Please critique my idea for a memorable boss battle


Hi everyone,

I'm trying to create a memorable boss fight that presents real risk and desperation with my PC's. I think I have a great concept brewing on paper right now, but I would like a few people to critique for me.

So for the past few months, the players have been trying to create an airship for quick traveling. It took them a while, but I finally awarded them an airship and they are really excited. The next session we have will be their ship's maiden voyage to a Capitol city.

About 3 months ago, the group didn't finish off a group of young green dragons that were attacking a small town. One of them got away. This young dragon, it's mother, and more young dragons (siblings of the survivor) are going to ambush the group during the maiden voyage seeking revenge.

The fight is divided into three phases.

Phase 1 is just the adult (maybe older) dragon attacking the airship. It's weight causes the airship to tilt. Players moving in the direction of the Dragon must roll a balance check DC 20. Success, they move normally. Upon failure, they roll a d4 - 1 (minimum result is 1) and multiply the result with their total amount the moved, meaning that they are running too fast down a slope. They can accidentally run off the edge of the ship, which they must then make either a reflex save or a climbing check (whichever is higher) to grab onto the edge. Their action round must be spent getting back on the deck.

Phase 2, the dragon breaks from the group and begins flying around pelting the group with its breath weapon. Only ranged attacks are allowed. Two cannons will be available should melee characters decide to use them, but young dragons will begin to land on the ship to take out the ranged characters. Their weight does not tilt the ship.

Phase three, all hands on deck. The rest of the young dragons and the parent will land on the ship and engage combat. The adult dragon will fly off the ship after each breath weapon and land in a different location each turn. The tilting rule still applies with these changing positions.

The last condition is a tricky one that I'm not sure I want to incorporate. Whenever the parent dragon misses a physical attack, it strikes the airship causing it to lose hitpoints. The ship has a DR of 5 and hit points close to 800. Each missed attack is assumed to hit the ship and deduct hp. A breath weapon, no matter who it hits, also hits the ship.

If the ship survives, it will be repaired by the time they need it again (there is a crew of NPCs with it that will perform repairs). If not, they crash land and the group must find parts to complete the repairs causing a delay in the adventuring (but they won't know that during the fight).

Typed this up in a hurry, so sorry for the lack of details and grammatical errors. Please critique and let me know what you guys think.

I appreciate it!

If they are positioned *just right* you should allow them, to make a reflex save/climbing check to grab onto the dragon instead. :)

As long as you make sure that they will get their airship back (because it seems to basically be THE goal of the party!) whether they win or lose, just inconvenienced on a loss, this seems like a great way to make your party go OH MY GOD NO THE AIRSHIP NOOOOOOOO, quite 'memorable' as you wnat it!

Liberty's Edge

Sounds like an interesting combat... Be ready to have it all messed up by your players actions.

It sounds fun and dangerous (but you know your players) consider how they're going to react (or what they have to respond to)

1. Falling over the rail? Assume someone is going to, and what options are there to prevent them from falling to death.

2. If you're going to allow the dragons to damage the ship, assume its going to crash. It could even be part of what the younglings do is try to tear it apart so the group has to focus on them to keep the ship afloat (pretty classic waterborne adventure tactic is sink it..then just eat everyone in the water)

3. 'When' the ship crashes, what is possibility of killing everyone? If you have a safety mechanism to ensure that doesn't happen, are the PCs going to feel like you just came after them because its their new toy?

4. Tied to #3 - as long as getting it air-worthy again is possible via some side-quests, etc they probably won't feel you just took away the toy.

IMO this does sound fun, you made them work for it, but allowed it eventually. They're excited..and have to probably expect there will be air-to-air combat. But bringing back a creature from a prior session is a really nice touch that adds depth to a campaign over time. Its why I try to sit down after each session and take notes and think about how I could use things that happened in later sessions to show depth and linkages.

5. Not all dragons have fly-by attack feat, just ensure you add that in as required, I was surprised it wasn't just "assumed" for every type and age category. Breath attack is the most likely thing they'd do or at least as much as possible to weaken a party before they land to eat them.

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Companion, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

You don't say what level your party is, but assuming they won't be instantly wiped out by an adult green dragon with several young ones, I would guess they are at least 9th or 10th level. I would expect any PCs of that level that have an airship to have some way to fly, at least for a few minutes, which will make most of your mechanics irrelevant.

I am all for taking away a parties toys from time to time. I would hesitate to break their ship when they have just got it though, having it for a little bit before you take it down the first time might be nice.

If you are planning on the airship being more than just something that gets them from one plot point to the other, and want to include a lot of airship combat I highly recommend the Fire As She Bears book from Frog God Games. Using it will probably require a bit of redesign of your airship, and it is built for naval combat rather than air, but I think it would convert pretty easily and is a very nice set of dynamic ship-to-ship combat rules.

I see multiple issues with this encounter, and all of them are in the form of Verisimilitude.

1. How do the Green Dragons know where the players are? This one might not be as much of an issue, but unless you've actually had spies tracking the player's movements (spies that could be discovered, eluded, or otherwise dealt with) I would allow an appropriate amount of time for the players to be tracked for such an ambush. It's one thing to randomly run into a sortie of monsters, but another to run into a specific opponent.

2. How do the Green Dragons approach the ship? If they fly in from the horizon, the players should be able to see them from a couple of miles out, easily. If they attack from below, they are effectively fighting an uphill battle, and the party should still have some advanced warning (unless the party deliberately flies low over an area with vegetation sufficient for stealth checks. But that would be a level of stupid that you should never assume from your players, much less punish them for based on you making that assumption.) At a great altitude, they might deal with cloud cover/mist, but then you need to include clouds of sufficient size that a group of dragons could loop around behind it while they wait for the ship to get close. Further, the cloud needs to be large enough that the players don't circumnavigate it by a few hundred feet, just to be sure. Worse yet, if you suddenly start mentioning the clouds for no apparent reason, the players will likely become suspicious.

3. Why don't the dragons melt a hole through the ship? Seriously, an airship, unless you design it specifically to be so, is incredibly easy to wreck. Much easier than directly attacking the PCs. Further, flying in combat is extremely difficult for the untrained (it's next to impossible for an untrained character to full attack with melee in mid-air, for example.) As such, the realistic tactics of the dragons are to destroy the airship, let it plummet to earth, and then feast upon the charred, acid coated remains of their opponents. Or, failing that, to slam into them midair as the wizard tries to desperately save everyone.

Now, if you can come up with reasonable answers to each of these issues, then perhaps you can have a combat set up this way without your players calling foul. But, if you are going to even threaten them in this way, you need two things to happen:

1. The party must know, with absolute horror, that they're own stupidity got them into this mess, not GM fiat, is what got them into this mess.

2. The players must know, with absolute certainty, that the dragons are playing their best moves, or at least have some logical (if unknown) reason for not doing so.

Thank you for those comments. I was rushing, so I didn't type out all the relative information. Here are some factors I left out:

The average player level is 8-9.

There is an average of 8 players a session. It has been 12 before (it's insanity to gm that large of a group).

Most have only ever played my campaign, so I let them coordinate tactics a bit out of character. This has allowed them to take down crazy difficult situations.

Aside from one character who is a winged elf, none of them have a way to fly.

I'llorar be sure to coordinate a way for them to recover if they fall off the edge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Companion, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber
Anonymous Warrior wrote:

I see multiple issues with this encounter, and all of them are in the form of Verisimilitude.

1. How do the Green Dragons know where the players are?

An Airship taking a maiden voyage to a known destination? I would expect that to be fairly common knowledge and easily discoverable by anyone motivated.

Anonymous Warrior wrote:
2. How do the Green Dragons approach the ship?

Overcast skies would be quite common. Night would be the easiest answer. While the base Green Dragon doesn't have it on the list, invisibility is even an option. I would expect any Adult Dragon to be able to get within a reasonable range quite easily if that was their goal.

Anonymous Warrior wrote:
3. Why don't the dragons melt a hole through the ship?

The OP already answered this. It has 800 HP, and will be damaged in the fighting. As to why it doesn't only attack the ship, it wants to kill the PCs, not the ship and probably assumes that people on an airship would at least have some means of feather fall, so killing the ship wouldn't kill them. The airship is probably the most favorable terrain imaginable for the Dragon, getting rid of that would be stupid.

Anonymous Warrior wrote:
if you can come up with reasonable answers to each of these issues, then perhaps you can have a combat set up this way without your players calling foul.

Even if the answers weren't immediately obvious, most players are much more willing than this to suspend disbelief and have a good time gaming. Almost every game I have been in, including a lot of published modules, has far more outlandish situations than this in it, and that certainly didn't keep us from having a good time.

Anonymous warrior:

I intentionally left those details out to prevent my post from getting too large. My question was purely a mechanical one and less of a "does this situation make much sense" question. Thanks for bringing it up though. Here are those details:

1) They didn'the know where the players are for a long time, though they've been trying to hunt them. The majority of this time, bother the party and the dragons have been in the same large forest, which is usually only populated with monsters and very few village settlements.. The airship will leave from the same forest, so the territorial dragons will have reason to attack it. The fact that the same group that killed the young dragons happens to inhabit it is simply a bonus for them.

2) The dragons will be spotted flying toward theme at a distance. I'm counting on the players succeeding the check because it will give them ample time to prepare and position themselves.

3) Short and simple reason, the dragon is a cocky bastard. When it realizes that the group is on the airship, it will want to toy with the players and clearly underestimate them. The dragon will realize that the group is actually formidable when the fight enters phase 2, which is why it will break away and launch breath attacks at a distance. I'may seriously considering GM1990's comments about having the young links attempt to tear away at the ship.

Just be very careful about the possibility of breaking their new toy right after they spent, from the sounds of things, a lot of time and effort getting it. Many players will be pretty unhappy about something like that.

I think AW's has valid points - some thoughts I had about them if it was my game.

Anonymous Warrior wrote:

I see multiple issues with this encounter, and all of them are in the form of Verisimilitude.

1. How do the Green Dragons know where the players are?

This may be one of those times where when the PCs ask "how the heck did they know it was us??", that the best answer is, "That's a good question. How -did- they know it was you?" The PCs will come up with several ideas, GM can either use as it fits, modify, or maybe it'll spark an idea that leads to another story arc, as someone probably betrayed them. IE: Who did we scorn? Who has something to gain from this...and why/how did they get intertwined in the business of dragons? Was anyone trying to talk them out of designing/building this contraption (technological fear?)?

Anonymous Warrior wrote:

2. How do the Green Dragons approach the ship?

Good points. I would use this as an opportunity for a little chase, although unlikely the PCs can actually escape. If you're willing to let some clever maneuvers through clouds, spell use, and some lucky rolls allow the PCs to get away, then you've probably still had a fun game night, maybe the PCs even blast a couple that get close and drive them away. If the dice come up against them, you run it out as planned. Either way the encounter moves your story along (I personally like more of the long-con, so escape is better IMO. But, they now know the dragons are going to be a threat to them...and the will still ask question #1.

Anonymous Warrior wrote:

3. Why don't the dragons melt a hole through the ship?

That's why I'd probably have some of the dragon's focusing on the ship and so the PCs need to contend with having their prize destroyed. But no reason to go over-board and just fly-by BW them until the ship crashes, that would upset me. To me this one is not going to break the moment, its not unlike why the group doesn't run into the CR1/3 goblin raiding parties anymore, or doesn't get attacked by a pit fiend. For me RPGs require a certain amount of suspension of logic, and this wouldn't go beyond my expectations. It might ruin it for some though - you'd have to know your players.

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Companion, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber
V. McNugget wrote:

The average player level is 8-9.

There is an average of 8 players a session.

Aside from one character who is a winged elf, none of them have a way to fly.

That is pretty bizarre. Every full casting class has a way to fly by that level, and a good number of the 6th level casters do also. Even a purely martial character can purchase a potion of Fly, and if I'm on an airship that is the first thing I am going to do.

One thing to watch for, which you may have already found when running the game, is that with a large number of PCs a challenging encounter for a group can end being incredibly dangerous for individuals in that group. A single full attack from an adult green dragon can potentially take down a 8th or 9th level PC (and if one goes unconscious, it would seem that they will then plummet to their death).

I like the parent thing, and adult dragon for that makes sense, but I would almost rather go with two young adults greens, rather than a single adult. Teen Pregnancy can be an issue for dragons too can't it?

I'll provide a way to have it recovered quickly if worse comes to worse. Now worries :)

By the way, Im noticing that autocorrect is a menace as I type on my phone. Thank you for putting up with the errors in my messages :)

I'll consider the two young adults instead of the single adult :)

Community / Forums / Pathfinder / Pathfinder First Edition / Advice / Please critique my idea for a memorable boss battle All Messageboards

Want to post a reply? Sign in.