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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 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

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
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.
 


Undrave

Hero
But I've done others, cheap plastic toys are another great source of inspiration.

A little while back I got mini figures for the failed game ‘Battle Claw’ for super cheap. They could make good monster mini as they fit neatly into the usual battlemat grid. They had a scorpion type, a spider type, a snake, a sort of gorilla troll, a weird squid thing and a baby bulette looking thing in various shades of plastic.

 


There used to be a line of rubbery plastic toy monsters called "Monsters in my Pocket." They made decent stand-ins for D&D minis as needed (if you didn't mind the size scale being a bit off); I actually used a bunch of them more frequently in our HeroQuest board game once we went through all of the published adventures that came with the game. (I used HeroQuest as the "gateway drug" to get my sons, then 8 and 10, interested in 2nd Edition AD&D at the time.)

Johnathan
 

Dungeonosophy

Adventurer
I wish that the next edition of D&D gathered up all these tidbits and put them to use again. Like, the soft spot behind the head, and vulnerability around the eyes. And refusal to eat elves. Distates for dwarves. And strong penchant for halflings and horses. This stuff should be in the stat block. I mean, that is the bulette! But all this has fallen through the cracks over the years. The 5E bullette is just a bare stat block with a couple of leap attacks.

I'd suggest the 6th Edition "Legendary Bullette" does in fact have a uranium beam breath attack.
 


Undrave

Hero
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!

Oh! And you need to allow the Enlarged Fighter to rip the pieces of armor off while grappling it! That's the best way!

I wish that the next edition of D&D gathered up all these tidbits and put them to use again. Like, the soft spot behind the head, and vulnerability around the eyes. And refusal to eat elves. Distates for dwarves. And strong penchant for halflings and horses. This stuff should be in the stat block. I mean, that is the bulette! But all this has fallen through the cracks over the years. The 5E bullette is just a bare stat block with a couple of leap attacks.

I'd suggest the 6th Edition "Legendary Bullette" does in fact have a uranium beam breath attack.

Aside from the soft spot, the rest is just lore and would fit the old 4e 'tactics' block, no need for it to pollute the stat block.

And the Uranium Beam wasn't that strong of an attack :p I mean, it's just a Gabora, it's not Zetton or somethin'.
 

Dungeonosophy

Adventurer
Aside from the soft spot, the rest is just lore and would fit the old 4e 'tactics' block, no need for it to pollute the stat block.

Yeah, in 5E it'd be just lore, but in my 6E, all meaningful fluff is converted into crunch. Like, if the DM chooses to have the Bulette target an Elf, the Bulette must make a saving throw or lose its turn due to aversion. And if the Bulette bites an elf, must make CON save or be sickened. And same for dwarves (but less penalty).

And if halfling or horse within sight, must attack them in preference to all other targets (unless DM makes WIS save for the Bulette.)

And PCs can make a skill test to make a trick shot on the soft spot. And different test to attack the eyes.

And, unless that party has fought a Bulette before using these methods, they can't do these (even if the the player knows the lore Out of Character), unless they make a monster lore check or some kind of perception/investigation/tactics check.

Bring back all the lore, from all editions, and make it meaningful "fluff-crunch."
 

Undrave

Hero
Yeah, in 5E it'd be just lore, but in my 6E, all meaningful fluff is converted into crunch. Like, if the DM chooses to have the Bulette target an Elf, the Bulette must make a saving throw or lose its turn due to aversion. And if the Bulette bites an elf, must make CON save or be sickened. And same for dwarves (but less penalty).

And if halfling or horse within sight, must attack them in preference to all other targets (unless DM makes WIS save for the Bulette.)

That's needlessly complicated and restrictive. At that point, might as well not have a DM at all and just have an automated script do the decision for the monsters.

CON save from biting an elf is one thing (if needlessly specific considering not all party have elves) but a DM should be free to have its bulette react to the situation at hand.

And PCs can make a skill test to make a trick shot on the soft spot. And different test to attack the eyes.

Damage in DnD is too abstract for 'called shot' of that kind. I would instead model the weak spot by giving such monster a weakness to damage when they grant advantage (or Advantage removes their dmg resistance, whatever way you prefer) and have specific method to gain advantage against them in the stat block. You would also need facing rules otherwise, which, again, DnD doesn't model well as is.
 

Dungeonosophy

Adventurer
That's needlessly complicated and restrictive. At that point, might as well not have a DM at all and just have an automated script do the decision for the monsters.

CON save from biting an elf is one thing (if needlessly specific considering not all party have elves) but a DM should be free to have its bulette react to the situation at hand.

Damage in DnD is too abstract for 'called shot' of that kind. I would instead model the weak spot by giving such monster a weakness to damage when they grant advantage (or Advantage removes their dmg resistance, whatever way you prefer) and have specific method to gain advantage against them in the stat block. You would also need facing rules otherwise, which, again, DnD doesn't model well as is.

Well, mon frere. Your D&D is different than my D&D. To each their own. . :)

It sounds like you accept 5E 'prevailing wisdom' as the end-all and be-all of D&D evolution. But the game is going to be around for hundreds of years.

Yeah, yeah, I know about the ways in which called shots can be poorly implemented in 5E. But that doesn't mean it's impossible. PF1 has a 'dirty trick' (~called shot) mechanic which is pretty well thought out.

Also, to keep things simple, for each monster, these powers (and the powers from all other editions of the monster) would be listed as powers which the DM could choose for when building individual bullette encounter. Not every bullette would have every power. They are mythical mysterious creatures after all. In my 6E the vast array of historic options are presented, in all its complexity and richness. But then they are whittled dow. There's even percentile table for just randomly rolling what few powers that particular bullette has.

Furthermore, in my 6E, PCs can "multi-class" into any monster class and pick up a monster power (as long as some story can be concocted as to why). So after fighting a bullette, a PC might chose to pick a 1st-level bulette power.
 

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