In the latest trailer for the upcoming DnD movie, Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves a druid can be seen wild shifting into an owlbear. But just how possible is this?
To the surprise of no-one in the community, this has sparked fierce debate among players and DMs. There are countless threads on forums, heated discussions on DnD podcasts and numerous opinions on social media about how accurate the source material is.
To begin to answer whether someone playing a Druid with the class feature Wild Shape can transform into an owlbear or not, we first need to unpack it. First, let’s look at what the Dnd 5e rules and player handbooks say about owlbears and the class feature Wild Shape.
Can you shapeshift into an owlbear in DnD 5e?
Technically, no. As per the 5e rules, owlbears are considered ‘monstrosities’, but let’s explore this a bit further!
What is an owlbear?
An owlbear is a ferocious monstrosity, described as part owl and part…bear, funnily enough. According to the 5e Monster Manual (pg. 249);
“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” – (Monster Manual, pg. 249)
They are predators which hunt alone or in mated pairs, which sounds rather sweet until your party stumbles across two of them! Taking on just one of these monstrosities requires a standard party of four players to have an average combined level matching the owlbears challenge rating of 3.
If your band of adventurers are just starting out or you have a low-level party, it might be better to sneak your way out of an encounter. Owlbears have a keen sense of sight and smell, and may use their +3 perception to get the drop on your party and catch you unaware, they also possess the ability to multi attack.
Bonus owlbear fact…
The owlbear is one of the earliest monsters in Dungeons & Dragons and was inspired by a knock-off kaiju plastic toy made in Hong Kong. Gary Gygax bought this and several other cheap plastic toys to use as miniatures in Chainmail, his and Jeff Perren’s mediaeval miniature wargame from 1971.
What is the DnD 5e Druid class feature, Wild Shape?
Wild Shape is a popular Druid class feature. To use Wild Shape players need to understand what form they can take; which forms work best in specific situations, and which forms are valid at each level.
Here is a description of Wild Shape according to the 5e Player Handbook:
“Starting at 2nd level, you can use your action to magically assume the shape of a beast that you have seen before. You can use this feature twice. You regain expended uses when you finish a short or long rest. Your druid level determines the beasts you can transform into, as shown in the Beast Shapes table. At 2nd level, for example, you can transform into any beast that has a challenge rating of 1/4 or lower that doesn’t have a flying or swimming speed”.
|2nd||1/4||No flying or swimming speed||Wolf|
|4th||1/2||No flying speed||Crocodile|
|8th||1||No limitations||Giant eagle|
Does this include shapeshifting into an owlbear?
Technically, no. As per the 5e rules, owlbears are considered ‘monstrosities’.
“A monster is defined as any creature that can be interacted with and potentially fought and killed”. – (Monster Manual 5e, pg.4)
Druids with Wild Shape can only shapeshift into creatures which fall under the category of ‘beast’. Owlbears also have a challenge rating of 3 which is well over the level 8 challenge rating.
So the main issue lies in the difference between beasts and magical beasts (or monstrosities).
Tip: The DnD Beyond monsters list is a great resource for DMs, as you can filter by challenge rating and beast type.
Should DMs allow Druid players to Wild Shape into beasts in DnD 5e?
While it’s not in the rules per se, many DMs and players are advocates of “house rules”. After all, can you even consider it DnD without some creative rule breaking from the DM from time to time?
When it comes to the owlbear, some argue that it’s the size of the creature that matters. As an owlbear has a CR of 3, it’s no stretch of the imagination to suggest a young owlbear may have a CR of 1.
Which editions can Druids Wild Shape into monstrosities?
Depending on which version you play, under the right circumstances, you can transform into an owlbear. Here’s how Wild Shape works in each edition…
In 1e, Druids can use their ability to switch forms to a beast up to three times per day. The size of the creature can vary from as small as a bat to as large as black bear (or any other beast which is roughly double the weight of the Druid).
While the rule around the size of the beast is the same as it is in 1e, the ability to change into a beast can only occur once per day. In addition, a Druid can only assume the properties of a beast in its normal proportions, this means taking on that creature’s characteristics, abilities, armour class, attack and movement.
3rd edition / 3.5
In the 3rd edition (3e), a Druid can only Wild Shape into an animal or beast and in this edition an owlbear is a monstrosity, separate from an beast.
However, in Masters of the Wild: A Guidebook to Barbarians, Druids, and Rangers, there is a Shifter prestige class feature called ‘Greater Wild Shape’ which does give players the ability to shapeshift into magical beasts, albeit once they hit level 5. This particular prestige class isn’t unique to Druids either, even though this is the most likely route a player might take.
In 3e an owlbear is categorised as a beast, however in 3.5, it was upgraded to a magical beast. As a result, players could technically continue to use the Shifter prestige class in a 3.5 campaign, albeit with DM approval. Many argue that a Druid / Shifter can mix and match properties of Wild Shape and Greater Wild Shape.
In the 4th edition of DnD players could freely choose to use alternative descriptions for the same statistical effects. This means a Druid player can choose a specific form when using Wild Shape which has no effect on game stats.
The Player’s Handbook 2 explicitly states the following:
You might also resemble a more exotic beast when you’re in beast form: […] a fantastic beast such as an owlbear […] – (Player’s Handbook 2 4e, pg. 83)
What about an owlbear the size of a horse?
In the film trailer for Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, the owlbear in question is much larger than a horse and Wild Shape is usually limited to your size. The druid in the trailer looks to be a Tiefling and the owlbear is larger than a horse which poses a potential issue.
In DnD canon, a horse is considered Medium-size, which suggests the owlbear in the film is ‘Large’ as it towers over the horse. A large monster would be practically impossible for a druid Tiefling to shapeshift into.
However, there are numerous ‘Medium’ owlbears in the ruleset. For example, there is the option for some characters to possess a ‘Medium’ companion creature and for the sake of this example, this can technically be a young owlbear.
So the answer to the question, can a druid shapeshift into an owlbear? is “technically yes”, “technically no” and “it depends”.
Wherever you stand in the ongoing “Druid / Owlbear Saga”, far more interesting than whether a Druid can or can’t Wild Shape into an owlbear, is the answer to a long-standing question alluded earlier in this article. A question that has been the subject of DnD debates since the inception of the game in the 1970s;
Is it acceptable for DMs to make changes to DnD rules?
This is a question which comes up again and again.
In some cases, DMs altering the existing rules has seen new rules previously deemed as ‘house rules’ (here’s 10 you can try) become canon in updated DnD rulebook editions over the years. For instance, many DMs condensed multiple languages together in 3e, which eventually became the norm in 4e.
Anyone that has DMed a campaign will likely have encountered scenarios and instances where no answer is available. Alternatively, an answer isn’t immediately obvious – no matter how hard you search and comb through the various weighty tomes and rulebooks.
In these instances surely it is ok for Dungeon Masters to adapt the rules of DnD for their party?
Some would argue that the rules are sacred and shouldn’t be changed. For many rules lawyers, “homebrew” or “house” rules defeat the object of playing the game in the first place. That, without rules, what even is a game?
Though, if you think about rules systems in the context of computer code it makes sense that patches and updates (i.e. editions) are sometimes necessary. If you prefer, you can even custom code.
Whatever your view, here’s what Gary thinks:
“It is the spirit of the game, not the letter of the rules, which is important. NEVER hold to the letter written, nor allow some barracks room lawyer to force quotations from the rule book upon you, IF it goes against the obvious intent of the game. […] YOU are the creator and final arbiter. By ordering things as they should be, the game as a WHOLE first, your CAMPAIGN next, and your participants thereafter, you will be playing Advanced Dungeons and Dragons as it was meant to be.” – Gary Gygax, (Dungeon Master’s Guide 1e, pg. 230)
Live and let play, we say
To the rule-breakers, as long as the decision doesn’t impact or affect your campaign negatively and it increases your players enjoyment, go for it!
And to the purists, the original game and its rules still exist. So the inclusion of house rules or updated versions of the game doesn’t affect you. Carry on as you were, enjoy the version of DnD you prefer, and don’t hate on others in the community for choosing to play how they want.
As for the upcoming film, it’s unlikely to be a cinematic masterpiece, and it definitely won’t represent DnD for everyone. But if it attracts new players, who cares? Let’s leave the gatekeeping out of DnD and enjoy it however we choose to play.
- Page 4, D&D Monster Manual 5e – What constitutes as a monster
- Page 249, D&D Monster Manual 5e – Information on Owlbears
- Pages 275-6, Dungeon Master’s Guide 5e – DM guide to CR (challenge ratings)
- Page 83, Player’s Handbook 2 4e – Explanation on how Druid players can choose a specific form when using Wild Shape with no effect on additional game stats
- Page 230, Dungeon Master’s Guide 1e – Gary Gygax on the rules of the game
- Official DnD podcast Dragon Talk, episode 396 spends 45 minutes going into detail on the Wild Shape class feature – https://dnd.wizards.com/podcasts/dragon-talk