You’re awoken by an eardrum-piercing screech. The bushes by your campsite rustle as a behemoth of a monstrosity barrels out of them and charges toward you. Before you can grip your sword, the owl-like face of an owlbear bares down at you. Emitting another screech before its beak pierces your flesh.
The owlbear is a classic D&D creature. It’s responsible for my introduction to 5e being the first “big boss” of an adventure in my first campaign.
It’s a terrifying and hardy creature to pit against a low-level party. Yet, it’s easy to pilot for a newer DM. It’s a well-rounded, yet thematically terrifying monstrosity that serves as a warning to young, starry-eyed adventurers that the forests of the world are dangerous. Especially at night.
So, let’s foray into the Monster Manual on the hunt for a pack of owlbears. Trust me, they won’t be hard to find. They’ll find us before we find them!
The owlbear is the combination of an owl in a bear. It’s got the size, body, and feet of a bear, but with the head and feathers of an owl. They’re a terrifying creature that, thanks to the owl’s acute senses is a phenomenal nocturnal predator.
They’re hands-down one of the most dangerous creatures to stumble upon in the wild. Their ferocity is unmatched, as is their temper. These creatures fear nothing when they’re on an empty stomach, even fully-armed adventuring parties are seen as a potential meal to a hungry owlbear.
Due to this terrible temper, owlbears tend to be solitary creatures. Some may elect to stay together in mated pairs, especially when raising owlcubs (this isn’t the official nomenclature but I think it should be).
Owlbears make fantastic guards, companions, and even mounts, but their stubborn and aggressive nature makes them difficult creatures to tame. However, that doesn’t stop many foolish individuals from trying. Although, experienced individuals that put the time and effort in will be rewarded.
Owlbear Stats and Abilities
You can find the owlbear’s statblock on page 249 of the Monster Manual.
Size: Large monstrosity
AC: 13 (Natural Armor)
HP: 59 (7d10 + 21)
Speed: 40 ft.
STR: 20 (+5)
DEX: 12 (+1)
CON: 17 (+3)
INT: 3 (-4)
WIS: 12 (+1)
CHA: 7 (-2)
The owlbear isn’t the most charismatic or intelligent creature, but who cares? You don’t need either of those things to be the scariest predator in the forest.
Owlbears have exactly what they need. High Strength for heavy-hitting attacks. A boatload of HP thanks to their high Constitution. Plus, decent common saving throw ability modifiers for a low-CR creature.
Oh, and above-average speed to give them just enough gas to chase down any prey that makes the unfortunate mistake of stumbling near an owlbear’s den.
The only true weak area in this portion of their statblock is the owlbear’s low AC. This should come as no surprise though. While the owlbear isn’t a beast-type creature, they function like one. So low AC, but high HP is expected.
Resistances, Immunities, Saves, and Skills
Skills: Perception +3
Senses: darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 13
CR: 3 (700 XP)
There’s not a whole lot to talk about in here. We can see where the owl’s features come into play in this portion of the statblock though. Owlbears are extremely perceptive and have a decent field of vision at night thanks to their darkvision.
These acute senses come in handy for a hunter like an owlbear.
CR 3 might be a smidge high, but this is a tough one to judge. The owlbear’s power lies solely in their extremely potent offenses.
Traits and Abilities
Keen Sight and Smell. The owlbear has advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on sight or smell.
While this isn’t a super relevant trait during combat, Keen Sight and Smell is a fantastic tool for tracking down the party, especially at night. It could also come in handy to spot a potential ambush in advance.
Multiattack. The owlbear makes two attacks: one with its beak and one with its claws.
Beak. Melee Weapon Attack: +7 to hit, reach 5 ft., one creature. Hit: 10 (1d10 + 5) piercing damage.
Claws. Melee Weapon Attack:+7 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 14 (2d8 + 5) slashing damage.
While a two-attack Multiattack is standard fare, it’s not a given for low-CR creatures. That in itself gives the owlbear a solid leg-up on the competition in combat. Plus, the fact that this combo clocks in at an average of 24 piercing/slashing damage makes this a devastating action.
The individual components of the Multiattack aren’t much to write home about. They’re simple and standard attacks, but both deal a respectable amount of damage and have an exceptional attack bonus.
24 damage per round at CR 3 is a hefty chunk of damage to be dishing out. For some perspective, an owlbear can easily drop a low-level PC per round with this kind of damage output.
Keep in mind too that the owlbear doesn’t sacrifice accuracy for damage output. +7 attack modifier is scary accurate against low-level PCs who probably lack the funds for the expensive, more potent armor.
Strong Action Economy
A two-attack Multiattack is a nice boon for a low-CR creature. Considering that the owlbear is designed to be the bane of low-level adventurers’ existence, this means that the PCs fighting an owlbear are probably only getting one attack per round.
Not only that, but the owlbear also outpaces a typical adventurer by a difference of 10-15 ft. per round depending on the size of the PC.
While an owlbear still won’t outmaneuver a 3-5 person adventuring party, they’ll outperform each member on a 1 vs. 1 basis.
Easy to Hit
13 AC is not great. Even newbie adventurers shouldn’t have an issue landing a blow against an owlbear.
Their 59 HP will keep the owlbear in the game for long enough to wreak some havoc for sure. However, this low AC does mean that eventually, the party will best their foe.
Death by 1000 cuts is still a death at the end of the day.
How to Play an Owlbear
Go Rustle Some Feathers
Owlbears are ferocious and aggressive hunters. Use their 40 ft. of speed to charge into the party and start smacking them around with your 24 damage per round Multiattack.
Sure, at 13 AC your owlbear will take plenty of hits, but playing an owlbear comes down to fight or flight. When you’re an offensive powerhouse like the owlbear, you best be taking the fight option.
Focus down one character at a time. Each PC you down lessens the party’s damage output. Which, for a creature with awful defenses is a huge boon. Less damage taken means more time for your owlbear to keep dismantling the party one member at a time.
Know When to Cut Bait
While the owlbear isn’t an intelligent creature, it’s still capable of knowing when it’s in dire straits. Don’t be afraid to have your owlbear retreat to their den if things are looking hairy. That’s one of the benefits of fighting in a large forest or similar biome, there are plenty of paths you can take to retreat.
An owlbear can easily outpace practically any low-level adventurer. Use that 40 ft. of speed to your advantage!
Giving the owlbear some time to recoup its HP for another encounter with the party, or run back to their den to tag their mate into the fray can make a random encounter while traveling way more interesting.
5 Owlbear Plot Hooks
- Trouble at the Traveling Circus – The circus is in town… and so are their owlbears! Turns out, the owlbears didn’t take kindly to being used for a comedy act. They busted out of the pavillion and are now running wild throughout the town.
- Abandoned Owlcub – You see a lone baby owlbear sitting to the side of the path about 100 ft. ahead of you. Its mother is nowhere in sight.
- The King of the Forest – The rangers that protect the nearby forest have come across some enormous claw marks on the trees as well as half-eaten animal corpses in recent weeks. Whatever is causing this is dangerous to confront and for the natural balance of the forest.
- Flying Owlbears? – A quirky wizard insists that they can make owlbears fly. “They have feathers. They must know how to fly. I just need to teach them!” They say to anyone who will listen.
- Tastes like Chicken – The chef at the tavern you’re staying at says they’ll pay handsomely for some owlbear meat. They need to settle a bet. Does it taste like owl or bear?
Owlbears are a terrifying and dangerous creature to run into as a low-level PC. Their appearance and demeanor are scary enough, but that damage output is the true bane of a low-level PC’s existence. It’s as if owlbears were made to decimate newbie adventurers.
They’re a fun, classic creature to throw into almost any forest setting. They’re easy to pilot, yet still a threat to the party. Plus, they’ve got some fun features and behaviors to latch onto in the lore so there’s plenty you can do with them out of combat as well.
I’m sure my party will get their fill of owlbears in our new campaign. We are starting in a coniferous forest after all!