Bullywugs: An Underrated 5E Monster
When it comes to having your party face monsters in your campaign, I'm sure as a GM/DM you go for the gold standard in antagonism by having them face off against deadly orcs, indifferent oozes, and cowardly goblins. However, the monsters in existing bestiaries can be so much more interesting than just your standard orc and goblin. I'm here to tell you about a monster that you should definitely use more often in your games, because they're kind of goofy, but really when you look at their stats are above average. I'm here to make a case for you to use more Bullywugs.
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If you've never heard of Keith Ammann's blog "The Monsters Know What They're Doing" - you should really check it out. He's got a few books out as well, compiling most of his blog posts into one easy to read compendium sorted by enemy types. The reason I'm bringing up his blog is that he takes a practical approach to enemy tactics, and after I read his entry on Bullywugs I realized how underused these anthropomorphic frogs are, despite being kind of creepy and actually kind of dangerous. Here are some excerpts from the entry on Bullywugs:
Bullywugs are petty, bad-tempered humanoid frogs, native to swampy areas. The fifth-edition Monster Manual flavor text describes them as “struck with a deep inferiority complex . . . desperately crav[ing] the fear and respect of outsiders” and says they’ll generally prefer to capture trespassers rather than kill them outright, hauling them back to win favor with their rulers first. One way they do this is by taming giant frogs and having them swallow victims whole; however, this works only on Small or Tiny targets, meaning that unless a party of player characters is made up entirely of halflings or gnomes, this isn’t a strategy they can rely on in a typical encounter.
For a creature with only two hit dice, bullywugs aren’t too shabby in combat. All their physical abilities are modestly above average; they have proficiency in Stealth and the Swamp Camouflage feature, which grants them advantage on Dexterity (Stealth) checks in swampy terrain. It’s fair to say, therefore, that bullywugs won’t venture outside such areas—not when they have such a natural advantage on their home turf.
So not only are these Bullywugs generally bad-tempered, but they prefer to capture their enemies alive INSIDE GIANT FROGS. Imagine your halfling cleric getting gobbled up and transported to the Bullywugs base. In combat, the Bullywugs can be somewhat chaotic and terrifying to boot.
Moreover, their Standing Leap ability lets them move their full speed of 20 feet per turn as a long jump, when the jumping rule would normally allow them to leap only 6 feet. This allows them to cover distance in difficult marshy terrain without having to halve their movement speed. If you want to be nitpicky about it, you can require them to succeed on a DC 10 Dexterity (Acrobatics) check when they land, per page 182 of the Player’s Handbook, but personally, I’d say that bullywugs, whose natural habitat is the swamp, shouldn’t have to make that check when landing. And for the sake of flavor, I like the idea of having bullywugs bouncing around like a bunch of ornery little superballs during combat rather than trudging around in 2-D as we landbound humanoids must. (Mind you, this does not exempt them from opportunity attacks when they jump out of PCs’ reach.)
Add the jumping to their natural camouflage ability and you have a combat encounter full of chaotic, unpredictable movements. Perhaps having to guard your smaller party members from being swallowed whole by giant frogs, and adversarial numbers amounting to 3 Bullywugs for every one of your party members. Preferring to ambush also means they'd likely do some decent damage if the party doesn't realize the trap is about to be sprung on them.
So here’s what round 1 looks like: The bullywugs lie in wait, hidden, at a range of 15 to 20 feet from where they expect the PCs to pass. At the right moment, they spring out of hiding, land next to the PCs, and kick off melee combat with surprise, spearing and biting. In round 2, they’ll keep attacking while demanding the PCs’ surrender—in Bullywug, because they’re too dumb to realize that the PCs don’t speak Bullywug. In round 3, they’ll also keep attacking and demanding the PCs’ surrender, still in Bullywug but louder and more slowly. If any PC drops his or her weapon, the nearest bullywug will grab and grapple that PC and pull him or her away from the fight, rifling his or her pockets and pouches for anything valuable.
I created my own race of swamp-dwellers called the Swampkin, so if you're looking for an adventure set in the swamps and want an excuse to go up against some Bullywugs - having a Swampkin character might be a good choice. But no matter which characters you bring to the table, there's no denying that Bullywugs are a force to be reckoned with if used properly by the DM/GM. Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments below!