Bear Ward
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"I will even take sixpence in earnest of the bear-ward, and lead his apes into hell."
- Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare

- Me, upon reading that quote out of context

Basic Information

A Bear-Ward is a person whose job it is to herd, train, or care for one or more Bears. It comes up on a few lists of medieval professions, generally in the context of a performing bear, like one might find at the circus or carnival. Other options are that the bear might be part of some noble's personal zoo or menagerie, or that the bear might be used in the barbearic sport of bear-baiting.

Strangely enough, or perhaps not so strangely, records for the Chicago Bears football team listing the complimentary season passes for the Bears’ home games of 1926 includes a reference to a Mr. Jack Smith with the notation, ‘brings bear to games’. Even more recently a Polish Free Army unit in WW2 included a bear called Wojtek who served as both a mascot and an ammunition bear-er (ahem), reaching the rank of corporal before being retired to Edinburgh zoo, where he lived until 1963.


Game and Story Use

  • A Bear Ward is a unique and odd position at a court or in a traveling troupe of performers. Such an NPC is bound to create a memorable scene.
  • Perhaps slightly more appropriate at a court known for it's decadence or ferocity. In other words, you probably don't want to cast Bear-Wards as just a regular feature of every kingdom or troupe. It's an NPC to put in the employ of the ruthless Baron, or that creepy circus of the macabre that the PCs are bound to be suspicious of…. unless we're talking about a cute and cuddly little bear cub, maybe.
  • Since bear-baiting was popular throughout northern Europe until very recently, the bear pit keeper version should be fairly common (although he might also bait bulls, hogs etc. as well). Dancing bears were abolished even more recently, and indeed are still going in some parts of the world1
  • As Patrick O'Brien demonstrated in Post Captain, if you happen to have a spare bearskin handy then bear and bear ward can be an effective disguise.
    • Dang! I was going to mention that one, but I couldn't remember the title of the book. —quark
  • There was also the Harrenhall bear from A Song of Ice and Fire - whatever it was originally for, it had been turned into a means of execution by the time someone got around to shooting it.

Building This Character

Without more data, I don't have a lot to say about this character type…

  • In many a fantasy system, this character is likely to be Druid or Ranger.
    • Given the performance angle, they might be multiclassed as a Bard, too.
  • The most impressive thing on their character sheet may well be the bear.
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