detects as magic but gives no hint of its entrapping nature.
The minotaur won't appear until characters enter the magic circle. It launches its first attack by charging, if possible. It understands the combat boost the circle provides, so it tries to get at least partially into the circle when fighting. It makes sure that the statue is within reach, however, before stepping on the circle. When the minotaur is reduced to 10 or fewer hit points, it touches the statue and withdraws back into its tunnels.
Characters can escape from the sacred circle in three ways. The first is with a dispel magic spell (DC 15). Unless the candles are also extinguished, however, the effect restores itself after two rounds. The second way is to smash the statue in the corner of the shrine. This requires nothing more than tossing a rope around it and pulling it over. Smashing the statue destroys the circle's effect permanently. The third is to extinguish the candles or let them burn out on their own in 3d12 hours. Once the candles are out, the confinement lasts another 24 hours. After that, characters can step out of the circle. In any case, the circle's combat bonuses disappear along with its confinement.
This is where the minotaur typically enjoys its meals. The area is spattered with gore and contains several heaps of human bones. Four tunnels wind away from this tile, disappearing into gloomy catacombs.
Continuing the Adventure
If the minotaur escaped into the tunnels, characters will probably want to pursue it. The tunnels can be as extensive as you care to make them. They form a maze of passages that winds for miles beneath the countryside.
If the minotaur isn't slain, then it will certainly reappear, recovered, to bedevil the PCs further at a later time.
Defeating the cult and the minotaur is worth a total of 3,600 XP to 4th-level characters or 3,200 XP to 5th-level characters. Divide those totals by the number of characters in the party to find individual awards.
About the Author
Steve Winter quit his job as a newspaper reporter and went to work as an editor at TSR in 1981. He's been involved in writing, editing, and publishing D&D products in one form or another ever since. Steve just likes games.