DnD 5e - The Bugbear Handbook
Last Updated: January 8th, 2020
RPGBOT uses the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks, which is simple to understand and easy to read at a glance.
- : Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational.
- : OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances.
- : Good options.
- : Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character.
I will not include 3rd-party content, including content from DMs Guild, even if it is my own, because I can't assume that your game will allow 3rd-party content or homebrew. I also won't cover Unearthed Arcana content because it's not finalized, and I can't guarantee that it will be available to you in your games.
The advice offered below is based on the current State of the Character Optimization Meta as of when the article was last updated. Keep in mind that the state of the meta periodically changes as new source materials are released and this article will be updating accordingly as time allows.
Bugbears are all about offense. They're an ideal ambush predator, with good Strength and Dexterity, Stealth proficiency for free, and Surprise Attack which provides 2d6 extra damage if you can surprise an enemy. At low levels, 2d6 is a significant damage increase, possibly allowing you to kill weak enemies in a single blow and tip encounters in your favor from the outset.
However, the Bugbear's strengths also pigeon-hole it at a martial character. Little about the bugbear's default traits makes spellcasters appealing, so you're largely limited to martial classes. If you use the Customizing Your Origins option rules, you may find that spellcasting classes, especially gish builds like the arcane trickster, can benefit greatly from the Bugbear's traits. Long Arms makes it easy to attack while staying out of reach, and Surprise Attack notably works with attacks of any kind, so even regular spellcasters may enjoy starting combat with a big damage boost.
Long Limbs has some complicated implications because it doesn't work like a reach weapon. Long Limbs gives the Bugbear reach on your turn, which means that you can use it offensively without getting into the complications of using reach defensively. If you use a reach weapon your reach is 15 ft. on your own turn, allowing you to exceed the reach of most creatures in the game. However, since you lose this reach between turns enemies may be able to freely move away from your without provoking Opportunity Attacks.
Classes (Default Rules)
This section assumes that you're not using the option "Customizing Your Origin" rules presented in Tasha's Cauldron of Everything. If you are using those rules, scroll up to the previous section.
Bad ability spread.
Dexterity might not seem like an obvious benefit for a barbarian, and it's not as good as Constitution, but the AC bonus is still helpful. Reach makes it easy to compete with larger creatures or attack smaller foes at a distance, and Sneaky allows you to be an ambush predator. Use Reckless Attack while attacking surprised foes to ensure that you hit with Surprise Attack.
Bugbears don't have anything which caters well to bards. You could get by as a Swords or Valor bard, but at that point you would do better playing a barbarian or a fighter.
Without a Wisdom increase your spellcasting will lag, but if you're built to swing a weapon and consider spellcasting a secondary concern you can make the Bugbear work.
Without a Wisdom increase, the Bugbear will be bad at Druid spellcasting, and Wild Shape doesn't care about any of the Bugbear's physical advantages.
With good physical ability scores and built-in reach, you have a lot of great options with the fighter. If you want to use a reach weapon to capitalize on Long Limbs, pick up Polearm Master and Sentinel to keep enemies perpetually outside of their own reach while still able to reach them comfortably with your pointy stick.
Reach is hard for monks to get, but reach and a small Dexterity increase are the only things that the bugbear has to offer that specifically cater to the Monk. Surprise attack is a nice damage boost, especially at low levels, but it's no better for the Monk than for any other class.
Strength and reach are great, but Dexterity and Stealth do very little for the Paladin.
For a martial class limited to medium armor, the +1 Dexterity increase is probably enough to fill out your +2 Dexterity bonus to AC so you can focus on your Strength. Reach is nice, and you get Stealth proficiency for free, making it easier to keep up with other sneaky, skilled classes like the Rogue.
The Strength increase is totally wasted on a rogue, but reach is hard for rogues to get, you get Stealth proficiency for free, and Surprise Attack stacks with Sneak Attack so you can deal 3d6+weapon damage at first level and one-shot many enemies.
Without a Charisma increase, the Bugbear will always lag behind other sorcerers.
Without a Charisma increase, the Bugbear will always lag behind other warlocks.
Without an Intelligence increase, the Bugbear will always lag behind other wizards.