Neither Bug nor Bear
Perhaps the most misleadingly named of the fantasy races, bugbears are the hairy goblinoid boogeymen that have stalked the bestiaries since the very first edition of D&D. Now in 5th edition we get a chance to play the fuzzy beasties for ourselves. What are they? How do they play? Grab your talking trophy heads and follow us into the cave as we go through everything you need to know.
What’s a Bugbear?
Your first and quite understandable thought hearing the word “bugbear” is probably some kind of insectile grizzly and may have been surprised to find out they were a sort of big furry goblin. We get the word “bugbear” by combining an old English word “bugge" (a frightening thing), and the Old Welsh word “bwg” (evil spirit or goblin), this is also where we get the term “boogeyman” and “bugaboo”. It essentially means “scary goblin” and that’s exactly how D&D portrays them. Bugbears are goblins with a lot more muscle, hair, killer instinct, and less scheming.
Bugbears are seen as monsters, boogeymen, things that stalk silently through the woods and outskirts of civilization that will surely come and snatch up the children who don’t obey their parents. This perception is justified, for the most part. But unlike other goblins and hobgoblins, a lurking and potential threat is exactly what they’re content to be.
Where goblins launch raids and hobgoblins build armies, the bugbears are lazy opportunists. Rarely living in groups larger than a dozen or so, bugbears rarely are concerned with more than their own survival and perhaps the survival of their gang. They enjoy bullying and enslaving weaker creatures and even eating other humanoids when the opportunity arises, but as with everything they do, they do so lazily, and only when convenient. Bugbears usually want nothing more than a full belly, a cave to sleep in, and perhaps a weak servant to bring them some more snacks.
It’s this dimwitted lethargy that has kept bugbears from ever becoming a serious threat. The presence of bugbears in an area is no more dangerous and just as common as the presence of wolves. They’re predatory, they’re not nice to run into in the middle of the night, but they’re not about to wage war or take over the nearby village.
Bugbears with a steady food supply would be harmless if it weren’t for their religious beliefs. Bugbears worship two patron deities, the warrior brothers Hruggek and Grankhul. Hruggek embodies bugbear strength and ferocity, while Grankhul embodies the bugbear stealth and cunning. Both brothers are honored by bloodshed. Decapitating an enemy in combat or backstabbing unsuspecting travelers are both equally holy acts in the name of their deities.
Further pushing bugbears to violence, the goblin deity Maglubiyet once captured Hruggek and Grankhul, then “freed” them as long as they remained in his service. Bugbears understand that worship to their gods in part honors their captor Maglubiyet, and while they don’t worship the goblin god they feel indebted to serve alongside their deities. When goblin kings and hobgoblin warlords call, bugbears often join the warbands, serving (albeit somewhat lazily) to help repay that divine debt.
Hruggek and Grankhul aren’t blind to this service either. All bloodshed and predation honor them without pomp or circumstance and they have no temples or clerics, but there is one special ritual bugbears often perform for them. Bugbears take the heads of their fallen foes (particularly if they were strong opponents) and cut away the eyelids before impaling them on spikes or hanging them as trophies. The heads themselves honor the strength of Hruggek, and the lidless eyes honor the ever-watchful Grankhul. Bugbear gangs that have the favor of their deities often find that these head trophies shout in the presence of intruders (much like an alarm spell) or spout valuable secrets they knew in life (as in the speak with dead spell).
Bugbears have many goblinoid features but are far larger and hairier. They have claws and snouts that somewhat resemble those of a bear, but the similarities are fleeting. Most of their features are often obscured by thick and matted hair, and the facial features that do stick out are decidedly wide and pointed, much like a goblin’s. Their actual skin is usually yellow to reddish brown, their fur tends towards red or brown, and their eyes run the gambit of earth tones, alongside more bestial yellows, oranges, and occasionally greenish white.
Roleplaying a Bugbear
In Toril and most other D&D settings, bugbears are monsters, and lazy ones at that. In these settings you’ll need some good reasons why this boogeyman from the woods is adventuring alongside the rest of the party. Were they exiled from their gang and accepted into a local town? Were they found as an infant and raised without bugbear parents? Or did they simply decide to give the whole “civilization” thing a try after getting tired of roughing it in the woods? You’ll need to come up with some good backstory explaining how they got to where they are today, and why the locals haven’t run them out of town.
In actual roleplay, feel free to play around with their savage and wild nature. Roleplay experiencing the trappings of civilization for the first time and have fun with some “fish-out-of-water” tropes as you learn through trial and error.
Bugbears have short and simple genderless names taken from the goblin language.
Bugbear Names: Bak, Chrok, Dattik, Dunn, Gholk, Khergunk, Nik, Stagirr, Stirk, Zhir
Your bugbear character has the following racial traits.
Ability Score Increase: Your Strength score increases by 2, and your Dexterity score increases by 1.
Age: Bugbears reach adulthood at age 16 and live up to 80 years.
Alignment: Bugbears endure a harsh existence that demands each of them to remain self-sufficient, even at the expense of their fellows. They tend to be chaotic evil.
Size: Bugbears are between 6 and 8 feet tall and weigh between 250 and 350 pounds. Your size is Medium.
Speed: Your base walking speed is 30 feet.
Darkvision: You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can’t discern color in darkness, only shades of gray.
Long-Limbed: When you make a melee attack on your turn, your reach for it is 5 feet greater than normal.
Powerful Build: You count as one size larger when determining your carrying capacity and the weight you can push, drag, or lift.
Sneaky: You are proficient in the Stealth skill.
Surprise Attack: If you surprise a creature and hit it with an attack on your first turn in combat, the attack deals an extra 2d6 damage to it. You can use this trait only once per combat.
Languages: You can speak, read, and write Common and Goblin.
Bugbear abilities are pretty straightforward but just to make everything crystal clear let’s go through them one at a time.
Ability Score Increase: +2 to Strength, and +1 to Dexterity. Strength and Dexterity are key to melee martial characters such as Barbarians, Monks, Paladins, and many Fighters.
Age: A comparable age to humans means you don’t get to play around with being ancient but at least you don’t have to deal with the super short lifespan that plagues most other goblinoids.
Alignment: Bugbears are typically monsters, plain and simple. In order to play alongside a typical adventuring party, you’ll need to play against type at least a bit. You’ll need to come up with some reason to be adventuring rather than living in the woods and lopping off heads.
Size: Yet another case of “really big but not quite large sized”. You’re chunky but still count as medium sized.
Speed: Standard movement, no buff but no worries.
Darkvision: A lot of races have darkvision, but it’s always appreciated, seeing in the dark comes up often and it can make a big difference.
Long-Limbed: This may not sound like a lot, but it’s huge. Attacking from 10 feet away means you’re free to make your attacks and leave without giving the enemy a chance to make attacks of opportunity. Or to make attacks with the party tank still in-between you and the bad guys. It’s downright abusable, and a hair’s breadth away from broken.
Powerful Build: This is the trait we get in exchange for being “big but not large sized”. It generally won’t come up unless your DM likes to deal with carry weight issues, or you find yourself needing to shove something heavy. Just keep it in mind whenever muscle power is required to get some extra oomph.
Sneaky: Stealth is one of the most important skills and just nabbing it here for free is a very welcome bonus, especially if you’re trying to take advantage of the surprise attack trait.
Surprise Attack: What counts as “surprise” can get hazy depending on your DM, but generally whenever you get the drop on the enemy you should be getting this lovely damage boost. 2d6 is especially strong at early levels, so try to make the best use of it and take any opportunity you can to ambush the enemy.
Languages: Common and Goblin. Unless your adventure specifically involves a lot of goblins this’ll likely be a throwaway language, but you never know what your DM will throw at you.
5e D&D is extremely flexible, and you should always feel free to go against type and whip up a bugbear wizard instead, but bugbears abilities really push them towards martial classes. The Strength and the extra reach really help with any plan that involves smacking or stabbing your way through conflicts. If you’re looking to make the most of those abilities, the following builds are a great starting point:
While this does leave that +2 Strength blowing in the wind, making your bugbear a rogue, specifically an assassin can let you do some incredibly nasty ambushes using your surprise attack trait. The assassinate ability gives you advantage on enemies that haven’t taken a turn in combat yet and makes all attacks against surprised enemies into automatic critical hits. And yes, you get to double that delicious surprise attack damage in the crit. So even at level 3 a bugbear assassin making a surprise attack will deal a whopping 10d6 + modifiers (1d6 for the weapon, 2d6 for the rogue sneak attack, 2d6 for the surprise attack, which adds up to 5d6 and then gets doubled to 10d6 for the critical hit).
Hruggek’s Blessed Barbarian
Strength and Dexterity already fit perfectly for barbarians, but here we want to especially abuse your Long-Limbed trait using the path of the ancestral guardian. The ancestral protectors ability says that the first guy you smack while raging has disadvantage and deals half damage if it attacks anybody but you next turn. It really assumes that you’re in their face and tanking the hits, but what if you were 15 feet away with your allies in-between? Simply choose a reach weapon like a halberd, then for your first attack each round poke the enemy currently locked in combat with your allies and use any remaining attacks against closer targets. You’ll usually get to massively debuff a target every round this way, or else they’ll have to take the attacks of opportunity from the rest of your party in their desperate attempt to get at you.
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Last updated: January 27, 2019
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