Last Updated on January 22, 2023
Have you ever heard of a Land Shark? No, not an old Cadillac, Lincoln, or classic Plymouth 1950’s era car. I mean a giant predator that swims through the dirt and explodes from underneath its prey in a shattering of earth, teeth, and screams.
If this sounds familiar, then you have probably been on the wrong end of an exchange with a bulette. These monsters are savage predators that are more than capable of taking out a group of tier-I PCs.
In Dungeons and Dragons lore, bulettes are often said to be a creation of some wizard who convinced an armadillo and a snapping turtle to fall in love over a glass of demon ichor.
That’s kind of what they look like too. Although they act like sharks, they have a beak in place of teeth, and instead of magically swimming through the land, they burrow with armadillo-like forelegs.
In some settings, particularly in Eberron, bulettes are often used as strange kamikaze shock troops from some of the underground overlords called Daelkyr, trapped aberration gods who like to experiment with flesh to make weird and deadly combinations of creatures.
This post is all about bulettes. We’ll start with a player’s guide, detailing their stat block, what tactics they are likely to use against you, and how you can counter those tactics.
Afterward, we will have a little chat with the DMs who hang out here at the Citadel. We’ll talk about where and how you can feature bulettes to maximize their usage in your next adventure. If you like what we discuss, we will end with a story seed centered on bulettes that you can use to frame your next campaign.
What Is a Bulette in DnD 5e?
A bulette is a CR 5 Large Monstrosity that thinks and acts like a shark, except it travels underground and breaks through the surface of the soil to attack from below.
Player’s Guide to Bulettes in DnD 5e
Let’s start with the stat block of this amazing and terrifying monster.
The stat block begins with some impressive physical numbers. An armor class of 17 and 94 hit Points on a creature that can move at 40 feet above or under the ground interchangeably means this is not an easy creature to take on.
Its strength and constitution are the most remarkable stats at 19 and 21 respectively. Intelligence and Charisma are the lowest at 2 and 5 respectively. This means that while the tank of the party will be doing much of the heavy lifting, the best characters to actually be effective are going to be your spellcasters.
One of the main reasons this monster is so difficult is the high perception score.
With a passive perception of 16 and tremorsense, you will need a very high stealth score at tier II in order to pass by this thing unnoticed, unless you can somehow fly quietly.
The signature ability of the bulette is the standing leap, which it uses in conjunction with its burrowing ability to seemingly fly out of the ground and land on its prey (that would be you).
The Deadly Leap ability allows it to knock targets prone and deal extra damage at the end of that 30-foot leap.
Large Monstrosity, Unaligned
- Armor Class: 17 (natural armor)
- Hit Points: 94 (9d10 + 45)
- Speed: 40 ft., burrow 40 ft.
- STR 19 (+4), DEX 11 (+0), CON 21 (+5), INT 2 (-4), WIS 10 (+0), CHA 5 (-3)
- Skills: Perception +6
- Senses: Darkvision 60 ft., Tremorsense 60 ft., Passive Perception 16
- Languages —
- Challenge: 5 (1,800 XP)
- Proficiency Bonus: +3
Standing Leap. The bulette’s long jump is up to 30 feet, and its high jump is up to 15 feet with or without a running start.
Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +7 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 30 (4d12 + 4) piercing damage.
Deadly Leap. If the bulette jumps at least 15 feet as part of its movement, it can then use this action to land on its feet in a space that contains one or more other creatures. Each of those creatures must succeed on a DC 16 Strength or Dexterity saving throw (target’s choice) or be knocked prone and take 14 (3d6 + 4) bludgeoning damage plus 14 (3d6 + 4) slashing damage. On a successful save, the creature takes only half the damage, isn’t knocked prone, and is pushed 5 feet out of the bulette’s space into an unoccupied space of the creature’s choice. If no unoccupied space is within range, the creature instead falls prone in the bulette’s space.
The bulette is a simple creature. I mean, with an Intelligence of 2, it doesn’t have many options. The bulette, however, does know what it is capable of, and that is acting like a volcano of teeth and carapace. You can expect the bulette to spend every round diving into the ground and leaping out again at a different target.
If the bulette is fighting because it is hungry, you can expect it to try to grapple you and take you underground where it can snack on you at its leisure without all of the other PCs poking it with sharp things.
The bulette is not likely to spend all of its time fighting one character. It excels at knocking its prey prone and then using the advantage to make a bite attack. However, if it feels too threatened to stand in place, it can simply rampage around the area and attack everything that moves until it can finally eat in peace.
However, given its very high Armor Class, it may not be bothered by anyone attacking it, so at least when it eats you, you will be in full view of your friends, and no one will waste their time on a quest to the underground in order to find you.
How To Fight a Bulette in DnD 5e
Should you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of being the focus of a bulette’s rage, there are a few things you can do. As Mr. Miyagi says, the best way to avoid a bulette’s attack is to “no be there.”
This is really a very simple hack, but it only works if you know the bulette is about to attack, so it may not work during a surprise round. For every round after that, on your turn, I want you to repeat after me.
Say, “I ready my action. When the bulette leaps, if it leaps at me, then I will move and attack.” These magic words will allow you to move out of the way once the bulette is airborne.
See, as big as the monster is, Newton has a say in how it moves, and once a creature is airborne, it will move in a predictable arc until it hits the ground.
Once it leaps, you can move out of its path. Provided it doesn’t go immediately underground again, you can then use your reaction to run up on it, shoot it, cast a spell at it, or whatever makes you happiest while it is exposed. When your turn comes around again, which it will before the bulette’s turn does, you can simply ready your action again.
And thus, the very big and powerful but intellectually challenged creature is undone by a simple four-word phrase: “I ready my action.”
DM’s Guide to Bulettes in DnD 5e
Alright, buddies… let’s get serious about how to
terrorize create an enjoyable experience for our players with a few well-placed bulettes.
The Monster Manual says the bulette lives in grasslands, mountains, and hills. This checks out, considering that such a large creature would need plenty of space to move around through the earth without running into roots and knocking over trees.
These locations can make for excellent bulette encounters because of the lack of hiding places for the PCs. Without magic, it will be difficult for them to get high enough off of the ground to frustrate a bulette.
While the bulette only has a high jump of 15 feet, once it gets underground, it can burrow in a space where gravity isn’t a deterrent. There is no reason it can move underground and then take that 30-foot leap straight up into the air before falling again.
It is reasonable to give the bulette falling damage if it tries this desperate maneuver, but with 94 HP, I’m fairly certain it can take a few of these before changing its methods.
For Your Imagination
Remember those scenes of pre-colonized North America where millions of buffalo are streaming across the Great Plains in a river of glory?
Have you ever seen footage of a pod of dolphins or whales going through the ocean, occasionally surfacing for air as they travel onward?
Put those two images together. Millions of bulettes, swimming through the Great Plains, and all you see are their backs as they occasionally surface for air while on their way.
In the mountains, however, remember to use the caves. Caves are surrounded by earth on all four sides. A bulette could conceivably shoot through a small enough cave in a straight line from one wall to the other, knocking prone anyone in the way with its deadly leap ability.
This would keep it protected from casual attacks and force your players to Ready an Action and anticipate its arrival.
Now, apply that tactic to the Underdark with a whole pack of bulettes. Scary, huh?
Bulettes have no official organizational structure. The Monster Manual does not say if they are solitary or move in packs, herds, pods, or prides. While it says they could be weird amalgams of armadillos or snapping turtles and both of those are solitary creatures, it doesn’t have to be so.
That being said, consider having bulettes run in herds of 6 to 50 depending on the ecosystem of your world. Is there enough food to feed that many? Considering how far they can range, it could be possible, especially if they are herbivorous or omnivorous.
Finally, you could also have them be the weird creations of some kind of flesh grafter who uses them to cause destruction and to protect his lair as in the story seed below.
Story Seed for Tier III – IV Characters
Illsauriax is a mind flayer alhoon. Centuries ago, he and his other alhoon buddies created their periapt of mind trapping from a trio of drow raiders they captured in the Underdark. Since then, the alhoon have been stealing the periapt from each other by any means necessary.
They want the power-possessing the periapt has. While in their possession, they maintain the periapt and feed more sacrifices into it, which benefits all of the alhoon. Thus, the constant back-and-forth struggle has become a sort of game they play in order to both upkeep the periapt and stave off the boredom of eternity.
These alhoon tend to keep what is left of whatever excuse for sanity they have by capturing different creatures and performing strange experiments on them to “improve” their physiology to whatever whim suits their need. Their favorite creations happen to be bulettes in addition to dolgrims, chimeras, and whatever nasty monsters you can come up with.
Illsaurix has decided it is his turn to have the periapt. However, in the 200 years since he last owned it, his current rival has improved his defenses.
His rival, another alhoon name Silvinex, once convinced a cultist of his to found a camp based on a local copper mine. That camp grew into a village, which grew into a city.
Both of the alhoon view the city as a temporary plaything at best and a stable for humanoid livestock at worst.
Regardless, when bloodthirsty bulettes are routinely directed at the city destroying everything in their path, the PCs can either backtrack the bulettes to Illsaurix’s lair or they can follow the bulettes to find what they are seeking: an entrance to Silvinex’s lair in the old copper mines.
Either way, the PCs will find one alhoon and then hopefully pick up the clues to find the other, all the while hoping they don’t end up as the next offerings to the periapt of mind trapping.
No one wants to be in the middle of two alhoons going to war, but that is exactly where the PCs find themselves.
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I played the game a lot as a kid, back in first edition. Over the past few years since 5e was released, I’ve really started getting back into it. Currently, I run a campaign online for some friends and my brothers, and we also play a side-sesh just to mix things up.