Dragon Encounters

Making dnd combat fun, finding monsters that fit together, monster tactics and strategies, and other ways of using the monsters of dungeons and dragons

BUGBEAR: Ideas for Sneak Attacks


Combat rating 1


1 Bugbear (CR 1)

1 Cockatrice (CR 1/2)


Combat rating 2


2 Bugbears (CR 1)

3 Goblins (CR 1/4)


Combat rating 3


3 Bugbears (CR 1)

1 Dire wolf (CR 1)


Combat rating 3


2 Bugbears (CR 1)

1 Wererat (CR 2)

How to Use – Combat Encounter (difficulty 3-4)

The bugbears’ entire style is to attack from behind, run for it as soon as they start losing, and then attack from behind again as soon as they can.

I’m going to use a castle/fort, long abandoned, that the bugbears found and fixed up into their base as the setting for this fight. (More general bugbear rules will be brought at the end of the article, under the heading bugbears outdoors.) Whenever the players enter a room and engage in a fight without watching the door behind them, whenever they draw close to a potential hiding place without being properly on guard, they are giving exactly the type of opportunity to the bugbears that they are always watching for.

Whenever the bugbears feel that they’re losing the fight, they’ll dash away, risking opportunity attacks in exchange for distance. If the players run after them, there is every chance that they’re running into an ambush, as some of the bugbears that weren’t in this fight were waiting for this opportunity. If they don’t pursue, they will almost certainly have to fight the fleeing bugbears again, on the bugbears’ terms. Examples of ideas will be brought down below.

[Note that I’m only suggesting that the enemy run away in this one case, and only because I’m building a theme around it. In general cases you don’t want your enemy to run away (unless he’s a special boss enemy that you’re saving for later,) both because that is an unsatisfying end to a fight and because if you don’t have a plan for the escape it will end up being a boring time sink when the players pursue.]

Because a fight where you can’t know when you’ve won is unsatisfying and frustrating, I suggest a more tangible goal. The bugbears have something that the players need to retrieve, and the players have to find and get it. In fact, it should probably be two or three somethings (or one something that is in two or three pieces) to ensure they don’t actually complete the mission too soon.

Ideas for ambushing PCs:

  • As the players approach the building, they find the entrance has been jammed against them, with thorns glued over the door so that they can’t easily force it open without getting hurt. They should be able to get it open within one or two turns, but that will give the bugbears time to climb down from the second story windows, or from the roof (possibly with the use of ropes.) The very first battle upon gaining entrance will be marked by a surprise attack from behind, through the very doorway they came in from.
  • When the first battle is won, the remaining bugbears will scatter. One or two will run through the kitchen, where inside large pots, a little way up the chimney, and under a table covered with a large tablecloth are all prime places for bugbears to be hiding. They’re just waiting for an opportunity.
  • Another trick they might use is to collapse “dead” when they still have some HP left. Then, when the players are examining the treasure chest [perhaps also covered in thorns?] they come back to left and attack before the players realize it. (Coming back to life during the battle also makes a lot of sense to me, but then they won’t get to do an extra die of damage. This doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s not a good strategy.)
  • A different place to feign dead is in a room where the players have already won a fight. Mention causally that the room contains the same furniture, and also the corpses of the five dead bugbears. See if they remember that there were only three. [The numbers are obviously only an example. That said, if the number you add is more than the number they killed, the chances of them realizing are high. Ideally, add no more than one for every two that should be there.] Other ways to mention the dead bodies is to mention the smell coming off the five dead bugbears, or to describe them stepping over the bodies carefully.
  • Have them be waiting on a spiral staircase, couching low so as not to be a target for spells [which might also destroy the staircase, used recklessly.] They won’t get a surprise attack, and they probably won’t take the players by surprise, but the narrow staircase will make some problems for the ranged fighters to join in. They could even fight from behind a barricade, and push it down onto the PCs when they need to create some room to escape. When they do retreat, they scatter into different rooms. If the players all target the same room, either the other bugbears hit them from behind or they escape through the windows or behind their backs to continue the fight elsewhere. If the players split up, they risked getting hit from a surprise attack if they investigate the wrong hiding place first, thereby turning their back on the real hiding place. [Possible hiding places in a bedroom: Under the bed, crouched down on the floor on the far side of the bed, inside a cupboard, behind the door, on a ledge outside the window. They should open the cupboard and/or open the window if they’re not hiding there just so as to distract the players and make them search in the wrong place. Having a rope or bedding dangling out of the window is also a great decoy.]

You can also use other monsters as part of these encounters. In fact, I’d suggest it, in order to keep the fights interesting. The first battle, and the battles where they feign dead [both of them] are prime candidates. (With the second battle where they feign dead, the monster should enter the room, ushered in by other bugbears if it wasn’t intelligent, both sides should roll initiative, you’ll secretly roll for the ones playing dead and they’ll either jump up on their turn or ready an action to jump up later that round.] You can also use a monster for the fight on the stairs, though probably not for the part where they flee.

In the Wild

When fighting in the wild, probably as minions, they’ll hide in thick thornbushes and clumps of boulders. Have them hide this way two fights in a row, and then once every two or three fights, and you’ll be forcing the players to always be on the lookout for them. They’ll pattern their strategies based on the possibility that bugbears might be hiding there every fight.

In order for these ambushes to work, the bugbears will sometimes have to wait until the second or third round for the PCs to come near them before emerging. Unfortunately, this means they’ll have to forgo the extra dice [unless you decide to change to rules and let them have it once a fight, even if it’s not the first round.] Even without this extra damage, the possibility of a surprise attack is something they’re going to have to look out for.

While this can be fun, I would urge you not to overdo it to the point where your players are hating it. When using tactics like these, it’s a good idea to confine that monster to a specific part of your world or campaign, and to let the players know that they only have to worry about this monster when they’re in this area.

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About Me

I have been a DM for several years, and I was designing home RPG games since my young childhood. I have been a fan of many different types of games (computer, board, RPG, and more) and have designed several for my own entertainment. This is my first attempt to produce game content for a wider audience.