I want to know who made this monster. I want to know who sat down, took a sip of their coffee and said: “WHAT ABOUT A BEAR THAT IS ALSO A BUG BUT IT IS ALSO A GOBLIN?!” I want to sit that man down for an interview and ask him as many questions as I can. That is a brain that I want to pick!
Lore: Born For Battle
These guys are pretty simple. They live for battle and chaos. They’re essentially the D&D equivalent of a bully, as they’ll steal from the weak and despise being bossed around. However, so long as their masters promise bloodshed and treasure, their loyalty is assured.
They often share company with hobgoblins and goblins, who are their distant cousins. They’ll enslave goblins and bully hobgoblins into servitude. Even if they’re being paid, Bugbears are hardly reliable allies. But both varieties of goblins understand the value of a Bugbear’s power.
Despite what you’d think, Bugbears are actually religious people. They follow Hruggek, a lesser god dwelling on the plane of Acheron. When they don’t have goblins around them, Bugbears will form warbands led by their fiercest warrior, perhaps as some tradition for their god. When they die, they believe their spirits will go to their god for a chance to fight at his side. Thus, they try to defeat as many powerful foes as possible in life in order to prove themselves.
While they are huge and strong, Bugbears prefer stealth over directly attacking. They will ambush their enemy and flee when they prove too strong. While they are reliable mercs, so long as they are well cared for, they will immediately forget these bonds when threatened by death. A wounded Bugbear may be left behind. Then, if it is necessary to save its life, this betrayed Bugbear might lead its captors to kill their former friends.
This lore makes these guys perfect for low-level quests. Maybe the party has to deal with a bandit attack of Bugbears and goblins while on the road? Then they could perhaps capture one and use him to set a trap for their enemies. You can’t weave an entire campaign around them, but you can make a pretty fun and satisfying quest. And sometimes that’s all you need.
Design: Why a Bug or a Bear?
These guys are certainly cool. But frankly, I’m not seeing why they’re called Bugbears. I see neither the bug nor the bear when I look at these guys.
While it is certainly creative, I’m not particularly captivated by the Bugbear’s design. It just seems like your typical ‘Big and Hairy Brute’ archetype. They’re the kind of enemy that I enjoy looking at, but then forget what I was looking at when I walk away.
Simply put: cool, but forgettable.
Stats: Another Great Starter
These guys are great for parties from levels one to three. If you want to start a campaign, these are solid picks.
Bugbears come in two varieties: regular Bugbears and Bugbear Chiefs. Everything the regular Bugbear has is shared by the Chief. But with its extra abilities, the Chief is undeniably the greater threat.
Regular Bugbears aren’t much of a threat. They have a decently high AC and a fair amount of HP for an LVL 1 monster. Their stealth has a +6 modifier, making them great at sneaking past even the most perceptive parties. More dangerous yet is their Brute ability, which adds an extra die whenever a melee attack hits, plus their Surprise Attack ability. Put simply: don’t let one of these guys sneak up on you. They will ruin your day.
But Chiefs are easily more dangerous than they are. They have a special ability called Heart of Hruggek, which gives them saving throws against being charmed, frightened, paralyzed, poisoned, stunned or put to sleep. Plus, they have Multiattack, which makes their melee strikes even more dangerous. If a Bugbear Chief sneaks up on you, you may as well get ready to start rolling death saving throws. You are going down.
If not used carefully, a Bugbear fight could easily become infuriating. If the party rolls poorly and the DM rolls well, a Bugbear could easily knock a member of the party out before the fight even begins. However, this surprise element could make the fight hectic and panic-inducing, which would potentially make it more satisfying when the party overcomes the challenge. Still, their surprise attacks should be used with caution.
Bugbears are simple and decently effective. They will never be my favorite D&D monster, but they make for a pretty cool low-level foe. With that said, let’s put them into the Best of the Bestiary!
- Death Tyrant
- Animated Armor
- Rug of Smothering
- Bugbear Chief
- Vine Blight
- Twig Blight
- Needle Blight
- Flying Sword
Thanks to their greater fighting abilities, Bugbear Chiefs make it just above the regular variety. However, I still find them pretty underwhelming in terms of lore and design. I don’t hate them, but I will hardly rant about them when I’m talking about my favorite monsters.