In Dungeons and Dragons 5e, bugbear characters bring a monstrous, hairy goblinoid to the party dynamic. Somewhere between a bigfoot and goblinoid, these creatures dominate goblin and hobgoblin clans and often act as shock troops for warbands. Therefore, playing this brute means tapping into goblin cunning with a bestial twist. I won’t be necessarily intelligent, wise or charismatic. However, I will be strong and surprisingly sneaky.
When building a bugbear character for DnD 5e, consider the following elements and class ideas:
- Backgrounds as goblin lords
- Bugbear traits and abilities
- Barbarian Path of the Beast
- Rune Knight
- Gloom Stalker
Backgrounds as goblin lords
Bugbears either enslave and dominate goblins or bully hobgoblins into giving away their loot. They act as berserkers and shock troops but also chieftains. Therefore, I can lean into aspects of an uncivilized beast man with goblin tendencies. This character will be a troublemaker for sure, but try and keep it under control to not derail the campaign completely. There’s moments–take them sparingly, but make it funny.
The bugbears worship Hruggek, a lesser god from the plane of Acheron and hope to fight by his side by slaying as many foes as possible. As brutal and savage as they can be, they carry a sense of war honor in this way. It’s like something akin to Valhalla for Vikings.
I can get creative with my character’s backstory, adding elements that create a dynamic character arch. This idea is important for backstories—they give me a place to start so that my character can change throughout the adventure. Maybe I want to turn against my monstrous origin and find new meaning, or maybe I want to indulge in different thrills against monsters bigger than myself.
A few examples of bugbear backstories include:
- Betrayed by a rival war chieftain, I’m set up and exiled from a hobgoblin clan.
- I was raised by peaceful druids and must battle my internal urges.
- Ruling over a bunch of nasty goblins is becoming tiresome. I want a real challenge. Then, I come across this adventuring party…
- A wizard tuned me into this! I want to be human again.
Bugbear Traits and Abilities
Bugbears receive a +2 Strength/+1 Dexterity bonus, blending feral grace with obvious muscle power. Naturally, they lean toward melee classes like fighters and barbarians. However, they also have a Stealth aspect that could be utilized for oddball rangers and rogues. Either way, they are built for ambush attacks and dish out punishment.
|Guide to Building a Barbarian Path of the Beast: DnD 5e
|Guide to Building a Goblin Adventure: DnD 5e
Physically, I’ll have Powerful Build, Darkvision and Long-Limbed. Powerful Build gives me the carrying capacity of creatures one size larger than me. Long-Limbed gives me 5 more feet of range with melee attack, essentially giving a sword the reach of a spear or polearm. Guess that’s the benefit of Bigfoot arms.
Plus, I’ll gain Surprise Attack, giving me extra 2d6 damage on surprise attacks. Therefore, I’ll need to tap into my next ability, Sneaky, to gain proficiency in Stealth. Finally, I’ll understand and speak Goblin as a unique language option.
Barbarian Path of the Beast
The first class that comes to mind is the barbarian—a character who taps into his inner monster for shock, awe, glory and gold. Naturally, this build will tap into a backstory where I was a shock trooper in a raiding band of hobgoblins. I could even be a leader who was cast out and in search of redemption or vindication.
My initial build will give me Unarmored Defense and Rage, which fits my inherent Dexterity and Strength racial bonuses. Unarmored Defense gives me an AC equal to 10 + Constitution modifier + Dexterity modifier, which allows me to tank and utilize my natural Stealth proficiency. Rage adds to this specialization by:
- Grant me advantage on Strength saving throws and ability checks.
- Resistance against slashing, piercing and bludgeoning damage.
- Add extra +2 damage to melee strikes using Strength.
- Triggering my Path of the Beast abilities.
Path of the Beast Abilities
If a raging goblin sasquatch wasn’t scary enough, level 3 will grant me primal shapeshifting abilities with Path of the Beast. Now, I’ll gain different types of shapeshifting abilities as I level higher, starting with:
- Bite: My mouth shifts into a maw or monstrous jaws. Deal 1d8 piercing damage on a successful attack. If I’m at half or below my max HP, I regain a number of HP equal to my proficiency bonus (+2 or 3 at first 10 levels) when I land a Bite. I can do this once per turn.
- Claws: My hands grow sharp claws or talons. Deal 1d6 slashing damage for each unarmed attack. When I make 1 attack with a claw, I can make an additional Claw attack as a part of the same action.
- Tail: My tail grows in a thrashing weapon with reach. I can deal 1d8 piercing damage and has the reach property. Plus, when an enemy within 10 feet of me hits me with attack roll, I can use my reaction to roll 1d8 and add the number to my AC.
Though bugbears are big, they are surprisingly stealthy—gaining proficiency in Stealth, a Dexterity bonus and inherent ambush attack. Therefore, a rogue build could be a fun experiment, especially if I don’t take my character too seriously and make him or her a thief. This trope would play off my goblinoid side, giving me a drive to take shiny things and make them mine.
Naturally, my rogue will have features like Sneak Attack, Expertise and Cunning Action.
Sneak Attack is especially cool with this character, granting me bonus 1d6 damage when I hit a target with advantage. This damage increases quickly as I level up, becoming 2d6 at level 3 and climbing up to 10d6 at level 20. The cool part here is that I can stack my bugbear’s Surprise Attack with the Sneak Attack damage. Therefore, at level 3, I’ll be able to ambush enemies for 4d6 on the first turn.
Plus, Expertise doubles my proficiency bonus for thieves’ tools and 1 extra Skill (Stealth). Cunning Action grants me Dash, Disengage or Hide as a bonus action.
As my rogue transforms into a thief at level 3, I’ll gain abilities like Fast Hands and Second-Story Work. Fast Hands adds to my Cunning Action list, giving me a bonus action to use my thieves’ tools or Use an Object. This will come in handy as I collect magic treasure—a staple theme in 5e’s thief class. Second-Story Work gives me no movement penalty when I climb and a bonus to my running jump distance.
Also, my thief will gain Use Magic Device at level 13, so I will be able to ignore prerequisites for magic items. Now, I can play with all the shiny things regardless of my lack of intellect.
A bugbear rune knight is a fighter subclass that taps into the rune magic and physical qualities of Giants. Therefore, this class would be a great opportunity to build an abominable snowman warrior with snow-white fur.
Because this subclass of fighter uses runes to enhance gear, I’ll build my fighter with a shield and axe. This tank will utilize the Protection Fighting Style to force disadvantage on attacks rolls against close-by allies. Plus, I’ll utilize Second Wind to draw from a bonus pool of HP when I’m hurt. Action Surge will grant me one additional action per long rest. I’ll eventually gain an Extra Attack at level 5, so this goblin yeti is ready.
When I gain my rune knight features at level 3, I’ll choose 2 runes to enhance 2 pieces of gear. Essentially, this gives me added effects based on which rune I choose. Also, my rune amount will increase as I level, opening new options with unique effects. Plus, I’ll gain added features that increase my size, cold resistance and strength, such as (Giant’s Might, Great Stature).
My first choice is the Cloud Rune, which pulls from the trickery of the cloud giants. I’ll gain advantage on Slight of Hand and Deception checks. Plus, I’ll be able to use this ability to force an attacking creature to target another creature of my choice. Naturally, this rune is likely to be placed on my shield.
Secondly, I’ll choose Frost Rune, which leans into my arctic look and grants me extra endurance. I’ll gain advantage with Animal Handling checks and Intimidation checks. Also, I’ll be able to invoke this rune as a bonus action in combat, giving me a +2 bonus to all ability checks and saving throws using Strength or Constitution.
A ranger build could tap into the bugbear’s inherent stealth and ambush tactics, especially the dark and mysterious gloom stalker archetype. This character stalks deep forests and jungles—a night hunter with expert vision and ambush prowess. I can tap into the bugbear’s Dexterity as my highest score, adding Strength for weapons like a hand axe or longsword.
My basic ranger build will grant me inherent magic, tracking abilities and combat features. I’ll choose the Deft Explorer, Favored Foe and Primal Awareness options from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything for an array of magical adventuring and damage options. Plus, I’ll choose the Defense or Dueling Fighting Style, depending on whether I want +1 to AC or +2 to damage rolls.
I’ll choose ranger spells like hunter’s mark, cure wounds, ensnaring strike and fog cloud. Spells like hunter’s mark (add +1d6 to damage rolls) and ensnaring strike (entangle enemies in thorny vines) give me combat options. However, cure wounds (1d8 + Wis mod healing) and fog cloud (20-foot cube of vision-impairing fog) keep me alive and kicking.
|Guide to Building an Arctic Adventure: DnD 5e
|Guide to Building a Goblin Character: DnD 5e
Gloom Stalker Abilities and Spells
Level 3 grants me my gloom stalker archetype, along with Umbral Sight and Dread Ambusher.
Umbral Sight increases my darkvision by 30 feet. Plus, I’m invisible in the dark to creatures with darkvision.
Dread Ambusher grants me 10 feet of extra movement, my Wisdom bonus for initiative rolls and an extra attack that counts as the same action. This attack deals out an additional 1d8 damage. Add in my Surprise Attack damage as a bugbear, and I can really lean into this class feature and 2d6 more damage to that ambush.
Later abilities give me an extra attack when I miss (Stalker’s Flurry) and grant disadvantage on attackers (Shadowy Dodge).
Also, this class gives me access to a special list of spells as I level. This list includes disguise self (level 3), rope trick (level 5), fear (level 9), greater invisibility (level 13) and seeming (level 17).