An owlbear’s screech echos through dark valleys and benighted forests, piercing the quiet night to announce the death of its prey. Feathers cover the thick, shaggy coat of its bearlike body, and the limpid pupils of its great round eyes stare furiously from its owlish head.
D&D 5E Monster Manual, p.249
Inspired by a cheap, plastic toy dinosaur manufactured in China and sold in discount shops throughout the US and UK, the owlbear is one of the most emblematic creatures of the D&D bestiary. We haven’t encountered one yet in Shin High Terror, but they’ve been mentioned a couple of times – first by a grizzled old mercenary who lost his eye to one in single combat, and second when I started making explicit checks to see if any were around. Obviously I had to paint one.
There are a few versions of the owlbear, dating back to the 1980s and ranging in price from a couple of quid for a Reaper Bones version (which I’ve seen in my local board game store) to significantly more for the Dark Sword DiTerlizzi Masterwork (which evokes the artwork from the D&D 2nd Edition Monstrous Manual enough to tempt me despite the cost). In the end what could I choose but the Otherworld Owlbear, which balances affordability, excellent quality, and nostalgia – it is after all based very closely on the original. Here’s some photos of the painted owlbear, and a couple of other pieces for scale.
I ordered and received the owlbear a few months ago. It’s a satisfyingly heavy lump of metal, fit together quite easily from three pieces (head, torso, and tail) and feels solid and durable once assembled (the tail acts as a support strut, which I always like in multi-part miniatures). It scales perfectly with the old Citadel ‘Giant Monsters‘ from the 1991 Red Catalogue, being a little bigger than the old Rogue Trader ‘Ambull’ (torso pictured, guess what I’m looking forward to painting?) and looks like it might hold its own with the manticore. This of course means it’s dwarfed by some of their more modern creations; the ‘Slaughterpriest of Khorne’, which came free with White Dwarf magazine a few months ago, stands almost a head taller than the owlbear. I’m by no means a zealot for scale; these are fantasy miniatures and frankly who’s to say whether an owlbear is bigger than a troll. But it’s nice when the miniatures match what’s in my imagination, where owlbears are big, and terrifying.
I half painted and then shelved the project in September, when I reached the feathers. I’ve previously struggled with feathers and this was no exception. I looked at a few sources for inspiration, trying to capture the soft, patterned texture of an owl’s feathers, but in the end built up so much paint that I decided to settle for a sharp contrast with the fur. I actually found the fur quite challenging too, as I’ve not painted such a large textured area before. I used layered shade washes and dry-brushing to bring out the underlying musculature, I think with some success. For the face and hands I used bright pinks and purples to suggest the species’ origin in an magic experiment or accident. The face took the paint like a dream, and looked as intended really quickly. The hands were a different story – in fact, my only quibble about the design is that the hands are a little rough, making it hard to tell where fur, claw, and flesh begin. Yellow for the beak and eyes, black highlighted to grey for the claws, and my best effort to get reds into the mouth.
For the base I wanted to create the impression that the owlbear was crashing through dense woodland. I used a classic green edge (this is after all an old school miniature), laid down some earth effects with Citadel technical paints, and then piled as much undergrowth as possible into the space without wholly obscuring the legs. I also sculpted my first bit of scenery from green stuff – the small ‘fly agaric’ (amanita muscaria) mushroom at the front! The rocks are a little too large but otherwise it’s worked out as planned.
Overall I love this miniature and I think I’ve done it justice in the painting. Now I just need to hope our DM sends a few owlbears our way!