This chapter features two instances of Bilbo and friends receiving hospitality from potentially dangerous hosts. The chapter opens in the nests of Lord of Eagles (which has got to be unsettling) and quickly leads to seemingly idyllic forest hall of a skin-changer (werebear in D&D parlance). Unlike the peaceful respite at the Last Homely House, these encounters have ominous undertones. Maybe it's my warped mind, but I immediately saw subtle parallels between Bilbo's stay at Beorn's and Johnathan Harker's captivity at Dracula's castle. In both cases you have this dangerous host who specifically warns you not to poke around where you are not welcome (Beorn's bear parties and Dracula's locked doors). The implication being that if you don't heed the warning, your scary host become a lot hell of a lot scarier.
I think this is definitely an underused trope on my games. I like the idea of a party of harried adventurers finding refuge in the wilderness. But why make them feel completely safe? Let the party understand that there are conditions for their safety. If they slip up (and boy, it should be easy to slip up) then the hospitality is withdrawn and they back in the thick of danger. If they do manage to navigate their host's rules then they will be rewarded with a powerful ally (and one that they may hesitate to call upon).
- An interesting tidbit from the text is that the Lord of Eagles will eventually become King of All Birds. One would assume there are lords of ravens, thrushes, and other birds. Also, the annotations in my version of The Hobbit notes that the evidence is inconclusive for the Lord of Eagles being the same individual as Gwaihir from The Lord of the Rings. Perhaps Gwaihir was one of his "15 chieftains"?
- Gandalf knows Beorn but Beorn doesn't know Gandalf. Indeed, Gandalf knows a lot about Beorn that you'd think would be secret (the whole skin-changer thing). I'm thinking he got this information from Radagast, whom is mentioned for the first time in the chapter. And who is Radagast and what is he like?
- Is Beorn unique? Or does he have kin with the skin-changing ability as well? MERP postulates a race of Beornings, but I can't recall much support for this in The Lord of the Rings. Regardless, he could very well be a singleton if The Hobbit is considered in isolation. And how does he come upon his powers? Gandalf seems to discount the notion that he is descended from bears. But certainly, he is old and long-lived and came down from the mountains ages ago.
- Beorn is served by a variety of intelligent animals. Would these animals be intelligent if not for Beorn? Perhaps Beorn's magical nature makes them intelligent? Beorn can speak with animals. Since the animals don't appear to speak human languages, perhaps all animals are marginally intelligent if one learns their speech?
- The Great Goblin had 30 or 40 armed guards. This is interesting for reference when stocking humanoid lairs.
- Interesting that Gandalf was wary enough to track Beorn during his absence.
- Were the bears that Beorn met real bears or skin-changers like himself (or a mix of both)?
- This chapter contains the only reference (in the original version of the story) to the orcs and hobgoblins that dwell among the slopes of the Grey Mountains. Interesting fodder for a Hobbit-only campaign setting, as it expands the range of available humanoid threats.