Chapter I: Nature's Perfect Predator
Few creatures encapsulate the untamed wilderness like the mighty brown bear. Whether catching salmon in a cold mountain stream or rearing up with a bellowing roar, brown bears are icons of primal strength and ferocity. As apex predators, they dominate their domains, with massive paws and jaws that can kill with ease. Is it any wonder that intrepid adventurers in Dungeons & Dragons approach brown bears with caution?
In this comprehensive guide, we will explore everything you need to know about brown bears in D&D's 5th edition, from their ecological role to optimized stats and tactics. Lean in close…but not too close!
Chapter II: Poring Over the 5e Statistics
The Monster Manual grants brown bears an impressive strength of 19 – peak natural power. Still, with a mere 34 hit points, AC 11, and +5 to hit, brown bears seem lacking compared to their real-world counterparts. A bear's thick fur and fat should logically provide an AC of 15 or higher. And is a creature that can decapitate moose really dishing out just 1d8 bite damage?
Some key adjustments could bolster verisimilitude:
- Increase AC to 14 or 15
- Add resistance or immunity to nonmagical physical damage
- Double hit points to 68
- Upgrade bite damage to 2d6 or 2d8
- Increase strength to 21 or 22
- Add “Blood Frenzy” – extra damage when injured
With these tweaks, a brown bear becomes a truly formidable foe. That said, care should be taken not to over-optimize compared to other CR 1 creatures. There are still ways for creative, tactical parties to triumph over brawn.
Chapter III: Variants and Homebrew Potential
The dire bear offers a template for upgraded ursine adversaries. At CR 5 with multiattack and over 130 HP, they are boss-level threats. Expanding on this theme, you could create elemental bears, undead zombie bears, fiendish bears possessed by demons, or werebears with humanoid intelligence and shapechanging ability.
Magic can also modify bears in endless ways. An intelligent Grizzly Enchanter bearing rings and necklaces could charm victims into compliance before devouring them. Or a Druidic Werebear may call lightning from the heavens and wild shape between bear and humanoid form. The possibilities are boundless.
And if monster stats ever fail to evoke true bear-ness, description is key. Roars that shake trees, the musky scent of fur, air puffing from nostrils as they charge – visceral sensory details bring any encounter to life.
Chapter IV: Bears as PCs and Companions
Druids excel at channeling their inner bear. At level 8, a Moon Druid can wild shape into a brown bear, gaining its attacks, strength, and toughness. While low AC and HP limit usefulness at higher levels, the raw power can be invaluable early on. Bears also make terrific animal companions with proper handling. A high-charisma ranger soothing the savage beast can rally an ursine ally.
The Conjure Animals spell offers another option, summoning fey spirits in bestial form. Concentrating on two bears can isolate foes for mauling. Just watch positioning – the DM controls summoned beasts! Overall, a bear makes a stalwart melee companion, but beware overconfidence. Proper tactics and teamwork are still essential.
Chapter V: Bear Tactics – Friend and Foe
Intelligence of 2 means bears won't hatch complex plans, but their instincts fuel cunning ambush tactics. Keen smell ensures they detect prey from afar, while dashing 40 feet per round outpaces many humanoids. Bears will use cover then burst forth to surprise isolated victims, grappling them with powerful limbs activated by the “bite and claw” multiattack routine.
When bears are antagonists, remind players of this speed. Sparse perception rolls while traveling through bear habitat build tension. Then spring an ambush from the brush as a surprise round! Show bears targeting whichever ally seems most vulnerable.
For allies, bears work best as mobile tanks. They can dash ahead to absorb hits and flank tougher foes. Bears grappling spellcasters is a classic tactic. Just beware hazards like cliff edges and fire. The DM still governs their actions, after all.
Chapter VI: Weird Bear Lore for Creative DMs
Legend says the Norse warriors known as berserkers channeled bear spirits to fight with savage fury. Why not have an NPC drink a special potion to become a bear-possessed berserker? Or magic could bind a bear's soul into a suit of animated armor that mauls any who draw near.
Werebear lore also offers story hooks. They are generally benign, using humanoid form for trade and discourse. But what if a werebear sought revenge after poachers killed its mate? Player mediation could prevent outright bloodshed. There are always possibilities beyond the Monster Manual lore.
From mighty grizzlies to undead zombie bears, the brown bear is an iconic staple of Dungeons & Dragons that captures nature's savage majesty. Whether summoned as an ally, fought as an epic foe, or skinned for a stylish cloak, every campaign can benefit from an infusion of ursine wilderness. Just be sure to respect the bear, lest ye be the next to fall prey to its merciless fury!