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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Pixie in the Playground
     
    Menson's Avatar

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    Default New DM, please help balance my boss... (SPOILERS for Everett)

    I'm designing a final encounter for my group and need help with balancing.

    As the group descends through a misty plane, following the cautious steps of their planar guide, a faint glow catches their attention. They approach, the mist parts before them, revealing a stone platform with six massive columns justting from the ground and disappearing upward into the mist. A few narrow stairwells are barely visible betweeen the columns, some ascending, some descending, all of them obscurred by the strands of web which cover them. A thick funnel web can be seen on the opposite end of the platform. Faintly glowing lights move within the webs above. Cocoon-like masses, roughly the size and shape of various humanoids, decorate the columns. Looking closer, a few motionless hands and feet can be seen protruding from the cocoons and below them, the ground is littered with tokens of civilization: gems, coins, weapons of all kinds, pieces of armor, all likely left over from whatever this creature had captured.

    This is a planar adventure to justify moving a campaign from 3.5 to 5e by rescuing 3.5 characters and dropping them into a new 5e world. The monster here is a phase spider that has built its layer on the intersection of multiple planes, capturing unlucky teleporters like the 3.5 characters.

    Legendary Phase Spider "Araxis"


    AC 14
    HP 52

    Str 16
    Dex 16
    Con 14
    Int 6
    Wis 10
    Cha 6

    Actions:

    Ethereal Jaunt, Web Walker, Spider Climb

    Bite: +6 to hit, 5 ft reach, (1d10 + 3) piercing damage, DC 12 Con save vs. (4d8) poison damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one.

    Legendary Actions (3):

    Instant Jaunt: In reaction to taking 10 or more damage in a hit, Araxis blinks. (I'm considering making it into something that negates the damage, too, depending on balance)

    Lair Actions: As long as Araxis is conscious, each turn on initiative count 20, the web releases 1d4+1 minions that each drop down from a random column.

    Minions:

    Phosphorescent Spider
    These spiders are each as large as a cat with shiny bulbous bodies that appear to have a glowing orange liquid swirling within, giving off dim light in a 5ft square.
    HP 1
    AC 12
    Attack: +4 Bite (1d2 poison), DC 11 Con vs. poisoned condition
    On death, the spiders explode in a 10ft radius, DC 11 Dex save vs. "Faerie Fire", 1 hour duration.

    PC's:
    Tortle Battlemaster 6
    Halfling Shadows Monk 6

    NPCs:
    Human Horizon Walker 7

  2. - Top - End - #2
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    Kobold

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    Default Re: New DM, please help balance my boss... (SPOILERS for Everett)

    Ok, new DM, here's a secret.

    Your BBEG fight is not MEANT to be balanced. A deadly encounter by DMG won't be enough. Don't even try it.

    Do you want it to be a great memory? Do you want your players to think you are GREAT FRIGGIN DM? Don't run this fight by the rules..

    During the fight, just write down the hits taken by the BBEG. Don't even worry about how many hits the BBEG is supposed to have or has left. Do not let the BBEG crit hit them. Let the fight drag on and wear them down...until two of them are dropped.

    Then the next hit kills the BBEG. Even if you have to given them advantage for some made up reason.

    Cheers and high fives all around. And keep the secret to yourself.
    Last edited by Kurt Kurageous; 2019-05-10 at 12:37 PM.

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    Firbolg in the Playground
     
    BlueKnightGuy

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    Default Re: New DM, please help balance my boss... (SPOILERS for Everett)

    So you can get some tips on how to balance fights in the future, here's some good things to remember:

    • A player's average attack deals about 10 damage, and they generally have about 70% chance to hit. So expect about 7 damage per attack.
    • A player will, on average, deal as much damage as two attacks by level 6 per round. So just average mages, rogues, everything to this value to make things easier.
    • Standard enemies have resources designed to last about 3 rounds, so plan around 3-5 round fights.


    In terms of your Phase Spider, it has a very low AC as a boss creature. That's about an 80% chance to hit that thing, which means we're looking at about an average of 8 damage per attack.

    You have 3 characters, each at least level 6. So each of them are attacking about twice per round. That's 6 attacks per round.

    Or 48 damage per round.

    Increasing its AC to 17 means you'd be looking more at about a 65% chance to hit, or 6.5 damage per attack. That lowers the party's DPR to about 39. Without special abilities or a horde, he'd die by the end of Round 2.

    But using your ideas of something like Jaunt, you could make that a 30ft teleport and also halving the damage of the incoming attack. That lowers 1/3 of the DPR by 1/2. Or, basically the team's DPR would be cut by about 1/6. With the higher AC, the spider would be taking about 33 damage per round.

    I'd allow it to be able to cast the Web spell every 3 turns, then allow it to send its minions through the web to attack the players. This allows the spider to survive, by avoiding being in direct combat, without pushing its stats overboard. If it looks like the players are having too much trouble, have it so that the boss loses its Jaunt feature at less than 50% HP and that the minions flee as soon as their queen is dead.

    -----------

    Keep in mind, the biggest mistake I see DMs do is not understand how to best use the Rest system for their party and encounters. 5e assumes you have multiple (about 3+) major encounters per day, so all of the default scaling is a bit on the low side. It assumes quantity is better than quality.

    If you want fewer fights per day, you need to scale the enemy to compensate, while also figuring out how Short Rest resources fit in to your game. Some classes (Fighters, Monks, Warlocks) rely on Short Rests a great deal, when others (Wizards, Paladins, Barbarians) gain hardly any benefit to a Short Rest, so decide how you want them implemented.

    Just so you get an idea, a Fighter breaks even with a Paladin after about 2 Short Rests. That is, a Paladin is better than a Fighter when there are fewer than 2 Short Rests (with encounters in between) and a Fighter is better than a Paladin when there are more than 2 Short Rests (with encounters in between).
    Last edited by Man_Over_Game; 2019-05-10 at 02:10 PM.
    Quote Originally Posted by KOLE View Post
    MOG, design a darn RPG system. Seriously, the amount of ideas Iíve gleaned from your posts has been valuable. Youíre a gem of the community here.
    Quote Originally Posted by Man_Over_Game View Post

    5th Edition Homebrewery

    Prestige Options, changing primary attributes to open a world of new multiclassing.
    Adrenaline Surge, fitting Short Rests into combat to fix bosses/Short Rest Classes.
    Pain, using Exhaustion to make tactical martial combatants.
    Fate Sorcery, lucky winner of the 5e D&D Subclass Contest VII!

  4. - Top - End - #4
    Pixie in the Playground
     
    Menson's Avatar

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    Default Re: New DM, please help balance my boss... (SPOILERS for Everett)

    That's funny, two totally different styles showcased here!

    I think I prefer focusing on the story of combat more and like the idea of keeping it less structured, but those are good points about how to manage the numbers. I think I'll raise it's AC to 16 at least. I'm expecting a lot of attacks at disadvantage if the minions do their job, and I'll add in the reaction to negate the attack so they get the challenge of how difficult it might be to kill a thing that jumps in and out of a material form. Web is a nice addition, too. I was thinking about adding it as a lair action already.

    I like this, thank you!

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    Orc in the Playground
     
    PaladinGuy

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    Default Re: New DM, please help balance my boss... (SPOILERS for Everett)

    Quote Originally Posted by Menson View Post
    I'm designing a final encounter for my group and need help with balancing.

    As the group descends through a misty plane, following the cautious steps of their planar guide, a faint glow catches their attention. They approach, the mist parts before them, revealing a stone platform with six massive columns justting from the ground and disappearing upward into the mist. A few narrow stairwells are barely visible betweeen the columns, some ascending, some descending, all of them obscurred by the strands of web which cover them. A thick funnel web can be seen on the opposite end of the platform. Faintly glowing lights move within the webs above. Cocoon-like masses, roughly the size and shape of various humanoids, decorate the columns. Looking closer, a few motionless hands and feet can be seen protruding from the cocoons and below them, the ground is littered with tokens of civilization: gems, coins, weapons of all kinds, pieces of armor, all likely left over from whatever this creature had captured.

    This is a planar adventure to justify moving a campaign from 3.5 to 5e by rescuing 3.5 characters and dropping them into a new 5e world. The monster here is a phase spider that has built its layer on the intersection of multiple planes, capturing unlucky teleporters like the 3.5 characters.

    Legendary Phase Spider "Araxis"


    AC 14
    HP 52

    Str 16
    Dex 16
    Con 14
    Int 6
    Wis 10
    Cha 6

    Actions:

    Ethereal Jaunt, Web Walker, Spider Climb

    Bite: +6 to hit, 5 ft reach, (1d10 + 3) piercing damage, DC 12 Con save vs. (4d8) poison damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one.

    Legendary Actions (3):

    Instant Jaunt: In reaction to taking 10 or more damage in a hit, Araxis blinks. (I'm considering making it into something that negates the damage, too, depending on balance)

    Lair Actions: As long as Araxis is conscious, each turn on initiative count 20, the web releases 1d4+1 minions that each drop down from a random column.

    Minions:

    Phosphorescent Spider
    These spiders are each as large as a cat with shiny bulbous bodies that appear to have a glowing orange liquid swirling within, giving off dim light in a 5ft square.
    HP 1
    AC 12
    Attack: +4 Bite (1d2 poison), DC 11 Con vs. poisoned condition
    On death, the spiders explode in a 10ft radius, DC 11 Dex save vs. "Faerie Fire", 1 hour duration.

    PC's:
    Tortle Battlemaster 6
    Halfling Shadows Monk 6

    NPCs:
    Human Horizon Walker 7
    You seem to have a very strong grasp on fun and interesting mechanical design.

    I'll tell you what I do to balance fights. I take a party of PCs (usually a fighter, a wizard, a cleric, and a rogue from here: http://dnd.wizards.com/articles/feat...aracter_sheets, though I suppose just taking YOUR party would work too), and simulate a fight between that party and the monster. Now, if I'm designing a "boss" for a party of a certain level, I'll look at the chart here: https://donjon.bin.sh/5e/calc/enc_size.html to see what CR a single monster needs to be a deadly encounter. (Note: "deadly" in 5e generally means that there's only reasonable chance that one PC will drop to 0 HP.) Then I look at monsters of that CR to get a general idea of AC, HP, and to-hit and damage numbers -- just to get me in the ballpark -- before I playtest it.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kurt Kurageous View Post
    Ok, new DM, here's a secret.

    Your BBEG fight is not MEANT to be balanced. A deadly encounter by DMG won't be enough. Don't even try it.

    Do you want it to be a great memory? Do you want your players to think you are GREAT FRIGGIN DM? Don't run this fight by the rules..

    During the fight, just write down the hits taken by the BBEG. Don't even worry about how many hits the BBEG is supposed to have or has left. Do not let the BBEG crit hit them. Let the fight drag on and wear them down...until two of them are dropped.

    Then the next hit kills the BBEG. Even if you have to given them advantage for some made up reason.

    Cheers and high fives all around. And keep the secret to yourself.
    Glad you're not my DM. I'd hate for the only way to win boss fights would be for two of us to drop and then hit it. AND for the only way for us to lose to be for the boss to kill two of us before either of us land a hit. Not being able to have different outcomes is the definition of "no agency."
    Reminder to self/ passive aggressive reminder to everyone: It's shepherd not shepard, kensei not kensai and rogue not rouge.

  6. - Top - End - #6
    Halfling in the Playground
     
    ElfRogueGirl

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    Default Re: New DM, please help balance my boss... (SPOILERS for Everett)

    14 AC and 52 HP is extremely low for a boss fight against a group of level 6-7 characters. That sounds more like a boss fight for a level 1 party. Something like 161-175 HP sounds more reasonable. (This is the HP for CR 7 on page 274 of the DMG.) The damage and saves are low too. I'd start with something like 17ac, 161hp, Bite: +7 to hit, 2d10+5 piercing + 4d8 poison on failed DC 15 Con save. You can adjust from there, but that should get you closer to the ballpark.

    I do like that you have lair effects though. I've found that having either additional weak enemies or lair effects (or both) helps a DM balance a boss fight better. The problem with a single enemy is action economy. The boss goes and then all the players get to go. In order to make that challenging you have to ramp up the damage to the point where the boss can one shot a player, but getting knocked out in one hit isn't that fun. So the better answer is to keep the numbers reasonable (look at the numbers of about a CR 7 or 8) and then add in other factors (which you've already done).
    Last edited by Malbrack; 2019-05-11 at 09:33 AM.

  7. - Top - End - #7
    Dwarf in the Playground
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    Default Re: New DM, please help balance my boss... (SPOILERS for Everett)

    It really depends on your style. Do you want to play exactly by the rules? Or do you want to provide your players with an awesome encounter? (not that these are mutually exclusive)

    Personally, I like to provide my players with a fun, challenging experience, but on the flip side I don't really want to kill them off due to a bad roll of a dice if I can help it, so I modify my fights on the fly.
    If they do something that is blatantly risky, then they've made that choice, and the dice fall where they will. They need to know the risk is there.

    If they are hitting your BBEG far too easily, give it a couple of parry reactions, HP's going down to fast, increase them a bit. (your example of blink would work really well with this style, as you can choose a couple of options and use whichever seems most appropriate at the time) You can also use the NPC to "save the day", but I would use this only to empower the PC's.

    Example from an early session from my current campaign is the group had to escort an NPC (master alchemist, although they didn't know this) through a dungeon. He was next to useless, pretty much triggering every trap that was in there. (purely on rolls, but I let this dictate his character and he became a bit of a buffoon because of this) His saving grace was that he threw a couple of healing pots to the group when low on health.
    Result? The PC's lived on the edge, and I could throw them a lifeline if I thought necessary.
    Last edited by Wuzza; 2019-05-11 at 01:12 PM.

  8. - Top - End - #8
    Ettin in the Playground
     
    Zombie

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    Default Re: New DM, please help balance my boss... (SPOILERS for Everett)

    As you can see from the responses you may be at a fork in the road where you determine what kind of DM you are going to be. Some DMs prefer "story and drama" over the game aspect while others put the game aspect first. If you're not sure what kind you want to be, maybe you should think about what your party would enjoy most.

    Personally, as a player and a DM it's a game. As a DM I want the players to know that their victory or defeat was their doing. As a player I wan't to know my victory or defeat was my friends and mine doing. To me it's a game, not a story being told. If my BBEG goes down in 2 rounds because my players were brilliant, that's magnificent in its own right.
    I am the flush of excitement. The blush on the cheek. I am the Rouge!

  9. - Top - End - #9
    Pixie in the Playground
     
    Menson's Avatar

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    Default Re: New DM, please help balance my boss... (SPOILERS for Everett)

    Quote Originally Posted by Sigreid View Post
    As you can see from the responses you may be at a fork in the road where you determine what kind of DM you are going to be. Some DMs prefer "story and drama" over the game aspect while others put the game aspect first. If you're not sure what kind you want to be, maybe you should think about what your party would enjoy most.
    Good point. After DMing a couple games, I've definitely run the games for the story, but the players obviously play strategically like you're talking about. I much prefer that they think they're in charge, even if they really aren't... but as a new DM, I have to rely on startegically pulling punches to make it look like they're just brilliant strategists who barely made it out alive.

    Quote Originally Posted by Malbrack View Post
    14 AC and 52 HP is extremely low for a boss fight against a group of level 6-7 characters. That sounds more like a boss fight for a level 1 or 2 party. Something like 161-175 HP sounds more reasonable. (This is the HP for CR 7 on page 274 of the DMG.)
    Ah, thanks for the DMG reference. More good stuff I missed there, too.

    One concern I have is that there are only two of them, no AoE (but whose fault is that, really??), and they don't have a lot of HP. I would love to see them struggle to hit, fear the jaunt in, have to make decisions about killing the minions or ignoring them, eventually getting overwhelmed, and only then, when all hope seems lost, they strike the killing blow. I think I'll keep the HP bag low for the CR and keep the survival tricks.

    Monk
    Offense: 2 attacks at +7 to hit (60%), 1d6+4 (7.5), average 9 per round.
    Special: 6 Ki for +9 ave damage, stunning blow DC 13, (50%)
    Minion effect: poisoned - ave drops to 5.4
    Defense: 34 HP, 16 AC, Con save +1 (45% chance to save), 55% chance to be hit by +6, 1d10+3, Con save vs. 4d8 or half, takes 12.5 ave per round.
    Special: Patient Defense: average drops to 6.8 (5 rds to death), 12.5 if "marked" and Patient defense (3 rds to death), and 18 if "marked" and no Patient Def (2 rds to death).

    If the monk dies in 5 rds, predicting stunning blows 50% of time, extends to 7 rounds, x average damage, 140 wouldn't be bad at all, but drop to 110 or so and have some fun defensive reactions will still be fine.
    Last edited by Menson; 2019-05-12 at 10:15 PM.

  10. - Top - End - #10
    Ettin in the Playground
     
    Zombie

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    Default Re: New DM, please help balance my boss... (SPOILERS for Everett)

    Be careful about that making them think they were just that brilliant thing. Eventually they will figure it out and some players will respond poorly to knowing things were handed to them. I'd rather my character die than know my efforts didn't really matter, for example.
    I am the flush of excitement. The blush on the cheek. I am the Rouge!

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    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    NecromancerGuy

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    Default Re: New DM, please help balance my boss... (SPOILERS for Everett)

    So. Ways to make this memorable.

    Give the spider stealth profficency and a let it hide on jaunts. Have naunts trigger on any damage taken.

    Start the fight with spiderbro hidden in advance.

    Allow it to grapple and restrain as part of its bite attack on a dex save. Raise it's int to xenomorph levels.

    Suddenly this encounter is less straight up fight more suvival horror. Esp if you show the little bitty spiders pouring out of previous victims.

    This should shave a huge chunk of incoming damage, give minion interaction, create oddles of relevant skill checks and saves, and scare the piss out of the party the moment they realize it's smarter than the wizard and is hunting THEM.
    Last edited by Nhorianscum; 2019-05-13 at 11:21 AM.

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    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    Kobold

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    Default Re: New DM, please help balance my boss... (SPOILERS for Everett)

    Quote Originally Posted by Puh Laden View Post
    Glad you're not my DM. I'd hate for the only way to win boss fights would be for two of us to drop and then hit it. AND for the only way for us to lose to be for the boss to kill two of us before either of us land a hit. Not being able to have different outcomes is the definition of "no agency."
    You have a point on agency. But I think you missed mine. He wanted a memorable fight. I told him to not leave it to chance.

    All the choices (agency) have led up to this fight. Is there another choice besides fighting? Not in OP. If there is, he would DM from there.

    There is no chance they lose, and dropped doesn't mean killed/dead.

    The chances this BBEG fight would get as dramatic/memorable an outcome as I proposed are not 100% no matter how the fight is set up. If it worked out the way I propose, you'd be fist bumping/high fiving your table mates for a week.

    But I'm not your DM. And donjon is fantastic.
    Last edited by Kurt Kurageous; 2019-05-13 at 12:11 PM.

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    Firbolg in the Playground
     
    BlueKnightGuy

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    Default Re: New DM, please help balance my boss... (SPOILERS for Everett)

    Quote Originally Posted by Kurt Kurageous View Post
    You have a point on agency. But I think you missed mine. He wanted a memorable fight. I told him to not leave it to chance.

    All the choices (agency) have led up to this fight. Is there another choice besides fighting? Not in OP. If there is, he would DM from there.

    There is no chance they lose, and dropped doesn't mean killed/dead.

    The chances this BBEG fight would get as dramatic/memorable an outcome as I proposed are not 100% no matter how the fight is set up. If it worked out the way I propose, you'd be fist bumping/high fiving your table mates for a week.

    But I'm not your DM. And donjon is fantastic.
    With a shift like this, it could be assumed that the fight is an inevitable railroad. And that's fine. But if that's the case, the exact consequences of the fight shouldn't necessarily fall on the player.

    The players didn't choose this fight, and the DM is probably going to force it to happen, so a sense of leniency should be expected.

    Now, had it been a lich that the players ignored caution to engage, they deserve to be torn to shreds. But this is more than just a standard boss encounter we're dealing with here. The campaign MUST have this fight to accommodate the table, and nothing the characters do should change that. For the sake of this fight, they already lost agency.

    I'm not saying that it's a bad thing - in this case, it's needed - but I am saying that the players can't lose what they didn't have.
    Last edited by Man_Over_Game; 2019-05-13 at 12:24 PM.
    Quote Originally Posted by KOLE View Post
    MOG, design a darn RPG system. Seriously, the amount of ideas Iíve gleaned from your posts has been valuable. Youíre a gem of the community here.
    Quote Originally Posted by Man_Over_Game View Post

    5th Edition Homebrewery

    Prestige Options, changing primary attributes to open a world of new multiclassing.
    Adrenaline Surge, fitting Short Rests into combat to fix bosses/Short Rest Classes.
    Pain, using Exhaustion to make tactical martial combatants.
    Fate Sorcery, lucky winner of the 5e D&D Subclass Contest VII!

  14. - Top - End - #14
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    NecromancerGuy

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    Default Re: New DM, please help balance my boss... (SPOILERS for Everett)

    Quote Originally Posted by Kurt Kurageous View Post
    You have a point on agency. But I think you missed mine. He wanted a memorable fight. I told him to not leave it to chance.

    All the choices (agency) have led up to this fight. Is there another choice besides fighting? Not in OP. If there is, he would DM from there.

    There is no chance they lose, and dropped doesn't mean killed/dead.

    The chances this BBEG fight would get as dramatic/memorable an outcome as I proposed are not 100% no matter how the fight is set up. If it worked out the way I propose, you'd be fist bumping/high fiving your table mates for a week.

    But I'm not your DM. And donjon is fantastic.
    It's a game and whatever you find fun is what's good for you.

    For many groups what you proposed is outright taboo.

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    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    Kobold

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    Default Re: New DM, please help balance my boss... (SPOILERS for Everett)

    Quote Originally Posted by Nhorianscum View Post
    It's a game and whatever you find fun is what's good for you.

    For many groups what you proposed is outright taboo.
    Taboo according to whom? The DM is the game. And if 'what I proposed' done right, the players would never know. Just like Santa Claus makes happy happy kids on Christmas morning.

    The dice can and do tell the story if you let them. But this is one time I would not let them. Taboo? More like absolutism.
    Last edited by Kurt Kurageous; 2019-05-14 at 10:47 AM.

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    ElfRogueGirl

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    Default Re: New DM, please help balance my boss... (SPOILERS for Everett)

    Quote Originally Posted by Kurt Kurageous View Post
    Taboo according to whom? The DM is the game. And if 'what I proposed' done right, the players would never know. Just like Santa Claus makes happy happy kids on Christmas morning.

    The dice can and do tell the story if you let them. But this is one time I would not let them. Taboo? More like absolutism.
    There is plenty of wiggle room to adjust encounters in minor ways on the fly. If you originally design a boss to have 140 hp for a small level 6 party, but you raise it to 170 on the fly, your players are unlikely to notice (or care) because 170 is still a reasonable number.

    But if the players have put out over 300 points of damage and the boss is still up, something is fishy. Experienced players would notice that you're ignoring basic guidelines of encounter design, and it might bother them. I know it would bother me as a player. There would need to be a strong narrative reason for the boss having such a large number. Or if healing or damage mitigation is in play, you'd need to communicate that information to the players in some manner: "Your attacks do not seem to damage the boss as much as you're used to." Etc.

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    Default Re: New DM, please help balance my boss... (SPOILERS for Everett)

    Quote Originally Posted by Kurt Kurageous View Post
    Taboo according to whom? The DM is the game. And if 'what I proposed' done right, the players would never know. Just like Santa Claus makes happy happy kids on Christmas morning.

    The dice can and do tell the story if you let them. But this is one time I would not let them. Taboo? More like absolutism.
    According to some groups, like they just said.

    There's nothing INHERENTLY WRONG with what you suggest-but a lot of people dislike it. Myself included.
    I have a LOT of Homebrew!

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    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    Lizardfolk

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    Default Re: New DM, please help balance my boss... (SPOILERS for Everett)

    I hope this isn't too late, but if you want to really want to build up to the battle, have the boss harass them throughout the session leading up to the final encounter. Some good advice for running that can be found in the D&D Beyond article "How to Play an Oni like a Living Nightmare." Playing that helps build the narrative of the boss, gets the party to really fear the enemy, as well as a hit and run tactic when building up to the boss allows the final fight to be even more frightening due to the resources they've used from the early, split second engagements no longer accessible to them.

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    Kobold

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    Default Re: New DM, please help balance my boss... (SPOILERS for Everett)

    Quote Originally Posted by Malbrack View Post
    There is plenty of wiggle room to adjust encounters in minor ways on the fly. If you originally design a boss to have 140 hp for a small level 6 party, but you raise it to 170 on the fly, your players are unlikely to notice (or care) because 170 is still a reasonable number.

    But if the players have put out over 300 points of damage and the boss is still up, something is fishy. Experienced players would notice that you're ignoring basic guidelines of encounter design, and it might bother them. I know it would bother me as a player. There would need to be a strong narrative reason for the boss having such a large number. Or if healing or damage mitigation is in play, you'd need to communicate that information to the players in some manner: "Your attacks do not seem to damage the boss as much as you're used to." Etc.
    IMO, in order to have a memorable, hi-fiving fist bumping, cheering ending to a story arc, players must knowingly and willingly go into a BBEG fight riddled with huge doubts about their survival. Otherwise, it's just another fight and not memorable.

    "Your attacks do not seem to damage the boss..." is a great line I use, too. So is, "Your attack was wholly ineffective" for immunities.

    Given his Tortle Battlemaster 6 Halfling Shadows Monk 6 Human Horizon Walker 7 lineup, the OP DM has a good idea how much damage they can do based on seeing them in action. And he can design an encounter based on that experience. He can even run some practice fight numbers, fiddle a bit, do some more simulations, fiddle. And then have the dice blow it all up in the actual thing. Or worse, the party LOSES because they didn't follow your tactical assumptions.

    He wanted a memorable BBEG fight, not just another typical encounter that expends 10-20% of available resources as part of their 6-8 encounter adventuring day broken up by two short rests. I am, as you say, "ignoring basic guidelines for encounter design" BECAUSE this is not a basic encounter.

    In 5e, when you build every encounter like a basic encounter, you will get players expecting to fight/murderhobo in every encounter. Your players eventually learn they have a form of plot armor. Some posters here are implying that the players are entitled to that plot armor because, "the DM wouldn't give us anything we can't handle."

    I understand many think 'you HAVE to do it' that way. And if you award the huge majority of XP by combat, you are probably right. But I don't. And so I don't.

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    Default Re: New DM, please help balance my boss... (SPOILERS for Everett)

    Quote Originally Posted by Kurt Kurageous View Post
    IMO, in order to have a memorable, hi-fiving fist bumping, cheering ending to a story arc, players must knowingly and willingly go into a BBEG fight riddled with huge doubts about their survival. Otherwise, it's just another fight and not memorable.

    "Your attacks do not seem to damage the boss..." is a great line I use, too. So is, "Your attack was wholly ineffective" for immunities.

    Given his Tortle Battlemaster 6 Halfling Shadows Monk 6 Human Horizon Walker 7 lineup, the OP DM has a good idea how much damage they can do based on seeing them in action. And he can design an encounter based on that experience. He can even run some practice fight numbers, fiddle a bit, do some more simulations, fiddle. And then have the dice blow it all up in the actual thing. Or worse, the party LOSES because they didn't follow your tactical assumptions.

    He wanted a memorable BBEG fight, not just another typical encounter that expends 10-20% of available resources as part of their 6-8 encounter adventuring day broken up by two short rests. I am, as you say, "ignoring basic guidelines for encounter design" BECAUSE this is not a basic encounter.

    In 5e, when you build every encounter like a basic encounter, you will get players expecting to fight/murderhobo in every encounter. Your players eventually learn they have a form of plot armor. Some posters here are implying that the players are entitled to that plot armor because, "the DM wouldn't give us anything we can't handle."

    I understand many think 'you HAVE to do it' that way. And if you award the huge majority of XP by combat, you are probably right. But I don't. And so I don't.
    There have been 3 major DM styles described in this thread.

    DM Style 1: Stick to the numbers. This style designs the encounter ahead of time and sticks to the numbers no matter what. Sometimes this leads to the party killing the boss in 1 round. Sometimes it leads to a TPK. But the players know the encounter is set and that their choices have a lot of power. Players are more likely to retreat from a battle that is turning south if they know their DM employs this style, because they know the DM won't adjust the encounter to help them win.

    DM Style 2: Enact minor encounter adjustments on the fly. Having a boss die in 1 round isn't much fun. Neither is a TPK. This style makes small balance adjustments mid-battle. Maybe you raise or lower the hp by 15-20%. Maybe you give the boss a parry ability, but only opt to use it if the boss is dying fast. Etc. The changes are generally small enough that the players might not even notice (especially since there is a pretty wide range in encounter design). This helps rein in extreme cases while still allowing the players a sense that the encounter is mostly fixed.

    DM Style 3: Wing it for dramatic effect. This is what you first suggested. You said to not give the boss a HP value. Just end the fight on the first hit after 2 players had been knocked out. That can lead to a scenario where a level 6 party has done enough damage to kill an Ancient Dragon but are still fighting. To be fair, an experienced DM can tune the boss's damage and defenses so that its hp total ends up in a somewhat reasonable spot most of the time. You're right that the players might not even notice this in most cases. The danger is that if your players figure out this is what you're doing, they might not feel their choices matter. After all, why bother healing if you need 2 people to get knocked out to end the encounter?

    All 3 styles are perfectly valid depending on what your players want. I used to be exclusively DM Style 1, but more recently I bounce somewhere between 1 and 2. Personally, I'm not a fan of DM Style 3, but I can see it working out well--especially when used sparingly for special battles as you suggest.

    I think you might be mischaracterizing why some DMs prefer styles 1 or 2 over 3. It isn't necessarily about grinding down players through 6-8 predictable encounters per day or providing plot armor. In fact, styles 2 and 3 offer more plot armor than 1. My only TPK was when I was a strict style 1 DM. For me, at least, the preference for 1 (and sometimes 2) has to do with verisimilitude. I want to know I won (or lost) based on my choices, not on when the DM thought it was a good enough time for me to win.

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    Default Re: New DM, please help balance my boss... (SPOILERS for Everett)

    Quote Originally Posted by Malbrack View Post
    My only TPK was when I was a strict style 1 DM.
    Mine, too. I was running a game with set encounters. I don't blame myself (and as DM, I usually would!) because the fight was optional for the party, and they knew it. They chose it. And they almost won it. It was epic but sad.

    I was waiting for someone to post a MORE exciting and memorable finish than a desperate strike by the last standing party member (whose comrades are both stable or nearly so) that brings down the terrible foe. All I've heard is how much people don't like my "style." If there's a better finish, let's hear it! This isn't my "style" I'm talking about, it's about the best possible (memorable) ending.

    And then you did:
    Quote Originally Posted by Malbrack View Post
    ...a level 6 party has done enough damage to kill an Ancient Dragon but are still fighting.
    And Sigreid suggested it, but I didn't credit it at the time! "If my BBEG goes down in 2 rounds because my players were brilliant, that's magnificent in its own right."

    Clearly the epically memorable part would be their incredible ridiculous improbable dice rolling.

    Not likely to happen, but if it did, great! BBEG falls. That's why I said track the damage taken by the BBEG. How much is ridiculous? DMs call, but I'd agree that the 300-400 HP range (ancient dragons) is ridiculous or beyond it.

    From the OP, I believe the BBEG is likely to be attacking with advantage (doubling crit chances) by the second round if not the third. I think this means party members are gonna lose a lot of HP, especially if the BBEG focuses. The dice could make this fight go bad fast for the heroes.

    As someone in a movie said, "Are you not entertained?"
    Last edited by Kurt Kurageous; 2019-05-14 at 04:12 PM.

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    Default Re: New DM, please help balance my boss... (SPOILERS for Everett)

    Quote Originally Posted by Kurt Kurageous View Post
    I was waiting for someone to post a MORE exciting and memorable finish than a desperate strike by the last standing party member (whose comrades are both stable or nearly so) that brings down the terrible foe. All I've heard is how much people don't like my "style." If there's a better finish, let's hear it! This isn't my "style" I'm talking about, it's about the best possible (memorable) ending.

    And Sigreid suggested it, but I didn't credit it at the time! "If my BBEG goes down in 2 rounds because my players were brilliant, that's magnificent in its own right."

    Clearly the epically memorable part would be their incredible ridiculous improbable dice rolling.

    Not likely to happen, but if it did, great! BBEG falls. That's why I said track the damage taken by the BBEG. How much is ridiculous? DMs call, but I'd agree that the 300-400 HP range (ancient dragons) is ridiculous or beyond it.
    Ok, so if I understand you correctly, you'd tune the encounter to be only possible to win with good rolls. If the party rolls well, they win naturally. (Yay them.) If they don't get good rolls, you will intervene and end the fight early in the PCs' favor in the most memorable and dramatic fashion. (Also, yay them.) Honestly, that's pretty cool as long as you only use that approach sparingly, since it relies on the players being ignorant of your intervention. However, this sounds a little different than what you first suggested (your initial suggestion didn't have an option for winning the fight naturally), which is why I think you received so much push back.

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    Default Re: New DM, please help balance my boss... (SPOILERS for Everett)

    Quote Originally Posted by Kurt Kurageous View Post
    Taboo according to whom? The DM is the game. And if 'what I proposed' done right, the players would never know. Just like Santa Claus makes happy happy kids on Christmas morning.

    The dice can and do tell the story if you let them. But this is one time I would not let them. Taboo? More like absolutism.
    The DM is not "the game" the table is.

    Taboo according to a certain person who's innitials may spell GG?

    And like santa all the good boys and girls will realize who is really behind that beard... Immediately.
    Last edited by Nhorianscum; 2019-05-14 at 07:08 PM.

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    Default Re: New DM, please help balance my boss... (SPOILERS for Everett)

    Quote Originally Posted by Malbrack View Post
    Ok, so if I understand you correctly, you'd tune the encounter to be only possible to win with good rolls. If the party rolls well, they win naturally. (Yay them.) If they don't get good rolls, you will intervene and end the fight early in the PCs' favor in the most memorable and dramatic fashion. (Also, yay them.) Honestly, that's pretty cool as long as you only use that approach sparingly, since it relies on the players being ignorant of your intervention. However, this sounds a little different than what you first suggested (your initial suggestion didn't have an option for winning the fight naturally), which is why I think you received so much push back.
    I agree. I agree. And lastly, I agree.

    On the middle point of agreement, I pitched one idea, and I think people wanted to pin me to it as if I wasn't open to other ideas. It sure sounded like I only meant that one way, and at the time it was the first and only thought I had. After reading other ideas, it seemed the "roll really well" also met the 'very memorable' criteria the OP wanted.

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    Default Re: New DM, please help balance my boss... (SPOILERS for Everett)

    Quote Originally Posted by Kurt Kurageous View Post
    I agree. I agree. And lastly, I agree.

    On the middle point of agreement, I pitched one idea, and I think people wanted to pin me to it as if I wasn't open to other ideas. It sure sounded like I only meant that one way, and at the time it was the first and only thought I had. After reading other ideas, it seemed the "roll really well" also met the 'very memorable' criteria the OP wanted.
    It's not just roll well. Its come up with a plan that let's them make the fight one sided in their favor. I've also had them try a solution that hadn't occurred to me as even a remote possibility that changed an entire situation from a desperate struggle against an ancient curse to a relative cake walk that led to them having a loyal population of villagers.
    I am the flush of excitement. The blush on the cheek. I am the Rouge!

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    Default Re: New DM, please help balance my boss... (SPOILERS for Everett)

    Be aware that some players will be wise to dramatic fight manipulation. This will be especially true if you always follow the "two characters drop/ death blow" formula.

    That player who left your game with a really feeble excuse? He probably knew.
    Last edited by Vorpalchicken; 2019-05-15 at 08:54 AM.

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    Default Re: New DM, please help balance my boss... (SPOILERS for Everett)

    Quote Originally Posted by Nhorianscum View Post
    The DM is not "the game" the table is.

    Taboo according to a certain person who's innitials may spell GG?

    And like santa all the good boys and girls will realize who is really behind that beard... Immediately.
    To the first point, we can agree to disagree. IMO, take away the DM, you got no game, take away a player you still have a game if you have more players. I will agree that the table is the game from the players perspective. I'm a DM who occasionally plays.

    To the second point, I give you this from the AD&D DMG by Gary Gygax (c) 1979 page 100, an example of game play.

    "You get up all right, and there is a crack where you can pound in a spike. As you're doing it, you might be in for a nasty surprise, so I'll let you roll a six-sider for me to see your status - make the roll! (Groans as a 1 comes up indicating surprise. The DM then rolls 3 attacks for the ghoul that grabbed at the busy gnome, and one claw attack does 2 hit points of damage and paralyzes the hapless character, whereupon the DM judges that the other 3 would rend him to bits.

    However, the DM does NOT tell the players what has happened, despite impassioned pleas and urgent demands. He simply relates: "You see a sickly gray arm strike the gnome as he's working on the spike, the gnome utters a muffled cry, and then a shadowy form drags him out of sight. What are you others going to do?"


    Please note that the DM decided NOT TO ROLL, instead just narrate the outcome. Taboo according to GG? He either edited it, wrote it, or approved it. My point is, when the outcome was already decided by the DM, the dice were irrelevant. And you can search for something GG wrote that supports your point. He's (sadly) dead, we are not, and the game we are playing is not his anymore. Besides, he wrote ToH, and then rails against such dungeons in that same DMG (p.92, second column, 4th para.)

    EDIT: Just found this bit.(p.110, column 1 second to last para. line 7) "You do have every right to overrule the dice at any time if there is a particular course of events that you would like to have occur."

    To the last point, are you sure about that? You just know when the DM took it easy on you in order to not have the session suck/save you from a meaningless death? If that were so, you might not keep playing because you'd have no sense of accomplishment. And we'd hear a lot more about TPKs.

    I ask you to go ask your DM if they've EVER fudged a roll or rewrote/hand waved something in part because it helped the party, the story, or the session.
    Last edited by Kurt Kurageous; 2019-05-15 at 10:03 AM.

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    Default Re: New DM, please help balance my boss... (SPOILERS for Everett)

    Quote Originally Posted by Vorpalchicken View Post
    Be aware that some players will be wise to dramatic fight manipulation. This will be especially true if you always follow the "two characters drop/ death blow" formula.

    That player who left your game with a really feeble excuse? He probably knew.
    I though I'd made this point clear. This was only for the OP and his specific BBEG fight. You didn't put it in blue, so I'm not sure you were sarcastic or think that a DM would do such a ridiculous thing. You are right, and DM that does that trick often would be worthy of the ridicule you threw. I'm not that DM.

    Who said any player ever left a game with an excuse? That was to the statement that the table, not the DM, is the game.

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    Default Re: New DM, please help balance my boss... (SPOILERS for Everett)

    Quote Originally Posted by Sigreid View Post
    It's not just roll well. Its come up with a plan that let's them make the fight one sided in their favor. I've also had them try a solution that hadn't occurred to me as even a remote possibility that changed an entire situation from a desperate struggle against an ancient curse to a relative cake walk that led to them having a loyal population of villagers.
    All legit endings. The OP didn't list possibilities to win without fighting, so I didn't try to anticipate the player's responses. Your thoughts are all good to me, because they all lead to a 'memorable' win.

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    Default Re: New DM, please help balance my boss... (SPOILERS for Everett)

    Quote Originally Posted by Kurt Kurageous View Post
    To the first point, we can agree to disagree. IMO, take away the DM, you got no game, take away a player you still have a game if you have more players. I will agree that the table is the game from the players perspective. I'm a DM who occasionally plays.

    To the second point, I give you this from the AD&D DMG by Gary Gygax (c) 1979 page 100, an example of game play.

    "You get up all right, and there is a crack where you can pound in a spike. As you're doing it, you might be in for a nasty surprise, so I'll let you roll a six-sider for me to see your status - make the roll! (Groans as a 1 comes up indicating surprise. The DM then rolls 3 attacks for the ghoul that grabbed at the busy gnome, and one claw attack does 2 hit points of damage and paralyzes the hapless character, whereupon the DM judges that the other 3 would rend him to bits.

    However, the DM does NOT tell the players what has happened, despite impassioned pleas and urgent demands. He simply relates: "You see a sickly gray arm strike the gnome as he's working on the spike, the gnome utters a muffled cry, and then a shadowy form drags him out of sight. What are you others going to do?"


    Please note that the DM decided NOT TO ROLL, instead just narrate the outcome. Taboo according to GG? He either edited it, wrote it, or approved it. My point is, when the outcome was already decided by the DM, the dice were irrelevant. And you can search for something GG wrote that supports your point. He's (sadly) dead, we are not, and the game we are playing is not his anymore. Besides, he wrote ToH, and then rails against such dungeons in that same DMG (p.92, second column, 4th para.)

    Tp the last point, are you sure about that? You just know when the DM took it easy on you in order to not have the session suck/save you from a meaningless death? If that were so, you might not keep playing because you'd have no sense of accomplishment. And we'd hear a lot more about TPKs.

    I ask you to go ask your DM if they've EVER fudged a roll or rewrote/hand waved something in part because it helped the party, the story, or the session.
    Not entirely certain what the point of the example is. That's an "average roll" situation used for the sake of brevity and used to set up a conflict for the party to solve. Fudging rolls and pretending monster x has "plot amount" of hp has nothing to do with this straw man and is in fact the opposite of the quoted segment as you remove the parties role in solving the problem. Morover this segment is the result of an action taken by the PC.

    I have never fudged, rewriting and handwaving have been done but only pre-session for the sake of making a campain more... Interesting (IE deadly).
    Last edited by Nhorianscum; 2019-05-15 at 09:37 AM.

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