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Bugbears are the big bad goblinoids. A single average bugbear has always been more than a match for a single average goblin, in a straight up fight (which sort of fighting neither generally employs). As Dungeons & Dragons has changed and evolved over its many varied editions, the mechanisms of combat, the values of the statistics of the creatures involved, and the special properties of both Goblins and Bugbears have wandered significantly.

When I've got a band of bugbears running the show (as opposed the more leader-y hobgoblins), I usually want only to allow them to command about as many of their smaller cousins as they, as a group, could defeat at once in combat in favorable terrain conditions. Basically, the idea is that when the bugbears are outnumbered beyond a certain point it makes them and the goblins uncomfortable, because they are worried about potential rebellion (which would result in a goblin-led group with a couple bugbear warriors) and neither group likes the political instability (though individuals within the group might) nor the increased class tension and Bugbear-on-Goblin violence it brings.

That said, I have been wondering in what edition of D&D I might best be able to run an adventure with a largish group of goblins run by a smallish group of 8 adult bugbears such that the bugbears are most outnumbered by the goblins yet would be able to hold their own against the smaller kin in a chokepoint battle.

The bugbear leader and the secret ambitious goblin would-be king will have special stuff ala class levels or other upgrades as dependent upon edition paradigm, but the rest of each group is average.

What edition of D&D gets me the most Goblins per Bugbear?

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4E, assuming you're fighting Minions.

So, for the sake of simplicity...we're going to use Average damage outputs for your Goblins and Bugbears, and are going to assume "basic" versions of these...because you can always soup up goblins and bugbears to make them stronger. My math here is ignoring crits for simplicity's sake across editions.

My results are based on consecutive one-on-one fights (i.e. I assume the bugbears are smart enough to make use of chokepoints and cover from archery fire)...but this will also reflect relative power between editions in event that a bugbear is mobbed. Note, my numbers are also pure averages and do not account for "wasted" damage...because that's much harder to simulate.

However, with the same 'lack' in all of the simulations...they will still accurately provide a 'which one has the biggest power disparity' answer.

I'm also rolling 1E, 2E, and 3E into their 'advanced' versions...because the monster manual didn't change all that much between those editions, as far as I am aware.

AD&D1

Goblin: AC 6, HP 4, THAC0 20 for 1d6 damage

Bugbear: AC 5, HP 14, THAC0 16 for 2d4 damage

This works out to Goblins dealing an average of 0.88 damage per round to the Bugbear, while the Bugbear does 2.75 damage per round to a Goblin.

In consecutive one-on-one duels, the Bugbear will die at the end of the 16th round, after killing 8 goblins (one every other round).

AD&D2

Goblin: AC 6, HP 4, THAC0 20 for 1d6 damage

Bugbear: AC 5, HP 14, THAC0 17 for 2d4 damage

This works out to Goblins dealing an average of 0.88 damage per round to the Bugbear, while the Bugbear does 2.50 damage per round to a Goblin

In consecutive one-on-one duels, the Bugbear will die at the end of the 16th round, after killing 8 goblins (one every other round)

3.5e

Goblin: AC 15, 5HP. Best attack option: Morning Star (+2 to hit, 1d6 damage)

Bugbear: AC 17, 16HP. Beat attack option: Morning Star (+5 to hit, 1d8+2 damage)

This works out to Goblins dealing an average of 1.05 damage per round to the Bugbear, while the Bugbear does 3.58 damage per round to a Goblin.

In consecutive one-on-one duels, a Bugbear could survive for an average of 15 total rounds (dying on the last one), killing 7 goblins.

4E

Goblin Cutter: AC 16, 1 HP, +5 Attack for 4 damage

Bugbear Warrior: AC 18, 76 HP, +10 Attack for 2d8+7 damage (not that it matters...as the Cutter only has 1 HP and thus only has to connect.

Cutters deal an average of 1.60 damage per round to Bugbears. Bugbear will hit and kill a Cutter 75% of the time in a single round.

In consecutive one-on-one duels, a Bugbear could survive for 48 rounds, killing 36 goblin cutters before dying

5E

Goblin: AC 15, HP 7, +4 to hit for 1d6+2 damage

Bugbear: AC 16, HP 27, +4 to hit for 2d8+2 damage

This gives Goblins an average DPR of 2.48 against Bugbears, and Bugbears an average DPR of 5.50 against goblins.

In consecutive one-on-one duels, a Bugbear could survive for 11 rounds, killing a goblin roughly every other round, thus killing 5 goblins.

Naturally, 4E is far ahead here, allowing you to take down 36 goblins instead of the 5-8 of all the other editions. This is the massive change rolled in by the addition of Minions to the game, aimed for more cinematic combat.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Note: This also doesn't take into account the rampant cowardice of goblins. :) \$\endgroup\$ – guildsbounty Nov 6 '17 at 18:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ Even a 4th edition Bugbear wouldn't be able to take a group of 36 goblins at once though - he'd max out at around 8 goblins. Still far greater than any of the other editions though, where a single Bugbear would only be able to take on ~4 goblins at once. \$\endgroup\$ – Speedkat Nov 6 '17 at 19:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ @guildsbounty …Nor the stereotypical sneakiness of bugbears. But this is still a great answer. Thank you for marshaling these resources. (I already +1ed.) \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Nov 6 '17 at 19:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for actually running the numbers here! I think there must be a typo in your 1e or 2e line, cause all that seems to change is 2e's bugbear has 1 higher THAC0, which should lower rather than increase their damage output (though I suspect it doesn't matter, even to the relative ordering of those editions). \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Nov 6 '17 at 19:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @thedarkwanderer Right you are, fixed that. \$\endgroup\$ – guildsbounty Nov 6 '17 at 19:59
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What edition of D&D gets me the most Goblins per Bugbear?

There is an edition of D&D which did monster and encounter design quite differently from all the rest. Because of that, I'm quite certain that edition — 4E — will do this in a way that the others don't (unless you import some of the 4E philosophy into another edition for the sake of making this work).

4E focuses on monsters as cinematic challenges to players, rather than modeling them with rules similar to those for PCs. (Angry GM has a surprisingly-positive take on 4E monster roles, if you're interested in some game-design geeking out.)

This approach is designed to support the idea of swarms of minions mixed in with greater-challenge brutes. From the DMG:

Sometimes you want monsters to come in droves and go down just as fast. A fight against thirty orcs is a grand cinematic battle. The players get to enjoy carving through the mob like a knife through butter, feeling confident and powerful. [...] Minions are designed to help fill out an encounter, but they go down quickly. [...] Use minions as melee combatants placed between the PCs and back-rank artillery or controller monsters.

Mechanical Breakdown

The bugbear leader and the secret ambitious goblin would-be king will have special stuff ala class levels or other upgrades as dependent upon edition paradigm, but the rest of each group is average.

Your goblin leader is possibly a Goblin Underboss, a level 4 elite controller (elite meaning that it effectively functions with the power level of two creatures in combat). Most of your bugbears are level 5 Bugbear Warriors or level 6 Bugbear Stranglers. The leader doesn't match a specific pre-existing entry, but it'd be easy to make one: start with the Warrior or Strangler and bump it up to level 8 or so using the rules in the DMG, probably adding a class template as well.

But then, all the rest of the goblins can be minions. This is a particular 4E monster role for monsters meant to present a threat in large numbers (and generally to be mowed down in large numbers as well, when it comes to it). DMG again:

Four minions are consider to be about the same as a standard monster of their level.

Goblins appear in non-minion roles, but to get the picture you want, you fill your encounters with level 1 goblin cutters. (If your party is higher than level 5, you might want to scale them up to level 3 or level 4 creatures.) With this, a "normal difficulty" encounter might include two Bugbear Warriors, a Bugbear Lurker, and 22 Goblin Cutters — but you could make that up to 50 goblin minions before the game's math considers the encounter "hard" — and in fact because of the level disparity, it's probably actually a lot more.

But the key thing in 4E is that frame this from the story first

You want a situation where

Basically, the idea is that when the bugbears are outnumbered beyond a certain point it makes them and the goblins uncomfortable, because they are worried about potential rebellion (which would result in a goblin-led group with a couple bugbear warriors) and neither group likes the political instability (though individuals within the group might) nor the increased class tension and Bugbear-on-Goblin violence it brings.

... so, rather than looking at the monster stats and building backwards, you should start with this assumption and build forward.

Go with what feels right rather than number crunching. If this is a thousand goblins for your eight bugbears, that's totally fine. If that starts to feel like maybe you're at the "goblin rebellion potential too high", pick a lower number. The math in the section above makes it so something like an 8:1 ratio seems sane (and something you can build PC encounters around) — but you're not bound by that. Make the ratio exactly the one that seems right to you in terms of the adventure setting and story, whether 2:1 or 10,000:1 and then build encounters with that picture in mind.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ So what happens if the bugbears fight the goblins? How many goblins can they probably defeat while holding a chokepoint? And if the math is 22:1, is that actually more than all other editions? Why do you think so? \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Nov 5 '17 at 17:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ @thedarkwanderer the answer seems to be saying that for 4e the answer is "however many you want for your story", which will always be (potentially) higher than any other edition. \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Nov 5 '17 at 18:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Erik Except that just ignoring power differential between the bugbears and goblins is equally possible in any edition. The question is what edition lets the bugbears actually take on the largest number of goblins, not what edition most encourages not-thinking-about-it. \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Nov 5 '17 at 19:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @thedarkwanderer It's not "not thinking about it". It's thinking about it in a different way. In 4E, monster stats as given are entirely for the purpose of using those monsters to challenge the player. They're not meant for bugbear-on-goblin violence. The actual answer in this edition is "the number that fits the narrative". I realize this is very different from other D&D editions — that's kind of the point. \$\endgroup\$ – mattdm Nov 6 '17 at 17:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mattdm My point is that that's not different from other editions. I could just as well employ that playstyle in 3.5 or 5e or AD&D or basic or whatever. There is no edition of D&D where what you are suggesting does not work as a playstyle out of the box. It's true that 4th edition struggles to handle the idea of verisimilitude put forth in the question, and that other editions generally don't struggle with that in the same way, but that doesn't mean that you can't use the other editions in the same way that 4e can be played. \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Nov 6 '17 at 19:41

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