Dungeoneer’s Diary #14 – The Fearsome Draco-Bear

Posted: April 27, 2018 in Uncategorized

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

Fantasy novels and RPG campaigns need fantastic monsters. Start small with blended beasties. May I present the dreaded draco-bear, basically a grizzly (or the extinct super-large cave bear when you really need to go big or go home) that breathes fire? Boom! Instant monster. Did I really invent said growly snarly beast? It will take many thousands of man-hours of reading prose written by literally the whole planet to be sure. I assert that the fire breathing ursine is my invention; if I repeat that often enough and no one else produces copyright dates from 2016 or earlier with torch bears languidly burning the pants off every passing hero I will likely get credit.

At this early stage, I won’t bother you presenting Monster Manual stats for this beast. Probably, you’ll take the existing listing for grizzly or cave bear and add an extra handful of hit dice and strap on a fire damage blast with a damage rating of (X – 2)D6 where X is the total number of hit dice bolted onto the creature. What do I know? I’m so far from a consistent RPG game and might not know jack about current game mechanics that this is me telling you to work it out for yourselves…for now.

I mostly just care about how cool these things look between the pages of my books.

We first meet the torch bear occupying a patch of land alongside an ancient piece of two-lane blacktop at the bottom of a steep hill. Homer the Not-So-Barbaric (he’s a collector and transmitter of knowledge, too educated to fully stand in for Conan don’t you think?) leans into the fearsome downhill curve with a mysterious semi-naked lady (more on her in a future post) on his handlebars. Making full use of gravity in the context of giving a lady a thrill on a bicycle works as intended, she squeaks or even screams like the time you first went on Space Mountain with your SO.

The draco-bear lashes out appearing from behind a rock when Homer’s bike with all the Shimano gears a cyclist could ever kind of want is the fastest it will ever be. Homer uses the built up this fearsome downhill speed to launch off the nearest rock catching lots of air leading into a 540-degree spin whipping the frame around and certainly framed to be backlit by the noon sun (trust me, scenes like this in early chapters of books are pure adaptation bait). Homer displays either the impressive situational awareness of a literary hero to instantly grok out that he can push the woman off the bike so she’ll land in a nearby pond deep enough to brake her fall, or he’s been on this road before and remembers these things.

Homer draws the rapier attached to the bike frame (even I’m not so stupid as to give a bicycle riding hero a hip mounted sword, almost as stupid as capes and jet engines). He rolls under the left paw, at least the size of a dinner plate. I give it three passes between torch bear and wandering hero and then Homer skewers the beast.

Like many other writers, I recycle into other stories. The second time my subconscious mind insisted I meet a draco-bear, I started filling my prescription for the literary methadone needed for the end of the seventh season of Game of Thrones by starting up my own version. I have a recently resurrected mostly Roman hero tricked by various great powers into going far from home and – WHOOSH! – enter the torch bear burning and slashing everything before it.

Whether it’s Homer catching air leaping off his bike into the fray or Pelman Bealis facing the torch bear on his long but unsuccessful journey home to his wife, so far I think I shafted this proud beast in my writings so far. Why? When a writer goes for a monster slaying of anything like a draco-bear in an early chapter, he, she or they are clearly going for something that looks tough to show that your character is tough. Dispatching beasts quickly can ruin the value of said creature.

Everybody beat the crap out of LT. Worf first in the average Star Trek: The Next Generation episode to show the audience how much trouble the Enterprise crew would be in this week. But, I can always rationalize these early ass-whoopings on a – “Dude, it was just a baby, wait ‘til I unleash the Mama!” – basis. My whole career thrives on dramatically rationalizing almost everything.

What would the torch bear, the common name used by the peasants, be like, now that I actually have to say a few words about ecological niches, fantastic biology and its lifecycle?

Gordon R. Dickson brought forth an interesting explanation for fire breathing in his Dragon Knight series that started with The George and the Dragon. The dragon breathes fire because body processes create an excess of flammable gasses. Dragons muscle the local dwarves into giving over copious amounts of calcium carbonate (chalk) that interacts with stomach acid to create methane.

The gas changes the dragon’s density to get past the whole – can dragons actually fly with those bodies seen in the pictures? – question that people have asked since Tolkien first wrote Smaug. The dragon lands by expelling the gas through its mouth past a metal protrusion back in the throat near the human uvula that creates a spark. So when asked about a torch bear, don’t reinvent the wheel. Cut and paste.

Fire breathing would make pretty much any beast a little tougher than the average bear (can’t resist, eh Boob!). Likely, we’ll need to construct a gullet with the kind of thermal insulation similar to those tiles NASA used to bolt onto space shuttles before fuel tank foam knocked them off. Is that accomplished with a substance like asbestos infused throughout the soft flesh of the bear’s GI tract to prevent back flashes of what is essentially a flammable waste product? Or is there another similar way to keep the beast from frying its own innards?

Executive decision happening as I write, I’ll go with asbestos infused into bear flesh laid over the chalk and stomach acid explanation for creating the fire. The bear would grow somewhat because another way to resist fire is to make sure that the fireproofing material is laid on thick which spikes up flesh density, resulting in a massive creature compared to the average bear with muscles to match.

In game mechanics, I’m seeing maybe a spread between 50-80 HP and a good armor class that splits the difference between regular bears (about like leather) and a dragon (practically Chobbam tank armor). The hero party would have a moderately difficult time defeating this beast that would increase exponentially with each one on the field.

Are torch bears social, the way most real bears aren’t? Does that make them rougher because they attack like a wolf pack? Can you bribe/distract them throwing your string of fresh caught salmon that way while running this way? I’m keeping this part of the discussion loosey-goosey because right now it’s up to every GM out there to work the draco-bear’s specifics.

There is one thing I will suggest; the torch bear’s main defense is to blow methane through its mouth and light it up. Assuming the Gordon R. Dickson explanation for fire breathing is given credence, please understand the beast is slightly modified from regular bears so as to fart through its mouth instead of through its ass, like every other terrestrial land animal. Whatever changes happen inside the draco-bear’s body; that sounds painful. Expect the torch bear to be a mean bitch with regard to those puny insignificant hairless apes with the pointy objects.

If you read carefully, I use words that are generally suggestive of a post-apocalyptic world in which to drop the torch bear. Something about this wondrous monster just screams – “made in a lab during the Before Time, possibly as part of a complex lifecycle designed to clean up all of that leftover toxic asbestos, and then it escaped.” Or dropping it into a fantasy novel solves that problem because the writer doesn’t have to answer the why of a beast as long as it leaves scars on which the hero reflects.

So there it is, a few basic thoughts on a solid medium-range utility monster sure to burn the adventuring party’s pants off, a good result. I now send you out with the concept for you to tweak to get it just right. Your results will vary…fun.

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