This post is part of a series! Go here to see the other entries.
Owlbears have been in the game since at least BECMI, and likely since the beginning. As another rather popular and iconic monster, they are both in the Monster Manual and the Vault.
Owlbears are dangerous predators that originated in the Feywild but spread to the world ages ago. They have the strength of a bear, the cunning of an owl, and are always hungry.
The creature’s owl bits give it excellent night vision, better talons than what you usually find in a bear, and a characteristic hooting call. Their fey nature also means they have magic powers, which can vary with their specific environment but always include something related to their hoots. Owlbears get together to mate and rear their cubs, usually only sticking around only long enough to accomplish that. If prey is plentiful, they might stay together longer.
Any creature that crosses an owlbear’s territory is fair game. Some owlbears drag the carcasses of their prey back to their lairs and hang the leftovers on nearby trees and bushes in hopes of attracting scavengers who will serve as future meals.
Owlbears are difficult, but not impossible to tame. All manner of fey, goblins, and even giants might take them as guards, attack animals, or simply pets. In fact, with the Fey Beast Tamer theme introduced in the guide to the Feywild, PCs can also have their own pet owlbears!
Some of the fey skip all the boring animal handling work and use charm spells - it’s the GM’s call whether that’s a prudent thing to do.
The Numbers (Monster Manual)
Owlbears are Fey Beasts with average Int score of 2. They have a ground speed of 7, low-light vision with trained Perception. Their attacks are usually with their claws and beaks, though each variety has a different magic hoot/screech/call as well.
The MM varieties, as usual, need a damage update.
The basic model is a Level 8 Elite Brute with 212 HP and size Large. Its basic attack is a Reach 2 Claw, and it can make two of those per standard action. If both hit, the target is grabbed (escape DC 19 for Acrobatics or 22 for Athlethics).
The owlbear can Bite a grabbed target, hitting automatically for enough damage that even without an update it’s close to what it should be for a limited attack. It’s a standard action but it’s definitely worth it.
When first bloodied it will emit a Stunning Screech as a free action. This is a Close Burst 1 vs Fortitude which does no damage but stuns on a hit (save ends). Don’t cluster around it!
This Huge owlbear is likely adapted to live in regions of supernatural winter in the Feywild. Instead of relying on pure physical power, it uses innate ice magic. It’s a Level 14 Elite Controller with 280 HP.
Its basic attack is a Winterclaw that does a mix of physical and cold damage, and slows on a hit (save ends). It can make two of those per standard action, and if both hit the target is immobilized (save ends) with a slow aftereffect (save ends).
Its magic call trick is the Frost Wail (close burst 3 vs. Fortitude), which does cold damage and immobilizes (save ends). It recharges when the owlbear is first bloodied.
With a winterclaw owlbear you’ll want to keep everyone immobilized and preferably isolated, allowing the other monsters in the encounter to pick the PCs off one by one.
The Numbers (Monster Vault)
The main difference from the Monster Manual here is that the owlbear’s low-light vision has been upgraded to full Darkvision. They also have properly updated damage.
Essentially a non-elite version of the basic Owlbear, it’s a Level 8 Brute with 106 HP. It fights in exactly the same way, and even has the ability to make two attacks per turn and grab if both hit.
Its hoot only dazes instead of stunning (save ends).
A straightforward update of the MM version. Still a Level 8 Elite Brute with 212 HP, its damage has been updated but no other changes were made.
This Large owlbear likely represents a beast that has been tamed and trained since hatching. It lacks that primal vigor of the wild variety but has better teamwork.
Trained owlbears are Level 9 Soldiers with 96 HP. They mostly fight with Reach 2 Claws but have a few other tricks.
Their Thunderous Shrieks (Close Burst 2 vs. Fortitude; recharge 5-6) do thunder damage and knock prone on a hit. If an adjacent enemy makes an attack that doesn’t include the owlbear as a target, it will use a Guardian Claw to attack them as an opportunity action. This deals the same damage as a basic attack, or a flat 5 damage on a miss.
So these owlbears will run right into the fray and occupy the attention of the enemy front-line, while their masters further back use magic or ranged attacks. Pretty straightforward soldier types, though they’ll keep some space between themselves to avoid friendly fire with the thunder shrieks.
Likely a subspecies that’s adapted to living in windy mountain passes or similar environments. They’re Level 11 Elite Controllers with 228 HP.
Wind-claws are surrounded by a Keening Gale aura 2 that causes any enemies ending their turn inside to take 5 damage, and allows the owlbear to slide them 2 squares.
Their Wind Claws do physical damage, slide the target 2 squares, and knock it prone. On a miss the owlbear can still slide the target 1 square.
The ability that lets them attack twice is named Disembowel (it’s just “Double Attack” for everyone else). If both attacks hit, the target is stunned for a turn. I suppose this would be a literal disemboweling if the target hits 0 HP, otherwise they’re just momentarily stunned at narrowling escaping a disemboweling.
This owlbear also has a Beak Snap that hits a grabbed target automatically, but it lacks any abilities that grab the target! You can either add this ability to one of its existing attacks, or use the default Grab attack everyone gets (vs. Reflex, a hit does no damage but grabs the target).
When the owlbear is first bloodied, it lets loose a Wind Howl (close blast 5 vs. Fortitude). A hit does no damage, but pushes the targets 3 squares and knocks them prone. A miss still pushes them 1 square.
This is a straightforward update of the MM Winterclaw Owlbear, with the same level, the same abilities, and updated damage.
Sample Encounters and Final Impressions
We have two:
Level 7: 1 owlbear, and a trio of satyrs. These would definitely go the “charm spell” route for taming the owlbear.
Level 14: 1 winterclaw owlbear and 3 cyclopes. These would tame them through unceasing toil, for that is the cyclops way.
I love owlbears! Like otyughs, they’re one of those monsters that are a sure sign that you’re in a D&D world as opposed to some other fantasy setting. And sure, they’re dangerous predators in-setting, but there’s something extremely funny and even cute about the concept of a bear with an owl’s head that goes “who?”.
Mechanically, they seem to do their job so well that the Monster Vault didn’t change the original stat blocks at all aside from the damage update.