D&D Monster Monday: Bullywug
You take a break to make camp as you traverse the murky swampland. Then as soon as the night’s stew begins to simmer you hear a rustling in the vegetation behind you. In a flash, you feel a barrage of sticks smacking your back. It seems a few bullywugs will be joining you for supper.
There are a wide variety of creatures you can use for low-level mobs. Some, like the firenewt and bullywug, are tailor-made to thrive in specific environments. Making them a decent choice to use instead of more traditional adversaries such as goblins or kobolds.
Bullywugs are frog-like humanoids that are masters of their respective domains. They thrive in wet areas with tons of vegetation that they can use to camouflage themselves with. Despite their silly appearance they are respectable combatants and resourceful warriors.
Let’s jump right into the often-avoided swampland of the Monster Manual and learn all about the bullywug!
I was 100% expecting to read a basic “swamp creature, good hunter, camouflage, fast swimmer” lore when I was looking through the bullywug statblock for this article.
Instead, what I got was a tale of frog people continuously stabbing each other in the back to climb up the ranks of their swampy society. Bullywugs are rad.
Bullywug society as a whole considered themselves to be the rulers of whatever swamp or forest they reside in. This is unquestionable.
Now within this society, there is a leader typically referred to as the “lord of the muck”. You can change this in your games of course. Yet, why would you?
The lord of the muck has underlings and trusted bullywugs that are granted grandiose titles. The grander/more important-sounding the title, the more important you are.
These titles are important for marking who’s who within the tribe for outsiders. However, they’re also a great way for bullywugs to know who to suck up to, to climb the political ladder.
Yet bullywug society is not all fun and games. There’s a ton of backstabbing (literal and political) that goes on within day-to-day life in the swamp. The rule of thumb in bullywug society is that if you murder a rival without being caught, it’s fair game.
Another way to climb the ladder is to bring the Lord of the Muck something useful. This could be a group of captured adventurers, magical items, or sought-after supplies.
All in all, life in the swamp is dangerous and physically demanding. However, life in bullywug society is just flat-out hardcore, especially for those who wish to climb to the top of the mucky hill.
Bullywug Stats and Abilities
You can find the bullywug’s statblock on page 35 of the Monster Manual.
Size: Medium humanoid (bullywug)
AC: 15 (hide armor, shield)
HP: 11 (2d8 + 2)
Speed: 20 ft., swim 40 ft.
STR: 12 (+1)
DEX: 12 (+1)
CON: 13 (+1)
INT: 7 (-2)
WIS: 10 (+0)
CHA: 7 (-2)
All in all the bullywug has an average ability score spread for a CR 1/4 creature. They have some minor bonuses and a couple of weak points which is par for the course at this level of play.
They’re in a decent spot with regards to their common saving throw abilities. Sure, they’re nothing to write home about, but two +1’s and a +0 is solid for a CR 1/4 creature.
Their defenses are also a bit sturdier than the classic CR 1/4 adversary, the goblin. Bullywugs have an additional 4 HP which is a substantial boost at the low levels of play.
The bullywug’s movement is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, 40 ft. of swimming speed is a great boon, but the tradeoff is for the bullywug to be below-average when moving on solid ground.
If anything, this signals that the bullywug will do its best when you give it some water to traverse in your battlemaps. That shouldn’t be much of an issue since, again, these creatures live in areas with plenty of water such as swamps.
Resistances, Immunities, Saves, and Skills
Skills: Stealth +3
Senses: passive Perception 10
CR: 1/4 (50 XP)
The bullywug has proficiency in Stealth, giving it a decent chance of ambushing the party. Especially when you can leverage their Swamp Camouflage trait. Keep in mind that bullywugs love to capture wayward adventurers to bring them to The Muck Lord to curry political favor. Ambushes are these creatures’ bread and butter!
There isn’t much else of note in this section of their statblock. However, I will say that CR 1/4 is a very fair judgment for the bullywug. They’re a solid (albeit niche) creature, but they have their weak points.
Traits and Abilities
Amphibious. The bullywug can breathe air and water.
Speak with Frogs and Toads. The bullywug can communicate simple concepts to frogs and toads when it speaks in Bullywug.
Standing Leap. The bullywug’s long jump is up to 20 feet and its high jump is up to 10 feet, with or without a running start.
Swamp Camouflage. The bullywug has advantage on Dexterity (Stealth) checks made to hide in swampy terrain.
Amphibious is a freebie trait considering we already knew that bullywugs are gifted in the water considering their above-average swim speed. However, this does give you another option for positioning them for an ambush. The party might not think to check under the water before taking a breather or making camp!
Speak with Frogs and Toats is a great trait to leverage in plot hooks and worldbuilding. Bullywugs will often use this form of communication to use small frogs as scouts or giant toads as guards, pets, or mounts.
Standing Leap is an interesting trait and can be used in a pinch if the bullywug needs to quickly escape from the party. They can simply jump over obstacles and difficult terrain that the party will have to trudge through.
Swamp Camouflage is a fantastic tool for setting up ambushes. Couple this with the bullywug’s Stealth proficiency and you have a solid chance at catching a low-level adventuring party off-guard as they trek through the swamplands.
Multiattack. The bullywug makes two melee attacks: one with its bite and one with its spear.
Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +3 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 3 (1d4 + 1) bludgeoning damage.
Spear. Melee or Ranged Weapon Attack: +3 to hit, reach 5 ft. or range 20/60 ft., one target. Hit: 4 (1d6 + 1) piercing damage, or 5 (1d8 + 1) piercing damage if used with two hands to make a melee attack.
It’s quite rare for a CR 1/4 creature to have a Multiattack so it’s great to see the bullywug have some (literal) offensive teeth in their statblock. Plus, an average of 7-8 damage per round is quite respectable.
The bullywug’s bite confuses me. The damage output is fine, but why is it bludgeoning damage and not piercing damage? What are the bullywugs’ teeth made out of!? This requires further investigation…
Their spear is also a versatile weapon, but as is the case in most Monster Monday subjects with similar flexibility it’s still better to take the lower damage output for the +2 AC from wielding a shield. 7 damage per round is quite good for a CR 1/4 creature.
Strong Action Economy
You don’t see a lot of CR 1/4 creatures with Multiattack. This is an enormous advantage that the bullywug’s statblock boasts in this tier of play.
Keep in mind too that most player characters will only have a single attack when squaring up against a bullywug unless they’re dual wielding. This is a rare situation where your creatures may have a larger action economy than the party.
However, a strong action economy needs offensive teeth behind it to be of use. At 7-8 damage per round, it’s safe to say that the bullywug has solid actions baked into their Multiattack. Well, at least in comparison to their CR.
Should you be fighting in swampland, the favored terrain of a bullywug, your bullywugs can utilize their Swamp Camouflage alongside their natural +3 to Stealth. This pairing makes them fantastic ambushers and stealth-types.
Keep in mind that Swamp Camouflage only works when the bullywug is hiding. It can’t be utilized for just any stealth check in the swamp. Its uses will be to either ambush the party or to duck into cover and hide when retreating from the party.
With that being said, their +3 to Stealth is still solid enough that they could reliably stalk most low-level adventuring parties within the swamp. It’s still an option, but they’re better hiders than stalkers.
Given that they’re known for capturing adventurers and wanderers to use as political leverage, ambushes are probably their bread-and-butter offensive strategy. With surprise and their offensive prowess, it would be wise for the party to surrender and be taken prisoner rather than try to fight a losing battle.
Hindered by the Environment
Between Swamp Camouflage and their unique movement speeds the bullywug is tailor-made for a specific environment. Wet swamplands/forests.
They thrive within these locales. They become cunning ambushers that can hit above their respective CR when they are given the chance to.
However, when they do not have access to water or swampland the bullywug loses a lot of its teeth. For starters, they no longer have a reliable chance of ambushing the party due to the lack of Swamp Camouflage. Sure, they still have +3 to Stealth checks, but that’s not enough to plan an ambush around.
Yet even without Swamp Camouflage and ambushes, the bullywug would be a worthy adversary. It’s their 20 ft. of movement on land that drives the dagger deep into their backs. That’s even slower than a small player character! These creatures can be kited around the battlefield with ease.
Sure their spear can be thrown short distances while they’re being kited. Yet that’s still a suboptimal attack style as they miss out on their Multiattack, one of the greatest strengths in their kit.
These are not creatures that can be thrown in just about anywhere. You need to plan to have them in their preferred environment. If the party can get them out of the water and out of the swamp they’re in deep trouble.
How to Play a Bullywug
WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN MY SWAMP!?
Bullywugs are strong combatants on their own, but when you can utilize Swamp Camouflage and their +3 to stealth they become terrifying foes. An additional surprise round when the bullywugs have an action economy advantage over the party is a devastating situation.
However, bullywugs do need a bit of prep to be utilized well. They need to be in a location that they can thrive in. In most scenarios, this will be a swamp with plenty of vegetation to hide behind. If they get this they’re off to a good start.
If they also have some water to swim through they’re golden. They can use the water to move closer to the party or utilize Amphibious to hide underneath the water for an ambush.
Plus, if they need to retreat, the bullywugs can swiftly swim through the water while the party has to trudge through the swamp or struggle through the water behind them.
Have a Goal in Mind
Bullywug society incentivizes bullywugs to climb the political ladder. This can be done through assassinating political rivals or by bringing the Lord of the Muck useful items/people that can be used as political/economic leverage for the bullywug tribe.
Therefore, nine times out of ten a run-in with a group of bullywugs won’t be a fight to the death. It will be a fight to escape capture or drive off the bullywug ambushers that are trying to steal your equipment/coin.
When playing a group of bullywugs your goal should be to knock out or subdue the enemy. If that isn’t possible your new goal is to retreat and regroup for another ambush. Your bullywugs do not want to die, they just want to collect their prize and get out. They’ll take risks, but they won’t throw their lives away.
Before the battle begins consider what your bullywugs would want from the party. Do they want to take the party members themselves to the Lord of the Muck or does the party have an item or piece of equipment that they’d like to steal or acquire? Whatever the case, once they have their prize in hand, run!
5 Bullywug Plot Hooks
- Not Throwing Away My Shot – You’ve been captured by bullywugs, but good news, you’ve befriended one of the prison guards! This guard has aspirations of rising up the ranks. To do so, they need their political rival silenced… permanently. Perhaps you can trade your skills with the blade for your freedom?
- I Dream of Life Without the Monarchy – Everyone must obey the Lord of the Muck, but lately they’ve forgotten that they work in the service of the people. A small group of bullywug freedom fighters is seeking to overthrow their lord and bring democracy to the swamp.
- Missing Toads – The local bullywug tribe has been keeping giant toads as mounts and guards for decades without incident. Then one day all of the toads went missing. They’ve looked everywhere. Where are they and what could’ve scared them off?
- Reclaiming Our (Swamp)Land – A coven of hags used their magic to push lizardfolk into bullywug territory. This has caused unecessary bloodshed and countless battles over land all to the amusement of the hags. The bullywugs are asking anyone they find traversing the swamp for aid.
- I’m sorry, is this not your speed? – You’ve been ambushed by a group of bullywug, but they’re quaking in their boots. It seems that they’re being forced to attack you. Who is pulling the strings here and what are they so afraid of?
The bullywug is a specialized low-CR creature. They thrive in swampland and other wet, vegetation-rich environments. They’re quite powerful when used in the right location.
Their lore is fascinating. For creatures that look so goofy, they have this whole political structure that incentivizes backstabbing, trickery, and intense gambits to climb up the ladder. Which in turn makes them interesting combatants because they’re not looking to kill the party. They’re looking to use the party. They need them alive.
They’re a fun time, and worst-case scenario if they’re not worthy adversaries for your party their lore gives them plenty of interesting plot hooks and story beats for you to use for a mid-high level adventuring party. If there’s a swamp to travel through, there’s a bullywug plot hook for the party to deal with.
I love using Bullywugs in my campaigns. I’d be happy if there was another VGtM-style book with them in it.