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There is an incredible roster of monsters in the RPG hobby, and all the most famous are from the king of all RPGs, Dungeons and Dragons. One of my absolute favorites is the Owlbear. They are exactly what they sound like, and by far one of the most fun monsters that D&D introduced. While the name and idea may seem silly, when used well they really are quite the terror.
To be fair, the original image is far from scary.
The origin of the Owlbear is as weird as that picture. The Owlbear and a few other monsters were based on small plastic toys made in Hong Kong. These toys were originally made to promote the show Ultraman, and represented monsters from that show. Below is a picture of the toy that inspired the Owlbear, shared by Tony DiTerlizzi, who did quite a lot of artwork for D&D and did a deep dive on this topic himself on his website!
The origins of the Owlbear in-world is usually a Wizard getting bored or too creative and combining two animals together. Other sources say Elves have known of the Owlbears existing in the Feywild for millennia, but there are conflicting reports. In my own setting, the Owlbears are rare and were created by a crazed Alchemist with a bit of a confused perception of life. No matter where they came from, Owlbears can usually procreate, meaning they will be around for quite a while.
The mix of traits given by Owls and Bears are incredible, but have their weaknesses: no sense of smell, light bones, and lack of flight. When an Owlbear is hunting you down, it’s all based on hearing and sight. They climb trees and wait, watching for food. They have a high perception that is enhanced with darkvision, and I like to give them a small bonus in stealth while in their own territory. They’re very family oriented, and will spend their nights hunting down a hoard of food so that they can survive the winter and lay their eggs. After the winter, they raise their young.
When an Owlbear sees you, you hear a hooting noise that ends in a low-volume throaty growl that would only be audible close by. It’s quickly met by other hoot-growls, and to an untrained ear, it sounds like a court of owls discussing the finer points of rat catching and squirrel biting. But to a Druid or Ranger, it spells doom.
You see eyes roll around to face you in the dark. Yellow and bright owl’s eyes, but bigger than those of a normal owl. Suddenly the clouds part, the moonlight shines down, and the silhouette of a massive 8 foot creature slides down the tree trunk, using its long talons to dig into the tree on its way down. It catches your attention while its younger cubs and siblings pounce on you from behind.
When an Owlbear starts a fight, it’s using very basic animal tactics. It’s not that smart, but it is smarter than the average bear. They usually go to protect their young, but adolescent Owlbears will fight alongside their mom and pop. (Stats for them below.)
The hooting becomes lower pitched and gurgled, mixed more with a bear‘s natural roar. It‘s loud and intimidating, and makes your eardrums just about burst from hearing it.
You can see the caked blood all along the down padding that rings its talons and claws, the beast’s feathers standing out and fuzzing up to make it look even bigger than its already over-a-half-ton body. Edit: Over a half ton, not one and a half ton. My bad!
You can feel the huge talons, razor-sharp and big as a shortsword, sliding through your back and arms. Your shield just isn’t big enough to protect against both claws, and your armor is being shredded to ribbons!
The smell of its breath is awful, a humid fog of rotten fish and game. The Owlbear itself has a scent coming off its feathers that is actually quite pleasant, of dew and tree sap.
The aftermath of an Owlbear fight can end in a few ways. More than one of those ways involve quickly stemming the constant bleeding from your new slices and wounds.
Maybe you’re here for the Owlbear’s eggs, and you’re cooking up an omelet. Or maybe you pity the eggs without a mother to warm them, and you save one to raise as your own Owlbear cub. They’re quite hard to raise, being a little less intelligent than a house cat, but smart enough to imprint quickly. An Owlbear that’s friendly to your party could make for a powerful ally, as long as you keep it well fed.
You’d probably book it if you could hear the mournful cries of other Owlbears calling out to their family or the sad chirping of the Owlbear cubs you didn’t know were nearby calling for their mother.
Now that it’s dead, you can inspect its feathers with care. They feel soft to the touch, with a bit of rigidity to the spine. They have comb-like edges to soften the noises that this bulky creature makes while moving. The fuzzy mix of hair and down around the base of the claws and around the ears actually protects the Owlbear from sharp objects or other gunk getting stuck in an annoying place.
The sight of the beast dead would be impressive, or sad, depending on the character. They truly are massive, with beaks that could wrap around your head easily. You could harvest the hide and make a truly intimidating cape or set of armor. The head or beak would go on a mantle handily, and its claws would look fantastic on a necklace.
The taste of Owlbear confuses many people. It usually tastes like whatever the Owlbear last ate, as it is an Omnivore. It loves meat and live animals to hunt, but if needed will eat berries and fruit to store fat for the winter. This means that the Owlbear might taste fantastic, or it might taste fishy and greasy.
At first I didn’t know if I should do this feature for monsters, because I feel like all sorts of creators do that kind of thing. But then I realized that the core ideals of Sense of Immersion fit really well with monsters. It is extremely helpful for players to experience this sort of description in their interactions, because that makes them memorable.
Thanks for reading. I’ll be back on Friday with a new piece, and of course another Sense of Immersion every Tuesday! Please support my Patreon for more!
Roll a D% for your very own Unique Owlbear Experience!™
1-10: There are 1d4 Owlbears in a hot spring relaxing.
11-20: There are 2d4 Owlbears and 1d4 Adolescent Owlbears hibernating in this cave.
21-30: The Farmer’s daughter you were sent to find wields a barrel-lid shield and a pitchfork against two fully grown Owlbears. She’s too proud to ask, but she needs help.
31-30: The Owlbear mother has a top-hat on and knows 2d4 Wizard Cantrips?!
41-55: There’s an Owlbear with black feathers and streaks of gold. It can use the Thunderwave spell once per day at 1st-level. (DC 12)
56-70: The Adolescent Owlbear has brightly colored feathers and can mimic any sound it hears. It has an Intelligence of 6.
71-90: The Adolescent Owlbear is fluffy and adorable, and being ridden by a Kobold that loves it very, very much. They are kind to all parties, and fight for good.
91: The Owlbear is living hedge-art and has the monster type plant.
It deals an extra 1d4 poison damage on every attack.
92: 2d4 Owlbears fish in a stream, while 1d6 Cubs play.
93: Deep hooting fills the air, as a half-person half-owlbear steps out of the darkness, wielding a brutal axe made from bone. (Owlbear Stats, 30 speed, Battleaxe, speaks fey)
94: There is an Owlbear with the hiccups, and each hiccup is a 1st-level burning hands!
95: An Owlbear that finally learned how to fly. (10ft Flyspeed)
96: A two-headed Owlbear with patches of missing feathers and burn marks all over it. It radiates 1d6 poison damage in all directions up to 5ft away.
97: An Owlbear with a beak of steel. It can cast Heat Metal on its beak three times a day. The Owlbear takes half damage from it, but deals the full damage on beak attacks.
98: An Owlbear is killed, and the Goddess of Owlbears rises from it and curses the killers.
99: An Owlbear that eats wood. Like, a lot. Its an Owlbear Beaver!
100: Roll twice on this table.