Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Incomplete Pictorial History of the Bulette

A copy of the original Hong Kong toy "dinosaur" that served as the inspiration for Gary Gygax's bulette or "landshark". Also in this same set were figures that later became the rust monster and carrion crawler. Note that the creature neatly occupies a 2 x 2 area on a standard battlemat. Present to help show scale is Mordenkainen from the D&D collectible miniatures game.

The first documented landshark attacks occurred live from New York on November 8th, 1975.

The frontispiece of the original Monster Manual. In its Manual entry the bulette was noted as being absolutely fearless.

From the bulette entry in the original Monster Manual. The creature up the tree is a halfling. Gygax mentions that bulettes find halflings a particularly tasty treat and are known to dig up into their burrows.

Prototype of an 80's-era plastic bulette for the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons toyline from LJN Toys. Sadly, this toy never entered into production.

The 3.X era bulette. Gone are the references to enjoying halfling meat. The 3E version of the bulette added a rather scary leap attack allowing the creature to use all four claws against a single target. This ability was dropped in 3.5.

Another great bulette illustration can be seen here.


  1. In retrospect I have no idea where I got the idea that the bulette pounce attack was dropped from 3.5. Perhaps I was cutting and pasting and otherwise manipulating the SRD text for the bulette and accidentally deleted it.

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  4. In an effort to make "The Incomplete Pictorial History of the Bulette" a bit more complete I'm going to post what I've found:

    The Bulette appeared in The Dragon Vol. 1, No. 1 (July 1976) in the "Creature Features" section. Its love of horseflesh and halflings is mentioned, as is their dislike for dwarves and hatred of elven flesh. They are not described as fearless, just "very stupid". The origin for the jumping attack may come from this artical as it states "when cornered
    or wounded, they can strike with all four feet, though they normally favor the front two." The image in the artical is is the same image as the frontispiece of the original MM, but with diffrent shading. This could be from printing or scanning error as I'm looking at the Dragon Magazine Archive. I've posted a copy of the picture on flicker

  5. Anonymous5:43 PM

    Just now discovering this blog and thought I'd post my comments.

    There was also a bulette in the old D&D Coloring Book that came out in the 80s, and featured (among other D&D figures) the Beholder, Lich, Demogorgon, and Tiamat.

    I don't own a copy any longer (or else I'd post a pic) but it might be worth trying to track down if you want to complete your pictorial history.

  6. Anonymous1:35 PM

    I *actually owned* the bag of Hong Kong toys or dinosaurs or whatever they were. Have no idea how common it was, since it seems otherwise weird. One day I noticed (I was about ten and had been playing AD & D for about a year) that for some reason there was a rust monster and a bulette in the plastic monster set I'd gotten around 1974, when I was four. IIRC, there was also something that looked a hell of a lot like an umber hulk, except with only two eyes.

  7. Anonymous3:42 PM

    "when cornered
    or wounded, they can strike with all four feet, though they normally favor the front two."

    This is the kind of ability description that modern game designers, and apparently some GMs, are utterly unable to fathom. Or maybe just don't care to. For me this kind of text is good; there's no reason a creature should have exactly 2, 4, 1, whatever attacks in all circumstances. Or when does the bear use its hug? How about, when it seems appropriate? If you don't feel comfortable making that call go read a book on the natural history of bears, but you should really just get comfortable making that call.

    Ah well, back into the hole now. The proofs of Fight On! #2 will probably be ready next week. Jeff has three awesome articles in there so everyone reading this site should buy it. :-)

    - Calithena

  8. Anonymous3:20 PM

    I also remember the plastic 'dinosaurs' from my childhood. I seem to remember one of them beeing suspiciously like an owlbear, as well.

  9. I remember that toy rust monster from that set was one of my favorites as a kid- I got it in a grab gag of dinosaurs from the Toronto Zoo.

    My favorite bulette pic:

  10. So now I'm wondering about the origins of Gible - did it go from a Hong Kong plastic dinosaur, by way of EGG, to a Pokemon? Or was there some pre-existing landshark tradition in China and Japan, which EGG just glommed onto?