Monday, June 13, 2011

Kicking Off "Bear Week" at B/X Blackrazor

That's right...I'm sure y'all have heard of "Shark Week" on the nature channels; this week is going to be Bear Week at Ye Olde Blog. I keep bringing 'em up here and there, so I figured I might as well devote a series of posts to the bad boys.

I could find no reference to bears earlier than the AD&D Monster Manual, though they do appear in G1: Steading of the Hill Giant Chief. There's no mention of bears (other than were- and owl-) in Holmes, and the only reference I find to them in the LBBs is under the description of hill giants where it says they may have 3-18 bears as guards (not sure what Gary & Dave had in mind for use as stats...werebears?). If they are found in any of the first four supplements, I can't locate 'em.

So I'm content to accept that the 1977 Monster Manual is the official first source of "bears" (statistically speaking) in D&D. The MM has only three variety of "normal" bears: Black, Brown, and Cave. While all three are neutral in alignment, they are each described as being of different temperament:

Black bears are usually not aggressive, brown bears are, and cave bears are quite aggressive.

All have the ability to "hug" for damage (as first given for werebears and owl bears in Supplement I) and AD&D is the only place we see different bears' "hugs" doing varying amounts of damage until D20 and their overly complicated "improved grab/grapple" mechanic. In all other places (OD&D, B/X, BECMI/RC, the AD&D owl bear) we see damage set at a standard 2D8.

[the whole "hug" thing requires its own post, which we'll get to tomorrow]

B/X is the first to introduce polar bears (a personal favorite) as well as what is perhaps my favorite monster description in any edition:

Bears are well known to all adventurers.

They are, huh? Well, if they're not they should be...your campaign really hasn't kicked off till some poor dumb party member has been mauled by a bear.

Interesting that B/X actually gives a treasure type to bears. Apparently, bears like their shiny bits and they have a small chance at carrying a few pieces of copper, silver, gold, and jewelry as well as the possibility of sporting a magic item (probably left over from some dead adventurer). Cave bears (a prehistoric version of the animal) have a chance at electrum and platinum as well...perhaps they have more discerning tastes in picnic baskets? Regardless, it's a pretty small XP bump to a monster that can be damn hard on PCs. We'll be talking tactics for "bear-fighting" a little bit later, but it's quite possible that the threat a bear poses outweighs any possible reward that might justify a combat encounter.

Yes, you read that right. It may be smartest to NEVER FIGHT a bear. At least in B/X where XP for monster combat is pretty wimpy (a 5HD Grizzly nets your party 175 XP...a 6HD polar bear will bring in 275 XP...but trying splitting that six ways (or however many survivors you have after a fight with a bear).

But as I said, we'll get to that (I hope).

All right, that's as much as I have time for right now. Besides, I'm thinking of maybe breaking out some paint today and icing up a few minis for Thursday's game. But stay tuned as we delve into the furry juggernauts of the fantasy world.

: )


  1. Awesome. I was just thinking last night about ways to make bears equally as freaky as more supernatural threats. Maybe now I won't have to ;D

  2. If you haven't seen it, I recommend checking out "Grizzly Man", a documentary by Herzog. I'm sure it's at Scarecrow.

  3. We had a lot of fun in B10 when Misha's bear wandered back to her hut. Folks clambering on the roof, etc. Good times!

  4. Bear week? My only question is, are Owlbears going to be covered as well?

  5. I swear I've seen more PC deaths top bears then any other creature. Godless killing machines indeed.

  6. I've mauled a couple of characters with bears. I have to say it is pretty fun to maul somebody with something from our world once in a while instead of a dragon or manticore or something...

  7. Cave Bears have shown up repeatedly in the last three B/X and Labyrinth Lord campaigns I've run. Awesome maulers of the unwary.

  8. PS: I can't "bear" the wait for the Fat Frog Challenge results.

  9. @ Red: Seen it.

    @ 2eDM: Yes, owl bears are part of bear week.

    @ Dyson: Results should be posted in the next couple days.