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D&D Burgoo (3.5): I need a bugbear with a bad attitude

Bugbears are great monsters for the DM. They’re these brutish beast-men that know how to use armor and shields, and they have both ranged (javelin) and melee (morningstar) combat capabilities. 

Moreover, the DM doesn’t have to hold back when they fight. As the Monster Manual describes them: “Bugbear attacks are coordinated and their tactics are sound if not brilliant.” That’s a descriptor that makes every DM’s heart pound faster.

In other words, you don’t have to play bugbears as stupid. With an intelligence of 10, they’re fully capable of formulating ambushes and cooperating with one another in a  pitched battle. Certainly, they’re not going to stumble into attacks of opportunity, unless it’s a calculated risk on their part.

Moreover, they’re a monster with utility over a range of levels. They have 3 hit die and they’re officially a CR 2 combatant. Though that makes them a little tough for first level, they make a good boss monster at low levels and a gang of them makes for rugged stormtroopers at least up to level 10, if not above.

The Downside

While the bugbear is eminently scaleable, like so many humanoids in the Monster Manual, they don’t advance by simply increasing their hit die, but rather by adding on NPC or character class levels.

And as soon as we’re talking about adding in class levels, we’re talking about math. For a liberal arts guy like me, math is hard. Templates are a pain, mainly because I have to make notations, either in my game book or in my three-ring binder. Do I have an alternative? Yes.

So, I want a bugbear with a bad attitude. Maybe that 5th level gang leader suggested on the organization line of the Monster Manual entry. What’s the best approach?

Pump up the volume

The beauty of hit points is their abstract nature. They don’t represent anything other than a character or a monster’s relative ability to absorb damage or hang in a fight longer. More hit points doesn’t necessarily mean the monster is bigger. More hit points just means more. So add some.

(In fact, increasing any monster’s hit point total above the average as listed in the Monster Manual is a quick’n’easy way to have a monster hang in a fight longer. That extra round or two may be all you’ll need to convince the players they are fighting a tougher or meaner version of the creature than they are used to, or deplete their resources to a point that makes the adventure more challenging down the line.)

So let’s keep it simple. I want a fifth-level sergeant. OK, we’ll add 5 hit die. Even  I can figure out that 5 x 4 = 20 (the average) and 5 x 8 = 40 (the maximum). So, I pick a number between 20 and 40, and tack that on to the bugbear’s already impressive 16 hp, and we’re ready to party.

If you’re really feeling adventuresome, add that same +5 to the creature’s melee and ranged attacks, representing the requisite bump in base attack bonus. Now the morning star hits for two attacks (+10 and +5) and the javelin gets hurled at +8.

Slap those numbers on a sticky note onto the bugbear page in the Monster Manual and you are ready to rock.

The NPC approach

A more precise method is to use the NPC tables available in the DMG. Find the class and level you want (for this example, it would be a 5th level fighter), then apply the racial adjustments in the back of that section. You’ll probably need to make more notes than will fit on a sticky, though.

The advantage is that you’ll also pick up stats for saving throws, skills and gain additional feats, which adds a layer of complexity to the game. But you’ve also added more time to the DM’s prep. Knowing that the Bugbear’s Will save is increased to +6 (instead of the +1 from the base creature) could come in handy, but it’s up to you as DM to judge whether the time spent in making all the class adjustments is worth it.

The key thing is to keep things simple. DMing is hard enough. All you want is a bugbear with a bad attitude. Supply a snear and a growl when you introduce the creature, and you’re halfway home.

12 Comments (Open | Close)

12 Comments To "D&D Burgoo (3.5): I need a bugbear with a bad attitude"

#1 Comment By StephenWard On July 14, 2008 @ 7:08 am

FYI, I stopped at this post in my feed reader under the assumption that you were talking about the fourth edition bugbear. I’ll shortly be DMing my first fourth edition game, so I would’ve found that useful. The second I saw the term “CR,” I knew it was a false pretense.

To be honest, landing on a post like this that dashes my expectations is a poor user experience. Maybe you guys should separate your feed into posts relating to the two separate editions. I have no further desire to see third edition content, and I’m sure more than a few of your readers have no desire to see fourth edition stuff.

What do you say? Separate feeds?

#2 Comment By Cole On July 14, 2008 @ 7:20 am

I usually use PCGen when changing the monsters in the MM. It’s faster and way easier then doing it by hand.

#3 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On July 14, 2008 @ 9:02 am

It really gets fun when you start throwing class levels at things that normally don’t class: Skeleton Rogue, Dire Boar Barbarian, etc.

Stephenward: We also have posts on Fudge, Synnibar, and “no specific system” (among others). You may be able to set up filters for the tags in the post, however.

Cole: I’m a fan (and occasional volunteer for) [1]. Thirtieth level Bugbear Half-Dragon True Necromancer? No problem.

#4 Comment By Sarlax On July 14, 2008 @ 9:51 am

RE: Separate Feeds – Well, the topic does say (3.5) right there in it. Additionally, since it’s not a D&D specific site, it wouldn’t make sense to have D&D edition-based feeds.

RE: Topic – I’ve been advancing monsters this way for a long time; I just look up a monster that does what I want and give it a new wardrobe. Even though I have a lot of fun reading about new monsters across all the manuals that comes out, the core MM has pretty much all I’d need to produce any number of monsters.

#5 Comment By Wild Joker On July 14, 2008 @ 9:51 am

Interestingly, my RSS feed specifically said “(3.5)” in the title when I clicked on it.

#6 Comment By StephenWard On July 14, 2008 @ 10:08 am

Point taken. However, I disagree that it doesn’t make sense not to have separate feeds. I myself have no more need of 3.5-based content and don’t so much as want to see it in my feed reader. As it stands, I’m close to unsubscribing and thought I’d offer the writers a way to retain me. I could be much mistaken, but I’m sure I’m not the only one reading Gnome Stew who’s primary interest is fourth edition.

#7 Comment By Scott Martin On July 14, 2008 @ 10:14 am

It’s easy when running 3.5 to get into the “complete math” mode– I do it myself. Our world has a lot of humanoids and a war atmosphere, so a lot of the foes have class levels. It’s a little tricky walking the line you lay out– if you just toss the extra HPs on, the critter will often feel underpowered (since it’ll miss a lot more than the math suggests), but each step of character development you decide to use takes time away for the rest of your prep. It’s tough to get right!

I tend to use online NPCs (when possible), or random generators to get me to 90%. From there I can modify a feat choice or two to make it mine. Often, just mixing up the weapons does the right trick.

#8 Comment By Taliesin On July 14, 2008 @ 3:57 pm

I’d like to add to the throng who noticed that the title of the post in my feed reader said 3.5 in it. If I were looking for 4th ed stuff, I’d have skipped over this particular post.

That being said, I’ve used the hitpoints method before, when I think my players think all of any type of monster is the same. Just to keep ’em guessing. 🙂

#9 Comment By Martin Ralya On July 14, 2008 @ 4:23 pm

@Stephen Ward: We’re not a D&D blog, we’re an RPG blog — having separate feeds for two editions of one of the games we talk about here doesn’t make any sense for us. We’ll be sticking with one feed, but thank you for the suggestion.

#10 Comment By StephenWard On July 14, 2008 @ 6:00 pm

I guess I’m in the wrong place, then. Take care.

#11 Comment By Troy E. Taylor On July 15, 2008 @ 10:20 am

Actually, 4E attempts to “fix” this little problem by already providing in the Monster Manual variations of each creature, each one programmed to work at a different level.

For example, under the entry for Goblin, you have a Level 5 Brute in the Bugbear Warrior and the Level 6 Lurker in the Bugbear Strangler. Of course, that may not be enough variation for you. The DMG then offers suggestions for increasing or decreasing the level of the creature, as well as functional (role) and class-level templates.

The idea of having ready-made versions of iconic monsters was given a spin for 3.5 in the Monster Manual 5 supplement, where variations of the hobgoblin was provided, including the hobgoblin versions of the duskblade, spellscourge, warcaster and warsoul — which are, if nothing else, certainly 4E-ish sounding names.

Dragon magazine would explore this idea a little bit in its ecology articles. But the only standard monster to get the treatment was the lizardfolk. Looking back, I wish more had been done with the classic monsters along these line. Sure, there was stuff here and there, but no real concerted effort to assemble variations of the these monsters and provide them in a plug’n’play presentation..

#12 Comment By LaSean Washington On July 3, 2014 @ 11:48 am

I play 1st Edition, and I found the article helpful and entertaining. I was simply looking for more flavor for bugbears in my campaign, and this was helpful. Thanks, Troy.