Comparative (Owl) Bear

“I find WHAT in its lair? Every one knows owlbears do that in the woods!”

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So, let’s face it. Owlbears are pretty hot right now. Perhaps, much like the beholder, we can chalk some of that up to it being iconic D&D IP. Yet it’s probably has more to do with its own charisma. Those founding fathers of TSR stumbled across the perfect alchemical blend of critters inspired by a cheesy plastic dollar dime store toy [1]. It has this neigh sorcerous dichotomy-busting power to be simultaneously amusing as well as fierce. And plus, it’s almost a believable animal. And who doesn’t like owls and/or bears? Who? Who? Anyway, (Anywho?) This modern day chimera has a number of different looks which I explored when in the planning stages of crafting my own.

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Here’s the 1st edition version. It just seems like something rendered
out of a Jim Henson workshop. I’m not saying that’s an altogether bad thing, but it may be inconsistent with the rest of your imaginings of fantastic monsters. Todd Lockwood helps us out here with a newer rendition with a nod to the original…

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Of course there’s the upright posture again with a massive upper body supported on dainty legs. The upper arms look more acclimated to evisceration than to locomotion. With the head and neck in a slouch posture, coming straight out of the torso, you have a sense that this is just how it gets around. Note how the head has a more generic raptor look rather than an owl-specific look.

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Here we get more of the owl in our anthropomorphic owlbear in the Elemental Evil line of minis. It has a fairly uninspired paint job in my opinion, but that’s what you get with mass production.

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“Gangway! I’m gonna puke!”

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Cool….but just what am I looking at?

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“Ooooh Yeeeeah!”

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“I say, an I say, stay back son, I got this.”

A lot of the owlbear miniatures available range from the bizarre to the goofy. The bottom of the above quartet invokes a Foghorn Leghorn vibe.  I get tinkering with what’s owl and what’s bear on the body, but chicken legs don’t do it for me as with the first one. The second Reaper Mini just seems far too contorted. You want a dynamic pose, but that one takes more than a second to parse what’s going on with it.

I turned to some illustrations of editions of the game I own, 2nd 4th and 5th. Straight off my bookshelf, I’m seeing something more believable as far as a fantasy critter goes. Bearlike stance, owl head, nasty temperament: that’s what I’m looking for in a miniature. I’m noticing Di’Terlizzi opted for feathered ears in the 2nd edition Monster Manual. That’s an interesting touch, But I find myself more a fan of the hoot owl face look. You may be familiar with the 3rd/3.5 looks or the Pathfinder version, these are just what I have in print.

2nd edition

2nd edition

4th edition

4th edition

5th edition

5th edition

diterlizzi owlbear

Diterlizzi owlbear redux

Now, if you find Tony’s first illustration lacking, he went back and outdid himself later. The perspective, the anatomy, and the overall look is top notch. It must help to work without tight deadlines.

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What I came up with.

For my own mini, I definitely wanted a quadruped, it’s an owlbear, not an owl-sasquatch. I wanted something a little bit more than a static pose, but nothing too outrageous. Also, I wanted the head to be more owl-like, not just a bear with a beak.

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This one’s another Super Sculpey sculpt. I began with a wire and tinfoil armature. Sculpting can be an admixture of fun and frustration, especially if you’re pushing your skills with something new. Once the general shape of the body was zeroed in, I knew this was going to be a joy to sculpt. I just kept going all evening; finishing the sculpting in one night.

Like any endeavor, you learn from the process, possessing a greater skill or understanding at the finish than at the outset. If I did this over again, I’d give his beak a more jagged look. I’d tilt his body a bit higher at the shoulder to make it look like there was more power in his swing. He’s a tad bit large, and he dominates his base, over spilling his allotted real estate, but usually in monsters I like stuff on the big side, so I think it’s forgivable.  There’s a bit of a gap between the Sculpey part of the base and the washer I used for the bottom. Strangely, it held fast to the washer in the baking process but it receded a bit from the metal in parts during the baking process. I’ll have to keep that in mind for future reference, and I should have used some putty to fill that gap in.

Also, not a self criticism but worth thinking about in the future, I need to sculpt the detail on bits that need support first, then work on the well grounded stuff later. Specifically, I saved the paws for last, which is fine for the ones set firmly on the ground, but the one in the air needed a second hand to hold steady to resist bouncing around when I applied a tool to it. That means I have to go back over the stuff I touched to hold it steady. Live and learn.

It took a few days to finish the paint job, and normally that’s the fun part for me, but getting the shade of fur I wanted took a couple of coats. The base coat was black, and with all that fur texture, you’d better believe I had to go over and over it to get every speck of the original beige material covered. It helps if your paints are just thin enough. The pictures I took don’t seem to show off the some of the drybrushing very well. I’m told the mini looks better in person.

So, I’m left with something I’m happy with and not embarrassed to put out on the table. Owlbears are usually solitary, but I might need another one for some encounters so I’ll go for a very similar creature with a different pose. That’s the fun of a one-of-a-kind, you don’t have to worry about differentiating them during the game.

[1]Tony DiTerlizzi of 2nd Edition D&D illustration fame has a great post about the origins of some of these monsters that were inspired by cheap figures for the un-savvy.

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