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Owlbear

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves
by yo go re

Dungeons & Dragons is more popular now than it's ever been in its history (though that may have changed by the time this review is posted), and now that it's making money, Hasbro has started paying attention to it. You know, the Mattel/He-Man situation again. There's even a movie coming out this year, and it somehow doesn't look terrible? Anyway, a movie means merchandise, merchandise that's for sale in major stores and not just your local game shop.

The first merch available is a new line called Dicelings, which combine D&D with one of Hasbro's other major brands, Transformers. They all end up as different monsters, but they all start from the same place: perhaps the most iconic D&D accoutrement of all, a D20.

Icosahedrons have been used for game-playing since at least ancient Egypt, but today they're mainly associated with roleplaying games - it's not like your family's copy of Monopoly or Yahtzee is busting ot anything more complex than a D6, you know? This D20 is 2⅛" at its broadest part, and all the faces are molded with a raised number in the center; yes, you could use this as an actual die in your game, but we can't vouch for whether the weight would be fair or not: maybe some numbers would come up more often than others. (Though I've rolled it a handful of times for fun, and gotten a different result each time.)

We won't tell you all the steps necessary to change the figure from one mode to the next, because it's mostly self-obvious, but we will tell you to start with the 8 face, and to not forget the step where you turn the central body around, because it won't make sense if you don't remember to do that. Also, when going back to dice mode, remember that the feet point backwards.

A monstrous cross between giant owl and bear, an owlbear's reputation for ferocity and aggression makes it one of the most feared predators of the wild.

Owlbears have been part of D&D since almost the beginng, and are fierce creatures of the wild, just as deadly as both their inspirations, and yet it's canonical lore that they can be tamed (with effort) because they like muffins. Muffins make their upset tummies feel better.

D&D creator Gary Gygax was always on the lookout for new monsters to throw at his players, and thus would often buy cheap rubber creature toys from his local dime store and reimagine them as fantasy creatures. The Owl Bear (as it was then known) was introduced in the 1975 supplement Greyhawk, the first source to expand the rather sparse, barebones rules. There, it was pretty much the creature we have now, with a fuzzy bear body and a feathery owl head; the 1977 basic set incorporated the owl bear, but no image; the 1977 Monster Manual, however, put the creature on its cover, and illustrator David C. Sutherland III based his illustrations directly on the toys that inspired the monsters. With that, we can really see where the idea came from.

The unknown monster (which, it must be said, looks to us like nothing so much as an adaptation of the folkloric kappa, with those "feathers" on its head being a misinterpretation of the bowl of water) clearly got its D&D name because Gygax saw an upright "furry" body with a large beak, and so combined two familiar creatures that fit those descriptions. Why an owl and not a raven? Eh, maybe he just liked them better, who knows. Doesn't matter. What's important is we can see the direct line from "weird rubber dinosaur toy" to "made up name for it" to "drawing what that name actually implies" that gave us the owlbear we know today.

The owlbear can be spotted in the trailers for the new movie, so we know this is definitely a film toy. Honestly, it favors the "owl" over the "bear" by quite a bit, simply as a result of the type of toy is is: those dice panels have to go somwhere, so now it has big obvious wings instead of a round, chubby body. Yes, it has paws at the end of those wings, but if someone told you this was just a transformable owl with no context, you could believe it.

Also, there are panels on the wings that don't go anywhere. Like, there are hinges, but if you used them, all it would do is expose more of the "dice" face and hide the painted feathers. Hasbro could have left those sections solid, and it wouldn't have changed anything about the final product; so why articulate them? It's like they were meant to be able to fold backward istead of forward, but the engineering team didn't get the memo. Even the official stock photos show them being this way, so it's not even a question of the instructions being unclear.

The owlbear stands about 2⅝" tall, but will have an approximately 5" wingspan. It moves at the ankles, knees, hips, head, shoulders, elbows, wrists, and hands. The wrists are a "maybe" at best - they're used to change forms, so you can turn them if you want, but we can't promise that was intended - and the feet pop off their balljoints when you try to move the knees. The wings are so big they can cause balance issues if you don't pose them carefully (or rest them on the ground).

The very idea of "D20 that turns into DnD monster" is a really clever way to advance your brand in toy form. Sure, an actual owlbear figure would be better, but this is a fun little weirdo. If nothing else, imagine your DM rolling this giant die across the game mat, then unfolding it to be an actual monster your minis fight.

-- 01/24/23


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