Bulette Variants for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition

Welcome back to Dave’s Daily Monsters. I’ve been making my way through the Monster Manual each day offering 3-5 variants of each monster. Today, I’m just a couple steps away from wrapping up the B’s with the classic D&D monster bulette.

Here’s what to expect in this article:

  • What is a bulette?
  • How do 5e bulettes fight?
  • What 5e bulette variants are needed?
  • How to create a “lesser” beast or monstrosity.
  • How to create a “greater” beast or monstrosity.

What is a bulette?

Way, way back during the Chainmail days of D&D, Gary Gygax needed inspiration for new monsters to torment the game’s players. Most of his monster ideas he got from old pulp fiction and swords and sorcery stories. However, one legend purports that Gary was in a toy store and saw a bag of cheap Japanese monster figures. In that collection were the models for what would soon become three famous D&D monsters: the rust monster, owlbear, and bulette.

The bulette, or land shark as it’s sometimes called, is a heavily scaled monster that’s like a cross between an armadillo, a snapping turtle, and a heavy duty mining drill. They’ve appeared in every edition of D&D in some form or another.

Here’s what they looked like way back in first edition:

bulette
“Rar! Tree! I no like you!”

Bulettes in fifth edition.

Bulettes are monstrosities with super low Intelligence. So basically they’re driven by basic animal instincts: eat, mate, and “get outta my house!” The fluff says that most things avoid bulettes when they come around. Not surprising. At challenge rating 5, there’s not a whole lot beyond 2nd tier adventurers or better that can take these guys out.  Challenge rating 5 probably means they’re pretty rare, too. Otherwise, they’d probably destroy, like… everything.

Probably has a lot to do with their mating why they’re so rare. Mating season ain’t pretty for bulettes. Lots of biting, scratching, and occasionally death (mostly for the males, womp womp). And being that they’re so hungry–and not opposed to eating bulette meat themselves–I’m guessing they lay eggs and scram. Otherwise, a hungry bulette is going to see its own young as hors d’oeuvres.

How do 5e bulettes fight?

Keith Ammann has a pretty good article on the nature of beasts and monstrosities (and just about everything else). Here’s what he says about those guys:

Beasts and monstrosities are easily grouped together, because their priorities are simple: They want food. Also, perhaps, territory, but territory is mainly a way to ensure uncontested access to food, along with individual survival. Monstrosities tend to have animal-level intelligence, although there are a handful of exceptions, notably krakens, sphinxes, nagas, lamias and certain types of yuan-ti. Even these exceptions, I think, will possess an animal-like instinct to establish and defend territory, despite coming up with more sophisticated rationalizations of this behavior.

At Intelligence 2, bulettes are about as dumb as they get, only a slight step above oozes. There are no real tactics for these guys. They just utilize their evolutionary advantages to the best of their ability. Let’s look at their advantages:

  • High armor class and hit points. Plus, they’re Large.
  • Fast as hell with walking and burrowing speeds of 40 ft.
  • Average relative Strength and Constitution for their Large size, but deadly to anything that’s Medium or smaller.
  • A standing leap of 30 feet without a running start (jeez)!
  • Huge, huge damage on both their bite and deadly leap attack.

They’ve got darkvision and tremorsense out to 60 ft. and great Perception, too. That probably means they’re nocturnal hunters. This makes sense from the fluff, too, because they’re not fans of elves or dwarves who can see in the dark, but loooove the taste of darkvisionless halfling flesh. I’m sure they won’t pass over a human, either.

Creatures with bestial level intelligence are always going to be one-trick ponies with their attacks. For bulettes, the tactics are simple: use their tremorsense to find prey. Get close enough to where it can jump out with at least 15 feet between it and its targets. Then use its Deadly Leap action to “cannonball!!!” onto a group of yum-yums.

From there, it’ll either regroup and do this again, or if it’s knocked an easy target down it’ll gobble it up and return to whence it came. It doesn’t have a natural grapple/swallow combo with its bite, so it probably won’t drag victims off. It’s looking to dine and dash.

Again, because Bulettes have lousy Intelligence, they have no real way of knowing what’s tough or what’s not until they’re in the thick of it. But they are probably clever enough to realize that easy food is good food. So bye-bye squishy spellslingers and small guys with low-to-no armor.

Finally, they have average Wisdom, so if they’re dropped to 40% of their hit points or less, they’re going to get the hell out of there. Dumb or not, no meal’s worth dying for.

What 5e bulette variants are needed?

Beasts and monstrosities are the easiest variants to cook up. Simply create a lesser baby version and a greater big daddy/mama monster version and presto: you’re done. Instead of just cooking up monsters, I thought that for this article, I’ll start off with showing you how you can do that pretty quickly. Then I’ll create two examples using the bulette as the base creature.

How to create a “lesser” beast or monstrosity.

Creating a lesser beast or monstrosity is easy since all you have to do is reduce the base creature’s stats and attacks. I’m goign to outline the steps, then show you an example with the finished bulette pup.

Pups are born like nine-banded armadillos; they come in groups of four identical babies. Unlike armadillos, however, they hatch from eggs. Chances are they’re abandoned, too, buried under loose soil. The mother, driven by her insatiable hunger, won’t feel like waiting around for these to hatch. Once hatched, only a couple of the pups survive the nest as the strongest bulettes eat its weaker brothers and sisters first. That’s why over time bulettes get stronger and stronger thanks to natural selection.

Here’s how to create a lesser monstrosity. It’s best to do it with a beast or monstrosity that has an intelligence score of 6 or less.

Adjust size, armor class, hit dice, and speed.

  1. Reduce the creature’s size by one category.
  2. If the creature has natural armor of 12 or more (after you’ve removed any Dexterity bonuses), reduce its natural armor by 2. Otherwise leave it the same.
  3. Change the number of hit dice to 1/3 of the original creature’s hit dice total. Don’t forget to adjust the type of hit dice based on the new size category. For example, bulette pups have hit dice of 3d8 compared to full grown bulettes that have hit dice 9d10. We’ll come back later to add in its Constitution modifier.
  4. Adjust the creature’s speeds based on its original size and original speed:
    • Large 30 ft or more. Reduce the base speed by 10 ft.
    • Large 20 ft or less. reduce the base speed by 5 ft.
    • All other speeds stay the same.

Adjust ability scores:

  1. Strength: for original creatures Large or bigger going down a size category, subtract 4 from the original Strength score. For Medium or smaller, subtract 2 or 3. Strength scores should never be less than 3.
  2. Dexterity: On rare occasions, Dexterity might go up for monsters going down a size, but usually Dexterity stays the same.
  3. Constitution: for original creatures Large or bigger going down a size category, subtract 4 from the original creature’s Constitution score. For Medium or smaller, subtract 2 or 3. Constitution scores should never be less than 3. Don’t forget to calculate the new Constitution modifier for the creature’s hit points.
  4. Intelligence: if the original creature’s Intelligence score is 7 or higher, reduce the original creature’s Intelligence score by 2. Otherwise, reduce Intelligence by 1 to a minimum of Intelligence 2.
  5. Wisdom: if the original creature’s Wisdom score is 7 or higher, reduce the original creature’s Wisdom score by 2. Otherwise, reduce Wisdom by 1 to a minimum of Intelligence 2.
  6. Charisma: if the original creature’s Charisma score is 7 or higher, reduce the original creature’s Charisma score by 2. Otherwise, reduce Charisma by 1 to a minimum of Charisma 2.

Senses and languages:

  1. If the original creature’s size category went from Large to Medium, reduce the range of the original creature’s special senses by half. Otherwise, its special senses remain the same.
  2. If the original creature spoke at least one language and had an Intelligence of 6 or higher, the lesser creature keeps its language. Otherwise, the lesser creature loses its ability to speak that language.

Actions:

  1. If the original creature had multiattack with three or more attacks, remove one of the multiattack’s attacks. Otherwise, completely remove multiattack.
  2. If the original creature had only one method of attack, do nothing. If the monster had more than one method of attack, remove one of the attacks so long as at least one Melee Weapon Attack (such as bite, claw, etc) remains. If the creature had no Melee Weapon Attacks to begin with, remove any of its extra attacks at your discretion.
  3. For original creatures that went from size Large to Medium with attacks that have range of 10 ft. or better, reduce the range for the new creature by 5 ft. Otherwise, the range for the attack stays the same.
  4. Adjust damage for attacks:
    • If the original creature used more than one die in its damage, remove one of the dice in the attack. You may do this for each damage type in the attack. Note: some especially dangerous weapons do extra damage than normal even at smaller size categories (example greatsword). You may want to remove two dice in this case, instead of one.
    • If the original creature used only one die in its damage rolls, reduce the type of damage dice using the following guidelines:
      • 1d20 becomes 1d10
      • 1d12 becomes 1d6
      • 1d10 becomes 1d6
      • 1d8 becomes 1d4
      • 1d6 becomes 1d4
      • 1d4 becomes 1
  5. Remove any legendary or lair actions.

Special traits:

  1. Remove any of the original creature’s special traits that don’t make sense for the new creature such as those related to size, speed, abilities, etc.
  2. Adjust distances, damage (using the same rules from above), and other features based on changes to size, speed, abilities, etc.

Preliminary challenge rating:

  1. Using the rules from the Dungeon Master Guide p274, determine the new creature’s challenge rating. It should be less than the original’s.
  2. Make note of the new creature’s proficiency bonus.

Saving Throws, Skills, and Attack Bonuses:

  1. Carry over all of the original creature’s saving throws and skills. Calculate the new bonuses for each based on the proficiency bonus relative to its preliminary challenge rating.
  2. Calculate the creature’s attack bonuses relative to its preliminary challenge rating and ability scores.

Final challenge rating:

  1. Double-check to see if the new creature’s challenge rating still makes sense with its new attack bonuses and any last minute adjustments.

Here’s an example of a lesser monstrosity using these rules.

As usual, these monsters are free for you to use in your own fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons games. Just not commercially. And the art isn’t mine… borrowed!

 

bulette-pup

Bulette Pup

Medium monstrosity, unaligned


Armor Class 15 (natural armor)

Hit Points 22 (3d8 + 9)

Speed 30 ft., burrow 30 ft.


Abilities Str 15 (+2), Dex 11 (+0), Con 17 (+3), Int 2 (-4), Wis 8 (-1), Cha 3 (-4)


Skills Perception +3

Senses darkvision 30 ft., tremorsense 30 ft., passive Perception 13

Languages

Challenge 2 (450 XP)


Standing Leap. The bulette’s long jump is up to 20 feet and its high jump is up to 10 feet, with or without a running start.


Actions

Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 15 (2d12 + 2) piercing damage.


And that’s it. Note, you may want to make adjustments to your new creature with what makes sense to you. For example, I might increase the bulette pup’s tremorsense back up to 60 ft. Always be sure to playtest your creations to see what works and what doesn’t.

How to create a “greater” beast or monstrosity.

Creating a greater beast or monstrosity is a bit trickier mostly because it involves more creativity on your part. Regardless, here’s the rules I use when creating greater beasts and monstrosities.

This time, you’ll want to pick a beast or monstrosity that is Huge or smaller. I’ll be statting up a bulette village eater as my greater monstrosity. Bulette village eaters are rare and stay hidden, but when they appear, chaos abounds. These monstrosities have near unlimited hunger, and are capable of eating entire hamlets in just under an hour.

Adjust size, armor class, hit dice, and speed.

  1. Increase the creature’s size by one category.
  2. If the creature has natural armor increase its natural armor by 2. Otherwise, leave it the same.
  3. Change the number of hit dice to twice that of the original creature’s hit dice total. Don’t forget to adjust the type of hit dice based on the new size category. For example, the Huge bulette village eater will have hit dice of 18d12. We’ll come back later to add in the Constitution modifier once we know its new ability scores.
  4. If the lesser creature’s size went up from Medium to Large, increase the creature’s speed by 10 ft. Otherwise, it remains the same.

Adjust ability scores:

  1. Strength: for original creatures Medium or larger going up a size category, increase by 4. For Small or smaller, increase by 2 or 3. Strength scores should never be more than 30.
  2. Dexterity usually stays the same.
  3. Constitution: for original creatures Medium or larger going up a size category, increase their Constitution score by 4. For Small or smaller, increase by 2 or 3. Constitution scores should never be more than 30. Don’t forget to calculate the new Constitution modifier for the creature’s hit points.
  4. Intelligence: you may keep Intelligence the same (if you want to keep it bestial) or you may increase its Intelligence by 1-2.
  5. Wisdom: increase the original creature’s Wisdom score by 2.
  6. Charisma: increase the original creature’s Charisma score by 2.

Senses and languages:

  1. If the original creature’s size category went from Medium to Large, double the range of its special senses. Otherwise, its special senses remain the same.
  2. If increasing the original creature’s Intelligence will give it an Intelligence score of 5 or higher, you may give it one language. You may also give it an additional language for each +1 modifier it earned through its increase in Intelligence. For example, if the original creature had an Intelligence of 10 and spoke Draconic and you raised its Intelligence to 12, you might give it Common as well.

Actions:

  1. If the creature did not previously have multiattack, you may give it multiattack with 2 attacks. If the creature already had multiattack, you may add another attack to its multiattack.
  2. You may give the creature another action. It can be another form of attack, a special area effect, or anything else that makes sense with what you’re trying to create.
  3. For original creatures that were size Medium moving up to Large, you may extend the range of each of their attacks by 5 feet. Otherwise, do nothing.
  4. Adjust damage for attacks using one of the following methods
    • Increase the number of dice used for damage by one per attack. If the attack does more than one type of damage, only one of the damage types increases. Note: sometimes attacks are extra deadly and do two dice damage even at Medium size categories and smaller (such as a greatsword). You might consider increasing these attack types by 2 dice instead of just one.
    • Change the type of die it uses for damage rolls using the following rules:
      • 1d12 becomes 1d20
      • 1d10 becomes 1d20
      • 1d8 becomes 2d8
      • 1d6 becomes 1d12
      • 1d4 becomes 1d8
      • 1 becomes 1d4

Special traits:

  1. Special traits usually stay the same even for size increases. However, in some special cases, you may consider adding in new special traits. You can use the beasts and monstrosities special traits list for reference.
  2. Adjust distances, damage (using the same rules from above), and other features based on changes to size, speed, abilities, etc.

Preliminary challenge rating:

  1. Using the rules from the Dungeon Master Guide p274, determine the creature’s adjusted challenge rating. It should be higher than the original’s.
  2. Make note of the creature’s new proficiency bonus relevant to its challenge rating.

Saving Throws, Skills, and Attack Bonuses:

  1. Carry over all of the original creature’s saving throws and skills. Calculate the new skill and saving throw bonuses based on the proficiency bonus relative to its preliminary challenge rating.
  2. Calculate the creature’s attack bonuses relative to its preliminary challenge rating and ability scores.

Final challenge rating:

  1. Double-check to see if the new creature’s challenge rating still makes sense with its new attack bonuses and any last minute adjustments.

Here’s an example of a greater monstrosity using the rules from above:

 

bulette-village-eater

Bulette Village Eater

Huge monstrosity, unaligned


Armor Class 19 (natural armor)

Hit Points 243 (18d12 + 126)

Speed 40 ft., burrow 40 ft.


Abilities Str 23 (+6), Dex 11 (+0), Con 25 (+7), Int 2 (-4), Wis 12 (+1), Cha 7 (-2)


Skills Perception +11

Senses darkvision 60 ft., tremorsense 60 ft., passive Perception 21

Languages

Challenge 13 (10,000 XP)


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.

Siege Monster. The bulette deals double damage to objects and structures.


Actions

Multiattack. The bulette makes two attacks, one with its bite and one with its claws.

Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +11 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 45 (6d12 + 6) piercing damage.

Claws. Melee Weapon Attack: +11 to hit, reach 10 ft., one target. Hit: 22 (3d10 + 6) slashing damage.

Deadly Leap. If the bulette jumps at least 15 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 20 Strength or Dexterity saving throw (target’s choice) or be knocked prone and take 20 (4d6 + 6) bludgeoning damage plus 20 (4d6 +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.


As you can see, I also added in siege monster to this bulette’s special traits because I felt it made sense with the beast.

Always be sure to tweak and adjust your monsters until they make sense to you. And definitely make sure to playtest your greater variants as they will tend to have new abilities that can greater change the dynamic of the original monster.

 

Thanks for reading!

Hopefully this quick guide to creating lesser and greater beasts and monstrosities has helped you with some monster creations of your own.

From here, I plan on creating greater and lesser versions of all the beasts and monstrosities in the Monster Manual and packaging it together in a book for you to download, so stay tuned.

Also, to make damage easier, I’ll probably investigate beast and monstrosity attacks, how damage is related to size, and beyond.

If you’d like to stay up to date with all these changes, be sure to sign up to the mailing list by opting in on the sidebar or down in the footer.

Next up I’ll be tackling bullywugs!

See you then!

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