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The Plastic Ancestry of the Bulette

The bulette is a curious beast. Described as a cross between an armadillo and snapping turtle, it's capable of sailing through earth like a shark, leaping into the air to attack opponents with all four feet, and has very specific tastes in the types of humanoids it likes to eat. We now know the bulette was inspired by a plastic toy, but that toy's origins reveal some surprising parallels...

The bulette is a curious beast. Described as a cross between an armadillo and snapping turtle, it's capable of sailing through earth like a shark, leaping into the air to attack opponents with all four feet, and has very specific tastes in the types of humanoids it likes to eat. We now know the bulette was inspired by a plastic toy, but that toy's origins reveal some surprising parallels between the creature as envisioned in a popular kid's show in Japan and the monster we've all come to know and loathe.

gabora0.jpg

Kask Invents the Bulette

Tim Kask, editor of Dragon Magazine, invented the Bulette:

...Gary and I had had several talks about creating monsters, and he had frequently encouraged me to let my imagination run wild. The umber hulk and the rust monster were fabrications (by Gary) to "explain" two plastic monsters from a bag of weird critters from the dime store that Gary had found and used in Greyhawk. (Now it would be a Dollar Store.) There was still had one that had not been taxonomically identified and defined yet that intrigued me; they called it the "bullet". I frogged-up the name a bit. At this same time, SNL was hitting it's stride and had become a cultural phenomenon, and the Jaws movies were just hitting their stride, and SNL ran with the "landshark" parody. People were going around going "Landshark" "Candygram" all the time as they became a temporary buzzword. No doubt influenced by some really good " Oz oil" that was going around (statute of limitations is long expired), my excursive mind hooked them together as I imagined what a "real" (in D&D terms "real") landshark might be. I had probably been watching a PBS program about moles or armadillos.

It's not surprising that the bulette debuted in the very first issue of Dragon Magazine:

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 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.

Kask's instincts about the origin and function of the monster's appearance, derived from that patchisaur he discovered in a bag of dinosaurs, were on target. The monster the patchisaur was based off of was likely Gabora, a giant monster foe of Ultraman.

The Plastic Connection

James Mishler pieced together the Gabora/bulette connection on Dragonsfoot:

The ninth episode, "Operation Electric Stone Fire," premiered on September 1, 1966. In this episode, Ultraman faces Gabora, a uranium-eating monster...Unlike the Bulette, with Gabora, the bullet-shaped front section actually consists of four large and two small armor sections that can be drawn back, revealing the creature's real face...However, like the modern-day Gabora statue, the creature spent most of the show, i.e., until just before the final battle, with the armor closed, with a surprise for Ultraman and the Science Patrol when it opened the armor and revealed its true face. I suspect that in Japan, at the time of the original show, several Gabora figures were released, and the "Hong Kong" figure that Gary discovered was either one of these or, more likely, a knock-off in the bag of Chinese toys.

Gabora, like the bulette, was a burrowing creature, but the similarities stop there. Gabora fed on uranium and its head was encased in a shell that opened like a flower to reveal the creature's head. Gabora also had a breath weapon, a uranium beam attack he could fire from his mouth.

Of course, none of these features could be easily portrayed in a simple sculpt. Pictures of Gabora consist primarily of his flower-like appearance, but the bulette sculpt we're familiar with has the hood closed. Instead, the bullet-shaped creature we know today was inspired by a creature that has more in common with dragons than with armadillos.
 

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Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca




Theo R Cwithin

I cast "Baconstorm!"
Main thing I remember about the plastic bulette I had as a kid is that it was made of dense brown plastic with a spray of green paint on it's back. It was quite pointy, and relatively heavy for its size. Having grown up with three brothers, I learned early on that that little thing was a fantastic projectile and could leave a serious welt.

But yeah....
I'm pretty sure the next bulette I sic on a party will have face armor that splits open to shoot a "uranium beam" at the PCs! :devilish:
 



Oofta

Legend
Glad I'm following an age-old tradition of finding a cool mini and creating monster to match what I think the mini should be.

As an example, I found a mini a long time ago of a hill giant with two clubs and heads hanging off his vest. So of course he's a dual-wielding giant, which is simple. But when the heads opened their eyes and started chanting and casting spells was when it got fun. :devilish:
 


Zarithar

Adventurer
I owned several of these back in the day before I started playing D&D. Was able to score a bag of them on EBAY recently for around $10 and now use them in game (or did prior to quarantine). Good stuff.
 

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