This week we will take a peek at another were from the annuls of D&D history and 5E cannon: The Werebear.
Much like its cousin, the wererat, there are plenty of obvious builds that have been done ad nauseam in homebrews across the internet. For the wererat, the obvious build is rogue. But, for the werebear, it’s a tad more complicated. Or not. The most go-to classes for the werebear are, first, Barbarian and, then, the martial prowess of a fighter.
At the DM’s discretion
Let’s talk about allowing a player to introduce a werebear into the group.
First of all, you’re handing a 19 strength to a player. To introduce this to a level one character is a bit much. The DM and player will have to negotiate for something like this where there is a bit of give and take. Possibly in exchange for a 19 strength, the player sacrifices its highest roll when rolling the new character. It’s an individual decision and will be different for each Dm and each party. It does, however, seem wrong to ask the werebear to make this sacrifice while the wererat gets to keep a free 15 dexterity. But, to be honest, the wererat’s dexterity is nowhere near as game altering as the werebear’s strength.
Secondly, something we didn’t cover in the WHY PLAY WERES article was the little issue of invulnerabilities. Well, we did talk about alternate invulnerabilities in the WERERAT article, but that was pretty specific to wererats. Not saying it can’t be expanded to the other weres, though. What I’m alluding to is if were going to allow a first level character who can’t be harmed by anything but silvered and magic weapons, I’m afraid the campaign becomes either a high magic campaign or we make silver readily available.
Unarmed Natural Weapon Attacks?
Passing up the obvious (AKA Barbarian and Fighter), the first thing I thought would be cool is to build a werebear monk. Since the monk can rely on strength or dexterity for their attack and damage rolls for your unarmed strikes and any monk weapons, that massive strength would come in handy. It is also a bit op to allow the 19 without modifying the deal (one suggestion above) and also allow them to drop their top number into dexterity.
There is a massive internet discussion about whether natural weapons are to be allowed as an unarmed strike. Wotc doesn’t come out and outright say they can’t. Tabaxi’s natural weapons are allowed as well as a Minotaur’s horns (Kinda wanta make a Minotaur monk right now), a centaur’s hooves AND a Simic Hybrid’s grappling appendages from Ravnica. So why not the were’s natural claw.
Allowing it is one thing. But determining the actual damage is another. The werebear in the Monster Manual has 2D8 for its claw damage. I don’t think any DM in his right mind would give it to a first level character, especially seeing that the MM werebear is a CR5. I mean, it’s up to you DMs, but, if you give this newbie a simple 1D8+ damage, it will outpace the monk’s martial art’s damage for 10 rounds and equal it for another 6.
What I’m saying is that it takes a great deal of thought, deliberation and negotiation to make something like this work and it’s all according to the type of game and type of DM you have running said game.
An answer for the weak spellcaster?
That being said, can you imagine a spell caster who is also a werebear. There is no problem with a were of any type being a spell caster as far as I can tell. They have human like claws so they can do the sematic components. It never says they can’t speak in hybrid form. And, anyway, who needs to go into werebear mode unless you either run out of spells or have a enemy in melee range forcing you into it. In the upcoming Were adventure (Manifesto of the White Wolf), I have a wizard who comes from an enclave of wizard werebears. Once again, this doesn’t come into play unless cornered. But, when she is cornered, OH BOY! I could see someone mistaking them for melee weak and getting a brash education in werebear.
The good, the bad and the alignment
The Monster Manual claims that the alignment of the Werebear is naturally Neutral Good. Here we go with the nature/nurture alignment bullshit again. Stating that a werebear is naturally any alignment is like saying humans can only be either good or evil. No sense, right? Now, DMs can use this for monsters…or not. The point is that most ‘races’ are a myriad of alignments. Although some peoples, due to nurture, have an inclination to evil. I would say goblinoids and Orcs have this bend. But I also have an unwritten law in all of my games in that there are always exceptions to the rule (See the article we did on Alignment).
The fact is that there would be those werebears (or weres in general) who would either fight or give into their animalistic urges. This would be the determiner for me as to whether they would tend to good or evil. That being said, you can go any which way you want either as a player or a DM in creating a werebear in your campaign. I mean, we’re not gatekeepers here, so, do what you wish.
All by myself (A Hermit’s life)
According to most of the source material, werebears make great loners. They travel alone or live alone deep in the forests or up in the mountains. So, the background of Hermit is a natural fit. They give you a handy roll chart in the PHB to determine why you’re secluded from the world; everything from criminal exile to religious dictates to a search to spiritual enlightenment. For werebears, it’s pretty simple. Their curse, no matter how they deal with it (accept or fight it), is plenty of reason to separate themselves from the general public. But even in the write ups of much of the source material, we get hints that give us further depth as to why the seclusion.
Taken as is, with a neutral good alignment, they have a list of things that can add flavor to the reasons your character or NPC is living alone.
Werebears: Why seclusion
- I live close to a town, settlement or encampment in order to protect it
- I live alone, but occasionally I take in an adept to train to take my place and my curse
- I was called to protect the forest (great for a cleric, druid or ranger)
- I run a waystation near a major road for weres to be taken to a sanctuary
- I have mated and had a child who I moved to seclusion and would protect with my life
- I protect this region especially from evil lycanthropes
Why is your werebear adventuring?
- I failed to protect my family, forest or settlement and have been trying to redeem myself, but I’m not sure it’s possible
- I am tracking evil lycanthropes and will root them out in any city I travel to
- I am working with an extensive were ‘underground railroad’ and am determined to keep it safe and working
- I committed a horrible murder in werebear form and the authorities are still hunting me
- I am on a pilgrimage to find artifacts that if assembled may cure all lycanthrope
- I am looking for the source of the curse; maybe I can stop it at the root
HERMIT FEATURE: DISCOVERY
One of the cool tidbits of taking the Hermit background is the option of taking the feature, DISCOVERY. It makes the character the caretaker of a ‘unique and powerful discovery’. I’m convinced that the Caduceus character from Critical Role definitely has this background. Since the beginning, you just get the feeling that he’s been at this place guarding a secret and is following the others because he feels that it has something to do with said secret.
Secrets of the Hermit
- The end is coming. The Hermit knows the legends and, possibly, the way to avert it.
- The Hermit is in possession of an ancient artifact. He knows the legends and something about your party speaks to that for good or for ill.
- The Hermit keeps his eyes on a local leader or folk hero. Something in an ancient legend may allude to them.
- The Hermit has been researching a local ruin. Recently, a lower level opened up. There’s probably tons of treasure down there, but there are some strange noises. Need help.
- The Hermit is the protector of a local primordial being. They both have been waiting for your party. Now we can begin; the legends are true.
- The Hermit has been waiting for your party. Now we can begin the war against the evil ruler.
Running the dispensary: Handling herbs
Taking on the HERMIT background gives you some interesting skills. You attain proficiencies in Medicine and Religion and you get the tool proficiency in Herbalism Kit.
The Herbalism Kit contains many instruments and items used to create remedies and potions. With this, you may add your proficiency bonus to any ability checks to ID or apply herbs. You may also be able to create antitoxins, healing potions among other helpful items. I’m the type of DM who would like to expand on this idea; especially if it’s a side ability that can bring a bit of healing to a team weak in it. I think I will work up a subclass to accentuate this; maybe this week. I believe it would make sense for it to be sub of Artificer; kind of like a healing/help version of the Alchemist subclass.
As an NPC, the werebear may be producing healing herbs along with other aids to sell from his seclusion. Maybe they come to town every two weeks bringing medicinal herbs.
Why does the party need the NPC Herbalist?
- They need help putting together an antidote for an unknown, powerful poison
- They are attempting to find a vaccine for a disease raging through a nearby town
- There is an ancient Were near who can only be harmed a certain way; the Herbalist knows
- The Herbalist is also the protector of an ancient ruin and has the potion that will protect them from the defenses keeping them from entering
- You have found a were who is injured and you can’t seem to heal; the Herbalist can help
- You have info on a pack of weres nearby; The Herbalist should know
May the circle not be broken: Strong Werebear Circles
I think another unconventional class to play as a werebear but one that also makes a lot sense is the Druid. Werebears have a natural inclination to protect nature and, sometimes, a particular forest. This seems right up the Druid’s alley. The werebear becomes the leader or member of a semi-spiritual circle that is one with the world around them. The circle could be an outcropping of the werebear hermit’s secret. They become a society that protects said secret.
The Circles of the Shepherd, the moon and the land work well in this situation. The Circle of the Land for the Werebears connection with nature or the forest in which they live and access to more spells and recovery of said spell slots. The Circle of the Moon because of the Werebear’s natural ‘wildshape’ aka shapeshifting. It will give them more animal ‘shapes’ to use to protect their home or party. The Circle of the Shepherd strengthens access to the wild beasts he works with to protect his forest or his friends.
Within RANGE: The Two-Fisted Werebear Ranger
Maybe better would be a RANGER build. This way, you can concentrate on dexterity and wisdom and gain a nice advantage with that 19 strength. At second level, the ranger takes a fighting style. One of those styles is TWO WEAPON FIGHTING. With that given strength, your attacks with the two weapons will do some real damage and you’re still fast and wise.
Also, your FAVORED ENEMY feature would allow you to take HUMANOID: SHAPECHANGERS as one of your ‘races’ or talk with your DM about just making it LYCANTHROPES. You could even make it more specific as in a certain were, but, if any of the weres are built to hunt weres in general, it’s the werebear. In fact, once you take into consideration the natural propensity of the werebear toward neutral good and to hunt evil lycanthropes, ranger is a natural fit. Every feature of the ranger adds to this; making a werebear ranger a dangerous opponent in his natural habitat or woods. Hunter or Beast Master either one would work amazingly here.
So many options here. And, once you as a DM or you AND your DM work the details out, this werebear PC could become an epic build. So much drama. So much flavor. Have fun and let us know what builds YOU would make. Your as much of the process here as we are and we value your input. Hit us up in the comments below or on social media (links on the homepage).