As the name so subtly implies, owl bears are an amalgamation of both an owl and a bear mashed into one large, bad-tempered form, combining all the muscle of a bear with the slashing beak of an oversized owl. Considering that the owlbear was based off of a rather malformed line of cheap plastic dinosaurs with questionable historical accuracy, the original incarnation left something to be desired.
So how did an unquestionably goofy monster become such a fan favorite? Because despite its owl-tward appearance, its stats have been solid since day one. The 1st edition incarnation was a mix of decent armor, a beefy five hit dice, and a respectable three attacks: two 1d6 claws and a more powerful 2d6 bite. These stats aren’t going to quicken anyone’s pulse, but they’re a near-perfect blend for a low to mid-level monster encounter. It’s such a well balanced build that if you look at the current 5th edition owlbear 50 years later, there’s almost no difference.
“But wait,” you say, “Ogres do the same thing, and they don’t have near the fan club that owlbears do!” Which brings us to something we’ll call the “pug effect”. Ask any veterinarian, and they will tell you that pugs are such a horrendous mix up of canine DNA that they shouldn’t exist. Canonically owlbears, like pugs, didn’t happen naturally either. Instead, some wizard cooked them up since a guard bear that you can’t sneak up on, because it can turn its head backwards, sounds pretty great. Also like pugs, the result of this magical crossbreeding was a creature whose homeliness has cemented them in the hearts of many.
Since then, though, this ugly duckling has become a hulking, murderous swan. Every edition since 1st has sought to improve on owlbear aesthetics to the point that modern owlbears have become downright majestic. Take for instance our Silverback Owlbears with their shimmering silver pelts which are so beautiful that the elves inhabiting their woods have made hunting them forbidden.
While we didn’t want to mess with those tried-and-true owlbear stats, we did want to put a slightly new spin on this classic, so that silver sheen isn’t just for looks. Silverback fur has a reflective quality that deflects spells back at attackers. Spending time among the fey has also increased their magic resistance, giving them advantage on spell saves. And when it comes to saves against cuteness, the owlbear cub always imposes disadvantage.