This is a short encounter designed to be easily inserted into any forest setting. It might fit onto a random encounter table, or as a short detour from the main plot. The players will encounter a bear cub stuck in a hunter’s trap that the players must free (or not) while avoiding the overprotective mother bear.
Read the following descriptive text to your players:
As you are traveling, each of you notices in your own time the faint ringing of a bell. You are unclear about the cause or direction at first but as you travel along the path the ringing becomes louder and clearer. Eventually, the woods open into a clearing with a fast-moving stream cutting through the center of it. Just on the other side of the stream, a young bear cub swings wildly from a tree, caught in a hunter’s snare. It paws and bites helplessly at the rope tied around its back foot. Each motion causing the bell on the branch to ring. Below the tree paces an enraged grizzly bear it catches your scent and scans the horizon until she catches eyes with you. She lets out a mighty roar and crashes through the stream, headed right for you!
If you are playing on a grid, the map should make sure to include a few terrain features. The cub will serve as an objective and should be placed on the far side of the map with the stream between it and the players. Most of the encounter is going to take place on the side of the stream so make sure to give them enough space on that side to be able to move around. It’s also a good idea to include a few terrains features the players can interact with. A tall tree the players can clime and a few rock outcroppings they can try to hide behind should be plenty.
Mama Bear (Polymorphed pixie):
Large Fae Creature, Chaotic Neutral, CR2(450 xp)
AC 11, HP 68, Speed 40/Climb 30
STR(+4) DEX(+0) CON(+3) INT(+1) CHA(-2)
Roar—all enemies that can hear the roar must make a DC 10 wisdom saving through or become frightened
Charge—Bear may move up to ½ its movement, then make a tackle attack +5 to hit, reach 5 ft, one target. HIT: (1d8+4) bludgeoning, target is knocked prone.
Multitrack— bear makes two claw attacks (+6 to hit, 2D6+5 Damage) and one bite attack (+5 to hit, 1D8+5 Damage)
Maul—If mama bear hits a single opponent with three attacks in a round, knock that character prone and ask its controller to describe a permanent scar left by the mauling.
Fey Ancestry—Mama Bear has advantage on saving throws against being charmed and can’t be magically put to sleep
Medium beast, Unaligned CR1/2(25xp)
AC 11, HP 11, Speed 40/Climb 30
STR(+0) DEX(-1) CON(+1) INT(+0) CHA(-2)
Claw— +3 to hit, 1D6+1 Slashing
Cry—one ally may use its reaction to move up to 30 feet so long as id does not willingly move further away from the bear cub
Small trap, unaligned
AC0, HP1, Speed 0, CR0 (0xp)
Hard to See—Snare trap has +15 to AC against ranged and piercing attacks
Well Crafted—Untying an animal caught in the snare requires a DC 10 Sleight of hand(Dex) check
The players have a lot of options for how they want to handle this situation. You should try to make it obvious from the context that the bear cub needs help to be able to escape the trap, and that the mother bear is not going to willingly let the players get near her cub. If the party wants to help the cub they are going to have to figure out a way to deal with the mother first. Of course, it’s entirely possible that the party does not want to help. If they can’t figure out what to do, if something unexpected happens you should try to push the players towards one of three end states.
1) Leave the Area
Despite her intimidation posture, the Mama Bear does not want to fight the players. Fighting humans is always risky, and right now she needs to keep her attention on her cub anyway. The objective for the bear is to scare the players (and therefore the immediate threat to her cub) out of the area. At any point, the players can decide they don’t want to be involved with the situation anymore and leave. Of course, if they choose this option the fate of both bears is grim and player rewards are low.
While combat isn’t the first choice for the mama bear, it will absolutely try to maul and kill anyone who poses an obvious threat to the cub. Alternatively, the players might decide they want a pair of matching bear skin rugs. The Mama Bear will attack players it perceives as direct threats to the cub first. Then it will try to isolate the weakest members from the rest of the group and try to kill them individually.
If the players choose to save the baby bear, then the stakes of the encounter change. If they get provoked into combat pretty much any party will easily kill the bear, but then things will end up being very bad for the cub. So, the win state for this encounter is save the cub, and the fail state for this encounter is going to be the start of combat. The same way a well-run combat encounter wouldn’t be won or lost on a single die roll, make sure that all the players make or fail a few die rolls before you end the encounter. Instead of a failed check going right into combat, consider options like having the bear knock a player prone, or avoiding the parties trap. Likewise, Successful rolls shouldn’t represent instantly switching from hostile to allied NPC. It might mean the bear backs off from its attack at the last second or has its attention diverted for just long enough for another player to sneak by. If the party tries to communicate, remember that mother bears are famously stubborn and aggressive when it comes to protecting their babies. There probably isn’t very much a bunch of armed to the teeth humanoid mercenaries can say to convince her to hand over her baby without a fight.
As soon as the bear cub is untied, or otherwise released from the snare it will take the safest possible route to the edge of the forest where it will wait for its mother and keep a careful eye on the party. When the cub reaches the edge of the forest, the Mama Bear will stop all aggression and drop polymorph to reveal her pixie form. She apologizes for her behavior, but she was scared and trying to protect her cub. She stays and talks for a short while. If the party is interested, she has information about the lore of the forest and can give them directions to a location or information about a local monster or a recent event. When it is time for her to leave, she tells a chaotic aligned member of the party that in their time of greatest need, they need only to call out her name (Beetlesong) and she will aid them. This represents a one time summon of the Mama Bear stat block for the duration of one combat, or to perform one simple task.
If the players leave the situation unresolved, The huntsman Gaston will eventually show up to check on his traps. The party might find him the next time they are in the village, selling two bearskins.