In our previous post, we discussed the problem with solo boss fights. But the idea of a final showdown against a boss is just too much fun to give up on. Sure, some of the problems can be avoided by making the big bad a cabal of big bads, a group of people to fight rather than just one. But that’s not the only solution. If you have your heart set on a single boss, there’s plenty of ways, both in the rules and outside of them.
Ok, I just said we would look at solo bosses, so this is a bit of a cheat. But one option is to give the bad guy lots and lots of support. I say lots of support, because in order to keep the big bad as the threat, his support should be… well, “pitiful” is a bit mean, perhaps, but it gets the point across. They shouldn’t be completely useless, but they also shouldn’t be big threats. Think of them more as crowd control. Obstacles for the players to get around, limiting their ability to close distance with the big bad and hold him still.
Mobs help to slow the conflict down, while (hopefully) not making it boring. It adds an element of risk for the party (having to move safely through the crowd), and take some of the damage instead of main bad. It’s even more fun when you make it thematically appropriate. A necromancer surrounded by a horde of zombies, for instance.
One of the simplest ways to make a boss fight last longer is to lie. Shhh, don’t tell the players. If you don’t want a bad guy so strong that he KOs a player for sure, but also don’t want him to go down within a couple rounds, just up his hit points. Same bang, better buck. If youn double the number of rounds the bad guy lasts, you double the chances to do something fun with him.
Cheat is a strong word. Let’s call it… No, no, let’s stick with cheat.
There are plenty of ways you can give your bad guy abilities to help make the combat last longer or be more interesting. You’re looking for something to A) make more things happen in the same amount of time or B) make the fight last longer or C) both. Here’s a few ways you can do it.
My personal favorite was suggested by a friend of mine, and found by him on another website. I’m sorry I can’t cite it better than that. Anyways, one thing you can do is double the bad guys hit points and roll their initiative twice, giving them two actions each round. While everyone else gets to act once, the bad guy gets to act twice. In a way, acting twice and having two times the health points basically makes the combat work as if there were two identical bad guys instead of one, and you should adjust the challenge rating appropriately. The lasting power of a group fight with the atmosphere of a solo showdown.
Another option is to give the bad guy some sort of ability that makes him more of a threat. Consider a villain whose shadow works independently of him. You don’t need to give the shadow statistics like a independent monster, but perhaps give it a single type of action it can perform. I made a villain like this in Pathfinder whose shadow could perform Combat Maneuvers… Trip, disarm, even grapple players who got to close, without taking up the main villain’s actions to do so.
Those are only a couple of simple ideas for how to cheat to give your bad guy some lasting power… Make up your own, if you want. If you’re looking for ideas, take a quick browse through monster abilities, supernatural abilities, even low level spells that you could make at-will powers.
Basically, if you want a solo boss fight, you need to find ways to make the fight last long enough to be fun. Change it up, give different bad guys different abilities. And if you’re players get upset that you’re cheating, just remind them… It’s a game. Remember, though, as a GM you’re job isn’t to win. It’s to make things fun. Cheat to that end, and you’ll be fine.