There are many creatures who prey on the innocent in Dungeons & Dragons 5E. Goblins are by far the sneakiest creature in early game D&D, and they have a lineage of similarly sneaky brethren. At the middle of the hierarchy, the Bugbear might be the least memorable variant of the Goblin military. And yet, they are probably the coolest in concept. If you wish to be the laziest Goblin in the land, our Bugbear 5e guide will help you decide what works best.
Bugbear 5E Lore
Bugbears were introduced in Volo’s Guide to Monsters, and they landed with a faceplant and a yawn. They are the middle troops of the Goblin military and are by far the hairiest members to boot. During wartime, you will never find a more bloodthirsty member of the Goblin forces; Bugbears are well-known to be the ones committing the most atrocious crimes of Goblin warfare, barely held back by their reluctant Hobgoblin leaders.
However, sneak up on a Bugbear enjoying time by itself, and you’ll uncover a different beast. Outside of battle, a Bugbear spends most of its time eating and sleeping, or intimidating Goblins to do their dirty work. This does not mean that a Bugbear cannot do the work, far from it; they simply have full faith that their energy is better expended on murder and battle.
When a Bugbear is not in the Goblin army, they are traveling in gangs. The Bugbear population is fairly small, so these gangs usually value each other, but only as long as it can supply consistent food, water, and treasure. As soon as the gang is in danger of dissolving, the bugbears scatter, more than happy to fend for themselves if it means a chance at survival.
These horrifying warriors do have a religious side. Hruggek is the Bugbear’s might, and Grankhul is the Bugbear’s cunning. Their worship amounts to little more than dedicated battles to them, and praying for mercy in the afterlife. That’s because the Goblin pantheon is in tatters, and the Bugbear cares little for dying gods. What they do have is much fear for the gods that shredded the Goblin pantheon. They will do much for a god or goddess that proves themselves worthy of fear.
Bugbear names are simple, but important; a Bugbear needs to know what to respond to, so it can stop napping and start fighting. Check out our Bugbear naming guide if you need help there!
Bugbears only have one race attribute section, and boy is it unique! All bugbears (without DM intervention) have the following racial traits.
- +2 Strength, +1 Dexterity. A weird combination of stats, completely unique in 5E. Strength is a melee damage stat, primarily. Strength skills are few and replaceable, carrying capacity is all but useless, and Strength saves are rarely important. So the most important part of Strength is hitting people hard. Dexterity, meanwhile, is for attack rolls… and one of the most important saving throws, better skills, and AC. Having more Strength than Dexterity might sound bad, but this stat spread makes Bugbears fantastic with Medium Armor builds.
- Medium Size, 30 ft Speed. The average for most races. Bugbears have a gigantic variety in terms of height, between 6 and 8 feet tall! You might be cramped in certain dungeons, or be able to easily peek over some ledges.
- Darkvision. Great, you don’t need to have torches or even light cantrips. Being a Goblinoid, being able to just sneak around in the dark is hugely beneficial to you. This lets you be a frontliner without needing to heft a Light cantrip. It also lets you see hidden threats or treasures.
- Long-Limbed. Whoa, that’s really cool! On your turn, you get to reach just a bit farther than any other race in the game. That lets you do really weird stuff, like be a backliner with a Greatsword. Or stabbing someone 15 ft away from you with a Spear. It is only during your turn, however, so your opportunity attack space does not fit your standard reach. Use this as a good positioning tool!
- Powerful Build. Unimportant in your standard campaign, especially with how high your Strength will be. Still, might come in handy for some puzzles. Combine it with Enlarge to benchpress a planet.
- Sneaky. Free skill proficiency. You’ll probably have fairly high Dexterity, so you might be able to sneak around as well as your typical Rogue, even if you were a Fighter. Stealth tends to be something useful to have in your pocket.
- Surprise Attack. Extremely situational, extremely hard to use, devastating early on. Imagine, if you will, your character sneaking up on a level 1 Kobold and dunking on it with a Greataxe for 4d6 + Strength. The Kobold is guaranteed to no longer exist, and you may have slain it’s family line. This may become rather pathetic in the mid to late game, but 2d6 damage is still more damage than you normally can do. Try and plan surprise attacks with your party.
- Languages. Goblin is a surprisingly useful language. There’s a few creatures that are naturally Goblins, and Hobgoblins and Bugbears are midgame enemies. At the very least, you’ll be able to talk to your early and midgame enemies.
Bugbears are heavily weighted towards using weapons, but their Surprise Attack works with any attack roll. We suggest classes that can be Melee, at least; Long-Limbed is so much fun!
Good Classes for Bugbears
- Barbarian. Barbarian is the ultimate Bugbear class. Flavorwise, it makes a ridiculous amount of sense. Utilitywise, Bugbears give Barbarians 5 ft of bonus reach, great stats, Darkvision, better carrying capacity, and extra playstyles. Who wouldn’t poop their pants if a Barbarian came out of stealth, Sneak Attacked your Wizard, and then burst into rage? Really good option.
- Cleric. Eh, this one’s a stretch. However, this allows you to play a Cleric that stands behind your Fighter or Paladin and swing over their heads. That puts you in a relatively safe spot, great for aura buffs. Just make sure that you’re not a casting-focused Cleric, because your Wisdom is not going to be insane.
- Fighter. An obvious choice. The range is good, you can spec for medium armor, and Sneaky/Surprise Attack is great for someone with solid AC. You don’t really need Dexterity for Fighter, so your stats are far from perfect. But the fun you can have with Long Limbed is probably worth it.
- Paladin. Once again, not the best choice. Long-Limbed works well with Smite, your Strength is insane, and you can play a really cool type of Pally with sneaky. However, you don’t have Charisma or Constitution for tankiness, you suffer due to your Heavy Armor ignoring that +1 Dexterity… It’s not perfect. This is great for a high DPS Paladin, or as a secondary frontliner. Just in case your party is full of melee lads.
- Ranger. A melee ranger is not the best option for the class. However, being able to dual-wield and hit people 10 feet away from you is legitimately powerful. You can go for the Horde Breaker Hunter ability, and have it be useful on melee attacks! Your Dexterity won’t be wasted, and you can very, very easily utilize Sneaky.
- Rogue. You’re sad about your insane Strength, but you get a little Dexterity to work with. This allows you to sneak attack for 12d6 during the first turn of combat, which is hilarious. You were going to take Stealth anyways, so it’s a free proficiency. You get Long-Limbed so you can reach out and easily take out a guard from the shadows… Gods, what a fun build!
Bad Classes for Bugbears
- Artificer. Strength and Dexterity are both mostly wasted on the Artificer, and you can’t get Strength to boost your offense. Long-Limbed is less good on the Artificer than a Fighter, but works fine for the Battlesmith. The racial utility is barely not good enough to make Artificer worthwhile.
- Bard. Similar to the Artificer, the lack of a casting stat sucks a lot. You could use this to play a safe melee build, such as with Bladesinger or Valor. But, your spells are going to be problematically bad, a really huge debuff for a Bard.
- Druid. Your Strength matters a lot less when you’re a Bear. Now, if your DM tells you that Long-Limbed can work in your Wild Shape form, then that’s enticing. But, your utility abilities tend to not be worth your statline. Druids are really reliant on Strength, moreso than Cleric. Might not be a bad idea if you really want to try a support-oriented Spores build, or something like that.
- Monk. Monks need stats too much to waste their +2 on Strength. You’ll be extremely squishy, and your damage and Ki powers will suffer just a bit. It’s a fun idea to try some Reach build with your fists… But you might find that it’s not worth the lack of durability early on. It’s too risky, but you could make it work if you wanted to.
- Sorcerer. Sorcerer is like a Bard… But Sorcerers have next to no reason to go into melee. You can still use Surprise Attack, and it’s especially useful with access to Invisibility. In general, there’s just too many downsides to even consider Sorcerer.
- Warlock. Warlock has significantly more potential than Sorcerer, especially with Hexblade. However, the lack of Charisma is highly unfortunate. Your spells will be more easily resisted, and it’s not worth going a Strength build on a class that can replace attack and damage with their casting stat. Perhaps Paladin would be a better choice.
- Wizard. Wizards have the same problem as Sorcerer, but with Intelligence instead of Charisma. You don’t need Strength, Long-Limbed is almost worthless, and Sneaky/Surprise Attack is not worth the loss in Intelligence.
If your plan is to go for a melee brawler, then the Bugbear is a very unique build path to work towards. There’s a reason to play Bugbear for nearly any Strength build, and you can even risk it for some Dexterity builds. Try it out, if your party has a few frontliners, or even need a scout of some kind.