Slightly on the large side for humanoids, and enormous for goblins, bugbears are well muscled, hairy, and surprisingly light on their feet. Around the same height as a man, but typically broader, bugbears are covered in a pelt of shaggy hair ranging from black to reddish blonde, save for the palms of their hands, flats of their feet, and the very fronts of their square, brutish faces. In some Northern tribes, this hair is replaced in winter with a white coat. Their hands and feet are covered in a soft pad, making their tread almost silent. Males and females are nearly identical, and what few differences they do have are hidden to others under their hair.
Bugbears are primarily carnivorous, but can scrape by on vegetable matter in lean times. Their stealth and ambush tactics make them excellent hunters and they specialize in taking down large game. Trolls are a particular delicacy, as bugbears believe that eating their flesh will grant them some measure of their regenerative power.
Clothing and armor is simple; their layer of fur means they have little need for clothing to keep warm, and when a bugbear meets an enemy in battle it is usually convinced it will triumph regardless of the odds, so armor is of limited importance. One adornment they will not hold back on is the variety of trinkets, talismans, and amulets they will weave into their hair for additional protection and good luck. Warriors may also sport a severed head or two hanging from their belt on their way back from battle.
As the largest of the goblin races, bugbears dominate their smaller kin individually, though hobgoblin discipline and goblin numbers can turn the odds against them. Lone bugbears sometimes take control of a goblin troop, a task made easy by their cunning and brute strength. They do not fare so well against hobgoblins, who pose a more even match and bugbears view them with a grudging respect. On occasions when the two races do work together, most commonly with the bugbears working as a mercenary scouting force under the hobgoblins, the bugbears often resent the hobgoblins’ superior attitude and seek to undermine their authority. In extreme cases, they will break their alliance with a few assassinations and disappear into the night.
Bugbears are ruled by ritual and superstition. They see auguries in all things, and will refuse action unless the signs are right. When a bugbear is born, they are ascribed a totem animal by the tribe’s elders, perhaps an eagle was seen flying over the birthing tent, or the hunt had just returned with a boar. The individual aspires to the attributes of their totem – the strength of the bear, the swiftness of the deer, the ferocity of the badger – and is forbidden from killing the creature. The one notable exception to this is when a bugbear dedicates their life to a cause, such as vengeance, retribution, or war. Here, they will make a declaration of their intent, and a sacrifice of their totem animal, symbolizing their death and rebirth as an instrument of the cause. One creature revered by all is the owl, as the embodiment of the silent hunter. Any who kill an owl may, indeed must, be killed without repercussion.
A bugbear will carve small amulets of stone or wood representing its totem, along with other animals and more abstract designs. These it will weave into its longer strands of hair, along with mementos of significant hunts and trophies from worthy foes. It is believed that these will curry favor with whatever spirits determine fate and will protect them from harm and misfortune. Taking another’s totem is a grave insult, made worse if the thief goes on to wear it openly, but being given another’s is the sign of a lifelong, unbreakable bond and often goes hand in hand with swearing oaths in blood.
Bugbears also place great importance on collecting the heads of enemies they have slain. Some believe that the spirits of the dead remain in the heads, and will become the bugbear’s slaves in the afterlife, others simply enjoy the respect and fear their collections inspire. Regardless of the intent, the sight of a bugbear warrior’s hut with dozens of smoke-dried heads (each of which he will proudly tell you the story behind) nailed to the walls is enough to make an impression. Bugbears will engage in night raids against rival tribes and other monstrous races to add to their collections, and gain extra esteem if they can sneak in and return with a head without raising an alarm.
As well as their predisposition for ambushes and raids rather than battle, bugbears’ reliance on signs makes it rare for them to actually make war or engage in any sustained conflict; an ill-omened flight of birds or prophetic dream could easily put a halt on a military campaign. Despite this, those removed from traditional bugbear culture are commonly found as mercenaries in the civilized world, and often ply their trade as assassins.
Bugbears are most at home in forested areas or rocky grasslands, places they can easily find cover to aid a stealthy approach. Fairly advanced by the standards of monstrous races, bugbears construct simple dwellings from wood or stones and mud, covering the exteriors with natural materials so an unobservant traveler might mistake them for a feature of the landscape. Bugbears, as a rule uncomfortable in the gaze of others, prefer the option of privacy these dwellings give them, but won’t snub the option of bedding down in a cave if needs be.
With natural stealth and cunning, bugbears are able to make a living as parasites on other, more advanced races. Sometimes, the tribe lives within a settlement itself, secreting themselves in catacombs, cellars, and back alleys. Smaller settlements, where it would be more difficult for the bugbears to pass unnoticed, might have a hidden tribe of the creatures at the town limits without their knowing. While some tribes adapt to a more ‘civilized’ way of life, keeping their thefts to food and supplies, others, particularly those inhabiting the so-called ‘shadow towns’ on the outskirts, keep to their old, savage ways. It is not uncommon for these tribes to treat a settlement as nothing more than another forest, and the people within as game. Their habit of stealing folk away in the dead of night for food, sacrifice, or slavery has given them a dark, almost mythical, reputation.
Bugbears often play the role of the dumb, hulking brute, but they usually take in far more than they let on; there is a shrewd cunning to their interactions with other races that can take the unwary by surprise, and they enjoy the power that fooling others in this way gives them. Where such subterfuge is not an option, such as when dealing with those well-versed in bugbear ways, their simple physical power is enough to keep them feeling superior, though in a less satisfying manner. They like to keep to their own company and enjoy peace and quiet. It is rare to see them sharing a joke or a song outside of rare feast or festival days (and most will take a few days of grumpy silence afterwards to recover). Bugbears instinctively and fiercely dislike individual attention; to make eye contact while talking is considered rude at best, and a direct, aggressive challenge at worst.
The bugbear dialect of Goblin is a softer one, with less clipped vowels and harsh consonants. It is viewed by other Goblin speakers as lazy and languid, and it is common for other goblinoids to use its words and phrases to denote a stupid individual, though they would never do so in the presence of a bugbear. Bugbear names favor long, rolling vowels, easy to whisper, but equally easy to draw out into secretive cries resembling the calls of animals, allowing them to communicate over great distances without alerting nearby prey.
Examples of Bugbear Names: Aakaar, Bruukzag, Eefka, Hruduun, Hugut, Kaskaar, Kuuzga, Razag, Ruuzug, Taakra, Tuuzgo, Uukar, Yaarka
Bugbears have no fear of open combat, but see it as senseless if there is opportunity to take their enemy by surprise, making full use of their natural stealth to attack from ambush whenever they can. If possible, they will return to cover after their initial attack, drawing out combat into a series of hit-and-run strikes. If forced into prolonged combat, bugbears fight individually with an animal fury, trusting fate to keep them safe.
Their sense of camaraderie is somewhat lacking and, if their losses begin to mount up, it is every bugbear for itself. Their tendency to scatter to the four winds when defeated in battle means it is relatively easy to halt bugbear attacks for a short while as they regroup, but also makes it very difficult to permanently stop them; a group of bugbears is hard enough to find when they stick together, let alone when they separate.