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Making of an Owlbear, Part 2
Dragon's-Eye View
Jon Schindehette

Illustrations by Conceptopolis and Richard Whitters

O wlbears . . .

Did I mention that a lot of folks had very strong opinions about owlbears? The deluge of comments and emails from part 1 of this article the other day confirmed my suspicions. Folks like to talk about the owlbear.

The nice thing is that I love conversations about art and creature design.

Although I can't address every comment or request, I did spend a lot of time reading through all the article comments, forum posts, and emails that I received. As I combed through all the responses I received, I came up with three major directions to play in:

  • Something more akin to the crazy magic experiment that was the original owlbear. Neither a true owl, nor true bear, but rather some crazy creature sure to cause nightmares in children. In this case, I asked Richard to do a refresh of the original creature design. He warmed the design up and gave it a bit more of a modern approach.
  • Click to see full size

  • Track 2 was a very popular option, but there were a lot of requests to give it an owl's beak and trash the knuckle walk. I couldn't ask for clearer direction—so that is what I asked Richard to integrate for this next round.
  • Click to see full size

  • A lot of folks really wanted to see a "true" quadruped. They wanted a beast that was more akin to a real bear that walked on all four legs for the majority of their locomotion and would only rear up in specific situations. So Richard went to the drawing board on this one and gave it a concept pass.
  • Click to see full size

In addition to these requests, I received a lot of other suggestions. I'd like to take a few minutes to talk about some of them.

Different Colors and Depictions

A number of times, folk mentioned that there are different subspecies of bears and owls, so couldn't there also be different subspecies of owlbears? Although I'm not the story guy, I think this is a great subject. Personally, I am in complete agreement that an owlbear that lived in the snow-covered mountains would have "evolved" much differently than an owlbear in the southern tropic region of the world. But color and build would probably be affected. I could see a northern owlbear being white in coloring, with massive paws for dealing with snow and ice, a heavier coat and fat stores, and a number of other environmental differences. The southern bear might have a shorter and finer coat, paws better suited to climbing or foraging, coloring to blend with their environment, and so on. In other words, it might be the difference between a polar bear and a sun bear.

Big Owl Beak

I see owls very frequently on my property, so this comment caught me a little off guard. As you can see from this collection of owl faces, their beaks aren't really that large—even less so when compared to their raptor counterparts.

I'm not averse to having a big beak, but let's not collapse issues. "Owl beak" is not the same thing as a "big beak." So if you favor a big beak, please help me understand what you are asking for. For example, the original owlbear has a "big beak" (it also has teeth, something that a lot of folks protested about after looking at some of the concepts that we showed), but I wouldn't describe it as an owl beak. The shape and angle of the beak are not consistent with owl morphology. In a lot of ways, the morphology of the beak is more reminiscent of a chicken's beak.

Chickenbear doesn't sound as scary as owlbear though, huh?

Let me digress for a minute . . .

This brings up an interesting point, as many of those folks that are taking part in the D&D Next Playtest will probably note. Our playtest materials have a different description of the owlbear than we are currently depicting. In fact, the playtest material describes the owlbear as having an "enormous beak." When you think about the creature design from the point I bring up above, it doesn't sound like the beak would be very owl-like, does it? That is the point of playtesting. We try stuff, we iterate based upon feedback (both internal and external), and we make changes along the way. At some point, we have to synch everything up and make sure it all works together. Also, after having a discussion with the playtest writers, I learned that the description in the text was based upon the image of the original owlbear. Now we all understand the whole story!

We'll have similar discussions to this one about the size/mass of creatures. We are spending time looking at the mechanics, descriptions, and art to make sure that they make sense together. It doesn't make sense to have a creature that goes "pop" on your first swing as a 1st-level character, and yet towers over a human in both size and mass. So never fear, we'll be spending lots of time making sure that things synch up as much as possible.

Okay, back to the subject at hand!

More Bearlike

I'm hearing you. One of the principle reasons that folks wanted to see more bearlike qualities had to do with the mass and quadruped nature of bears. In addition, several folks mentioned that the "knuckle walk" of the Track Two concept made them think more of an ape than either an owl or a bear. Got it. Let's see if you like any of the changes I've asked for better. At the same time, we have to watch out for the balance issues that I was mentioning earlier. This guy can't be so massive or huge that he blows the mechanics or descriptions. We've got to make sure it all jives.

So, where to next? Well, you can provide me with your feedback. I don't think I'll do another follow-up on the owlbear, but I reserve the right to change my mind. Instead let's ask you a question that might get me into trouble. If you look at the iconic monsters of D&D, which depictions do you think don't match up with the lore and history of D&D? Jot down your thoughts and let me know. I'm not going to promise that I will address them, but I'll add them to a "let's look at them" list that I will discuss with the folk here. Who knows, you might help shape the face of D&D.

That is the intent of these articles and the playtest after all, right?

 Which owlbear do you prefer?  
Original owlbear
Longbeak 05
Oldgrump 06
Tallgrizz 02
Grizzowl 01
Track 2 owlbear
Screecher 03
Gorrilowl 04

Last Week's Polls

What is an appropriate level of violence and gore?
Moderate violence is shown. Contact and potentially life-threatening injuries are shown, with moderate blood. 1702 52.0%
Mild violence is shown. Contact and injuries (but not life-threatening ones) are shown, with minimal blood. 869 26.5%
Significant violence is shown. Contact and fatal injuries, including dismemberment, are shown, with significant blood. 570 17.4%
Violence is hinted at, but actual contact and injury is not shown. No blood. 135 4.1%
Total 3276 100.0%

What would you consider the minimum age that the products should be appropriate for?
14+ 1699 50.6%
10+ 926 27.6%
16+ 517 15.4%
18+ 135 4.0%
Under age 10 80 2.4%
Total 3357 100.0%

Jon Schindehette
Jon Schindehette joined Wizards of the Coast in 1997 as the website art director. In the intervening years he has worked as the marketing art director, novels art director, and creative manager. In January of 2009 he moved into the role of senior creative director for D&D. Jon is a long time D&D player (started in 1978), and currently plays in a Tuesday night game and DMs a random pick-up game for younger players. He can be found on Twitter (@ArtOrder) and at
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