Bugbears 5e: Stats and Guide for Players and DMs

Hulking, hairy, and bestial — it’s a monster so equally hygeine-averse and murderous that it puts the party’s own barbarian to shame. It’s everyone’s favorite goblin boss and bard-bashing brute — the bugbear. 

If, like many of us, your first excursion into the wide and wonderful multiverse of tabletop roleplaying games began with a goblin-infested cave in the Lost Mines of Phandelver starter set adventure for Dungeons & Dragons 5e, there’s a pretty good chance that a bugbear was the first “boss monster” you ever fought. 

Now, if you came here looking for a guide to building your next bugbear PC, you’re going to want to go ahead and check out our bugbear playable race guide here for all of our advice on adding D&D 5e’s version of a wookie to your next campaign. This article is for all the dungeon masters out there. We’re not just going to be breathing down bugbear culture and behavior but also giving you some tips and tricks on how to use bugbears in your own games (not to mention how to make them feel way more terrifying than just big beardy people with clubs). 

Bugbear 

  • STR 15 (+2), DEX 14 (+2), CON 13 (+1), INT 8 (-1), WIS 11 (+0), CHA 9 (-1)
  • Armor Class: 16 (hide armor, shield)
  • Hit Points: 27 (5d8 + 5)
  • Speed: 30 ft.
  • CR (XP): 1 (200 XP)
  • Senses/Languages: Darkvision 60 ft., Passive Perception 10 / Common, Goblin
  • Proficiency Bonus: +2
  • Size: Medium
  • Type: Humanoid (goblinoid)
  • Alignment: Chaotic Evil
  • Damage / Condition Resistance / Immunity: None
  • Skills: Stealth +6, Survival +2
  • Saving Throws: None

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.

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.

Hulking Bugbear
© Wizards of the Coast

What Is a Bugbear in D&D 5e?

Bugbears are 7-foot-tall, hairy, hulking monsters who rely on a mixture of brute force and cunning to defeat their opponents. Members of the goblinoid family, bugbears are often found either lording it over their weaker kin or serving as shock troops in larger goblin and hobgoblin armies. 

Mechanically, bugbears get a strong +6 bonus to Stealth and get to roll an extra damage die when using a melee weapon, which makes them fearsome ambush predators. 

Most bugbears in the wilderness survive by hunting and stealing — snatching livestock and the occasional defenseless traveler from the edges of civilization for sustenance. Their natural talent for violence and low opinion of anything that isn’t a bugbear often means that they turn to raiding and/or attacking towns and villages either in packs or as part of a larger force of goblinoids. 

Bugbears, despite their size and ferocity, are also remarkably stealthy — a holdover from their far-off fey origins — and capable of fitting through gaps that creatures of their size shouldn’t be able to pass through. This ability to infiltrate, evade, and outmaneuver means that many bugbears are fond of setting ambushes and catching their enemies unawares. Plenty of heroes have met their end after assuming bugbears are nothing more than brutes and not setting an adequate watch. 

Bugbears aren’t stupid, either. Although they aren’t as smart on average — nor do they have the societal tendency toward an organized, martial life — as their more tactically minded hobgoblin cousins, bugbears are no fools. 

Many of them install themselves as the de facto rulers of anything too weak to resist, even coordinating groups of downtrodden goblins to serve as their cannon fodder, cooks, servants, and — should the rest of the supplies run out — food. 

Nevertheless, bugbears also aren’t particularly brave or loyal. They might make excellent mercenaries, serving as shock troops or commandos in larger goblin war parties, or rise to lead their own warbands, but they will turn tail and run without a second thought if they see things aren’t going their way. A captured bugbear will also happily betray its own former allies if it thinks doing so will prolong its life. 

They also tend to be lazy, petty, and cruel (at least, that’s how the Monster Manual portrays them) and refuse to lift a finger if there’s an underling around to do the work for them. While this plays pretty well into the idea of a bugbear as a reprehensible monster that’s only good for adventurer target practice, I have a bit of headcanon that lends some more depth to the idea. 

Bugbear Culture and Religion

Bugbears worship two gods, Hruggek and Grankhul, which embody the bugbear’s brutal strength and bloodlust, and natural quickness and cunning, respectively. 

Despite their differences, both of the bugbears’ gods (like any true gods) demand proof of their followers’ devotion in blood and slaughter. Bugbears love to make grisly trophies from their kills, and watching the life leave an enemy’s eyes is an act of almost religious joy. 

Hruggek (a lesser god who dwells on the plane of Acheron) praises the bugbear’s strength and is a pretty easy pillar of bugbear society to understand. Being a good Hruggek worshiper means slaughtering your enemies, intimidating your rivals, and ensuring anyone weaker than you is put firmly in their place. This is why bugbears basically enslave the smaller, weaker goblins and in their absence will form together into bugbear warbands with the strongest member of the group in charge. 

It’s interesting, however, that bugbears who value strength are so often found in the employ of hobgoblins. While stronger than regular goblins, even the strongest hobgoblins are still physically incapable of competing with an average bugbear. This is where the second pillar of bugbear religion and society comes into play: the god of guile, quickness, and cunning — Grankhul. 

The equal worship of Grankhul and Hruggek by bugbears means that they are taught to value strength and cunning in equal measure. This is why a hobgoblin’s superior cunning allows a bugbear to accept its leadership. They might be physically weaker, but brains are just as important as brawn to a bugbear, and it knows that both together are more valuable still. 

I think by this logic, the idea of a bugbear that uses their strength over others to make them do their work while they laze about doing nothing feels very much like honoring their god. Working hard when there are weak people who’ll do the work for you is a sucker’s game and therefore unholy. 

Basically, if you keep the worship of Hruggek and Grankhul at the forefront of your mind when you think about bugbear behavior, a lot more starts to make sense. No species universally delights in bloodshed and carnage, shirks labor, or bullies those weaker than themselves; most bugbears do this because that’s what their gods demand.  

At the very least, this is how I approach the potential dissonance between the new, basically flavorless representation of playable bugbears in Monsters of the Multiverse (even though they’re mechanically awesome) and the monstrous representations of them in the Monster Manual. Bugbears aren’t any more violent, authoritarian, cowardly, lazy, or cruel than any other species; their religion and culture just push them to be that way. 

As with all things in D&D, if you don’t like it, you can change it. If you want your bugbears to be peaceful subsistence farmers, members of a fanatical death cult, or fully integrated members of human (or dwarf or elf, or just plain olf medium humanoid) society, that’s up to you. 

It’s worth noting that a few other sources (Monsters of the Multiverse, specifically, which gives us about as much flavor for bugbear PCs as a great big mouthful of flour and sand) point to Maglubiyet, god of conquest, as being the divine patron of the bugbears, but seeing as “the Great Chieftain” is often used as a blanket deity for all goblinoids, I think it’s also totally justifiable to say that these two realities can exist in harmony.

Now that we’ve talked about bugbear culture and how it might be used to represent bugbears in your game, let’s talk tactics. 

Bugbear Tactics: Two Tiers of Monster

So, I think bugbears are a criminally misused monster in D&D 5e, and I want to rectify it. This is almost solely down to their ability to combine brute force and strength into one massive, hairy package (we’re not still doing “phrasing,” are we?), but I think that the strength of the bugbear often ends up overshadowing their sneaky side, which in turn means they’re played wrong by DMs at different levels of the game. 

Therefore, I’d like to humbly submit two ways to use bugbears to get the most out of them at different tiers of play.  

Tier I: Bugbears as Slasher Movie Villains 

Honestly, unless you’re fighting the BBEG, it’s incredibly hard to die in D&D 5e. You’ve got death saves, ranged healing spells, medicine checks, accessible resurrection magic, special class abilities, bags of hit points, and the list goes on and on. 

The only time when characters feel genuinely vulnerable in 5e is between levels 1 and 3, and this is usually the time when dungeon masters take it easiest on their players because they want to get them used to their characters and ramp things up slowly. 

I’m here to tell you that you, dungeon masters, should be going as hard at your players at 1st level as you do at 5th, 10th, and 20th. At least, if your players want and can handle real consequences to their actions, these levels are the time and place to make it happen. And nothing helps make D&D (a game about being fantasy superheroes on a power trip) feel like survival horror than a great big bugbear. 

Play on the bugbear’s natural +6 to Stealth checks, not to mention their access to ranged weapons. Make them explode out of the darkness and down a PC before disappearing again — or, better yet, drag that body away into the darkness to feed. 

Or, steal all the new abilities from the playable bugbear in Monsters of the Multiverse and make your bugbears into truly terrifying solo monsters. 

MotM Bugbear Traits 

  • Fey Ancestry: Advantage on saving throws to avoid or end being charmed 
  • Long-Limbed: Melee attack reach increased by 5 feet. 
  • Powerful Build: Count as one size larger when determining carrying capacity as well as weight you can carry, drag, or lift. 
  • Sneaky: Proficient in Stealth and can move through a space large enough for a small creature. 
  • Surprise Attack: If you hit a creature before it has taken a turn in the current combat, it takes an extra 2d6 damage. 

The things I’d take from this list are Long-Limbed, which should allow you to swipe out of the darkness like a true slasher villain without getting into opportunity attack range, and Sneaky. While you already have good stealth, the ability to fit through a space only large enough for a small creature — as you either contort your massive body or just warp the space around you using fey magic — is straight-up nightmare fuel. 

Basically, I would run a seemingly innocuous 1st-level adventure where goblins have been raiding a town for more and more food. Sheep, pigs, cows, and now people. When the players catch up with the goblins in their lair deep within a narrow warren of caves or maybe inside a large ruined structure, they find that the goblins are all thin, horribly malnourished, and way more afraid of their “boss” than they are of the players. 

Then, from further inside, they hear the sound of footsteps, they see a pair of yellow eyes and a large, fanged smile, and the real horror begins. 

Tier II: Bugbears in the Bigger Picture 

Once player characters make it out of the survival horror game experience that is 1st and 2nd level, the place they’ll likely find bugbears is filling the “brute” role in larger scale encounters — drawing attention and damage while dishing out a ton themselves while the enemy’s actual leader directs from the safety of the back line.  

While using bugbears this way can be highly effective, I think the real joy here is to lean back into their sneaky side. Treat them less like fuzzy ogres (that’s what ogres are for) and more like special forces. 

A goblinoid army advancing through human lands might send small groups of bugbears ahead of them to weaken defenses, sow carnage and terror, and take out critical objectives. Of course, there should also be a hobgoblin leader with the bugbear commando mission if they’re straying very far from the main army; otherwise, the bugbears might just get bored, lazy, or worse, decide it’s easier just to subcontract the job out to a bunch of nearby goblins. 

In a larger battle, putting a single bugbear in charge of every few dozen goblins is way, way less scary than a whole unit of bugbears smashing into your forces from the flanks. Used in this fashion, bugbears (especially if you put them in some decent armor) can make truly nightmarish opponents, even for higher-level parties thanks to their extra damage, which basically means their attacks crit every round. 

Then, if you really want to dial things up to 11, throw a bugbear chief into the mix too. 

Bugbear Chief  

  • STR 17 (+3), DEX 14 (+2), CON 14 (+2), INT 11 (+0), WIS 12 (+1), CHA 11 (+0)
  • Armor Class: 17 (chain shirt, shield)
  • Hit Points: 65 (10d8 + 20)
  • Speed: 30 ft.
  • CR (XP): Challenge 3 (700 XP)
  • Senses/Languages: Darkvision 60 ft., Passive Perception 11 / Common, Goblin
  • Proficiency Bonus: +2
  • Size: Medium
  • Type: Humanoid (goblinoid)
  • Alignment: Chaotic Evil
  • Damage / Condition Resistance / Immunity: None
  • Skills: Intimidation +2, Stealth +6, Survival +3
  • Saving Throws: None

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

Heart of Hruggek. The bugbear has advantage on saving throws against being charmed, frightened, paralyzed, poisoned, stunned, or put to sleep.

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.

Actions

Multiattack. The bugbear makes two melee attacks.

  • Morningstar. Melee Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 12 (2d8 + 3) piercing damage.
  • Javelin. Melee or Ranged Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, reach 5 ft. or range 30/120 ft., one target. Hit: 10 (2d6 + 3) piercing damage in melee or 6 (1d6 + 3) piercing damage at range.

Monster

tiny aberration

Armor Class

none

Hit Points

Speed

STR

()

DEX

()

CON

()

INT

()

WIS

()

CHA

()

Challenge

0 (10 XP)