Monster Monday #33: Bunyip
Updated: Mar 4
I've had an exceptionally busy last couple of months and am finding time to write posts for this blog less and less, but I still really enjoy Monster Mondays! This week I'm focusing on the Bunyip, a creature well documented in Aboriginal mythology that has definitely made its way across to Western society in appearance and name. It is a nocturnal, aquatic creature that inhabits various creeks, swamps, billabongs, and waterholes, though is often said to be amphibious, so able to breathe both on land and in the water. The Bunyip's name roughly translates into 'devil' or 'evil spirit', and it is known also as the Mulyawonk, a water spirit that takes more fish than it is supposed to and has been known to snatch children that get too close to the water's edge.
Physical descriptions of the Bunyip vary wildly, and it is almost impossible to pinpoint exactly what it looks like. Many accounts reference its similarity to seals - particularly pointing out that it is said to have smooth fur, be at home in the water, and has a bellowing cry. Dogs are also often cited in relation to the appearance of a Bunyip. Alongside these mammalian characteristics, the Bunyip is said to have fins and flippers along its body to allow it to swim with ease, to eat fish, and is sometimes noted to resemble a bird in some way. Seeing as some legends note that their eggs ending up in Platypus nests, it is not hard to see why a larger and more ferocious version of this creature also springs to mind when imagining the Bunyip.
I wrote an article a little while back on the Akhlut of Inuit myth and there are certainly some similar characteristics between the two creatures (so using stat blocks presented on that article may be a fun way of representing the Bunyip) - both are said to be predators in the water and on land. The Nguruvilu is specific to the myths of Chile, and this creature of South America combines a fox with a water dwelling snake. Alternatively, the Mishipeshu, otherwise known as the Underwater Panther or Great Lynx also closely resembles the Bunyip in a lot of ways and may serve as a more feline alternative to the creature, this time found in Native American folklore. I also found a lot of similarities in the Ahuizotl of Aztec mythology, a creature that is said to be a lake guardian and comparable to a Water Opossum with a smooth, black, shiny coat. This is very similar to the otter-like cryptid known as the Iemisch that has a very loud scream, resembles the Ahuizotl, and seizes its victims with its claws before dragging them into the water.
The Bunyip is often found referenced in media, and appears as an Easter egg in a variety of different games, shows, and films. It is briefly mentioned as a Titan being monitored in Godzilla: King Of The Monsters as well as being repeatedly featured on the TV show Charmed. Prominent cartoons such as The Wild Thornberrys, My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, and Mona The Vampire also feature appearances or brief mentions of the Bunyip. In literature the Temeraire series features a creature that clearly draws inspiration from the Bunyip, and the video game Final Fantasy X features an enemy called Bunyip though it bares little resemblance to its description.
So now it is time for some stat blocks and I have some really fun ones lined up. I'll start as I always do - with Wizards Of The Coast.
The first creature I am presenting as an option is probably one of my favourites - the Groff (Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos, pg. 194).
I am fairly certain that this creature design MUST have drawn some inspiration from the Bunyip. For one, it is very dog-like. But it also inhabits swamps and bayous, which fits the original folklore very nicely. I think this Large CR 4 Plant (this creature type COULD be changed out for Monstrosity) is a great contender for a creature that is known to snatch unwitting victims and lurk within riverbeds and waterholes unseen, waiting for prey to come by. I also think that CR sounds about right for this kind of monster. In terms of abilities, I think False Appearance and Hold Breath work very well (might I suggest Amphibious as a potentially better replacement?). Multiattack is an essential for a creature like this I think, and I really enjoy Swamp Claw's flavourful special features! This is a great first option! Another option might be to take a CR 5 Shambling Mound (Basic Rules, page 345) stat block and flavour it to look exactly how you picture the Bunyip to look, if the animalistic plant route is where you'd like to go.
So now I'll turn to Kobold Press for a couple of other options. My next choice is the Ahuizotl (Creature Codex, page 10).
Seeing as the folkloric creature of the same name already got a mention as being very similar to the Bunyip, this Small CR 2 Monstrosity needed to get a look in. Honestly - aside from its size category (which I would probably at least have as a Medium) and CR, which could stand to be a little higher, this creature pretty much aesthetically matches my idea of a Bunyip. It has Amphibious and also a Spiky Coat which gives it something a little different. Its Multiattack also combines its Tail Grab with a standard Bite and Claw which I find a really fun tactic for your players to face. Want to raise that CR like I do? Much of Bunyip folklore speaks of how noisy its cry is. So why not add some kind of Roar or Screech based ability, in which players have to make a saving throw or become frightened and/or deafened? Affecting multiple players at once with this could really cause some issues!
My last choice, for fun? Check out the Eel Hound (Tome Of Beasts, page 166).
Remembering that the Bunyip has no real definitive look, I veered towards creatures that were obviously swamp or water based and seemed to combine aquatic and mammalian features. This Medium CR 2 Fey fit the bill quite nicely! I would change Fey to Monstrosity for sure, and probably look for ways to make the CR a little higher (though this could be a really fun encounter if the party were to face multiple Bunyips). In fact, alongside Amphibious, this creature has Pack Tactics and so definitely suits a pack-based combat. I also really enjoyed Slick Spittle and Slithering Bite as actions, as this would easily allow an Eel Hound to grab and make off with a party member without taking much damage from opportunity attacks! Following along the lines of the previously suggested Groff and Shambling Mound, I might also recommend taking a look at the Peat Mammoth (Tome Of Beasts II, page 293), a Huge CR 10 Plant that provides a bit more of a challenge. Seeing as descriptions of the Bunyip vary so wildly, it makes sense that such a creature might be so camouflaged by swamp muck that very little of it is seen!
Aside from Wizards Of The Coast and Kobold Press, I did actually find an excellent Bunyip stat block in Legendary Games's Sea Monsters (page 14). There is a lot of excellent lore to take from within this book AND I think the Medium CR 4 Monstrosity stat block pretty much nails it on the head. Blood Frenzy is an EXCELLENT choice for the Bunyip, it has a Horrifying Roar action, and my one gripe would be to replace Water Breathing with Amphibious.
So now we have to get the Bunyip into our games! How might we do this? With some plot hooks of course!
The party are planning to venture into the swamps, and they stumble across a remote village that aids them in restocking their supplies. They are warned about a horrifying creature that lives in the swamps, but each villager describes its appearance differently.
As the party camp out beside the lake, they are awoken by loud screams and howls during the night. The source does not sound human, but it is almost deafening.
Children have been disappearing while playing around the river and nobody knows what the cause is. They blame the wrath of a local water deity, and plead with the party to investigate the issue.
The party find an injured baby Bunyip left behind by its pack. It will eat fish if they plan to care for it, and becomes easily affectionate towards its caregiver, though has a tendency to bark loudly at inconvenient moments.
As the party travel through some murky marshland, they come across a large, mossy mound. A perceptive party member will note this to be a sleeping Bunyip and the party will have to roll well in order to sneak past it.
And that is it, another Monster Monday completed! Can you believe that I've done so many of these? The world is so full of interesting mythological beings, so I have plenty of source material! Have you ever heard of the Bunyip or used it in your games? Let me know!