D&D Monster Monday: Bugbear

You cleared the dungeon handily. It was supposed to just be a quick walk through the forest back to town. Well, being ambushed by a pack of bugbears certainly changed things… for the worse. The descended upon you as if they had the strength of an army. Bastards!

Bugbears are a member of the goblinoid family which includes themselves, goblins, and hobgoblins. However, unlike your typical goblin, bugbears are tall and hairy, though despite their different features they’re still known to live with and team-up with other goblinoids.

Like goblins, bugbears are creatures that prefer to use an element of stealth and trickery in their engagements. However, unlike goblins, bugbears have the tools and skills needed to regularly pull off ambushes and sneak attacks.

The bugbear is another creature in 5e that values their offensive abilities more than their defenses. I think this is what makes them such a great creature, but they do require the right environment to thrive because of this.

With our introductions out of the way, let’s charge into the Monster Manual and learn all about the toughest of the goblinoids, the bugbear!

bugbear from the 5e monster manual
The 5e bugbear art showcases both their powerful build and their notably long arms! Credit: WotC.

Bugbear Lore

Bugbears are goblinoids, and as I said before, they can regularly be found with goblin and hobgoblin tribes. Within these tribes, bugbears are highly-valued resources due to both their cunning stealth ability and their impressive strength. They are a valued asset to the tribe for sure.

With that said, bugbears are also horrible bullies and an enormous drain on a tribe’s resources. They’ll threaten and push around goblins and hobgoblins for extra coin or food just because they can. Still, though, these logistical terrors are well worth the extra resources they force the tribe to expend.

Bugbears are natural hunters. They can make themselves very quiet and know how to pick the best tactical locations to ambush their prey, be it adventurers for coin or animals for food. I mean, I guess they can eat adventurers too though.

Interestingly enough, bugbears share a familial bond only when it suits them. For example, everyone will help each other out when they are well-fed, well-rested, and healthy. However, as soon as one of those properties is no longer true, they’ll turn on each other on a dime.

Jimmy took an arrow to the side and needs help escaping? Leave him, we need to get out of here!

Yeah, they know when to leave a battle when it’s not in their favor. I guess I can’t blame them, I’d probably do the same thing.

Bugbear Stats and Abilities

You can find the bugbear on page 33 of the Monster Manual.

Stats

Size: Medium humanoid (goblinoid)
AC: 16 (hide armor, shield)
HP: 27 (5d8 + 5)
Speed: 30 ft.
STR: 15 (+2)
DEX: 14 (+2)
CON: 13 (+1)
INT: 8 (-1)
WIS: 11 (+0)
CHA: 9 (-1)

All in all, bugbears are solid creatures for low-level play, which is weighed in at CR 1 was the design goal. They have quite a high AC for a CR 1 creature, but this is off-set by their slightly below-average HP. Overall they have decent base defensives to work off of.

They have positive modifiers in both Dexterity and Constitution which is a plus for making saving throws. Their Wisdom being +0 isn’t great, but it’s not terrible either. Bugbears have a solid chance of making most of the common saving throws which is advantageous for them in combat against any magic-users.

Their +2 modifier in both Strength and Dexterity helps carve out their playstyle. Bugbears are large, strong, goblinoids, but they’re also stealthy hunters that thrive when they get the jump on their prey. This bonus in both helps both aspects of their playstyle.

Overall, bugbears have a respectable spread of base stats. Just don’t trust them with Intelligence or Charisma checks/saves and they’ll be fine!

Resistances, Immunities, Saves, and Skills

Skills: Stealth +6, Survival +2
Senses: darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 10
Languages: Common, Goblin
CR: 1 (200 XP)

As I said before, bugbears are predators that love to ambush their prey. Their +6 to Stealth gives you the boost you need to set up an ambush for your players to unsuspectingly trigger. If they’re able to pull this off, the bugbears will gain a bit of extra damage in addition to the typical advantages ambushes give in combat.

The +2 to survival is nice too, you know, just in case their prey escapes and they need to track it down!

Darkvision is, of course, always a nice trait to have as well. Especially as a predator. This gives you a wider variety of options to choose from when selecting a location to set up an ambush.

CR 1 is, in my opinion, a fair CR for the bugbear. While it’s true that most of their power comes from their offensive capabilities, that 16 AC and decent stat array certainly helps boost their defenses a smidge.

Abilities and Traits

Brute. A melee weapon deals one extra die of its damage when the bugbear hits with it (included in the attack).

Surprise Attack. If the bugbear surprises a creature and hits it with an attack during the first round of combat, the target takes an extra 7 (2d6) damage from the attack.

Brute may not be the flashiest trait in 5e, but it’s an excellent and consistent one. Since bugbears lack a Multiattack, Brute keeps their damage at a respectable level. It also makes their attacks much more dangerous as they become more of a single-target burst creature rather than a consistent damage-dealer.

It’s not broken or anything, but it certainly makes it easier for a bugbear to drop an enemy quickly if they get 1 or 2 hits off. Thematically this makes a lot of sense since, after all, they are supposed to be ambushers.

Surprise Attack plays into their affinity for swarming their prey out of nowhere. It’s a nice bonus to tack onto the creature, and while 2d6 damage certainly stings it’s by no means a broken amount of damage for the creature to deal. It will just make the party more cautious of traps and ambushes moving forward.

Actions

Morningstar. Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 11 (2d8 + 2) piercing damage.

Javelin. Melee or Ranged Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft. or range 30/120 ft., one target. Hit: 9 (2d6 + 2) piercing damage in melee or 5 (1d6 + 2) piercing damage at range.

So while the bugbear might not have a Multiattack, their Brute certainly makes up for this flaw. Each of these attacks already has Brute included in their damage output. However, we do need to notice that Brute only applies to melee weapon attacks, so our ranged option with Javelin is super weak.

Morningstar is our ideal attack as it deals an average of 2 extra points of damage. Javelin is a decent back-up weapon and gives us the ability to make a couple of ranged weapon attacks if we’re in a pinch.

These are both decent options and give the bugbear just enough variety to be dangerous. Don’t be afraid to swap out one of these weapons for something like a greatmaul or a two-handed weapon, but just keep in mind they’d lose their ability to wield a shield!

Bugbear Strengths

Respectable Damage, Even Without Surprise Attack

For a CR 1 creature, an average of 11 damage is a solid damage per round. These are terrifying creatures to face as a low-level player character even though they lack any kind of Multiattack. I’d say they’re more terrifying as a single hit can realistically drop many low-level PCs.

Seriously, just one of these creatures will give a level 1 party a hard time!

I think the best part about the bugbear’s damage output is that they don’t rely on their extra Surprise Attack damage to deal respectable damage. Sure, the extra 7 points of burst damage are very nice, but it’s not required to make the creature a viable choice.

4e bugbear artwork
Bugbears were a lot thicker in 4e. They have a rather slender build in 5e. Credit: WotC.

Solid Defenses from Attacks

I said earlier that the bugbear’s HP is mediocre for a CR 1 creature. This is true, but in spite of that, the bugbear has some solid defenses.

That 16 AC from their hide armor and shield combo is dangerous for a CR 1 creature. The party is going to have a frustrating time trying to land any of their attacks on these creatures that have just sprung from behind the forest’s overgrowth.

Their common saving throw abilities all have either a positive modifier or a +0 which while not spectacular, is decent for a low-CR creature. This just means that they won’t be automatically crowd-controlled into the dirt by low-level magic-users.

Admittedly, this type of defense makes for poor scaling. Once your players are reliably able to deal more damage or hit an AC of 16, bugbears no longer become the terror that they once were. They don’t have any kind of damage resistances to fall back on to prop up their poor health.

Bugbear Weaknesses

Below-Average HP

Despite the bugbear’s decent defenses, their mediocre health pool is still a problem. Any attack that breaks through a bugbear’s AC is going to be deadly.

If a character can bypass the bugbear’s high AC with the use of a saving throw, they’re going to be at a huge advantage over the creature. Sure, their ability modifiers aren’t bad, but by comparison, it’s going to be easier to target those than the bugbear’s HP.

Any magic-user’s cantrips that require a saving throw to avoid damage is going to be nervewracking for the bugbear to deal with. However, they do have a Dexterity modifier of +2 so they have that going for them!

Mediocre Maneuverability

For an exceptional hunter and ambusher, the bugbear sure isn’t great at moving around the battlefield. I mean, they’re not below-average or anything, but for a creature that relies on getting into melee range of their target quickly, 30 ft. of movement speed surely isn’t reliable.

If the party can spot the ambush before it happens, your bugbears will be at an inherent disadvantage the entire encounter as they have a solid chance of getting kited around the battlefield by the party’s ranged attackers.

Yes, bugbears have a ranged attack option, but it deals roughly half the damage of either of their other options. It’s… not ideal. It’s nice to have, but if they’re forced to use it, they’re better off retreating and re-engaging the party later.

You need to ensure that your bugbear is getting an opportunity to ambush or sneak up on their prey. This isn’t just to get the benefits of Surprise Attack, but it’s also to ensure that they make it to their target.

How to Play a Bugbear

SURPRISE!!!

With their +6 Stealth, a group of bugbears shouldn’t have any issues with springing an ambush on most low-level adventuring parties. Although, anyone with the Alert feat will be the bane of their existence.

You want to ambush the party with bugbears for two primary reasons. The first is that you gain the benefits of Surprise Attack and the second is that bugbears get a surprise round to help close the gap between themselves and their targets.

Once you’ve reached the party go all-out and start hitting the closest one. However, if the bugbears know that a particular party member is a notable threat they’re smart enough to engage or focus on that one.

Bugbears are built to be ambushers. Use their niche to its potential!

Know When to Retreat

Bugbears are creatures that will work together when the situation suits them. As soon as the situation goes south or they are in danger they will do everything in their power to reposition away from danger so that they can try a new ambush or strategy on their enemy.

This doesn’t make bugbears cowards. Quite the opposite. They know when they are in over their heads against the party and will do what they can to live to fight the party another day.

Don’t be afraid to have your band of bugbears sacrifice a member of their squad so that the rest can escape from the party safely. Just remember that if the bugbears escape, they’re going to come back at the party once they’ve healed up and picked up some allies.

5 Bugbear Plot Hooks

  1. The Compromised Caravan – A few members of the merchant’s guild are looking for adventurers to retrieve their caravan which were ambushed by bugbears. Allegedly these bugbears have repurposed the caravan into a mobile base of sorts.
  2. The Muscle – The city guard paid no attention to the small clan of goblins that was assembling in a cave in the forest. However that will have to change now that the goblins have some bugbears working as muscle.
  3. Big Game Hunters – A tribe of orcs and bugbears have gone to war in the plains over their respective hunting grounds. There is a good chance that this war could bleed into the nearby unafilliated towns and villages.
  4. An Introduction to the Guild – Your guild has heard rumor of a powerful knight whose face has always been kept underneath their helmet. The guildmaster desires to extend an invitation to this mysterious hero regardless of who they could possibly be.
  5. King of the Ring – An underground fight club has just recieved a new challenger, a bugbear from a local goblin tribe. Enormous sums of money are being bet on this fight between Garlg the bugbear and Rox’thar the Champion of the Ring.

Conclusions

Bugbears are scary for low-level adventurers. They can deal a frightening amount of burst damage with a single drop of the hammer. Plus, they are exceptional ambushers which can mean a quick death for an unseasoned adventuring party.

Their health might not be the greatest, but they are protected by a high AC and a decent spread of ability scores. Though bugbears prefer to use their offenses as their defense. After all, who cares if the party can deal damage if they can’t because they’re all unconscious?

Bugbears are for sure the bullies of the goblinoid world. They won’t hesitate to pick on anyone they see as weaker or lesser than themselves if it means getting some extra coin or food. This can lead to troubling dynamics between goblin clans and mercenary groups.

A bugbear is a fun creature for low-level play. Their base form might not scale-up well into the higher levels of play, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It just means we need more high-CR bugbear statblocks!

Previous Monster Monday – Nivix Cyclops

Next Monster Monday – Ice Devil

If you enjoyed what you read be sure to check out my ongoing review for all of the official D&D 5e books!

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