|Jason Nelson RPG Superstar 2008 Top 4; Contributor; Publisher, Legendary Games|
|RainyDayNinja RPG Superstar 2013 Top 16|
|Vigil RPG Superstar 2011 Top 16|
The idea of fighting a single "boss" type enemy as a conclusion of an adventure seems natural - you found the bad guy, now you have to fight him, and he is so powerful he should present a challange to the group all on it's own.
Well, while the idea is nice in theory (and is being used all the time in Paizo modules), I think it's really bad encounter design. Sorry, but there's really no reasonable way to make 1 creature a challnage to 4 or more PCs. All that happens is that the PCs gang up on the poor dude and attack him down to oblivion.
I believe that you need at least a mook or two along with the bad guy in order to challange the PCs and create a cool encounter. That way it's more like 4 against 3 than like 4 against 1. Aother way to make boss encounters awesome is to include some limiting terrain or hazard to the battlefield to make it more special.
Walking in to a 10x10 room and ganging up on a single boss monster is not fun (it's not even a cool battle to visualize in your head), the bad guy either dosen't get enough time to do anything before it dies, or it is so friggin' deadly it takes a PC down each round or something. However, fighting a boss and 2 of it's deadliest minions on (for example) a narrow bridge, or while magical lightning strikes explode acruss the battlefield evrey round in diffrent locations - that creates a cool, memorable "end of adventure" fight.
So I think design philosophy should change on the matter of final boss encounters. Thoughts?
(Edit: the spoilers are to hide actual spoilers, not to section off my post)
Rise of the Runelords, Anniversary Edition:
The end encounter now involves several creatures, and the area is redesigned as well, so it should prove to be an interesting fight, with interesting "terrain".
Council of Thieves:
There are two guys at the final encounter (unless my GM added the second one in, but I don't think that was the case). It's not very fancy, but it's not just 1 creature.
There are four creatures in the final encounter. It ends up being a really interesting battle, due to their group dynamics being affected by campaign events.
I don't know about other APs.
As far as mini bosses, yeah, there are a lot of solos, but I can't say as to whether it's too many. Still, I am tempted to add in minions, and I have done so on a couple of occasions, but not every time.
I am hoping that the mythic initiative thing works to good effect in making a solo encounter more potent by having the boss use up its pool to act twice. Sometimes it makes sense to attack one thing.
I agree, and have discontinued the practice.
In fairness, its not something designers are strictly told—rather its a conclusion they inevitably arrive at.
The discussion is good though, because it might give someone the "heads up".
Its also why reviews and constructive discussion threads are helpful. That's when economy of action really sunk in for me.
Jim Groves wrote:
Sweet, looking forward to the awesome final encounter in "Shackled Hut" ;)
Stazamos: yes, the Revised Anniversary edition of Rise of the Runelords has greatly improved that encounter, I think. That, plus what Mr. Nelson and Mr. Groves said already, makes me think maybe Piazo is changing the way it designs encounters for future AP modules... though in all of the Shattered Star modules that Iv'e seen so far (3 first), the boss encounter is always a solo encounter.
haha yeah, I started writing my post, and then I stopped and thought, :oh man, what about Xenasha?
funny thing is, I never even saw the original Xenasha, only the revised one (which as I understand was seriously nerfed). That deadly lady is just so (in)famous around these message boards, she was still actualy the prime example that sprang to my mind of a solo encounter that is lethal in a way that is bordering on silly.
If I could have a signature on these boards it would include a warning about single monster encounters. They are not a good idea ever. Any environmental setup that would make a single monster encounter workable would be way better with multiple monsters.
Personally I wont ever have an encounter with fewer then 2 enemies if I expect the encounter to be a challenge. Usually I try to have the enemies outnumber the party. It just works so much better that way. Why cant the big bad dragon have a few fledglings about? And the big bad evil guy? He for sure has a leutenant with him right?
I still enjoy the odd Solo encounter, because frankly it's iconic. So I break the rules a little:
Solo bosses get Maximum hp. Or sometimes Double Max.
Solo bosses get TWO turns (the second at Initiative -10).
I also complicate matters, sometimes there is a hostage in a slow moving death trap, sometimes there are pyroclastic explosions throughout the room, sometimes there are hazards or traps the PCs trigger as they move around the room.
I don't like bosses to be waiting in a featureless room to be murdered by "adventurers" (read: Wandering Murder Hobos).
Only time I have a solo enemy is if it has some ability to fully act multiple times in a round. There's very few creatures who can justifiably do that.
Savage Tide spoiler:
Example: Demogorgon in Savage Tide has a perfectly justifiable reason for acting twice per round.
EDIT: Or Dudemeister can ninja me with basically the same thing just better said and with decent justifications.
I try and make the last encounter dynamic.
If the party make a big fuss getting to the last encounter then the evil boss will have time to call in help. May be a lot of help...
If the party is super stealthy and get to the end without setting off the alarms then their reward for good play is an easier encounter.
The party needs to feel their actions make a difference and good planning makes a difference.
A game shouldn't be a set of isolated encounters. The results of the earlier encounters should impact on the final encounter in some way.
This works well enough, but is painfully 'meta' to me. It creates an inconsistency in the game system. A level 1 a troll might be a 'boss' monster, but at level 10 trolls might be mooks. These could be precisely the same troll, with the only difference being the 'boss monster' template applied. It is a VERY dissociative mechanic (where mechanics and the world they govern are disconnected). I really dislike this sort of thing.
This works pretty well, but in the end, any traps or circumstances you put to make them work, work even better if there are minions involved to harass the party while they try to navigate them.
The problem is that in a Paizo AP, if you want to pull out an epic final encounter, there's a strong desire to include one turbo powerful boxxorz my soxxorz bad guy ... because if you spread out, the big final bad won't be as cool.
So you either gotta field a group of less powerful foes (well played in JR and RotRL AE) or try something that hasn't been done in a Paizo AP yet IIRC - a "wave" encounter of successive fight.
Or there could be attempt to create rules and abilities that would enhance solo opponents to give them fighting chance against group of weaker opponents...
2000 called, it wants the "3e has a problem with single opponent fights!" thread back...
Not in a Paizo AP, but in Red Hand of Doom (penned by James Jacobs) the defense of a city under siege is handled as "waves". That was a very satisfying night of gaming!
It's perfectly possible to make a challenging solo encounter.
And just as it is boring and bad form to include only solo encounters, it's boring and bad form to including nothing but grouped bosses.
A challenging solo encounter does tend to be a little swingier than a group fight, but that doesn't mean you should never do it.
The game is flexible, and all GMs and designers should experiment with the variables to keep their games from becoming stagnant.
Of course different strokes for different folks apply. Some people like the rules to reflect a certain level of reality. I use the rules to support narrative interest.
Take the Troll Boss. At low level he seems faster and tougher because by comparison the PCs are slower and weaker. At higher levels the PCs feel truly powerful because they can say: "You guys remember when ONE troll nearly killed us all?" As they cut through swathes of trolls.
Narratively in the first adventure the heroes need to be vulnerable. In the latter the heroes highlight how far they've grown. I have used minions instead (and will in the future), but if I can't justify minions (typically an issue with Dragons and other big sized menaces).
Evil Lincoln wrote:
Of course, and agreed.
I still do solo encounters. I'm just mindful that a boss can get rolled by a fast acting mob.
It really depends on the Boss. Spellcaster Bosses tend to need some back-up. Dragons, well.. less so.
From now until the end of time, I'm going to call my players "Wandering Murder Hobos" whenever I GM. <3
In response to Lord Snow's original question, I think it's best to avoid repetition in most forms, and while I have had fun with the occasional singular big bad at the climax of an adventure, I'd be more than happy to see a little more variety in such things.
But I'd be sad to see them entirely done away with. :P
Lord Snow wrote:
I can't stand limiting terrain or hazards - annoying more than anything else. The best encounters are, in order:1. Attack the Fort
2. Defend the Fort
3. PCs vs. enemy party on a largish open battlefield
the last game I ran (a while back actually) where the PC's were in a solo bossfight had a gay old time. Mainly because I went final fantasy/shadow of the colossus and other games on them.
The boss was a construct Castle, it was so huge a single foot or fist took up a 50 foot Area. The PC's had to damage parts to slow it down, or climb/fly up to key points to do extra damage.
They nearly failed because they stopped it JUST IN TIME before it reached it's goal of smashing the capitol City.
Solo Encounters can be damn fun if you give them some spin
Bearded Ben wrote:
Someone should design a boss fight where you fight a pair of identical twins with teamwork feats.
I have Twin Cavaliers each with a different pool of Teamwork feats alongside some weak Mooks.
I normally use the Heavy Hitter leading a Unit/Horde.
Like a Orc Fighter/Barbarian leading a group of Goblins or a Dragon and his Dark Elven Honour Guard.
I don't have much time to really design my own encounters anymore. I usually just go with minor modifications to what is printed in the AP. Very often that is adding a few mooks if it was a solo encounter.
Back when I did create alot of encounters, I rarely used solo BBEG. Besides swinging between anti-climactic and deadly, it just rarely made sense to me.
The evil High Priest of Zuz who has enslaved the nation to do his bidding and conquer the world, yet his defense plans are to wait by himself for the Wandering Murdering Hobos to fight their way to him the fight all 6 of them by himself. Come on.
There are exception:
But mostly I tried to use a BBEG and mooks or a small team that is near to the PC's in power.
I'm definitely against solo BBEGs unless they are superpowered like most high HD dragons and some outsiders.
I almost always prefer meatshields ... err minions if it's a spell casting or ranged boss or I like to have 2-3 party equivalent foes with some support.
Wizards if they can summon like crazy can be worthwhile as solo bosses but tend to be vulnerable to massive dogpiling tactics.
Actually, I like to throw in a solo encounter (with a CR above APL) every now and then. They can be quite effective wake-up calls, or mini-bosses.
For epic fights, I tend to employ groups of opponents. Meat shields, a lieutenant or two, maybe a pair or even a troupe of BBEGs... each of these avenues (and sometimes combinations of the above) just adds so many more possibilities for the encounter.
The problem I see with solo encounters are that they often need to be CR +3 or so in order to have the defenses necessary to withstand the onslaught but encounters with CR +3 foes can be really swingy. A couple of lucky rounds for the monster and the party can often be on the ropes or if the PCs roll hot then the monster can be on the ground quivering in bloody pieces.
Plus you can get into situations where only the fighter types can effectively hit the monster AC which tends to make the 3/4 BAB classes kinda frustrated.
...Plus you can get into situations where only the fighter types can effectively hit the monster AC which tends to make the 3/4 BAB classes kinda frustrated.
We had one of those, just last night. The monster's SR was so high the casters could only affect it by rolling a 19-20 on the caster level check. The sneaky types and hybrids could only hit it on ~18+ but a couple of hits and they were almost down.
Combat healing from my life oracle (which so many think is a waste) is about the only reason why it wasn't a TPK. Both of the martials and two of the hybrids would have been way into the negatives.
Which is all fine, just not every time.
Evil Lincoln wrote:
Well that goes without saying (except now we did say it, I guess :P)
However looking at Paizo APs and modules over the years, there is an overwhelming trend to favour solo encounters. Almost all dengeons have plenty of them, and the climactic encounters at the end of individual modules (and of course at the very end of the AP) tend to be solo fights.
I am not saying solo fights are so horrible they should never be used, I am saying it's kinda nonsensical to use them as the default.
Most of the APs I have read state that the mobs you encounter along the way typically run at some point to fight along side the final boss. I rarely have run one where the BBEG at the end didn't have some lackey with them as a buffer.
If your GM is just running static encounters where every mob just fights to the death, they might want to double check the actions of the creature as see what they do when they get down to like 10% of their health.
Agreed, Lord Snow. Earlier I didn't mean to speak in broad sweeping absolutes. There is a place for solo encounters, but the challenge of an encounter can be adjusted by multiple opponents.
Some situations call for multiple creatures, and some don't.
I guess what I was trying to communicate is: one can't rely on CR alone. You need to study it and use some common sense, even play test. CR is a guideline, but it's not foolproof. Economy of action is one of the ways a CR can be spoofed.
Lord Snow wrote:
I think of the disposition of NPCs as their "starting position", meaning that's where the individuals "hang out" when they aren't expecting an attack.
The moment the alarm is raised, the named NPCs usually mass troops in order to use tactics. Whether or not to use them as solo encounters is up to the GM, but the books usually give you several varied, classed NPCs in the same site. Having NPCs just hang out in their area until the PCs arrive to kill them is a really boring, static GM style; I am totally unsurprised if players find that to be stale.
Paizo encounter sites with literally only one major threat monster/NPC are rare. The vast majority of encounter sites are designed to "spill over" if the GM wishes, which is great design. If things get too heavy, I can always contrive a reason why one encounter stays static, and that gives me control as a GM. But in most cases—unless the players plan things very well—they alert the enemies and the wizard in room B3 meets up with the ranger in room B10 and they decide how to crush the party.
I suppose they could design all the encounters not to spill over (with rationales for why not) and then group major threats so that GMs don't mistakenly leave all their pieces in the starting position... but that would lead to a very static-feeling encounter site as well. I love the way the site comes alive with NPC response if the GM is... awake?
EDIT: To restate — Actual solo encounters are quite rare in Paizo books. Kingmaker probably has the most of any AP, but for the rest of them you usually have at least three encounters that can "spill over", often many more.
Agree with Evil Lincoln 100%. So many other issues are self correcting when you play the encounters logically. If you are fighting loudly in a room near others, or you leave to get new spells and come back, the game doesn't just reset to where you left it unless your GM decides not to put thought into it.
Lord Snow wrote:
Sorry, but there's really no reasonable way to make 1 creature a challnage to 4 or more PCs. All that happens is that the PCs gang up on the poor dude and attack him down to oblivion.
It absolutely KILLS me that players and GMs alike agree with this. Really? There's absolutely no way to design a good solo encounter in Pathfinder? The game is really this broken? Wow. An impressive player base for such a broken encounter system...
OR, maybe this is just a completely misconstrued perspective based on a few personal experiences with mediocre adventure modules.
Solo encounters CAN be fun and challenging if designed well. Sure, you may have to use a solo CR 2 or 3 higher than the party's APL, but there are TONS of ways to do that. You don't HAVE to have the players walk into a 10x10 room with the boss just standing in the middle of the room, laughing maniacally, patiently waiting for the party's arrival. That's BORING and cliche, and it IS bad encounter design, but NOT because it's a solo encounter. "Solo" doesn't necessarily mean "here I am, come at me bros". If you want some examples, I would be happy to provide them.
[...]the bad guy either dosen't get enough time to do anything before it dies, or it is so friggin' deadly it takes a PC down each round or something.
A well designed Pathfinder solo encounter is by its very nature "swingy", meaning that dice rolls largely dictate what happens. If the boss rolls low on initiative and on his first turn but the PCs roll high during their turns in the first round, it's probably going to turn out well for the PCs. However, if the boss goes first in initiative and rolls high in the first round AND the PCs all roll low, they are going to have a hard time right out of the gate. Is this a bad thing? NO!!! This is how a solo "boss" encounter is SUPPOSED to feel (IMO). Boss fights focus more on group cooperation and the luck of the dice rather than full attacks and AoE placement. A "swingy" encounter is NOT bad design. In fact it capitalizes on the tension leading up to it.
Also, a well designed solo encounter is not so extreme that it wipes a party member on every hit or a full round of attacks from all PCs bring it to its knees. Though, a lucky crit on the party's 10 CON rogue or the party stringing together a chain of crits or coming up with the perfect creative strategy might do it.
So I think design philosophy should change on the matter of final boss encounters. Thoughts?
Perhaps, but you shouldn't throw away the idea of solo encounters altogether. Again, if you want some specific examples, I got em. Solo encounters aren't the problem; poor encounter design is (in most situations, IMO).
EDIT: Admittedly I posted this before reading the entire thread. It's refreshing to see others make the same points as I did, and I'm sorry if it seems like I just copied what Evil Lincoln said... I swear I didn't! :p I just happened to agree with him 100% and didn't realize it til after I posted. Yeah... that's it... ^_^
Lord Snow wrote:
A deadly solo is also grounds for a memorable battle; BECAUSE it was so deadly. I laughed out loud when half of our party (including me) was murdered by a Dire Wolverine.And why don't the players have Tanglefoot Bags/Invisibility/Stun abilities ?
I do agree that a easy solo is no fun, and that having two enemies would be better. (Bad luck on a initiative roll is less probable, enemies can flank, it's more difficult to stop them from getting to the squishies etc.)
If I could have a signature on these boards it would include a warning about single monster encounters. They are not a good idea ever.
Seems like uou never played the [spoiler=spoiler]Carrion Hill adventure[spoiler]
Sounds like there are ways to make it work, but you do have to work on it.
* Instead of making the boss a very high CR based only on his stats, bump up his effective CR with a good tactical situation; he gets to start in the best place of the room, knows where all the traps and such are, has cover against opening salvos and so forth.
* His bodyguards may not be terribly impressive, but they do keep coming; when first encountered, he's got a screen of guards, but as the battle is joined, alarms go off, and new guards arrive every round or so, so the PCs constantly need to worry about getting surrounded/cut off/boxed in.
* It's better to give the BBEG some ways to outlast damage, than to make him impossible to hurt. AC too high for the rogue to reasonably hit is just unfun, but if he stuns the warriors for a round while he downs a bunch of healing potions to recover, it's annoying in a good way, seeing all your work undone. Likewise, a few more HP is less frustrating than DR that makes it impossible for some party members to really hurt him.
* Stunlocking the badguy is a bad thing. He needs to be prepared against conditions that stop him from acting. It's perfectly fine to let the PCs use those powers against his guards however.
* The bad guy needs mobility; he needs to be able to escape when surrounded, and retreat to a better position. Either where he's out of reach of the party, or to move in on one of them (or both).
* Ideally he's got plenty of powers that knock out PCs from the fight for a few rounds, to relieve pressure. It's important though that those powers don't take out a PC out of the fight for the entire fight, or many rounds; it's better to stun a different PC for 1-2 rounds every round, than to lock out one PC the whole fight (bored player).
Sometimes it's not too bad that a solo BBEG can be overwhelmed; if he's normally too well-defended by guards to take down, part of the challenge can be to actually get him alone. For example, getting the general away from his elite guards to murder him. Make sure the PCs know that an assault on him while he's not alone would be suicide, and that when they isolate him, they need to HURRY!
I think a 4 on 1 fight can work out, and a 3 on 1 definitely can, but I usually play with bigger groups, and you really can't scale those up too well. Adding in a lesser boss usually works out just fine and dandy though.
That said, I find the most memorable big fights from APs have this general setup where you have:
I dig this setup. Everyone in the party gets a chance to play to their strengths, you have a lot of colorful characters around, it feels like they have a life beyond the one encounter, and there's always someone who can pose a real problem if everyone focuses on a single opponent at once.
Lord Snow wrote:
You know nothing Jon Snow!
Ahem, I think you are on to something here. Too powerful or too weak. Mooks and environment should matter a great deal. In Runelords, yes, the single bosses could sometimes be far too good, because they can take the whole party and kill them off one by one.
How about an approach where in a battle between two factions, if one faction is outnumbered at least 4 to 1, any creatures on the outnumbered faction whose CR is at least 2 levels higher than the highest CR in the opponent faction, don't roll for initiative but instead are allowed to take their action(s) at any point in each turn (even before natural 20s).
It would represent how the smaller group is more tactically efficient due to having to coordinate less individuals and think that it would counteract the action economy advantage of the larger party at least a bit.
n o 417 wrote:
Actually it was the first adventure I ran in pathfinder. That said, I pretty much never run adventures as is, the final encounter in that adventure at my table didnt end up being a solo encounter.
My point is, that whatever you do to make a solo encounter work, those things would work better if it wasnt a solo encounter. Whenever you try to make one work, you are working against the system, instead of with it.
Can you make it work? Ofcourse. Should you? Not in my opnion.