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Half-bear, half-owl, all-murder. The ferocious Owlbear might look cute, but its only interest in you is how tasty you are - Lore & History

If we had to rank the ugliest Dungeons & Dragons monsters, the Owlbear is definitely near the top along with the otyugh and the AD&D orcs. The Owlbear was created by Gary Gygax who was looking for new monsters for his players to fight. He found this kaiju monster toy in a small shop that labeled it as a ‘prehistoric animal’ and, along with other great monsters like the rust monster and the bulette, inducted it into the game. While the Owlbear was originally modeled by a toy company in China, it’s growth and development in Dungeons & Dragons can be credited to Gary Gygax and all the designers after him.
If you find yourself curious as to what the original toy Gygax designed the Owlbear off of, luckily Tony Diterlizzi, the awesome artist who did a lot of work for Planescape and the 2nd edition Monstrous Manual, shared it on his blog as well as a few others that Gygax had created. It’s fascinating to see these old chinasaurs and makes you want to run to a dollar store and see what horrifying ‘dinosaurs’ you can find to throw at your own party.
 

OD&D - Owl Bear

No. Appearing: 2-5
Armor Class: 5
Move: 12”
Hit Dice: 5
% in Lair: 40%
No. of Attacks: 2 claws/1 bite
Damage/Attack: 1-6/claw****, 1-12/bite
Treasure: C
**** hug on score of 18 or better causes 2-16 points of additional damage
The Owlbear, or as it was actually introduced Owl Bear, was featured in the supplement, Greyhawk (1975). The story behind its creation was that Gygax used a plastic toy from the Godzilla movies created by the company in Hong Kong. These toys were the inspiration behind a few of the early monsters Gygax used in his early games. Tim Kask, one of the first playtesters who later became the editor for Dragon magazine tells the story as follows:
There once was an unknown company in Hong Kong that made a bag of weird animal-things that were then sold in what once were called dime stores or variety stores for like $.99. I know of four other very early monsters based on them. Gary and I talked about how hard it was to find monster figures, and how one day he came upon this bag of weird beasts…He nearly ran home, eager as a kid to get home and open his baseball cards.
Tim Kask, Forums on Dragonsfoot.org
Kask goes on to say that the figures were the inspiration for the rust monster, purple worm, carrion crawler, umber hulk, and, of course, the Owlbear. Looking at a picture of this odd yellow-colored toy, we aren’t sure how he thought the creature looks like a combination of a bear and an owl. It seems more like a twisted version of Big Bird from Sesame Street if Big Bird was a flesh-eating, homicidal maniac.
The creature that Gygax created is described as having a ‘horrid visage and disposition’ but we suppose if people kept calling us horrid looking, we’d be angsty too. Their bodies are furry with thick skin, and its head has feathers covering most of that area. Our poor, genetically confused creature is one nasty customer, as it had multiple dangerous attacks. The Owlbear was able to attack with its giant beak, though calling the thing on its face a beak doesn’t really do it justice as it is a massive curved protrusion. While the attack is actually listed as a bite, we’re sure its not the Owlbear’s teeth that cause the damage. We’re convinced it’s the beak that the creature tries to impale you upon that does most of the damage.
Next up for our horrifying genetic mistake is that it gets a bit goofy with its claw attacks. Instead of trying to open your head with its can-opener beak, the Owlbear can make two claw attacks. If the DM rolls an 18+ on the attack, the Owlbear gets to hug you. Now, this isn’t a nice gentle squeeze from grandma, but a hug from a creature that is 8 feet tall and weighs around 1,500 pounds. You’ll take 2-16 points of damage and settle for a handshake next time.
 

Basic D&D - Owlbear

Armor Class: 5
Hit Dice: 5
Move: 120’ (40’)
Attacks: 2 claws/1 bite
Damage: 1-8 each
No. Appearing: 1-4
Save As: Fighter 3
Morale: 9
Treasure Type: C
Alignment: Neutral
The Owlbear is introduced in the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set (1971) followed by the Basic Sets from 1981 and 1983. For such a confusing and strange creature, the description is incredibly brief and a bit… strange. We understand why the Owlbear would live in the deep dark forest, but underground? Owls and bears live in the forest, not a dungeon. Described as a bear-like creature with an owl head, there is no picture in the book, leaving our imagination to conjure up all sorts of horrible visions, speaking of horrible… they are still described as 'horrid', which we are sure only makes the Owlbear angrier.
The Owlbear is described as being over 8 feet tall when it’s standing on its hind legs and weighs over 1,500 pounds, this doesn’t paint a very cuddly picture. They are also described as being foul-tempered and that they attack when encountered as they are always hungry. Now, what could you imagine a ferocious Owlbear likes to eat? Well, you probably guessed correctly and its meat, and guess what humanoids are made of… meat! So, the Owlbear is just one more monster in the long line of them that likes to eat your character. Tasty.
The Owlbear retains their painful hug, but now it only happens if they hit you with both claws instead of just getting a high roll on the attack. Add that to the potential of being hit three times and you could be having a very bad day very quickly. Their hit dice are nothing to scoff at either, as a White Dragon in this version only has 6 HD. They also have an AC of 5, which is surprisingly decent, especially for a creature that is unable to wear armor. So now we have a giant owl-headed bear with a good amount of hit points and decent armor that can hug you to death. Fun times.
The Owlbear later gets some time to shine as it shows up in Dungeons & Dragons Game set (1991), the Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia (1991), the Classic Dungeons & Dragons Game Set (1994), and the Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Game Set (1999). Unfortunately, the creature’s stats and descriptions never see an update.
 

AD&D - Owlbear

Frequency: Rare
No. Appearing: 2-5
Armor Class: 5
Move: 12”
Hit Dice: 5+2
% in Lair: 30%
Treasure Type: C
No. of Attacks: 3
Damage/Attack: 1-6/1-6/2-12
Special Attacks: Hug
Special Defenses: Nil
Magic Resistance: Standard
Intelligence: Low
Alignment: Neutral
Size: L (8’ tall)
Psionic Ability: Nil
The Owlbear appears in the Monster Manual (1977) and this edition brings it just a bit more information to chew on. Before we dive into talking about this horrid beast, we have to talk about the picture that comes along with the description. The drawing is based on the toy that was the inspiration for the Owlbear, and it is incredibly spot on… in the worst way. Its body looks nothing like a bear and its head has no resemblance to that of an owl, and the last time we checked a bear doesn’t have a giant tail. We’re not sure why it’s arms and legs have less hair on them, but they are noticeably paler than the rest of the body. It has a hunchback and a strange gizzard-like neck. The head is… ridiculous is the only appropriate word for it, it looks like it’s wearing a strange looking hat made of what we can only assume is feathers. The face is less of a face and more of one giant beak with tiny little teeth and one narrow eye. Thank goodness for the Owlbear that the only other picture on the page is that of the otyugh, who has a face, not even a mother could love.
The Owlbear gets a tiny bit of backstory, as it is surmised that the creation of this foul beast may have come about at the hands of a wizard, which is just code for 'Nobody wanted to think too hard about a bear and an owl getting it on'. This makes us feel slightly bad for the Owlbears, they are incredibly grumpy and hungry and they didn’t ask for this life!
Owlbears are described as a combination of brown fur and yellow feathers, it’s beak is a much lighter color, from yellow to ivory. They can still weigh up to 1,500 pounds, and it’s cruel eyes are usually red-rimmed, as if it had been crying. Maybe it saw itself in a mirror or the highly polished shield of a paladin perhaps, and finally saw what it looked like. We feel for it, that’s a daily occurrence for us.
The Owlbear can be found in deep dark forests or underground labyrinths. While exploring those lost ruins and labyrinths, you may also stumble across Mr. and Mrs. Owlbear in their lair, and there is a 1 in 4 chance that they’ll have a few little ones running around. There is also a chance that their young haven’t hatched yet and that there are up to 6 eggs just ready to be plundered by adventurers for a nice omelet. Since the Owlbear comes from an egg, we have to figure that the genetic experiments resulted in more owl DNA than just the strange owl head and feathers. Now, we talked about using the Owlbear eggs to make an omelet, but before you get that fire going, let’s talk about gold. Owlbear eggs are worth up to 2,000 gold while the young go for 5,000 gold. Of course, the Owlbears aren’t just going to let you take their young, Owlbears fight to the death, no matter the stakes plus there is a 50% chance that the Owlbear ‘cubs’ you are hoping for will be full-grown and fight side by side with mom and dad.
The rest of the Owlbear is largely unchanged from the previous editions and they are still known for giving their bear hugs, though it states that anywho is locked in this hug takes the damage at the start of the Owlbear’s turn every round… which is gotta be horrifying for those trying to save their party member. All they see is the fighter get a massive hug, and then they start hearing screams as bones begin breaking and the gleaming owl beak of the Owlbear begins pecking and biting into the fighter’s head, trying to break it open like a kinder egg… We wonder what the surprise will be! Probably nothing, we all know that fighters aren’t the brightest.
 

2e - Owlbear

Climate/Terrain: Temperate Forest
Frequency: Rare
Organization: Pack
Activity Cycle: Late afternoon/early evening
Diet: Carnivore
Intelligence: Low (5-7)
Treasure: (C)
Alignment: Neutral
No. Appearing: 1 (2-8)
Armor Class: 5
Movement: 12
Hit Dice: 5+2
THAC0: 15
No. of Attacks: 3
Damage/Attack: 1-6/1-6/2-12
Special Attacks: Hug
Special Defenses: Nil
Magic Resistance: Nil
Size: L (8’ tall)
Morale: Steady (11-12) + Special
XP Value: 420
The Owlbear appears first in the Monstrous Compendium Volume One (1989) and is later added to the Monstrous Manual (1993). The picture in the Monstrous Compendium gets slightly better and features just the top half of the ferocious beast and you can make our more details! Wicked claws, horrifying owl beak and… teeth… lots of teeth. It’s like staring into the mouth of a penguin and being horrified by what you see. In the Monstrous Manual, we get a full-color drawing of the beast by Tony DiTerlizzi and it is as whimsical as anything else he has drawn! Brown fur with owl feathers, a tongue sticking out, and wicked claws… we still don’t want to get lost in a forest with one of them, but at least it won’t be as embarrassing to die by this beast than before. No one wants to die to a homicidal Big Bird.
Their description and background remain the same except for a few humorous additions, and it's actually kind of sad. Typically in 2e, we get a full page of information about the exotic life of the creatures and how they reside in their ecosystem with words crammed into every part of the page… the poor Owlbear has plenty of room leftover on the page and has a glaring block of white space that could be used to give it a more interesting backstory and ecology! Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Instead, our Owlbear is still created by a mad wizard, it is implied that upon creation, the Owlbear killed the wizard. We hope it was a slow and painful death, Mother Nature should not be screwed with in such a horrifying way. The Owlbear also gets its own language, if you consider screeching at various pitches a language. We can only imagine the terror of being trapped in a labyrinth and hearing that noise echoing throughout the maze.
How and where they live also remains mostly the same, and now they can also live in caves and hollow tree stumps. Caves we get, but hollow tree stumps? That had to be one big ass tree, especially if they expect there to be a pack of them. Speaking of packs, when an Owlbear couple decides to settle down and make a family, they claim up to two square miles as their own. Don’t trespass, as they are very touchy about visitors, and will try to kill you immediately. As we have mentioned before, the Owlbear will fight to the death. Now you can use that to your advantage, as their crazed fury blinds them to the dangers you can create for them. The text suggests that you lure them off a cliff or drop a bunch of boulders on them. It does go on to say, of course, that is only if you can find a cliff. Even with a low Intelligence, we’re pretty sure the Owlbear won’t do this, but if it does, you’d better hope you’re not being hugged when it happens.
We are given a bit of information in regards to the ecology of the Owlbear and the text describes a creature that lives with the results of two creatures being smashed together through magic. Living 20 years, they are warm-blooded animals, like a bear would be, but like an owl, their cubs are hatched from what must be really, really large eggs. They are carnivores and are only interested in anything tasty like rabbits, snakes, bears, and one must always assume humanoids because we are incredibly delicious. Their sleep patterns are a lot like that of a teenager in that they don’t rise until noon and then hunt all afternoon and night until they tucker themselves out and go to sleep at midnight. They hate the cold and their bear tendencies shine through in the winter when they hibernate, though there are rumors of arctic Owlbears… so watch out. Lastly, they can’t be domesticated, and why anyone would ever want one is beyond us. If you need a hug that badly, go visit your mom. They are captured and sold in markets throughout the world, where they command a high price and many a powerful person has purchased an Owlbear to serve as an unwitting protector of their owner’s property.
In 1995, we are given an interesting article in Dragon #214 (February), the Ecology of the Owlbear by Johnathan Richards. This article tells the story of how two adventurers almost got themselves killed by Owlbears. The two adventurers, a grizzled old veteran Griff, and a young apprentice Colin who has no business going out in the wilderness. They track down an Owlbear and use honey to distract the poor creature and end up killing it with a poisoned crossbow bolt. Of course, you’d assume that Griff, who basically brags to know everything about Owlbears would know that some Owlbears mate and have babies. While Griff is skinning the first Owlbear, the second Owlbear comes out of a cave and gets a little upset, and we might say unreasonable, and begins attacking the two. Somehow, they survive the encounter and find a few Owlbear eggs to sell in the market.
Now, this piece in the article is especially interesting because they provide ways of augmenting the normal Owlbear and giving it even more owl and bear traits, this does make a stronger monster but does give it a lot more flavor to its mechanics. Owlbears, even after you killed them, still want to fight for several more rounds before it finally decides to die… We recommend distracting them with the one thing bears apparently can’t resist. Honey! Honey is one of the few things that an Owlbear loves to eat, the other things being you and anything else filled with delicious meat.
Owlbears, like bears, mark their territories by sharpening their claws on trees, though they can’t climb a tree… which seems a bit weird seeing as how bears can climb trees and owls can roost in them. Luckily for you though, you can hide in a tree and be safe from the horrid beast below you on the forest floor, unlucky for you because you are stuck in that tree. Owlbears are known for waiting days, angrily waiting for you to come down so it can show you just how pissed off it is. They are also known for being so strong as to knock fully matured trees down, so there’s that too.
This updated Owlbear also gains a few other characteristics of its owl half, like it can swivel its head a full 270 degrees and can quickly whip its head back and forth with ease. In the realm of the weird, the Owlbear has a third transparent eyelid that provides an extra layer of protection, as the young Colin finds out when he tries to blind the Owlbear by throwing dirt into its face. Just as the owl does, the Owlbear tears its food into chunks and doesn’t bother chewing as it gulps those chunks down. What it can’t digest gets turned into leftover pellets that it spits up as owl pellets.
At the end of the article, we are introduced to two new Owlbears, which are later reprinted in the Monstrous Compendium Annual Volume Three (1996), The Artic Owlbear and the Flying Owlbear. As you can probably guess, one lives in the cold and snow, and the other can fly. The Arctic Owlbear has more hit dice than our regular Owlbear and is a snowy white color, giving it great camouflage as it waits in the snow, ready to pounce. Also, its a mix of a polar bear and a snow owl. The Flying Owlbear can fly, which is a very disturbing thought. As if dealing with a regular Owlbear isn’t bad enough, now it can rain down death from the sky and are incredibly stealthy and hard to notice until the wizard suddenly learns to fly and soars away to be eaten in the clouds.
The last Owlbear of 2nd edition is featured in Dungeon #63 (July 1997) and is part of an adventure called Hunt for the Heirophant by Chris Doyle. The Owlbear featured is a Dire Owlbear of immense size and strength, it has more hit points, deals more damage and is a ferocious brute who was placed in stasis because a wizard wanted to use it as a guard. The party must fight the Dire Owlbear and the wizard asks that they don’t kill it… which we are sure is going over well for the fighter caught in its hug and is currently being lobotomized by a bird beak.
 

3e/3.5e - Owlbear

Large Magical Beast
Hit Dice: 5d10+25 (52 hp)
Initiative: +1
Speed: 30 ft. (6 squares)
Armor Class: 15 (-1 size, +1 Dex, +5 natural), touch 10, flat-footed 14
Base Attack/Grapple +5/+14
Attacks: Claw +9 melee (1d6+5)
Full Attack: Claw +9 melee (1d6+5) and bite +4 melee (1d8+2)
Space/Reach: 10 ft./5ft.
Special Attacks: Improved Grab
Special Qualities: Darkvision 60 ft., low-light vision, scent
Saves: Fort +9, Ref +5, Will +2
Abilities: Str 21, Dex 12, Con 21, Int 2, Wis 12, Cha 10
Skills: Listen +8, Spot +8
Feats: Alertness, Track
Climate/Terrain: Temperate forests
Orgnization: Solitary, pair, or pack (3-8)
Challenge Rating: 4
Treasure: None
Alignment: Always neutral
Advancement: 6-8 HD (large); 9-15 HD (Huge)
Level Adjustment: -
The owlbear appears in the Monster Manual (2000/2003) and before we talk about the shockingly small amount of information our fine-feathered and furry-murder-beast received in this edition, we first have to discuss the Owlbear’s picture. It’s once again back to standing upright and its arms are these odd feather-covered appendages that look more like wings than arms. Its yellow-brownish color gives it a regal look which would be great if its facial expression wasn’t one that said it was going to rip your throat out. All in all, it looks like a person dressed up in a giant bird suit screaming because they can’t get out. Or maybe someone is playing a horrible prank on a bear and glued on some feathers and a beak, and the bear is upset… either way, probably best not to get too close, they look dangerous.
The short description provided leaves a lot to be desired, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to talk about. They are active during the day or night, and it largely depends on the available prey in the area, so now breakfast is no longer safe from them. Eggs and young Owlbears still fetch a handsome reward, and now you have the privilege of paying an exorbitant amount, 2,000 gp, to an Owlbear trainer if you want one of your very own… which, is probably the safest thing to do. If the Owlbear is going to murder someone, its better that its the trainer and not you… that way you can get your 2,000 gp back from the thoroughly shredded body. Finally, the term ‘hug’ is dropped, as the attack is now referred to as an improved grab ability and honestly… we kind of miss the idea of the Owlbear squeezing people to death like their a tube of toothpaste and it's trying to squeeze every drop out.
Fortunately for us, the Owlbear appears in many other places during this edition and even appears as an Owlbear Skeleton in the 3.5 Monster Manual! The creature provided is based on a template for creating skeletons, so while it doesn’t build on the lore… it does mean that just when you thought you were safe, clearing the nearby lands of Owlbear infestations, you now have the distinct possibility of having to fight one of these undead monsters. Life isn’t fair sometimes.
In the Forgotten Realms supplement Unapproachable East (2003), you can take your very own Owlbear feat called the Owlbear Berserker. Your barbarian lodge totem is an Owlbear and when you take this feat you get to make an unarmed attack, dealing 1d6 points of damage with a successful grapple check. We assume it's based on the owlbear’s hug ability since you probably don’t have a giant beak to peck with when the target is grappled.
After that comes a few other variant Owlbears, like the Flying Owlbear in the Dungeons #84 (January 2001) adventure The Dying of the Light, or the Ancient Owlbear in the Dungeon #107 (February 2004) adventure Mellorn Hospitality. The last type of Owlbear in this edition appears in the Bestiary of Kyrnn (2004, 2007) which has an Ankholian Undead Owlbear as one more creature to feed our nightmares. The Ankholian Undead is a template that you can apply to any monster you want and provides several additional undead abilities that provide a far more fearsome opponent than some sort of skeleton. An interesting fact about Ankholian undead creatures is that they get a breath weapon that gives them the ability to spew a 30-foot cone of green flame that doesn’t burn you, instead, it does slam you with cold damage and its usable once per minute. And just when you thought that that pack of Owlbear Skeletons would be the worst thing you had to face today…
 

4e - Owlbear

Level 8 Elite Brute
Large fey beast / XP 700
Initiative +6 / Senses Perception +12; low-light vision
HP 212; Bloodied 106; see also stunning screech
AC 22; Fortitude 22, Reflex 19, Will 20
Saving Throws +2
Speed 7
Action Points 1
Claw (standard; at will) Reach 2; 12 vs. AC; 2d6+5 damage
Double Attack (standard; at will) The owlbear makes two claw attacks. if both claws hit the same target, the target is grabbed (until escape).
Bite (standard; at will) Grabbed target only; automatic hit; 4d8+5 damage.
Stunning Screech (free, when first bloodied, encounter) Close burst 1; +10 vs. Fortitude; the target is stunned (save ends).
Alignment Unaligned / Languages -
Str 20 (+9) Dex 14 (+6) Wis 16 (+7) Con 16 (+7) Int 2 (+0) Cha 10 (+4)
The Owlbear appears in the Monster Manual (2008) and the first thing that we should mention is that they are now considered fey beasts… will get back to that. To keep up our tradition, let’s talk about the artwork. It looks good… suspiciously too good, which makes us wonder if some sort of Big Owlbear lobby is out there and bribed WotC to make a fearsome, scary, and accurate drawing of an Owlbear. Long claws, deadly beak, and a beautiful blending of feathers to fur… it took up till 4th edition to finally get some good artwork of the Owlbear and it was worth it.
Going back to the fey beast, the creature is no longer described as the creation of an insane wizard, but a predator from the Feywild. They live in the forest and in caves, hunt either during the day or night, mate, and reproduce. They somehow slipped over to the natural world and as far as we are concerned, the Feywild can have them back.
The claw/grab/crush attack, formally known as the hug attack remains, with the Owlbear grappling the target if it hits with both claw attacks and automatically bitting any target they grab on to. Owlbears also gain a new attack called the Stunning Screech, which allows them to screech so loud it will make your ears bleed and cause you to be stunned. It will then charge you down and begin attacking you with even more aggression and renew its tight squeeze to get at your meat flavored filling.
We are also introduced to the Winterclaw Owlbear, which is just a meaner, colder, and probably angrier Owlbear. While the Winterclaw loses its Stunning Screech, it gains a new cold attack known as Frost Wall. While this ability no longer stuns their prey, it instead sends out literal ice and immobilizes their target so that the Winterclaw can hang out a bit, talk about life and then begin squeezing you like a twinkie.
The lore goes on to describe how the inhabitants of the Feywild like to tame the Owlbears, using them to guard their territories. This is further expanded on in the Monster Vault Box Set (2010) which provides several new Owlbears to hug your party to death as well as a bit more information about the ecology of the Owlbear. They are gifted with the vision of the owl and the raw power of the bear. They just love to kill things and if they are in a prey-rich area, they will strew their territory with lots of dead bodies to attract scavengers. They will then sneak up on those pesky scavengers and eat them, displaying any leftovers to attract even more scavengers for it to lazily feed on.
Most describe the lairs of these Owlbears as horrendously smelly, and we are sure that the smell of rotting meat has to be bad… though some in the Feywild use this to their advantage and specifically set up their treetop communities over the lairs of these smelly Owlbears. The elves will have their beautiful cities guarded below them by the Owlbears, and hopefully, they have a constant strong wind to push away the overwhelming stench. This book also provides information on Young Owlbears, Trained Owlbears, and the Wind-Claw Owlbear who gets a new ability called Disembowel. Much like a massive hug, the Wind-Claw can attack you twice with its claws. If it hits on both attacks, it stuns you by disemboweling you… We are pretty confident that that would do a bit more than just stun us but probably kill us too.
 

5e - Owlbear

Large monstrosity, unaligned
Armor Class 13 (natural armor)
Hit Points 59 (7d10 + 21)
Speed 40 ft.
STR 20 (+5) | DEX 12 (+1) | CON 17 (+3 ) | INT 3 (-4) | WIS 12 (+1) | CHA 7 (-2)
Skills Perception +3
Senses darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 13
Languages -
Challenge 3 (700 XP)
Keen Sight and Smell. The owlbear has advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on sight or smell
Multiattack. The owlbear makes two attacks: one with its beak and one of its claws.
Beak. Melee Weapon Attack: +7 to hit, reach 5 ft., one creature. Hit: 10 (1d10 + 5) piercing damage.
Claws. Melee Weapon Attack: +7 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 14 (2d8 + 5) slashing damage.
The Owlbear is introduced in the Monster Manual (2014) and the picture of the Owlbear is well-drawn and looks like a bear with an owl face. We’ve got some questions for the artists though, the Owlbear has had fur that has been brown, yellow, light yellow, dark brown, light brown, and is described as having the body of a bear… So why the sudden change to light purple? It may be nitpicking, but the purple color is throwing us off, along with it just feeling a bit uncanny. Honestly, we prefer the 4e version of the Owlbear whereas this just feels a bit too abstract with its strange arm wings.
Luckily for us, the lore provided for 5e makes up for its odd artwork and the Owlbear, instead of getting one origin story, gets two. Our first story is that an insane wizard created the Owlbear, which makes for a good story but still has no basis in fact that anyone can find. There is still no name, and all we get is that the Owlbears probably killed their creator. Maybe the wizard’s name has been in front of us the whole time. Just like Frankenstein is actually the name of the doctor who created the monster, maybe Owlbear is the name of the wizard who created the monster! Just let that sink in, these creatures were created by the Archmage Owlbear and he created them in his image… err… name? Your welcome for fixing this bit of lore you never knew you needed.
Of course, their second origin story is from 4e and is that they are from the Feywild and somehow made the crossing over to the Material Plane. While this second story seems more plausible, how much do you trust Elves? Let us ask that question a different way, how badly do you want there to be an Archmage Owlbear? You know which story we prefer.
Focusing on the facts known about the Owlbear, it is still extremely mean and will attack anything or anyone on sight. They live in the deep dark forest or caves, and apparently, they are very bad housekeepers. Their lairs are made up of scattered bones, blood, and the remains of their victims. They live either by themselves or if they have fallen in love with the right Owlbear, you may encounter a happy family of our furry-feathered-murder-beasts. A lot of the lore is actually taken directly from 4e’s Monster Vault, though some of it is slightly rewritten, and we still have elves using them to guard the ground beneath the tree-cities. While we are sure that the nearby neighbors of the elf-cities would complain about their property values dropping, no one in their right mind ever says anything since there is an Owlbear!
The first of the two biggest changes to the Owlbear deals with how it attacks. While the claw and beak attack remain, there are no more hugs of any sort. Our incredibly friendly Owlbear no longer has any chance to grapple its target and squeeze it to death. Is this even the Owlbear anymore? That was its signature move and they decided to take it away! While the damage is relatively high for its challenge rating, it just isn’t that terrifying. This travesty has yet to be resolved and they have had 6 years to correct their error, so one has to imagine this was done on purpose. Shame on you WotC, shame on you.
The second change is kind of cool, although nothing will compensate for the loss of the hug attack. Building on the 4e Owlbear that could be tamed, 5e takes it one step further. An Owlbear can now be trained to do all sorts of ‘domesticated’ tasks. Hobgoblins use them as war beasts and certain giants keep them as pets. Out in the wild frontier, the inhabitants love themselves some Owlbear as they use them as guards, which isn’t exactly a new thing, but they also train them to be ridden. We are pretty sure riding into town on an Owlbear would make you the biggest badass the locals have ever seen. Of course, what is even more badass is that you could ride them in Owlbear races! The image of a dozen or so of these 1,500-pound creatures galloping around a dirt track in the middle of nowhere is both exhilarating and terrifying. Especially as a lot of the people bet on not just who wins but who gets eaten first by their vicious mount.
Unfortunately for the Owlbear, it has largely been used as part of a random encounter and rarely provides much to the story across every edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Even in 5e, it appears in several adventures as a random encounter like in The Lost Mine of Phandelver (2014), Princes of the Apocalypse (2015), and Storm King’s Thunder (2016).
If you’re a DM and have a burning desire to watch your players freak out at the sight of this horrid creature, throw one into your campaign. If you are a player and you see one of these horrifying creatures running towards you and screeching like an owl out of hell, well… hopefully, you are playing 5th edition and you don’t have to worry about that massive bear-hug that will pop you like a pimple.
On a side note, we have created something that no one asked for! Now YOU can create your very own genetic mistake and throw a surprise curve ball at your players!

Build-An-Owlbear - Three charts to customize your own Owlbear!

Have a monster you'd like to see explored throughout the editions? Let us know in the comments!

Past Deep Dives

Creatures: Aboleth / Beholder / Displacer Beast / Flumph / Gelatinous Cube / Grell / Hobgoblin / Kobold / Kraken / Kuo-Toa / Lich / Lizardfolk / Mimic / Mind Flayer / Nothic / Rakshasa / Sahuagin / Umber Hulk / Vampire / Werewolf / Xorn
Spells: Fireball Spell / Lost Spells / Wish Spell
Other: Barbarian Class / Wizard Class / The History of Bigby / The History of the Blood War / The History of Vecna
submitted by varansl to DnDBehindTheScreen [link] [comments]

First Contact Second Wave - Chapter One Hundred Fourteen

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The day was hazy, visibility lowered to less than a quarter mile due to the thick spores and pollen in the air. Some of the spores were the size of a baseball, lazily floating along in the humid air currents. The sound of the waves against the cliff was far and remote, as if the pollen in the air was somehow muffling the noise of the tide.
The tank was large by most standards, two hundred tons of moving metal, three engines, eight forced air pressure hover nacelles. A 155mm main gun, a set of tri-barrel co-axial mag-acc guns, a pair of 4-pack mortal tubes, point defense weapons, and APERS strips.
Ekret knew it was a light scout tank by the standards of the military he was currently serving with.
Ekret, like his entire crew, had started out as debt forced wage-slave military forces, using equipment who's designs were over ten million years old without a single update or improvement. His tanks, back then, had been between fifty and a hundred tons and mounted less than half the weaponry, were slower, with less shielding.
The battle-screen that would normally be glimmering was turned off, although there were sterilization fields, normally used in surgery, glimmering over the head sinks and fins off the back of the tank.
The Terran military had purchased his contract, and the contracts of his entire division, from the bankrupt corporation, trained him, armed him, and integrated him into one of the most lethal militaries Ekret had ever seen.
The patch on his shoulder, a pair of lighting bolts on either side of the Terran number "1", was the patch of his division, First Recon Division (New Metal).
Which is how he had ended up on a planet that was currently being overgrown by hostile plants.
And how a Terran Descent Human, who had been raised by insectoid Treana'ad after a natural disaster had left him an orphan, had sent him, and his crew, out to check on the coast. Satellite recon was almost completely useless, the plant's spores making visibility by almost any wavelength next to useless.
But the General, known to many as 'Tik-Tac', had been staring at maps for over a day, tapping his fingers and rubbing his hand together.
Standing in the cupola hatch, the commander's hatch, Ekret was chewing on the end of an empty plastic ration tube, staring at what he'd found.
"Any ideas?" one of the human commanders, a big burly human who was more cybernetics than man, asked.
"No clue," Ekret admitted, staring at what he'd found.
It was massive. He could see it, dimly through the spores, extending off past the visibility line.
A massive vegetative tube, exiting the jungle and down the cliff, into the sea. It was pulsing in a rhythm that suggested to Ekret that it was pulling the water up. The seawater was covered with a thick layer of algae and seaweed. There were smaller veins around it, all obviously feeding the tube, which moved with a life all its own.
On Ekret's left was the jungle. The leaves were brown and yellow, limp, almost wilted, coated with a thin film of what looked like wax.
"Pan the jungle again," came an order over his headset.
The hovertank slowly rotated, bringing the massive scanners on the front glacis into play.
"Air's full of crap," Heslettek, the EW and scanner officer complained.
--attempting to compensate-- 749, a small green mantis engineer flashed through the icon and emoji language he used.
"That jungle doesn't look like its benefiting from millions of gallons of seawater being pumped into it," said the voice that had ordered the jungle to be panned again.
"No, sir," The human commander, one General Trucker - 3rd Armor Division (Old Metal), said, his voice slow and quiet. "Anyone have any idea what it's doing?"
"Pumping water up from the ocean and taking it further into the jungle is my guess," Ekret said.
"We need an expert on this," Trucker said. Ekret heard the big human spit. "Where's that Vuxten kid?"
There was silence a moment, broken only by stray chatter that was bounced around by the vegetative chaff. Ekret nodded to himself. Vuxten had fought in the Precursor War as an Army conscript, pulling SAR and recon, then had gone through training as a Terran Marine.
"Vuxten here, sir," came the voice of one of the natives of the planet, a Telkan.
"Any ideas what this might relate to?" The original voice asked. General Tik-Tac of 19th Logistics and Sustainment.
"It has to be a vein. One of the big ones," Vuxten answered. "It's pumping nutrients, probably filtered out of the ocean, to the plants deeper in. Watch out for veins, sir."
"The plants at the edge are dead," Ekret said.
"No, sir. They just look like it. The whole jungle, all of it, is one interconnected system. Believe me, that big vein could pump enough nutrients into that patch of jungle that you're tank would have vines trying to crawl into within a minute or two. We call 'vein bolt' and 'power bloom' when it does that," Vuxten said.
"It's pulling millions of gallons an hour. Any idea why?" Ekret asked.
"No, sir. Honestly, with what we've learned over the last week? It's probably something bad. Let me check," Vuxten said.
There was silence for a moment.
"There's three big lakes, according to the old maps. It's pulling in the water to feed something in those lakes. Every time we've seen lakes, they've been coated in algae and have something big and mean growing in them," Vuxten said.
"All right, kid. Thanks. Get some rest," Trucker said.
"Yes, sir," Vuxten said.
Ektret leaned against the edge of the hatch, staring at the jungle.
"Well, gentlemen, what do you think?" Tic-Tak asked.
"I think the kid's right. It's pumping nutrients to something nasty," Trucker said, then spit again. "After what happened during the landing, I'm willing to bet it's growing something that it hopes can stand up to modern metal."
"I concur, sir," Ekret said, lifting up a pair of lens only binoculars and looking through them.
"All right, come back. I don't like having you out that far on your own," Tic-Tak said. "Unless either of you have an objection."
"We could always have Ekret put a couple rounds in that artery, see what shakes loose," Trucker suggested.
"I'm in a hover tank," Ekret said. "I should be able to outrun anything the jungle tosses out."
"No, I think I should consult with all commanders and come up with a workable plan to force the jungle to show a few cards," Tic-Tak said. "Together we are much more than the sum of our parts."
Trucker and Ekret acknowledged and then signed off.
The big 'scout' hovertank lifted up in a shower of pureed vegetation and dirt, rotated in place, and smoothly headed back to the massive logistics base.
Behind it, the thick tube kept its secrets.
-------------------
Six hours later Ekret stared at the same scene he had watched from his tank. Well, close. The image was split into quarters, one with visible light, one a composite, one cleaned up, and one the last aerial view that had been recorded.
"First of all, I'd like to welcome our two reinforcement division heads. General Araktun of the 219th Cybernetic Infantry Division and General Vost of the 712th Genetic Warfare Division," Tic-Tak said, rubbing his hands slowly back and forth. Ekret had noticed that in a way it mimicked Treana'ad body language.
General Araktun looked like a warborg except in chrome, with a single line of red that had a moving red dot going back and forth, instead of the normal warborg eyes. He nodded to everyone at the introduction then looked at General Trucker, who was spitting juice into a small plastic bottle.
"You still hanging around with these meatbags pretending you shouldn't be working with me, Trucker?" Araktun asked.
"Still 42% meat, ya walking hubcap," Trucker grinned.
The cyborg made a grinding sound of amusement.
General Vost was a lean looking Pure Strain Human with a face like a shovel and cold hard eyes. He just nodded when he was introduced.
"Do have any ideas what might be going on deeper in the jungle?" Tic-Tak asked, brushing his fingers together back and forth.
Everyone shook their heads.
"Send for that Vuxten kid, let's get his input," Trucker said, waving at it. "I've looked over the after action precis for what went down on the landing, those Telkans had their shit together."
Everyone nodded and Tic-Tak gave orders to an aide to have Vuxten report in to the command center.
"Would those big ones prove difficult for your tanks, General Trucker?" Tic-Tak asked.
Trucker shrugged. "That's hard to say without actually engaging them, sir. From what I've seen, using straight lasers or plasma just seem to energize them in the same way that my battle-screens pull any energy they can into my reserves."
Araktun just nodded, staring at the screen. He pointed at an unused holotank. "May I?"
"Of course, General," Tic-Tak answered.
"I haven't been on planet long enough to do a complete genetic analysis of the foe, but what I'm seeing just in these images is concerning," Vost said, leaning forward. "I would suggest from here on out we make our plans as if we're dealing with a rogue Elven Queen."
"Oh my," Tic-Tak said, rubbing his forearms. "That is... concerning."
"Amplify?" Trucker said, staring at the holotank.
"Corporal Vuxten as well as several other members of First Telkan have annotated that the 'jungle itself' adapts to them. They treat the 'jungle' as a complete organism, and so far their instincts have been on the nose," Vost stated. "How many of you have seen an Elven Queen in action with your own eyes?"
General Tic-Tak was the only one who raised their hand.
"If we approach this as if we are taking on a maddened or rogue Elven Queen, we'll be able to adapt our strategies must quicker as well as possibly predict the actions of the enemy," Vost said. "I would suggest considering it a maddened queen, as we've seen them 'print out', so to speak, unfinished versions of attack and defense systems where a rogue queen would take the time to finalize the design."
Tic-Tak nodded and exhaled. "That makes logistics handling much more difficult. I'll need to put a priority on medical checks and medical care as well as ensure everyone's blood cleanser implants get constant updates."
Araktun was replaying several of the First Telkan's combat operations, pausing and zooming in on the plants involved.
"Right now it looks like, for the most part, the controlling organism, if there is one, thinks on the macro not the micro, which is lucky for us," Vost said, staring at the screen. "It hasn't resulted to viral warfare as far as we know, specifically they haven't engaged in viral warfare against the human element, which leads me to believe that they don't have enough of our genetic code to begin attacking us."
"A maddened queen wouldn't rectify that, a rogue one would," Tic-Tak mused. "A rogue queen would be sending in small blood sucking creatures to get a sample of us."
"Pre-programmed," Trucker said, staring at the map. Ekret noticed both the big human's cybernetic eyes were slightly unfocused. "Our proteins and yadda yadda are different enough from the Telkans to throw an error code but close enough we can breathe the same atmosphere and eat roughly the same things. At first glance we'd look like a mutation, but on a deeper level our cellular structure and makeup are too different to be easily effected. It's either ignoring us or devoting a lot of effort to figure out how to go at us beyond stabbing or crushing us."
General Vost raised his eyebrows slightly and Ekret kept from laughing. It was obvious Vost had taken one look at the big General and dropped his estimates of Trucker's intellect by a factor of five.
"With Big Slobbery Mo out of the picture, it might have to dedicate resources to regrowing intelligence arrays," Trucker said, suddenly looking up. "We should consider this thing akin to the Precursor machines for how they work together and add in the Lanaktallan 'slow and steady wins the race' philosophy."
Everyone nodded except Araktun, who was engrossed in watching the sped-up replays of First Telkan.
Ekret slid an empty ration tube out of his pocket and put the end in his mouth, chewing on it, and staring at the holotank. It had been only a little more than a week and already the majority of the planet was covered by vegetation. There wasn't that much more than rolling plains, a few mountain ranges, and complex interconnect rivers to make up the geography.
That made Ekret blink. He reached out and brought up a few planetary scans of planets in the Dead Zone where all this had started as well as planets from the Terran side, looking over the geographical outlay of the planet.
The majority of planets in the neo-sapient zone were uniform in their layout. Protocontinent or a few continents, mountain ranges in the center, rivers flowing through rolling plains. He ran a similarity check between neo-sapient zone planets with the main computer system and waited the few minutes for it to check.
80% match.
Ekret looked up.
"They've been here before," he said.
Everyone turned and looked at him. "Not just here, but all over this zone. Look," he motioned at the planetary comparison. "Think about it. These planets are just farms, resource farms for the creatures and Lanaktallans."
Tic-Tak was slowly rubbing his hands together, staring at the screen. "The Lanaktallans want physical resources, found in a planetary crust, and use the local sapients as a slave force to maximize the resource extraction. The creatures want... biomass? Calories? Fuel for themselves?"
"The question is," Trucker said slowly, staring at the holotank as he spit into the bottle. "Which one is obeying who?"
Ekret shrugged. "Say ten million years between each, well, rotation so to speak, does it matter in the meantime?"
Tic-Tak moved to the holotank, bringing up an interface and twiddling at it rapidly. After he was done he stepped back and waited.
Vuxten came in and stood against the wall silently, seeing all the high ranking officers staring at the holotank. Vuxten could see it was flashing planets up rapidly.
"Let me adjust the algorythm a bit," Tic-Tak said. He twiddled for a moment on the interface. "That's the best my limited skill can do. After we're done here I'll send it for analysis."
Everyone just nodded, watching.
It took almost five minutes before the computer spit it back up.
Core Worlds and Inner Sphere worlds were heavy metal poor, almost to the point of having none outside the mantle. The mountains were low and rounded. Geological instability was largely relieved. Weather was controlled. The ecology was carefully balanced, with no high end predators.
"As I suspected," Tic-Tak said, stepping back and shaking his head. "General Ekret is correct, they've not only been here before, but I suspect they have been all through this section of the galactic stub."
Everyone nodded as Tic-Tak turned around. "So either there is an ecological battle group outside of every system in Lanaktallan control and sphere of influence, or the creatures have been slowly spreading out, abandoning the "Core Worlds" and "Inner Sphere" as depleted due to the eco-system being too, well, 'thin' as it were," the portly General said. He spotted the Telkan against the wall. "Ah, Corporal Vuxten. Good of you to join us."
"Thank you, General," Vuxten said. "How can I help?"
"How long, would you estimate, it took the jungle to adapt to what your men were doing?" Trucker asked.
Vuxten thought for a moment. "A day, maybe too, at the latest. Hours sometimes. It got easier in Grid Tango-Niner after we blew up a bunch of weird looking coral."
"Which day and engagement?" Araktun asked. When Vuxten told him he shifted views in the holotank and brought up the section quickly.
He tossed it to the main holo-tank and everyone watched as First Telkan moved in on an overgrown spaceport, escorting flame vehicles.
Only a few days ago we had the ability to do overwatch with drones and satellite, now we're almost blind, Ekret thought to himself, watching the icons move across the screen.
"STATUS CHANGE!" the voice rang out over the holotank and the image changed from ships covered by a thin layer of moss to outgrowths of coral defended by plants that fired laser or vomited up plasma. The screen blinked twice to show it was updating.
The coral was closely grown, full of folds and bulges, and ringed by heavy armored plates. Ekret noted that the shell to completely encase it wasn't fully formed yet but still gleamed metallically. Plant extruded metals forged at the cellular level.
The flame vehicles washed the coral with fire and everything went berserk. Lightning-like patterns in the moss.
"That was the first time we ran into a vein bolt," Vuxten said quietly.
Ekret just nodded, staring. It did look like a lightning bolt moving through the moss.
"Thousands of gallons of nutrient per vein, fifteen veins, this was of major importance," Tic-Tak mused.
"The first power bloom we ever encountered is next," Vuxten said. "We lost a couple of people right here and a lot of the tanks. We got chewed up."
The lumps in the moss, which had only showed up on the scans when First Telkan had arrived, suddenly erupted into plants that grew impossibly fast.
General Vost was working at his own holotank, watching what Vuxten was narrating as he worked, identifying plants, growth rate, nutrient uptake rate, where they were in regards to a major vein.
Tanks had plants shoot out from under them, vines grabbing and twisting. First Telkan scattered, going for flat spots of moss, throwing or firing out grenades or rockets to blow the moss off of the ferrocrete and jumping to the middle of the spot.
Four of First Telkan didn't make it. At every point where the Telkan Marines didn't make it out there was an explosion.
"What triggers that?" Vost asked.
"Termination of life signs," Vuxten said. "We encountered a few places where bodies are used pretty horrifically and all agreed we'd rather risk having our suits explode when we sneeze than be used like that."
Vuxten made a motion, looking at the holodisplay coming from his palm, then flicked it General Vost. "Take a look at that, sir. We encountered that on Day Two when we were evacing people."
It looked like a Telkan with a bulging face, throat, and abdomen. It suddenly split open to reveal a swarm of wasps and dozens of little crabs which charged in.
"Luckily, the broodcarriers can smell them and sense them. None of them got in with any podling daycares," Vuxten said, turning away. "Their hearts still beat and they make moaning and gagging noises. We felt like they were still alive in there."
General Vost nodded.
The vehicle drivers obviously panicked, to Ekret's eyes. Two slammed into each other. One bathed a squad of Telkan power armor troops with fire and one of the troops fired back with a rocket that blew up the flame tank.
Ekret couldn't blame them.
Rockets and grenades were flying out at and the tanks were turning to fire at the coral.
"It looks like cabbage in the garden," Trucker mused. "Protective leafs. See how they're trying to curl over the coral? Yeah, this was something big."
Bees, dragonflies, larger bugs were all swarming, going for the tanks, which had moved to areas that had been scoured of moss by explosives. A lot of the Telkan power armor had jumped onto the tanks, providing cover as they poured fire into the plants.
"Plasma didn't work, weirdly enough regular fire worked just fine," Vuxten said. "I don't know enough about the difference between napalm and plasma."
"Energy profile," Trucker grunted.
Araktun turned and looked at the holodisplay. The coral was burning.
"Look, they lost cohesiveness," Araktun said. Trucker nodded. "Each of those coral formations they lost, they lose more and more of their cohesion."
"This might be the difference in this sector compared to the rest," Tic-Tak mused. "Perhaps they are growing more of them?"
Vuxten shook his head. "Not for a pipe that big. That's something big being grown. Something it'll take atomics to stop."
"Something to offset our big tanks," Araktun said. He turned to Vuxten. "What's the biggest threat your power armor troops face?"
Vuxten looked confused. "I'm just a corporal, sir."
"Second lieutenant now, son," Tik-tac said.
Vuxten nodded. "I'm just a lieutenant, sir. I'm in charge of a fire recon platoon of Telkan Marines, that's all."
"What's the biggest threat you've faced?" General Vost asked.
"Heat. There has to be thirty different ways the jungle goes for your heat systems. From what looks like airborne plant seeds that seal to your cooling fins with insulation like plastic to bugs that purposefully home in on your cooling systems, the jungle is definitely targeting heat," Vuxten said.
"I noticed that during our relief of the civilian command center," Trucker said.
Araktun nodded. "My men might be of use here," he turned to Vuxten. "I'd like a briefing of First Telkan's heat compensation tactics."
Vuxten looked at the gathered generals. "Sirs, maybe it would be better to talk to some of the higher ranking officers? I've only been a Marine a year."
Tik-Tac walked up and put his hand on Vuxten's shoulder. "Your men have the most field experience out there in the jungle. The majority of your officers are Terran Marines, we'll get their opinion too, son. Don't think we're not going to speak to them too. You just have a lot of field experience."
"Oh, OK, sir," Vuxten said, looking out of his depth.
"Don't sweat it, kid," Trucker said. "We'll have you back in armor and behind your rifle quick enough so you don't have to stand around a bunch of plotters and planners like us."
Vuxten just nodded.
Ekret had watched the whole thing interestedly. He knew how Vuxten felt. He had been a Most High, and he still felt inadequate at times watching the Terran military work. He, himself, was used to being told what to do, not having people ask him his opinions on everything from how much time his men spent in the tanks to if the ammunition templates were working right to what his favorite shows were.
Ekret moved over next to Vuxten as the other Generals went back to discussing everything from how to deal with the Terran military's biggest problem (heat) to what the jungle might be cooking up to how much longer they had to hold out until the shelters were reconfigured and ready to launch.
"It's almost frightening, isn't it?" Ekret asked the younger male.
"Sir?" Vuxten asked, looking at him. Ekret could see the thick red scarring, not yet faded, around the Telkan's ear.
"Watching Terrans go to work. You can see how they've crushed everyone they've ever faced," Ekret said, taking the half of the ration tube that remained unchewed.
"I don't understand why they wanted to talk to me," the younger male said softly.
"Because you've been on the ground, seen it react to your actions with your own eyes, had your reflexes save you, which means you understand something about the jungle at a subconscious level," Ekret said, pouring the spit out of the tube into the reclaimer before putting it back into his mouth and chewing on it.
"Vuxten, what's the first sign you notice of a vein bolt?" General Vost asked.
"The mat bulges slightly, gets spongier feeling under our boots, and there will be a green trail in the moss where the nutrients are being poured into the vein to get it ready," Vuxten answered. "More spores and pollen too."
"See, that's information you can't see in the recordings," Ekret said, nodding at the holotank. He looked at Vuxten. "I can have my mechanics put feedback sensors on my hovertanks to rate the ground reflection of my hoverfans, maybe give me a second or two to react."
"Oh," Vuxten nodded.
"Trucker there, he'll notice it. The Unnamed Gods only know how he'd notice, but I guarantee you that he'll notice it," Ekret said. "General Araktun's cyborgs will know to keep a look out for it. A second or two can save countless lives."
"You can ambush the ambush if you know it's coming," Vuxten quoted.
"These power blooms, how long from sighting an incoming vein bloom till they erupt?" General Vost asked.
"Um, ten, maybe twenty seconds. You can tell what's going to get power bloomed by a thin vein pattern coming from the middle of an intersection. It takes three or four vein bolt strikes to cause a power bloom," Vuxten said. "You can't rely on your suit computer, though. Because of the sudden spore and pollen eruptions your visuals and sensors are usually confused."
Vuxten thought for a second. "If you have incoming vein bolt strikes and your sensors suddenly drop to almost nothing, you're about to get power bloomed and you might be on top of a bloomer."
All of the generals nodded, adding that.
Vuxten noted that Tik-Tac was stepped back a bit, just watching. He pointed it out to Ekret who nodded.
"The General isn't a combat arms leader. He trusts the others to do their jobs, he's figuring out the best was to support them," Ekret said. He looked at Vuxten. "Make no mistake, young Telkan, wars are won or lost by men like the General. All of the combat valor in the world won't help you if you starve to death without ammunition or uniforms."
"Oh," Vuxten said. He never really thought about it. Maintenance, supplies, armor repair, it just happened. Vuxten had never really thought about it beyond hoping it was taken care of.
Ekret kept chewing on the ration tube, watching the information in the tanks flow by.
"Why aren't you involved?" Vuxten suddenly asked.
Ekret looked at him and smiled. "Because, young man, I, like you, are Scout Recon. Which means that I'll be paying attention to you and your fellow Scout Marines on a much more personal level. The others? They're heavy metal. Combat warborgs, heavy tanks, heavy assault infantry."
"Oh," Vuxten said, still slightly confused.
"Just stand here, they'll get to us. More than likely to assign a mission," Ekret said. "And I've got a feeling what it's going to be," Ekret said.
"What's that, sir?" Vuxten asked.
"If I tell you, you won't figure it out on your own," Ekret smiled.
----------------------
Ekret stared at the massive organic pipes, rising up out of the ocean, over the edge of the cliff, to disappear into the wilted looking jungle. His tank sat, idling, only a hundred meters from the nearest pipe, which had grown a thicker layer of twisted vines around it. The moon had set with the sun, meaning the only view was through light amplification, giving the world a too-slick feeling.
He left signal repeaters every two hundred meters that used point to point tight beam communication across one of the narrow bands not clogged by the pollen and spores, all the way back to the main Forward Operating Base.
Trucker was only fifty miles away, his entire Division formed into a spearhead poised to slam its way through the thickest part of the jungle. All eight BOLOs attached to him were on the flanks, ready to go.
Vuxten's platoon and a light company of Araktun's cyborgs had entered the jungle only two hours before, after making sure everyone had gotten a good night's sleep.
The objective wasn't to suddenly win the war, but to delay whatever it was the jungle had planned.
The shelters needed another twelve days to finish reconfiguring, dig their way out of the bedrock, and launch.
One point two million shelters across a main continent, two sub-continents, and eighteen major islands.
Ekret was glad it wasn't his responsibility. That all of those people only tangentially relied on his guns.
If I was to be put into Tik-Tac's place I'd develop a substance abuse problem retroactively, Ekret thought to himself.
He looked back over the ocean, one hand on the lip of the hatch, feeling his tank vibrate slightly. The ocean was covered with a thick layer of algae and seaweed.
Enemy territory, he sighed to himself.
He looked around at the jungle again, keeping an eye for any change in the colors. Yeah, his scout tank would supposedly alert him of any palette change in the foliage, but sometimes it was better to keep a physical eye on it. He could barely see the fiber-optic cable twinkling in the sunlight, moss already growing over it, that ran from his tank into the jungle.
Recon Alpha-Three-Three's only line of communication out of the jungle.
The surgical sterilization fields crackled as General Ekret waited.
-----------------------
Trucker had his left palm turned up, his right hand on the coax gun. Above his left hand was a holodisplay feeding him data. It was easy to forget just how thick the jungle was from the ground, when you weren't in a five hundred ton mechanical war machine. The 'trees' were almost a hundred meters high, the trunks thick and greasy looking. The moss carpet was thick and spores the size of a grown man's fist floated in mid air, slowly blinking red or yellow or green.
Two hours and they were nearly twenty-five miles in. Trucker knew the borgs from Sixteen Scout Recon could move up to ninety miles an hour, but they'd chosen to follow the Telkan Marines, who were notably slower.
Right now they were stopped, waiting for something that Trucker didn't see. He could tell by the signals that the Recon cyborgs didn't either.
But Vuxten had said to hold position, that nobody should move, and so everyone was frozen in place.
As Trucker watched there was a brightening in the moss in a vein pattern, spreading out from the massive nutrient pipes.
"Do. Not. Move," the Telkan officer snapped.
The pattern spread out, then the moss bulged around a handful of thick conduits, the edges around it brightening.
Almost a minute passed before the fluid moved off to the left.
That's heading for someone else, Trucker thought to himself. He opened his channel to BOLO Victorious.
"Victor, keep your optics peeled, there's a vein bolt heading in roughly your direction," Trucker snapped.
"Roger, sir," BOLO Victorious answered.
The scout team moved on.
Trucker kept watch, feeling the numbers run in his head. He slid the map to the north, not to the thickest part of the jungle, but to a point between five different lakes.
There. Whatever it is, it's there, Trucker thought to himself, scanning back to where the scouts were following the thick nutrient trunk.
----------------------------
TERRASOL
Space Force Units arriving at operational theaters. Rough estimation of location on Precursor Biological Weapon Fleets for systems are attached. Each fleet is to the solar north-west, at approximately 2.2 LY from stellar mass. Bioweapon fleets are to be targeted with extreme prejudice.
Operation Tusked Raven is proceeding according to projections.
-----NOTHING FOLLOWS---------
TASK FORCE 43 (ANVIL)
Have moved in strength into the Nantaver-837 system (Locally: Artcarik-482) to engage heavy Unified Military Fleet presence. Was informed by the System Most High, one Mana'aktoo, that even if we were triumphant in two years time the entire system would be eradicated by a super-weapon. System Most High 'inadvertantly' let slip the distance. Discovered bioweapon fleet in hibernation. Upon informing System Most High and System Defense Most High of the destruction of the bioweapon fleet, the system was immediately surrendered.
Governor Mana'aktoo is highly regarded by the xenospecies who live in the system. The four mega-corporations also regard him highly. The System Defense Most High is highly regarded by his subordinates.
I'm in an odd place here. Governor Mana'aktoo has made himself and his staff available at all opportunity. I'm pinned down here since this system is a priority to the Unified Council defense. If I abandoned it to carry on, another fleet could come in and take it. As it surrendered immediately I cannot move through destroying infrastructure due to the Geneva Convention and the Rules of Land Warfare.
Which means the System Defense High Most has pinned my task force here even more effectively than if he'd tried to take me head on. He had literally millions of troops under his command, all of whom are EPOWs that I have to oversee. They are not a difficultly, at worst they're lazy and unmotivated as EPOWs, at best their eager to assist my command in any orders we give out, but I cannot pull out and leave behind millions of soldiers.
Additionally, the civilian infrastructure is the highest I've seen in a Lanaktallan controlled system, the citizens highly educated (for their standards) and eagerly supporting Mana'aktoo's stewardship.
As the xenosapients in the system welcome us, with Mana'aktoo's encouragement, my office is flooded with requests for PR interviews and 'meet the people' interviews. It's not uncommon for my Marines and Army personnel to be asked to pose for photography or asked for interviews.
I need an actual occupation fleet here. MI was way off on whether or not this guy would fight to the death. My Task Force should have moved on to my other objectives already, instead I'm stuck here like my foot has been nailed to the floor.
--Admiral Schmidt, Commander, Task Force Anvil.
-------NOTHING FOLLOWS--------
MANTID FREE WORLD

------NOTHING FOLLOWS------
TELKAN GESTALT
What? What's so funny?
------NOTHING FOLLOWS------
MANTID FREE WORLDS
It's the age old human problem, dear. They won, but now they don't know what to do with it.
------NOTHING FOLLOWS-----
TREANA'AD HIVE WORLDS
See, sis and I, we'd just eat everyone and leave, at least, before the Terrans stomped on us.
The Terrans, though, they want something different for all those people.
-----NOTHING FOLLOWS------
TELKAN GESTALT
What do they want?
-------NOTHING FOLLOWS-------
RIGELLIAN COMPACT
Freedom and self-determination.
They don't want to stand over you with a club, they want you to start doing your own thing so they can get back to doing their own thing.
Humans are lazy.
-----NOTHING FOLLOWS-------
TERRASOL
Wow. Rude.
I mean, you're not wrong.
But rude.
-----NOTHING FOLLOWS-----
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This is all the words u/emoji-fier detects

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triangle triumph truck tsunami tube turd turkey tv twisted twitter️⃣️⃣ twitter️⃣️⃣️⃣ two type tấn u ukraine uk‍️ uncle underage union united up upset ur usa user v vacation vehicle victory video viet vietnam view violence virgin vomit vortex vs và wait wake walking‍️ walking‍️‍️ walking‍️‍️‍️ want wanted wanting warm warning watch water wave wax way️ way️️ way️️️ wealthy weapon weather website weed weight weird western wet what wheelchair when where whine who whoa why wifi wild win wind wings winning winter wish witch‍️‍️ witch‍️‍️‍️ woman women womens woof words work worker‍️‍️ working world worm worried worship worst wow wrench‍‍‍ write writing x yea yeah yellow yes yo yoga‍️ yoga‍️‍️ you young your yours yum zen‍️‍️ zero ʃx ‍ ‍‍ ‍‍‍ ‍️ ‍️‍‍ ‍️‍️buuuut… ‘out “ass “bless “bread” “good “hey “huh “i “i’ll “look “man “shit “up “why ↓ ╚═███═╝ ️ ️although ️‍ ️‍️ ️⃣ ️️ ️️️ � 𝓼𝓱𝓾𝓽 𝓾𝓹
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More words detected by u/emoji-fier

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battle️️ battle️️️️ battle️️️️️️ bby beach bear beauty because bed beef beer beers bees beetle belgium belize bell best bet betting beverage bg bi bikini bill billions bills bin bird birthday bisexual️‍️‍ bitch bitches blade bless blessed blind blind‍ blonde‍️ blonde‍️‍️ blonde‍️‍️‍️ blood blown blues bluetooth blue‍️ blue‍️‍️ blue‍️‍️‍️ bo boarding boat boi bomb bomb’ book books boom boot booze border bored born bosnia bot bottle bottom bought bowl box boy boys boy’s brain branch brand️ brand️️ brand️️️ brass brazil bread break breakfast bride britain british‍️ british‍️‍️ british‍️‍️‍️ bro broadcast broccoli broken brown buck bug building buildings build‍️ build‍️‍️ build‍️‍️‍️ build‍️‍️‍️‍️ built‍️ built‍️‍️ built‍️‍️‍️ built‍️‍️‍️‍️ built‍️‍️‍️‍️‍️‍️ bulb bulgaria bullshit bunny bureau burrito bus bush business‍ business‍‍ business‍‍‍ business‍‍‍‍‍‍ butterfly button buy b️ b️️ b️️️ b️️️️ b️️️️️️ ca cactus cake cal calculate calculation calling camel camera canada cancel cancer candy cannot cant can’t cap car cardboard cards career carnival carolina carrot cars cary cash casual cat cats cat’s cause cause” cayman celebrate celebration central century cereal ceremony ch chad chains champagne change changed characters charger cheese cheeseburger chef‍‍‍ chemistry chicken child childish children‍ children‍‍ children‍‍‍ children‍‍‍‍‍ chili chill china chinese chips chocolate christ christianity christmas️ christmas️️ christmas️️️ christmas️️️️ chugoku church cigarette cinema circle city clap classroom clean cleaning click clock cloth clothes cloudy cloud️ cloud️️️ cloud️️️️️ cm cn co coast coat cock cocktail coconut code coding coffee cog cold college colors comet comment️ comment️️ comment️️️ communication compensation computer concern confirm️️️ confused congrats congratulations connection consider console construction‍️ construction‍️‍️ consultant container continue convert cook cookie cooking cool copyright️️ copyright️️️ countdown country couple court‍️‍️ court‍️‍️‍️‍️ covid19 cow cow” co² crab crazy create creativity creature creepy cricket crossing cruise crush cry crying crystal cs cu culture cummies cummy cumreview cupid cupped curious cursing cussing custom cut cz dad daddy dam dance dance” dancing danger dank dark dart dash data date dating dawn de dead deadly deadpan death december deer degree delete deleted️ delicious demon denied denmark deny depressed desert design despise dessert destination detective️‍️ developed‍ developed‍‍ developed‍‍‍ developed‍‍‍‍ developed‍‍‍‍‍ developer‍‍ developer‍‍‍ developing‍ developing‍‍ developing‍‍‍ developing‍‍‍‍‍ develop‍ develop‍‍ develop‍‍‍ devil diagonal️ diagonal️️️ diamond diamonds️️️ diamonds️️️️ dick dicks die dig dildo dildos ding dinner dinosaur direction disabled disappointed disbelief disco disease dislike display divide diy dj dk dm doctor‍️ doctor‍️‍️ doctor‍️‍️‍️ doctor‍️‍️‍️‍️ doctor‍️‍️‍️‍️‍️ documents dog doge dollar dollars dolls dolphin dominican donate door dork doubt dove down dragon drama draw drawing dream dress drink drip driving drizzle drug drugs drum drunk dumb dusk dutch dvd eagle ear early earth east eat economic economy education ee egg eight elder electricity elephant email embarrassed embarrassing emergency emoji emojis employees empty end energy enforcement‍️ enforcement‍️‍️‍️‍️ engagement engineer‍ england english enter️ enter️️ enter️️️ enter️️️️ entrance environment epic er error et euro european evening event evil exam exclamation exercise exit exit” experience experiment explode explosion express extinct eye eyes face factory fail failure fall family fancy farming fart fashion fast father favorite fax fearful feet‍️ feet‍️‍️ feet‍️‍️‍️ feet‍️‍️‍️‍️ feet‍️‍️‍️‍️‍️‍️ female fencing fighting filing film films financial find finger fingers fire fireworks first fish fist five fix flag flame flex flight flipping floor flower flowers flu flushed fly fog food football forbidden formal formula fortnite forward four fr frame france free french 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leave‍️‍️‍️ left leftovers legal‍️ legal‍️‍️ legal‍️‍️‍️ legend lemon length leone lesbian️‍ lesbian️‍️‍ lesbian️‍️‍️‍ less letter️ letter️️ letter️️️ lettuce lgbt️‍ lgbt️‍️‍ lgbt️‍️‍️‍ li library license️ lie lies lie” life life️ light lightning like likes limbs limit line️ line️️ line️️️ link lips liquid liquor listen literature lmao load location lock lol lollipop look look… loop lord loser losing lost loud love lt luck lucky lunch lv100 mac machine mad maggot magic mail male mall man manager‍ manager‍‍ manager‍‍‍ man” map mark marriage mask massage️ master math mc52 mcdonalds mcdonald’s meal mean meat medicine mega meh melon meme memes memo men men’s meow message messages metal metro mexican mexico mg microphone midday middle midnight milestone military milk mind minor mm moai mom mom” money mongols mongolsbetter monitor monkey monster month️ month️️ month️️️ moo moon moon️️ moon️️️ more morning morocco mother motorcycle mountain mouse moustache mouth movie moving mr mt muscle music mute mürœ mắt nail namaste name nap nasa nation nature neck needle nemo nervous never new new” next nfl ni nigga niggas night nine ninjas no noise noon nope north northern nose note notes nothing noticed notification no” nuclear numbers nurse‍️ nurse‍️‍️ nursing nut obtain ocean octopus office oh‍️ ok okay okëî ok… old ole omg omg⁄ on one one️hour open orange order other out owl ox pa package paint painter‍ pair palm panda paper parents parent‍ parent‍‍ parent‍‍‍ parking️ parking️️ parking️️️ party pass password pasta paul pause pay paycheck payment peace peach peehle peek pen pencil people percent perfect person pet philippines phone photo physics pick pickle picture pie pig pill pineapple pink pirate pissed pistol pizza place planet plane‍️ plane‍️‍️ plane‍️‍️‍️ planning plant play please please” podcast point poison poisoned poker poland police‍️ police‍️‍️ police‍️‍️‍️ pool poop pork potato potty pouch pound power practice practicing praise prank pray prayer present 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wizard‍️‍️ wolf woman women womens wont won’t woof words work worker‍️ worker‍️‍️ worker‍️‍️‍️ working work world world’ worm worried worship worst wow wrench‍‍‍ write writing x xd ye yea yeah yellow yen yes yo yoga‍️ yoga‍️‍️ you young your youre yours you’re yum yummy zap zen‍️‍️ zero zoom ʃx ‍ ‍‍ ‍‍‍ ‍️ ‍️‍‍ ‍️‍️buuuut… ‘asian ‘coder’‍‍‍ ‘coding’ ‘frog’ ‘fun ‘fun’ ‘i ‘moo ‘mouse’ ‘new ‘out ‘pink “ass “bless “bread” “cock “gay”️‍️‍️‍ “good “hey “hot “how “huh “i “i’ll “look “man “meow” “ok “perfect” “shit “sir “talk “this “up “what “why “you’re ”fuck ↓ ╚═███═╝ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⢀⣀⣤⣤⣄⡀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⡿⠟⠉⠉⠉⢻⣿⣷⣄⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ あなたは私のことを何と言ったの?私がネイビーシールズでクラスのトップを卒業したことを知ってもらいます。アルクエダで数々の秘密の襲撃に関与しており、300人以上の殺害が確認されています。私はゴリラ戦の訓練を受けており、全米軍の中で最高の狙撃兵です。あなたは私には何の役にも立たず、ただの別のターゲットです。この地球上でこれまで見られなかったような正確さで性交を一掃します、私のクソ言葉をマークします。あなたはインターネットで私にそのたわごとを言うことで逃げることができると思いますか?もう一度考えて、ファッカー。私たちが話している間、私はアメリカ中のスパイの秘密のネットワークに連絡しており、あなたのipは現在追跡されているので、嵐、うじ虫の準備をよりよくすることができます。あなたが人生と呼ぶ哀れな小さなことを一掃する嵐。お前は死んだぞ私はどこにでも、いつでもいることができ、700以上の方法であなたを殺すことができます。それは私の素手だけです。私は非武装戦闘で広範囲に訓練されているだけでなく、私は米国海兵隊の兵器全体にアクセスでき、大陸の顔からあなたの惨めなお尻を拭き取るためにそれを最大限に使用します、あなたはちょっとくそ。もしあなただけが、あなたの小さな「賢い」コメントがあなたに降りかけようとしている不誠実な報復が何であるかを知ることができたなら、たぶんあなたはあなたのクソ舌を握っていただろう。しかし、あなたはできなかったし、そうしなかったし、今やあなたは代価を払っているのだ。私はあなたのいたるところに激怒し、あなたはそれに溺れます。お前は死んだぞ、キッド️️ ️ ️although ️‍ ️‍️ ️‍️‍️‍ ️⃣ ️️ ️️️ � 𝓼𝓱𝓾𝓽 𝓾𝓹
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I'mma head out

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withdraw within without witness woman wonder wonderful wood wooden word work worker working works workshop world worried worry worth would wound wrap write writer writing wrong yard yeah year yell yellow yes yesterday yet yield you young your yours yourself youth zone
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Dead Media

The four of us sat in a back corner of the Crimson Club finishing our drinks. The place was empty but for us, a few old men at the bar, and a couple guys playing pool. It was an hour before closing and energies were waning. We listened in numbed silence as Frank regaled us with another tale of sexual conquest. It was hard to pretend interest anymore and I was just waiting for someone to suggest calling it a night, rather than breaking the seal myself.
Frank waved his phone in front of us.
"Look at her! Go ahead and tell me you wouldn't step over your own goddamn mothers for a piece of that!"
Some of us laughed half-heartedly. Travis let out a sigh.
"Let's bring it down a notch or two, Frank."
Frank looked at him cock-eyed for a moment. Then he waved his phone in front of us again.
"C'mon guys, look at that ass! I bet if you get a good rhythm going, she could bounce you right through the fucking ceiling!"
That got a more lively laugh out of us, Travis included, but as our laughter faded, we started to get quiet again.
Frank's eyelids began to flutter as he scrolled through his phone. I yawned, then Travis yawned.
Chris finally spoke up and I was hopeful for a moment I could return home to the cozy confines of my warm bed, but those hopes were dashed when he eagerly started in on a new topic of conversation.
"I miss the way it was before smartphones. Remember how much harder it was to see that? I don't know, I guess I miss the work that went into it. The chase, the anticipation. Everything today is just instant gratification.
"Can you imagine if we had smartphones back in school? Fucking Snapchat? These kids coming up today have it all at their fingertips, access to everything with no regulations, no - "
Frank interrupted him.
"These little fuckers don't know how good they have it."
Travis looked at him.
"Well I'm not sure if it's a good thing that it's easier for kids to fuck each other now."
"I'm sure they think it's good."
We all laughed. Chris continued.
"I didn't even have internet until senior year, and even then it was only dial-up.
"Remember porn back then? You would have to wait your turn on the family computer, download a jpeg - forget about video - then print the thing so you could take it to the bathroom or some other private place and spray your pent up urge all over it."
"Eeewww."
"You're fucking sick, Chris."
Chris smiled and went on, unfazed.
"But, in some ways, it was actually better. It kept you from getting spoiled. You couldn't even take porn for granted. And if you wanted to get laid, you couldn't go scrolling through profiles like you were shopping. You had to go out and hunt and sometimes fight for it. The effort you put in made the reward that much greater."
Frank was struggling to focus on Chris, but he seemed to be looking at the wall behind him. He grinned crookedly.
"You like to work hard for that pussy, eh?"
We laughed. Chris continued his polemic against the deadening attributes of modern technology.
"It's not just about sex though.
"Everything comes too easy. Music, movies...
"Remember CDs? Man, I spent so many allowances on CDs when I was a kid. And now they're just clutter taking up space. Who needs them? And remember how different it was watching movies? It was always an event. Now, I can't even finish a movie unless I leave my phone out in the car."
We nodded in agreement.
"You can have anything you want now. You don't even have to go out and seek it, just stay online. Press a button and we'll bring it to you and lay it at your goddamn feet."
Chris paused to finish off his beer. Travis weighed in.
"I see what you mean, Chris, but you can't honestly believe we were better off then than we are now. I know I don't miss paying forty dollars for a CD."
Chris smiled wistfully.
"It's not about the money, it's about the ritual.
"And, back in the day, if a girl I knew showed me a picture of herself like the one on Frank's phone, it would've meant a hell of a lot more to me then than it would now - now it's just normal, a part of the game. And I can only speak for myself, but I think most people our age feel the same."
I had to speak up.
"That's because, back in the day, you were just a kid and a lot more horny and inexperienced. Plus, there were no smartphones and the internet was still a baby.
"Is it really that much of a surprise that once we all got connected and got our new phones, everyone immediately started sending naked pictures to each other? And kids today are born into it. They'll grow up never knowing the difference."
Chris mumbled his response before taking another drink.
"I know the difference."
Frank thought of something and laughed to himself, before adding:
"Hey Chris, remember that time we went to the mall and stole all those disposable cameras, then skipped classes for the day so we could take funny pictures?"
Chris spit out his beer.
"Oh, Fuck!"
Travis looked up from his phone. He wasn't part of our group at that particular time so he was curious.
"What kind of funny pictures?"
Frank and Chris flashed a pair of shit-eating grins. I explained.
"Well we got to school one morning and it was just gorgeous out, far too nice of a day to be in a classroom, so we all decided we were going to skip school and go on some sort of adventure for the day. Frank suggested we go to the supermarket to steal some snacks first.
"While there, we saw a display of disposable cameras and each of us immediately grabbed one without saying anything. We were all on the same wavelength. We knew we wanted to document our antics.
"So we left the supermarket and started brainstorming. The cameras used film so we would have to get the pictures developed. We had enough film for about fifty or sixty pictures. Chris suggested we take nice, wholesome pictures, for the most part, but then sprinkle in some that were x-rated. Then we would take them to the mall to get developed and see what kind of reaction we got. I think we were all kind of expecting them to go unnoticed."
Frank already had tears streaking his cheeks. Travis was on tenderhooks. I continued.
"So we took some group pictures in various places around town. Lots of smiling and wholesomeness; harmless pranks like pretending we were trapped in a freezer at the ice cream shop, pretending to strangle each other, you know, just cheesy stuff. We even went around to restaurants and other businesses close to the school, and said we were taking photos for the yearbook and wanted to get ours taken with the staffs. They all agreed without question, probably a dozen or so places."
A smile began to creep across Travis's face.
"So...what were the x-rated pictures?"
Frank couldn't contain himself and blurted out,
"They took pictures of me jerking off and giving a thumbs-up to the camera!"
Travis face-palmed.
"Jesus Christ."
I added some more details.
"And remember Flip-Flop? Well, we went to his house that day to call on him because we knew he wasn't in school. When we arrived, we didn't go to the door, but went to his bedroom window like usual. Sure enough, he was in there jerking it like there was no tomorrow, so instead of tapping on the window, we quietly took some pictures and left."
Travis's jaw dropped.
"No shit! Did they develop the pictures!?"
"No," I replied smiling. "We sent Frank to retrieve them and the lady gave him an envelope, so we got pretty excited because we thought they were the pictures, but it was actually just our cash back and a copy of some policy stating how they don't deal with obscene material and what-not."
Chris had joined Frank in the laugh-crying by this time. Travis smiled and shook his head.
"You crazy bastards."
We were alive again. I motioned to the bartender, signalling we were ready for another round, then turned to Chris.
"But, even though that was fun, I still love my phone. Just imagine what they'll be like in twenty, thirty years time, especially when you consider exponential returns. We'll probably be teleporting with them or something."
Chris rolled his eyes.
"Yeah, I guess so."
Travis added in a faux-thoughtful tone,
"The ol' landlines had their benefits though. Remember how fun prank calls were?"
Frank nearly burst out of his seat.
"Remember when I called Patrick's mom and told her I was a security gaurd at the mall and I caught Patrick stealing?! She was fucking bawling, man! I can't believe she fell for it! I actually felt a little bad for her afterwards."
Chris, with matching energy:
"Oh yeah! I completely forgot about that! I wonder what happened when he got home that day. I don't think we ever talked to him again."
"She definitely beat the shit out of him."
"Yeah, then made him give her a sponge bath."
We roared with laughter.
Then I reminded Frank about the time he pretended to be his own dad and called the school to excuse himself from classes, and had to yell at the principal."
Chris, with furrowed brow:
"I don't remember that."
Frank, sneeringly:
"That's because you were pussy-whipped at the time."
I filled him in.
"Alright, so we skipped classes one day and a few of us hung out at Frank's because his parents were out of town. Frank couldn't miss any more classes or he would fail the term, so he called the school, said he was his dad and that 'Frank' couldn't make it to classes; he was sick with fever. Well, the secretary knew it was really Frank and she put the principal on the phone and said to tell him.
"So Frank told him what he told her and the principal said 'yeah right, nice try Frank, I'll be calling the real Mr. Gunn later this afternoon and having a nice talk with him,' then he hung up.
"So we all kind of looked at each other in panic for a moment, then Frank doubled down, called the principal back and proceeded to loudly claim that he was, in fact, the real Mr. Gunn, and tore a strip off him in the process. The principal immediately started to apologize, but Frank continued to go off on him. There were lots of 'How dare yous?' and 'Where do you get offs?' - the principal was shitting all over himself by the end. It was fucking glorious."
Our drinks were served as the story ended. Chris was banging the table, howling with laughter as the old men looked on with disapproval.
I toasted.
"To shenanigans with friends, and our memories thereof - may we never forget them."
"To shenanigans."
We drank.
The two guys playing pool had finished their game. One went to the bar to have a drink with the old men and I noticed the other one was approaching us.
I recognized him. His name was Alan, and he was not part of our extended group, as he was a couple years older than us. But we knew him from around town. He was a known addict and thief who had done time in prison but had since reformed, supposedly. He had been listening to our conversation and it looked like he had something to add.
"Hey guys, I was listening to your stories. Sounds like you share some great memories together. Are you from the area?"
Travis nodded.
"Yeah, we all grew up in the Bay."
Alan extended his hand.
"Me too. Deacon Street. Down by the old mine."
We each shook his hand in turn, introducing ourselves and pretending we didn't know who he was.
"Anyway, you reminded me of my own story from back when I was a kid growing up around here. It's kind of long, but it's definitely a strange one, if you want to hear it."
We all looked at each other. Travis shrugged.
"Alright man, let's hear it."
So Alan pulled up a chair, sat down, and began.
"There used to be a corner-store where Vernon's Pizza is now. You guys wouldn't remember but it was called Fleabag's. Well it was actually called Judie's, but we all knew it as Fleabag's. This was back in '93, so I would have been ten years old. The store only lasted for a few months. I know it was summer when they first opened and by the time winter came, the place was gone.
"The owner's name was Joe. I never learned his last name. The store was named after his dead mother. Joe was a little man with a large head and thick glasses and he always wore a battered Expos cap that was too small to fit his head and merely sat atop it. He was constantly smoking a fat cigar that stank out the whole place, and he liked to stare.
"He had this creepy old ventriloquist dummy on a stool near the entrance, like a greeter; I think its name was Jonesy or Jamesy or something. It made a lot of people uncomfortable, especially the little kids. Joe also kept a pet parrot named Henry in a cage behind the counter, but the cage was much too small. Henry could barely move and was always making these weird crying sounds. I heard him talk once - and only once - but we'll get to that later.
"So, they sold the usual stuff that corner stores sold back then - mostly candy and cheap, disposable toys, as well as baseball cards and comic books...stuff like that. Of course, they had the staples as well - but the place was always dark and cramped and smelled moldy. The inventory was scattered too, with a lot of the food items expired. I once saw a box of corn flakes there that was out of date by almost two years.
"There were also bondage magazines. Sure, other stores sold porn too, but these were hardcore fetish magazines in a candy store and they weren't hid very well; the top halves of the covers were in plain view, displaying bound and gagged women - and men - in various poses.
"I never saw any fleas, though.
"Most people in the neighborhood avoided the place but my friends and I went there all the time. Not for the cap guns or the wrestling magazines or the five-cent honeymoons, no - we went for what was down in the basement."
There were five or six arcade cabinets down there, a couple pinball machines, a pool table the teenagers used, and some VHS rentals. It was pretty dingy, but it was almost like a clubhouse for us. A small pocket of paradise. Except when the teenagers were around.
"We all used to meet there in the mornings with whatever change our parents had given us and when we were done we would play baseball or go down the reef. Then after supper we would meet there again with our second helpings of quarters. But that's usually when the teenagers would be there hogging Mortal Kombat.
"This one teenager, Dino, was the worst. He was always stealing our quarters and our candy - the asshole even made my friend eat a salamander.
"A boy had gone missing that summer only a few miles away and Dino told my friend, Billy, if he didn't eat the salamander, then he would be the next one to go missing. Billy was developmentally disabled and didn't know any better. I tried to stop it but there were only two of us and Dino had his goons with him. Then he punched Billy's belly and made him puke, while he and his goons walked away laughing.
"I wouldn't let bullies like Dino ruin my summer though. I just started being more cautious. I would still go to the basement at Judie's everyday and play arcade games and look at the movies.
"The movie selection was small, and pretty much all Horror, the covers beckoning and provoking. They may have had a few Van Damme movies and other randoms peppered in but, again, it was mostly Horror. Looking back, that's pretty weird, but as a kid like me who loved horror movies, that could only be great.
"So I convinced my dad to sign us up for a membership so I could rent movies everyday for the rest of the summer. The store was only a few streets over. I don't think I was ever more content than I was during that time of my life. Things will never be that simple again.
"I loved looking at the cover art for the movies. And some of those VHS boxes were huge. I always liked the minimalist covers the most. The cover for Its Alive, featuring a simple image of a bassinet with a monstrous, heavily clawed little hand hanging out the side made me so uneasy I never even got around to seeing the movie until only a few years ago. It's a classic! I would have been a big fan as a kid.
"I also remember being drawn to the covers for House, with the disembodied hand ringing the doorbell, Slaughter High, with its pom-pom wielding cheerleader-skeleton, Ghoulies, with the little monster coming out of the toilet, and of course, Deepstar Six with a bisected deep-sea diver floating to the bottom of the ocean.
"Of course, there was no internet then and the only information you could get about the movie was by studying the cover or reading the plot on back. There were usually screen grabs on back as well. Some of the covers were pretty over the top, and I guess they had to be since that was the only way to sell the movie to potential renters. But, almost always, a badass cover meant a dull movie. Usually the cover had barely anything to do with what was shown on screen. Sometimes you found something interesting though.
"Joe didn't even call to check with my parents when I rented R-rated movies like the videostore on 15th street did. He let me rent whatever I wanted. My parents didn't care either. They weren't horror fans though and I don't think it would've occured to them back then how extreme some of the movies were. They saw Horror as a kids genre. But what kids movie would include a scene which shows a woman giving birth to a full grown man in all its bloody details, or a group of joyriding teens chasing down a little boy and running him over, popping his head like a goddamn watermelon?
"I was only ten and was renting movies like Bloodsucking Freaks regularly. You guys ever see that one? There's a scene where a man drills a hole through a woman's skull, places a straw in the hole, then sucks out her 'brain-juice.' Watching it years later, it's pretty silly. Demented, but silly. But back then, it felt like I was watching something truly evil.
"It didn't take long for Joe to realize I was a huge horror buff and he started making recommendations. I think the first movie he recommended was From Beyond, still one of my favorite 80s movies. It had lots of monsters and gooey gore scenes. There was also a decent amount of S&M which gave my ten-year old self some weird ideas. I loved it though and he kept recommending more movies.
"Some I remember vividly, and some I only remember certain scenes from. Names escape me and some of the memories may be nightmares I mixed up with movies.
"But I think the next one he recommended was Superstition. Hard to forget that one. A head in a microwave, a priest killed by a possessed circular saw, and a giant witch that lived in a pond. Oh, and it's the first movie I saw where everyone died. I thought there were rules against that kind of thing or something."
"Spoilers!" Chris shouted. We laughed but Alan continued on as if he hadn't heard anything.
"So I kept renting movies that Joe would recommend. I remember renting The Deadly Spawn, Burial Ground, Madman - all fun movies that I still watch and enjoy to this day. There's many I don't remember though. It's hazy. I watched so many horror movies that summer. But they kept getting more and more gory, that's for sure. And at a certain point it became more disturbing than fun. They weren't cartoony anymore and were becoming more grim and serious. They all kind of bled into each other though and I've forgotten most of the titles.
"I just remember these crazy scenes like a woman getting her nipple bisected by a killer with a Donald Duck voice, a guy getting 'wishboned' by a tribe of wildmen, cannibals turning a guy's rib-cage into a grill, and a woman getting crotched with a giant fishhook...
"You know, stuff like that."
We were starting to get uncomfortable but Alan kept going.
"Eventually, I ran through most of the horror titles. Then Joe gave me a history lesson on SOV movies. He didn't call them that but he told me all about the video revolution and how people were getting their own cameras and shooting their own movies on video. It was a gold rush, he said. Joe told me about movies like Nailgun Massacre and 7 Doors of Death, and many others I've since forgotten about.
"Many production companies sprung up overnight during the late 80s/early 90s video boom. And many folded after releasing only a couple movies. VCRs had reached peak popularity and the prices were becoming more affordable, so there was this explosion of amateur moviemakers trying to make it in the business, and God knows what kind of shit is still out there undiscovered. Horror has always been what sells, so, naturally, this was the dominant genre in the SOV market. But talent is always rare.
"Joe soon told me about his son, Walter. Apparently, Walter got involved in the SOV business himself and produced his own horror movie. He pointed to a portrait on the wall behind him of a younger version of himself.
" "That's my boy Walter. He always wanted to make movies, even before he was your age - but he only got to make one. He died before he could make another. The stupid fuck was hit by a bus.
" "I bought him a super 8 camera when he was just a kid and he used to make these elaborate torture pits in the backyard with his GI Joes and he would film it. He would spend hours and hours out there mimicking their screams and making the sound effects. Sometimes he would burn them when he was done. That kid cost me a fortune on toys.'"
"I stared at the portrait on the wall. He was identical to Joe. The only things missing were the Expos cap and the cigar.
"Then Joe handed me a VHS tape that he seemingly pulled out of nowhere. It was called Tales of the Macabre. The cover had this crudely drawn, laughing skull-face spanning the horizon of a blood-red sky, and blood was raining down on the terrified citizenry of a suburban landscape, causing them to melt into puddles of gore! It was an awesome cover, very primitive but alive. It looked like the cover of a death metal album. It wasn't kept on display with the other movies, because I definitely would have remembered it.
"Joe hyped it.
" "This is the movie Walter made. It's the only copy in existence. The kid may have been stupid but he had an eye for cinema. He was a true artist.
" "Watch it tonight and let me know what you think. Don't let your parents see this one though - we'll both get in trouble."
"Well that sold me. So I rented the movie, bought a bag of honeymoons and two bottles of pop, and began to leave. When I was halfway out the door, the parrot cried out in a frantic voice.
" "I want my mom!"
"I paused for a moment but didn't look back. A shudder passed through me and I left the store, wondering why the parrot would say such a thing.
"I also remember this dirty white Oldsmobile passed me on the way back a couple times, but I wasn't too worried because I was so close to my house. My mom was on the step waiting for me. She was still paranoid about the missing boy and wanted me in before dark. I didn't tell her about the Oldsmobile because I didn't think it was a big deal at the time.
"When I got inside, I called my friend Brian to invite him over for the night. He lived a few doors down and was there soon after.
"We went to my room and played Skate or Die on the Nintendo for a while and ate all the candy and drank all the pop. Mom brought us pizza for a late supper and then it was time watch Tales of the Macabre. Somehow, Brian was asleep before it was even done rewinding. I didn't mind. I liked watching horror movies alone.
"I did make sure to draw a penis on his forehead, though.
"The movie began with low, ominous music over a black screen. This went on for about two minutes before the music abruptly stopped and we jumped into the first scene, cold.
"There were no opening credits or title cards.
"The scene opened in a basement labratory with a screaming woman tied to a gurney and a mad-doctor type looming over her and ranting about something. I don't remember what. But it seemed to suggest some kind of catastrophe had happened and most of the human race was wiped out. We never left the labratory setting though. There were also two cheap looking robots that assisted the doctor. It was pretty boring and not much happened. I forget how it ended, but I remember I was about to shut it off before the next tale started and the movie changed gears dramatically.
"It was an animated segment! It was like the cover: a giant laughing skull spanned the horizon of a blood-red sky as blood rained down on people, and they ran this way and that in utter panic and chaos; the blood-rain causing them to melt as if it was acid. They melted screaming and clutching each other, piles of smoking red goop, the images flashing across my screen in a quick edit of gore and carnage. Like I said, the animation was pretty crude but the pure ambition of it was impressive.
"As a kid, I thought it was awesome.
"But then the scene was jarringly interrupted by a delayed white noise visual, like it was recorded over. This lasted a few seconds before we cut to a prowling night-time shot outside a house. The camera slowly approached a window and I could hear the cameraman's breathing.
"This was getting very weird, all of a sudden.
"When he got to the window, there was a woman in a kitchen preparing food while holding a telephone receiver between her shoulder and chin. The cameraman lingered briefly before moving on to the next window.
"There were three boys, about my age, playing Nintendo in one of their bedrooms. I remember they were playing Punch Out. The camaraman's breathing rate was increasing, along with my own. Even then, I knew this wasn't a real movie. This was something else. Something criminal.
"The woman from the kitchen entered with a pizza and the camera jerked away violently; the cameraman's breathing became sickeningly loud at this point. His panic was palpable. The camera briefly displayed a wooded area located at the edge of a big backyard. They seemed to be in a pretty isolated location.
"After a moment, the cameraman regained his composure and we returned to the boys. They had turned off the Nintendo and were eating pizza now. Well, two of them were. The other one was trying to eat his slice but the others wouldn't let him. They kept pushing him away and laughing.
"Then the two boys put their pizzas down and began further antagonizing the other. I couldn't hear what they were saying, I could only hear the cameraman's labored breathing. But they were obviously bullying him by his demeanor and theirs; his gaze was cast down while their eyes fixed on him in malicious glee.
"Suddenly, they held him down and ripped his shirt off as he struggled madly. One of them produced two skipping ropes from under the bed and their faces darkened as the other boy cowered and pleaded. The cameraman was in a frenzy by this time. I had to turn the volume down, his breathing was so loud.
"The two boys began whipping the other with their skipping ropes. Slowly at first, one at a time, but soon they were out of control. The victim was hugging the wall, trying to disappear, as they unleashed their juvenile aggression all over him, his back becoming a crimson canvas.
"He was begging mercy but trying to appear as if he was having fun. It was confusing and heartbreaking. He was trying to smile and appear game but the tears ran channels in his cheeks.
"It was too authentic. I felt like I shouldn't be watching.
"They finally wore themselves out. The camera remained fixed on them as they lay on the floor in exhaustion. Within a minute, they were back up and behaving as if the skipping rope incident had never happened.
"The boy who had just been whipped mercilessly began hooking up a VCR to the TV as the other two watched him. They must have been bullying him in his own home. He was in visible agony and moved slowly, his hands untangling the wires with great care. When he was done, one of the aggressors fished a videotape from his backpack and handed it to him.
"The boy put the tape in the VCR. It was a top-loader, just like my grandmother used to have. The screen snowed briefly before turning to black and the low ominous music began. The same music from earlier. The scene cut abruptly before I could see what, exactly, they were watching.
"My heart skipped a beat.
"The camera perspective had changed to a static shot from behind the TV, facing the kids. A hidden camera. They all had confused expressions but their faces were glued to the screen.
"It was the window behind them that had caused my sudden shock.
"There was a man in the window and he was smiling a ghastly smile at the camera, and thus myself. It was Joe's son, Walter. It was unmistakable. He didn't take his eyes off me as he sloooowly slid the window up, mugging for the camera the boys were unaware of.
"I instinctively spun around and looked out my window.
"Nothing was there. My window also faced the backyard and was situated almost exactly like the one I was watching. I turned back to the screen.
"Walter lifted his brows high and opened his eyes wide in mock concern as he continued sliding the window up. His mouth made an O shape as the window went higher, before returning to that ghastly grin. He seemed to be really enjoying it. His eyes remained fixed on me the whole time.
"The boys remained focused on the TV; their faces by this time were contorted into horrified expressions, but their eyes remained locked, unable to look away.
"The window was open wide. Walter began to enter. He started to slide one of his little legs into the room as the boys continued to gaze at the screen in trance-like horror, unaware of the danger behind them.
"I spun around again.
"And there he was.
"The window was already open and Walter was slowly sliding one of his little legs through the threshold and into my bedroom, as he grinned at me in a wild-eyed frenzy.
"I tried to scream but nothing came out. My whole body locked up and I couldn't move for a moment. Walter continued his creeping advance, his grin becoming unnaturally wide.
"I finally snapped out of it and rushed to Brian and began shaking him, crying for help as my voice returned. My parents burst into the room within seconds, before Brian was even fully awake.
"Walter was gone by this time.
"I tried to explain what happened but I was so worked up, I could barely get the words out. Once my dad heard it was about the video I rented, he immediately shut the whole situation down. He called Brian's parents to come get him and immediately banned me from horror movies for the rest of the summer. Both my parents thought I just scared myself with an overdose of horror movies and wouldn't hear me out further. They wouldn't even call the police.
"My dad returned the tape to the video-store the next day. I begged him to watch it but he refused. Even years later, whenever I bring it up, he brushes it off and says it was just a movie. My mom doesn't like to talk about it, but I think she believes me now. However, she didn't at the time.
"And I don't think Brian ever believed me. We didn't hang out much after that. In fact, within a few months of that night, we had stopped talking altogether.
"Even I started to doubt myself, eventually."
Alan stopped and took a long drink. We all did the same before we fell silent for a moment.
Travis looked at Alan.
"So what happened after that? Did you ever rent it again?"
Alan looked off into the distance as he spoke.
"No. I told my friends about it, of course, but when they tried to rent it, it wasn't there. Everyone thought I just scared myself. I wasn't allowed to rent movies there anymore, and I avoided the place altogether, for fear of Joe and his twisted offspring.
"Like I said, the place closed up shop by winter. Who knows where they ended up? I always wondered how the movie ended though. What happened to those boys?"
Frank laughed.
"Why don't you just Google it?"
Alan cocked an eyebrow at him before continuing.
"Well - back in the early 2000s, when I discovered the web, I began looking for the movie. There was no IMDB page for it, and no one seemed to have heard of it on the horror message boards. But when I posted a message on the cult film message boards, I got a bite.
"I posted a simple message asking if anyone had heard of or seen the movie. I didn't provide any backstory of myself or my experience with it.
"Then someone calling themselves Anton_79 said he had rented the movie back in the 80s and that it was 'decent but forgettable.' He didn't even provide a proper review, let alone claim any weird experiences. So I messaged back asking what segment he liked best and if anything weird had happened when he rented the movie. Instead of answering my question, he asked his own question.
"He asked if I lived in Crystal Bay."
We all looked at each other.
"Holy shit!" Chris whispered.
Alan went on.
"So I closed my account immediately. That was too close to home and I wanted nothing to do with it. I had a baby coming at the time. I didn't want to mess around with this demented father-son duo. I didn't know what they were capable of.
"But I was always curious about the movie. Was this just a failed marketing stunt? A found footage experiment that was too early and too bizarre to catch on? Did I really see a face in the window?
"I always come back to the same conclusion though. It was all too real.
"About a year after the IMDB incident I felt the urge to look for the movie again. I began checking ebay periodically. Even if Joe was telling the truth, and there was only one copy in existence, there could be bootlegs out there. And who knows? The original could always turn up.
"And, of course, if this is the kind of movie I think it is, then it would be considered evidence and I could turn it over to the authorities.
"After a few months of scouring ebay, I finally came across a copy for sale. I forget the seller's handle, but it was a bootleg, sure enough. This was back in the early days of ebay, so you would have to contact the seller and work out the arrangements between yourselves. The sale was more personal then.
"Anyway, I messaged the seller and told them I would be sending a cheque the following day. They replied almost immediately and asked for my address, saying they would send it out that very day - even though they had not received any payment yet. This made me uneasy. I literally got goosebumps when I read the message. I did not want to give this person my address, something felt wrong.
"So I cancelled the sale and closed my account.
"This was almost twenty years ago. I have another ebay account now, of course. And I still search for the movie occasionally - but I've never seen it up for sale again, not even a bootleg copy.
"I've scoured various online communities, even the most awful ones, and it seems like no one has even heard of this movie, let alone seen it. I know it's out there though."
Alan fell silent with the rest of us. He seemed relieved, like he had kept the story to himself for far too long. He needed to unburden and we were the perfect excuse. He took another drink.
Frank broke the silence.
"Are you fucking with us?"
We laughed. Alan smiled and shook his head.
"I'm afraid not."
"Damn," Chris mumbled.
"Last call!"
Alan got up.
"Well guys, I better head out then. It was nice meeting you. Hope you have a good night. Get home safe eh."
I extended my hand to Alan again.
"You too, man. See you around."
Travis slapped him on the back.
"Fucked up story, dude. You're right though, that was definitely a weird one. Take care, eh."
Alan grinned.
"Yeah, I thought you guys would like that one."
He addressed us one last time.
"Alright guys, have a good one."
He met his friend over at the bar for a final drink as the old men began putting their jackets on.
Frank laughed dismissively.
"He's full of shit. You guys believe that?"
Chris thought of something and piped up.
"Hey Frank, remember that time you found your dad's VHS porn stash? I'm pretty sure that was the first time we ever watched a porno."
Frank laugh-snorted.
"Yeah! It was a murder-mystery, like a porn version of Clue - it was called The Butler Did It."
Frank and Chris were falling over themselves with laughter. Travis let out a deep sigh. Alan and his friend had left by this time.
I took a long last drink of my beer, gazing at the ceiling as I did so, the ceiling fans slowly making their way to a stand-still. It was almost time to leave. My warm bed was beckoning as I sat there melting into the chair, in the wee hours, in a back corner of the Crimson club.
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