View Full Version : DM Help What does it take to make a good boss encounter?

Prince Zahn
2016-08-26, 01:29 PM
Exactly what it says on the tin. What are the qualities that make a boss battle amazing and memorable?

When my friends and I make a boss battle, it tends to either feel too long, or uninteresting, or too easy, but the DM stretches it longer. But then again, most of our group has ADD/ADHD to one degree or another, we tend to lose our enthusiasm with 3-6 Hour sessions dedicated to a single battle. which are at least twice as long as we're used to. So what can we do to make boss battles exciting and memorable? Alternatively, can you share any stories of your favorite boss battle(s)?

Thank you in advance,
Prince Zahn and Co.

2016-08-26, 01:34 PM
Even a boss battle should not take 3-6 hours of table time.

The best way is the buildup-if you have a BBEG your players can't wait to wring the life out of, they will enjoy doing so. Make sure that they want to fight the boss, that they are begging for the opportunity to tear them asunder, stop their evil plan, or that some other really strong motivation is there to fight.

The battle should not be the party vs a single boss. It will be a quick victory for one side or a slow grind. Add in the environment, minions, hazards, etc. Also, add in things that are not combat-this greatly adds depth to the encounter.

For more details, read this guide (https://docs.google.com/document/d/1nx-o8VAjhUwh3nnfzDQT-JA5eFLnN_BZJiBitGjBMDg/edit?pref=2&pli=1)

2016-08-26, 03:21 PM
One boss battle that went well that I ran, I think I've talked about it on here before, was a modern one vs Santa Claus.

There were 2 PCs, one in a building fighting through a few elf bodyguards and a sniper set up outside. The sniper had to shoot down Santa's reindeer blocking the way to get a clean shot at Santa. It worked well, the players enjoyed it, and it was memorable.

I think the trick is to not literally make it PCs vs large boss mob, because that's repetitive and similar to all other fights. Make it interesting, bottom line.

2016-08-26, 06:26 PM
There are several aspects to creating a good boss encounter, and overlooking any of them can end in a very dull session - or worse, put a dull ending on an otherwise great campaign.

The first thing you need to do?
Set the stage.
Make the boss come alive; he isn't just a pile of stats, he's someone the party knows very well. Maybe they hate the feller, maybe they really, really don't want to kill him but they have to. Either way, you'll need to make it personal on some level, and that means giving them history with this guy. They don't even have to meet personally, but the players should have a feel for the person they're fighting. Easy ways to do this are to have him be a turncoat - either he betrayed them, which should make everyone hate him, or they simply have different opinions on how to handle a situation - Like Prof. X and Magneto. Either way, there are emotional stakes.

Which brings us to my next point:
Raise the stakes.
This has 2 meanings; first, obviously, don't make your boss a pushover. Sounds simple, but depending on your system, this can become a hassle. There are many great guides to making challenging, but fair, encounters if you're using D&D, and I have no experience with most other systems, so I won't cover that.
Secondly, however, this means that something worse than "we die" should happen if you fail.
If you've spent the entire campaign dismantling this villain's organization, and the boss battle is just to tie up a loose end, that's not so much fun. Think of, for example, Star Wars: every time there was a "Boss Battle" in the original trilogy, the stakes were much higher than just the protagonists; if they didn't stop that Death Star, billions would be killed. Now, compare to a crippled Empire, where you're just killing Vader and Palpatine because they're the last remnants left. It's much less awesome-feeling.
That isn't to say a disgraced opponent just trying to get revenge or take you down with them can't be emotionally charged - it certainly can be - but it tends to feel less epic, and more desperate. I'm assuming you want epic, because that's usually what people want from a boss fight.

Thirdly, and finally,
Make it interesting.
Change things up; don't just have the boss slug them round after round, make sure he has cool abilities, make the terrain cool. Make sure he prepared, with traps, escape routes, supplies - change things up! If you're in a modern system, let him have turrets, grenades, mines, what-have-you stashed throughout the battlefield, ready to spring on anyone who tries to fight him. If you aren't, you'll have to be more creative, but it can be done. Volcanoes are a staple of fantasy for a reason, crumbling ruins, a forest fire... don't slap them in the middle of an empty room. Even if the battlefield isn't covered in neat things to interact with, at least make it multi-dimensional, and not just flat.

2016-08-26, 07:25 PM
Environment. Environment. Environment.

It's the environment that makes a boss battle memorable;

- Atop Skull Mountain
- In the Throne Room/High Temple
- Whilst flying Dragons
- In a lava field
- On a bridge

and so on and so forth. A Boss Battle has to stand out from the "regular" battles they've fought to get there. Sure, some of those could be in an interesting or different environment, but a Boss Battle? That's got to be somewhere epic by comparison.

The actual boss and whatever minions he has present are inconsequential compared to where the battle took place.

2016-08-27, 10:15 PM
Well as I don't make "boss battles" as much as encounters. Often my villains are masterminds...or at least the ones that survive the PC's. And as masterminds the villains are more inclined to outsmart rather than fight the PC's directly when direct confrontation occurs the villains are often pushovers.

But the last encounter my PC's had with a "boss" was when they had hand in freeing Circe. Circe turned all but one into pigs and walked away. The last PC's who was the only female in the party ended up herding the other PC's into town while protecting them from beastmen.

While this may be considered cruel and evil on my part as a GM, this was just a culmination of a longer story. But it was a lesson learned for them that even inadvertently setting loose a vindictive goddess is never a good idea, let alone hitting on her.

But what really set the tone was Circe's parting words

"Ah the braying of the beastmen, they'll be here soon. You do know how the fomoire beastmen reproduce?"

"No? They force themselves upon an unvilling victim, be it man or beast. Their seed is tiny larvaes that survive inside their victims as parasites. In couple of months the hosts feels bloated but that is because the larvae are getting bigger. In the end of the gestaltation period the larvae go on a feeding frenzy, eating the hosts innards before they eat themselves out of the host"

"A painful way to die. So I suggest my dear that you leave your pig friends as distraction while you get away and if the beastmen do catch up to you, remember there is fate worse than death."

So it did make an impressionable "boss encounter" for the players.