Monster Manual A-Z is a series of quick looks at each and every monster presented in the Monster Manual for Dungeons & Dragons 5e. New monsters go up every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday in alphabetical order, touching on lore, mechanics, and ways to use them in your campaign. To search for all Monster Manual A-Z articles, search MMAZ in the search bar as we’ve excluded them from our Roleplaying Games tag to keep things tidy.
Hairy, barbaric, and highly effective, Bugbears are the least refined of the goblinoids- and that’s saying something! Feared by goblins and held in contempt by hobgoblins, Bugbears are tolerated by both when the three come together due to their strength and surprising stealthiness. While they hate to be bossed around, Bugbears love a good scrap and are willing to serve a master or work alongside others if it means being able to fight and loot. There’s little motivation beyond that for a Bugbear, with their love a fighting reinforced by the belief that if they prove themselves to be fierce warriors in life that they will fight alongside their deity in death. That’s not to say they are honorable though- bugbears that are wounded or otherwise slowed may be left behind to help their comrades escape, but that same bugbear may sell out to the enemy and help track down their warband if it means saving their life.
Bugbears are deceptively powerful for a low level monster, being stronger than orcs and able to dole out massive damage if they get the jump on adventurers. Good armor and decent hit points for their level, they have survivability so even if they’re the ones caught unawares they are likely to survive a few hits in combat. Beyond that they have a good stealthing ability that allows them to fet the jump on their enemies. Their Brute feature effectively doubles the damage of their melee attacks at all times making them deadly adversaries, especially for those with low constitution or armor, and that’s compounded by the Surprise Attack feature which adds damage equivalent to two short swords to an attack! And while that wraps up a normal Bugbear, their Bugbear Chief are definitely noticeable stronger with a higher armor and over double the amount of hit points. They retain all the qualities of a normal Bugbear, but they can attack twice in melee upping their deadliness and they also are resistant to being charmed, frightened, and a few other statuses that would keep them from dealing out some pain.
Since Bugbears are known to work with their goblinoid cousins, its a no-brainer to use them alongside goblins and hobgoblins in your world. At low levels you can even use the base Bugbear as a leader for a scouting party of goblins and have it be an effective and appropriate match, while later the Bugbear Chief would feel more appropriate in that role. Their pension for combat and effectiveness as mercenaries also means you could see them working for a mixture of other employers- orcs, cultists, and even dragons all come to mind as viable leaders so long as they can prove themselves to the Bugbears as a worthy master and one who can provide a challenge to these hairy, orange brutes. Another thought on how to use them would be to make Bugbears a nomadic band of raiders; no real structure to their war band other than take what you loot and move on. It would present them as fierce, and while it limits or nullifies any diplomatic approach, at the right level they could be a truly daunting task for adventurers to handle.
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