Do Bears ---- in the Woods?

Clint Staples

When "Where does the Poop Go" first got proposed as the subject for a "d-Infinity Live!" episode, I was on holidays, with only sporadic wifi access. So when I was deciding what to talk about I initially made the assumption that we would literally be talking about where the poop goes in gaming – which, much like movies and novels, is often overlooked.

On holiday, I was hiking in a provincial park several hours from where I live, and as you do, I came across a lot of wildlife. I saw birds galore, numerous fish, heard the movement of field mice, saw rabbits frozen in hopes of being overlooked, I saw white tail deer, as well as their tracks and what were probably moose tracks as well.

What I did not see is the scat of any of these animals. Even though I saw the animals or their tracks, I never saw their poop. I only saw one kind of scat in my hiking – and I saw a lot of it – Bear scat.

I was in bear country - black bear not grizzly - never saw or heard any sign of bear, but I lost track of the number of piles of bear poop I stepped over or around.

The reason I saw it so often is because it was ALWAYS right in the middle of every trail I walked. Perfectly centered. So that you had to either step right over it, or move to the side to get around it.

This couldn’t be random or accidental. These bears were marking territory, telling other bears, but also people, because the trails I was on were hiking trails not animal tracks, that they were there, that this was their turf. The fact that I saw other wildlife and found many tracks, even on the hiking trail, but only one kind of poop, is probably not coincidence.

So then – Can we can answer the age-old question “Do Bears poop in the woods?” I would say yes, but only if there is no trail to mark.

Taking this into gaming – In all my decades of gaming, only rarely have I encountered the scat of a top predator as a sign of its activity. Tracks sure, we have survival rolls and tracking checks and such, which are often used to help get parties from one place to another faster or in better shape.

As a GM, it never occurred to me that a big pile of poop from the dominant predator in an area could be a warning left by that predator – rather than simple foreshadowing. It might be interesting to have your ranger find a big pile of poop left only a few moment before by the dominant monster in a region, especially if it is the thing the party is hunting.

And someone good with natural skills: tracking, survival, etc, will likely know to interpret that in a few ways.

A Challenge – if it is dead center in front of the route of march, and fresh, that is probably deliberate.

You are not alone – If it is recent, you might be being watched. Almost certainly, you are not going to encounter the monster unawares. So the Challenge just got worse. You might not be the only ones going hunting.

Diet and health – A survival specialist who rolls well could get a better idea of the health of the creature from its scat, as well as its habits. Is it plentiful? What is in it? The bear scat I saw was invariably full of berries and their seeds. Since it is late in the season, these berries are often dried up and sometimes move through the digestive system without really being digested. Gross? Maybe. I got this much just from observation, I did not have to go poking around in bear poop or anything.

But maybe the monster being hunted, or encountered has a dietary preference that can be exploited – or which might unsettle or horrify the heroes. Is it a man-eater? Does it prefer a particular type of game? Mythologically, gryphons were often said to prefer horsemeat. If one or more of the players particularly value horses, they might hate or fear gryphons, possibly even culturally. If trolls are suspected in recent raiding of the local sheep pens, finding half-digested mutton and bits of bloody wool in dire-bear scat might be a clue that the trolls are not the culprits.