By Alan McCoy from Dungeons & Dragons: Fundamentals
How to build challenging encounters against a Bullywug
Note: This has been prepared utilizing only the 5E Core Rules. The Bullywug can be found in the Monster Manual page 35.
Interesting bit of Trivia: The Bullywug was originally designed by Luke Gygax, with the direction of his father Gary Gygax and was first published in the 1E AD&D Fiend Folio Sourcebook and the 1E AD&D Module Dwellers of the Forbidden City.
Bullywugs are nasty tempered humanoid frogs with a serious inferiority complex. As Amphibians, they must remain constantly wet, or at the very least moist. (There are no game mechanics for this, see Tips and Observations for my take).
A Typical Bullywug stands about four and a half feet tall and weighs in a around a hundred pounds, as mentioned, they are froglike in appearance. Bullywugs have enormous variety in their skin coloration, with greens, browns, greys, and mottled yellows. Their color scheme tends to match the area, swamp, or marsh in which they live and contributes to their ‘Swamp Camouflage’ ability. Bullywugs never stop growing and much larger, stronger, and more vicious Bullywugs are known to occur. These Bullywugs fancy themselves as the Aristocrats or even the Royalty of their swamp.
Bullywugs have an Aristocracy of sorts and believe themselves to be the true and rightful rulers of the swamp in which they reside. They are extremely sensitive to sarcasm or criticism of this belief and will become justifiably angry and any who do not show their status proper deference.
If an opportunity to converse with a Bullywug arises, especially a Bullywug leader, they will introduce themselves with a very grand sounding title and frankly they will always ‘one up’ any title possessed by the person with whom they are conversing. It is possible to negotiate with a Bullywug, they are fickle and evil, but usually keep their word, at least until tomorrow.
Bullywugs are an evil menace that exists in an already difficult environment, they are motivated to attack anyone who enters their domain for a variety of reasons, some of these include: Loot, Food (Bullywugs are always hungry), Capture for Ransom or Slaves, Capture to gloat over a defeated enemy or Combat used to dispose of a rival.
Bullywugs have a great desire for beautiful, shiny, and wonderful things, which they treasure for a while then allow to deteriorate as they forget about these things in their moist homes. Bullywugs construct and dwell in homes made of mud, reeds, and other available materials, most often the floor of such as dwelling is awash, often once valuable items can be found, ruined by the constant exposure to moisture.
Bullywugs are known to raise and train giant frogs as beasts of burden, mounts, and combat helpers. The ability of a Giant Frog to swallow an opponent whole is especially useful for the capture or transport of an opponent. They can communicate to these frogs and other amphibian allies using a special ‘croaking’ language that carries from over great distances and is usually picked up and mimicked by even ordinary frogs. A message or warning can easily be transmitted several miles in just a few minutes in this fashion.
Bullywugs with Giant Frog allies will utilize the Giant Frog Darkvision and greater perception ability to supplement their own abilities.
Step 1) Let’s Review what we know about Bullywugs:
Bullywugs are physically superior to the average human, have a strong sense of survival, but are not intelligent and are easily duped.
Bullywugs have a base AC of 15 (Hide and Shield) *see note in Tips and observations.
Bullywugs tend to waddle on land 20-foot walking speed but are fast and graceful swimmers (40-foot swim speed). If forced to traverse land, the Bullywug can make Standing leap forward of up to 20 feet forward and 10 feet up. Note that this is part of their MOVEMENT and thus does not count against their actions. A Bullywug making a standing leap is vulnerable to attacks of opportunity only from opponents against which they were engaged and broke contact, opponents passed on the path of their jump do not get attacks of opportunity.
Bullywugs are proficient in the STEALTH skill (+3)
Bullywugs have normal vision and a passive perception of 10.
Bullywugs are amphibious and can breathe both air and water.
Step 2) Determine the probable Strategy.
Bullywugs will usually be made aware of anyone invading their lair by their amphibian allies. This gives them the observe and set up an ambush ahead of the invaders.
Utilizing their stealth skill, in combination with their swamp camouflage, they can lay in wait for their enemies to approach and then attack from hiding. If they can find sufficient water, they will hide underwater. This action applies DISADVANTAGE to active perception checks or a -5 to passive perception checks.
Whenever possible, the Bullywugs will have some trained Giant Frog allies available to assist them.
An ideal ambush spot, to a Bullywug, would be an area awash with at least a foot of water, the muddier the better, with a reasonably clear overhead for jumping, and deeper water nearby for them to make their initial rush from or to jump into and allow them to swim away utilizing their swimming speed.
If a Bullywug can arrange for the combat to be in water at least three feet deep, Difficult terrain will apply to almost everyone not specifically trained or magically enhanced for swampy terrain. This specific instance trumps most of the general ‘immune to difficult terrain’ abilities possessed by some characters; these would have to be considered by the DM on a case by case basis.
Because Bullywugs are only four and a half feet tall, being IN WATER provides them with cover (and concealment) for stealth checks. I would rule that two feet of water is half-cover (+2 to AC) and three feet of water is three-quarters cover (+5 to AC). A completely submerged Bullywug has the benefits of total cover. (see PHB page 196)
Step 3) Determine Tactics
Bullywugs will make their initial attack from hiding, using their LEAP to quickly close the distance between them and their opponents. This tactic grants them ADVANTAGE on their initial to hit rolls if successful.
Bullywugs arm themselves with spears and shields, despite the illustration, I think that multi-tined hunting spears would be much more likely and hard spear tips. While it is not so stated, I see no reason that a Bullywug would not choose to use poison if it had the opportunity to procure it.
While I personally do not agree with Bullywugs utilizing shields except as a lair or situational action, if you do allow them the shield, feel free to give them a bonus action attack with the shield.
Bullywugs have multi-attack, one spear and one bite attack per action. I’ve already stated that I believe they would use a frog spear or mini trident for the spear attack. I find the idea of a bite attack a little “weird” for a humanoid. I would define their bite as a Tongue Slap, strong enough to hit and daze some small creatures, but for humanoids it’s a club.
Step 4) DM Tips and Observations
The requirement that they remain wet or at least moist is a Flavor restriction, as written there are no game mechanics associated with it. If I describe a thing, I want my players to know it has some real in game effect. Therefore, in my game, if a Bullywug becomes completely dry and remains so for a full hour, it must roll a DC 10 Constitution Save or incur a level of exhaustion. An additional save must be rolled on each subsequent hour.
The “Croaking Language” of the Bullywug is probably best defined in the terms of a MESSAGE cantrip usable only between other Bullywugs and their amphibian allies, especially their Giant Frog allies.
Bullywugs dress in Hide armor and use shields. – Really? An amphibian humanoid that has a high swim speed is going to drag a shield around and wear hide armor that is subject to deterioration from moisture… Just incorporate these items into their Base Armor Class. Give them Shield Proficiency though, something to pick up in lair for variety.
Amphibian Allies: While Giant Frogs are mentioned, this is not the only possible ally that should be considered. Frogs, Toads, Newts, Salamanders, and Caecilians (a snake-like amphibian). These Pets could potentially HELP their Bullywug master in combat.