imporvised changes to easy combat

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Your entire adventure has been building up to this final battle with the BBEG. Each fight leading up to this has been increasingly challenging. Unfortunately, the dice are all on the players' side for most of the fight. Before your villain has had a chance to do something memorable, they've surrounded and shut him down, in a few rounds he'll be toast.

So how do you save your crucial boss fight from ending an anti-climactic disappointment? Do you add something on the fly, like a wave of additional monsters/made up traps, or is it "working as intended" and you just have to let the players revel in their awesomeness?
What are some fair ways to spice up the second half of a combat that's been going in the players' favor? 

-Will, Digital Artist

If the boss was magical of some sort, I will often make up spells for the boss.  If there are minions still left, the boss might kill as a sacrifice to bring about an extra boubt of power.  However I will try plan ahead and disign the fight to not allow the PCs to just swarm the boss.  For example, the party was faceing down a dragon and its human followers.  The Dragon being a tricky sort, used magic to appear as one of the human followers. The party swarmed the fake dragon and the real dragon had a evil "Ha, I tricked you, you fools!" momment.  
I'm assuming you split the fight between two sessions so you have some time to prep this. I'm just fine with letting the players be awesome, but it sounds like you want to give them one last hurrah before he croaks.

I would suggest giving the boss a second form he goes into once bloodied. Swap a couple powers, mix up his abilities. Perhaps add 1-2 that weaken some of the things the players used to lock him down. (Note I said weakened, not negate. Big difference; players can tell if you're specifically countering your tactics and they'll be pissed.)

Here's a few guidelines I use for designing Heroic-tier solo boss fights (I'm assuming you're playing in Heroic):


  • Denote a certain type of action as something they can always use (minor action, opportunity attacks, immediate actions, etc), even if they're stunned/dazed/dominated. That'll still make those powers effective without shutting him down completely.

  • Try to give him an attack for every action: standard action, move action, minor action, maybe an immediate. I'd suggest he attacks twice on standard, attacks once on move, attacks once on minor. That gives the players several ways to reduce his # of attacks (put him in a bad position, daze/stun, etc) and makes it so his action points are 2 extra attacks instead of 4.

  • Avoid anything that completely negates a condition, such as immunity to domination, dropping marks at-will, etc. That irritates players like nothing else and can render classes (like defenders & controllers) near-worthless. Instead, I would suggest giving him powers that weaken their effects: perhaps a mark only gives him a -1 to hit instead of a -2, or he can turn a domination/stun into a daze by taking 10 psychic damage, or a domination/stun turns into a daze he takes a -3 to save against. Weaken the PCs' effects so it can put up a good fight, but don't negate them entirely.

  • Change his type/form entirely. Turning a solo into a swarm, for instance, can give the AoEers a chance to shine. Or you could turn him into an undead, strengthening his fortitude against dazes/stuns but giving him a vulnerability to radiance.

  • Avoid having him explode at bloodied/dead. This is my least favorite "gotcha" tactic on elites/solos, as it's a cheap way to rack up extra damage on the melee and there's no good way to predict/avoid it.

I usually try to head that off before we get there, by working out with the players how the encounter can be made interesting, and about something other than locking down the bad guy. Last big fight we had, the players had to hold a location for 6 rounds. I threw a solo, two elites, two standards and some minions (all at or above level) at three PCs and a companion character at full HP and powers and it was close. They didn't kill even half of the enemies.

Having alternate goals also means the enemies can be much more powerful than the PCs without much risk of killing the PCs.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

I don't plan out stories, so there's really no worry about anything being anti-climactic - there was no planned climax in the first place.

I wouldn't do anything to escalate the encounter that wasn't already built into it. If the players totally smack down the villain or otherwise stop his plans with ease, good for them!

For any decision or adjudication, ask yourself, "Is this going to be fun for everyone?" and "Is this going to lead to the creation of an exciting, memorable story?"

DMs: Dungeon Master 101  |  Session Zero  |  Structure First, Story Last  |  No Myth Roleplaying  |  5e Monster Index & Encounter Calculator
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If I really want something to go a certain way, I'll talk to the players about it. I wanted the fight not to be about acquiring the item they were after, because I wanted it to stay in play, and I knew they'd easily acquire it if that was their goal. I told them this, they agreed, and we settled upon a different success and failure.

If you don't want the players to save up all their resources and go nova on the monster at the end, tell them. Otherwise, you're implicitly encouraging them to do that because there's no real downside for them. Edit: And trying to force there to be downsides has a history of driving people to this forum in frustation.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

Short answer is I don't.  If the players can come up with a clever solution to the encounter that circumvents my intentions, I cheer them on.  If there was some bit of information I wanted them to have I give it to them in another way.

 

IMAGE(http://www.nodiatis.com/pub/19.jpg)

Are you really "entitled to your opinion"?
RedSiegfried wrote:
The cool thing is, you don't even NEED a reason to say yes.  Just stop looking for a reason to say no.
Have your players complained about the final battle being an anti-climactic disappointment?  Maybe they're ending the session by laughing and high-fiving one another because in working together and conserving some nova resources (dailies, consumables, etc), they managed to give the BBEG who has been hounding them this whole time an epic beat-down?
DM advice: 1. Do a Session Zero. 2. Start With Action. 3. Always say "Yes" to player ideas. 4. Don't build railroads. 5. Make success, failure, and middling rolls interesting. Player advice: 1. Don't be a dick. 2. Build off each other, don't block each other. 3. You're supposed to be a badass. Act like it. Take risks. My poorly updated blog: http://engineeredfun.wordpress.com/
So how do you save your crucial boss fight from ending an anti-climactic disappointment?

Do nothing.
What are some fair ways to spice up the second half of a combat that's been going in the players' favor? 

Well, if you're playing 4e, it's quite common or even expected for boss-type monsters to have additional abilities while bloodied. You can add pretty much whatever you want.

they've surrounded and shut him down, in a few rounds he'll be toast. So how do you save your crucial boss fight from ending an anti-climactic disappointment?

If this was about to happen to a PC, would you allow the player to spend an action point and/or perform a DMG p.42 stunt to have a chance to get out of it?

As a simulationist, I dislike fudging and on-the-fly changes. I'm ok with a BBEG getting taken down quickly (indeed, I expect players to try to do this). But I'm also ok with clever use of action points and DMG p.42 stunts.

I am reminded of a recent encounter in the 3.5e game I am playing in:

The group was facing off against a lich and his minions.  We were outside his lair "negotiating."  He wanted us to come into his lair, we knew that was a bad idea.  The DM attempted an ambush, using a maze spell on the cleric, but the wizard in the group had the ability to redirect a spell at another target and did so at the Lich's servant/steward.

It turned out that we were talking to a simulacrum of the lich...he was invisible outside his lair.  The rogue of the group spotted him as he cast his maze spell and the cleric moved into range of where he thought the lich was and used a turn attempt.  He (barely) successfully destroyed the lich.

His minions put up a decent fight, but the result of the encounter was never in question once the lich was gone.

The DM was a little unhappy because he had spent four hours crafting the lich and its abilities, but he did not do anything to affect the outcome.

But he did have the last laugh - totally random treasure (as per group agreement) was less than epic to say the least (considering we cleared the lair).  The group rationalized this by claiming the lich's wealth was in land and title not objects and money

 

IMAGE(http://www.nodiatis.com/pub/19.jpg)

Are you really "entitled to your opinion"?
RedSiegfried wrote:
The cool thing is, you don't even NEED a reason to say yes.  Just stop looking for a reason to say no.
So how do you save your crucial boss fight from ending an anti-climactic disappointment? Do you add something on the fly, like a wave of additional monsters/made up traps, or is it "working as intended" and you just have to let the players revel in their awesomeness?
What are some fair ways to spice up the second half of a combat that's been going in the players' favor? 

I'll plug the Angry DM's Boss Fight articles again as a great way to make an epic fight with the spotlight clearly on one dangerous foe. Solo monsters as written just plain don't work, even the newest MM dragons simply manage to do more damage before they go down rather than really providing an epic fight.

Make things happen during the fight. Maybe when the flying dragon gets bloodied, he crashes through the floor and the battle continues in the catacombs below. The dragon has a moment to catch his breath (saving throws or status effects are simply ended or downgraded), but now he must fight in a confined space (as effectively a new monster with a different set of abilities).

Maybe the desperate, bloodied wizard rushes his lich ritual and transforms into an undead abomination mid-fight. "Final Forms" don't just give you a change to wipe status effects and bring out cool powers, they are also an awesome and iconic visual as the BBEG morphs into something exciting and memorable.
I think the question is more along the lines of whether you design a fight with the expectation of a credible challenge and when the players start taking it down with ease, do you then change or add something in the moment to make it tougher?

For my part, the answer is no, though I would if the players established it.

For any decision or adjudication, ask yourself, "Is this going to be fun for everyone?" and "Is this going to lead to the creation of an exciting, memorable story?"

DMs: Dungeon Master 101  |  Session Zero  |  Structure First, Story Last  |  No Myth Roleplaying  |  5e Monster Index & Encounter Calculator
Players: Players 101  |  11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer  |  You Are Not Your Character  |  Pre-Gen D&D 5e PCs

Content I Created: Adventure Scenarios  |  Actual Play Reports  |  Tools  |  Game Transcripts

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

 I'll plug the Angry DM's Boss Fight articles again...


link?

-Will, Digital Artist

I think the question is more along the lines of whether you design a fight with the expectation of a credible challenge and when the players start taking it down with ease, do you then change or add something in the moment to make it tougher?

For my part, the answer is no, though I would if the players established it.



My answer is no as well.

I have done the opposite in the past though - thought a fight would not be difficult, realized mid-stream it was VERY difficult, and did (or did not do) things to make the fight easier on the party.  I do not do that any more primarily because I know the party make up better now and the players know the risks.

That being said, I have made BBEGs go "poof" so they can fight another day.  But I have done that for both reasons: knowing that fighting the BBEG would result in a TPK and realizing that the encounter is not going as planned

But I have never added abilities to a BBEG or other monster/NPC mid-stream to make this possible.

 

IMAGE(http://www.nodiatis.com/pub/19.jpg)

Are you really "entitled to your opinion"?
RedSiegfried wrote:
The cool thing is, you don't even NEED a reason to say yes.  Just stop looking for a reason to say no.
re:link
I got dis, yo. JIC others want it...
angrydm.com/2010/04/the-dd-boss-fight-pa... 

-Will, Digital Artist

A note on using the Angry DM's "Reset, Next Stage" abilities in Battle...

Unless the players are used to these things, they may feel cheated. This especially applies to the Daily Zones. But if they've come to know what to expect, its cool.

An alternative way is to have the Boss Enrage, roughly as follows
- Gain an extra Standard Action / Full Turn Activation every round, if he doesn't already have more than 1 Standard Action
- With that (or already having that), spend a Standard Action to make a Save against every Save Ends effect, then deal damage equal to twice his level for every effect that "must" be removed (for the Solo to function). When the Solo does this, make a show of him using effort to shake off the effects, even to the extent of injuring himself to recover from the effects inflicted by the player. When ignoring a Zone effect (especially Dailies), the Solo ignores it until End of his Turn, after that the Zone effect kicks in again unless he gets out of the Zone.
- If he already has more than 1 Standard Action, let him use a Basic Attack as a Minor Action.

If you do the "Shrug All Off, Transform / Morph" route, do consider also if there have been hints of this ability earlier on in the game.
I call this "backward improvisation", where you take some inconsequential detail, or some clue that the Players had earlier but did not follow up with. You may have had completely different plans for that clue / detail, but now you throw that aside and improvise by linking this detail / clue to the "Transformation" of the Boss.

So you use previously provided information / clues to improvise towards the "Transformation" that would make your combat challenging.
In this way, Players are less likely to feel cheated, and may feel that "oh yeah, we had clues about it. Dang, we should have figured out how to stop it from happening, but we didn't know it would be that powerful." But of course they'll never know that you, the DM, didn't know that either.

This could be something as trivial-seeming as some information about a ritual with say, a potion of blood, that they ignored earlier, or did not investigate what the ritual / potion does. You may have had other plans for it, but regardless, it was left open-ended as the Players ignored it.
Now you change your plans for it, and have the bad guy pull out a similar looking potion, but imbued (ie a result of the completed ritual) and drinks it... and so "Next Stage Transformation". Or maybe just "Incredible Hulk Potion". Something like that.

I am Blue/White

Usually I let the PCs have the easy time. I might even grumble a bit about good naturedly. It seems to make the players feel good if they outsmarted the DM ;) In a few cases I added a 'when bloodied' ability that it did not officially had although obviously it has never been established beforehand whether it had or not. I am not going to change established facts. In fact, in 4e so many BBEGs have such powers that my players somehow expect it all the time ;)
I am reminded of a recent encounter in the 3.5e game I am playing in:

The group was facing off against a lich and his minions.  We were outside his lair "negotiating."  He wanted us to come into his lair, we knew that was a bad idea.  The DM attempted an ambush, using a maze spell on the cleric, but the wizard in the group had the ability to redirect a spell at another target and did so at the Lich's servant/steward.

It turned out that we were talking to a simulacrum of the lich...he was invisible outside his lair.  The rogue of the group spotted him as he cast his maze spell and the cleric moved into range of where he thought the lich was and used a turn attempt.  He (barely) successfully destroyed the lich.

His minions put up a decent fight, but the result of the encounter was never in question once the lich was gone.

The DM was a little unhappy because he had spent four hours crafting the lich and its abilities, but he did not do anything to affect the outcome.

But he did have the last laugh - totally random treasure (as per group agreement) was less than epic to say the least (considering we cleared the lair).  The group rationalized this by claiming the lich's wealth was in land and title not objects and money




I was reading an old Dragon Magazine with a Zogonia comic strip. The group defeated a lich and later while drinking a bar a floating skull appears, congratulating them on their victory.

It then begins to describe the incredible magic items and riches the adventurers no doubt are enjoying after plundering the lich's lair ... only the group never found any of these things and they sit in horror realizing all of the stuff they accidentally left behind.

Hillarious. ;)

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