I love bears. I really do.
Not in an "oh, I think I'm a bear and I'm going to party with them all summer long until they eat me" kind of way. I just really appreciate their power and majesty and wish human impact on their continued survival was, well, less. I once saw a pair of polar bears at the zoo in St. Paul, MN in the middle of June and it was one of the most depressing sights I've ever seen. And I've been to Hiroshima and wept at the memorial there!
Anyway, enough of that Lefty gibberish...we're talking D&D after all, where monsters aren't endangered...PCs are! The polar bear is a fierce opponent in any edition of the game, though I've had few opportunities to use them. How badass are polar bears? On average they'll edge an owl bear in one-on-one combat, and those things are vicious. A fighter with a 13 strength wearing plate and shield can kill one in melee...provided he's at least 15th level (9th level with all +1 gear, 7th level with all +2 gear). Not bad for a 6 hit dice monster.
[yes, I realize the AD&D polar bear in the MMII is even beefier with 8+8 hit dice...I play B/X and HD 6 is just fine for me]
Now, there are only a couple things that makes the bear vulnerable to low- and mid- level characters (at least when acting in a coordinated group). One is the bears' weak armor class (AC6 is better than a Normal Human but even a NH can hit it more than one-third the time), and it's low intelligence (which results in a reduced saving throw as the bear is considered an "unintelligent" monster).
Of course, if we were talking about the panserbjorne of Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, that would be another story entirely. Intelligent, cunning warriors and dressed in plate armor forged from meteoric "sky iron," these guys are THE brawn of their particular world. Did I mention they live only for battle?
I've written before (or at least I thought I had...couldn't find a post to reference) that I thought the parallel universe world of His Dark Materials would make a great setting for a Basic Role-Playing game (like ElfQuest and Stormbringer). But why horde all the goodness for a system I don't even play? Why not throw the armored bears into my B/X world and watch the PCs run for cover?
Why not indeed?
Armor Class: -1
Hit Dice: 6
Move: 120' (40')
Attacks: 2 claws/1 bite
No. Appearing: 1 (1-2)
Save As: Fighter 6
Treasure Type: B
Armored bears, called panserbjorne, are a race of sentient polar-bears whose opposable thumbs and innate sense of metallurgy allow them to work as exceptional metal-smiths. They are born to battle and fashion for themselves plate armor from meteoric iron (called "sky iron" and found only in their cold northern homeland) which they treat with the same reverence and respect as a samurai does his katana. Armored bears have an exceptional sense of honor and do not give their word lightly; they are a no-nonsense people and can detect deception and illusions quite easily (+4 to saves when applicable). They have the same ability to hug victims for additional (2D8) damage as any bear, if they are able to hit with both paws in a single round.
All armored bears speak their own language as well as the Common tongue of humans. Though generally solitary, the panserbjorne have a king that may call them together in time of war.