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In the trailer for the movie Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, we see a druid character use the Wild Shape ability to turn into an owlbear (timestamped link to trailer). Notably, this cannot be done rules as written in D&D 5e, as Wild Shape states:

Starting at 2nd level, you can use your action to magically assume the shape of a beast that you have seen before.

And in 5th Edition, owlbears have the Monstrosity creature type, as seen on the owlbear statblock:

OWLBEAR

Large Monstrosity, Unaligned

This made me wonder, if druids can't do this in 5e, have they been able to do it in earlier editions, and if so, which ones?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for sharing the link to this trailer. Looks pretty awesome! (The trafo is weird it, it first looks as if the horse transforms into the Owlbear, then the Owlbear transforms back into the character hopping onto the horse). \$\endgroup\$ Jul 22, 2022 at 14:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Groody - this is a pretty early trailer and some of the effects in it seem unfinished, which might explain this. The owlbear itself seems pretty cool though! \$\endgroup\$ Jul 24, 2022 at 1:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm not able to watch the trailer at the moment, but I wonder if there's any chance this could be a case of an owlbear druid (or other class) wild shaping (or otherwise transforming) into a human? \$\endgroup\$
    – Trevortni
    Jul 25, 2022 at 21:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Trevortni: Nope. The druid in the film is a tiefling. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Jul 27, 2022 at 0:09

3 Answers 3

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By core rules, likely in none of them (maybe in 1e and 4e)

Below is the perspective on core rules from each edition. It may however be possible that there are further prestige classes and splat books for the various editions that enable it. (Emphasis in quotes mine).

Very likely not in AD&D 1e

Shapechange states (PHB p. 21):

Ability to change form up to three times per day, actually becoming, in all respects save the mind, a reptile, bird or mammal. (...) The size of creature form assumed can vary from as small as a bullfrog, bluejay or bat to as large as a large snake, an eagle, or o black bear (about double the weight of the druid).

1e had no creature types, but the owlbear (MM, p. 77) description states:

If encountered in their lair there is a 25% chance that there will be 1-6 eggs (20%) or young (80%) in addition to the adults (...) Owlbears have brownish-black to yellow brown fur and feathers. The 1,300 to 1,500 pound males will be the darker colored.

It is not clear if the owlbear counts as a mammal, given there are zootic weirdnesses like the Platypus. 2e, which is very close rules-wise calls it out as a mammal, which would suggest yes.

The other issue is the weight. An adult brown bear, weighs about 500 pounds, but females can be a lithe as 335 pounds, or about 2/3rds of that, so a female owlbear could weigh as little as 850 pounds. By the height and weight table in the DMG (p. 102), the maximum weight for the heaviest type of player character, a male human, would be 175 + 60 pounds, or 235 pounds, and twice that is 470 pounds, far lower. So, unfortuneately there is no way to transform to an adult owlbear. Maybe an owlbear cub.

I strongly suspect that going by Gygaxian sensibilities, it was not intended to be possible.

Not in AD&D 2e

PHB, page 37, Druid class description:

He gains the ability to shapechange into a reptile, bird, or mammal up to three times per day after he reaches 7th level (...) The druid can only assume of a normal (real world) animal in its normal proportions

The owlbear in the Monstrous Manual states:

They are warm-blooded mammals, but lay eggs.

but they certainly are not a real world animal.

Not in 3.0 core rules, but possible with prestige class

The SRD states

At 5th level, a druid gains the spell-like ability to polymorph self into a Small or Medium-size animal (but not a dire animal) and back again once per day.

The owlbear in 3.0 is a large beast (MM, page 148, at least the printing I have access to). This is differnt a type than animal in 3e, which is its own type (MM, p. 13). As Molot points out, you would be able to do it with a splat book prestige class.

This later upgrades to Large animals and Elementals.

Not in 3.5 (but see options from splat books)

KRyans answer as well as Molot's provide options that allow to do it, for example with the epic feat "Magical Beast Wild Shape" from Complete Divine, p. 90. However, I am focused only on the core rules.

The SRD states:

At 5th level, a druid gains the ability to turn herself into any Small or Medium animal and back again once per day. Her options for new forms include all creatures with the animal type.

At higher levels this upgrades to larger and smaller animals, plants, and elementals, no other types.

The owlbear in 3.5 is a magical beast.

Maybe in 4e, for a medium-sized owlbear variant

Page 83 and 84, PHB II:

The wild shape power lets you assume a form of your size that resembles a natural or a fey beast, usually a four-legged mammalian predator such as a bear, a boar, a panther, a wolf, or a wolverine. Your beast form might also be an indistinct shape (...) You might also resemble a more exotic beast when you’re in beast form: a reptile such as a rage drake or a crocodile, or a fantastic beast such as an owlbear or a bulette.

(Thank you to @KRyan for pointing this section out).

Wild shape allows a character to change between humanoid form and beast form. (...) You can choose a specific form when you use wild shape to change into beast form. The beast form is your size, resembles a natural beast or a fey beast, and normally doesn't change your game statistics or movement modes.

The owlbear in 4e is a large fey beast, so the change would not work for a medium or small sized creature like all PC races in the PHB I and II are. (Thanks go to @Draconis for providing the expertise here -- I've never played 4e myself).

However, owlbear is given as an explicit example for a form to resemble, even though based on size you cannot change into an actual owlbear normally. Maybe if the druid was enlarged magically first? Or maybe you could take the form of an owlbear, but it would be smaller, like an owlbear cub (compare to 1st edition). Medium-sized owlbears are mentioned a few times in 4e material, so it seems quite possible. (Thank you again to @KRyan).

Not in 5e

As you state in the question.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Minor biology quibble re: "zootic weirdnesses like the Platypus". The platypus is not at all a weirdness, since nowhere in the definition of 'mammal' does it say that they bear live young. 'Mammals' encompasses many groups including allotheres, monotremes (like the platypus), marsupials, and placental mammals. If anything is weird, it is the placental mammals, for while lots of groups of animals (sharks, snakes) have come upon live birth, placental mammals are the only ones that feed their unborn babies in real time. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Apr 8, 2023 at 20:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ Owlbears, on the other hand, as liminal beings are clear oddities, magical hybrids between two very different creatures. Platypuses are not hybrids at all, but a reasonable being in their own right. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Apr 8, 2023 at 20:51
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Dungeons and Dragons 3.0, with PrC

In 3rd edition, Druid could only Wildshape into Animals*, and Owlbear was a Beast. Counterintuitive, Beasts are separate from Animals just as any other type is.

A Shifter prestige class from Masters of the Wild: A Guidebook to Barbarians, Druids, and Rangers, page 68, had Greater Wild Shape feature. This prestige class is clearly aimed at Wildshape users, although there are other ways to get into it.

At 3rd level of the class, Greater Wild Shape gives ability to shift into Beasts. Magical Beasts at 5th level.

Owlbear was Beast in 3.0, and Magical Beast in 3.5 – and with DM approval you could use Shifter PrC in 3.5 game as it wasn't updated to 3.5. That, plus Druid's ability to Wildshape into large creatures (because Druid / Shifter can mix and match properties of Wildshape and Greater Wild Shape), and you have your Owlbear Druid.


* And later into another creature types, but Beast and Magical Beast wasn't available to him.

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There were a few possibilities in 3rd edition

And the “v.3.5 revised edition.”

Shifter (3.0e prestige class, Masters of the Wild)

Already covered by Mołot’s answer, the shifter prestige class isn’t unique to druids, but they could certainly use it to take on owlbear form.

[Magical] Beast Wild Shape (3.0e epic feat, Epic Level Handbook)

Bizarrely requiring an epic (21st-level or higher) druid, Beast Wild Shape and Magical Beast Wild Shape do what they say on the tin, allow a druid to use wild shape to take on the form of beasts or magical beasts, respectively. In 3.0e, the owlbear was a beast, while in the “v.3.5 revised edition,” it’s a magical beast (the revision removed the beast type as well as the Beast Wild Shape feat from the game).

Explicit option in 4e—but no stats

The 4th edition of D&D heavily encouraged “reskinning” or “refluffing,” suggesting that players could freely choose to use alternative descriptions for the same statistical effects. In the case of the druid’s wild shape, Player’s Handbook 2 explicitly suggested that

You choose a specific form when you use wild shape, and that form has no effect on your game statistics or movement modes.

[…] 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, pg. 83)

Note that wild shape is limited to your size, and owlbears are Large in their monster entry, which is almost impossible for a druid to achieve.¹ However, though the canonical owlbear is Large, there are numerous Medium-sized owlbears in the ruleset. For example, the fey beast tamer theme gives you a Medium companion creature which can be a “young owlbear.” (A fey beast tamer can also use the companion form power to polymorph into the same type of beast as their companion, e.g. a young owlbear.)

  1. In 4th edition, classes are reserved exclusively for player characters—NPCs never used them and there were no rules for applying a class to an unplayable creature. It also did not have any Large playable races. In fact, there are just 6 Small races (gnome, goblin, halfling, kobold, svirfneblin, and tinker gnome), 1 Tiny race (pixie), and literally every other race in 4e is Medium. Furthermore, while it is technically possible to use a power to become Large before using wild shape, such powers are very rare, and the only one that druids have native access to is form of the night owl, which does not stack with wild shape as both are polymorph effects. A druid would have to multiclass or use hybrid classes to get such a power.
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    \$\begingroup\$ Upvoted -- thank you for your help on the 4e section! \$\endgroup\$ Jul 22, 2022 at 18:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ Using a Medium Owlbear works for the question as written, but the Owlbear in the movie trailer was at least as large as a horse, well into the Large size category. So you couldn't replicate that visual. As for bowling over and ragdolling + throwing a Human, mechanically in D&D that just comes down to Str / Athletics checks, or flavouring a bite or claw attack, I guess. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 23, 2022 at 2:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ The character in question almost certainly isn't, but pick up a Swordmage multiclass feat and then the Acolyte Power feat to swap one of your Druid utility powers for the Swordmage Giant's Might power (which doesn't have the polymorph keyword, so can stack with Wild Shape) and you can be a Large Owlbear, at least for one fight a day. \$\endgroup\$
    – Seph Steel
    Jul 25, 2022 at 16:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SephSteel Yes, giant’s might is one of the options my 4e expert mentioned. There is also an arcane epic destiny, I believe. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Jul 25, 2022 at 16:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan Thank you for the bounty award, I really appreciate the gesture. I am double grateful, because you also helped to make the answer a good answer. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 31, 2022 at 17:24

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