Last Updated: October 20, 2021
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 them as 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 can benefit from the Bugbear’s traits. Long-Limbed 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. However, the Bugbear still works best in melee where they can take advantage of Long-Limbed.
Long-Limbed has some complicated implications because it doesn’t work like a reach weapon. Long-Limbed gives you 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 feet 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.
Regardless of your build, Surprise Attack can be a point of frustration. The damage boost is excellent at low levels, but quickly diminishes in effectiveness since it doesn’t scale. And since it only works on enemies which haven’t acted, whether or not you can use it depends heavily on the result of your initiative roll. Building around Dexterity and looking for bonuses from things like Guidance can do a lot to improve your chances of success, and when you do roll well you need to be certain not to miss, so look for ways to make multiple attacks like Extra Attack, Two-Weapon Fighting, or Eldritch Blast.
Table of Contents
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. Nearly never useful.
- : OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances. Useful sometimes.
- : Good options. Useful often.
- : Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character. Useful very frequently.
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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.
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Classes (Customizable Origins)
This section assumes that you’re using the option “Customizing Your Origin” rules presented in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything. If you’re not using those rules, scroll down to the next section.
A battlesmith artificer is an enticing option for the Bugbear. Put your increases into Intelligence and either Dexterity or Constitution, then stand behind your Steel Defender and use Long-Limbed to attack with reach. The Armorer wold also work: using Guardian armor’s Thunder Gauntlets from reach allows you to attack then run away without relying on something like Boots of the Winding Path. And, of course, Surprise Attack works with any sort of attack, so basically any variety of artificer can make use of it. You can use Guidance to add your initiative rolls, which will improve the likelihood that you will go first and be able to use Surprise Attack.
Move the Dexterity increase into Constitution and consider moving the skill into something like Perception, but otherwise the Barbarian is a great fit for the Bugbear. Suprise Attack is made considerably more reliable thanks to Reckless Attack, though you’ll still need to hope to roll well on initiative.
The Bugbear’s traits lean heavily into making attacks, and the Bard has few meaningful attack options. Subclasses like College of Swords and College of Valor make weapons a bit more appealing, and College of Whispers can add a damage boost with Psychic Blades which works nicely with Surprise Attack, but resorting to an attack on your first turn of combat is typically the least impactful thing that a bard can do. Long-Limbed will help keep martial bards out of harms way, but that’s simply not enough to make the build appealing. Jack of All Trades also adds to initiative rolls (remember: they’re a Dexterity check), which will help with Surprise Attack.
Weapon attacks aren’t a great choice for the Cleric, and the Bugbear’s traits don’t fix that. Surprise Attack works with spell attacks like Spiritual Weapon or Guiding Bolt, but I don’t think that’s enough to make the build appealing.
Rearranging the Bugbear’s ability scores can make them a decent druid in a few subclasses. Circle of Spores can take advantage of Long-Limbed to stay out of reach, reducing the risk posed by the Druid’s notoriously poor durability, and since Surprise Attack will work in Wild Shape you can use ambush tactics to get an early damage boost in combat. Sadly, other subclasses won’t see significant benefits from the Bugbear’s traits.
The Fighter works great for the Fighter. Long-Limbed makes it easier to reach distant enemies without giving up an advantageous position, and Surprise Attack can give you a nice damage boost. I recommend building around Dexterity to improve your Initiative rolls.
The Bugbear’s additional skill reduces the skill gap between the Monk and the Rogue, and Surprise Attack provides a damage boost which feels a lot like Sneak Attack. If you can, use Flurry of Blows on turns when you can use Surprise Attack so that you maximize your chances of hitting. Long-Limbed also lets you attack with reach without sacrificing your Bonus Action attacks, which is largely impossible for other monks without resorting to magic items.
Your best bet is a Dexterity-based build to capitalize on Surprise Attack. Without the Fighter’s abundant Ability Score Increases it’s hard to build any interesting synergies with the Bugbear’s traits, but Long-Limbed still lets you reach enemies from relative safety and you can use Surprise Attack and Divine Smite on the same attacks for a big pile of damage in turn 1.
An extra skill closes the skill gap between the Ranger and the Rogue, and Surprise Attack offers a nice damage boost. Long-Limbed allows you to stay safely out of reach, making melee builds much safer.
An extra skill, Surprise Attack stacks with Sneak Attack, and Long Limbed allows you to attack from outside of most creatures’ reach. Since you’re less likely to need Cunning Action to Disengage, you can instead use it to Dash or you can safely use your Bonus Action for two-weapon fighting and still move away from your target after attacking.
Surprise Attack works with spell attacks, but that’s basically the only benefit.
Probably the Bugbear’s best choice if you want to play a spellcaster. Surprise Attack works with spell attacks, and while that’s not a huge impact for most spellcasters it’s excellent on the Warlock since Eldritch Blast allows you to make multiple attacks.
Surprise Attack works with spell attacks, but that’s basically the only benefit.
Classes (Default Rules)
This section assumes that you’re not using the option “Customizing Your Origin” rules presented in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything or the updated version of the race published in Mordenkainen’s Monsters of the Multiverse. 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 bonus is still helpful for filling out your half-plate. 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. Using weapons isn’t a great choice for clerics, which makes Surprise Attack hard to use, but you can notably use Surprise Attack with Spiritual Weapon, so it’s not a total waste.
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. You can use Surprise Attack while in Wild Shape, so a moon druid who likes to ambush foes would be a fun novelty, though as Surprise Attack’s bonus damage becomes less impressive so will the combination.
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-Limbed, 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 martial class.
Strength and reach are great, but Dexterity and Stealth do very little for most Paladins, and the Paladin is already very MAD so it’s hard to capitalize on both Strength and Dexterity.
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. Surprise Attack does work with spell attacks, which is great for the Warlock since attacks are more of a go-to option than for the Sorcerer or the Wizard, but that benefit isn’t enough to offset the lack of Charisma increase
Without an Intelligence increase, the Bugbear will always lag behind other wizards.