This article is not meant to rehash the origin story of E. Gary Gygax’s miniatures. That tale is well known and covered pretty well in this article by Tony DiTerlizzi. In fact, that article will give readers a pretty good idea of what the knock-off dinosaurs, sometimes called “patchisaurs” or “chinasaurs” that Gygax originally used looked like. This is my quest, not for the original minis, but the original origins of what those minis were supposed to be.
The first time I read about owlbear, bulette and rust monster origins I suspected that the figures were knock offs from Japanese kaiju. Kaiju and daikaiju are the terms for the giant monster genre such as Godzilla, Gamera and friends. Most people in the US may now think it was a term invented by Guillermo del Toro, but Pacific Rim was his homage to those movies. I too am I fan of kaiju, although I’ve been limited to whatever was shown on the Son of Svengooli and Mystery Science Theater 3000 as well as Voltron, growing up. So, I knew these monsters were not part of those properties. That left two possibilities and only only of those was old enough and consistent enough to also be popular enough in China to have knock-off toys. Ultraman.
Owlbear is a bit of an oddity. The toy is tiny, very crude and probably made from a worn out mold made from the original toy. It looks like it has ears or horns that are swept back, which causes the odd look of a toupee. It looks furry and hunched over. The pointed maw has a weird raised bridge. As a result, it’s original Ultraman monster is not as obvious as say Bulette’s. It wouldn’t be a rare kaiju, to appear in the drugstore dinosaur packs so often, it would have had to be popular. Plus, there wasn’t an idea of collectors and completionists in the late 60s when the original toys were made. Only a few of the most popular, memorable monsters would have been made into toys.
That lead me to Gomora. Gomora has the right body, and a beaky mouth. The connection isn’t obvious, because Gomora also has big head horns. Yet, in many of the photos from it’s cruder 60s version to modern versions and toys, Gomora so often takes on the pose and feel of the Gygax’s owlbear. Even the beak horn tends to be shortened or arranged so far pointing backwards as to give Gomora the same aquiline nose as the owlbear. The head horns in some perspectives, sweep back flat against it like ears, causing the neck to look like part of the head. Thus, I arrived at the object of my quest. Owlbear has always been a very crudely made, knock-off Gomora toy.
However, I’m open to a debate. If anyone wants to suggest a different possible kaiju for Owlbear, let me know. Until then, I will continue to operate under the impression that Gomora and Owlbear are the same things and then revel in the fact that I found owlbear origami at my local art store (as pictured in the feature image.)
In the meantime, take a look at the wonderfully imaginative kaiju from Thessaly Chance Tracy’s collection and maybe they will inspire your games like they did for Gary.