From: Dungeons and Dragons (1974)
Classification: A beast that has traits of an owl and a bear for a deadly combination.
The Owlbear is a powerful predator that mixes the strength of a bear with the razor sharp beak of an owl. Standing at between 8 to 10 feet tall, the Owlbear is known to hug their prey in a powerful “bear hug” while attacking with its deadly sharp beak. They tend to make their homes inside of caves, large burrows, and dark and secluded thickets. Owlbears live in a family unit of a mated pair and their cubs. Once the cubs are old enough to mate they leave the unit and move on to another area. For the most part the habits and behavior of an Owlbear match that of a North American Grizzly or Brown Bear.
First appearing in Gary Gygax’s 1975 Greyhawk supplement, Owlbears have been a constant inhabitant of the D&D Universe. They have proven to be a very popular monster that fans seem to love.
Before the creation of Dungeons and Dragons, Gygax made a strategic miniatures game called Chainmail. Not only was he a co-creator of the game and system, Gygax was a fan himself and hosted many games. Always on the lookout for interesting toys, collectibles, and miniatures to add to his home game’s miniature collection, Gygax was known to look through the aisles of local Five and Dime stores. On one such trip to a local shop, Gygax found a bag of prehistoric animals and dinosaurs. What made this bag of small plastic figures unique was that it was from Japan and was a collection of kaiju type creatures (a far cry from real dinosaurs and prehistoric creatures).
Within the bag were a few other creatures that would go on to inspire some of the first monsters to inhabit the world of Dungeons and Dragons, but one of the most odd of the toys was the creature that would go on to inspire the Owlbear.
As you can see, this toy bares more than a striking resemblance to the picture above. The black and white picture above was the first artwork for an Owlbear as it appeared in the Monster Manual. But as Dungeons and Dragons grew from Chainmail, the monsters grew from the toys.
Today the modern Owlbear looks nothing like its 1975 relative. The simple yet effective design of a bear with an owl’s head still remains today, but gone is the weird hulking form of the original.
Over the years they have tried to give a backstory to the monstrous Owlbear. Its origins have been all over the place from ancient Elves stating that the creature has always been here to a mad Lich saying he was the one responsible for creating the creatures from magic long ago. Either way the Owlbear is a shining example of simple is sometimes better.
The Owlbear has appeared in many D&D inspired games including Pathfinder and also official video games such as the arcade game Tower of Doom. Also the likeness of the Owlbear has been featured in dozens of different miniature designs over the decades.
The Owlbear is still one of my favorite Dungeons and Dragons monsters. Its simple and timeless design is something that has kept it a constant member of the D&D monster elite for the past 42 years.