Original illustration from the Monster Manual (1977), showing the bulette chasing one of its favorite meals, a halfling
|First appearance||first issue of The Dragon in July 1976, in the "Creature Features" section|
A bulette (// buu-LET, // bew-LET, // boo-LAY, or // bew-LAY), or landshark, is a fictional heavily scaled carnivorous monster from the Dungeons & Dragons fantasy role-playing game, a huge ravenous creature that burrows through the earth and attacks unsuspecting victims from below. Originally inspired by a cheap plastic toy, the bulette was one of the first monsters specifically created for D&D, and has been included in every edition of D&D, although various aspects of the monster have changed from edition to edition.
In the early 1970s, Gary Gygax was playing Chainmail, a miniatures wargame that was a precursor to Dungeons & Dragons. In order to give his players as many different challenges as possible, Gygax was always on the look-out for new monsters. Although he was able to draw on pulp fiction and sword and sorcery stories for many of them, he also looked through dime stores for figurines that could be used in battle. On one of those occasions, he came across a bag of small plastic toys dubiously labelled "prehistoric animals". These were Hong Kong-made and the set included monsters from Japanese monster ("Kaiju") films such as Ultraman and Godzilla franchise. Several of these were odd enough to catch his eye, and he used them to represent several new monsters, including the rust monster, the owl bear and the bulette. The bulette was subsequently introduced to the players as a creature that silently moved through the earth, erupting out of the ground to attack from below.
Dungeons & Dragons (1974–1976)
When Gygax co-created Dungeons & Dragons with Dave Arneson, many of his new monsters, including the bulette, migrated to the new game. The bulette subsequently made its first published appearance in the first issue of The Dragon in July 1976, in the "Creature Features" section. Described as a cross between a snapping turtle and an armadillo, this armored leviathan (standing 8–11 feet tall at the shoulder) had a love for horseflesh and halflings—the accompanying illustration by Dave Sutherland,:66 shows a bulette grasping a horse in one claw while defending itself against three knights. However it disliked the taste of dwarves and would not eat elves, dead or alive. They were also described as "very stupid", and the creature's alignment was given as neutral. When cornered or wounded, the bulette "can strike with all four feet, though they normally favor the front two." Although heavily armored, the bulette had one weak spot behind its head that became exposed when it raised its crest during fierce combat, and was also vulnerable around the eyes. Nothing was known of the life cycle of the bulette, and juvenile bulettes had never been seen. The bulette was heavily armored and able to kill a low-level character with a single bite.
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (1977–1988)
The following year, the bulette was updated for the Advanced D&D game, appearing in the Monster Manual. The illustration from The Dragon was used as the frontispiece of the book. The illustration accompanying the bulette's actual entry showed a bulette on its hind feet, trying to reach a halfling who had climbed a tree. The bulette was now described as a mad wizard's cross-breeding of an armadillo and a snapping turtle, with "infusions of demons' ichor". The bulette's love of halflings and loathing of elves was again mentioned, as well as its ability to strike with all four feet when cornered or seriously wounded, although now it was able to "jump up to 8' through the air with blinding speed".
In the June 1983 issue of Dragon (Issue #74), the bulette was described more fully in "The Ecology of the Bulette", supposedly by a hunter who had successfully killed one. The bulette's ability to "swim" through the ground was attributed to an earth-dissolving slime that coated its plates.
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition (1989–1999)
In 1989, when the bulette appeared in the Monstrous Compendium, Volume Two, several small details were changed. Although it still shunned elves and disliked dwarves, halflings and horses were no longer listed as its favorites. Its origin as an unholy union between an armadillo and a snapping turtle was now only a rumor. The ability to jump 8 feet and strike with all four feet when cornered was retained, but now the bulette used this ability only to escape. Although the life cycle of the bulette was still unknown, juveniles were now known to exist. And there was a great emphasis on its constant hunger, combined with "a temperament akin to a wolverine: stupid, mean and fearless."
The bulette-mutation appeared in an adventure in Dungeon #37 (September 1992).
In 1993, when the bulette appeared in the Monstrous Manual, the text remained the same, but its appearance was altered significantly. Its "shell" was now less akin to tank-like armored plates, and more like a rough stony covering. Long front legs and short back legs gave it a hyena-like stance, and a large shark-like fin now rose from its back.
In 1996, the gohlbrorn, a relative of the bulette, was introduced in Dragon Annual #1. This smaller cousin, which looked like a large turtle-like creature with the head of a Komodo dragon, lived in caves and was considerably more intelligent than a bulette, although smaller and weaker. Unlike the bulette, which had been characterized as a solitary creature, the gohlbrorn was known to work in packs, and possessed the ability to spit large rocks and boulders. One significant development of the bulette family lore was that gohlbrorns laid eggs—previously, the life cycle of the bulette was said to be unknown. In 1998, essentially the same information was reprinted in the Illithiad and Monstrous Compendium Annual Volume Four.
Dungeons & Dragons 3.0 edition (2000–2002)
For the third edition of D&D, the bulette was given a makeover, both in style and substance. Its illustration showed a return to close fitting plates of armor, the legs were returned to equal length, and the crest on its back was significantly reduced in size. Because of third edition's use of 1-inch grids to define character movement and monster sizes, the bulette's size was listed as "huge", and it was given a grid profile of 2 inches wide x 4 inches long, or 10 feet x 20 feet in game scale. Although the descriptive text was simply a rewrite of the 2nd-edition description, there were several changes. The bulette no longer had a weak spot behind its crest or around its eyes. Its leaping attack was no longer just for escape when cornered, but could be used as a four-footed attack anytime during combat, although it could not bite when leaping. Statistically, the bulette's bite was made a little less severe, but its points of health were almost tripled, making it a much tougher challenge. The third edition of D&D included the Challenge Rating, a game mechanic that attempted to quantify the combat skill of each creature versus an average party of four adventurers. The bulette was given a Challenge Rating of 7, meaning it was an appropriate challenge for a party of four 7th-level adventurers. (In comparison, a 5-headed hydra was rated a 5, and a tyrannosaurus was rated an 8.)
The axiomatic bulette (or "perfect landshark") appeared as a sample creature for the axiomatic template in the third edition Manual of the Planes (2001).
Gareshona, the kaiju bulette, appeared as a sample creature for the kaiju template for the Oriental Adventures rules in Dragon #289 (November 2001).
Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 edition (2003–2007)
When the Third Edition Monster Manual was revised for version 3.5 of D&D, the bulette was left unchanged, except that its bite was made a little less effective. In addition, all creatures with rectangular grid shapes were changed to a square grid shape; the bulette's shape was modified from 2 inches wide x 4 inches long to 3 inches x 3 inches (15 feet x 15 feet in game terms).
The Karrnathi Bulette, introduced for the Eberron campaign setting in Five Nations (2005), is covered in barbed plates, and prefers carrion to live prey. It is slightly slower and weaker than the usual bulette, and lacks a four-footed jumping attack, but has a bite that transmits disease. With its limited but cunning intelligence, a karrnathi bulette prefers to "take the time to riddle its hunting grounds with pit traps". It crushes anything that subsequently falls in, then leaves the victim to decompose for several days before devouring it.
Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition (2008–2014)
In the 4th edition of D&D, the bulette again received a significant makeover. Its size was reduced to "Large" (10 by 10 ft., or 2 inches x 2 inches when using a grid). Although its head remained largely the same as it had in D&D v3.5, the armour plates on the rest of its body were changed to scales. Overall, the bulette now looked somewhat like an ankylosaurus. Statistically, although its bite was weakened again, its armor was significantly upgraded, and its health was more than doubled. Since most descriptive text about monsters was removed from this edition in favor of attack and defense statistics, many of the "facts" about the bulette printed in previous editions, such as its origins and preferred prey, were no longer mentioned.
Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition (2014–)
The bulette appears in the Monster Manual for this edition (2014).
Pathfinder Roleplaying Game
In the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game rules created by Paizo Publishing in 2009, the bulette was included in the first compilation of Pathfinder monsters: The Bestiary. Because the Pathfinder rules were a revision of D&D 3.5, the Pathfinder bulette more closely resembled the bulette from that edition than the bulette of 4th-edition D&D: a huge (15' x 15') beast with a four-footed leaping attack and a fearsome bite. In a throwback to earlier editions of D&D, the bulette was supposedly the creation of an unknown "arcanist"; it favored halfling flesh, but would not eat elves or dwarves—although it would still kill them. The illustration that accompanied the description showed a silver-scaled creature very similar in shape to a hornless triceratops, with the addition of long teeth, sharp claws and a dorsal fin.
The bulette is fully detailed in Paizo Publishing's book Dungeon Denizens Revisited (2009), on pages 4–9.
In 2004, a painted plastic miniature of the bulette, made for D&D v3.5, and sized to fill a 3-inch x 3-inch space, appeared in the D&D Miniatures: Giants of Legend set as #67.
With the reduction in the size of the bulette in the Fourth Edition of D&D, a new miniature was released in 2008 in the D&D Miniatures: Dungeons of Dread set. The smaller bulette, with a base measuring 2 inches × 2 inches, was #53 in the set.
- In 1991, TSR released a set of collectible trading cards. The bulette was card #466 of 750.
- The Oath of Kortis, an adventure module published by Mapventures, features bulettes.
- Tricky Owlbear Publishing has produced Behind the Monsters: Bulette, a detailed examination of the bulette.
- Joseph Wu Origami Inc. has produced an origami bulette.
- In the Amiga game Eye of the Beholder 2, bulettes are found on several levels as fightable enemies.
In his 2019 book The Monsters Know What They're Doing, author Keith Ammann called bulettes "brutes tailor-made to give your players jump scares" and found its preferences and aversions for the meat of different humanoid races "ludicrous".
- Gygax, Gary (July 1976). "Creature feature". The Dragon. Lake Geneva WI: TSR, Inc. 1 (1): 19.
- Mentzer, Frank. "Ay pronunseeAY shun gyd" Dragon #93 (TSR, 1985)
- Weinstock, Jeffrey, ed. (2014). The Ashgate Encyclopedia of Literary and Cinematic Monsters. Ashgate Publishing. pp. 192–193. Search this book on
- Gygax: "There was a set of plastic toys laughlingly labelled as dinosaurs [if I remember right]. I frequented the local dime stores back in the late 60s and early 70s searching for toys that would suit tabletop fantasy gaming. The said bag contained three we incorporated--the bulette, the owl bear, and the rust monster.""Gary Gygax: Q & A (Part I, Page 8)". EN World. 2002-09-06. Retrieved 2009-03-15.
- Greenwood, Ed (1988). "Ecology of the Rust Monster". Dragon. Lake Geneva WI: TSR, Inc. (88).
- Ammann, Keith (2019). The Monsters Know What They're Doing. Saga Press. pp. 157–158. ISBN 978-1982122669. Search this book on
- Witwer, Michael; Newman, Kyle; Witwer, Sam (2018), Art & Arcana: A Visual History, Ten Speed Press
- Gygax, Gary (1977). Monster Manual. Lake Geneva WI: TSR, Inc. p. 12. ISBN 0-935696-00-8. Search this book on
- Elliot, Chris; Edwards, Richard (June 1983). "Ecology of the Bulette". Dragon. Lake Geneva WI: TSR, Inc. (74): 26.
- Cook, David, et al. Monstrous Compendium Volume Two (TSR, 1989)
- Cook, David (1989). Monstrous Compendium, Volume 2. Lake Geneva WI: TSR, Inc. ISBN 0-88038-753-X. Search this book on
- Stewart, Doug (1993). Monstrous Manual. Lake Geneva WI: TSR In. p. 113. Search this book on
- Strohm, Keith. "Dragon's Bestiary: Predators of the Underdark." Dragon Annual #1 (TSR, 1996)
- Cordell, Bruce R. The Illithiad (TSR, 1998)
- Pickens, Jon (1998). Monstrous Compendium Annual, Volume Four. Renton WA: TSR, Inc. p. 13. ISBN 0-7869-0783-5. Search this book on
- "Bulette #67 Giants of Legend D&D Miniatures DDM". Troll and Toad. Retrieved 2010-10-13.
- Cook, Monte; Tweet, Jonathan; Williams, Skip (2000). Monster Manual. Renton WA: Wizards of the Coast. p. 28. ISBN 0-7869-1552-8. Search this book on
- Williams, Skip, ed. Monster Manual: Core Rulebook III v.3.5 (Wizards of the Coast, 2003)
- Bill Slavicsek, David Noonan, Christopher Perkins. Five Nations. Renton, Washington: Wizards of the Coast, 2005. ISBN 0-7869-3690-8 Search this book on .
- "Dungeons of Dread". Mini-galleries Archive. Wizards of the Coast. 2008-04-04. Retrieved 2010-10-13.
- Wizards RPG Team (2008). Monster Manual. Renton WA: Wizards of the Coast. ISBN 978-0-7869-4852-9. Search this book on
- Mearls, Mike, Jeremy Crawford. Monster Manual (Wizards of the Coast, 2014)
- "Bulette". Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Reference Document. Paizo Publishing. 2009-10-22. Retrieved 2010-04-20.
- Bulmahn, Jason (2009). Pathfinder Bestiary. Renton WA: Paizo Publishing. ISBN 978-1-60125-183-1. Search this book on
- Clinton Boomer, Jason Bulmahn, Joshua J. Frost, Nicolas Logue, Robert McCreary, Jason Nelson, Richard Pett, Sean K Reynolds, James L. Sutter, and Greg A. Vaughan. Dungeon Denizens Revisited (Paizo, 2009)
- Allender, Jeff (1997). "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: TSR - 1991". Jeff Allender's House of Checklists. Retrieved 2010-10-13.
- "Mapventures Products". RPGNow.com. Retrieved 2010-04-20.
- "The Oath of Kortis" (PDF). Mapventures. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-07-14. Retrieved 2010-04-20. Unknown parameter
- "Behind the Monsters: Bulette". Your Games Now. Archived from the original on 2011-07-18. Retrieved 2010-04-20. Unknown parameter
- "Bulette (Land Shark)". Joseph Wu Origami Inc. Retrieved 2010-04-20.
- "Tricky's Complete Walkthrough for Eye of the Beholder II - The Legend of Darkmoon (PC)". GameFAQs. gamefaqs.com. 2007-11-25. Retrieved 2010-10-13.
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