Boss Fights


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Headfirst wrote:

For all the DMs out there who write their own material, how do you design and run your boss fights?

While I often lament how RPGs have suffered since the development of the MMO, there's one thing RPGs could learn from video games: how to craft an exciting, dynamic boss fight.

So what are some clever tricks you guys have used before?

I almost always follow one of these three dynamics:

Boss with lackey caster and a handful of mooks.

Boss with two or three tough brute-type bodyguards.

Boss with a massive horde of mooks, usually coming in waves.

In all instances the battle takes place in a dynamic environment the boss can use to his advantage and usually with some degree of foreknowledge regarding the PC's, their abilities and their tactics.


Headfirst wrote:


A giant with a huge club that tries to smash the players as they cross a stone bridge. Every time he misses, his tremendous club bashes a 5' hole in the 15' wide bridge and the target needs to make a reflex save to jump to another square, else they're stuck hanging in the hole and need to make a good climb check or get helped out. If he ever smashes holes all the way across its width, the longer side of the bridge collapses.

I may just need to steel this one!

Grand Lodge

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Wouldn't it be great if someone came out with a supplement that let you take just about any monster and turn it into a boss fight?

Not just a template that made it tougher, mind you, but an array of buffs and add-ons that really made it into an epic encounter. Suggested mooks by monster type, bonus initiative actions, scaling resistances, and environmental hazard ideas.

Something like this could really let a DM turn the average encounter with the goblin leader at the end of a 1st level dungeon into something new players will remember forever. It could also turn an average, predictable lich into a campaign climax!


I've never found liches to be average or predictable. :P :)

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You CAN turn any monster into a boss fight if you're clever enough with it and foreshadow the fight as a climax. Put the monster in an ideal situation. You're just going to have to be creative as a GM. And again, remember, this isn't a video game.

Detect Magic wrote:

I've yet to use this, but an idea I've had for the iconic solo monster:

Simple Template: Elite (CR +2)

Creatures with the Elite simple template are meant to be fought alone, though this is not always the case. Sometimes they are encountered alongside weaker, subservient creatures, but this is the exception.

Rebuild Rules: An elite creature gains all the benefits of the Advanced simple template, plus the following.

  • Hit Points: An elite creature has ×4 as many hit points as normal.

  • Defensive Abilities: An elite creature with 4 or less HD gains DR 5/—. If it possesses 5–10 HD, an elite creature's DR increases to 10; an elite creature with 11 or more HD increases it's DR to 15. In addition, an elite creature is immune to death effects, energy drain, and ability damage; charm and compulsion effects; and any affect that would render it unable to act normally (daze, stun, etc.).

  • Special Qualities: An elite creature gains the following ability.

    Dual Initiative (Ex): An elite creature gets two turns each round, one on its initiative count and another on its initiative count – 20. For example, if the creature's initiative is 23, for its first turn it could make a full attack (and take a 5 foot step) at initiative 23, and for its second turn at initiative 3 it could take a move action and cast a spell. This allows the creature to perform two actions per round that normally take an entire round, such as using a summon monster spell. For the purposes of spells and effects that have a duration of a round or longer or trigger at the beginning of the creature's round or the start of its turn such as saving throws against ongoing effects or taking bleed damage), only the creature's first turn each round counts toward such durations.

That seems stronger than a +2 CR. I'm not a fan of this because:

1) There's no in-game reason why this template exists. The zombie template exists because the creature is a zombie. The advanced template exists because the monster has better ability scores than an average member of its race. There's no explanation why this creature can act twice in a round or has immunities that would even impress the Tarrasque.

2) Its abilities are very powerful, the kind of stuff very high level characters or mythic creatures would have. I don't really understand why not just have two enemies instead of one really powerful one.

3) The only way to defeat the monster is damage it. That makes the fight really, really boring.

4) It makes me think of 4th Edition roles, which I didn't like because it broke immersion.


Pathfinder is a child of Dungeons & Dragons. The Dragon is the classic monster and the classic 'boss' to fight. So it's completely reasonable to want good 'boss fights' in a game.

I've mentioned this before, but I really like the 4th edition concept of multi-stage enemies. One example I use is dragons. In my world dragons are elemental creatures at their core with a mortal body they inhabit.

Defeating a dragon requires killing it twice. The first time it is reduced to zero HP the mortal body of the dragon is destroyed. At this point the true elemental force within the dragon rises up and must be defeated - usually a being of pure energy (breath type) that has different themed powers.

Undead creatures like liches can have a powerful spirit that inhabits their physical form. Destroying the form is only a setback. Destroying the spirit that is released upon destruction of the physical body is the real task. A party may find themselves unable to do this when they first encounter the lich.

Only later when they gain powers and abilities that enable them to grapple with the intangible can they finish it off. Until that time, they can thwart it but it will continue to be a recurring villain.

I've even had orc chieftains that go into a primal rage form (perhaps channeling their spirit) when damaged to a certain point.

This is only one way to approach a big battle. You wouldn't want to do the same thing every time. Mix it up. Use terrain, NPC knowledge, spies, anything and everything available to the enemy in order to stack the deck for the central villain.


Detect Magic wrote:
I've yet to use this, but an idea I've had for the iconic solo monster:

Yup, it's iconic, all right. Everything that unimaginatively sucks in one package.

Quote:


Creatures with the Elite simple template are meant to be fought alone,

Oh, gee, it's a (singular) monster ...

Quote:


Hit Points: An elite creature has ×4 as many hit points as normal.

...with a billion hit points...

Quote:
Defensive Abilities: An elite creature with 4 or less HD gains DR 5/—. If it possesses 5–10 HD, an elite creature's DR increases to 10; an elite creature with 11 or more HD increases it's DR to 15. In addition, an elite creature is immune to death effects, energy drain, and ability damage; charm and compulsion effects; and any affect that would render it unable to act normally (daze, stun, etc.).

...that needs to be ground into a fine powder ... (as it's immune to everything except hit point damage)

Quote:


Dual Initiative (Ex): An elite creature gets two turns each round, one on its initiative count and another on its initiative count – 20. For example, if the creature's initiative is 23, for its first turn it could make a full attack (and take a 5 foot step) at initiative 23, and for its second turn at initiative 3 it could take a move action and cast a spell. This allows the creature to perform two actions per round that normally take an entire round, such as using a summon monster spell. For the purposes of spells and effects that have a duration of a round or longer or trigger at the beginning of the creature's round or the start of its turn such as saving throws against ongoing effects or taking bleed damage), only the creature's first turn each round counts toward such durations.[/list]

... while doing enormous amounts of damage to everyone in the party.

Now we've formalized "boring and cliche" into a template.

Here, roll my dice for me while I check my Email.

It wouldn't be that bad, except that I posted a description of how to make a boss fight that sucks dead rat through a straw on something like the second post of this thread. And now I'm seeing people jumping at a chance to post something that agrees, element for element, with boss fights that suck.


That's your opinion, though, Orfamay.

When I play games like Dark Souls, I love fighting those massive bags of hit points. Same with games like Devil May Cry. You may not want these elements injected into your fantasy tabletop, but some of us wouldn't mind a boss that takes an entire session to kill (you might call that boring, but if done right, it could be dramatic, especially if environment was taken into consideration; i.e. use the monster's own attacks to topple pillars, collapsing part of the ceiling atop it's head, etc. etc.).

Further, the idea of a "boss" that can't be taken out with a single spell is really appealing to me (hence the litany of immunities). Why go through all the lengths and effort to build tension to finally reveal your BBEG just to have it taken out in the first round of combat by a save-or-suck. Bleh. Talk about something being un-fun (the DM's supposed to have fun, too, guys).


Detect Magic wrote:


Further, the idea of a "boss" that can't be taken out with a single spell is really appealing to me (hence the litany of immunities). Why go through all the lengths and effort to build tension to finally reveal your BBEG just to have it taken out in the first round of combat by a save-or-suck.

So why is it immune to everything, not just save-or-die? As written, for example, it's immune to most debuff spells -- not just spells, but effects -- as well. I can't slow it; I can't hit it with any sort of ability penalty; I can't even grapple it.

You've basically shut down my witch, my Tetori monk, my ranger, my rogue, and my terrain-controlling wizard.

Exactly two people will be having fun at that session. A vanilla fighter and the Game Master.

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I think overall, boss fights can be done, but they take effort to design. You can't just plop a random high CR monster in an empty room and expect an epic fight. There's nothing wrong with this because you SHOULD put effort in designing your adventure's climax.

Grand Lodge

I'm also a big fan of boss fights with escalating stages, but it's difficult to express those stages to players seeing as, unlike an MMO, they're probably only going to fight any given boss once.

This brings me back to how it all fits into my current year-long campaign, which is E6. In that system, you can't just use any monster you want, but with a lot of foreshadowing and preparation, you can get away with boss monsters that are way beyond normal E6 limitations.

For example, if you want your group to fight a red dragon (a real one, not a young one), you need to set up a situation where they can see the fight coming a few games in advance. Let them slowly build up their resources for the fight, gathering potions of fire resistance, cold damage, means of downing flying enemies, reach weapons, damage reduction, etc.

Now it feels more like an epic encounter that they've been waiting for instead of a random CR 14 monster pulled from a list just to fill a dungeon room.


Orfamay Quest wrote:
You've basically shut down my witch, my Tetori monk, my ranger, my rogue, and my terrain-controlling wizard.

First, you and I are agreeing more and more; however, 'Tetori Monk'; really? That is what you are going with? One of the most broken elements of this genre of role-playing games is grappling. A monk that can lock down ANYTHING, steals away from any story, by abusing mechanics.

First and foremost the game is about good storytelling, and mechanics support the story and give the players a means of having fun in a mechanically sound environment. Using loop holes, or specializations that give a character the means to lock down and win every fight with almost no risk, makes the game fun for nobody but that person.

Bad, Orfamay Quest, bad.

Everything else I agree with. A monster that is immune to everything, is a DM's way of saying, I'm to lazy to create an encounter that can't survive past a Save or Suck.

Encounter: Wizard standing on top of dias.

Party, I cast disintegrate!

Wizard evaporates.

To the left, a light springs forth. There is another wizard!!

Party, I disintegrate!

Wizard evaporates.

To the right, a light springs forth. There is another wizard!!

Party, I disintegrate!

Wizard evaporates.

Encounter over.

Party moves in to rescue the three hostages. The cage is empty, with a note saying. I dressed up the hostages in my old robes. Hope you didn't kill them!


Orfamay Quest wrote:

So why is it immune to everything, not just save-or-die? As written, for example, it's immune to most debuff spells -- not just spells, but effects -- as well. I can't slow it; I can't hit it with any sort of ability penalty; I can't even grapple it.

You've basically shut down my witch, my Tetori monk, my ranger, my rogue, and my terrain-controlling wizard.

Exactly two people will be having fun at that session. A vanilla fighter and the Game Master.

Most debuffs aren't charm or compulsion spells. I mainly included that bit so that spellcasters would be unable to dominate the "boss".

Regarding ability damage: perhaps allowing a "boss" to be affected by temporary ability damage would be fine. The idea was to prevent one from being killed outright by such damage (and/or level drain).

Slowing/grappling seems perfectly reasonable, so I'd have to go back and re-write the "unable to act normally" clause, since that's mainly there to stop the "boss" from becoming "stun-locked". Conditions like "dazed" and "stunned" were really more my concern.

Grand Lodge

If a hypothetical supplement were to exist that allowed you to turn any individual monster into a boss fight (which would include stat buffs, lists of minions, encounter tactics, and environmental hazards), maybe it could also include a way to procedurally generate personalities for such bosses.

Remember in Diablo, when you would come across a unique monster that had a special name? You'd see a huge group of zombies and, among them, was one with an yellow name like "Soulstealer" or "Ironskin". What if names like that offered a hint as to what the boss monsters was capable of or vulnerable to? It could also be indicative of the monster's behavior.

For example: The players are exploring a dungeon and the DM wants to end the game session with a fun mini-boss fight. He grabs the "Like a Boss" game supplement and starts rolling...

This dungeon is primarily filled with demihumans - orcs, goblins, ogres, and the like, so he chooses an orc for his boss. The template applied gives the boss some additional hit points, defenses, actions, and consumables, but that's just the beginning.

The random charts also determine that the room he's in is the dungeon's refuse room, so it's full of garbage piles and all kinds of nastiness. Anyone entering a square full of garbage must make a fortitude save or wind up with a disease.

Next, the charts tell the DM that this mini-boss has a squad of goblins with him, two for each player character present. These goblins are cowardly sling snipers, meaning they never stay in melee, always retreating to attack from afar. They use the garbage piles to their advantage, which they can move through without penalty.

The encounter will also unfold in two phases: If the orc is ever reduced to half of his hit points or fewer, or all of his goblins are killed, he flies into a rage (per the barbarian power) and drinks a potion of enlarge person.

Finally, all of the rolls on those charts are combined to give the orc his name and personality. With several potential options, the DM picks a simple one: "Kusk the Unclean."

Sczarni

Headfirst wrote:

So what happens at the end of your adventures when the players confront the evil necromancer that's been terrorizing the city? A rousing debate?

Or are you hinting that you run your games more like gritty, realistic dramas, like Game of Thrones? While something like that is really fun to watch, and might be fun to play, I've found that a boss fight really does a great job of capping off an adventure.

As long as the "Boss" isn't alone. It just doesn't make sense for them not to have henchmen or companions somewhere. Anytime a boss is alone, they become too easily overwhelmed.

You can make it Game of Thrones-like. That'd certainly be entertaining to say the least.. and it may imply, Boobs!! It's always proper to eventually encounter the mastermind behind things, whether he's the only mastermind or 1 out of x. As long as the story doesn't repeat itself too much, you're golden!


Headfirst wrote:

For all the DMs out there who write their own material, how do you design and run your boss fights?

While I often lament how RPGs have suffered since the development of the MMO, there's one thing RPGs could learn from video games: how to craft an exciting, dynamic boss fight.

So what are some clever tricks you guys have used before?

I closed my Dark Sun campaign with the following two encounters:

1) A group of powerful NPCs, each of whom "happened" to have the same class as a PC. That one went down to the wire. I think four of five PCs fell unconscious at various points of the fight, and two or three were down when the battle ended. None died, but one came very close. Part of the issue was the NPC cleric's healing, based on what the PC cleric could do.

2) A powerful spellcaster (a female githyanki, not Queen Vlaakith though), four psychic orbs, and an anti-paladin bodyguard. The boss had a magic rod that blatantly broke the rules, creating "donut auras" (you could only see here and avoid the damage aura if you got close, so archers were kind of hosed) and the ability to let her bodyguard take hits for her.

The orbs, who were scattered around the map, could heal her a little at-will, but four of them could heal her a lot. (In the first round they healed all the damage she took.) They also did lots of damage (Disintegrate, for instance). As a result, the PCs started smashing orbs, giving the boss more screen time, as she couldn't keep up with the damage output of an entire team. It was an orb that actually downed a PC.

The bodyguard was a joke. He literally made one attack roll the entire encounter, and missed.

If anyone has a copy of Trailblazer, you can see some 3e-ified elite and solo monster rules. They work reasonably well.


The only problem with that idea, Headfirst, is that there's no names floating atop creatures' heads. Unless the party has heard stories of Kusk the Unclean's terrible rampages through the countryside, or taken the time to interrogate one of the golins they encountered, they'd have no way of knowing anything other than "Kusk is a bigger, meaner looking orc".

Grand Lodge

Detect Magic wrote:
The only problem with that idea, Headfirst, is that there's no names floating atop creatures' heads. Unless the party has heard stories of Kusk the Unclean's terrible rampages through the countryside, or taken the time to interrogate one of the golins they encountered, they'd have no way of knowing anything other than "Kusk is a bigger, meaner looking orc".

That's just for generating a boss on the fly. If you wanted to make it obvious, he could always introduce himself as part of the mandatory supervillain monologue. "Foolish adventurers, you've made your final mistake: entering the lair of Kusk the Unclean!" Or one of his goblins could spot the group and shout, "Intruders! Someone wake up Kusk the Unclean!"

However, if your DM had ample preparation and rolled the boss fight up before the adventure, maybe the supplement could even give him ideas of how to drop hints to the players. Knowledge checks for tactical advantage or even sub-quests to pick up more effective equipment.


necronus wrote:
Orfamay Quest wrote:
You've basically shut down my witch, my Tetori monk, my ranger, my rogue, and my terrain-controlling wizard.
First, you and I are agreeing more and more; however, 'Tetori Monk'; really? That is what you are going with? One of the most broken elements of this genre of role-playing games is grappling. A monk that can lock down ANYTHING, steals away from any story, by abusing mechanics.

Really? A monk takes himself out of the game by taking one other person out of the game, and this is story-breaking? Especially since a Tetori monk isn't particularly good about actually ending a fight, just messing it up.

Tetori monks are awesomely cinematic in "normal" fights involving lots of people; they are basically a wandering hold person spell. But that's all they are -- they're unlikely to be awesome killing machines like the fighter or battlefield control machines like the wizard. They're not even very good at clearing mooks, like the Orc-blooded sorcerer.

Quote:


First and foremost the game is about good storytelling, and mechanics support the story and give the players a means of having fun in a mechanically sound environment. Using loop holes, or specializations that give a character the means to lock down and win every fight with almost no risk, makes the game fun for nobody but that person.

Which gets back to single-person video-game-style boss fights are bad. If you have a single opponent and you have to make special rules to make sure that no one locks him down, then you've just sidelined everyone who has any lock-down abilities. Why do we even allow sleep spells in the game, since they're only fun for the caster? That was a rhetorical question, of course. Any significant encounter should bet set up that a sleep spell can't negate it -- one easy way to do this is simply to put people too far apart.

The same technique will handle the tetori monk just fine. Instead of one bad guy with two actions per round, put in two bad guys. If the tetori monk really wants to lock one down, the other will come over and crush him like a fortune cookie unless the rest of the party does something theatrical.

Actually, the idea of "two actions per round" itself is fairly bad from a game design standpoint. It maxes offensive capacities at the expense of defensive capacities, and it guarantees that your boss will be an eggshell with a hammer. This is why you NEED the billion hit points, because otherwise this kind of boss is too fragile. For the same proposed +2, just put a second boss into the mix, which gives you two actions per round and creates tactical possibilities for a more exciting fight.

Similarly, a boss-level encounter should have boss-level equipment. There's no need to give a boss blanket immunity to compulsion spells when a simple ring of counterspells will have largely the same effect. Death ward is a classic way to prevent people from dying from death effects, and has the bonus that a clever party can dispel it and then knock out the BBEG.


Detect Magic wrote:

I've yet to use this, but an idea I've had for the iconic solo monster:

Simple Template: Elite (CR +2)

Creatures with the Elite simple template are meant to be fought alone, though this is not always the case. Sometimes they are encountered alongside weaker, subservient creatures, but this is the exception.

Rebuild Rules: An elite creature gains all the benefits of the Advanced simple template, plus the following.

  • Hit Points: An elite creature has ×4 as many hit points as normal.

  • Defensive Abilities: An elite creature with 4 or less HD gains DR 5/—. If it possesses 5–10 HD, an elite creature's DR increases to 10; an elite creature with 11 or more HD increases it's DR to 15. In addition, an elite creature is immune to death effects, energy drain, and ability damage; charm and compulsion effects; and any affect that would render it unable to act normally (daze, stun, etc.).

  • Special Qualities: An elite creature gains the following ability.

    Dual Initiative (Ex): An elite creature gets two turns each round, one on its initiative count and another on its initiative count – 20. For example, if the creature's initiative is 23, for its first turn it could make a full attack (and take a 5 foot step) at initiative 23, and for its second turn at initiative 3 it could take a move action and cast a spell. This allows the creature to perform two actions per round that normally take an entire round, such as using a summon monster spell. For the purposes of spells and effects that have a duration of a round or longer or trigger at the beginning of the creature's round or the start of its turn such as saving throws against ongoing effects or taking bleed damage), only the creature's first turn each round counts toward such durations.

I've been pondering about the mechanical solution to this problem for some time now and your approach is very good. I will use it from now on! :-)


"Two actions per round" vs. the party's typical four? How's that bad form? Helps with action economy a bit, but the advantage still lies with the party.


Level 1 Commoner wrote:
I've been pondering about the mechanical solution to this problem for some time now and your approach is very good. I will use it from now on! :-)

Feel free! I still think it needs a bit of work, but it's a start.


Detect Magic wrote:
Most debuffs aren't charm or compulsion spells. I mainly included that bit so that spellcasters would be unable to dominate the "boss".

What's wrong with protection from good? It's a first level spell -- anything high enough level to be worried about dominate should have potions like that by the case.

Quote:


Regarding ability damage: perhaps allowing a "boss" to be affected by temporary ability damage would be fine. The idea was to prevent one from being killed outright by such damage (and/or level drain).

And what's wrong with killing a creature with ability damage? Why is a scorching ray (which does hit point damage) better than a ray of enfeeblement?

Quote:


Slowing/grappling seems perfectly reasonable, so I'd have to go back and re-write the "unable to act normally" clause, since that's mainly there to stop the "boss" from becoming "stun-locked". Conditions like "dazed" and "stunned" were really more my concern.

And, again, why is that an issue? No one died from being dazed.

As I pointed out, for the same +2 you could put an entire duplicate monster on the board, with its own set of actions, that could simply un-daze its buddy. It's only an issue if you get caught in this paradigm of "must have a boss monster."

And specifically, must have a single boss monster that has to be kept alive at all costs for combat to drag out long enough for the GM to feel he's justified the cost of tonight's soda.


For me, this sort of situation seems to be what the mythic rules are almost built for. A way to make the "boss" be unusual and special, give them some weird things to do and for several mythic abilities, alter the action economy. Combine that with odd terrains and special conditions minions and tactical use of the environment and you have memorable encounters.


I never said that the Elite simple template would replace such encounters. A GM could still use multiple creatures for the majority of encounters, but having a singular boss shouldn't be completely outside of the question.


Detect Magic wrote:
"Two actions per round" vs. the party's typical four? How's that bad form? Helps with action economy a bit, but the advantage still lies with the party.

I've seen it called the "fuzzy wuzzy fallacy," more formally "Lanchester's square law," in military theory.

Basically, the power of X identical units is equivalent to X^2 times the power of a single unit, not merely X. X units can put out X times the volume of fire, but also take X times as much damage to neutralize. A two-gun pistolero is not twice as powerful as a single-gun pistolero, because one hit kills him just as dead.

A single creature with two actions per round is just as vulnerable to a single failed saving throw as a normal creature. Heck, a single creature with thirty actions per round is just as vulnerable. The effect is to produce, as I said, an eggshell equipped with a hammer. That's why you had to beef up the defense in every area you could think of -- hit points, DR, and blanket immunities -- because otherwise it would be too easy to trivialize.

Far simpler just to use twice the force. Two creatures have twice the actions, but also twice the hit points and twice the opportunity to save, not to mention numerous tactical possibilities for protecting each other. That also has the advantage of being less likely to result in an unbalanced encounter like a TPK, because you know more exactly the power of the opposition and you also are not going to accidentally turn one or more of the party into commoners (and hence reduce the party's effective CR). Furthermore, it lets you use a greater variety of abilities (e.g. a cleric and a fighter instead of a super-fighter) which will make for a more interesting encounter.


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If your Boss fights don't include at least one game of Eye spy,one game of Checkers and a staring match to see who will blink first between the DM and players then,you just have no clue how to build a boss encounter.


Detect Magic wrote:
I never said that the Elite simple template would replace such encounters. A GM could still use multiple creatures for the majority of encounters, but having a singular boss shouldn't be completely outside of the question.

I stand by my statement. Singular bosses are bad design. If you want a singular monster, make it the sub-boss so that it doesn't damage the narrative if your party knows what they are doing. And don't make bosses tough, make them smart, without railroading the party with a single specific MacGuffin they have to use.

There are lots of opportunities within the rules for ablative defenses that make for great multistate encounters -- first, we have to figure out how to turn off his protective spells, then we need to figure out how to get some sort of a status effect on him to slow him down, and THEN we can finish him off. As I pointed out, a simple protection spell will keep him from being dominated, and if I am smart enough to figure out his protection, dispel it, and then go for the domination, that's pretty epic right there. (Especially since in those three rounds, there's a good chance that one of his buddies is eating my face.)

Grand Lodge

RDM42 wrote:
For me, this sort of situation seems to be what the mythic rules are almost built for.

I'm not very familiar with mythic rules. Could you try your hand at recreating the orc boss encounter I outlined above using them? Is it really rules intensive or is it quick and easy?

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Detect Magic wrote:
The only problem with that idea, Headfirst, is that there's no names floating atop creatures' heads. Unless the party has heard stories of Kusk the Unclean's terrible rampages through the countryside, or taken the time to interrogate one of the golins they encountered, they'd have no way of knowing anything other than "Kusk is a bigger, meaner looking orc".

How is that a problem? It's your duty as a GM to ham up the experience. If you're not going to build up the confrontation with a boss-like creature with roleplay and such, then what's the point of having the boss fight in the first place? Heaven forbid you actually have to put effort into your foes.

Though in an unrelated note, I don't have this problem in online games with MapTool where I can name tokens, which led to a rather funny moment the party confronted a named skeleton. The party kept complaining that he did so much damage and had such a high AC. Irritated with their complaints, the gunslinger finally blurted out, "Dude, what did you expect? He's Erdkahn, the Skeletal Champion!" He said this in a way that implied he knew all about the enemy when the only thing he knew was the name on the token.


For me, it depends a lot on the group I'm running the game for. I find that newbies tend to want a pretty stereotypical experience: they want to kill orcs and goblins, they want to find chests full of treasure, and they want to fight the BBEG at the end of some sort of dungeon. It doesn't always have to be THAT typical, but there's little point in designing a campaign that goes against the norm when the players aren't even familiar with the norm.

However, what I enjoy most is doing something atypical. A very successful game I ran a couple years ago had a very low-level villain who could put up almost no fight against the PCs, but who had a vast support network at his disposal. The PCs knew this, and didn't expect a big show down with him; the game was all about locating him, surrounding him, and getting through his remaining minions so they could watch him grovel at their feet. And they did, and he did, and it was every bit as rewarding as taking down an ECL+4 encounter with some giant BBEG.

I've also run events instead of a BBEG, where the point is to prevent something from happening or to cause something from happening, usually with a time limit or in a race against other interested parties. This can be cataclysmic, end-of-the-world stuff, or just something of incredible personal importance to the PCs (ideally the latter, as I always like to make things personal). The point is, the villain of the story sort of winds up being anyone and everyone who happens to be in the PCs way; really, any delay or obstacle is the enemy, and a good deal of the tension comes from not always knowing what lies between them and their goal.

It's especially fun to have the PCs try to accomplish something, rather than prevent something from happening. In a typical game, the assumption is often that things are going fine until a BBEG shows up and threatens to ruin stuff. This is fine, but it puts the PCs in a very reactive position. Instead, I prefer to allow the PCs to set a goal of their own to accomplish, so that instead of just restoring the status quo, they're actually going out and changing the world for the better (at least, from their perspective).

Even in traditional BBEG fights, I try to stay away from deliberately creating something for each player to do. I find those obviously prefab encounters start to feel a little contrived and even patronizing, like I'm suggesting a player might be useless if I hadn't gone out of my way to give them something to do. It also causes the players to start to expect a job to do in the end, and it makes things very mechanical. Lastly, it can make their character building choices seem irrelevant if the GM is just going to tailor-make a challenge for whatever feats or spells they happen to choose.


The OP asked for how DMs run their boss fights, along with any clever tricks they used for them.

If you don't like boss fights, that's cool. But it isn't advancing the topic at all to argue about it. Just say, "I don't do boss fights." and bow out if you feel that you need to say for some reason.

Back to the topic...

Since adventuring parties are pro-active, they will usually end up going to the boss in order to bring it down. This can give them home field advantage with terrain.

We see this most often with dragons, for example the white dragon in an ice cave. But even a "throne room" can be filled with hazards for those who don't know where to step.

I had one would-be king demand that everyone kneel, take three steps, kneel, etc. While it seemed like just the result of hubris it ended up that there were traps that would go off and attack anyone who didn't follow this protocol. Had fun watching the paladin kneel to the evil boss in order to get to him - while the chaotic thief used acrobatics to leap over and past the various obstacles - "Keep kneeling, smite-boy! I'm gonna stab me some dictator!"

The key to a boss battle is that it be interesting and memorable. Use the rules as best you can to accomplish this. Break the rules if needed - but take care that it is only to serve the story and not curb stomp your players.


Democratus wrote:
The OP asked for how DMs run their boss fights, along with any clever tricks they used for them.

I disagree (obviously). The best way to run boss fights is specifically not to copy the standard video game tropes.

Quote:


The key to a boss battle is that it be interesting and memorable.

... which is exactly what the proposed uber-bosses are not. For that matter, it's what most video game bosses are not.

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Headfirst wrote:
RDM42 wrote:
For me, this sort of situation seems to be what the mythic rules are almost built for.
I'm not very familiar with mythic rules. Could you try your hand at recreating the orc boss encounter I outlined above using them? Is it really rules intensive or is it quick and easy?

Mythic rules are basically like giving the creature a prestige class. Many of their abilities grant action economy benefits or make them harder to kill without going overboard.

For example, they might get an ability that lets them reroll saves against Save-or-Die spells or lets them make an extra attack as a swift action. Many such abilities are tied to a resource called Mythic Power, which makes mythic ranks much more graceful than simply giving a creature two turns or immunity to everything. Even if that mythic creature thwarts a Baleful Polymorph, he probably had to use up a resource to do it.

On top of it, there's an actual in-game reason why he's so tough. He's a mythic creature. He might have stumbled on an artifact that gave him an ounce of divine power or maybe a demonlord blessed him with mythic power so he can go on a killing spree. Already, your mini boss has a background, all because he has a mythic rank!

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Orfamay Quest wrote:
Democratus wrote:
The OP asked for how DMs run their boss fights, along with any clever tricks they used for them.

I disagree (obviously). The best way to run boss fights is specifically not to copy the standard video game tropes.

Quote:


The key to a boss battle is that it be interesting and memorable.
... which is exactly what the proposed uber-bosses are not. For that matter, it's what most video game bosses are not.

Obviously many of the people here have differing opinions from yours. I enjoy video games very much, and although I agree that single person fights do have issues, some of my most memorable moments in table top as of yet have been against single enemies. A level 17 wizard with powerful, unique magical items and artifacts that has had a lot of buildup, culminating in shutting off some of his magic housing rune-nodes right before a conflict with him makes an awesome sense of danger for level 9-11 characters. So does fighting off hordes of demons to defend a city.

They both have their pluses, but you disregarding the valid opinions of many of the posters in this thread smacks of "bad wrong fun" to me.


Here is a good example of a mythic boss fight. There's ogre, and then there's BOSS ogre.

This is a little over the top for a typical game, but a good boss fight for a low-level mythic game.

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blahpers wrote:

Here is a good example of a mythic boss fight. There's ogre, and then there's BOSS ogre.

This is a little over the top for a typical game, but a good boss fight for a low-level mythic game.

Hmm, this is a good start, but it really only toughens the base monster up with more offense and defense. The whole point of a boss fight is to craft something dynamic, tactical, and memorable. An ogre that takes 2-3 rounds longer than normal to kill isn't exactly that, but it's a good place to start.


Considering it's for a level 2-ish party, that's pretty good.

Check out the other mythic monsters. Mythic medusae can summon snakes ad infinitum. Mythic trolls continue to regenerate even when hit by fire/acid, and their regeneration goes turbo whenever they're hit. And don't even get me started with mythic vampires who can blot out the sun. May not be all that interesting mechanically, but damn memorable if an entire village goes dark at midday and vampire spawn come bursting out of the ground.

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blahpers wrote:
Mythic medusae can summon snakes ad infinitum. Mythic trolls continue to regenerate even when hit by fire/acid, and their regeneration goes turbo whenever they're hit. And don't even get me started with mythic vampires who can blot out the sun. May not be all that interesting mechanically, but damn memorable if an entire village goes dark at midday and vampire spawn come bursting out of the ground.

Now THAT'S what I'm talking about! I guess I need to go read up on these mythic rules.


Me and one of the other GMs in my group have a simple "boss" template that's sort of similar to what Detect Magic tossed out up above.

In a nutshell, it's +2 CR and gives:
1) Critter gets the advanced simple template.
2) Critter gets an additional +5 to all saves.
3) Critter receives double maximum HP.
4) Critter may receive arbitrary bonus abilities as the GM sees fit, though this usually doesn't happen until higher levels. At high levels, I'll usually pick an ability or two that are swift actions and make them 1/round free actions.

I've had a couple enemies that I granted a bonus standard action to, usually along a theme, at init +10 or init -10.

In story, critters that get the template have often been empowered by some higher force. Heh. I once had a "boss" who died when the macguffin that was granting him the template got yanked off with a pilfering hand, which was pretty funny - dude had already taken enough damage to kill him at his "real" HP, and he sort of exploded when that happened to him.

My group tends to push towards rocket tag, and the usual goal of the template is to make sure that a climactic encounter doesn't end in the first round because, say, the eidolon that was granted smite evil through aura of justice just pounced on the main villian for a couple hundred damage.

So far, I haven't found it desirable to start using the template until the party's around 6th or 7th level. Much more frequently I'll use something that my group refers to as the mini-boss template (which is honestly just advanced simple template + max HP).

That being said, a "boss" still shouldn't stand alone unless it fundamentally makes sense for the creature to stand alone.

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I agree w/many posters - bosses shouldn't just be one monster on a dais with a sign over them that says "Fight!"

The OP asked when we make our adventures, how do we work boss fights. I work them like this: I look at the party, figure the APL, and add 2-4, depending on the players' experience and skill. This gives me an XP budget.

Then I hit the PFSRD or some of my bestiaries. I glance through and try to find something that exactly meets APL or at the most is APL +1. I then spend the rest of my xp budget on support.

Finally I look at the choices I've made and the current adventure as written and think: where would THIS guy make a last stand? Over a pit of lava? On difficult terrain? on a series of cliff ledges 1000 feet up?

So for example: I'm designing an adventure for a group of players and said group is APL 2. The adventure is a delve into the lair of some highly organized mite cultists led by a female cleric. She has been kidnapping and sacrificing mortals for years in order to feed an underground portal to the First World; said portal keeps her in contact with an immortal there who is closely aligned with naturally occuring vermin known as the Swarm Lord.

Now, with an APL 2 and some very experienced players, I feel confident placing the final budget of the boss fight at APL +4, or 2400 XP, the equivalent of a CR6 encounter. The cleric is going to be a CR 3 monster herself, leaving behind 1600 xp to spend on support.

Its a mite lair, so there'll be a couple mites. I want the final chamber to have a spidery theme, so they'll be riding gian spiders. I've bought 2 mites, 2 giant spiders, and I'll give the mites 1 level of warrior so they'll last more than a round.

That still leaves me 400 xp if I've done the math right. If I haven't, oh well, I'm doing this anyway.

The cleric herself has been infected with the Swarm Lord's power. A swarm of spiders lives parasitically in her body. If anyone gets into melee with her the swarm engulfs a 10' rad from her while not affecting her. That's the last 400 xp spent.

Now where to put her? Well, the whole thing is a rough-hewn dungeon underground, so I think a great, cavernous hall and temple would be cool. I'll put some webbing all around so that the spiders can get from place to place and create some way for the cleric to do the same (cloak, spell, scroll, whatever). The party will have to maneuver around/through thick sheets of spider webs that they can't just burn up; the Swarm Lord's latest tributes are all bundled up in the rafters and still a little alive.

So what do you think? Is that ok?

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