Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Bear Hug My Ass

From the Tom Moldvay Basic rules (page B31):
If a bear (of any type) hits with both paws on the same victim in one round of combat, the bear has hugged its victim and will cause 2-16 (2d8) additional points of damage in the same round as the attack.
Okay, let’s get something straight right now: bears don’t hug.

They just don’t; look it up. There’s no known documentation of a bear ever hugging someone as a form of attack. It is a pretty silly idea.

A “bear hug” is a move in Greco-Roman wrestling in which the arms are wrapped around an opponent, the hands are locked, and the opponent is held tightly to the chest. It is also something I give my wife when she’s been out of town for a few days and I’m meeting her at the airport.

The only way in which the term “bear hug” has ANYthing at all to do with bears is that it has the word “bear” in its title. It is not something bears do when fighting…neither to humans, nor each other.

And yet it’s been such a part of D&D lore that every edition (with the exception of Holmes) features some form of bear “hugging attack.” The first mention of “hugs” I can find is in Supplement I in which it is noted both werebears and owl bears may “hug” for an additional 2D8 damage. By the 3rd edition Monster Manual, this has morphed into something called an “improved grab” attack. As with most things in D20, it’s ridiculously complex.

[you know, I was actually thinking of taking a stab at running a D20/Pathfinder game the other day? Yeah, really. But then I remembered what a PAIN IN THE ASS it is to DM the game due to the bullshit stat blocks of monsters and quickly came to my senses!]

Now to me, a bear is a dangerous animal. While I can buy the heroic fantasy of a knight in magic armor and a flaming sword besting one in combat, bears should be capable of killing your average two to three warriors on foot, plate mail or no. The hug attack has been a great way to model the sheer destructive force of a 1700 pound beast (both brown and polar bears are capable of that size, by the way, though the polar bears ON AVERAGE are the larger of the two). In wrestling, the bear hug is a “take down” move, designed to bring a foe to the ground. While bears don't hug opponents, they are plenty strong enough to overbear opponents (from which vantage point they can readily maul the poor target). It is not, then, my goal here to remove the "extra damage" attack from the game of D&D.

I just want to clean it up a bit.
; )

Here's how I'd re-work the bear hug for B/X:

If a bear (of any type) hits with the same opponent with both paw attacks in a single combat round, the beast bears its opponent to the ground and inflicts an additional 2-16 (2d8) damage as it mauls its victim.

It would, of course, be assumed that any character surviving such an attack would scramble away and regain its feet for the following round. If the victim does NOT survive the attack, well...it might be time for the rest of the party to sneak away and leave the animal to its meal.

Werebears would have the same mauling ability (when in bear form)...owl bears have a "tear and rend attack" that works much the same way should they get their talons on an opponent.

But let's leave the hugging out of the mix, huh?


  1. That's ok, they've gotten most of the normal animal attacks wrong in one way or another. Weasels certainly don't suck blood and badgers don't attack with their claws either.

  2. Can I use this correction in the "Bears" section of my new monster book? I'll give you credit... :)

  3. Sheesh! Next you are going to tell us they don't carry around those little pots of honey!

  4. sounds like over .... bearing to me.

  5. Bears hug in play fighting between siblings and during lite challenges with other bears and when "wrestling" people but not when mauling in an actual attack.

  6. Size-category restrictions applying, I imagine, yes?

    No bears bring down a Titan or Hill Giant for that matter, right?

    I love that Owlbears have the Hug, too. lol

  7. It'll be interesting to check blogger stats over the next few weeks and see what websites and search terms lead traffic to this particular post title. I read it as an imperative statement initially.

  8. I like it! I like it even more because I'll force the characters to sacrifice an attack or thier movement to get to thier feet - while said bear plays romp'em, stomp'em on thier heads...

    And I have to agree that bears have always topped the list for inducing bowel-emptying terror in low-to-mid level characters for some reason. That was one of the nicest illustrations from the Wilderness Survival Guide (I think it was the WSG at least) - a whole party of adventurers fighting a bear!


  9. @ Jim: Yes, you may, and please do give me credit (sheesh...how many decades has this "hugging" thing been going on?).

    @ TS: Yes, size matters...though I leave it to individual DMs to decide what creatures are subject to knock down (a young titan, barely 9' tall might get knocked down by a Kodiak, and a cave bear could probably take down anything under frost/fire giant size...how much do giants weigh in YOUR campaign?).

    @ Spawn: Um...yeah.

    @ Fleur: Yes, I was going to add something like this as well, but I figured I'd keep it simple and let individual DMs "add to it." My B/X Companion book has rules for "knock-down" by large-tailed monsters...I'd be inclined to force ANY human-sized character to save versus paralysis when struck by a bear paw or get knocked sprawling (characters hit by BOTH paws are automatically taken down, no save).

  10. Check the Best of The Dragon Vol. I, if memory serves.
    --That is the authoritative Giant Weight rules.


  11. I think Mike has it, a lot of the monster description intentionally incorporate folklore and fantasy. Weasels don't suck blood any more than ants mine gold nuggets, any more than bears hug.

    That being said, it can be fixed pretty easily as you've shown.