BBEG Method?


3.5/d20/OGL


Hey guys, I just wanted to start a bit of a discussion on something that's always perplexed me.

Why are so many GM's fan of the video-game like "Boss Fights" at the end of an adventure. Play through the level, beat the minions and mini-bosses, complete the puzzles, and beat the BBEG (aka Boss) at the end of the level.

It's just not a style I've ever used, in the campaigns I run every encounter is of equal difficulty, every encounter pushes my players hard, whether it's a swarm (and I mean swarm) of npc's maybe their CR -2, or a pair of enemies their CR +2, every time they run into trouble its intense and breathtaking. There aren't any extra special fights that signify the end of an adventure, and heck there are times the mastermind behind events isn't even a combatant but a slithering manipulative worm who had champions and armies (and some monsters but mostly intelligent ones, I've never really been a fan of using monsters as beast-like encounters) at his command but once faced with the point of a sword snivels and begs for mercy.

Anyways, my little personal story aside, why do so many people favor the BBEG method?


Well first I have to congratulate you on being the greatest most perfect DM in history, since every encounter you ever run is exciting and epic and challenges each player equally. Kudos!

For the sake of reason the BBEG method, as you put it, makes sense because someone has to run the show. Why is this dungeon swarming with kobold swashbucklers? Must be the kobold lich at the end. Or something, I don't know. Don't you have villains? Shouldn't they be tougher than their minions?

Personally I find that method much more fun. You enter a dungeon, swat your way through the mooks, find something that scares the pants off of you, run away from the swarm of fiendish vampire bats, and finally make it to the dead god's chambers in time to stop the *insert magic ritual here* from *insert thing that sucks here* to the whole countryside!

It's a good place to end an adventure. Otherwise it just ends up feeling like Gauntlet.


I'm not sure if your first paragraph is sincere or sarcastic lol, but I'm not going to worry about it one way or the other.

I guess you have a point, it is fun when I play in campaigns that do that, it just feels... I don't know... artificial. It's like... wait... something's not right here... OH SNAP THAT THING'S A REAL FIGHT... lol.

Anyways, in my games the Kobold Swashbuckler's swarming the dungeon would most likely be part of a Kobold pirate crew or mercenary unit, and they'd be fighting as a team, possibly under the command of a Kobold (or maybe half-dragon) Swashbuckler/Duelist who's at most maybe 2-3 levels above them.

Beating that encounter isn't about smashing through the Kobold horde to fight him in a climactic boss scene, it's about managing to survive the horde and out think and out fight them until they can push their leader into a surrender. If the PC's manage to actually kill the vast bulk of the army that guy is going to throw down his arms and either A beg for mercy or B run like hell (and doing that is no easy feat, I have fun playing cooperative units. I blame my time playing a malconvoker lol)

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

There's a number of reasons why someone would choose the BBEG method of adventure and campaign design. Here's a few of my own reasons.

1) Clear Goal - If the PCs know who's in charge of the latest threat to the kingdom/city/village/pig farm then they can save the day with a liberal application of violence. Now while it's occasionally good to have a snivelling little evil guy, there's a good reason why a BBEG is the default assumption. Which segues to my next point...

2) A Sense of Accomplishment - In any given adventure the PCs are likely to face off against a number of different foes/challenges etc. At some points you want to give the PCs a cake-walk - Nicolas Logue talks about this here when he talks about the "feel good encounter". At other times you want to push your PCs to the edge with an encounter that's almost overwhelming (BBEG style).

3) Rollercoaster of Fun - To use a broad analogy imagine your players' experience of the game as a roller coaster ride. The part at the beginning where the PCs receive their quest and meet some non-combat NPCs is that slow part where the safety guards lower over their heads and the roller coaster starts on its way. When the PCs travel to the Dungeon that's the part where the roller coaster goes up it's first hill, followed by a fight with the entry guards/bouncers/talking door. The PCs kick some ass and "WOOO!" they get a thrill of being bad ass.
The following encounters are similar in the highs and lows. Now part of the fun of the roller coaster is that one last rise/dip. It's the one you bought your ticket for. At first that boss is kicking ass and taking names, PCs are losing massive chunks of HP and expending resources like there's no more encounters for the day (because the BBEG signals there shouldn't be). This is an opportunity for the PCs to really let loose and go nova with their abilities.
At first it's uphill, but at a certain point the BBEG goes critical mass, and the PCs know victory is theirs. With that last attack/confirmed critical/perfect spell the PCs get their WOOO! They return to town with the BBEG's head. You got your roller coaster ride.*

Now consider the alternative. Every fight is of equal/comparable difficulty the PCs are pushed to the edge every time. Graph the excitement levels of that and generally it'll be a flat line. It's not a roller-coaster so much as a train. Or perhaps it's a WW1 trench battle, exhausting more than fun. Now that's not to say it isn't appropriate to do that sort of thing sometimes (survival horror adventures are an excellent example of high tension that never lets up), but too much too often can just get exhausting. Sometimes it's okay to win in 2 rounds, sometimes it's okay to fight an epic 30 round combat. But if every combat takes everything out of the PCs then they lose some of the fun that is resource management and strategizing that makes up the Fantasy RPG Experience.

In any case I hope this helps you understand the popularity of the BBEG Model of adventure/campaign design.

*Interesting side note, a good combat is often a miniature rollercoaster within a roller coaster complete with highs and lows which are dependent more on individual die rolls rather than resource management and tactics.


Thanks for the analysis, very thorough. Deffinitely helps me understand why people use it so much.

In my defense though, my games aren't constant danger, each encounter is of roughly the same difficulty, but there is alot of roleplay of various kinds in it, with plenty of drama and suspense of their own type to break it up.

(And yeah, I'm not a nice enough DM to just hand my PC's an easy win unless it's a traitor among them or something most of the time lol. In my games 20 townspeople in a straight up fight would probably kill four level 8 adventurers.)


kyrt-ryder wrote:

Thanks for the analysis, very thorough. Definitely helps me understand why people use it so much.

In my defense though, my games aren't constant danger, each encounter is of roughly the same difficulty, but there is alot of role-play of various kinds in it, with plenty of drama and suspense of their own type to break it up.

(And yeah, I'm not a nice enough DM to just hand my PC's an easy win unless it's a traitor among them or something most of the time lol. In my games 20 townspeople in a straight up fight would probably kill four level 8 adventurers.)

thats some town

unless there super hyped towns people four eighth level characters would walk all over them.

lol

Anyway for me personally the term bbeg is not something i think about in design i look at pacing and how much time i have i realize after many years of dming you cant always end on a high however fininising at a good point is more important.

regards


I have an old series of articles on the Wizards' messageboard regarding NPCs. The first one is a general NPC article while the rest break down DM tactics for each class. All of these articles have information specifically dealing with BBEG NPCs and what to do.

Here's the first one:
http://74.125.93.132/search?q=cache:ealIoYbLCT0J:forums.gleemax.com/showthr ead.php%3Ft%3D72194

It's the cache because the Wizards boards are being funky right now (as usual). The rest are there and can be found with a search for "Loopy's NPC Series" when he boards archive is up again. You'll find, of course, it's written for 3.0, but while the rules advice is a little out-of-date, the actual general advice may help you.

When I get the time, I should add these to my own site, but I'd rather take the time to actually update them for Pathfinder after my players have a few leagues under their belts and I can give real advice rules-wise.

Hope that helps!

Edit: Actually, I'll just post the bit about general BBEGs:

A much younger Loopy wrote:


1) Main Antagonists have allies too. Even if your Main Antagonist has a CR higher than the Party Level, she should be accompanied by at least a few minions. Psions make good allies (trace teleport can be quite a useful power) as do clerics (never-ending hit points). Most Antagonists have trust issues, but they are, for the most part not stupid and they know the value of a reliable group of protectors. Try mixing it up a bit. for example, your level 10 party of four mixed characters might face a level 12 Antagonist Wizard with a level 8 Psion, Level 8 Fighter, a level 6 Rogue and a level 6 Cleric. This is a very good group that will test a party's mettle and will be worthy of a conclusion to a major part of your storyline.

2) Abjuration is your friend. From shield to repulsion, the school of Abjuration can be the saving grace for your major Antagonist. Whether cast by the ANTAGONIST himself or one of his allies, they form an important defense against possible threats, even if they only serve to rid them of a few pesky dispel magic spells. The Cleric spell shield other can save your Antagonist Wizard's life, I suggest you make use of it.

3) One Antagonist? Why? When four level twelve players face off against four NPC Antagonists of an equal level, you know the fur is going to fly and it'll be an event long remembered, whether for good or ill. Be sure not to completely design this group to thrash your players, make them organic and give them varied abilities. A group like this can keep the PCs on their toes for an entire campaign and will quickly gain the enmity of your players as their personalities emerge. Be careful of using monsters here, because they can quickly increase the lethality of the encounter.

4) Location, location, location. An Antagonist Sorcerer with the fly spell will not cage herself in a 30'x30'x10' room. A Psion with various Psychoportation powers will not strand himself in a huge room. Make certain your intelligent Antagonists use the terrain to their advantage. Most Antagonists are megalomaniacal and paranoid. Keep this in mind when building their strongholds. For instance: What’s better? A level 14 wizard in a 60’x60’x60’ room or a level 12 wizard on the high roof of the same building accompanied by a Huge Air Elemental? Think about it.


Most adventures have a bit of roller coaster in them, if only to break up the monotony, but having a clear goal makes it easier. And even if your not out specifically to kill soemone, treasure tends to be that to more than just one group (hence guards or competitors), evil organizations have to have someone(s) at the top, and so on.

Generally, when I DM, I hardly ever use a single NPC/critter as the BBEG. There is usually two or three (evil genius and his bodyguard and hawt succubus assistant maybe) or maybe even a group (cabal of wizards, council of assassins and the like). When I do throw solo BBEG's at my parties...they tend to make paranoid schizophrenics look like socialable, open minded, friendly outgoing logical people. Might have soemthing to do with the fact that most of the solo ones are dragons, and everything I use when DMing a dragon I learned from Lofwyr =)


Pathfinder Maps, Starfinder Maps Subscriber
kyrt-ryder wrote:

Hey guys, I just wanted to start a bit of a discussion on something that's always perplexed me.

Why are so many GM's fan of the video-game like "Boss Fights" at the end of an adventure. Play through the level, beat the minions and mini-bosses, complete the puzzles, and beat the BBEG (aka Boss) at the end of the level.

It's just not a style I've ever used, in the campaigns I run every encounter is of equal difficulty, every encounter pushes my players hard, whether it's a swarm (and I mean swarm) of npc's maybe their CR -2, or a pair of enemies their CR +2, every time they run into trouble its intense and breathtaking. There aren't any extra special fights that signify the end of an adventure, and heck there are times the mastermind behind events isn't even a combatant but a slithering manipulative worm who had champions and armies (and some monsters but mostly intelligent ones, I've never really been a fan of using monsters as beast-like encounters) at his command but once faced with the point of a sword snivels and begs for mercy.

Anyways, my little personal story aside, why do so many people favor the BBEG method?

It's much easier to tell a compelling story when the player's brains are already filling in the gaps. I prefer not to use BBEG in every scenario. Nonetheless, it's a very common ending precisely because the players enjoy it when they enter that last room and are greeted with the evil mastermind who they've only heard about up until now - finally they've come face to face with their ultimate enemy and everything they've been striving for is in the balance...it's exciting!

In a scenario with many multiple-opponent battles (which I also favor from time to time) it can be hard to impress upon the players that this is the climax. They kill the last bunch of goons then go about carefully searching every possible place where any more baddies could be hiding. By the time they realise they've triumphed over evil, the adrenaline is long gone.

One tangential comment I would make though is that a BBEG scenario doesnt have to end with a challenging combat. I think finally bursting through to the overlord's hidden chamber to find him a snivelling 'Wizard of Oz' character who caves at the first direct physical challenge is still a BBEG story, in my view.


The main purpose of a BBEG is this literary element called climax, and if the story was inmersive enough and the battle is full of drama and dialogue, it also provides a catharsis.

Please don't take this as a destructive criticism, but IMHO games where every single fight can down the party from 100 to zero are the main responsible of the "15 minutes adventuring day" people complain about so much. While PCs need to be challenged, they shouldn't feel like they're doing nothing but walking on thin ice all the time unless you want at least one player in your table to either burn out or end up conditioned to turn tail at the first sight of an encounter of EL +3 because he automatically assumes that encounter will be immediately followed by at least another two of the same caliber. I've got at my table a player who suffered one too many of those games at previous tables, and nowadays he can't avoid knee-jerking whenever the sligthest insinuation of a hard encounter is mentioned.

The Challenge rating system was originally meant so each fight consumed aproximately 25% of their resources, thus taking at least 4 fights before they needed to rest. A "BBEG" in d20 doesn't need to be necessarily a hard encounter as, being at the end of the dungeon, it's assumed players will have spent a considerable amount of their resources by the time they face him. A band of Wraiths or a Spectre won't pose the same threat to a party in top shape than to one down to half their HPs, only a couple spells left, and whose cleric already spent all of his Turn Undead uses for the day... now imagine if every encounter in the dungeon was a hard encounter and, for any reason, your party -needed- the BBEG dead... well, now you see how Scry-and-Die tactics first came to be *cough*Xanesha's tower*cough*.

Sovereign Court

"There's always a bigger fish."
—Obi Wan Kenobi

I'm glad to hear you deliver exciting encounters. Video game BBEGs model classic tabletop rpg stories, with model after classic fantasy tropes that model after classic literary devices.

While it isn't always important that the creatures get bigger and badder, it does matter that the story has a sense of exposition-rising action-climax-falling action.

And not all stories, but generally speaking, this is the classic method of story telling.

I'm not sure if there is more to your question?

Dark Archive

Dogbert wrote:
The main purpose of a BBEG is this literary element called climax, and if the story was inmersive enough and the battle is full of drama and dialogue, it also provides a catharsis.

What he said.

Dark Archive

We like to play to win, to beat the bad-guy, and get some sense of closure at the end of the big climactic final battle.

If the enemy of the chronicle is some faceless organization, like the Red Wizards of Thay, then the 'win' becomes hollow. Sure, y'all beat these particular faceless 'Red Wizards of Thay,' but there will always be more of them. An entire country full of them, perhaps.

If the foe has a face, and a name, and we've perhaps encountered him before and he's gotten away (or, worse, *beaten us*), we can hate him specifically, and when this *named* bad-guy is finally in front of us (say, Szass Tamn), the fight becomes *personal* and the victory becomes meaningful.

Giving something a name and a face gives it power to affect us personally, and gives us power over it when we finally win. Keep the BBEG faceless at the beginning, to heighten the suspense (Who is that uber-wizard who got away?), but then allow the players to learn the name of their foe, to see his face, and then their eventual victory over him becomes all the sweeter.

Note that this named, specific 'BBEG' can be part of a group, such as the Slave Lords, who all had names, and thus became far more relevant, and far better remembered, than Aspis Drone #67, even if Aspis Drone #67 may have gotten a critical hit and done much more damage personally to a particular character than Slippery Ketta ever did.

The BBEGs stick with us. We remember our first encounters with Eclavdra, Markessa (and the Fake Markessa), Acerak, the blue dragon from the Moathouse, etc. while victories over less 'BBEG-like' adversaries fade away.

Where's the fun in shouting 'In your FACE!' if the foe doesn't have one?


Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Rulebook, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Off the top of my head, there are a few reasons to use BBEGs:

1) Unity of plot. Having a "main villain" for the PCs to oppose and serving as the driving force behind the challenges they face makes it easier to build adventures that are more than a random collection of encounters. This is not to say that adventures without a BBEG will lack a unified plot-line and consist of unrelated encounters, but it does make it more difficult to avoid that result.

2) Ease of play. For many DMs, it's easier to effectively run/roleplay an encounter with one villain and some minions than it is to effectively run/roleplay an encounter with a group of unique foes. By the nature of the game, players usually only have to deal with running a single character at a time while DMs run the rest of the world (more or less). Using a BBEG with minions allows the DM to invest more time in making the BBEG unique and memorable (both in developing the personality/appearance/tactics/etc. and interacting with the PCs).

3) Variation in encounters. As others have noted, encounters should vary in difficulty; not just for effective story-telling (build-up/climax), but also to establish the setting as an "organic" one. If every encounter is the same level of difficulty (relative to the current abilities of the party), then for many the world starts to feel "artificial." It also can cheapen the feeling of advancement, since the opposition gets "better" at exactly the same rate at the PCs.

Note that a "BBEG" doesn't always mean a single NPC/monster; it could be a group/organization, a curse, an evil magical item, etc. Also, even after the BBEG is defeated, there might be connections to other BBEGs (the Evil Overlord is actually an ally/foe/pawn of the Dark God/Demon Lord/Mad Archlich/etc.).


Set wrote:
Where's the fun in shouting 'In your FACE!' if the foe doesn't have one?

All the better to accomplish my MASTER PLAN!

It keeps the MEDDLING KIDS away, too.

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