A place wherein this Dwarven Cleric can share his love of maps, dice, miniatures, and all things involving gaming and general geekery--not to mention the occasional witty non-gaming observations--whilst escaping from the humdrum existence of his routine Terran existence.

Hail and Well Met, fellow traveler! May my Stronghold provide a place for enlightenment and amusement, and somewhere to keep your dice dry. Enter and rest awhile.

02 April 2011

B is for Bulette

A.K.A. the Landshark.

This beast is certainly what I have always considered to be an iconic Dungeons and Dragons monster, having been a part of the game since the very beginning.

And do you know, I've known about these monsters for most of my life, and yet only today did I learn that it's pronounced "boo-LAY"? (rather, "bulette" is pronounced that way, not "landshark.")

I blame it on my public school education.

Or in not reading the AD&D Monstrous Manual more carefully. I still prefer "boo-LET" however. Pronounce it as you will; I think you're relatively safe from prosecution.

This is the fellow that started it all. According to Gary Gygax himself, back in the early 1970s he was running Chainmail (the precursor to D&D). One day he found a bag of "dinosaurs" that included several fantastical creatures; one of these he dubbed the bulette and described it as a creature that moved silently through the earth and attacked by erupting out of the ground below the players.

I'm proud to say that I still have several of these little guys.

Gary migrated this creature over into the first edition of the game; in fact, the bulette was described in the first issue of The Dragon in July 1976 as a cross between an armadillo and a snapping turtle. It supposedly stood 8-11 feet tall at the shoulder. While it loved to eat horses and halflings, it disliked the taste of dwarves and absolutely refused to eat elves, whether dead or alive. (Even though they were described as "very stupid" it seems like they at least had good taste in prey!) They were heavily armored, yet were given a few weak spots--one behind its head and its eyes.

Then came Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, and again, here came the bulette. Its background was fleshed out a bit to be a mad wizard's cross-breeding of an armadillo and a snapping turtle, but with the addition of "infusuions of demons' ichor." It was also given the added ability to "jump up to 8' through the air with blinding speed." That's a mighty leap for a large tank, ain't it? He was also given an earth-dissolving-slime-coating for its armor that explained its ability to move quickly through supposedly solid earth.

Incidentally, I believe that's a halfling up that tree. Yum.

There's also this picture:
Unfortunately, while it gives a good idea of the size of what I assume to be a full-grown bulette, it is just simply too silly to use as a reference. Robot presence notwithstanding (see Expedition to the Barrier Peaks), the expression on its face and its pose bely how vicious and imposing this critter should be/is.

Everybody go eat a bowl of sherbet to cleanse your palate.

All right, everyone back? Let's move on then.

Second edition AD&D saw a drastic makeover in the beast. It obtained a stone-like coating and a silly looking stance, and now its "landshark" name was given an explanation by the addition of a large shark-like pectoral fin. Like a shark, it was now always grumpy and hungry. Actually, I believe it was technically given the personality of a wolverine: stupid, mean, fearless. Not only did it lose its hankering for horses and halflings, its relatively newly-ascribed backstory as a genetic melding of armadillo and snapping turtle was questioned as no more than a rumor. Its mighty leap was used only as an escape mechanism.

"Candy-gram, ma'am."

After my long gaming hiatus, my acquaintance with the bulette was renewed with the advent of Third Edition and my gaming group's transition from AD&D. This incarnation was what we called the "bulette on steroids" or the "Magnum edition" (playing, obviously, on the similarity of its name to the word "bullet"). The shark fin was gone as were the weaknesses, but armor plates were back, and the normal legs. It was ramped up, however, to take up the space of a "huge" creature, which translated to 10 feet by 20 feet. Despite the increase in size, Wizards of the Coast weakened its bite, but increased its hit points which made it, in turns, weaker and tougher.

As you know, I'm not a great proponet of 4th Edition, so I cannot say for sure what's happened to our friend. I believe Wizards of the Coast has made him smaller in size, more than likely a result of a congressional probe into the use of steroids and growth agents in role-playing games. I do know that Pathfinder (or D&D 3.75 as it's often called) also includes a version of the bulette, shown here. Now this guy looks truly wicked. He's going after a dwarf, which makes me wonder if his tastes have changed as he's grown older.

Now the true confession....

In all these 30+ years... I have never once faced a bulette or thrown one at my players. I really want to, but I've always been afraid of the stigma of the "landshark." I did it to myself earlier; I'm always afraid of the inevitable SNL jokes: "Candygram, ma'am. Plumber, ma'am. I'm only a dolphin, ma'am." jokes.

But this guy.... This Pathfinder iteration. This illustration, I think, might make my players weep. Between that and laying out the enormous miniature on the table in the midst of their insignificant dwarves, elves, and humans? That just might put the ghost of Chevy Chase to rest once and for all.

And show me a little bit of respect as they limp to the healer.

What's left of them, anyway.

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