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A bear there was, a bear, a bear!
All black and brown, and covered with hair!
Oh, come, they said, oh come to the fair!
The fair? Said he, but I'm a bear!
All black, and brown, and covered with hair!

(from) The Bear and the Maiden Fair George R. R. Martin

Basic Information

A large heavy mammal with shaggy fur and a small tail.

Omnivores, although like most omnivores bears tend to prefer meat and are well equipped to acquire it being armed with powerful teeth and claws. Aggression varies by breed - some are active hunters whilst others will only attack humans if ill, starving or threatened. Most climb and swim very effectively making them hard to escape if they do decide to attack and bears are also famously hard to kill - thus the origin of the phrase "loaded for bear", meaning extremely heavily armed1. In many ecosystems bears will fill the top predator niche … where they don't it's usually because they aren't around or the representative species is fairly small.

When not actively hunting, bears are also happy to scavenge and otherwise pick up anything they find and consider edible - which can include breaking into bins and garbage dumps in search of food and raiding stored food in human communities. Those living in bear country without strongly built shelter are often advised to store food in an outbuilding, or in a bag suspended from a nearby tree to avoid bears breaking into their cabins and tents - and even those protected by bricks and concrete are reminded that a bear is quite capable of breaching most standard external doors if sufficiently motivated.

Bears, it seems, have had such an impact on humanity's collective conscience that they get a "Fair Folk" treatment - the word "bear" essentially derives from a root meaning "brown one" and its Slavic congnate medved means "honey eater" … expressions of a taboo against naming something so dangerous directly. Apparently the actual word our ancestors used to denote a bear (or at least an Indo-European root word for bear) was *h₂ŕ̥tḱos2 - and that appears directly related to the Indo-european word for destruction.

When successful in surviving bear attack, it is worth noting that bear meat can be extremely good eating if correctly prepared, but is easy to cook badly and spoils quickly, leading to a great variety of experiences.

Types of Bear

"That RPG" also introduced the Owlbear … which may or may not qualify as a bear … and RuneQuest had the Jack O'bear, which probably doesn't either. Bear-dogs, despite the name, are not bears (or dogs come to think of it) and much the same goes for the majority of bugbears.


1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • A bear encountered in the wild is a great opportunity for the PC Ranger, Druid or Woodsman types to get a moment in the spotlight.
    • A roll of Animal Handling or Survival will determine the animal's intent, and really good roll will prevent any troubles.
    • A failed roll could lead to a fearsome encounter, but the GM should take care to never punish the player for taking the less combat-oriented skill package. Even on a critical failure, it probably shouldn't result in anything much worse than what would have happened if none of the PCs had the appropriate skill in the first place.
  • A person whose job is to care, tend to, or train a bear to perform is known as a Bearherd or Bear-Ward. I'm not making this up.
  • Bears are also buggers for interrupting telephone calls - the number of times I've had someone tell me they have to put me on hold because there is a bear with them…
  • Often hunted for their asses, especially in cRPG fetch-quests.
  • Cannot be caught with cheese - not even Camembert.
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