In this article, we’ll discuss how you can use D&D 5e bearfolk as a memorable way for your party to spend their downtime during the winter months when travel and adventuring may be out of the question.
Bearfolk are a proud race of bipedal bears who honor family and honesty almost as much as they enjoy the honey mead they make. Many of the tribes of bearfolk can be found to be living in the coldest and most unforgiving environs. Though humans and other races often call these lands home, the various tribes of bearfolk may have adapted best to the harsh winters of some of the most extreme climes in your own worlds.
With bearfolk, the importance of family and tribe is second to none. The phrase “it takes a village to raise a child” was never truer than it is within a tribe of bearfolk. Children wander in and out of neighbors’ houses without warning, helping themselves to treats from the cupboard or taking afternoon naps in their beds. However, their appetites extend far beyond food. They are eager to learn and enjoy hard work.
The jarls, who are kings and queens in their own right, are mostly left to rule their domains as they see fit, though they serve the court of Bear King. Most tribes of DnD 5e bearfolk welcome travelers to their villages with open arms, so long as these outsiders defer to the jarl’s rulings and uphold the value they place on honesty, trust, hard work, and community.
In the coldest places of most worlds, the throes of winter cause villages to shut down entirely. Stockpiles must last a household until the first thaw. Therefore preparation for the winter months is of the utmost importance. Among the bearfolk, what began as chores to stock every home in the village has become a series of events with a focus on friendly competition.
The prize for winning any of these given competitions is to be named a lesser jarl for the season and the offer to spend the winter as a guest in the Cave of the Elders. The Cave of the Elders is a luxuriously-appointed dwelling reserved for those of the tribe that are held in the highest regard. Members of the village who prove their worth through wisdom and guidance are allowed to enjoy the trappings offered by the entire tribe.
- Jarl of the Felling: Gathering enough firewood for one home to last through the winter is a monumental task. Woodcutters and lumberjacks consider it a great honor to enter this event, knowing that even if they do not win, their efforts will help ensure a warm winter for the entire tribe. The contestant who cuts the most firewood is crowned Jarl of the Felling.
- Jarl of the Feast: To preserve the limited caches of food, bearfolk spend most of their winter days fasting. In preparation, they pack on as much weight as possible before the isolation begins. The Feast is a week-long, potluck event filled with baking competitions, eating contests, and culminating in a weigh-in. The heaviest contestant at the end of the Feast is crowned Jarl of the Feast.
- Jarl of the Circle: Natural weapons are legal in this series of wrestling matches. Though lethality is considered bad form, this competition often still results in scars. A single match puts many wrestlers into a large circle, usually defined with rope. Wrestlers are eliminated by being forced out of the circle, by voluntary concession, or by loss of consciousness. Each finalist from the first round of matches then competes in a second match. The winner of this second match is crowned Jarl of the Circle.
- Jarl of Mead: Bearfolk adore honey in all its forms of consumption, and honey mead is no exception. This sweet drink is usually served at meals in communal stone bowls. However, for this competition, each contestant is tested to see how many bowls of honey mead they can drink before they concede (or otherwise indicate their inability to continue). The last contender left drinking is crowned Jarl of Mead.
- Jarl of Ice: Bearfolk, particularly grizzlehides (who are resistant to cold damage), love to swim and are largely unbothered by the frigid temperatures of the frozen lakes and rivers of their homeland. This test of endurance sees any swimmers willing to take the dive trying to outlast their competitors. The last one left in the water is crowned Jarl of Ice.
Find out more how you can play a bearfolk in Midgard Heroes Handbook. Then see more about bearfolk in the Shadow Realm in Book of Ebon Tides, and a full issue devoted to bearfolk awaits in Warlock 23!