Saturday, 7 January 2012

Boss Monsters (part 1)

Early last year, I read The Angry DM's series on Boss Monsters (part 1, part 2, part 3 and part 4).  I really liked the idea, and started playing around with it soon after.  I had tried out Gamefiend / Quinn Murphy's "Worldbreaker" concept before, and was impressed to find another viable option to the long, grinding battle with a solo problem.

I used one of his examples in a low-level Dark Sun campaign I was running, and though it worked well, I wanted to actually create something of my own...or at least adapt it well beyond what it was initially.

My first boss monster ended up being in an epic tier game (in a campaign adapted from Stephen Radney-MacFarland's adventure, "Winter of the Witch", found in Dungeon Magazine 162) wherein my players faced off against a rather large and angry white dragon (which I recently purchased just the miniature for!), I wanted to make it a more thrilling encounter than what I expected it to be: Wizard and Psion trap; Fighter holds; Warlock burns.  Repeat until cooked through.

ADM's suggestion, where the monster is completely replaced at each stage, and large changes happen to the playing field, fit my ideas nicely, and so I built my own boss!

I'll go through some of the important changes.  First, I loved the idea ADM gave with his dragon, in letting them roll initiative twice, and having an extra chance of saving each round.  The only solo I have played that I felt lived up to the title was built similarly: but had three turns every round (Bel Shalor, the Shadow in the Flame; and I still think the only reason he defeated the party in my play-by-post game was that too many of the players weren't posting).

Second, I lessened his immediate powers, so that they could build over time.  An aura of 5, with 30 damage a round is pretty severe, so I limited the damage to the "bloodied" stage, and limited the flight-slowing to the second and third stages.  His triple attack also turned into a double attack; and in stage three, was changed from a "kill one player good" to a "try to attack many players".  Spreading out the hurt is always more fun; and lessens that whole "stop picking on me!" feeling.

I also changed his encounter fear aura (standard action, burst 10) to a minor action (one creature).  As written, it is effectively a game-lengthener:  Dragon uses a standard action so that everyone else doesn't act.  Now, for a third of his life (most likely, not long enough to attack each PC with it) he can use an otherwise not-used action to give a vicious glare at troublesome folk.

He didn't have any triggered actions, so I added in an alternate to the tail-slap; tailored to my party.  They like teleporting, and since that would get around so much of his slowing-nastiness, I thought a little knock when they popped in could work nicely.  Plus, the whole first stage is about the dragon really looking down his nose at the party.  He gazes at them, he holds back as if they are not worth his time, and generally puts up with their attacks...until they anger him!

Stage two starts (or stage one ends?) with a power adapted from the scenario the dragon was designed for.  In it, it's a standard action he can do once per encounter; but I felt that it would be better if he realises that the party are dangerous, and takes to the air, tearing out a chunk of the mountainside as he goes.  From there, he goes into artillery mode, breathing and strafing the party, with attacks pulled from his recharge power (5 or 6; so using it at will for roughly a third of the fight sounds about right) and ADM's sample dragon. 

This will be tough for a certain fighter, but with the group's ability to send him flying, I doubt it will cause him to sit out for long.  The rest of the party is ranged, so even with his new trigger, he will soon be bloodied...and crashing back to the ground!

Now, in stage three, he is ferocious and wanting to be done with the group.  His aura is now what it would have been all along, he finally has access to his frost breath (but I have limited it further to just once...but with some miss effects), and he has a "thunderwave / shoulder-slam" like power to show off his new-found brutality. 

Instead of slapping those who teleport, he now only catches those who are slow enough to be caught.    His Fury power has a benefit if he attacks multiple targets - at this stage, it could all be over quickly if one PC had three attacks; and the bloodied dragon is clearly not thinking that straight.  He just wants to lash out at everyone!

Finally, when the party deliver their last blow, he screams once more, and the mountain answers him - an avalanche of snow washes down over the party, either sweeping them away, or burying them (and stopping teleporting, just for fun).  After the flying-dragon aspect of part two, and the possible-falling of part 1, I would assume that everyone has taken magical precautions against falling off the mountainside, but if they haven't, they are only getting what they deserve, right?

I  played the Boss Monster dragon against a party of four 23rd level characters (fresh from a long rest), and I think it worked well.  No one was caught by the initial scene-changing attack, and barely anyone was hurt, so I only gave them a recharge of one encounter power (no surge). 

The second stage was hard, with the wizard being entombed for a while, and the fighter not having much reach (on a flying dragon!). 

Still, the 2nd=>3rd change-over power worked well, and once he took on his bloody form, he really started cutting through the PCs.  His aura was also quite devastating, as well as the fact that for this stage, both his initiative turns were together.  That meant that there was little time for the PCs to recover from his double attacks - especially when he action pointed!  Two of the team (psion and fighter) went down round after round towards the end.  Some high death-save bonuses and daily items allowed them to continue to regain their feet, but they didn't get their actions, and remained within the aura! 

Ultimately, the wizard missed on a crucial daily power, and rolled poorly for the miss damage, leaving it on 1 HP.  Then the psion's turn came up, and he went out backwards due to the cold aura.  The warlock finished it off, and the resulting death cry was also quite lethal - fortunately, cold resistances kept the revenant from also going out backwards!

In all, a dangerous and engaging monster that is much more fitting than the original dragon (who would have died in about half the time, I expect).  The breaking of effects upon it, the extra saves, and the two initiative rolls really helped make it a solo that could actually fight solo - so well done, AngryDM, for your "Boss Monster" idea, it worked well! :)

Has anyone else tried this idea?  If so, how did it go?  I have another one that will be fully revealed to my players over the next week, so stay tuned to hear how that goes!

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