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The Bugbear's Long-Limbed trait (VGtM, p. 119) says:

When you make a melee attack on your turn, your reach for it is 5 feet greater than normal.

This means that when it is not a Bugbear's turn, his reach is five feet shorter than it is when it is his turn and he's making a melee attack. Does this mean that the bugbear's arms extend out from their bodies like Reed Richards on their turns when they strike out? Could it happen outside of combat when turns aren't being tracked? If not, maybe it's a response to a threatening situation?

Why I care: I want to know if my Bugbear has stretchy arms because it's important to the narrative if such an odd physical feature exists. My GM will want to describe the action in detail.

Answer parameters: Any relevant RAW, Errata or Sage Advice comments either confirming this or explaining why the arm stretchiness isn't a thing, but I'll take designer opinions, too in the absence of official rulings or RAW. If there's any reference in prior editions of D&D to bugbears having arms that physically get longer on their turns than they are when their turns are over, then that would be nice to know, too.

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    \$\begingroup\$ For what it's worth, I love this question. Definitely a +1 from me. We get very few narrative questions on the stack, and for someone who has given narration and universe consistency quite a bit of thought, I like being able to put my thoughts on somewhere where it might be useful to others as well. \$\endgroup\$ – David Coffron Mar 12 at 18:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you! I sometimes feel like this sort of question gets punished. Even that my questions in particular get targeted, which is hopefully not the case and I'm just being cranky. Thanks for the vote! \$\endgroup\$ – user47897 Mar 12 at 19:57
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They probably don't stretch

The name of the feature: "long-limbed" seems to merely be referring to the length of the arms themselves. If stretchiness was an aspect of bugbear physiology, that is something that would probably be mentioned in the description of bugbears either in the Monster Manual or Volo's Guide to Monsters.

Why only on the bugbear's turn then?

To start with, turns are an abstraction for the sake of ease of play, but narratively they can be understood as the aspect of a round where the character has the most control over the fight. Remember that everything that happens in a 6-second round has no particular order in-universe. So all this means is that the bugbear can only leverage their long limbs to attack a creature who is further away during their opportunity to influence that 6-second window.

You can see a similar phenomena with the feature Extra Attack which only activates on the character's turn. When someone else is the driving force of the action, the character is unable to capitalize on this aspect of his/her training. Even if they Ready the Attack action for use on someone else's turn, they only get one attack.

Out of combat

When not in combat (or using turns for some other event), the reach of a creature rarely matters. Instead, arm length itself is what's important (for reaching things). Arm length is something not touched on at all in the game, so it will be up to a conversation with your GM how long a bugbear's long limbs are.

However, it is worth noting that just because a bugbear can attack something twice as far away, does not necessarily mean their arms are twice as long as other medium humanoids. See the note on space below.

Space

From the Basic Rules:

A creature’s space is the area in feet that it effectively controls in combat, not an expression of its physical dimensions.

At any given point in the 6 seconds that make up a round, a creature need not occupy a specific location in the space it controls. Their position ebbs and flows as the battle rages on. It is easily possible that a bugbear's long arms allow it to continue to control that medium sized space without even having to be within that space entirely. With this explanation, the bugbear might just be temporarily ebbing into another space to make the attack and flowing back (when they have the most control over the battle on their turn)

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    \$\begingroup\$ Accepting because it not only gives a reasonable citation from the rules, but offers an explanation as to why the extra reach would be available only under the very specific circumstances that it is. \$\endgroup\$ – user47897 Mar 12 at 20:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ Think Yoda's lightsaber duel with Dooku; Yoda's arms didn't stretch longer, but I would say his fighting style gives him extended reach. I think one of Yoda's ability is to negate his reach penalty due to his fighting style. \$\endgroup\$ – Nelson Mar 13 at 5:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ "just because a bugbear can attack something twice as far away, does not necessarily mean their arms are twice as long as other medium humanoids" - it might be. They might have very long, but very thin arms - they are bug-like after, all, imagine the "arms" of a praying mantis: it's very long, but usually kept folded. They can strike with it very far, but when they are not striking (not their turn), they keep it folded in to avoid damage to it (or they use it to block, while being folded in) \$\endgroup\$ – vsz Mar 13 at 7:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ Worth noting that limbs include legs, so your bugbear is likely taking a large step forward to increase their reach, which ties in with the idea of effecting things during "their time" \$\endgroup\$ – MiniMackie Mar 13 at 10:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ Everyone has the right idea here - the mechanic is the mechanic but as you can see in the comments, there are a lot of ways to narrate it. There is no right way. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Mar 13 at 13:52
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It's up to you as a player/DM

There is no description of how Long-Limbed works in-universe. It just does. As a player or DM, you are entirely free to describe what this looks like at your table as long as you use the existing mechanic of how it works.

That's the joy of roleplay!

The dangers of asking players to narrate abilities

I do want to put a section about the dangers of a DM asking players to narrate abilities. For the sake of roleplay and scene settings, it's a great thing to do. but if they're asking for it because they don't understand why or how something works, then that's a dangerous territory to enter. Magic users aren't generally ask to narrate why their magic works, and martial characters shouldn't be asked why their abilities work, either.

The abilities do what they do, and they can be described narratively. If you want them to do something that isn't explicitly stated as possible, that's going to be up to you and your DM.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'd offer a second +1 if I could for that second section. Definitely very important. \$\endgroup\$ – David Coffron Mar 12 at 18:33

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